Authors: Thomas Bernhard
THE LIME WORKS
Thomas Bernhard was born in Holland in 1931 and grew up in Austria. He studied music at the Akademie Mozarteum in Salzburg. In 1957 he began a second career as a playwright, poet, and novelist. The winner of the three most distinguished and coveted literary prizes awarded in Germany, he has become one of the most widely translated and admired writers of his generation. He published nine novels, an autobiography, one volume of poetry, four collections of short stories, and six volumes of plays. Thomas Bernhard died in Austria in 1989.
ALSO BY THOMAS BERNHARD
FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, MARCH 2010
Translation copyright © 1973 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Germany as
by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, in 1970. Copyright © 1970 by Thomas Bernhard. This translation originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1973.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Cataloging-in-Publication Data for
The Lime Works
is on file at the Library of Congress.
But instead of thinking about my book and how to write it, as I go pacing the floor, I fall to counting my footsteps until I feel about to go mad
… when Konrad bought the lime works, about five and a half years ago, the first thing he moved in was a piano he set up in his room on the first floor, according to the gossip at the Laska tavern, not because of any artistic leanings, says Wieser, the manager of the Mussner estate, but for relaxation, to ease the nervous strain caused by decades of unremitting brain work, says Fro, the man in charge of the Trattner estate, agreeing that Konrad’s piano playing had nothing to do with art, which Konrad hates, but was just improvisation, as Wieser says, for an hour first thing early in the morning and another late at night, every day, spent at the keyboard, with the metronome ticking away, the windows open …
… next, Konrad bought a lot of guns, partly from fear but also because he had a passion for firearms, second-hand rifles mostly but in prime working order, from the estate of Forestry Commissioner Ulrich who died last year, well-known makes like the Mannlicher etc., which Konrad, an extremely shy man (Wieser), full of apprehension that tended to grow into panic ever since the landowners Mussner and Trattner were mysteriously murdered not so long ago, felt he needed to protect the lime works against burglars and in general against what he called
… Konrad’s wife, whose maiden name was Zryd, a woman almost totally crippled by decades of taking the wrong medications, and who had consequently spent half her lifetime
hunched over in her custom-built French invalid chair, but who is now, as Wieser puts it, out of her misery, was taught by Konrad how to use a Mannlicher carbine, a weapon the otherwise defenseless woman kept out of sight but always within reach, with the safety off, behind her chair, and it was with this gun that Konrad killed her on the night of December 24–25, with two shots in the back of the head (Fro); two shots in the temple (Wieser); abruptly (Fro) putting an end to their marital hell (Wieser). Konrad had always been quick to fire at anything within range of the house, they say at Laska’s, and as everyone knows he did shoot the woodcutter and game keeper Koller who was passing by on his way home from work one evening about four and a half years ago; quite soon after Konrad had moved in, carrying his knapsack and a hoe, and catching it in the left shoulder because Konrad mistook him for a burglar; for which shooting Konrad was in due course sentenced to nine and a half months at hard labor. The incident brought to light about fifteen previous convictions of Konrad’s, mostly for libel and aggravated assault, they say at Laska’s. Konrad served his time in the Wels district prison, where he is being held again right now …
… apart from the exceptional few who found his eccentric though quite inconspicuous personality interesting, people began little by little to cut him dead; even those who wanted his money preferred to have nothing to do with him. When I myself ran into him a few times on the road to Lambach, or Kirchham, and a couple of times walking through the high timber forest, he’d nail me every time by starting to talk without let-up on some topic of a medical or political or
scientific kind, or a mixture of all three; more about that later …
… at Lanner’s the word is that Konrad killed his wife with
at the Stiegler place, with
a single shot;
at The Inglenook, with
and at Laska’s with
shots. Obviously nobody really knows except, presumably, the police experts, how many times Konrad pulled that trigger …
… but the trial, set for the 15th, should cast some light—even if only in the legal sense, as Wieser says—on the mystery of this shooting, a mystery that only gets darker as time goes on …
