Hans's Wife

Hans (some people called him Hanz, or Franz, others Krantz like the cake, and others didn't even take the trouble to call him that much) had a wife who towered over him by a full head, and had a truly horse-like face. Her legs were long and slender, and seemed to lack only the hoofs at the lower ends. There was plenty of time for that to happen as well, Hans's friends would say. Her neck was slender and powerful. She needed a true man, not the thin, weedy-looking Hans. She hadn't been like this when he had first married her. Back then, she was a thin, fragile-looking little thing, a small-scale woman, that's what Hans had liked about her in the first place. She was about eighteen, although she didn't look it. She was still playing with her dolls. She had brought them with her when she had moved in. Whenever Hans went out, she got them out of the cupboard, washed their faces, dressed them in their best clothes and took them outside for a walk. She still played her childhood games, noughts and crosses on the floor, rode her bike and chased butterflies in the park. Hans had to look after her very carefully. In the mornings, after Hans brought her breakfast in bed, she would gently send him away. She would say "Go on, go do your own thing". Hans would then go out. She drank her coffee and either sat in her easy chair, or went through the house skipping back and forth from the door to the windows. When winter came, she would feed breadcrumbs to the sparrows or play hide and seek all on her own, hiding from herself in cupboards, under the table or behind the curtains. She spent hours on end looking at her own face in the mirror or talking to herself. She hardly ever went out. What she loved best was to laze around in bed. Almost two years after their wedding, Hans's wife grew suddenly more and more anxious with every passing day, and all of a sudden she started to grow. For six weeks, this worried no one, but three weeks later everybody had eyes only for what was going on with Hans's wife. And indeed, she had grown at an alarming rate. Her legs had grown enormously. Hans liked women with long legs, but his wife's were beyond anything he could have imagined. Her face – actually, only her chin and her nose – became longer and longer. Her forehead hadn't changed, only now it looked unusually narrow. Her eyes became protuberant, rolling underneath the eyelids. They were red and hazy and had a permanently distant look about them. Her eyebrows thickened as well, their ends became joined. This gave her an imposing air. One look of hers was enough to send chills down your spine. Her hair had once been blonde, soft to the touch, but now it had turned black as soot, ragged and wild, like a horse's mane. She could at least have had it trimmed, Hans said, but his wife wouldn't hear of it. Let Hans have his hair trimmed – let him shave off all of his hair, if he pleased, she was all for it, and let her hear no more of his great ideas, thank you very much. Why didn't Hans have his hair cut? One day, she took him by the hand to the barber's shop and had his head shaved. In any case, she paid no attention to what Hans had to say. She became increasingly edgy. Her teeth broadened as well. She had had beautiful teeth; one smile of hers would light up Hans's house. Now her teeth were truly horselike – long, broad and yellowed by tobacco. She could easily have used them to chew carrots or hay. One sneer that exposed her teeth was enough to drive Hans mad with fear. She no longer cared for dresses or skirts. She would only wear tight pants, that seemed to burst at the seams. Her life revolved around the mirror. She wouldn't spare Hans a single look anymore. Large as she was, she drove other men crazy. Heads turned when she passed. She was a true woman, a woman and a half, many would say. Hans ought to give her a rest. Really. What she did outside her house had no bearing on how she behaved at home. Hans had been jealous for a long time, but all jealousy had long vanished. He no longer cared. His wife told him openly: "You're a pitiful thing. Just take a good look at yourself!" Hans had indeed a most unhealthy air. His flesh seemed to have melted away. He was a shadow of his former self. His nose was beak-like: long, large and very crooked. His head seemed to loll unpleasantly on his slightly bent neck. His shoulders were hunched, his feet unnaturally thin. It looked like one gust of wind would be enough to blow him away. Whatever was the matter with him? Where was his manly vigour? He appeared empty, devoid of all strength. Hans was such a weak, shabby little thing! He simply couldn't bring himself to do anything. Hands behind his back, he simply stood by the window, looking out at the street beyond. Trams would crawl up and down, causing the windows to rattle slightly in their frames. People would walk by shop windows, huddled against the chilly weather. "Life is such a strange thing", Hans mused. "Spring fades into autumn, summer fades into winter… Monday comes, next thing you know it's Wednesday, then Saturday, then Monday again… Time slips by unnoticed. Trees blossom, then their leaves turn red and scatter. Migrating birds return, build their nests, hatch their eggs, go away… Again they return. It all happens again – the nests, the eggs, the hatching, the leaving, the coming back. Spring, summer, autumn, winter… Like