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Peter Henisch: Suchbild mit Katze [Hidden Picture with Cat].

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All of the windows I've already looked out of. More than a few over the course of a lifetime. Most of them in Vienna and its environs, but some elsewhere. Windows looking out into greenery or grayness, windows with and without sea views. But the very first window that comes to mind is the bay window in the third district. Address: Vienna III, Keinergasse 11, corner of Hainburger Strasse. That was the apartment where my consciousness awoke. Anything earlier, during my first two or three years, is very dim.
At first, when the bombs were falling on Vienna, I'm told I was with my mother in Gmünd, up in the Waldviertel. Then we lived with my grandmother for a while, near the Naschmarkt. But again, I know that more from stories than from my own memory.
Yes, there are few images that sometimes pop up in my dreams, but that's a film with many blank frames.
This memory, however, is bright as day. I'm standing, no kneeling, by the bay window. I'm kneeling on an armchair that my mother has placed in the alcove. And she has most likely put a cushion on the chair.
The alcove, a small one, is like a space made just for me. It is on one side of what we call the big room. It isn't really big, this room, but it's our biggest. Actually, it's the only proper room. The rest of our apartment is just the vestibule, the kitchen, and the walk-in.
The apartment where I live with my parents and the cat is supposed to be a two-room apartment. But the second room is gone. That room, I'm told, caved in. They say it happened in the last days of the war or maybe even the first days after the war was over: it was a stormy night, and the masonry, damaged by the bomb strike that had destroyed the house next door, had sagged until the beams couldn't bear the weight anymore – but back then, other people were living here.
Anyhow, I'm kneeling by the bay window, on this chair my mother placed there. On a cushion, so I don't hurt my knees or so that I'm just the right height to reach the window ledge. With my elbows propped on the window ledge and my chin nestled in my hands.
And I look out, or more accurately, down – we live in the mezzanine, as it was still called back then, that is, a half-floor up, which is not very high but still a different vantage point than from the ground floor.
The cat, which is black but for a white spot on her chest, is sitting next to me on the window ledge. Sometimes I feel her whiskers on my cheek. We look down at the sandy square outside the house that cuts Hainburger Strasse in half. To the left, the cobblestones continue up to the corner with the tavern whose name I forget on one side and Swan Laundry Service, which even has a sign with a picture of a swan hanging over the door, on the other side. On the right, the cobbles don't start up again until after the Capitol Cinema, a building with a flat roofed that pigeons like to saunter on.
Outside the bay window, there is a metal cornice that must have reached the next room's windows before the war. The room that caved in, straight down to the rubble heap. It also broke off a piece of cornice, which hangs at an ever steeper angle as it reaches what is now its end.
But I shouldn't lean out too far.

(p. 10–12)

(About the first day of school)

Why did he cry? Was the prospect of spending most mornings around so many kids worth crying about? So far away from adults, whom he had realized he was better at dealing with? In the background, there was probably insecurity about what these kids would think of him. The timorous question of whether they would accept him, he who felt so foreign among them, or would not, because they could make out that foreignness in him.
That actual or misconceived foreignness. Misconceived – but also conceited. For this much was true and would be for his whole life: he took some pride in that foreignness.
As he would later say, he had spent his whole life feeling like a foreigner in his own country. Which is of course an arrogant thing to say (even if it is a somewhat accurate statement about his subjective perceptions). This feeling of foreignness may have derived simply from the fact that his parents had never sent him to preschool. Perhaps it all would have been different if he had gone to preschool like everyone else.

(p. 116f.)

© 2016 Deuticke, Vienna

Translation by Jake Schneider

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