Archives

Fuckin Sushi

Author: Marc Degens
Translator: Joseph Given

I only went to Godesberg because of Yannick. He was my best friend at school, apart from being my only one. He had the most often wrongly spelt name I’ve ever come across: Jannik, Yannik, Jannick, Yannic. On the way over to his place, I stopped at the sweet shop and bought a few things. Yannick lived with his parents in a castle-like villa on the banks of the Rhine. The villa had towers, battlements, an alarm system and thousands of surveillance cameras. His mother stayed at home 24 hours a day, his father never. When Yannick wasn’t at school, he was sitting in front of his computer sucking the Internet dry and moving massive amounts of data from one hard disk to another. This wasn’t about having fun. It was hard work. Yannick even slept in front of his computer, melded to a homogenous lump with his blanket and the swivel chair.

I got used to the new school after a few months, even the politics and history lessons in English. Uncanny things were happening in the world. I couldn’t talk to Yannick about that. He would either show me shaky videos on YouTube or send me links to obscure websites. I never really found out what his opinions were. In one of the windows he’d watch the newest cinema hit whilst in another he’d be lying in wait, looking through rifle crosshairs. At the same time he was posting photos, chatting, listening to rap or some audiobook. It probably didn’t make any difference to him whether I was there or not.

Yannick was always the first to know which series was due to start in Germany, having finished running in America. Whenever I was looking for a song or a particular episode from some old cartoon series, I only had to ask him. It took about quarter of an hour then he’d hand me a USB stick with a perfect discography or every single episode that had ever been broadcast. Yannick didn’t believe in God, but he did believe in Ewoks and he knew the names of every single Knight of the Jedi. Whenever he got bad marks in a class test or was asked to take the rubbish out, he would curse the dark side of the Force quietly. It was also down to Star Wars that Yannick and I ended up arguing: he liked Jar Jar Binks and I didn’t. He threw me out for that and once I was on my bike, riding off, he came out and shouted the ending of my new series after me:

“Joffrey ends up king,” he laughed evilly, “and Ned Stark dies.”

I stopped, turned around and swore perfidious revenge.

*

My threat had obviously impressed Yannick. He even stayed away from our school-year party, which was supposed to be obligatory for all pupils. All of the teachers were there and some kids even brought their parents. To be on the safe side, I didn’t even tell mine about it. The meeting place was the open-air stage at the banks of the Rhine. There was a barbecue and beer. At some point I ended up sitting with Livia on the grass with the sun burning a hole in my head while she talked incessantly about her foster horse Giacherini: a gelding with Holsteiner genes that had won show-jumping prizes and was the half-brother of some other horse. After about half an hour it was getting on my nerves listening to her. I picked up a can of beer and walked off, starting up the hill on my own.

There were Roman headstones all around and I tried to decipher the names on them. All at once I found myself standing in front of the entrance to the Zen garden, a place for peace and relaxation. Or so it said on the sign. Exactly what I was after. I went through the wooden gate, took a step to my right and walked around anticlockwise – as recommended on the sign.

In the middle of the garden, there was a large pool. I was the only visitor and the trees looked like happy ghosts. I stepped onto a small jetty. On either side of me there were massive fish with red, white, blue and gold marbled scales. Grandma and Grandad Dannenfeld also had fish like this in their garden pond, but these ones here were much bigger. They surfaced like U-boats between the water lilies, steered off to the reeds and opened their enormous mouths to pick at the stems. I watched them for a while then I took a sip out of my can and walked on.

The stone steps beside the pavilion led directly to the water. I kicked a couple of empty booze bottles to the side and sat down on the lowest steps. A duck flew over, curious, landed clumsily and continued in my direction, swimming excitedly. Once it noticed that my attention was completely given over to the fish, it turned around and paddled off leisurely to the opposite bank.

The fish, just under the surface, swam close to each other, moving calmly with just the occasional whip of their tails. I leaned over, intending to reach into the water and grab one of them, when I noticed René behind me. I didn’t know how long he’d been standing there. He nodded to me, sat down on the stairs beside me and tapped his finger on my beer.

“Do you mind?”

I handed him the can. He took a swig and gave it back to me. An old pensioner couple came into the garden. Both of them were wearing beige from head to toe. Arm in arm, they trailed their slow way through the garden, stopping every six inches. The old man scratched at the ground with his walking stick. They both looked down and giggled. Then they trailed on.

“That would do me nicely right now,” said René turning to me. “Just pension myself off here and now.”

