The Right Hand of Sleep

The Right Hand of Sleep


Later that day, when Voxlauer arrived at the ponds, he found a pine-green sedan parked alongside the bridge and Ryslavy slumped over between the cottage steps and the woodpile. He picked up two splints from the pile and clacked them together next to Ryslavy's ear.

-Citizens of the Reich! This is your Fuhrer speaking!

Ryslavy jerked violently awake, looking around him with wide-open, bulging eyes. Seeing Voxlauer he began cursing immediately, -You'll get yours, little friend. By God you'll get yours.

-I was just thinking about going to see you, Pauli. Tomorrow or the day after. And here you are laid out on my doorstep like a birthday present.

Ryslavy sat back against the wall. Just you come a little closer, birthday boy.

-Thanks all the same, said Voxlauer. He leaned against the woodpile. -I've been wondering about you a little.

-What, pray tell?

-I don't rightly know.


Voxlauer shrugged. -If you're still in business, I suppose.

-In business? said Ryslavy, eyes narrowing.

Voxlauer nodded.

Ryslavy studied him awhile longer, then let out a grunt.

-They haven't stopped drinking beer, if that's what you're getting at. Or started caring much who pours it for them.

-Still eating trout?

-They'll still eat mine, Oskar. Don't you worry. If I have any left to fry, that is. He looked toward the ponds accusingly.

Voxlauer took another splint from the woodpile and began mocking the dirt from his boots. -It's true I haven't been around much lately.


Voxlauer grinned. -You come up here to sack me, Pauli?

-We'd just have you in town then. Thank you kindly.

-It wouldn't be so bad. I could help you lay sandbags.

-No thank you.

-Or courier your bribes, depending . . .

Ryslavy made a face. -On what?

Voxlauer scratched his chin. -Your plan of action. Your tactical agenda.

-I think we'll keep you in reserve for the moment, Oskar, if you've no objections. Seeing as how you appreciate your work.

-Is it so very obvious? said Voxlauer.




In the last light they went up and cast lines into the creek. Ryslavy lay with his head against a tussock of new grass, smoking and holding forth on selected topics. Occasionally he sat forward to check his line. Voxlauer had a second rod and was casting into a shallow eddy.

-They're no more socialists than I am, Ryslavy was saying.

-If they're a workers' party then I'm a burr up a barmaid's ass.

-You wish you were.

-They went after the perfumed citizens straight off, no dilly-dallying. Old man Kattnig, Otto Probst, that new doctor moved into the Villa Walgram. Even came snuffling round my door, if you can believe it, that first week. Turned out I was a Zionist.

-If you're a Zionist, then I am a wheel of cheese, said Voxlauer, yawning.

-Believe me, Oskar. Nobody was more surprised than I was.

-I believe it very well.

-Came round your mother's house, naturally. Brought along some paperwork. Mentioned you, of course, I needn't say what,. regarding. She asked could any of them speak French.

-They mentioned me?

-Hmm. Ryslavy nodded, fumbling with his pipe. -Toward the end.


-"We sympathize with your shame, et cetera, Frau Voxlauer," et cetera. The paperwork came out again. A pardon or some such was hinted at. She told them to get pissed.

-Ah, said Voxlauer.

-For pity's sake don't club away like that. For pity's sake, Oskar. A little charity. Ryslavy took up his rod with a gesture of despair and arced it soundlessly out over the water. -These area graceful, delicate things we're after. Beautiful things.

-Floating sausages, said Voxlauer. -Bug-eyed gluttonous little fiends.

-Conversely, the favored food of your prophet, according toy apostles Paul and Peter, said Ryslavy, raising a hand in benediction.

-I never knew! said Voxlauer thoughtfully. He reeled in his line and cast again. -Who's your favorite apostle, Pauli?

Ryslavy cursed picturesquely. -Speaking of which, that heap of kidneys is making things hot for me a little. Not to dirty the subject.

-Our boy Rindt of the greasy knickers?

-Sopping piss off barstools not enough for him anymore guess.

Ryslavy shrugged. -Black Shirts drink free on Tuesday. He grinned crookedly. -The pan-German angle.

Voxlauer spat into the grass.

-Wish I'd thought of it myself, really.

-You did, Pauli. You couldn't stomach it, that's all.