some strange sort of merry-go-round". It was the strangest thing… It felt like only yesterday Hans was a little boy going to school. He distinctly remembered his maths classes, his old teacher that always used to ask him questions. He was a fully grown man now, he no longer had to tremble as he stood by the blackboard and tried to figure out how much was two and two added together. He was a grown man now, Hans was. He had settled down, he had married, had his own house. He could very well have had a baby Hans to follow in his footsteps and go to school, his schoolbag over his shoulder, skipping merrily in the streets. The younger Hans would have covered the walls in funny charcoal drawings, climbed trees and gone up on the roof of their house, sneaked cigarette butts into the house and smoked them secretly in the bathroom at night. But the younger Hans was yet to come, and Hans himself wondered whether his coming still had the power to make him happy. His wife now had the run of the house; nothing happened that she didn't know about. The strong always rise above the weak. In the morning, his wife would drag him out in front of the mirror and thrust him headlong into his own reflection, same as she would have done with a young puppy that had wet the carpet. She pushed his nose against the mirror, hard. "Take a good look at what you are", she would add, and send him to the bathroom. Hans would take off his clothes, get into the bath tub and spend long hours thinking about his own miserable life. His wife began to dress in more and more garish colours. Her hands were filled with rings and bracelets. She would wear hats which she adorned with coloured feathers and frilly pink ribbons. Hans's world was colourful enough as it was, without any of his wife's whims. Around the neck she wore countless strings of beads and golden coins. She wore a wide belt and pointed red boots with high heels (she really didn't need the heels, Hans said, she was already six feet tall!). She'd swing a red bag over her shoulder to match the boots, put lipstick on her beautifully shaped lips, painted her nails, lit a cigarette and went out. She'd wander through the high street shops, come out of one shop and march into the next. She always brought Hans along. She couldn't bear knowing him at home. She took him along wherever she went. Hans's head barely came up to her hips. He'd been shabby-looking before, but now he'd turned even more so. His head didn't reach a shop's counter. He'd get easily lost in any store. From time to time, his wife called his name out loud and Hans would weave his way back from behind a stack of merchandise. Hans was ashamed to walk down the street by her side. He barely looked like a proper husband. Men eyed him with pity and shrugged: poor Hans, the mess he's gotten himself into… He'll barely last a couple more months… He'll be gone by next month. He's a goner for sure. They grinned: hang in there, Hans, be strong! You got yourself in a right mess, you have. Women nudged one another. That was one hell of a wife. But the husband! They were such a perfect match… Many a times Hans would break down and burst into tears. He's trail behind her, wailing like a baby. She had to smack him hard across the back of the neck to make him stop. He'd break down completely, shaking and sobbing. He walked two steps behind her, his eyes red and swollen. He took out a handkerchief and blew his nose. He'd calm down for a while, then he was at it again, bursting into tears. The flow of tears streaming down his face seemed endless. He'd walk behind her feeling increasingly worthless and miserable. He wished he'd never grown up, stayed a child so that he could be free to cry as much as he chose. "Would you stop with the whimpering!" his wife said, "or else I'll smack you!" Hans would quiet down. He wiped away his tears with the moist handkerchief and tried to smile. His heart however was still heavy with sorrow. A great sadness weighed him down, as if someone had rolled a heavy boulder across his heart. His eyes still watery, he'd stare into the shop windows and feel increasingly miserable. At home, in the evenings when his wife took off her clothes, Hans would try to catch a glimpse of her. He found her body extremely tempting. But she would curtly send him to bed. Hans hung his head and climbed into bed. Before sneaking under his bedcovers, he gave her one last look. Hans would close his eyes and go to sleep. Sleep came over his reddened eyes. He would toss and turn in his sleep. He dreamt that he was flying towards the top of a bell tower where she, his bride, was waiting for him, all dressed in white, flowers in her hair. It was already one o'clock, and the wedding guests were all milling around the sandstone paved courtyard of the church. The church itself stood tall and proud, freshly painted in white. Hans dreamt he was climbing its wall, his full bridegroom's dress becoming smeared with paint. At the top of the tower stood a small window with wooden bars. Hans knew that was where he had to go. As he reached it, he gripped both sides of the window in his hands and heaved his head inside, then managed to squeeze his shoulders as well through the narrow frame, staring with terrified wonder at the two giant bells which began to toll deafeningly. There were two giant bronze bells that seemed to be giving off a terrible