now the sun wants to rise
Susannah Pabot

in july they return to maiernigg, always on the same date, they rent at the seehotel, huddled against the southern shores of the wörthersee, its steep, yellow walls covered in vines a short walk along the lake, on the grass above a cliff overgrown with dark pines, he sits, forever a young man, facing the water, the waves filled with movement, cutting white into blue, his gaze fixed on the small peninsula in their midst, perfectly rounded like a mount of sand between a child's palms, and though the afternoon is more than half-over, the sun still clings to the sky, shining down on a castle and beside it, the almond-shaped cupola of a chapel
this year they arrive through a storm, one of those summer storms that appear out of nowhere, swallowing the entire landscape, driving through goritschnitzen, the rain pouring down onto their car with such heavy insistence that he is forced to drive almost at a walking pace, she sits next to him, her face gathered into her gaze out into the gray blur, her hands fists in her lap, the lake hidden behind a screen of low clouds and deluge
now he sees her in the distance, almost invisible in a dazzle of sunlight, wearing a white sundress, she is tracing the rocky shore, carrying a small child on her back, lucas, he thinks, she is carrying their lucas, and her bare arms are folded over her hips to make a seat for him, whose little arms are wrapped around her shoulders, their child with her hair, the color of sand falling thick and wild around his face, their child who now wriggles and tugs at the strap on her shoulder until she crouches to let him slide down her back and scamper off ahead, now she is running after him and her legs play with the thin cotton over her knees, its hues capturing the light and flowing into the colors of the lake until, breathless, she catches up and takes the boy's hand into hers
in the silence of their room, always the same narrow room, number 23 on the second floor, always the same double bed facing the window, long ago there was barely room for the crib by her side, now they sit down on opposite sides, their backs facing until at last she stands up and moves toward the window and the view of the wörthersee and she sees the dark clouds thick as a curtain over the water and the sliver of sun behind them, she lifts her arms and adjusts a barrette in her hair, on the right side, holding her now short, gray hair out of her face
now he calls out to her, remembering in that moment that her name means happiness, and she turns to him, lifts her hand to her forehead to shield against the sun shining so brightly, and her eyes find him where he is sitting in the grass on the cliff, she waves and although she is far, he can also see her face very close to his own, on their mattress, the pillows pushed off the narrow bed, her pale eyes, almost frightening in their lightness, an exaggeration of nature, her pallid cheeks darkened by their lovemaking, last night in the seehotel, in the room overlooking the lake, still breathless, she rolled over, away from him, toward the cot-bed, placing her hand on the small, sleeping back
stay, he begged, he's asleep, he's fine
he's so still, she whispered
he's just sleeping, he said, and he pulled at her shoulder, gently, and she returned to him, sighing, and for a moment he thought she was angry with him before she settled her head under his arm
she turns away from the window, crosses the narrow room, to her bag on the round table in the corner, next to a vase of mohnbl├╝ten and veilchen, a pouch of faded, patterned cloth, she reaches inside, lifts out wool and needles, sits down in the chair, now their room is filled with the rhythm of needles as she moves them, nothing else, no, nothing except, somewhere on the lake, the faint tinkle of a bell
there, in the distance, she extends her arm, points toward the peninsula, then cups her hands to her mouth, calls against the wind, and he hears the words maria-loretto, and he remembers, this is the name of the peninsula or the castle on it, or maybe the chapel, she is asking him to come with them, but he shakes his head, blows a kiss, calls to her
don't stay too late, it will be dark soon
and they run without him toward the bridge, laughing
his hand strikes the bedside table, and she looks down at the soft wool, she is knitting a pale blue sweater, to match her eyes, and no, she cannot make herself get up and go to him, only her voice trails faintly to the other side of the room where he still sits on his side of the bed:
please, don't, it's of no use
now he watches his little boy's arms up high in the air pretending, he imagines, to be a swallow in flight or a fish skimming the waves, or no, is he holding a toy, yes, he is holding his favorite tin boat
are you telling me that to feel is of no use, is that what you're telling me?
he speaks in a whisper but even as a whisper, his voice startles her
and he watches her, further and further in the distance, her long hair, the color of sand, floating behind her and for a moment he changes his mind, stands up, raises his voice
laetitia, wait!
but the shifting gusts of wind carry his words in the opposite direction, they are too far, already
when she doesn't answer he stands up and crosses the room, grabs her knitting, throws it against the window, and her arms fall, empty, to her sides
for god's sake, be a woman!
