Thursday, September 22, 2011

ET: Almanac

And 1922, 1923, 1924--twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six. Are you still young? Are you already old? Her temples show a scribble of a few fine lines, her legs are sometimes tired, in the spring her head aches strangely. But there's progress, things are getting better. There's money in her hand, hard and round, she has a permanent position as "postal official," her brother-in-law is even sending her mother two or three banknotes at the beginning of every month. Now would be the time to try, in some small way, to be young again; even her mother is urging her to go out and enjoy herself. Her mother finally gets her to sign up for a dancing class in the next town. These thumping dance lessons aren't easy, her fatigue is too much a part of her. Sometimes she feels her joints are frozen--even the music can't thaw them out. Laboriously she practices the assigned steps, but she can't really get interested, she's not carried away, and for the first time she has a feeling: too late, toil has exhausted her youth, the war has taken it away. Something must have snapped inside her, and men seem to sense it, for she isn't really being pursued by any of them, even though her delicate blond profile has an aristocratic look among the coarse faces, round and red lik apples, of the village girls. But these postwar seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds aren't waiting quietly and patiently, waiting for someone to want them and take them. They're demanding pleasure as their right, demanding it as impetuously as though it's not just their own young lives that they're living but the lives of the hundred-thousand dead and buried too. With a kind of horror Christine, now twenty-six, watches how they act, these newcomers, these young ones, sees their self-assurance and covetousness, their knowing and impudent eyes, the provocation in their hips, how unmistakably they laugh no matter how boldly the boys embrace them, and hwo shamelessly they take the men off into the woods--she sees them on her way home. It disgusts her. Surrounded by this coarse and lustful postwar generation she feels ancient, tired, useless and overwhelmed, unwilling and unable to compete. No more struggling, no more striving, that's the main thing! Breathe calmly, daydream quietly, do your work, water the flowers in the window, ask not, want not. No more asking for anything, nthing new, nothing exciting. The war stole her decade of youth. She has no courage, no strength left even for happiness.

- The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

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