heat. The bells swung eastwards, then westwards, and their deep chiming had a muffled quality, as if coming from the depths of water. His wife was making the bells move. She had tied herself to their strings, and her white-clad body swung madly from one window of the tower to the other. His wife was screaming. She was screaming to Hans: "Hans darling, come join me, come along and swing with me!" Hans's hands flailed madly, he knew he was stuck in the narrow window frame. He tried to talk to her, his lips moved but no sound came out. He would give anything, anything in the world to be able to go inside. But he could not, and the window was growing smaller and smaller. He could not move either way. She was waving her handkerchief, laughing fit to burst. Hans was twisting his short, bandy legs to the great amusement of those watching below, who were laughing wildly and pointing at him. He had dropped his shoes and he found himself bare footed. In all the rush of the wedding preparations he had forgotten to put on socks. The soles of his feet were black with soot. If he didn't stop wriggling, his pants would fall off as well, and then what a sight he'd be for the guests below! Look, his belt had already come undone! What would people say? What a pathetic bridegroom he was! What a senseless thing to do, fly all the way to the top of the bell tower and toll the bells at his own wedding! That should teach him, he had believed himself too handsome for his own good. They picked up his shoes from the grass below and started playing toss with them in the courtyard. Since Hans was taking his time making his way down from the tower, they couldn't sit around waiting for him doing nothing, they needed some form of entertainment. They ran around the church shrieking with delight. In the end, they tore his shoes into shreds and threw them away in the porch. All of a sudden, the bells began to toll deafeningly. The bronze had turned red-hot. Instead of sound, waves of smoke were now billowing from them. The smoke scared away the pigeons that had nested inside the bell tower. They were fluttering around, hitting the walls, falling down, flying back up again, hitting themselves blindly against the bells. The air was strewn with pigeon feathers. The pigeons which had managed to make their escape through the narrow windows were killed by the stones thrown by the crowd below. Indeed, the men and women below had gathered mounds of stones which they now used to throw at the pigeons. A few children came forth with bows and arrows and started taking aim at the soles of Hans's feet. He felt two arrows hitting his left and right foot at the same time, vibrating slightly. The children clapped their hands in delight and put fresh arrows into their strings. Hans woke up in a sweat and reached towards the water bottle he usually had ready by his bed. He was thirsty, his hair was matted and clung to his skull. He glanced through the door into the next room and saw that his wife had not yet gone to bed. The bedside lamp was still on, and she was sitting in front of the mirror, putting her shock of black hair in rollers. Sensing his look, she snapped at Hans: "Go back to sleep! What's with the staring? Are you hungry or what?" She couldn't bear to have his miserable stare upon her. Hans would then go back to sleep. He sank back into his pillow and sighed deeply. They had separate beds. She had a big bed, almost as wide as the room itself. His was tiny, almost a crib. When he slept, his body curled into a ball, his knees drawn to his chest, shivering. They had slept together for a while, but Hans was always tossing and turning and so she moved him into a smaller crib, so that he wouldn't fall off as he slept. Hans could now toss and turn as much as he chose. When Hans could not sleep and would lie on his back staring at the ceiling, his wife gave him a bottle of milk and put him to bed in his little crib. She only did it to humiliate him. As if he had not gone trough enough humiliation already! In the morning, Hans would wake up early and go out to do the shopping. He was also in charge of making breakfast. She would take her toast and coffee in bed. Breakfast had to be as nourishing as possible. Hans had to make several trips from her bed to the kitchen. Breakfast was a veritable feast, complete with steak and a bottle of wine. Hans would have the leftovers. He loved the chicken wings. There was no point in wasting food. Food was expensive as it was. Prices went up daily. It was a good thing Hans was not fussy and ate little. He would eat anything. He barely touched his food. One cup of milk in the morning lasted him until supper. After breakfast, Hand would clear the table, wash the dishes and sweep the floors. Everything had to be sparkling clean. His wife was allergic to dust. If Hans behaved like a good little boy, or if the weather was good, his wife would leave a little coffee for him to slurp on a plate, or even a scrap of chocolate. But then he had to dribble food down his front. It made him look so much funnier, almost like a baby, it was so funny! His wife took him into bed with her, gave him a kiss on the cheek and sent him back to do his chores. Around noon, they went out for a walk. He needed to get some fresh air, poor thing. He smelled too much like mothballs. Too much staying indoors had withered him. They would go to the park. The