… despite what most people thought even as recently as last January—that Konrad gave himself up right after the alleged bloody deed—it is now known that he did nothing of the kind. At Laska’s, where I managed yesterday to sell no less than three new life insurance policies, they are saying that it took the police two whole days to find him at long last in the frozen manure pit behind the lime works. The story is that the police were called by the so-called handyman, Hoeller, because of the strange prolonged silence in the house, and when they broke in they found the murdered woman slumped in her chair but no trace of her husband, whom the evidence promptly led them to identify as the killer. They combed the whole building from top to bottom several times, then they searched the annex where Hoeller lives, and all the other structures on the grounds, the nearby woods, everything, without success. Not until the next day, when it occurred to Reserve Officer Moritz to lift up the rotting planks covering the manure pit, was Konrad discovered, cowering half-frozen underneath; he was arrested and taken without the least resistance
on his part, exhausted as he understandably was, straight to the room at the lime works where the murder had occurred and where at this point an old straw mattress dragged down from the attic was doing duty for the corpse in the chair. Even though the police let Konrad change before starting to grill him, they kept rushing him in their anxiety to get him to Wels as quickly as possible, I am told. Only after Konrad showed them some full bottles of liquor he had in the room and encouraged them to drink it all, did they suddenly relax and begin to take their time. The drinks were just what they needed after all the bother of looking for Konrad, and those men reputedly emptied the four or five or maybe even six bottles of schnapps in the patrol wagon, though to gain the necessary time they chose a detour of about sixty or seventy miles, crossing the Krems River right after they passed Sicking, so that it took them two and a half hours from Sicking to Wels, a distance that ordinarily takes less than half an hour—two and a half hours! And when they finally got there, Konrad actually came tumbling out of the wagon head first; with his handcuffs on he could not hold on to anything and maybe one of the officers pushed him a little, and him without any shoes on, all he had on his feet was a pair of felt socks, they say, because the police were in too big a hurry to give him a chance to put on a pair of clean shoes; as for the shoes he had on when they dragged him from the manure pit, they were so bloated with liquid manure that once he’d dragged them off his feet he couldn’t possibly have gotten into them again, and they wouldn’t give him time to get a fresh pair from his own room; it was, Wieser said, inhuman. And Fro says that Konrad should never have been taken on that ride in the freezing cold without something to
cover his head, Konrad being of an age when the slightest chill can have the most devastating effect; why, a draft to the back of the head has been known to cause death! but, on the other hand, considering the monstrous crime he committed, and more particularly that he survived two days and even the grueling night-time cold in that manure pit without coming to serious harm, it would be absurd to make a fuss over such trivia as the missing shoes, when he was at least back in dry, relatively warm clothing. They do say that Konrad asked for his long leather pants that he said were the best protection he had against catching cold, but Reservist Moritz who went to Konrad’s room for his things paid no attention and reappeared with an ordinary pair of dark gray loden pants, also a loden jacket, which he tossed on the floor at Konrad’s feet along with some underwear, a shirt, the aforementioned felt socks, and a handkerchief, ordering him to dress and be quick about it. Officer Halbeis who meanwhile was using his rifle butt to keep Konrad pinned in the corner near the desk, Fro says, as if the totally defenseless and wholly apathetic prisoner was likely to offer any resistance, is reported to have said “murderer” repeatedly to Konrad, whereupon the county magistrate, who, on entering the room, heard Halbeis using the word
is said to have pointed out that it was not for the police to call Konrad a
at this stage of the proceedings. Nevertheless the police disregarded what Wieser calls the magistrate’s highly proper instructions and continued to call Konrad a
in the presence of the magistrate who, it seems, did not notice that the policemen went on calling Konrad a
despite his explicit warning. Reservist Moritz, incidentally, is said to have acted quite against regulations when he pulled the Konrad woman’s body upright
in the chair where it lay slumped forward, with her head all ripped to pieces from the shot or shots from that carbine; he did it, supposedly, after Police Inspector Neuner had briefly left the room in order, Wieser guessed, to find out some detail from Hoeller, the man who knew the lime works better than anyone else and who happened to be in the downstairs vestibule just then; it must have been right after the body was discovered, and the reason Moritz straightened it out was that he was afraid its own shifting weight would send it suddenly slipping from the chair onto the wooden floor. But the magistrate, referring to this in passing, called Moritz a bungling amateur, Fro says. Editor Lanik of the local paper, one of the rottenest characters around, is said to have been refused admittance to the lime works altogether. Wieser also mentions the shattered wrist on the corpse, proof that she had her hands up in front of her face when the shot fell. Fro keeps using the word
, over and over again he says
streaming with blood …