Face Down

Author: Julia Franck

I kneel down on the wood floor in front of the sofa and observe Luise in her sleep. She’s sleeping off the intoxication of her birthday party. There isn’t any traffic outside on Zionskirchplatz and I don’t hear much noise coming from Kastanienallee either. Luise is smacking her lips in her sleep, very softly, almost imperceptibly. I stroke the rough chiffon that encircles her neck, catch her scent, her familiar odor that reminds me of fresh-cut grass. I pull a lock of her strawberry blonde hair out of the crease that has formed on her neck and search the smooth skin of her cheek – I wonder if you can see her dimples even when she’s relaxed? Her skin is sprinkled with pale freckles. I love Luise. And not only that: she’s my sister.
The doorbell rings, she doesn’t stir. As I get up the wood floor creaks under my bare feet. Her black leather bustier is hanging on the back of the sofa, I take it, the warm odor fills my nostrils and I put it on. My breasts have room in the cups and they brush up against the front of the leather as I walk. Out in the hallway I slip into her shoes, lightweight, old-fashioned shoes with heels that make a lot of noise and scratch the wood floors; I press the buzzer and go into the kitchen where my dress is draped over a chair. I slip it on and notice that the long dress straps reveal too much of the bustier, but it’s too late to look for anything else. I wait behind the half-open door and strain my ears in the direction of the stairwell until I hear footsteps on the last landing. I open the door.
“What are you doing here?” I ask Olek, I almost want to say, “She’s not receiving any company yet.”
“To see Luise,” he blurts out, he’s here to see Luise, he runs his hands though his short, matted hair. I let him in and his bare arm touches mine.
“She’s still sleeping”, I say and lean on the kitchen door frame.
“Then wake her up, it’s important, I have to see her.”
“And why weren’t you here yesterday?”
“At her birthday party? Oh, she disinvited me.” Olek tries to get past, I want him to accidentally brush against me but he avoids me and steps into the kitchen. The neck of his T-shirt is grubby, the sun has reddened his neck. I shut the apartment door. He glances at the used drinking glasses sitting on every windowsill and shelf. He turns to me; I’m amused by the anxiety in his eyes, and it makes me think about the two other lovers who were here smooching with Luise yesterday evening until they left, one after the other.
“What’s wrong, why are you so upset?” I ask with a trace of mockery.
“The dog got hit by a car.” Olek doesn’t look at me and I remember Luise had given him her dog a few days ago so that he wouldn’t disturb any of the party guests. He kneads his hands and I see the veins popping out on his forearms.
“Just wait here, I’ll go wake her up.”
I go to Luise in the living room. The window slams shut, I had opened it before to let the night air out and the day in.
She’s lying face down on the sofa, her hair cascades over the armrest all the way to the floor, her left arm hangs down as well. She’s turned her head to the side and rested it on her right arm. The tiny hairs on her neck are shining in the light, the blue transparent chiffon forms a dark fold on the deepest part of her lower back, the swell of her white buttocks under the fabric.
“Luise,” I whisper, she doesn’t budge. I kneel on the floor again in front of the sofa, think about the injured or dead dog, and how I can possibly spare her the bad news. She liked that dog – unlike me; I had often wished it were dead, leaving me alone with Luise. I remember when we were younger – maybe I was fifteen and she was seventeen – and how she used to feed the dog, who was still young back then, grilled bits of lamb which I also happened to like. I begged her to give me just a little piece, a teeny, tiny little piece, and she turned to me and beckoned, “Come here, little sister, sweet little sister, come here.” She grinned, and as soon as I had opened my mouth and felt the juicy meat on my tongue, she plunged the fork into my throat. I screamed, Luise laughed.
Head first, I bend way down, almost to the floor where her hand is dangling and I smell her wrist, it makes the pores in my mouth tighten and water pools, I have to swallow and follow my nose upward to the inside of her elbow, it smells of her girlish sweat and maybe of Hans’ spit, the second lover from last night, of his kisses.
“Luise,” I whisper again, as my lips accidentally brush her elbow, making her stretch, exhale quickly once, open one eye, look at me, inhale, then close her eye and open it again.