“Pension yourself off?” I asked.

“Yeah, pension myself off,” answered René. “Do nothing except read chemists’ magazines, eat pensioners’ special offer meals, and cruise through the parks.”

I laughed.

“Spend all week running to the doctor and sitting in the waiting room?” I asked.

“Yep,” answered René. “Get the shits when Crimewatch comes on, dream about Reader’s Digest.”

“Shoo the young people off their seats on the buses,” I enthused and took another swig of beer.

René nodded.

“Go on coach trips every six weeks,” he said.

“Chiropodists,” I shouted.

“Automatic door openers,” declared René.

“Spend the present talking about the past,” I added.

“Fango mud packs and hot-cold treatment,” said René excitedly.

I smiled and spoke grimly, “No beer after 4 o’clock.”

I handed the can to René. He drank the rest and we looked up at the grey stone tree.

“I think I’d even go into an old folk’s home for that,” mused René.

“Me too,” I proclaimed loudly. “Right here and now.”

The old couple had reached the pavilion and were sitting down on the bench. René grabbed one of the two earbuds hanging out of the top of my T-shirt and put it in his ear.

“Turn it on,” he said.

“Oh, come on,” I sighed.

“Turn it on”, he repeated.

I took the iPod out of my trouser pocket, put the other earphone into my own ear and pressed play. Long, pacific tones, then hammering and humming. The bass started to get threatening: once, twice, then every time.

“What’s that?” asked René.

“Drone,” I answered. “Doom metal. By Sunn O))). One of their more mellow pieces.”

“Let me hear some more,” he spoke.

There was a clicking – then the drums were in command. The kind of sounds you’d hear on a slave boat. The cymbal was crashing and the organ was whirring like a dentist’s drill.

“When’s it going to start?” asked René.

He grabbed the iPod out of my hand and pressed on the skip track button before the singing had started.

After that there was a song from the new, unreleased Chemical Brothers’ album. Yannick had given me the song, but René clicked on the skip track button again. Drumbeats and glockenspiel.

“Bring out your dead,” roared the drunken voice of the singer.

“Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead.”

“Fucking brilliant,” shouted René. “That’s Jim Morrison. What’s he saying there? Dad or dead?”

“I think dead,” I replied.

We listened to the song to the end.

“Brilliant version,” said René. “I’ve never heard that before.”

“Live in New York,” I told him. “It’s over 17 minutes long.”

“Have you got People Are Strange?”

“No,” I answered. “Too short.”

“Too short?” he questioned.

“I’ve only got long songs on my iPod,” I explained. “The longest one goes on for nearly an hour.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Why not?” I answered. “I only listen to long songs.”

René looked at me with raised eyebrows.

“Really?” he asked.

I nodded. In that moment, Ricarda with the big tits came running over the jetty laughing. She was being chased by some nutcase from the rowing club with arms like a removals man. Ricarda stopped running. They fell into each other’s arms and started snogging.

“I think I need another beer”, said René and got up. “You coming?”

“Yeah”, I answered.

 

 From Fuckin Sushi  © DuMont 2015

Crow eater
Cinnamon
Mirror
Wooden house

Author: Michael Krüger
Translator: Joseph Given

Crow eater

Crows, tells one
who survived the war,
have to be cooked
with the wood of the pine,
to bind the poisons,
and served with sorrel
which animals spurn.
The order of a world at peace
is hard to understand.
Here we sit in the open air
and marvel at the sunset.
The crows on the pine
will have the final word.

Cinnamon

Suddenly someone comes up with cinnamon
as if that were the explanation
for all the secret entanglements
of heaven and earth: cinnamon.
My grandmother saved four stalks of it
through the war, no more.
The birch shakes off the winter;
the wind tests its resilience.
And all I can think of is cinnamon.
As far as I’m concerned, you can call
the moon a pumpkin,
but when someone says cinnamon,
I can’t feel anything except the warmth of the dead.

Mirror

It takes a hopelessly long time
to get a rough idea of who you are.
The ineffaceable love of apple trees,
the history written in the clouds.
Research on grass, not intended
for printing, enchanted water,
rendezvous in the accessible darkness.
Nothing for gods, really.
Breathe to escape the curse;
hopelessly long, yet so short.
Too short.

Wooden house

for Alfred Kolleritsch*

You have to stand with your back
to the wall in the evening light.
Then you’ll see the storm
announcing its arrival in the crown
of the lime. The mad blackbirds
as if from some late work.
We will be judged on the number
of times we withheld the truth
although the word lay warm on the tongue.
A glance at the hastening clouds,
and you understand the gulf
between the heavens and the earthly world.
Your back to the warm wood,
and then the sunset.

