Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Hill of Loneliness, by Jára Kahovcová

The Hill of Loneliness
The short story takes place in the sanatorium complex (Ozdravovna) that used to be on Kamenný vrch in Brno at the end of the 1930s. Only the lookout tower and the pool have survived.

The Hill of Loneliness

Alice is sitting on the sunbed, reading her book again. I think I’ve never heard her voice, she never smiles and she always has this grim and dark look, yet she doesn’t seem sad or unhappy. She just doesn’t like people, I guess.
Yesterday we went to the lookout tower, all the thirty of us. Everyone climbed the stairs to see the spectacular view of the city Dr. Spitz told us about. All the girls laughed and posed for Emma who wanted to take some pictures with her new Zeiss camera. Alice didn’t go up and stayed at the entrance, of course. She just couldn’t enjoy herself for a minute, could she? She kept staring at the pool below and not once did she look up. But we didn’t care; only Dr. Spitz frowned and seemed worried.
Franz, my fiancé came to see me on Sunday. He arrived in his car, a Beetle – pretty cute, I must say. He wanted to take me for a ride to Bílovice but Dr. Spitz told him I needed to rest. I hope to leave this dreadful place soon, or I’ll die of boredom here.

Stephen Gordon would understand. She’s my only true friend here – she doesn’t ask any stupid questions and doesn’t sit with her ears glued to the radio all the time, and perhaps she hates heights like I do. I share my room with two other girls, Frieda and Emma. Frieda is a flirty blonde with hoop earrings to her shoulders, always smiling and grinning. Her boyfriend works in a German car factory and comes to see her every fortnight. She’s always so excited she needs to show it off.
Emma is quiet and kind and she’s not as pale as Frieda – perhaps her asthma isn’t so bad after the two months she had already spent here. She dislikes the collective walks in the forest park like I do, so sometimes we sneak out of the day room after breakfast and go to the pool nearby. The water is still cold for this season of the year but we don’t mind. Dr. Spitz isn’t happy when she sees us there – she says we should stay warm, relax, and recuperate to recover soon”. I wonder if she knows how to restart my life, as well. She could definitely help me with that. Stephen would say she’s “amazingly blond” and her hair is “not so much golden as silver”. She always has this trustful expression, too trustful for a doctor, if you ask me.

Last night we stayed in the lounge and played cards all evening. Emma turned on the radio and started dancing to some terrible music. Franz says these nigger brass bands can’t play in Germany anymore and many musicians have left the country. I certainly don’t like jazz and swing but why to ban them? It just doesn’t make much sense to me. Franz told me everything would be different and much, much better once we get married and move to Berlin. But I just don’t know. I’m not sure if there are such nice and cosy places like Biber or Kolbaba cafes – or the Bio Dopz cinema where I met Franz, actually.
Emma left the sanatorium last week. She wants to work in her father’s photo studio. But a women photographer in Brno? Sheer madness.

Frieda has been sullen these days. Franz doesn’t come here so often now and he stopped sending her long letters and switched to kitschy postcards instead. I feel sorry for her – and for her mother, who was already planning a big wedding.
I miss Emma. We weren’t so close but we did have some fun, and talked about art and books. She was the only one who stopped asking me about a boyfriend. She even tried to read the novel about Stephen Gordon although she found the story “sick”.
Dr. Spitz told me that I could go home in a week or so. She just sprang the news on me, thinking I’d jump for joy. But I couldn’t. I like it here. I love the pool at dawn. I love the lookout tower even though I never go up. I love the trees and the pasqueflowers on the hill. Their violet skirts are as elegant and beautiful as Dr. Spitz’s new blouse. Their petals glisten in the sun like her eyelashes when she narrows her eyes and frowns at me. Oh gosh, if only Emma heard me now. “You’re such a wicked romantic, Alice!” she would say.
Dr. Spitz looked out of the window. In the evening, the forest park seemed darker than her thoughts. She glanced at her packed suitcase: she’s the last one to leave before the sanatorium is closed down. All her patients and nurses are gone. Some of them still send her postcards – like Frieda from Munich or Emma from Haifa; others greet her when they meet in the city. But none of them knows how really lonely she feels. How lonely she has felt even for the few years when the sanatorium was open. Dr. Spitz closed the book on of her patients, Alice, gave her last month when she was leaving, and stared at the title: The Well of Loneliness.
(Kamenný vrch, 1939)

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