- The End
Volpert walked from the railway embankment down to the village. He wanted to buy or borrow a few good ropes. The machine parts he was transporting in a sidecar for the line repair had been jiggling and rattling on the route. They would be damaged if not fastened down.
His mechanic Ernst Hänisch was waving to him from the next farmstead. He had already found there what he was looking for.
"Good morning," Volpert said.
Hänisch stood next to the farmer, a square-built, medium-sized man between the ages of thirty and forty. "Mr. Zillich here will let us use a couple of his ropes. I told him we'd send them back with the next train. He doesn't want anything for them."
"I can also sell you four brand-new ones," the farmer said. "They're out in my field cart."
He spoke slowly and deliberately like everyone did in these parts, as if words cost money and he hesitated to part with each one. His eyes were small, dark, and vigilant, his nostrils as round and attentive as an extra pair of eyes. His nose was short and turned up, his mouth small. In fact all his facial features were small, they took up very little space on his large head. Even his ears were small. The flaps of his ears were strangely flipped over, to the front instead of the back, as if to catch as much sound as possible.
Volpert said, "Good, I'll take the new ones, too." His gaze remained fixed on one ear. [End Page 333]
The farmer turned his head and called out, "Hans!"
A boy of ten or twelve came to the doorway. He was so thin his collarbone was visible through his shirt. His aspect was flat, his lips were pressed together, and the wings of his nose quivered. His eyes were lowered, as if these strange faces were as bothersome as a glaring light. His ears stuck out, but were not flipped over.
His father said, "Hey, listen, run out to the field and get the four hemp ropes we made last week. They're in a basket on the cart. Well, get going!" he added when the boy hesitated. "And make it snappy." He gave the boy, sullen as he set off, a kick in the seat of the pants.
The engineer furrowed his brow. He looked the farmer straight in the eye. "That boy never gets anything right," the farmer laughed. But his tiny eyes, peering sideways at Volpert, were not laughing.
The mechanic asked, "Just how far is it to the field?"
"Oh, it's only ten minutes away."
All of a sudden Zillich snapped his fingers—he'd had an idea. Volpert cringed. Then the farmer quickly put his hand in his pocket, as if by snapping his fingers he'd done something forbidden. He said, "If you're in a hurry, truth be told, it'd be best if I just see to it myself. It could take that lousy kid God knows how long." Before either of them could reply, he was trotting down the village lane.
Volpert's face was somber as he watched him go. He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He now saw Zillich vividly before him, as he would remain etched into his eyelids until the hour of his death. Zillich wore a Storm Trooper shirt, and as he turned his back to the labor unit, his buttocks stretched his pants wide. "Pig Ears," he was called in the concentration camp because of his flipped-over ears. The little eyes in his thick face had appeared even tinier back then, tiny as birds' eyes, sharp and precise. Like a bird on its perch, at once indifferent and attentive, he watched while his commands were carried out: punitive exercises with arms stretched high that once caused two old men to suffer a stroke at almost the same moment, deep knee bends in the glaring sun that tested the mettle of new arrivals. He even went so far...