*Wooden house
Alfred Kolleritsch, born 1931, is an Austrian writer, poet and philosopher, particularly known for his opposition to the “return of the never-changing”; i.e. to a society plagued by narrowness and stagnation. As founder of the Austrian literature magazine Manuskripte he has aided many lesser known writers to greater success.

From Michael Krüger, Umstellung der Zeit © Suhrkamp, 2013
Translation © Joseph Given

Joseph Given’s translation of Michael Krüger’s collection Umstellung der Zeit will be published by Seagull Books under the title Seasonal Time Change in 2015.

My Pickled Life

Author: Steven Uhly
Translator: Joseph Given

This excerpt has been abridged in consultation with the author.

Summary: Erik takes a daytrip to an island in Sweden on the west coast of Gotland, where he meets and becomes intrigued by Inez, an aloof and mysterious ornithologist conducting research there. Erik falls in love with Inez and the six hour excursion extends into a week that ultimately ends in a three month sojourn on the island. Rainer Feldberg, who was on the ferry with Erik, also has remained on the island and is keeping a close watch on the two. After an initial flirt, Inez seems to grow more elusive once Erik starts working for her as an intern. Disappointed, he confides his feelings to Rainer Feldberg, unaware that he and Inez share a past in the GDR. A past she had been trying to escape.

It had begun as it always begins. It is still beginning even now.
It begins on this water, on the way back. The ferry turns and I take another look behind me. I am trying to memorize where I’ve been; the cottage, the cliff, the lighthouse, the floating pontoons at the shore.
Inez has already vanished. She was walking slowly across the sharp pebbles on the beach up to the café. In the shadows her contours efface. The vision blurs.
As we parted one of the reporters squeezed between us. He shook Inez’s hand.
I whispered hastily that I would come back.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Inez. Her voice had lost that rawness it had when she whispered to me at night. Her laughter was no longer the laughter from the beach. Fleetingly I touched her arm. The sunglasses covered half her face.
The boat picks up speed. I look back.
Inez and the island sway.

The Baltic Sea flashes white in the distance. Crests of foam steer the waves. They grow wider, their tines elongate, plow deeply into the gray water. They comb the sea towards the coast. Long strands that the wind tears apart and drives together slap onto the shore. The Baltic Sea is mischievous. Essentially it’s just a lake, but it opens widely enough to the Atlantic to give the appearance of being an ocean. In a sense, the Baltic is disguising itself as a sea. It brings elements of the sea into play to enhance the credibility of the illusion: Saltwater. Shells. Flint stones and auks.
Inez stands at the shore shading her eyes with her hand. She wants to see the boy one more time, the hair down to the nape, his open gaze, the chafed hands. But the ferry has turned. Not even Erik’s silhouette remains to be seen.
She turns back and stares at the café. The reporter’s comment runs through her mind:
“You have something going on right? You and the boy.”
“We have everything,” she replied.

 

Flint Ball

It had begun as it always begins. It always begins imperceptibly. Afterwards it’s impossible to say exactly when. The beginning dissolves immediately into the event, into the water churned up by the boat’s propeller, into the nonsense I said to Inez, into the endless circling of the seabirds, the cirrus clouds, the wind.
In truth, this moment when it began will not have happened. I begin searching for it once everything has become irrevocable. In retrospect. Only now does it look as if there had been an inevitable sequence of events, as this is required by the story in hindsight. I am searching for a decisive moment, the trigger, because I want to have had a choice, because I want to believe that at some point I had really made a decision. And maybe that is the rub.
It could have begun with the sparkling turquoise water at the shore. With the withered shadow the gorse bush casts on the whitewashed wall of Inez’s bedroom. It could have started with the sky, a sky that in the noontime stillness is as turquoise as the sea. An hour that turns the patches floating on the water at the island’s edge into algae and green silt that sticks to the sides of the boat. Later, the surf washes it away. It could have begun much earlier, too, before the trip, or if you believe in fate, at birth. It could have begun with us, when Inez and I were born.
The island lies there just as it was three months ago. An overturned saucer. The captain is the same too, a pale man in a red sweater who always carries a bag of pistachios and throws the shells out the open window. The wind floats them away. Yesterday’s newspaper is lying in the passengers’ cabin, the Dagens Nyheter, which he brings from the mainland to while away the time. During the summer, the ferry drops the tourists off on the island in the morning at eleven and picks them up again in the afternoon at five. In autumn the ferry schedule changes and the ferry comes less frequently, and when the storms sweep across the plateau in October, the ferry stops running altogether and the island is left deserted.
The yellow grass is frozen stiff.
It was this autumn when it had all begun, this northern autumn with its snowless cold, with its stiflingly early dusk, this autumn with its gray, frothing sea and the wind-swept rocks. It began the night I was driven to scale the cliff that towered fifty or sixty yards over the sea, when I stood up there and imagined doing it, doing it with the same ease, with the same instinctive trust as the birds that had plunged from the rocks in June, because I was rich, and this feeling was boundless, and I knew it would not last beyond the moment, not last longer than those minutes I stood there in the icy wind that numbed my face and pushed the air back into my lungs. I knew that that was what drove me to the edge of the cliff, not desperation, not the thought of being discovered, or the fear of what followed from the discovery. Had I not turned and faced the rotating beacon, had I not looked back and imagined how she lay there with the straps of her thin nightgown sliding off her shoulder, had I instead taken a step further, over the edge of the cliff, then this richness inside me would have been preserved forever in the freezing cold.

