Read Brother of Sleep: A Novel Online

Authors: Robert Schneider

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Brother of Sleep: A Novel

First paperback published

in the United States in 1996 by

The Overlook Press

141 Wooster Street

New York, NY 10012

www.overlookpress.com

For bulk and special sales, please contact
[email protected]
,

or write us at the above address.

Copyright © 1992 Reclam Verlag Leipzig

Translation copyright © 1995 The Overlook Press

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Schneider, Robert

[Schlafes Bruder. English]

Brother of Sleep / Robert Schneider:

translated by Shaun Whiteside

p. cm.

I. Whiteside, Shaun. II. Title.

PT2680.N376S3513 1995

833'.914–dc20

ISBN PRINT: 978-1-4683-0866-2

ISBN EPUB: 978-1-4683-0811-2

Book design by Bernard Schleifer

Manufactured in the United States of America

Pascale's heartbeat

Contents

Chapter 1 : HE WHO LOVES DOES NOT SLEEP

Chapter 2 : THE FINAL CHAPTER

Chapter 3 : THE UNBORN

Chapter 4 : THE BIRTH

Chapter 5 : A FATHER TO HIS CHILDREN

Chapter 6 : THE MIRACLE OF HIS HEARING

Chapter 7 : THE TIME IN THE ROOM

Chapter 8 : THE VOICE, THE ANIMALS, AND THE ORGAN

Chapter 9 : SO JOYFUL IS THE DAY

Chapter 10 : WINTER 1815

Chapter 11 : ELSBETH AND THE SPRING

Chapter 12 : THE WOMAN IN THE MOONLIGHT

Chapter 13 : THE LIGHTS OF HOPE

Chapter 14 : GOD FEARS ELIAS

Chapter 15 : FARAWAY PLACES

Chapter 16 : THE ORGAN FESTIVAL

Chapter 17 : COME, O DEATH, O COME, BROTHER OF SLEEP

Chapter 18 : THE OBLITERATION

Chapter 19 : MOTHER, WHAT DOES LOVE MEAN?

HE WHO LOVES DOES NOT SLEEP

THIS
is the story of the musician Johannes Elias Alder, who took his own life at the age of twenty-two, after he had resolved never to sleep again.

For he had fallen in inexpressible and there­fore
unhappy love with his cousin Elsbeth, and from that moment on he would not rest, not even for a moment, until he had plumbed the mystery of his impossible love. Until his unbelievable end, he had bravely maintained that time spent sleeping was a waste and therefore sinful, and that purgatory would await him, for when asleep one was dead, or at least
not really living. Not by chance does the old say­ing
liken sleep and death to brothers. How, he thought, could a man who was pure in heart ever claim to love his wife his entire life, when he did so only by day and then, perhaps, only for the duration of a thought?
That could not be true, for he who sleeps does not love.

These were the thoughts of Johannes Elias Alder, and his spectacular death was the last tribute to that love. We shall now describe his world and the course of his wretched life.

THE FINAL CHAPTER

IN
1912, when Cosmas Alder, the last inhabitant of Eschberg,
a mountain village in the middle of the Vorarlberg range, starved to death in his neglected
farmhouse–not even the old people in nearby Götz
­berg were aware that anyone still lived up there–nature decided to obliterate any thought of the village once and for all. It was as if nature, almost respectfully, had waited for the pitiful death of its last conqueror,
before falling forcefully and forever upon the little ham­
lets. Nature now reclaimed what man had taken centu­ries ago. It had long since filled the former village street and the paths to the farmyards with spiky bushes, rotted the remains of the charred stables and houses, mossed their foundation stones. After the death of the stubborn old man nature fell ever more brilliantly and capriciously upon the steep mountain passes, where once the axes had obstinately stripped it of all its young trees.

And the ash, its favorite tree, grew again, plentiful and strong.

After the third fire in a single century–the people of Appenzell still talked with amazement of its nightly glow–the Lamparters and Alders, the only clans in Eschberg, finally understood that God had never wanted people there. In the night of the Third Fire, on 5 September 1892, twelve people burned in their beds and forty-eight head of cattle in their stables. All day a hellish
Föhn,
the hot mountain wind, had raged around the timbers of the houses and the woods had shrieked and groaned, so that people later claimed someone knowing of the coming disaster had laughed in a thousand voices. In the night of the Third Fire no one in Eschberg dared to light their ovens, not even their candle for prayers. Everyone knew–the children from the menacing tales and the suddenly ghostly eyes of the old folk–what an open flame during a
Föhn
was capable of doing. One Lamparter man who had been through the Second Fire, and could still dimly recall the First, went that night from farm to farm to prevent, by force if necessary, anyone from lighting a fire. He crept around and spied into stables and rooms and saw not the palest glow. He sniffed for chimneys and smelled not so much as a hint of cold smoke. At around two he lay down on his pallet and slept more peacefully.

At around three the whole village, and the nearby forest, was burned down in less than an hour. The
Föhn
drove the shrieking fire from St. Wolfgang's Church up the slopes and over the wooded hilltops and the mountain crests.

In the night of the Third Fire the survivors fled along the bed of the river Emmer into the Rhine Valley, crying and screeching with rage and despair. Cosmas Alder, who was believed burned like the other twelve, and for whom the Dies Irae had already been sung in nearby Götzberg, remained in his charred farmhouse, the only human being. He had been sleeping between the damp walls of his cellar, for it was his nightly custom to hold conversations with his daughter, who was buried there. Cosmas's daughter had been an abortionist, and the vicar of Götzberg had been unable to authorize a church burial. When Cosmas Alder now saw what God had done, he decided to stay on his farm and idly await the Day of Judgment. For twenty years he lived in its ruins, not making the slightest effort to rebuild the farm and leaving it only when hunger drove him deeper into the merry young forests. In the end he starved to death, not from any shortage of food–the people of Eschberg knew how to cook anything–but simply because his defiance had left him tired of life.

Thus the last of the Alders, and the last inhabitant of Eschberg, demonstrated the fatal obstinacy that had been characteristic of the whole village for centuries, and to which it finally owed its obliteration.

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