The House of Loneliness
Lukewarm raindrops drummed on the full canopy of a sturdy old oak. The oak’s gnarled shape sheltered me from the truly torrential downpour, although it was too late really, as my clothes were already soaked. Water dripped down from my hair, drop by drop, over my forehead and gathered at the tip of my nose, falling to the ground in rhythmic, near-exact seconds. From time to time I looked up at the sky to inquire if this was just a brief shower or whether the rain was just getting started. On the horizon I saw a gaping hole in a wall of gray-red clouds, through which the blue sky fought its way out and spear-like rays of sun pierced through to the earth below. It was a stunning sight that could have given me pleasure for hours.
I had been living in the city for three years, the city that was kept awake by its perpetual pulsating life. The city that gulped up its citizens between skyscrapers and spat them out. They crawled like ants through a concreted world, neon signs and the constant noise of cars; they vegetated in their sterility and never came to rest. Even at night, when the darkness lay over the city like a black veil, people found no rest. They crawled out of their safe buildings with purpose, to find each other, to fight their loneliness, they met in bars, restaurants, cinemas and casinos, huddling close together and yet everyone was alone; forced into a life of loneliness by their shallow ways. People stole glances at branded labels, but rarely saw the person beneath. They drank expensive drinks and champagne, chatted about stocks and shares and led otherwise bland conversations that gave them, at least for a moment, the feeling that they’d escaped their loneliness. However, when the sun appeared on the horizon to quietly announce the next day, they came to realise once more that their expensive facades had done nothing to help satisfy a deep-seated inner desire. A desire for closeness to others. The desire, which remained unsatisfied because people with their constant quest for prosperity and security had forgotten how to be human and were instead being consumed by a lack of depth. In this city there were more walls than there were houses. The roof of a very special house, the House of Loneliness, was supported by walls that were cold, damp, hard and brittle. I escaped those cold walls as often as I could, so that they could not enclose me, not lock me up, and make me dull and uncaring. I wanted to feel that I lived, I wanted to feel that I was a part of this world. That’s why I liked to swap the mental loneliness of the city with the physical solitude of the wilderness. Here I could be sure I would be alone. Even though I could still physically sense the cold presence of the people I left behind in the city, it was just another reminder of the coldness they carried in them.
My gaze wandered over the valley to my right, where at its deepest point I discovered a small, clear stream that appeared to flow out of the mountain, and meandered through the valley, leading to a clear lake. To the left of the lake the terrain rose slightly, a gentle hill of sated greens on which, about half way, a seemingly impenetrable forest made up of spruces began. That’s where I wanted to go as soon as the rain let up. The forest had an irresistible pull, I didn’t know why, but I felt that in the midst of this seemingly impenetrable wall there was something that I should definitely see. Not just wanting to see. But was supposed to see! Something drew me, it was not a scary feeling at all, even if I didn’t know what awaited me between clutches of the acerous trees. I sat for a long time, watching the frolicking clouds, and as the rain subsided and it brightened as the sun pierced through the breaking clouds, I headed to the forest. I walked for what felt like two or three hours, but when I looked at my watch, only a few minutes had passed. I had otherwise an excellent sense of time and could always rely on my internal clock. But here and now everything was different.
The hike was easy, I didn’t tire, the walking didn’t strain me, just as if
someone wanted to help me along the way. However, sometimes the forest didn’t seem any closer, as if I had been walking on the same spot. Tirelessly and easy, from time to time I stopped and put my hands over my eyes to protect them from the descending sun. The forest shimmered, like hot asphalt iridescent in heat, the forest seemingly breathed before my eyes. Its borders appeared undefined and I imagined now to be able to see a path that I did not notice before. The forest ‘called’ to me, as if I should dive into it like into the waters of a clear mountain lake. And I so longed to entirely disappear into its darkness, to be swallowed and taken away from the mercilessness and emptiness that surrounded me.
I did not know if I was disappointed or surprised, or what I thought’d find. As I made my way to the forest, I walked along a small dirt track and after an undefined amount of time reached a small clearing. Like an oasis in the desert, it stretched out before me, above the sun shone just for the clearing alone and the house that was standing in the middle. It felt like I had been travelling half the day, however, a glance at my watch told me that my journey had only taken an hour. A pleasant, relaxed feeling came over me, I felt fresh and rested, as if I had slept.
