Author: Marc Degens
Translator: Valentine A. Pakis
When I leave the house, my stepfather waves goodbye. When I return, he’s already standing in the doorway.
“What are you doing back already?” he asks, shaking his head. “Did you forget something?”
“No,” I answer with a laugh. “I’ve already seen everything.”
Relieved, he shuts the door behind me. He doesn’t like it when I walk through Dorsten by myself. Especially after dusk.
My old room in the attic is nicer than it was before. The television is as big as my mattress – only thinner. When trucks drive by on the street, the glass cabinet rattles. . The announcements at the train station don’t bother me, and they end early in the evening, while I’m still writing.
Every day I walk through the underpass at the train station and stroll through the town center, which is paved with glazed bricks. A poster reads “A city WITHOUT a public pool” in the black-and-yellow style of a road sign. An advertisement is still hanging, weeks after the fact, for a shopping event in Rhede. I take a picture of a façade adorned by Arno Breker’s relief sculpture of Diana. Next to the relief there is a picture of a Germania sculpture with the following text: “Germania was erected in 1896 to commemorate the citizens of Dorsten who fell in the war of 1870/71, which brought victory to Prussia and unity to Germany. During WW II, Germania was slightly damaged. Afterwards, the statue was removed from its pedestal and further damaged. The plaque with the names of those who died was taken away. Please restore the honor of their memory. Make history visible. Reinstall the Germania!” Beneath this plaque is a sign that reads “HAIR-PIRATE Young Style.”
At the Marktplatz, two women are having a conversation, one of them wearing a black stocking cap with large white letters across her forehead reading FUCK IT. I look in amazement at the excavator that is patiently gnawing at the old shopping center, looking like a giant metal dragon. I walk through the Stadtsfeld, our old practice space, past the medical centers, through developments of row housing with FC Schalke flags waving in their yards and cats on their doormats. A few years ago, a police car came to a screeching halt next to me.
“ You’ve got a lot of nerve,” yelled a policeman, leaping out of the car.
I looked around. I was the only person in sight.
“You really don’t know what this is about?” he asked, appalled.
I shook my head. The policeman pointed to the traffic light.
Having failed to notice both the crosswalk and the traffic light, I had simply walked across the street. The policeman asked to see my I.D. and examined both sides of it.
“Place of residence, Berlin?” he asked and looked me over from head to toe.
I nodded. The officer sat down next to his colleague in the car, opened up a thick book, and began to flip through it. After a while, he got back out.
“You’re in luck,” the policeman said, giving me back my ID. “The fine hasn’t increased.”
I put my ID back in my wallet.
“That’ll be five Euros,” he said. “Are you paying in cash?”
Whenever I’m in Dorsten, I’m seized by a sort of compulsion to write. Besides working on my novel, I begin to transcribe the graffiti in the underpass. Dorsten has generated a few writers, the most famous being Cornelia Funke. No one will ever name a street after me in Dorsten.
I chat with Tao Lin on Facebook and recommend a translator for his Schopenhauer book project. Dorsten is more or less the opposite of New York. I refer to my days in Dorsten as a writing prison. The term appeals to me, it sounds like work, like being on an assembly line. Yet the conditions are extremely pleasant. If I like, I can have a hot meal three times a day. I don’t have to cook or shop, clean up, or answer the phone. I don’t get any mail, either . And so I write page after page. My friends start to worry about me. The Marquis de Sade wrote almost his entire oeuvre behind bars. They don’t want me to end up like the author in The Shining.
On the day of my departure, I make one last visit to the bakery. Even though I always buy the same number of rolls, I pay a different price every day. When I return, my stepfather is standing in the door.
“Joyce N. had ordered shoes for her son (6),” he reads to me from an article in the newspaper. “She wanted to pick up the package at the Hermes shop in the center of Dorsten. Joyce N.: I was friendly, had my I.D. ready, and said that I would like to pick up my package, but the woman behind the counter answered: ‘That’s not possible. We’re not allowed to release packages to black people.’”
“Unbelievable!” my mother shouts. “ They’re even talking about it on television.”
The Hermes shop is on the same street as the bakery. As a schoolboy I was banned from the store because I’d been caught stealing a superhero comic.
After breakfast I say goodbye to my parents and roll my suitcase to the train station. The train is already there, ready to be boarded. I step in, take a seat, and open up my MacBook. My computer connects automatically to my parents’ wi-fi. I check my email and read the latest tweets. The train departs; the internet connection gets weaker and, after a few meters, breaks off.
From “Dorsten” in Eigentlich Heimat: Nordrhein-Westfalen literarisch, ed. Bettina Fischer and Dagmar Fretter. Lilienfeld Verlag, Düsseldorf, 2014.