4/20/11

Crudely suggestive, a clumsy insinuation

The phone rang and he stood up. But it was only a birthday telegram arriving. The postmistress wrote it down and confirmed it word by word. Bloch walked back and forth. One of the mailmen had returned from his route and was now loudly reporting to the girl. Bloch sat down. Outside on the street, now that it was early afternoon, there was no distraction. Bloch had become impatient but did not show it. He heard the mailman say that the gypsy had been hiding all this time near the border in one of those lean-to shelters the customs guards used. "Anyone can say that," said Bloch. The mailman turned toward him and stopped talking. What he claimed to be the latest news, Bloch went on, anybody could have read yesterday, the day before yesterday, even the day before the day before yesterday, in the papers. What he said didn't mean anything, nothing at all, nothing whatsoever. The mailman had turned his back to Bloch even while Bloch was still talking and was now speaking quietly with the postmistress, in a murmur that sounded to Bloch like those passages in foreign films that are left untranslated because they are supposed to be incomprehensible anyway. Bloch couldn't reach them any more with his remark. All at once the fact that it was in a post office that he "couldn't reach anybody any more" seemed to him not like a fact at all but like a bad joke, like one of those word games that, say, sportswriters play, which he had always loathed. Even the mailman's story about the gypsy had seemed to him crudely suggestive, a clumsy insinuation, like the birthday telegram, whose words were so commonplace that they simply could not mean what they said. And it wasn't only the conversation that was insinuating; everything around him was also meant to suggest something to him. "As though they winked and made signs at me," thought Bloch. For what was it supposed to mean that the lid of the inkwell lay right next to the well on the blotter and that the blotter on the desk had obviously been replaced just today, so only a few impressions were legible on it? And wouldn't it be more proper to say "so that" instead of "so"? So that the impressions would therefore be more legible. And now the postmistress picked up the phone and spelled out the birthday telegram letter by letter. What was she hinting at by that? What was behind her dictating "All the best," "With kind regards": what was that supposed to mean? Who was behind the cover name "your loving grandparents"? Even that morning Bloch had instantly recognized the short slogan "Why not phone?" as a trap.

-Peter Handke, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick