FALK jumped up angrily. What was it? He didn’t want to be disturbed at his work, after finally deciding to get back to it. Thank God! It was not a friend, it was the postman.
He wanted to throw the postcard aside. It could wait. Then suddenly, Mikita!
He became very excited. Mikita, dear Mikita.
He read the postcard, “Be at home tomorrow afternoon. I am back from Paris.”
He had not written that much since his famous essay several years ago. Falk burst out laughing. That wonderful essay! Which hadn’t got him expelled . . .
It was New Year’s impressions, written in the form of New Year’s resolutions in the most effusive phrases; just two sentences, each sentence two pages long.
And then. Oh, that was so great. Old Fränkel . . . How he scolded! Well, there was a big stink about it . . .
Falk thought back to how he had convinced Mikita to write an apology, in which a wonderfully funny theme went through: “Shouldn’t what is permitted for Schiller, also be permitted for a student?”
And then, the next day. They had been up all night writing an apology, and early the next morning they sent off an excuse and lay down to sleep. Falk still couldn’t understand how they had gotten away with it. It was self-evident that you couldn’t go to class after working the entire night on an apology. Twenty pages long . . .
But now he had to get back to work. He sat back down, but the mood for working was gone. He tried to force himself, methodically fished after his thought, chewed on his pen, even wrote a couple of lines that were completely banal. No, it wasn’t going to happen.
Another time he would have certainly drowned his despondency in alcohol. This time he was happy. He leaned back in his chair. He saw perfectly the horrible attic, in which they had both lived during their last year at college. In one of the walls were three windows which they were never permitted to open, because of the danger that the panes of glass might go flying out. All the walls were covered with mold. And it was so cold, that God himself took pity on them.
How they awoke early one morning and looked around the room in astonishment.
“The air’s remarkably fresh,” said Mikita.
And they were totally amazed over this strange phenomenon. Yes, later it became clear. It was so cold that even the birds froze and fell out of the air.
Yes, that was one of his finest memories. And the tall fellow, that always supplied them with books. What was his name again? For a long time he couldn’t think of the name. Then finally, Longinus, an interesting man.
Falk thought back to how Mikita had secretly broken into Longinus’ shanty, which was always locked, and taken away a book that Longinus hadn’t wanted to loan him.
Suddenly, on a Sunday—yes, there had once more been fresh air in the room . . . he awoke to a strange scene. Mikita was in a nightshirt, the door key in his hand, and Longinus was highly indignant, trembling with rage.
“Open the door,” hissed Longinus with dramatic pathos.
“Put the book back down and I’ll open it.”
Longinus paced tragically back and forth in a heroic pose.
“Open the door!” He bellowed hoarsely.
“Put the book back.”
Longinus fumed. Suddenly he came up to Falk.
“You are a refined, educated man. You won’t allow such a violation of my rights.”
Yes, Longinus always spoke in such refined and elegant phrases.
“Yes, unfortunately, Mikita has the key.”
Then Longinus stepped passionately up to the bed.
“I deny that you have any refinement at all.”
That was the greatest insult that he had ever given.
“Open the door. I am violated and I leave the book to you.”
God, how they had laughed. And it was Sunday. They should have been at church. They had always skipped church. They were entirely devoted atheists. But it was dangerous with the fanatical religions professor spying around the room . . .
Ha, ha, ha.
Falk thought about how he once sat in the church across from his “flame”—yes, he sat in the pew, wanting to appear elegant and interesting and remained in a very uncomfortable position, the one he had once seen portrayed of Byron sitting on Shelly’s grave, throughout the entire mass.
There was a scandal over it!
He tried again to get back to work, but couldn’t collect his thoughts together. Everything about that glorious time flew about and swirled in his brain. He unconsciously chewed on his pen and repeated;
“That was a glorious time!”
How they had suddenly discovered Ibsen, and how Brand had turned their heads upside down. “All or nothing!” was their slogan back then. They searched the dives of the poor and sought to make amends for the children of the proletariat around them.
Again Falk saw himself in the attic. It was five o’clock in the morning. There was the patter of wooden shoes on the stairs, as if someone were dragging a canon up the stairs. Then the door opened and in single file; a boy, a girl—two boys—two girls, filling the entire room. They were all by the stove or around the large table.
“Mikita, get up! I am insanely tired.”
Mikita cursed. He couldn’t get up. He had spent the entire night working on his Latin essay. With a jerk they were both up, angry and full of hate for each other. Their teeth chattered in the cold!
And then, he was at the stove, blowing and cursing because the wood didn’t want to catch fire. Mikita was at the large pot of milk, which he was warming with the alcohol lamp. Gradually their moods softened.
The children attacked the milk and bread like young predators—Mikita, over on the side, glowed happily. And then:
Then they exchanged friendly looks.
Falk felt warmth around his heart. He had long since forgotten that. The memory was still there, God knows how, with such grand, beautiful content.
Then, they felt a common shame, because of allowing themselves to be sentimental—no, they called it aesthetics—of being caught in the act, and finally they argued about it.
“The song of the Nibelungs is nothing but empty, stupid nonsense. Mikita really knew Falk’s weak side. Understandably, he could not agree. He argued with unbelievable enthusiasm as he cut the bread for breakfast. Mikita was shrewd. He kept Falk involved in the argument and let him cut the bread, because Falk in his enthusiasm never noticed how difficult it was to cut.
Then suddenly, Dear God! Two minutes late. They gathered their books together and hurriedly ran off to class. He ran on ahead, Mikita following, limping.
—He wondered if the leg had healed since then?
Only then did Falk notice that he was hungry. Mikita had eaten the entire loaf—the glorious scoundrel.
Then . . .