Ryslavy laughed joylessly. -You expect me to work the pan-German maneuver, Oskar? Me? Paul Abraham Ryslavy, money-lender? Corrupter of womenfolks? The bandy-legged menace? He shed over in the twilight, leering.

-Speaking of which, said Voxlauer. -Could you spare half a filling?

-Very comic, said Ryslavy. He stared blankly out at the water. -I thought not, said Voxlauer.

-You go to hell.

They cast quietly for a time. -Is it all so far gone, then? said Voxlauer quietly.

Ryslavy thumbed his nose. -They drink until they're pissed, then they toddle home. It's a happy time, really.

-We could all do with one of those.

Ryslavy moved his pipestem fondly from his right mouth corner to his left. -I'd say you've done all right, Oskar.

-What's that?

-You've done all right.

Voxlauer cast again. -What would you know about it.

-You'll notice, said Ryslavy. -I haven't asked where you've been.

-I wasn't expecting you to.

-Still. I haven't asked.

-Shall I light you a candle, brother?

-Do you remember Sarah Tilsnigg? My second cousin?

Voxlauer didn't answer for a moment. -I might remember.

-You always did have a weakness for the mountain air. Had an effect on you like a pound of oysters.

-Leave off it, Pauli, for the love of God.

-What year was that? What summer?

-I don't remember. Eighteen hundred and three.

-We had fine summers up here, though, it's a fact.

-A few.

-I think of them all the time now. I must be getting old.

-That must be it.

-Pere told those endless, wonderfully complicated fairy stories. Do you remember them?


-What happened to him, Oskar? To go from such a normal life – go so all at once –

-It wasn't so all at once. You didn't see it, that's all. Maman kept things quiet.

-There were the problems with his pieces, I remember that much. His pieces not getting played, and so on. Don't say that wasn't a part of it.

-It was something inside of him, Pauli. In the brain. It wasn't the goddamned good-for-nothing pieces.

-What makes you so blessed sure?

-Because it's inside of me too, Pauli. That's why.

-Oh, said Ryslavy.

They sat awhile in silence. Ryslavy chewed his pipe. -Vulgo Holzer was broken into a few weeks back, he said. -Turned on its ass proper.

-Is that so?

-Just so you're careful, that's all, Oskar. These are chancy times.

-I've heard that already, said Voxlauer. -You'll be happy to know of a fellow deep thinker—

There was a hit on his line and he brought it in hard, with ; whirring and buzzing of the reel. A fish no longer than a finger struggled fiercely against the hook. Voxlauer pulled it in, cursing.

-Sprats hit quickest just now, Ryslavy said, comfortable again -The old ones drop lower, in my experience, when dark is comet on. A heavier plumb might clear it, maybe. Or a better floater. You might try one of those damselflies.

Voxlauer yanked the sprat from his line and threw it back.

-You're bothering me tonight, Pauli.

Ryslavy sighed. -I bother myself, lately. He drew his rod back pensively. -You know about her family, I suppose?


-Not simple, is it.

-It's simp]e, Voxlauer cast again. -It's simple up here.

-Don't believe it, boy. It's no simpler up here than anywhere. Things take a bit longer to happen that's all. Ryslavy jerked his down valley. -Your nudists know that, you can bet. They won’t be around much longer.

-Look at me, Pauli. I'm fully dressed.

-And thank God for it.

-I couldn't agree more.

Ryslavy leaned over, took Voxlauer's arm and shook it.

-Don't make trouble for me, old man . I'm begging you now.

Voxlauer laughed. -Trouble, Pauli? You must not have looked me too well just now. Am I worth fretting over?

-No, you jackass. I am. I'm worth fretting over for weeks.


-Fret away, then. You don't need my permission.

-Everyone knows who it was at the Holzer farm. The whole town knows it.

Voxlauer didn't answer. The creek had darkened now into a all cautious band of gray. The light above it was dim and gravel-colored.

-That seems very far away now, all of that, he said finally.

Ryslavy was quiet a moment. –Well, Oskar. It’s your business, as you say. But for God’s sake don’t pay any more visits to the Holzer boys. Buy your butter in Pergau from now on.

-I just might at that. said Voxlauer.

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Excerpted from The Right Hand of Sleep by John Wray. Copyright © 2001 by John Wray. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.