“What’s up?” she asks, she turns over on her side so that her breasts are facing me, she’s whispering as well, as if she had heard me after all, heard that I was whispering and now she’s whispering too, as if we shared a secret.
“Olek is in the front room.”
“Him?” She smiles, blinks and has to yawn, elegantly holding her hand over her mouth, and as she lets her hand fall again I can see her running the tip of her tongue against the back of her teeth. Then she licks her upper lip and asks, “What does he want?”
Her nipples stand out under the chiffon, I smell her leather bustier in the V-neck of my dress and nod irresolutely, “To talk to you, I guess.”
“Talk ?” She smiles again and I see her dimples.
“I don’t want to talk, tell him that, no, tell him I can’t, I’m not feeling well, I’m really, really, really sick, I don’t want to see him!” Now she’s laughing and I’m afraid that Olek will hear her. “I don’t want to!” – she almost gives up whispering.
Lying on her back, she strokes her breast with one hand, she smiles at me, then turns her backside to me. Her chemise has ridden up and I see it, the round, white domes separated only by her silk panties. She seems to know that her glances seduce me and she watches over her shoulder as I follow her every move and resist every glance.
I leave the living room and go back into the kitchen. Olek is leaning on the windowsill, kneading his hands and waiting.
“She can’t,” I tell him, pulling up my dress strap again, which keeps slipping down because one of my shoulders is higher than the other. He gives me a quizzical look and I smile, I can’t help smiling when I’m about to tell a lie. Even so, I say, “She not feeling well, she has a headache – hangover…” Olek is still looking at me quizzically, as if he’s trying to figure out whether or not to believe me. He gets up from the windowsill and takes a step towards me. I’m afraid he wants to go to her, so I stand against the kitchen door and give it a push with my behind so that it slams shut. He shouldn’t go to her and erase the smile from her face, I couldn’t bear it. He comes towards me, standing very close, and puts his hand on the door frame next to me, his face close to mine, his hurried breath, the veins throbbing under the skin on his neck, the other hand moves, which has probably disappeared into his pants pocket, I don’t dare lower my head, his nearness arouses my desire, I don’t want to let his face out of my sight. “You told her, right?” he clears his throat. I close my eyes briefly, to avoid nodding and making any elaborate gestures. “You aren’t lying, are you?” he presses on. I close my eyes again. I feel his voice on my cheek, a breeze, tender, caressing and pursuing me. He looks directly into my eyes and I, trying not to reveal my embarrassment, bore my eyes into his, way in, seeking some sort of confirmation behind his eyes until I find it, and his ear so close that I could bite it or thrust my tongue into it if I only wanted to, and a little further away, Luise, just in the next room. He lets go of the door frame, takes a step backwards and turns his back to me.
“Is Luise alone?” he asks. His voice sounds urgent.
I laugh out loud, a bit too cheerfully for a question like that, “Of course she’s alone.”
“Does that make any difference?”
He doesn’t respond, he hasn’t noticed a thing. My gaze is confident again, a smile spreads across my face.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I ask.
“Do you guys have any ice?”
I answer him by going to the refrigerator, getting ice cubes, putting three cubes in his glass and pour him some water. He leans on the windowsill and stops looking at me, instead watching the ice cubes crackle quietly in the lukewarm water. He could easily take an ice cube between his lips, just like they do in the movies, but he doesn’t, he sets his glass on the windowsill, looks down at me, at my naked legs and asks, “Are you wearing anything under that dress?”
Without wanting to, I look down at myself, at my shiny, naked legs, my naked feet in Luise’s shoes. Was this dress supposed to be see-through? I start to think – What’s he getting at? And – Luise amuses herself with this guy? Luise? And her? Does she wear anything underneath her dresses? And when they get together and she sits down to talk at the kitchen table, one leg bent and the other foot tucked underneath her on the stool, as she often does – what does he see then, her thighs, gleaming, the smooth skin, her short strawberry blonde hair frizzing under her dress, maybe even lower down, right there, where it turns pinkish and darker?
