Guns

Lotte had barely slept the night before, dreading the thing that had in fact been planned, planned in a way she couldn’t have imagined or feared. Her mind, usually so clear and light, was churning with anxiety; her heart felt like it was going to burst from the thousand feelings pounding through it. Was it the fire of Werther’s embrace that she felt in her chest? Was it resentment over his disobedience? Was it an angry sense of how far her life now had gotten from those days when she felt so unselfconsciously free and innocent, so carefree and self-reliant? How was she supposed to go up to her husband and let him know about this scene that she really should confess to him but that she was too scared to confess? They’d both kept quiet on the subject for so long — was she supposed to be the first to break the silence and make such an unexpected revelation right when things were so uncomfortable between them? Already she was afraid that just the news of Werther’s visit would hit Albert especially hard, let alone this disaster he couldn’t possibly expect! Was it really likely that he’d take this the right way, take it without judging her? Was it likely he’d really understand her feelings? And, on the other hand, was it okay for her to keep something hidden from her husband, with whom she’d always been as transparent as glass and from whom she’d never hid or could hide any of her feelings? Both options made her anxious and upset, and her thoughts kept circling back to Werther, who’d ruined his life for her, whom she couldn’t lose, who — ahhh! — who had to be his own problem now! — and who’d have nothing left if he lost her.

It was so painful for her now to recognize the rut that she and Albert had fallen into, which she hadn’t been able to recognize clearly at the time! Even people this reasonable and good start keeping things from each other around secret differences of opinion, each one thinks they’re in the right and the other’s in the wrong, and the relationship gets so twisted that it’s impossible to untie the knots even when it matters most. If warmth and intimacy had brought her and Albert together earlier, if there had been more love and understanding on both sides to unlock their hearts, maybe it still would have been possible to save our friend.

One more unusual factor was relevant. Werther, as we all know from his letters, had never kept it a secret that he wanted to die. Albert had often argued with him about it, and the subject had come up from time to time between Lotte and her husband. Albert, who felt a deep opposition to suicide, had even, often, with a kind of snappishness which was otherwise totally out of character, made it clear that he couldn’t take this ‘intention’ seriously at all; he’d even cracked a few jokes about it and shared his skepticism with Lotte. This did comfort her, in a way, when she started to worry, but, in another way, it made her feel like she couldn’t share these fears with her husband when they tortured her.

*          *          *

When Albert pulled in the driveway, Lotte ran up to meet him in an awkward rush. He wasn’t in a good mood, he still hadn’t closed his deal, and that branch manager had turned out to be an inflexible, small-minded man. The terrible roads had also made him grumpy.

He asked if he’d missed anything when he was away, and she answered, too quickly: Werther had come over the night before. He didn’t react, just asked if any mail had come in, and learned that a letter and some packages were waiting in his room. He went upstairs, and Lotte stayed by herself. The presence of the man whom she loved and looked up to had made a deep impression on her. Remembering his generosity, his love, and his goodness had calmed her down further. She felt a deep pull to follow him; she got her sewing and took it up to his room, as she’d been doing more and more lately. She found him busy unwrapping the packages and reading the mail. Some of the letters didn’t seem like especially pleasant reading. She asked him a few questions; he answered them curtly and sat down at his desk to write.

They spent about an hour like that together, and Lotte’s mood got darker and darker. She could tell how hard it would be for her, even if her husband were in the best mood, to tell him what was on her mind; she fell into a depression that only got more anxious the more she tried to hide her feelings and her tears.

Werther’s text message coming in threw her completely; she handed Albert his phone, and he turned casually back to her and said, “Get down the guns. And I’m texting him back… ‘Have a good trip!’” — That hit her like lightning, she staggered, standing up, she barely knew what she was doing. As Albert called up her oldest brother, she walked slowly over to the rack, shivering, she took down the guns, wiped away the dust and shuddered, and she would have hesitated even longer if Albert hadn’t pushed her on with a questioning look. She gave the dreadful things to her brother, totally speechless, and once he headed out with them, she packed up her sewing and went into her room in an inarticulate haze. Her mind kept flashing the most horrible scenes in front of her. For a moment, she thought of going to her husband and breaking down, telling him everything, what had happened the night before, her guilt and her suspicions. Then again, she couldn’t see how to stop this train — there was no way she could convince her husband to drive over and talk to Werther. Lunch was on the table, and a good girl friend of hers, who’d only come by to drop something off, was about to go — and then stayed, making the conversation at the table bearable; they made an effort, they talked, they told stories, they managed to forget.

*          *          *

The boy brought the pistols up to Werther’s room. Werther took them with delight, hearing that Lotte had handed them to him. He sent the boy home, ordered a sandwich online, and sat down to write.

“They went through your hands, you wiped the dust off them, I’m kissing them a thousand times, you touched them! The Spirit of Heaven approves of the “what” — and you, Lotte, you give me the “how”, you at whose hands I’d always hoped to die, and ahh! now I’m getting my wish. Oh, I practically interrogated your brother. You were shaking as you handed them to him, you didn’t say goodbye! — No! NO!!! NO GOODBYE!!! — could you really have closed your heart to me at the exact moment that ties me to you forever? Lotte, a hundred years couldn’t make that memory fade! And I can tell, you can’t hate the man who burns like this for you.”

After eating, he zipped up his suitcase, tore up a lot of his old notebooks, and went out and settled up a few more small debts. He came back home, went out again past the town limits, ignoring the rain, to the public garden he loved so much, wandered around the area again, and came back as night was falling and wrote.

“Will, I’ve taken my last look at earth and trees and sky. All my very best to you too! Mom, I love you — I’m sorry! Comfort her, Will! God bless you both! My things are all settled. Goodbye! We’ll see each other again in a happier place.”

“I’ve been unfair to you, Albert — I’m so sorry. I’ve disturbed the peace of your house, I’ve brought mistrust between you two. Goodbye! I’m going to end it. Oh, I hope my dying can make you happy! Albert! Albert! Make that angel happy! And God’s blessing will always be upon you!”

He went through a lot of his papers that evening, tore up a lot of them and threw them in the garbage, and taped up a number of boxes addressed to Will. They were full of handwritten drafts, scattered thoughts which I’ve seen a few of. Around 10 pm, he poured himself a glass of wine and called the front desk, asking them to come up to his room early the next morning to help with his bags; he was expecting a taxi at six.

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