In June it took the ship about an hour to reach the island. A precipice towered above the shore. It cast a shadow across the sea. Beyond the shadow the water glistened; a few wooden huts were scattered along the beach.
A woman in khaki shorts walked up to the landing. She walked towards the quay wall. As she reached the pier, the white straps of her bra showed under her shirt. The white flashed. It was whiter than the sand, whiter than the color of the chalk-covered flint stones, whiter than the boat.
The woman shouted something to two boys standing at the shore. One of them caught the rope and tied it to a cleat. They wore olive shirts with the words Stora Karlsö.
The woman was slim. Her arms looked trained. Wind and salt air had bleached her hair. Her skin was tanned. But something in her demeanor betrayed that she had grown up in fancy apartments.
I looked through the smeared window and thought about how soon I had to leave again that afternoon, that the ferry sailed at five, that I only had six hours on this island, I thought about how little time I had planned for this trip.
Ropes and hooks lined the quay, the woman stood between the boat and the shore. The passengers nearly brushed against her as they got off the ship. I registered the thin trail of clouds in the sky, the cliffs where the birds were breeding by the thousands, I saw the turquoise sea, the chalk-covered flint stones, I saw the houses on the bay, the family, a child on the shoulders, I estimated the distance from here to the beach, between the quay and boat, I noted the iron rings on the docks, I studied the flight line of the gulls, I noted which direction the wind came from; in just a few seconds, I knew my way around this bay in the northern part of the island. As I passed the woman on the quay wall, she fleetingly held my arm.
The water sparkled.
She, too, could not have foreseen at the time that I would come. She could not have known I would be aboard one of the ferries that traveled between Gotland and the coastal islands. She could not have known that I would come at all, she didn’t know me.
I registered the touch of her hand as accurately as if I would have had to write a report about it. She held my arm fleetingly and for no reason; it was more of a reflex because this part of the quay was very narrow. Then she turned and walked back to the beach.
She waved us over to the flagpole. Rocks had been formed into a small platform. As she stepped onto the platform the light, which the steep cliff had blocked on the water, fell across her face.
“Somebody here who doesn’t speak Swedish?”
I was standing behind the family, the child had fallen asleep. I stepped forward. The strap of my backpack slid off my shoulder and caught on my elbow.
“What’s your name?”
“Erik.”
“Okay, Erik. You go with Guido. He’ll translate what I’m saying.” Her English sounded raw and arrogant.
Guido was one of the two scouts. He stood near the entrance to the cafe and had a typical square-shaped Swedish haircut. The cafe was only a few steps away from the flagpole; I heard her speaking, but couldn’t understand what she said. I watched how the reddish-blond-haired man who had been with me on the ferry shoved his doctor’s bag between his feet. He stood intrusively close to the platform.
Inez had delegated the tour of the island to Guido that day because the chain on her mini-tractor was broken. The ferry captain had brought a new one from the mainland and was going to install it before he set sail. As she walked down to the quay, she turned around again. “Erik!” she shouted, accenting the i, so that my name suddenly sounded Spanish. “In the Museum you’ll find some leaflets in German. Take one. They’re badly translated, but they’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
I took one, and it was badly translated, but that leaflet told me nothing I needed to know.