weather was beautiful, and Hans would run around his wife like a puppy. He felt happy. His wife insisted that he let his moustache and sideburns grow, and he dragged him around with her everywhere. She would even thrust a pacifier in his mouth to keep him from wailing, and then she took him out for walks. He could barely keep up with her. He would grab hold of her skirt and bounce along on the sidewalk. Seen from behind, he looked like a four-year-old. She had dressed him in shorts and pinstriped T-shirt. With his glasses and shorts, he looked positively cute. Many people stopped him in the street and bought him ice cream. They almost could have kissed him, he was so funny! Hans looked so nice and well-behaved, he really did! Many times his wife took him out in his pram, to keep him from growing tired of all the running around. Lately, Hans grew tired very quickly. His feet gave way, and he would slump onto the sidewalk and cry. As soon as they left home, his wife settled him in his little pram, wrapped him tightly in a blanket, gave his something to play with and took him out in the park. Hans would sit quietly in his pram. He counted his own fingers, or else read the papers. He felt warm and content. His wife was taking such good care of him. People would go by, shaking their heads. His wife pushed the pram and spoke gently to Hans. She stopped at every candy shop and bought him sweets and cakes. Chocolate cookies were Hans's favourites. From his pram, Hans would wriggle his hands whenever he saw a paper shop or a tobacconist's. She would not allow him to smoke anymore, though, and it took him a full month to get used to it. She did buy him newspapers and magazines, and Hans sifted through them as he sat in his pram. He mostly looked at the pictures. He could no longer manage to read much, and even if he did manage to make out a sentence or two, by the time he finished reading it he found its meaning escaped him. Hans would ride in his pram trying to speak. He played by himself. He liked counting birds' nests in the trees he passed by, or else the stone pillars of the iron railing that surrounded the park. He could still count. He could easily count to twelve. He carefully avoided the number thirteen. He still knew it existed somewhere far away, but it put him greatly in mind of the black cat that wailed beneath his window at night. Hans could generally count all the way to eighteen, he sometimes even got to twenty. His head was full of scraps of songs and lyrics he's once heard and now came back to him, and he hummed them placidly to himself. The weather was so fine. He could hear the birds singing merrily around him! Hans and his wife would stop by a remote bench in the park and watch the sun set. Even the wife's face seemed somehow more gentle. Her eyes took on a melancholic look. She watched Hans and sighed. An hour later, they would go back home. People would hurry by. They pointed at Hans. His wife shook her fists at them. Hans would sit quietly in his pram, glancing at the passing women. They walked briskly by, swaying their beautiful hips. Hans smiled to himself. He even reached out to touch them, but they went quickly by on their high heeled shoes and gestured at him to stop it. Hans had to be smacked hard around the head to stop. When they got home, she gently took him out of the pram, laid him on the bed, changed his dirty diapers for fresh, clean ones and put him to bed. She took great care of Hans. In her harsh voice, she lulled him and sang to him until he fell asleep. Then his wife would lean gently and tuck him in, kiss his moist forehead and caress his moustache. Hans smiled serenely in his sleep. He dreamt he found himself at the top of a very high tree, curled up in a warm, comfortable nest, and that a big bird with wonderfully coloured feathers was looking after him. Hans had never before seen such a bird, nor had he known such birds existed. She was as big and tall as a house, wore strings of beads around her neck and had breasts hidden under her feathers. This bird fed him, passing food to him from her own beak. Hans would feel very happy, scream, opened his own beak and relished in her care. The bird brought him small fish and frogs that croaked gently. Instead of eating them, Hans played with them. The nest Hans lived in was clean, lined with fresh papers. The bird took away in her beak any mess that Hans made and carried it beyond the river. The river was quite close to the tree Hans lived in. He could glimpse it through the trees. When the bird left, Hans would play with the frogs for a short while, then toss them back into the water. The bird brought him snakes and mice to eat. Hans wasn't afraid of mice. He knew how to tame them. Old Hans, his father, had shown him how it was done. He would hide them away and feed frogs to them. He taught the mice to stand on their hind legs and look him in the eye. The mice were really quite cuddly, only they were so easily frightened. Hans wished he were a small mouse sometimes… To stay hidden, safe in his den, with no one to see him and nothing to worry about. Lucky the bird was there to look after him! What would he do without her? Who would feed him ? Who would keep him warm at night? Who else would bear to clean up the mess he made? But where did the bird go? Why isn't she coming back to the nest? It was already dark, and Hans was