HAPPY - the truth
about deckchair people
Mrs. Robinson was looking
for a place to sit. There were about ten people already sitting and every
ten minutes the Gondel was pouring out a few more. Some of them didnt
even take a look around as they came out of the little aluminium hut that
was built around the mountain top station of the cable car. They just
got their skis onto their boots and went down the run. Like mad lemmings
running to their cliff.
Mrs. Robinson, of course, wasnt one of those. She was too old to
be that kind of mad. She was sixty-eight, to be exact. She was still enjoying
her own control over her own body. Enjoying a weeks holiday of skiing
in the Alps. Only recently had age begun to hand over some of that body-control
to her rheumatic bones aching, or to her concentration slipping where
it had been as firm as the polestar in the sky. But she wasnt worrying.
She had come to the conclusion that she had done enough of that in her
There was a lot of places left. Benches stringed together, wooden beer
tables in between like the ones you would know from the Oktoberfest. And
still a lot unassembled in a corner. One young man lying on a whole bench
right next to the railing of the platform. She decided to take a place
on a bench near him, he had this self-indulged smile on his face that
made him sort of untouchable and holy, at least in Mrs. Robinsons
eyes. He looked like he didnt want to start a short conversation
about the weather conditions, about how lucky they were to have a sunny
day in the end of March in Switzerland. And she certainly didnt
want to hear anything about the weather back in England.
It was more than fantastic up there. The sky the deep mountain blue that
seems to have peeled itself free from the white fading of the lowlands.
The snow pure and smooth, with a comfortable ivory tan when seen through
the sunglasses. The wind a lush cool stroke of a comforting hand, that
soothes the burn of the altitude. It was just clouds down in the valley.
Fog around the middle station, where you had to change cable cars. The
fog getting thicker and thicker. The surprising jerk, when the car was
rolled over the suspension wheels of the one huge pillar that kept the
And then the moment when the clouds cleared in one second, and a declivity
of such vastness opened up underneath them, that they all silenced down
in the car. The steep wall of rock just forty feet ahead of the vexed
passengers. Shreds of snow spilt over them. They were pulled almost straight
up, rising, and rising. Then the car stopped. Jerked again terribly because
of the change in velocity. Crept further on, inch by inch, until the first
construction frames of the station could be seen under the upper rim of
the windows. Then more, then the banisters of the bay they would dock
into. Then the fine shudder that sneaked through the floor of the car
into the bones of its passengers when the wooden stopper was hit. Again
another long five seconds wait. Then the doors were opened up. You were
free to exit, catapulting yourself over the inch of downward suction that
was formed in between the car and station platform.
Mrs. Robinson had just taken her seat on the bench. Had gotten hold of
her own breath. Had taken her long look around her to find out where she
was. She was on a platform. She was on the Rothorn, 2860 metres above
sea level. She was feeling the heavy clumps of her feet that werent
really used to being pressed into snow-boots anymore. She was feeling
her heart beating steadily inside of herself. She felt her legs. Her buttock.
She was madly in love with the thick layer of clouds that were just underneath
her, with the summits peeking out in the distance, the mountain ranges
embracing the horizon, with the profound blue above her. She was feeling
the air filling up her lungs and doing her good.
Two figures coming towards her caught her attention. Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales,
from Brighton. They were a couple Mrs. Robinson knew to be in her group.
They were on the same floor in the hotel. Mrs. Robinson watched the two
shadows walking and arguing through her half closed lids. Her sunglasses
giving her the privacy to watch calmly.
They werent coming to her. They had come as far as the pile of still
unassembled benches, stared around in what could be seen as disbelief.
Found only half-unoccupied benches around them. Began to talk about whether
they could or should take a bench from the pile to sit on. They decided
to give it a try. Lifted a bench to the ground. Turned it up-side-down.
Tried their luck with the unfolding of the sustainer. Turned out they
couldnt manage. The wife trying half-heartedly here and there, constantly
repeating that it doesnt work. Then she found a lever to pull at,
which she did. A second later the husband saw it and told her to pull
the lever. They pulled and it didnt work. The husband telling his
wife to back off. To let him do it. His frantic hands scampering over
the metal. His lips curled in. His eyes sharps and hunting.
It worked finally. By chance or trial, they had the bench assembled, turned
it right-side-up. Looking for a place to set it up. Mr. Gonzales scanning
imperiously with his eye. Mrs. Gonzales following with her gaze. Then
Mr. Gonzales towing the bench over to Mrs. Robinson with a loud screech.
Mrs. Gonzales left out of doing anything. They fitted the bench into a
small place that wasnt really there to fit into. Left the bench
standing transversal to all the others. Mr. Robinson taking a seat like
a sullen, impertinent dwarf. His wife sliding in besides him, an excusing
nod ready into the direction of Mrs. Robinson. Although Mrs. Robinson
couldnt have surely said whether it was intended for her.