Later, when we slept together, these first impressions came back to me, and even now on the ferry, as the island disappears in the distance, they return again. The firmness of her handshake. Her raw voice. The way she said my name, accent on the i. Her face exposed by the sun, as she stood in front of the flagpole, also comes back to me. On top of me in bed she held still, feeling the motion, her eyes were open, her face naked. It was hard and alert, and it seemed ages ago that somebody had told me sex was about losing yourself. Inez never let herself go.
Now, in the distance, her silhouette dissolves over the water, blurs, grows transparent, a reflection of light. We did not arrange to avoid each other. We did not arrange anything. We did not say see you soon, or shake hands, or hug each other. We did not say good-bye. It was as if what we had experienced could not be connected to what was yet to come. Or as if it had to remain open, forever unfinished.

In June it didn’t get dark, even at night. A luminous, intensely blue light hung over the rocks and sea, and it was hard to say if the summer night ever began or if one day simply flowed into the next. Around midnight the sun disappeared behind the line of the sea and its shadow flushed the sky red before it rose again around two. The light made me feel sleepy when I was awake and half-awake when I slept.
Often I lay sleepless until the next morning, continuously jolted awake by the screech of a single auk startled by a falling boulder, his shrieks spreading to the other birds and swelling into a wave that seized the entire colony, only after half an hour growing weaker and slowly fading like a dying siren. Sleeplessly I lay there until the next long day.
In those days I saw a lot of Rainer Feldberg, the red-haired man who had been with me on the ferry. He walked past the office windows carrying his doctor’s bag, sat at the museum café with some papers, strolled along the beach with Guido. Guido seemed to be entertaining him. I saw him put his arm around his shoulder and watched Guido toss his head back and laugh.

