Was und warum bist du? asked the Invisible Rain of an old man seated at a small table, on which lay a bottle of vodka and a snub-nose revolver. The Invisible Rain tapped out its ceaseless question on the window, roof and eaves, the walls and even on the underside of the floor. The old man refused to answer. He never did. Although the Invisible Rain already knew everything there was to know, it was greedy and insatiable; it increased exponentially with what it devoured, thus always hungry. Why feed a thing that can never get enough? The old man imagined himself as a drum in outer space: “Beat me as long and hard as you can, you’ll never hear a thing.”
The Invisible Rain didn’t always fall. There had been dry seasons when several years had lain between its comings and goings; times just long enough to allow the old man to nurture a specious belief that the woman’s dying curse had run its course, and that even the magic of the dead could last for only so long. Then it would return, late at night, and tap out the sounds which took the shape of woman’s strangely gleeful last words in his mind. Was und warum bist du?
Although he hadn’t fired his sidearm since the war, the old man was confident that it hadn’t lost its admittedly inelegant yet effective power to put a quieting hole through his head, if it should come to that; if it could come to that. The Invisible Rain always took on an amused and mocking tone whenever the old man broke out the vodka and the revolver. Was und warum bist du?
Then the Invisible Rain stopped. As always, it did so suddenly and without a dissipating prelude; yet he detected movement within the immediate silence. Something was on the stair, and it was moving toward his door.
From behind the door came a voice he had heard only once and yet had never forgotten for more than seventy years. A strangled voice, which had once begged for its life under the gray Berlin rain; a voice which hadn’t aged since the old man was an undisciplined, blood-thirsty and wild-eyed nineteen-year-old boy, a merciless quick-study killer whom his land had conscripted into the service. “Was und warum bist du?”
The locked door swung open, the old man gazed forlornly at his useless weapon. He couldn’t see her, but, somehow, simultaneously, in the three languages he knew, the garruted voice said, “Hello, Vasily.”
The Invisible Rain began to fall again. And he saw her. She was as he had remembered her: tall and blond and clad in the tattered blue dress that he could never forget, and still carrying an equally tattered handbag, which he had forgotten about. She was beautiful, with her stunning German blue eyes and multi-layered smile, which she had first flashed him long ago, when she had realized that she had survived the war just to die like this in the street, and with which she had relayed what had turned out to be a lifelong curse, upheld by the incessant Invisible Rain. The only ugly things about the woman were her struggling voice and the marks he had left on her throat.
The woman approached the old man. She glanced at the sidearm on the table, and said, “I offer a truce, Vasily. My name, which you shall never know, is already on the treaty,” she added as she absently rubbed her bruised neck. “You will go where rain never falls, and there will be eternal sleep as long as you answer the question, and make your act of contrition. Trust me, Vasily, you’re getting off cheaply, and a special hell awaits if you lie to me: Was und warum bist du?”
“I am a rapist and murderer,” he said. Then through a burst of sudden tears, he added, “I won’t degrade you further by begging your pardon, but I honestly do not know why I did it.”
She considered this for a long time. She nodded her acceptance when he finally recovered himself and dared to look up at her. Then she pointed at the sidearm on the table.
“I would, but it’s unloaded and I haven’t any bullets,” he said in a very small voice.
The woman laughed. “I haven’t forgotten what a coward you are, Vasily” She pulled a luger from her tattered bag and held the barrel against his forehead. “It’s all right, comrade, I’ve come prepared. It’s not like the first time we met, when you caught me by surprise. Open your eyes. I took you with eyes open. Open your damn eyes.”
Irene Allison is an artist.