he pulls at her arms, tries to draw her close, with one hand he holds her, the other fumbles in her hair, tears at a barrette, drops it to the floor, and his hands circle her head, she feels him try to press her face to his own, her own body is limp and she refuses to look at him, she turns, stares out the window, at nothing, at the lake, he pulls her into his arms, carries her, drags her, a rag-doll, back to their bed and lays her on it, again and again he kisses her, tells her he loves her, but her eyes are closed and she turns away from him, into the bed, presses her face into the covers, until he gets up and she moves her face so that she can see him, his body wet with sweat, standing at the door
down the stairs, into the garden and to shore of the wörthersee only a few steps away, now he bends and touches the water with the palm of his hand, in the sky the sun has found a crevasse between the clouds and a burst of bright light breaks on the surface of the wörthersee before him, he stands up and follows the path by the shore up into the sunlight toward the cliffs not far from maria loretto, a cliff he now knows is called the black rock, there, on the grassy slope, he finds himself as young man, rising onto his feet and lifting his arm, calling out toward the shape of the woman and child disappearing into the pines on the peninsula before them, and now this young man he once was turns and faces him, brushing his hair out of his face with his hand, a quick, excited movement
you are here, the young man says, you have come back
and he answers, yes, we had not planned to, but yes
where is she, the young man asks
she is still in our room, I don't think she will come out today
you have grown older, the young man laughs
what did you expect?
the young man searches his face
nothing specific, a change, yes, but less predictable
then he looks back onto the peninsula:
they are already on maria loretto
yes, I saw them, it is almost time
on their bed, alone, she lies where he left her, unable to struggle against her weight, her cheek still pressed against the covers, and she watches the shadows on the ceiling and wall shift with the last of the sun that now, at last, has found a way through the clouds, and her body curls into itself
he reaches out and touches the young man's elbow
I should have come earlier, he says
next time you will
no, there won't be a next time
the young man smiles, nodding
that's what you always say
he turns back to maria loretto, the castle that has not yet been turned into a gasthaus
now they have reached the cove, they are on the beach, the young man says
on another shore, far away, a baby sits in her lap, playing with a cup, fat baby-fingers dropping a stone in -- plonk -- and taking it out again, over and over, plonk, plonk, and she closes her eyes and holds the baby, feels the tiny chest rise and fall against hers, and now she bends to kiss the tiny head and a fluff of light hair tickles her nose, the wings of a small butterfly
the sun begins slowly to descend, shedding a golden disk into the water
tell me the story of the wörthersee, the young man says, there is still time
I always tell you this story, can't you remember, he asks
of course not, the young man says, smiling, each time I hear it for the first time
yes, but there is still time, the young man insists
in her arms the baby swells, crumbles, and pieces of mottled, purplish skin and flesh fall into her lap, a blue-button nose, part of an engorged ear, half a cheek dropping onto the sand next to her thigh, and her hands try to piece the tiny body together again, this baby, her baby
and now he takes a breath and begins, on this very spot, he says, many hundreds of years ago, there stood a magnificent city, a city beyond any living person's imagination, a city of palaces and domes and golden cupolas, and for a long time its inhabitants were spoiled by wealth and joy, so much so that they lost all reason and their lives were spent in celebration, feasts and dancing
but the clumps of flesh won't glue back, no matter how hard she tries, her fingers frantic, fumbling, now the baby's flesh sticks to her fingers, to her own skin, disintegrating further and further into clammy, ropey blobs, and now she screams
in the midst of one of these celebrations, a tiny man with a beard gray as ice, a man carrying a barrel the size of his own body, crying out to the people of the city, warning them that if they refused to remember that life carried both joy and sadness, he would be forced to open his barrel and death and desolation would gush out and over the city, but the people only laughed some more, he cut a funny figure, after all, this worried dwarf, and so the bearded man disappeared into the crowd, but as soon as the clocks struck twelve, the skies darkened and a furious storm unleashed over the city, flooding the streets with endless water and streaming into every house and room, drowning every man, woman and child, until in place of this magnificent city with all its domes and steeples lay the wörthersee
he stops and for a moment they stand in silence
now he hears the young man's voice, completing the tale with him
and even today the fishermen who still ride out onto the wörthersee say that on a bright, windless afternoon you can see precious jewels sparkling in its depth and hear the voices of the lost children, sweet as bells, singing among the ruins
he turns and, for the first time faces the young man
I hadn't noticed, lucas would be your age now, it has been this long
the young man shakes his head
yes, but, remember: he always resembled her more
the sun disappears behind the island, before the two men standing side by side on the shore, and for a moment the pines and the silhouette of the castle and the cupola on maria loretto cut sharply into the red horizon, then light disappears and it is dusk
it is time, the young man says, there is movement on the path
together, they see her approach
she is alone and she is running, holding the toy boat in her hand, her face is wet, and now she has fallen on the path that leads from maria loretto to the black rock, she stays there, on the ground, slapping her head with open palms, pulling at her hair, and now the young man is running down the path toward her
no... no... I heard him... he was singing... and then I couldn't hear him anymore
the young man kneels, grabs her shoulders, makes her look at him
what are you saying, where is lucas?
he is gone... he is lost... no... no ...
how can he be lost? he was with you, the young man is shaking her shoulders, now she lowers her head and even from where he is still standing, higher on the slope, above the black rock, looking down on them, he can hear her sobs
I tried to call you.... no one heard... no one was listening... I couldn't leave... couldn't leave him alone... I searched everywhere... then I found his boat... in the water...