“So what’s up with that permit you’ve got?” I asked Feldberg when I ran into him making his morning tea in the lighthouse kitchen.
“Well?” he said. “Everything proceeding to your satisfaction? You’re a busy man. Wasn’t that bird shit I saw you scrubbing off the rooftop the other day? Not to worry. Learning years aren’t earning years.” He nodded at me. “Just making some rose hip tea, want a cup? The permit you are referring to is a mandate to undertake some investigations here.”
“To see if the birds are shitting in the right direction?”
“Nature, young man, is not my cup of tea, unless you mean human nature. I’m here to look into a few irregularities. Certain incidents have prompted the association to send somebody to have a look around. Nothing major, a kind of general check-up as they say nowadays.”
“You mean passports, work permits, illegal immigrants?”
“Late bills, shoddy accounting, and a person in charge whose social skills, shall we say, are rather uneven.” He winked at me. “You’re a bright young man. Now it’s your turn. How do you like it here?”
“It’s good. Not a lot of people, sun, beach and sea. And as far as a person in charge goes, I can’t say I’ve seen one.”
“There you have it,” said Feldberg and poured the water into the pot. “Even a newcomer like you gets it. There are a number of irregularities that have disadvantageously and permanently poisoned the working environment here, and now, at the very latest, it has fallen upon the association to intervene. Has anything struck you as odd? You have direct access to the employees.”
“Struck me as odd?”
“Do you get along with Inez?”
“Of course I get along with Inez. I barely ever see her.”
“So you’ve also noticed how Inez Rauter unduly shuts herself off from the others. You see,” said Feldberg, “if she does that to you or to me, that’s her business, it’s just us she’s treating like chumps, right? It doesn’t harm the association. But when her brusqueness, not to say her coldness, is directed towards her staff, it affects the performance of the entire collective. And it raises the suspicion that she’s abusing her position. To secretly line her own pockets.”
“You think she’s secretly planted coca bushes and is pushing the stuff on the drug dudes in Italy?”
Feldberg looked at me. Then he lifted the tea bag out of the pot and squeezed the liquid.
“Maybe not the mafia,” he said, carefully tossing the bag into the trash. “But it just occurred to me you might be onto something there.”
“That was a joke!”
“Well, you know, Erik,” said Feldberg, leaning a hand against the kitchen sink as he slowly poured the tea in a bright, reddish-golden arc, “I don’t want to sound like some old man telling you his life story or trying to teach you a lesson. But take my word for it when I say: I’ve seen pigs fly.”
“So that’s why you don’t like nature?”
“You’re a very intelligent young man, I like that.” He looked at me. “No,” he said, “it’s not nature as such, it’s nature’s cycles I don’t like. The inevitability with which the expected occurs. Now, for example, I’d give anything to be standing here with Inez in the kitchen having such a frank discussion as I’m having with you, Erik. That would make my job considerably easier.” He suddenly looked exhausted.
“So why don’t you?”
“For the same reason you rarely get to see her, I suppose.”
“You’ve got the power to force Inez to do it.”
“That’s right. But are you here because somebody forced you? A frank discussion is just that, a frank discussion. Have you ever asked Inez why she acts as if she doesn’t know me?”
“That’s the first I’ve heard about it.”
“You’ve got talent, Erik.”
“So how long have you known each other?”
“You can ask Inez all about that. Believe me. Just take a look at yourself. The way you walked in here earlier. And the way you’re standing in front of me right now. You’ve got what it takes.”
“And what is that, in your opinion?”
“You’re burning.”
It was silent for a moment. The tea in the water-stained glass pot was steaming; a thin, transparent mist that vanished as soon as it reached the edge of the pot. Today I wish the door had opened and somebody had come inside, had asked for a sieve or a towel, but nobody aside from us lived in the lighthouse and we were left to ourselves. Feldberg’s flushed face sprinkled with freckles, his calm voice. I couldn’t escape from Feldberg’s charged, promising silence. I waited for this man to tell me something important, something that explained my indecisiveness, why I had stayed on this island.
“It’s a magnetic pull,” said Feldberg, engrossed. “You’re not just young. You radiate this burning. It makes you very attractive. You are experiencing things for the first time. Not because you probably are actually experiencing them for the first time, that’s not what I mean. But because you let things happen. Because you approach things impartially. It opens all the doors for you.”
“That’s what your experience tells you.”
“If you will.” He smiled. “I’m a bit older. I’ve seen all sorts of people in my lifetime. I can truly say I’ve met them all.”
“Inez, too.”
“Yes.” Feldberg blew on his tea. “I’ve seen the worst traits in the majority of them. Their core. The stuff they’re made of.” He blew carefully before he looked at me over the edge of his cup. “Inez wouldn’t treat you in such a humiliating way.”
“I’ve already told you. She doesn’t react at all.”
“People succumb to your softness, Erik. This genuine openness. Your fearless gaze.”
“Inez has only got auks in her head,” I said. “All she cares about are the birds and whether I’ve typed the damned data into the computer, or if I can help her with a rebel auk! Maybe in the beginning there was a magnetic pull. You’re right. There was something. Yeah. I think so. She invited me to stay, you know. It was nothing direct. But that’s why I stayed. Because it looked like something could happen.” I felt the disappointment that had been building come to the surface. “It really looked that way. But now she acts like she’s in a huge hurry whenever I come into the cafe. When I run into her in the harbor, she suddenly has to compare a bunch of lists. I don’t know why I bothered getting involved in this stupid internship.”
“You thought you could get closer to her.”
“I tried.”
“She led you on.” Rainer Feldberg took a sip of tea. “The possibly feigned interest in you, by the way, fits in very well with her unstable personality.” He winced. His lower lip quivered like an overheated earthworm and I immediately regretted having gone this far. The moment had passed. There was nothing that connected me with this man, except that we happened to be standing together in the same kitchen in the morning and there was nobody else to talk to.
“I had different plans, that’s all,” I said evasively, and headed for the door.
Then I said: “I was thinking about inviting Inez for a beer.”
“Well? Why didn’t you do it?” said Rainer Feldberg, pleased. “Invite her, do it right away, tomorrow. You’ll see it won’t be difficult for you! It would also be in the best interest of the association. We’ve got to get Inez more involved. Understandably she feels a certain reticence towards me, but in your case you’ve got charm, or don’t you. Maybe you can even get her to talk to me some time. Now that you know I’m somebody you can talk to. But behave in such a way that under no circumstances Inez discovers who has sent you on this mission.”
Frontline Attack: Intimate Sphere, as Rainer Feldberg would secretly call it; though I did not know that at the time.
At the time I was grateful to Feldberg. He had egged me on. He had encouraged me and I risked it. I invited Inez and she said, what took you so long? She turned off her computer and locked the office door. We drove up to the lighthouse with the mini-tractor. We drank the weak Swedish beer that barely got you drunk and wore off before the bottle was empty, we had a tense, polite conversation about her work and my study plans. Then she turned off the walkie-talkie and said:
“Can Feldberg hear us from here?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Maybe we should sit somewhere else?”
“Why?”
“I don’t want him to hear us.”
“He’s hardly ever in his room at this hour.”
“Good,” said Inez. “You never know with him.”
“He said he knows you.”
“He says a lot of things.”
“He sounded pretty convincing.”
“One of those pushy types.”
“He wants to talk to you.”
“Just can’t let go,” said Inez.
We were on the second or third bottle of beer when she told me that after seeing Feldberg arrive at the quay, all she wanted to do was disappear into the cliffs with a thermos of coffee and not return until nightfall, in the hope he would have left again. After the introduction at the flagpole, she had stood at the office window and saw Rainer Feldberg walking up the beach. She had watched as he carefully lifted his trousers at the crease so his pant legs wouldn’t get sandy. She had stood motionless and watched Rainer Feldberg slowly work his way forward across the stones, and in that same moment she had heard the wind, even though there was no wind that day. She had heard the rasping of juniper branches, and the whistling of the wind when it bore down on the dry island grass. She had heard the churning of the currents on the open sea when they merged with the updraft side of the cliff, and the splash of foam bubbles that the storm drove onto the sand. Then she had lowered the blinds.
In that moment, she decided to behave as if she didn’t know Rainer Feldberg. She would insist he was mistaken.
“I hate to disappoint you, I told him, but if I can help you in any other way the tour begins in five minutes.”
“You blew the dude off,” I said, then placed the bottle on the ground and put my sweatshirt on. It was getting cool. “It was totally the right thing to do.”
Inez didn’t answer. She stared into the dark overcast sky, only a single star was visible, if at all.
“I mean, if I get started talking about everybody who -”
“What?” said Inez as if from afar.
“I mean everybody who ever blew me off. I sure wouldn’t be trying to get in touch with them twenty years later.”
“You’re too young for that, Erik.”
“What kind of guy says to himself, ‘why not give it another try’ twenty years later?”
“It’s not about a scorned lover, or at least not just that,” said Inez.
“Then what’s it about?”
Inez held the bottle in front of the pale red sky and gazed at the beer.
“I can’t imagine anybody would blow you off,” she said unexpectedly.


