Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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By Emeric Pressburger
At that time a village stood on the site of this town, the mail coach was running instead of the fast train and my grandfather was travelling instead of me. A young lady and an old man were sitting opposite him. The man was snoring, drawing deep, heavy breaths. A signet ring glittered on one of his fat fingers. The lady was reading poetry. Grandfather did not take his eyes off them; he wanted to fix this image of them in his head, an image which seemed of little significance, but which for him was to become the beginning of a veritahle adventure. Such an image could he elaborated upon, embroidered with fantasy and then dreamed of. At least until the next coach station. Suddenly a tear fell on to the hook. There was no mistake; the beautiful lady was crying. The man next to her was still snoring, the wheels were rolling joyfully along the road, the sun was shining, and Grandfather still had a long way to go hefore becoming Grandfather. He leant forwards and asked her quietly if she was not feeling well. The lady did not answer, but simply took out a handkerchief. Trembling, she clumsily wiped her nose with it and released a stitled sob, a tiny sluice into the ocean.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Had Grandfather had two lives he would gladly have sacrificed one of them for her. At last she raised her eyes and, in a scarcely audible whisper, she said, "I'm so unhappy."
The horses' hooves thundered over a wooden bridge and the first house of a village appeared. The coach would be stopping in a few minutes. "Come with me," Grandfather begged her. "We could leave the coach without being noticed."
She said neither yes nor no, but the two of them got out in front of the post-oftice huilding. Another coach, which was travelling north, was ready to go and soon its wheels were rolling for a second time over the little bridge.
The old man with the signet ring was travelling in the carriage going south. He began to snore again, even louder this time, so that the two students who got in at the next station had to wake him. The first one asked, "Did we disturb your sleep?"
"Heavens!" the old man rubbed his eyes. "Where's the young lady?" The students roared with laughter and looked under the bench. "My, you did sleep well!" said one of them. "There's nothing better than a good dream," said the other.
The old man cursed, flung open the door, leapt from the carriage and found himself standing in the middle of a dusty street in a place he didn't know, a cloud of dust behind him and in front of him the village which is now the town towards which I am heading today.
The telegraph poles were hurtling by outside and the young woman to whom I was telling this story looked at me enquiringly, while the fast train hurried rhythmically across the plain.
"So what happened in the end? What became of the runaways and the poor old husband?"
"Nothing special. The lady became my grandmother."
"And the husband?"
"But, my dear, he was her father. The young girl was a sentimental thing."
The woman laughed. "So this will be the first time that you have visited that town?"
"What time do we arrive there?"
"In about half an hour."
"Aren't you frightened that something similar might happen to you?"
"My dear, unfortunately the circumstances today are entirely different. Your companion is not asleep and you are not reading poetry."
"But my husband is in the restaurant car," she smiled.
"... and these days one doesn't read much poetry." I finished off the sentence and then kissed her on the lips, and then again, as if to make a colon. Outside it was getting dark.
"How quickly it gets dark in the summer," I said, "and how long your husband is away."
She looked at me whimsically. "The train will be stopping soon, history could repeat itself."
"I doubt that, my dear. These days we may well travel faster but we act more slowly."
She did not look angry in the slightest. "So that our story will have an ending," she said, "I've lied to you about having a husband. He's my lover."
"I thought so. Women deceive their husbands much more readily. We've been travelling together for the whole day and you didn't so much as look at me before I began telling my story."
"Your grandfather's story," she corrected me.
"No, no, it's really my own story. A well-tried and tested story."
The brakes were bearing down upon the wheels and I lifted my suitcase from the rack.
"And what about the town?" she asked. "I tell this story about every town."
"What a strange person you are!" she laughed. "When you get back to Berlin, give me a ring." I told her that I would take down her phone number immediately, but I didn't do it. I didn't want to alert my wife to my travelling adventures.
First published in Berliner Zeitung am Mittag, Berlin, 28 March 1928
The first piece of work published by the young (26 year old) Emmerich Pressburger