cold and hungry... He's afraid to be by himself. Terribly afraid. Only look at the strange moon that has risen over the city! It doesn't look like a moon at all. It seems to be yowling at him like a wild cat. Where did the tree go? Why does it seem to have melted out of sight? How come he's on the roof of his house? Who abandoned him here and left him lying half-naked on the ice-covered roof tiles? Lucky he managed to grab hold of a pipe, or he would have gone crashing to the ground and be done with. Hans woke up terrified and drenched in sweat. Bent low over his bed, his wife was screaming at him. Why didn't Hans wake up early and go do the shopping? She had set the alarm clock on his bedside table, right under his nose. The alarm had gone off along time ago. Why didn't Hans wake up? Was he deaf, by any chance? Why was he screaming like mad in his sleep? What was wrong with him, pray? Why was he standing there, rooted to the spot and staring stupidly at her instead of getting dressed? Had he not gone to the market yet? He should be back by now! What is he thinking? Perhaps he is waiting for her to go do the shopping herself? Wouldn't that be nice? He was some man, Hans was. He didn't care about her one bit! He hardly did any work around the house! Hadn't he gone already? Why was he still there? He shouldn't let the door hit him on his way out! Does he need to be asked nicely? He should buy parsley and spring onions. And not forget to buy coffee and cigarettes. Was it clear, or did she need to spell it out for him? After he did all the shopping, Hans would sweep the floors, wash the dishes, dust the furniture and do the laundry. For no particular reason, his wife made him wet his bed. She loved to see Hans wailing and squirming in his own dirt. She knew Hans couldn't stand to be dirty. But then she would change her mind and start telling Hans off. She had been right, hadn't she? She'd warned him he'd meet a sticky end. But had he paid attention? She would take off his diapers and slap him hard. Hans ought to learn his lesson and stop wetting the bed. It was outrageous! Who did Hans think he was? Whoever heard of a grown man who wets his bed! She was going to let people know about it! People should know what kind of man Hans was. She could not take it any longer! She should just pack up and leave him! To have no man was better than having someone like Hans around! She would leave Hans to look after himself. He was, after all, a grown man. She did not care about it any longer. She had her own life to think about. Hans's life was one never ending nightmare. What had he done to her? Why did she take such pleasure in tormenting him every day? Why didn't she give him a break? One day he was simply going to walk out of it all... Pack his bags and leave home. Simply go away. God would take pity on him. He could make it. His friends would take him in. It was lucky his wife got drunk from time to time. When she was drunk, she would treat Hans better than usual. She would come home smiling tipsily and care to all of Hans's whims. His wife drank heavily. She could drink for a whole week, day and night. She drank brandy and smoked one cigarette after the other. She would not eat anything, either. She could drink ten times more than any man and still be quite steady on her feet. Her glassy eyes were what gave her away. When she came home, she would throw her bag on the bed and come close to the cot where Hans slept. She cuddled him, tickled his chin and pinched his cheeks. All of a sudden, her heart seemed to be bursting with love for poor Hans. She would take off his diapers, lift him up and kiss the soles of his feet. She loved to hear Hans squealing. Hans screamed and laughed and squealed with delight. His hands and feet flailed wildly. He laughed so heard, he started to turn blue. He felt he was nearly choking with laughter. He laughed and he cried all at once. His wife knew her tricks and she knew how to turn Hans on. She would slap his buttocks and toy with him until he ejaculated. Then she would lay him on his back and slap him again. Why was he not acting like a good boy? Why was he always making trouble? Again, she started to cuddle him. Why did he sulk? Had she done anything to him, anything at all? Hans was really losing his sense of humour… She was taking really good care of him, was she not? She would take him into her arms again, and breastfed him. Her white breasts were enormous, her nipples red and as large as beetroots. She forced her nipples into his mouth. Why did Hans refuse to eat? Why would he not eat? Was he by any chance planning to go to bed on an empty stomach? Hans always averted his mouth, pushing her breasts away. She would wave her breasts at him, and then force them into his mouth. She could have at least fed him some milk. But she didn't. She didn't have any. Her breasts were large and drained. It was all in vain. She would have done well to fill his bottle with brandy. When someone came to visit, his wife complained Hans would not pay any attention to her. Hans turned down her breastfeeding although she knew he was hungry. She did not know what to do with him any longer. Hans was really stubborn. Too stubborn for his own good, in fact. When they went out for a walk, she would take him out of his pram and make him walk staggering in front of her. If Hans happened to sway a little on his