From
Sturz der Tage in die Nacht by Antje Rávic Strubel
© S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2011.
Translation © Zaia Alexander

The Story of my Evaluation at the Beginning of the Third Millenium

Author: PeterLicht
Translator: Joseph Given

I was fine. I was healthy and I had money, maybe not in unbelievably high amounts, but I had it. I could afford everything I wanted to afford and even treat myself sometimes. And even if the treats were not very big treats, still they were middle-sized treats. Well, let’s say a little bit more towards the lower boundary of middle, or the upper end of low, so not at the very top. Say a bit more of a healthy distance from the upper threshhold, with just a slight tendency to the “middle”. So:
I HAD MIDDLE AMOUNTS OF MONEY. In the middle of the “low” areas. Now, I should really try to be precise about this: just as it is in the nature of money to rise and fall, so the nature of my money was maybe not really middle but more just a tad downwards, a little bit under the middle of the lower areas. And since that sounds a bit complex, you could, for the sake of simplification, also just describe it as “low”.
SO MY MONEY WAS LOW. OK. But money was somehow there, though maybe it would be more accurate to say that money as a subject was somehow there. That indeed could be said. The subject of money in my life was so completely high in the high up areas that you could say that I was full of money. It seeped out of all of my pores. Money money money money. Money flew around in my thoughts, jingling tirelessly. Everything I touched just opened up and jingled at me. Coins coins coins. Or to describe it another way: my debts had gotten smaller, had passed me by like winter passes and now the only way was up. Back up, in the sense of being on the best way up, that is in the sense of moving towards a point at which the new debts could be seen to be getting smaller. So you could say, I wasn’t going further into minus; I wasn’t in over my head as I once had been. There’d been a time I’d been swimming in minus. I can really say swimming. Crawl. Dolphin. Everything. There comes a point, you can only stay on top by doing the dolphin, you know, like, above: on top of the minus, like a paddle steamer with a flat keel. Or I’d like to put it like this: I lay like a stranded whale on a Lakeland of minus money. Or perhaps – or in fact: yes, you could also say that it was more like a sea of money, lying under it. Or maybe better: “ocean”.
So, I lay like a stranded whale, though perhaps it might be better to speak of an ocean liner or aircraft carrier, or why not just say oil rig? But oil rig maybe puts it in a bit of a favourable light. So perhaps it would be better described as – let’s say – just for the sake of it – a stranded island.
So this would seem to be my interim finding:
I LAY LIKE A STRANDED CONTINENT ON THE OCEANS OF MY MINUS.

