The house was in the middle of an open field near the marsh, a mouth like a sinister hollow in the fog and the warm vapours. Inside, however, it was dazzlingly lit, day and night. Each patient had his own room, with thick carpets and an amazing number of ornaments. All the rooms looked two ways: when the big double doors were opened, the whole area formed a luxurious Biedermeier draping room; opening the smaller door created a different view: in the distance it revealed the yard, with an outside toilet where women squatted one by one. They came with their husbands as if for the corso, they took off their new shoes and dresses, went into the privy in bloomers, and without closing the door — maybe the toilet didn’t have a door — they sat on the wooden seats.
The residents of the house were tortured by obsessions. One lunatic had to walk along the wall before sunrise. A madwoman couldn’t sleep until everybody had passed through her room. If anyone forgot that custom, she suffered torments: not only would she stay awake all night, but in the morning she was sure she would never sleep again.
The arrival of the old man changed many habits in the house, because he didn’t himself keep to any rules. He went from room to room, listening carefully to the daily domestic dramas which shook that world turned to stone. (Your skin is so soft, he told the girl who had made him come or who was here because of him). He went out into the field with them. Things needed to be done, and one of the lunatics always went back to the house because he had forgotten the tools he needed for life in fields: the hammer and the small axe. As if he didn’t know that their use was forbidden and that the punishment for chopping off the smallest branch was death. Not having anything to eat in the field or to warm themselves with, in the end they would lie under the press (a brilliant invention of the old man’s), which flattened them and turned them into a living two-dimensional photograph; everyday, whenever they went out into the field, their life was again turned into a photograph from that other world.
One morning the old man left. The old habits of the house survived him, but the roles of the residents changed: the one who walked along the wall wanted everybody to pass through his room, and the woman who was scared she wouldn’t sleep began to walk along the wall on frosty mornings. It became so confused that nobody knew who was who or what their torment was.
Finally, as soon as the fog cleared over the field near the mouth-hollow, transparent emptiness appeared where the house had been; nor could the strange residents be found. As if they were beings created by the marsh vapour with which they disappeared.
Translated by: Milena Mitrovska and Michael Black