‘Antoine’ was written in green on a board that was stuck to a door of the house. The house was surprisingly large. It was completely made of wood, had two floors and a small balcony jutted out from the upper middle windows. Surrounded by a garden full of fragrant herbs and flowers, the house seemed friendly and welcoming. Was it that which had pulled me here? Unfamiliar, a deep and profound feeling of peace overcame me. With a faint creak the door opened, as if the house wanted to tell me to come closer and enter. And that’s what I did. I entered a large hall, its size surprised me greatly, it was far bigger than I would have imagined, even though the house seemed quite large from the outside, the interior surpassed all my expectations. It smelled of cinnamon and vanilla, the smell reminded me a little of my childhood. I immediately felt safe and at home, as if I had grown up in these rooms. A long forgotten feeling that I found again in my heart. Many rooms led off the hall and straight ahead I could see a broad wooden staircase, lined with a red velvet carpet, led to the second floor. I climbed up, and there, in one of the countless rooms, he sat wrapped in a plaid blanket, in front of the fire, in a massive, leather wing chair, smoking a pipe. „Well, you’ll be tired, my friend.“ He said in a low, calm voice. „Come and be my guest. My name is Antoine.” Antoine, the master of the house, was a man of about seventy years with a full beard and kindly sparkling blue eyes. A special feature caught my eye, even if it was perhaps unimportant. There was a birthmark on his neck under the left ear. Not large but of exceptional shape, as if it reached out for me, tiny, but somehow recognizable. Had it not been for this special shape, perhaps I’d never have noticed this mark and even though I saw this gentleman for the first time in my life, he felt more familiar to me than any person ever before. As if we had already known each other for ages, had not seen each other in a very long time and were now happy to have met each other again.
I believe we had engaged in long conversations throughout many nights. In the B&B Antoine time seemed to stand still. We talked about the loneliness of the
people in the cities who lived so close to each other and yet every man was alone and absorbed by shallowness. Antoine knew how I felt, as if he could read my mind, as if he knew how I felt and how uncomfortable I was in the city between the cold walls, between those walls, which supported the roof of the very special house.
Since then, I regularly visited Antoine. Whenever my time allowed it, I drove
to my friend who became someone very special to me and whose company I never wanted to miss. I felt safe and understood when with him, and I was convinced that Antoine felt the same way about me. Knowing he was there for me and the anticipation of knowing I would see him in the next few days helped me endure the loneliness of the city. But one day that all changed.
On that day I met a strange gentleman instead of my good old friend, a stiff gentleman, in a suit and tie, clutching a briefcase under his arm. I ran through the house and searched for my trusted friend, but found him nowhere. The fireplace on the second floor was cold and clean, as if it had never been used before. Antoine’s blanket lay neatly folded on the large wing chair, and I was overcome with despair as I realised my good friend seemed to have departed from this world forever, from this wonderful house, and … from me. A deep sadness came over me and yet I felt something that seemed inexplicable. I felt as if Antoine was near me, around me, in the memories of long nights in this wonderful house, I truly believed I could sense him.
I hurried out to the official looking gentleman and asked about Antoine.
„Antoine?“ He smiled dismissively. „Dear man, surely you do not believe in the story of Antoine?“
„We were instructed to sell this house. Don’t ask me who commissioned us, the seller wants to remain anonymous. We’ve only received the job and the deeds to the property and the land.”
„What story?“, I insisted.
„Many stories entwine this house like ivy covering cold walls. This Antoine, whose surname was never known, is said to have built the house a long time ago. When he was done, and that was within one day, he disappeared just as mysteriously as he had come.“
„Nobody missed him?“, I asked incredulously.
„Well my friend, no one knew him. He just showed up, built the house and
„When was that?“
„Good question. Nobody knows for sure. Again, it’s just a crazy story. You know what people are like. “
„When?“ I asked again. The agent grimaced.
„A hundred, maybe two hundred years ago. Who knows? Until a few years ago, the house was sold from time to time. But the owners never stayed long. No one could say why. Maybe the quiet here got too boring. Perhaps they were afraid of something. Who knows? Perhaps the loneliness out here scared them.“
I bought the B&B Antoine. That way I escaped the anonymity of the metropolis that I hated so much and I revelled in the memories of Antoine, who I missed so very much.
A noise woke me from a deep sleep, I listened closely. When I opened my eyes, I saw something that would normally have given me a fright, but I kept quiet because I wasn’t alone. The room around me was alive, it breathed calmly like a man in deep slumber, who was infinitely familiar to me. The walls were shimmering before my eyes, their ashen wallpaper seemed like the skin of an old man. I reached out for it, and indeed it felt warm and alive. The floor beneath me pulsed softly and I heard the quiet pounding of a heart, rhythmic, soothing. My eyes traced the warm walls and then to the left of the window, I discovered a birthmark, a small hand held out to welcome me.
I went happily back into the soft cushions, closed my eyes, and I said smiling:
„You must have been very lonely, my dear old friend.“
(c) Daniela Wegert (Winfoth)
Translation by Simone Dahlmann (email@example.com)