Perlefter

Perlefter by Joseph Roth Read Free Book Online

Book: Perlefter by Joseph Roth Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joseph Roth
wanted to call it off. The children did not allow her near the telephone. During the evening they rang up all the near and far relatives of the family and reported to them in detail about Perlefter’s undertaking. Frau Perlefter secretly summoned the family doctor to come. Perlefter was still being examined at nine o’clock. The doctor said, ‘Not too much to eat and not too little. The heart is fine. Don’t look out the window, so that you won’t suffer from motion sickness.’
    There was a young engineer in the family, a nice young man who understood nothing of aeroplanes as he had interest only in architecture. Nevertheless he was expected to intervene in all technological matters in Perlefter’s house. He was forced to repair clocks, electric lights and telephones and to check the drains. Perlefter had, in fact, once helped this young man out. The young man’s outstanding virtue was his thanks.
    He came over on this occasion. He was given a cup of chocolate. In exchange he gave a lecture on aircraft. He had intended to join the air force during the war. But before he could be trained world peace was achieved. The young man recounted anecdotes of the air officers. It calmed the Perlefter family to see a young man, still alive, healthy and unscathed, drinking chocolate, despite having almost been a pilot.
    The family lawyer was also consulted, a walrus-moustached attorney named Dr Nagl who had a fondness for servant girls and thus always entered through the kitchen. He came, explained the airline’s liability provisions and advised – cold and heartless as lawyers are prone to be – that a last will and testament be drawn up. Perlefter’s wife began to sob once again.
    Another relative showed up, one who had not been invited, the poor seamstress who had married her carpenter. She dared not ask the reason for all the excitement. Although everyone else was drinking chocolate she was given tea, and they pretended to look for a lemon. But on this evening the lemons were all gone. She drank it all the same, an old stale tea with beads of glistening foam on the rim of the cup.
    They paid no attention to the seamstress. Herr Perlefter lay down on the sofa and smoked. He let his ashes fall lustily on to the carpet, and his wife indulged him. Perhaps, she thought, this would be the last time he could recline so comfortably on the sofa.
    Perlefter’s thoughts, however, revolved around the immediate future. He envisaged his scattered bones and imagined them being collected and cremated. Perlefter had specified in his will that his remains should be cremated. He was afraid of cemeteries and especially of cemeteries in winter. When he imagined himself as a corpse lying under metres of snow he felt like he was standing outside without a woollen coat. He would rather be burned than to freeze.
    Perlefter was also certainly thinking of the hereafter.For he rose suddenly from the sofa, motioned me in the next room and spoke. ‘You could do me a favour. Two weeks ago I heard that the wife of our cousin Kroj is sick with pneumonia. Take this money to him straight away. Have you time?’
    â€˜Yes,’ I said. ‘I have nothing but time to take some money to Kroj. Incidentally, Frau Kroj is perhaps already dead.’
    â€˜Impossible!’ cried Herr Perlefter. ‘To be sure, she’s still alive!’
    â€˜But what if she’s dead?’
    â€˜Don’t even consider it! She can’t be dead! One can’t die so easily!’
    â€˜Oh yes, one can die easily from pneumonia!’
    â€˜Stop it,’ yelled Perlefter. ‘One shouldn’t make jokes about such serious matters.’
    Then I took the money to Herr Kroj.
    Kroj was a cobbler. The Perlefter family let him resole all their old boots. Herr Perlefter often claimed that Kroj demanded too steep a price and the stranger shoemaker in the neighbouring house was significantly cheaper. Nevertheless all

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