Knights and Duellists

By Hoppe, Felicitas | Chicago Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Knights and Duellists


Hoppe, Felicitas, Chicago Review


The hero steps out of the forest. He is wearing a heavy suit of armor. As he walks it clatters softly in the wind. The visor of his helmet has fallen shut, and he sees the world with different eyes. When the duellists catch sight of him, they laugh. Their bodies have never felt the weight of armor. Atop their little heads, gleaming cylinder hats rock noiselessly back and forth. Their gloved hands hold the beautiful pistols and don't know where to put the bullets. And it begins to snow. The knight leaves slow tracks in the snow behind him. The duellists are anxious not to miss any of the wonderful performance, and they wipe the rime off their little eyes' long eyelashes. In the clearing their seconds are already lying asleep in the snow. The duellists understand nothing of what they see. Nothing knocks on the doors to their narrow souls. Handiwork of a stingy master. So little fabric was allotted for tailoring the insides of the duellists' heads that the bullets easily miss their target. Heroes of the grazing shot. Men who wear gloves. The knight wears fists of iron on his hands.

I still inhabit the duellists' coach. They have little chance of winning me as I keep the doors and windows sealed shut. Frost on the windowpane. Then I saw the knight, abandoner of women in cold castles. His bed was still warm and I had no coat. It snowed in through the door when I opened. He could barely make it up the steps. I wiped the snow from his hinges and put water on for tea. The armor clattered when he sat down on my chair next to the window. The chair groaned in its joints, displeased by the knight, used as it was to soft, darkly draping garments. I lifted the visor and poured tea into the opening. I did this without haste, for I could not shake my past happiness. But I was only too glad to display my better side, and I tossed in a few cubes of sugar as well, and cream. The knight moaned.

The duellists took me into their service, and they pay well. Here, stand over here, they said, under this tree, grab the sharpened quill and thrust it through the knight's armor right into his heart; so many quills have found a place in his heart, a small, densely feathered bird that wants to flap its wings. But I knew the knight's gloom at dawn, when my father's lips lie down on my mother's lips. I hear my mother's body quietly rustling, and how my father's body quietly clatters when he tries to get close to her. …

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