Mrs. Robinson thought he stank. Ever since he had taken a seat close to
her, she had felt something foreign barging in on her from his direction.
Something unpleasant. Maybe it was urine. Elder men do have a problem
with that, she thought. And Mr. Gonzales was around her age. Women have
problems with that as well, she continued her thought, but we try to do
something about it. The only thing men do is to keep wearing their underpants
even longer. And they stop washing themselves. Like they are giving themselves
up, and would disintegrate completely if a female hand wouldnt hold
Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales werent talking much. In Mrs. Robinsons
opinion they werent talking at all. They were commenting. Making
comments because there was nothing else to say. Commenting about the other
people working to set up the remaining benches. Saying that the modern
engineering was better, when the people seemed to have less difficulties
with the construction of their benches than the Gonzales had with
theirs. Commenting about the way they were dressed. Condemning everything
that didnt go in line with their unison taste. With his taste. She
wasnt even commenting, she was content with agreeing, Mrs. Robinson
Then he told her that her nose was getting a bit red. That she should
put some sun screen on it. She did it. Then he asked her whether she wanted
something to drink. She said she wanted some water. He said he wanted
some lemonade. They waited. Then he asked her whether she had some small
money. He only had a one-hundred-Franken-bill he didnt want to start.
She said yes and started getting up. He held her down with his hand, took
the money from her and got up himself. Slowly. Demonstratively. A pleased
smile on his hard lips. He had two lemonades in his hand when he came
up. Said that he wasnt sure whether the mineral water was clean.
And that he found that lemonade tasted better. He kept the money.
Then they were talking about mobiles. How crazy it was that everybody
had one. And how one went off every five minutes in the restaurant yesterday.
And how he had left theirs on so that they could get the SMS. And he continued
his talk inquiring whether she had finally managed to teach herself how
to send and read one. Its just one of those things I think you should
know today. She said she would one day. She got up to buy herself something
to eat. Asked him for the money. Asked him whether he wanted something.
He declined, giving an inconspicuous notice over the high prices in a
place like this. She came back with a small bakery roll. He had half of
Mrs. Robinson was giving half an ear to them. With disgust. The other
was listening inside herself. Into her memory. She knew the sentences.
She knew the tone. The inability to escape. Just a walk to the kitchen.
A flight. A mere forty minutes of cooking that was quiet and calm and
uncensored by someone who knew better. And who mistook correcting commands
with social interaction. She knew the bad smell when he opened his mouth.
The rotting teeth he didnt find worth cleaning. The evaporations
coming through the flawed, waxy skin. And the constant urine smell that
good education forbade her to mention.
He had held Mrs. Robinsons hand. The late Mr. Robinsons voice
trembling. Please dont let me be alone. He didnt let her go.
Not to the phone. Not out on the street to get help. He had been lying
in bed with a flew or something for a week, had gotten up. And then his
face had gotten blue. His breathing fast. His hand had beaten his chest,
trying to get something into it. His voice getting a panic into it that
it had never expressed before. Please dont leave me alone. He had
almost broken her hand with his grip. And then his body had taken a little
twist. Like something had jumped off from a cable and the wire was springing
back and forth, swaying itself to a final rest. When she did get help
his body was already getting cold and she wasnt quite sure whom
to call. Wasnt quite sure which office would feel responsible.
She got off from the bench. Felt that she returned the disbanding nod
from Mrs. Gonzales, but felt that she was giving it something far away.
Felt that she took a good look at Mr. Gonzales eyes, which passed
him unmentioned. Heard that he said something to his wife when she parted.
Saw the young man still smiling, stretched out on the bench, his eyes
open now, behind his sunglasses, looking at her. They smiled at each other.
Mrs. Robinson walked the few steps up to the balustrade. A clear circular
view of the mountain summits were before. She had gotten a good hold of
herself. Had taken her long look around her to find out where she was.
She was on a platform. She was on the Rothorn, 2860 metres above sea level.
She was feeling the heavy clumps of her feet that werent really
used to being pressed into snow-boots anymore. She was feeling her heart
beating steadily inside of herself. She felt her legs. Her buttock. She
was madly in love with the thick layer of clouds that were just underneath
her, with the summits peeking out in the distance, a little hole tearing
up beneath her, the valley with its tiny black trees shining through,
the mountain ranges embracing the horizon, with the profound blue above
her. She was feeling the air filling up her lungs and doing her good.
She thought of her late Mr. Robinson. Shortly. And of how happy she was
that he wasnt with her anymore.
©Jörg Liesegang, April 2001
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