Zygmunt Haupt
Translated from the Polish by Stephanie Kraft

RAIN

There are some things in life that one remembers forever.

I remember, for example, a particular rain. I had to be in a certain place one day, a strange place, unknown to me before that time. I was there all day, and the rain fell all day, hardly stopping before evening.

When I arrived early that morning, it was raining. It was summer, it was warm, and as a matter of fact there was nothing to mar the day except the rain. The place was green with the vivid greenery of early summer—bright green with a silvery patina because of the sullen gray overcast from the rain. At the train station one had to wait and hope the downpour would ease for a moment, because nothing more could be done about it: it was a steady, drenching rain.

Then, since I had to stay there for the whole day, I became accustomed to the rain, as if it belonged to that landscape, as if there would never be anything in that place but rain. For I had never been there before, and I have never been there again.

I could imagine that sometimes it was dry there, that there was fine, sunny weather. But when I was there it was green and raining. I remember the green of that place as if it had been like paint bleeding through the rain, coloring everything green.

Earlier I said that there was a sullen gray overcast. No! It was not sullen. There was something fresh, something alive in that rain that fell straight, that did not cut, did not spatter windowpanes or walls, but in some resolute, decided way, wherever the eye turned, lay vertically against that green landscape of leafy trees.

I was there all the livelong day. And it was so empty there, because it was raining and people stayed indoors. Besides, it was still early in the season, so there were not many of them.

And so I remember the deserted gravel walks, the "trottoirs," which were really not gravel but sprinkled with cinders; the wrought iron railings of houses and villas; the shadows of the trees along the streets, the rain water gurgling in the gutters, the wet leaves. Sometimes a silent bird flew by, and it was a whole life: the slanted flight of the bird from one damp shelter to another. I do not even remember what the sky was like, because it was screened by trees on every side. And there was no breeze, perhaps because it was sealed out by the clouds, which would have to disperse sometime and then there would be no more of this rain.

I do not remember what I was there for. It is strange: I remember the rain, I remember the background of it, and I remember nothing more. So why do I remember the rain so distinctly? One rain of a thousand that have fallen during my life! Perhaps I was there on serious business, and through some oblique leap of memory I have forgotten it now, and remember only the rain.

Perhaps I had gone there to search for someone who had promised me money. He promised, and something went awry. Perhaps his promise was impossible to keep. Perhaps I was wrong to trust him; perhaps he was a braggart, and only for that had subjected me to a morning's jostling in a lurching train, and to the rain. Perhaps he misled me; perhaps I misled him, and he lost confidence in me. Or perhaps I misunderstood him, perhaps I took his empty banter for truth. I don't remember.

Or perhaps there was a girl, and she had told me a month earlier that it was our last meeting, that we must return to a relationship merely polite, to "Miss" and "Mr." And I could not reconcile myself to it, and I went there to see her and remind her of the past, to put things right, because without her life was black, so black, and I could not believe that she would not be persuaded, that she would not come out to the door and say that it was only a misunderstanding—come out laughing, come out a little embarrassed, and after a month without a meeting still be the same, holding her hat in her hand and looking at me sidewise, displaying her profile, as she had always done.

Or perhaps they sent me to kill a collaborator. Perhaps a pistol lay heavily in the pocket of my wet gabardine overcoat. Perhaps I involuntarily shifted the safety from "lock" to "fire." They sent me there to wait until he came out of the wicket gate of a small hotel, and even when the stained cartridge shells glinted on the cinders of the walk I would not see the face of the man who was dead by my hand, lying face down with comically twisted legs.

So I might have come on serious business fraught with heavy consequences. But, indeed, from that time I remembered only the rain, silvery green and spurting like quicksilver. I remembered the gray of that rain among the greenery—the monotony and the strange freshness of it—and I remembered nothing more.

Later, at evening, the rain stopped. It was night; street lights and the lights of houses were reflected in puddles of rainwater, and still I had to wait for something somewhere under the wet drops in the dark, in air immeasurably fresh and washed by the rain. Then I returned to the station and to the train, and never saw that place again. I remembered only the rain.

So I composed this story, and now I scrutinize my work. What is it about? What sinister information does it carry within itself? Is it only some sort of signal that the recipient puts into written form for no one's benefit but his own? Is it only my personal semantic trick, a type of artificial language unintelligible to anyone but me? Does it somehow convey emotion which will be as valid forever as it is today? Will it be comprehensible? Will it speak of the infirmity of human understanding, or of its richness, which carries within it all variations and all possibilities?

What is it supposed to be? Is it perhaps only an arrangement of elements rocked in a particular rhythm, woven into one composition—an arrangement that satisfied, that titillated conditioned receptors which are almost like a physiological cluster of nerves, so that it struck, so to speak, the very sounding board of the mind?

Rain—that only the rain remains from this—means that everything seems to be unimportant, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity," until it reaches for some moral. That what we would not choose to relive does not count in the scheme of things, and that only the rain remains.

So then from some latent complex, some inner anarchy, one time I filled my life to the brim with the imaginary importance of a transaction involving twenty pieces of silver, which carried me around the countryside and goaded me to bite my nails with impatience in the rain.

Or perhaps one rainy day my spasm of pain, of abysmal despair because that girl had freed herself from the selfish possessiveness of the present, took its place among the most tragic events since the creation of the world.

Or perhaps it was a day of the highest altruism, when in the name of something, for the sake of such-and-such a cause, under the dripping leaves on the boulevard of a health resort between seasons I managed to shoot in the back a man whose face I had never seen, and to look at my hands before panic seized me, and I was like a drunkard staggering between the walls of the world.

I do not know... I remember only that there was such a day, and it ended, and I returned to the station and to the train, and I never saw that place again. I remembered only the rain.

   

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