Michael Mitchell's translation

Hannelore Valencak's At the World's End

They met again at the world's end, where the smooth, black cliffs plunge down to the sea, at the place where the shades of the dead meet before they finally detach themselves from the earth, where they give each other one last smile, or one last word in that familiar, ponderous language they will soon have to discard and forget.

The shade of a very young man stood there on an overhanging rock, staring down into the depths from which plumes of steam drifted up to him out of the huge geysers. Clouds passed though his body and stormwinds tugged at his hair.

He seemed to be waiting for something, for he hesitated to place his foot on the narrow path leading down to the shore. And when a second shade approached across the cliff, he turned round and glided to its side.

The second shade looked at him out of lifeless eyes, then a gleam of recognition passed across his features. ‘Now I remember. You came to see me yesterday.’

‘Yesterday?’ asked the first shade, drawing out the strange word. He already existed half in a different space and the concepts of time and the past had become empty vessels to him.

‘That's right, yesterday,’ insisted the second shade. He had only just lost his life and not completely detached himself from the earth. His gestures were still lively and purposeful. He still had the freshness of the living world about him. ‘Cigarette?’ he asked, then waved the question away. ‘Sorry, I forgot where I am. I'm still thinking back to my hearty breakfast, to the strong coffee, and I felt like a smoke. You can believe me when I say you came to see me yesterady, even if that doesn't mean anything to you any more. You were a young actor and you read for me. I should have encouraged you because you had exceptional talent, but I sent you away. Why? Jealousy, probably. You were so young.’

This morning I read about your death in the newspaper. No one reproached me, I didn't even reproach myself. You wouldn't believe the excuses you can think up when your conscience starts getting uncomfortable. I managed to forget about you for the whole of the morning. It was only at midday, when I was driving my car, that I thought of you again, and then there were no more excuses. I don't know why I took my hands off the wheel, and I didn't have any time left to think about it. The last thing I saw was a woman's smile on the poster on the wall in front of me, a wheel of fire spinning round and then this twilight, this mist I'm gradually getting used to. And now I'm here so you can reproach me. I've brought all my remorse. Do you want it? I'll give it to you.’

The shade of the young man slowly looked up. A distant, painful memory stirred within him, the feeling of a great disappointment and humiliation, then the image of a bridge, a balustrade, the silent flow of water, a fall and release, afterwards the path to this place. Now he knew what he had been waiting for.

‘I give you all my bitterness,’ he said. ‘Take it from me and cast it into the sea.’

They held out their hands towards each other, but it was too late for contact. Neither understood what the other was giving him. The last traces of humanity slipped from them and dissipated. ‘We must go,’ they murmured, almost simultaneously, and the shade of the young actor tried to let the one who had once been his ideal go first. But the other said, ‘You first,’ and neither felt it was unfitting. They made their way down, got into the boat and the mute, dark ferryman rowed them out.