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« Secular Knowledge not a Principle of Action | Main | Der Hund (part 1) »

Der Hund (part 2)

The conclusion to a story ("The dog") by this Swiss man of letters.  You can read the original as part of this collection.

How could I ever forget our love?  The windows loomed somewhere in the room as a horizon of slender right angles above our nakedness.  We lay there body against body, sinking further and further into one another, embracing with rising desire, and the noises from the street combined with the forlorn screams of our lust.  Sometimes it was the shuffling stumble of the intoxicated; at other times, the traipsing of the neighborhood harlots; at still other times, the long monotonous stomp of a passing army cohort which resolved itself into the crispness of horses' hoofs and the rolling of wheels.  We lay together below the earth's surface, swathed in its warm darkness, no longer afraid; and from the corner where the man was sleeping on his mattress soundlessly as if he were dead, we saw the yellow eyes of the dog staring at us, round slices of two sulphuric moons spying on our love.

An incandescent autumn came, yellow and red, followed late in the year by winter – mild, without the venturesome cold of previous years.  Nevertheless I never managed to lure the girl out of the basement to introduce her to my friends, to go to the theater (where radical things were taking place), or even to stroll together at daybreak through the woods that expanded over the hills and surrounded the town in waves.  She would only sit there at the fir wood table until her father came home with the big dog, and until she pulled me into her bed by the windows' yellow light.  As spring approached, however, and the town still lay in snow – dirty and wet and a meter high in the shade – the girl came to my rooms. 

The sun was shining crookedly through the window.  It was late in the afternoon and I had laid some firewood in the furnace.  And then she appeared, wan and trembling, and most likely freezing as well since she came coatless and, as always, in her dark blue dress.  It was only her shoes, red and lined with fur, which I had never seen before. 

"You have to kill the dog," said the girl, out of breath and still on the threshold of my door.

Her eyes were wide open and she had the distinct appearance of a ghost.  For that reason I dared not touch her and, instead, I went over to the closet and produced a revolver.

"I knew that you would eventually ask me to do this," I said, "so I bought a gun.  When should I do it?"

"Right now," replied the girl softly.  "Father is also scared of the animal – and now I know that he's always been scared of it."

I inspected the gun and put on my coat. 

"They're in the basement," said the girl as she lowered her gaze.  "Father's been lying on the mattress the whole day, so terrified that he cannot move much less pray, and the dog has stationed himself in front of the door."

We went down along the river and then over the stone bridges.  The sky was deep and threateningly red like a gigantic blaze, and the sun had just set.  The town was livelier than normal, full of people and cars moving beneath what resembled a sea of blood since in their windows and walls the houses reflected the evening light.  We walked through the crowds.  We hurried through ever-narrowing traffic, lines of stopped cars and careening buses that seemed like monsters with dull and evil eyes, and policemen in grey helmets motioning excitedly.  I pushed my way through with such determination that I left the girl behind.  Finally I ran down the street, panting and with my coat wide open as an increasingly violet and increasingly powerful twilight took hold – yet I came too late.  When I had kicked down the door and burst into the basement, gun in hand, I saw the enormous shadow of the horrible beast escaping through the window, its panes shattered.  And on the floor, a white mass in a black pool, the man lay there, having been torn to pieces by the dog to such a degree that he was unrecognizable.       

As I leaned trembling against the wall and sinking into the books, I heard the car sirens outside.  A stretcher was brought in.  In the shadows I saw a doctor by the deceased and heavily armed policemen with pale faces.  People were standing all around.  I called out to the girl.  Then I raced into town over the bridges and back to my rooms, but I didn't find her.  Desperately I searched without rest or sustenance.  Because everyone was afraid of the giant animal, the police was mobilized, as were the soldiers from the barracks who walked through the woods in long chains stretched over a distance.  Boats were dropped into the dirty yellow river and searches were conducted with long poles.  Then when spring came, bringing with it warm rain showers that led to an inordinate amount of flooding, the quarries and their hollows were searched with raised voices and torches.  The sewers were entered and the cathedral's screed was scrutinized.  But the girl could not be found and the dog never appeared again.

Three days later I came back late one night to my rooms, exhausted and without hope.  I threw myself on the bed fully dressed and then I heard steps on the street below.  I ran to the window, opened it and leaned out into the night.  The street lay before me like a black strip still wet from the rain which had fallen until midnight.  The street lamps were reflected on the street as coadunate golden specks; and outside along the trees, the girl was walking in her dark dress and red shoes, her hair flowing in long strands and shimmering blue in the lights of that late hour.  And beside her walked a dark shadow, gentle and silent like a lamb, the dog with its round, sparkling yellow eyes.

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