(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A young doctor named Rönne is riding a train in southern Germany, on his way north to stand in for a clinic doctor who is going away on holiday. For the past two years, Rönne has worked in pathology. After having two thousand bodies pass through his hands, he feels strangely exhausted.

As he rides the train, he notes such sights as scarlet fields that seem to be on fire with poppies and houses that appear to be propped up by roses. He thinks to himself that he should buy a notebook and pencil with which to record things before they pass out of sight. He cannot remember when things stopped sticking in his mind.

At the hospital precinct, Rönne sees only hospital employees and patients. His mood is solemn as he discusses professional matters with nurses, to whom he leaves such matters as fixing lamps and starting motors. As he works with patients, Rönne becomes both preoccupied with his hands and somehow detached from them. He deals with patients’ lungs or fingers but never with whole persons. As Rönne becomes preoccupied with his thoughts, he finds it increasingly difficult to separate the relevant from the irrelevant. All around him, space seems to surge off into infinity. Often he twists his hands and looks at them.

Once a nurse sees Rönne smelling his hands and manipulating them oddly, as though squeezing open a large, soft fruit. One day a large animal is slaughtered in the hospital as Rönne happens to come along. As its...

(The entire section is 457 words.)