Douglas Robertson continues his project of translating Thomas Bernhard into English and sharing it at his blog, The Philosophical Worldview Artist, with his latest offering, a 1967 short story called “The Weatherproof Cape.” The tale was originally published in Midland in Stilfs in 1971; its composition and publication put it roughly contemporary with Bernhard’s second novel Gargoyles. Notice the typically Bernhardian opening (pre-elliptical) clause, with its parenthetical (and suspicious) “verbatim.” Here’s the first sentence of the story (I’m counting “sentence” as ending in a period).
English translation by Douglas Robertson
From the Innsbruck lawyer Enderer, our guardian, we received the following (verbatim) account…for twenty years, mainly in the Saggengasse and mainly at around midday, I have been crossing paths with this person without knowing who this person is; complementarily, for twenty years, mainly in the Saggengasse and mainly at around midday, this man has been crossing paths with me, without knowing who I am…moreover, the man hails from the Saggengasse, albeit from the upper Saggengasse, whereas I hail from the lower Saggengasse; both of us grew up in the Saggengasse and in point of fact, I think, I have always seen this person without knowing that he hails from the Saggengasse and without knowing who he is; complementarily this person has known nothing about me…now it occurs to me that there is something I should have noticed about this person, that I should have noticed his weatherproof cape…we cross paths with a person for years, decades, without knowing who this person is and if we ought to notice anything about the person, we notice nothing about the person, and we could cross paths with such a person over the course of an entire life without noticing anything about the person… suddenly we notice something about this person with whom we have been crossing paths for two decades, we notice something, be it his weatherproof cape, be it something else entirely; suddenly I noticed this person’s weatherproof cape and in connection with this I noticed that the man lived in the Saggengasse and was partial to taking walks along the Sill…a week ago this person accosted me in the Herrengasse and this man went up with me into my office; as we were climbing the stairs it became clear to me that “you have been seeing this person for two full decades, always the same person, always the same aging individual in the Saggengasse, at around midday in this weatherproof cape, in this quite ordinary but quite definitely worn-out weatherproof cape”; still, as we were climbing the stairs it was not yet clear to me why the weatherproof cape in particular was arousing my attention; suddenly, at close proximity, the weatherproof cape was arousing my undivided attention…but it really is quite an ordinary weatherproof cape, I thought; there are tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes in these mountains, there are tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes; tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes are worn by the Tyrolians…no matter who these people are, no matter what they do, when they come here they wear all these weatherproof capes, some of them gray, some of them green; because they wear all these weatherproof capes, the numerous loden factories in the valleys keep flourishing; these weatherproof capes are exported to every corner of the world, but there is something quite distinctive about the weatherproof cape of my new client: its buttonholes are trimmed in kidskin! I have seen these kidskin-trimmed buttonholes only once before in my life, namely on the weatherproof cape of my uncle, who drowned eight years ago in the lower Sill…this man is wearing exactly the same weatherproof cape as my drowned uncle: that is what I am thinking as I walk up to my office with the man…suddenly I recall that when they pulled my Uncle Worringer out of the Sill, opinion had been divided whether his drowning had been an act of desperation or an accident, but I am certain that it was with so-called suicidal intent that Worringer threw himself into the Sill; for me there can be no doubt about it; Worringer killed himself; everything in his life and ultimately everything in his business life pointed to suicide…by the time they were looking for the drowned man upstream of the glass factory he had already been washed up on to the riverbank downstream of Pradl; the newspapers devoted entire pages to the incident; our entire family was hauled into public view by the press; the phrases a ruined business, ruined timber, a defunct saw-works, and finally economic and corporate ruin haunted the journalists’ sensation-mongering minds…the funeral in Wilten was one of the biggest there has ever been; I remember thousands of people in attendance, writes Enderer…it’s remarkable, I say to the man with whom I am climbing the stairs leading to my office, that I can’t get your weatherproof cape out of my head; several times the thought of your weatherproof cape has popped into my head…your weatherproof cape, believe it or not…I could not help thinking but did not say, there is the most intimate connection between your weatherproof cape and my uncle’s; who knows whether the man knows what I am talking about, I thought and I invite the man to step into the office, step inside! I say, because the man is hesitating, next I am inside the office and taking off my coat and the man is coming in…it looks as though the man was waiting for me in the front doorway of the building; today I am twenty minutes behind schedule, I think, and then: what does this man want? I am irritated by his taciturnity and his weatherproof cape in alternation; as soon as we were both inside the office, I was more clearly able to see, better able to see, after I had turned the light on, that the buttonholes of the man’s weatherproof cape were trimmed with kidskin, with black kidskin, and I discerned that my new client’s weatherproof cape had been tailored exactly like the weatherproof cape of my Uncle Worringer, tailored in the simplest manner.