feet, she would take hold of his collar to prevent him from falling to the ground. Hans could walk very well, as well as everybody else did, but she loved to see him stumbling away. She thought it made him look more attractive. Yes indeed, a lot more attractive. Women simply loved him. Hans grew old really quickly. He was thirty, but he looked like he was at least sixty. His face was deeply wrinkled. His crooked nose sank towards his chin. His prominent chin grew even more pointed. His lips became thin. They were limp and hanging. His eyes turned greedy and sly. He looked incredibly shabby. His wife could not put up with his malice any longer. There was something malicious in Hans's eyes. Something troublingly malicious. When Hans looked at her, she could feel chills going down her spine. He had bushy sideburns; Hans was wearing a cap; she still took him out for walks. They would go out every day. People shook their heads, threw him pity-filled glances. Hans had gotten himself in a right state! Serves him right, he rushed into his marriage without any second thoughts. How many times did they tell him NOT to get married? But no, Hans would not listen to anyone else… If an idea gets into that head of his, he goes straight for it! It's no use crying over spilt milk. He brought all his troubles upon himself. In his early twenties, Hans was a neat, good-looking young man. He would never go out without ironing his pants first. He ironed them two, even three times every day. If he couldn't get it right the first time, he would take the iron out and do it again. If he happened to crease them, he would simply put on a fresh pair of pants. Pants have to be ironed while they're not fully dry. If they were too dry, the line would turn out all wrong. Hans used to iron his shirts himself. His neighbours found this very unusual. Hans is ever so careful with his clothes, they would say. 0When he comes home, he is so careful to fold his clothes and put them back in his dresser! Hans hates even the tiniest specks of dust on his pants. His pants always suited him perfectly. He would polish his shoes in the bathroom. At night, before he went to bed, he used to polish his shoes and leave them neatly in the hallway. His shoes would wait in the hall like a row of well-disciplined soldiers. The older pairs were closer to the door. The new pairs were in the middle. In every shoe here was a fresh pair of socks waiting at the ready. His shoes simply hated dirt. They couldn't stand it. If ever a pair of dirty socks came to be in them, they would wriggle their laces as if in disgust. They hated the smell of dirty socks. They hated being around other pairs of shoes. They carefully avoided stranger shoes. Hans's clothes were very clean as well. Hans used to brush them several times a day. He would iron the collar of his shirts every morning by putting a moist piece of cloth on top of them. He had a neatly ironed handkerchief in every pocket. Hans's relatives would say: "Hans is far too neat. He takes too much care of himself. Let us hope nothing happens to him. He's too delicate for a man." And they were right, weren't they? Just look at the state Hans is in! Eventually, Hans's wife threw caution to the wind and brought home a lover. She was not about to sit back and watch her life pass by! What was there to be done with a man like Hans? She was still young! She was barely forty! Women at forty are still young! It's when they really come into their own! No one will pay any attention to them once they turn fifty. Her lover came by every day. He was tall, dark skinned, had a short beard and strong, hairy arms. They would put Hans to bed in his little crib, cover him in blankets and have fun. The man played his trumpet in the evening. In the mornings, he usually painted out in the balcony. He would sell his paintings at the park on Sundays. He painted landscapes and still lifes and women lying naked on beds. The two of them would lie half-naked on the bed, throwing cakes and candies at Hans. They didn't bother to hide it all from Hans. They pretended not to see him. They simply ignored him. It was too much! Small as he was, Hans was still mad with jealousy. If only they didn't pin his clothes so tightly to his sides... If his hands were free, then he would have shown them! He would have cracked both their hands and thrown them both out! Hans would cry, yell, scream, twisting madly in his diapers. They took no notice of him, and saw to their own business with him right there. It was as if he wasn't there at all.. They could have at least found a place to hide away. They seemed to think Hans was by now too young to understand what was going on. What could he make of their playing around? The painter would come to cuddle Hans while tucking his shirt back into his pants. He took great pleasure in teasing him. He tickled his chin, or pulled his moustaches, and then threw a coin into his crib for Hans to buy candy or cigarettes. Hans didn't need his candy! Nor did he care for the cigarettes that the painter so generously shoved under his nose. He would have liked to have one smoke, though. But Hans was not allowed to smoke or drink coffee. They were bad for him. His wife didn't want to feel responsible for his death. He had smoked too much already. It was about time he gave up this irksome habit of his. Moldova, 1996

by Nichita Danilov (b. 1952)