And her hands, innocently resting, one on the table and the other on her leg, the naked shoulders, and everywhere that mane of red hair falling over her breasts all the way down to her stomach, and underneath it all the pale skin. “What’s wrong?” Olek asks me. Is that the way he sees her?
I lift my head up; I don’t want to answer yes or no. My mouth is dry. I go to the sink, turn on the water and take a drink. “And you?” I ask in return, as I lift my head, turn the faucet off and wipe the water from my face – my lips feel smooth, they are a bit swollen from the noon heat – the part between my nose and mouth trembles involuntarily, making my upper lip protrude somewhat when I speak. “Are you wearing anything underneath?”
Olek comes towards me at the sink, he stands so close to me that I can no longer turn towards him, he puts his hand on my hips, his hand presses the thin fabric into my skin, beads of sweat begin to form on my back, his hand isn’t letting go, he doesn’t say anything, I think of Luise sleeping in the next room, of her breasts that were in the same cups my breasts are in right now, I smell Luise in my V-neck, feel his hand move forward, over my pelvis and back again, I feel the warmth of his body through my dress, embracing the tail end of my spine – is that his breath on my neck? Is he trying to say something? His breath on my shoulder. I hear the fabric rubbing between us – and his warmth, a damp warmth, radiates, tickles my stomach, my pubis as the skin there begins to tighten, my breasts in the bustier that rub up against the dress. I can’t turn around anymore. His hand is unrelenting. Maybe Luise’s hips are higher, I’m sure they’re softer – and her red hair smells differently than my black hair. My pubic bone strikes hard against the metal edge of the sink and I resist. I try to imagine him standing behind Luise, his other hand following the silk between her buttocks, gliding downward, thrusting himself between her thighs, pressing against her, wetting his finger on her, and then pulling her dress up and entering her, with her breasts hanging over the sink or swelling out of her bustier – I have to smile, feel his breath, hold mine – and I see her curls in his hands, the curls that are suddenly brunette and mine, as they catch his hand, and his penis, and draw him into me. I clasp him tightly, let go and then take him into me even deeper, then I feel his mouth on my hairline behind my ear, he’s still standing behind me. His hand on my hip is becoming intolerable, this hand that amounts to the one single point of contact that brings everything and holds everything. I exhale and hear myself doing it, wince, then feel something on my inner thigh, as if something is running down it, tightly press my left leg against my right, press my thighs together, step to the side where the metal sink is still cold. “No,” he says, “not me”, and I feel him fleetingly, his sex, for a brief moment, and it searching for my rear end as I hear the kitchen door – I know he’s naked underneath his jeans – and I look to the side at Luise who is standing in front of us, squinting, feel the way he casually brushes against my hips, lets them go and repeats, “Not me, I don’t believe you – hey, and look who’s here, it’s Luise,” he sighs, and I don’t know if it’s because of Luise, me, or the dog, he turns to Luise, for a second I don’t move, then brush the hair out of my face and smooth my dress back.
“You’re still here?” she asks Olek, without trying to hide her irritation.
“I was just about to leave, but I have something to tell you first.”
“All right then.” She opens the door for him, they go out into the hall and exchange words. His tone of voice becomes apologetic and pleading, hers dismissive and brusque.
I hear her say “Leave me alone, I need to cry,” and the door closes. But she doesn’t cry. Luise sticks her head into the kitchen and asks, “Are you coming? I just drew a bath for us.” I could follow her, see her drop her blue chemise in the hallway and disappear into the bathroom. She crouches in the hot water that quickly turns her skin red, her nipples crinkle, they turn smaller and harder. Then she gets up again and decides, “Come here, I’ll undo your zipper.” I turn my back to her and she pulls the zipper down, further than necessary, I feel her fingers on my spine, the dress falls to the tile floor.
Julia Franck, Bäuchlings, taken from:
Bauchlandung: Geschichten zum Anfassen.

© Julia Franck 2000.
Copyright reserved by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH,
Frankfurt am Main
Translation © Nedra Eileen Bickham