she lifts the toy, raises it toward the young man, an offering, and now he leaves her and runs toward maria loretto, disappears into the heavy darkness over the water
from the cliff, he looks down at her, crouched on the path, her legs bruised from running and falling, now she wraps her arms around herself and rocks back and forth as from as the young man's shouts from maria loretto cut through the air, now he walks down from the path, approaches her slowly, bends and touches her shoulder, and she looks up, and her face startles him, she is so young, so beautiful, he had forgotten
please, may I help you, he asks, almost begs
who are you, why aren't you looking for him, my son, my son is lost, where is he, he was with me on maria loretto, he was playing by the water, look, it's such a small piece of land, we can see all of it from here, and I didn't hear him cry or call for me, not even once
he wants to put his arms around her, tell her what they know now, but didn't then, that small children like their lucas can slip and go down under the water silently and never come up again, but instead he says:
here, take my hand, let me help you up, please, you are shivering
no, I must go back, can't you see, he will be crying for me, I am his mother
he lifts his eyes toward the seehotel in the nightfall along the shore, toward their room and within it, her
you will always be his mother, he says
screaming, she lifts her head and finds their room, almost entirely engulfed in darkness, she pushes herself off the bed, feels her way to the bathroom door and the light switch, stands in front of the mirror in a flood of light, staring at the face in front of her, now she raises a hand, touches the cheek in the reflection, slowly caresses this woman she cannot recognize
now they can see the headlights and she turns away from him and toward the first police car, then the second and the ambulance, driving up slowly from the road that passes the seehotel, driving onto the path where they are standing, this path that leads to maria loretto, the second car pulling a small boat, and he counts four figures climbing out, now they are lifting the boat onto the water, divers wearing black, carrying poles
she walks back into the room, flooded now in the light from the bathroom, bends, picks up her knitting from the floor, pulls out the needles and puts on the sweater, undone, unraveling, she will take the path toward maria loretto, where she knows he will be, where she knows he always is
now she rises to her feet, rushes down the path toward the police cars, toward the small café along the path between the black rock and maria loretto, a shack really, built for tourists, he wonders each year that it is still there, plastic memories sold next to bad coffee, that night they stayed open late, tragedy hours, he watches the officer take laeticia inside, order a warm drink, place a blanket around her shoulders, outside it is now deep night only the light on the dinghy bobs in the water
she steps out into the darkness, takes the path down to maria loretto, she notices neither the lights in the café nor on the water, slowly she walks onto the peninsula, where among the shadows, the heavy, darkened pines, she finds the young man, running along the shore and among the pines around the castle and the chapel, the places where before him she too stumbled, calling, over and over, the name of their son
now he hears shouts, sees movement in the dinghy, watches it turn and ride through the waves back toward land, toward the café where she sits, waiting
the young man halts, he has found her, the blue wool she is wearing a patch of light in the darkness, now he approaches slowly, pressing through the pine branches until he stands before her, so close she can feel his breath though she can't make out his face, and he grips her hand, pulls her back through the pines to the water's edge, now she recognizes the cove, the sand still carved into the shape of her body where she lay, where for a single instant she closed her eyes against the sun
no, stop, don't go there, please
he calls to her, but it is too late already, she is running toward the shore and the approaching dinghy, its pace revealing no need for rush, she stands on the shore, alone, her slight figure wrapped in the blanket
the young man pulls her down to the water's edge, pushes her to her knees and presses her face down into the lake, he is kneeling behind her, she feels his body, its heavy, rhythmic moments against her own
now he watches a diver climb out of the dinghy and move toward her, the black figure takes her shoulders, gently tries to turn away, but she won't, her arms reach out, and as they lift the small body, her wail cuts through the darkness
over and over the young man forces her down, dipping her face into the cold, dark surface of the lake, her hands reach back, try to touch the young man's, and she whispers:
forgive me, please, please, forgive me
now he runs down the path, toward maria loretto, where he knows she will be, where he knows she always is
and when she tries to get up, the young man pushes her back, hard,
over and over again
he finds her in the cove where she sun-bathed that afternoon, long ago, where he played with his boat, their son, lucas, before he was gone, she is lying on the wet sand at the lake's edge, the cold waves lapping her face and he cries out her name and then, when she doesn't respond, the name they gave their child
she turns her head, looks up at him, he is kneeling down, bending over her and by the black, shiny darkness of the wörthersee she cannot see his eyes, and her voice, when she speaks, is flat, empty:
he is gone
when his words come, they come slowly, a wave washing over her
there is nothing we can do, ever
and she feels him stroking her head, over and over, feels his fingers in her short hair
now the sun wants to rise, it is becoming light outside, another day already, and the light over the water breaks through the morning fog, the sun wants to rise, every morning since that night, soon the wörthersee will be visible and in the distance, maria loretto, he walks to their narrow bed, sits down, undresses, she is in the bathroom, he turned on the shower for her, adjusted the temperature, then he left, when she asked him to leave, now she comes back into the room wearing a long gown, her hair rubbed into disarray, without looking at him she bends at her side of the bed, pulls down the covers in little rips across the pillows, he reaches out, reaches with his hand for her, but she doesn't look up, her back to him and he lowers his hand to his side, onto the cold, crisp, white sheet
now the sun wants to rise, so brightly over maiernigg, and in sleep, their bodies touch: her foot to his thigh, his arm to her shoulder, to the curve of her neck, to the slope of her body