from The Age of the Fish by OEDÖN VON HORVATH, translated by R. Wills Thomas
THERE WERE FLOWERS on my table. Beautiful. A present from my landlady, kindly old soul: a birthday present.
But I needed to use the table, and I pushed the flowers aside, together with the letter from my people. 'For your thirty-fourth birthday,' my mother wrote, 'I send you the very best wishes, my dear child. May Almighty God bring you health, luck, and happiness.' And my father: 'For your thirty-fourth birthday, my dear boy, I wish you the very best. Almighty God give you luck, health, and happiness.'
Well, luck will always come in useful, I thought--and thank your stars you've got your health into the bargain. Touch wood. But happiness? No, happiness I've missed. No one, really, is happy.
I sat down at my table and uncorked my bottle of red ink: it got on my fingers and I was annoyed. Somebody ought to invent an ink which would put an end to stained fingers.
No, I can't call myself a happy man.
Don't be so silly, I said to myself. You've got a safe job with a pension at the end of it. Isn't that something in these days, when nobody knows what tomorrow holds? How many fellows would almost give an arm to be in your shoes? For what a tiny percentage of candidates for the teaching profession succeed in getting good posts in the end! Be thankful that your post is in a country high school where you can grow old and senile without a moment of real worry. Why, you might live to be a hundred-the oldest inhabitant of the Fatherland! Then, on your birthday, you'd have your photo in the illustrated newspapers. 'He is still in possession of all his faculties,' you would read beneath it. That's where the pension would come in! Think it over, and count your blessings.
I did: and I began working.
Twenty-six blue copy-books lay before me.--I've twenty-six boys