But okay. Otherwise I was fine. The Sun was shining, and my thoughts were lighthearted. Somewhere the Sun was shining above me. Just an occasional look to check: Ahh, ok Sun – there you are and Ahh – here’s me! Yes, here’s me. So there Sun. Here me.
Good. Not really every day, only Sun. I mean, what does only Sun mean? There are some grey nuances, shades of grey, a few little darker spots, now and again a cloud, a little Cumulus-Amigo, let’s say – a white swirl, lost in the distance, on the horizon, above the gleaming land. And it’s very natural indeed of course that an occasional disturbance should cross the path of the eternal Sun – then, just for an instant, there’s a shadow, then for a moment it’s a little bit darker. A moment or maybe a short phase, a length of time, seldom anything like a short-lasting period of anything at all like the opposite of Sun. A momentary spell of cloudiness. And then it’s not quite as light and gleaming, but has a bit of a darker shade. You might even confidently say there were seldom moments that weren’t so bright, and then when the Sun breaks through again through those dark phases, then, and I have to say this, that is a joyous moment indeed, even if not always continual.

OK: I’M HAPPY, WHEN NOW AND AGAIN THE SUN BREAKS THROUGH in the grey sky which occasionally might get darker and even a little suspiciously black. In fact in some moments it’s raven black, i.e. moments in the sense that they might last a little bit longer, the raven black sky which, to be more exact, doesn’t really count as sky any more: more like muddy earth. In the eternal black there were isolated flashes of light. But they actually made everything even darker, since they didn’t give me the time I would have needed to get used to the dark. So I was constantly reminded of the fact that it didn’t really have to be dark.
OK. The result is as follows:

I LIVED UNDER A STRETCHED ETERNITY OF TOTALLY BLACK NIGHT. I WAS TRAPPED INSIDE OF A MOUNTAIN RANGE. I WAS LOCKED IN ABSOLUTE BLACKNESS. Never mind – at least it wasn’t raining. It was dry and I was bearing up pretty well in fact. You could describe my situation as follows: it was undoubtedly a little bit dark, but it wasn’t raining and with the warmth of the night wafting around me, it wasn’t all that tragic. It was OK, yeah, which of course should not imply that it was in any way really uncomfortably dusty-dry itchy. No, a few drops fell from the sky occasionally. And sometimes, being the lucky guy that I am, the occasional drop landed directly on my lip. Ah you wonderful rain, that’s the way I like it. Lips dry, alakazam, sprinkle sprinkle, drop on the lower lip. Isn’t that fine.
What maybe isn’t quite so OK is when it occasionally – though it seldom happens but it does – starts to drizzle or teem down or the monsoon comes (a very rare occurrence indeed, but if, then a little more occasionally than frequently, although, on occasion, slightly more often with a tendency to always) then the streets are transformed into canals of muddy water, and you’re wading chest deep through the floodwaters. Then there are the valves of the drains that can’t hold down the rising pressure of the water pushing up from the sewers any more, then you’re walking through sewage, inscrutably impossibly dirty and then you don‘t notice one of the open drains, the lid of which is gone, and you put your foot down and find nothing, I mean sink into mucky water – and a city, I can tell you, has a lot of muck to offer. And you sink and you sink and everywhere nothing but brown muck water full of filtrates and diverse objects, whereby that might also be things that were once alive, which you don’t really want to hear, particularly not when you’re in that situation. And you know how it is: don’t always have your oxygen with you and even if you did, it’d probably be torn off your back anyway, since the vertical pipe leading downwards down to the lower regions of hell is so narrow that you wouldn’t get through with your pressurized air on your back. So, you‘re travelling downwards without air, which of course sets limits to the length of time that your journey through the underground sewage of the city will take. Very narrow limits in fact. And I’d like to say as well: if you think about the sheer masses of water, the surface of which is being constantly whipped by additional masses of water, by the storm, then it seems to me to be like a rough description of the feeling I get when I consider the complex theme of “love”.
The phenomenon of love: the drain covers are washed off of their hinges and you sink in holes that you just can’t see because you’re up to your neck in something, and every hole holds another unfortunate soul, who either didn‘t see where they were going or just wasn’t looking. Then there’s a general flood, so to speak: a whole load of stuff floating around. A society like this one really produces an awful lot of stuff.

So that, roughly speaking, was my experience of love.

 

© by PeterLicht
Translation © Joseph Given