My Year in No Man's Bay

My Year in No Man's Bay by Peter Handke Read Free Book Online

Book: My Year in No Man's Bay by Peter Handke Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Handke
Tags: Fiction, Literary
gradual winding-down.
    In this transitional moment, a brief, much too brief, night of storytelling takes place among us strangers here. Unexpectedly, the excitement wakes me up, and at the same time I find peace: peace, the great eye. Now the majority of guests leave the café, at the latest at the next hint, the switching-off of the fan or, in winter, of the ceiling-mounted heater. The few who stay behind stand around the room, except perhaps for the one older woman, who sits on the only chair not yet put up on the tables. The iron shutters have been let down almost all the way, the door locked, the key on the inside, and anyone who wants to leave turns it, whereupon someone inside locks up again.
    Somewhere a crack is always left open for a glance out into the night. Hardly anything is going on out there; all the roads in the settlement are access roads and end at the base of the chain of hills, or, if they
continue into the woods, then only as wood roads, with white-painted barriers where the forest begins. As a rule they merge with a route that makes a loop around the remotest corner of the suburb. This ring road somewhat resembles a breakwater, and the section enclosed by it a harbor, for instance the harbor of Piran on the Istrian Peninsula, where thirty-five years ago I first sat by the sea, as a student, after a major examination, and, there among the limestone blocks, for hours on end, knew nothing at all of myself and my origins, of jurisprudence, of limestone; I was refreshingly oblivious, and appearances were quite enough; I did not want to know what lay behind anything, a state to which I sometimes long from the bottom of my heart to return.
    Part of this civilized surface carved out of the woods actually is water, the water of a pond that has been here for centuries. When you glance out of one of the bars at night through the remaining crack, the black water gleams, now and then ruffled by a gust of wind, and the headlights of the infrequently passing cars dart across the water like those of speedboats. But in the second bar, too, outside of which only the empty pavement gleams, when you look out at night you can sense the presence of water right around the corner, not only of this pond but also of the couple of others in this corner of the world, most of them already in the forest.
    Those standing in the bar at night appear at first stranded, and in my imagination they have already been there a long time. Not a few of them, as I gather from scraps of conversation, without specifically listening for the information, have lived in their region here since childhood. Although the bars are not dives but rather the only public places in these outlying towns, serving also as tobacco shops, where you can buy newspapers and postage stamps, and in the summer, when the bakery is closed, as bread depots, I have never met a single one of my neighbors there. The citizenry is not included among the guests at the local cafés, at least not in the evening.
    But it was premature to describe the last holdouts in the bar as stranded. For among them I recognize one tradesman or another who has done work on my house. Or the older ones, in the minority, seem in the way they silently follow the smallest happenings anything but failures: calm retirees, solemn anglers, dignified widowers (as the older woman sitting by herself always has the air of a not so dignified widow).

    And nevertheless it was there at night that the whole area appeared to me for the first time as a bay, with us as driftwood. At the same time that was one of the rare occasions when I saw this isolated suburb as a part of the large city of Paris beyond the chain of hills, to be precise as the most remote, hidden, least accessible bay of the metropolitan ocean, separated from it by the barrier formed all along the horizon by the hills of the Seine, with the road between Versailles and Paris that cut across them forming the only link with the open spaces. And we,

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