Author: Sarah Raich
Translator: Eilidh Johnstone
THAT IMMACULATE BLUE
It starts in the top left corner, by the bunk bed. The wallpaper darkens, breaking out in black blisters; for a moment everything seems to stand still, and then the firestorm sweeps the room away.
“Mama, you’re supposed to be building!”
Would they feel pain? Or does it happen so fast that the nervous system shuts down before the sensation hits?
She goes into the kitchen and puts two pieces of bread into the toaster. The room is warm and comfortable, and everything is fine here. Everything is fine. The cream cheese is starting to dry out, a yellowish crust collecting on the sides of the tub. She raises it to her face and sniffs for signs of mould. The white mass smells as it always does, cool, salty, and metallic.
“Mama! Food!” The happiness in their voices is loud and rough-edged. They nudge their small bodies against her body, hop on the spot with their arms stretched upwards as if they could change the fact that her head, all the way up there, is unreachable. She smiles back, strokes their tousled hair, it’s so important to mirror their emotions.
The sun is bright, the sky is blue. As blue as if there were nothing behind it, no blackness lying in wait for night. It seems so real, the sky above them. But nothing about it is true. It is just a shell between them and reality, the murk of the universe and the burning stars.
“Look, a helicopter,” says the little one and points upward. She doesn’t look, there’s nothing flying up there, she knows that already. “Yes,” she says. “Lovely.”
The flames come again, this time they sweep across the street, melting the asphalt, she can see it beginning to boil. She cannot stop thinking about it. Would there be a moment of pain?
“Look what I can do!” The big one has climbed onto the roof of the bin shed. She looks, her hand over her eyes so that the sun does not blind her. He spreads his arms, his whole body stretched out, an accumulated cell cluster wound tight. “I’m flying!” he screams and pushes off with both legs from the pebbledashed concrete. She takes a step forwards and opens her arms. His body falls onto hers with full force, they almost topple, but she takes another step to catch herself.
“Did you see?” She is still carrying him, holding him tight, and he takes her face in his hands, eyes blazing with pride. She nods and wonders how it is that eyes can look like that, so full of feeling. At the end of the day they are only coloured fragments, nestling around a black hole. She slides him slowly to the ground and strokes his forehead.
“Did you see?” he asks again. She nods and grasps his hand. With the other, she takes hold of the little one and hauls him onto her hip. He is already so heavy, but when she carries him she doesn’t have to keep track of which way he’s running. Sometimes when she watches him he reminds her of a badly programmed robot that wanders here and there, picking things up and throwing them down again, always looking for the logic in its code.
“Where are we going, Mama?” the big one asks without any suspicion in his voice. A pure curiosity that she would like to remember experiencing, but she isn’t sure that she has ever felt that way. “Just down the street a little way,” she answers finally. She knows that he would not let it be if she said nothing. He has never accepted that. So she has got used to saying whatever is left of her thoughts after they have passed through the many filters set up between her mind and her words. We’re just going down the street a little way, because there is nowhere to go, because there is nowhere to hide.
“Why can’t people fly?”
“Because we’re not birds.” She knows that this is not enough of an answer. She wants to gather herself and say something about weight and tubular bones, about the ratio of wingspan to body size. But she does not manage to collect her thoughts in a way that she wants to voice.
“You’re flying all the time,” she hears herself saying, finally. “We’re all flying through space.” On this tiny globe from which there is no escape.
“Cool!” he shouts and pumps his fist into the air. “Like Superman! We’re all Superman!” Then he pulls away from her hand and clambers onto the wall next to them. “Will you catch me on the other side?”
“Yes,” she says. “Of course.” She looks up at the sky. At that immaculate blue.
The car slipped past them so slow and so close that she could see the flecks of dirt on the chrome trims, and that the dark lenses of the driver’s sunglasses were held in place only by a thin wire, like the glasses in The Matrix.
Everything seemed so still. As if she could push open the door between them, then the next, and slide over into his back seat. Secretly, quietly. And then she would hammer down the Autobahn in the next car over, to Hamburg, to the sunset, to the end of the rainbow, wherever. The man with the Matrix glasses wiped his face, put his foot down, and disappeared. Their car moved leftwards. Now the bushes were rushing past again, closer this time, dust-green blurs with dark gaps. They must be overtaking a lorry, she felt the change in the air pressure, or whatever that was, the car made a soft rocking motion. She pressed her forehead to the cold glass and looked out at the median strip, at the world rushing past behind it, at the cars in the opposite lane running together into coloured streaks, hardly more than racing ghosts from another universe.
“Are you fucking someone else, or what?” She tightened her grip on the handle, but her damp hands kept slipping. “Go on then!”
“No.” Of course that was what she should say. “No. You’re the only one I want. To fuck. And for everything else too. Children. Love. You’re the only one I want. I’ll tear my eyes out so I never have to see anyone else. I’ll burn my pussy to a cinder so no one else can have it.”
“No,” she wanted to scream back. If she ever had to feel another skin against hers she would die, go up in brief bright flames or crumble into dust. “No, I’m not fucking anyone else. No, I don’t want you any more. I don’t want to feel you next to me any more, or on me. Or in me. I don’t want to smell you, or taste you, I don’t want to hear your voice any more. No.”
She wanted to crawl inside the door, between the switches and the plastic casing, and never come out again. She would get herself settled in, build a little bed out of the dust and scraps of fluff that found their way into her hidey-hole. She would roll up in there and sleep, and sometimes she would hum a tune into the quiet. She had a flying feeling in her stomach, a little bit like their love had felt, at the beginning, the glances, the stolen touches, before the others noticed anything. Exciting and secretive. And always that sensation, like her body was filled with crackling stars. Yes, this felt quite similar, as if all her body wanted was to fly away. But the stars had disappeared, leaving only dark, endless space around her.
“What are you doing hiding back there? Talk to me! You always want to talk, so talk!” He tugged at her knee as if he could move her up or down a gear. His fingers, too, were cold and damp. She pulled her feet up onto the leather of the back seat and thought briefly about the marks that the soles of her shoes might leave there. He had rented this car specifically. A heavy, fast car, a metallic frog pressed to the asphalt, that was now supposed to shoot them towards the coast. With him at the wheel, her in his arms. To the ocean. To the sunset. To “You’re the only one I want”.
Why didn’t she say anything? She looked at her hands, still gripping the handle. She tried to feel her tongue. It was lying in her mouth, a paralysed worm, as helpless as she was.
“Take me home.” Every movement of her mouth felt strange and small. A dying fish in its last throes. “Please.” One last time, her tongue rolled heavily around between her teeth. Clicked against the roof of her mouth. She could feel every tensed muscle. She could not imagine ever saying another word.
“Don’t ruin it! Why are you doing this!” She heard the way the car wailed, the way the noise of horns bore down on them, muffled by steel and glass. “Here! I’m here!” screamed a voice in her head. “Can’t you see me?”
“Why don’t I just crash this car?” He laughed, shrill, but she could hear the tears too. His voice was different. It wasn’t as if he had never cried before. In the last few weeks, even, she had often seen the narrow wall of water slowly rising in his eyes, swelling at the edge of his eyelid, until it finally grew too heavy, tore through its own surface tension and tumbled down.
“None of it matters anyway!”
She closed her eyes. Yes, maybe he was right, maybe none of it mattered anyway. Her legs pulled further upwards, a snail’s body searching for its shell. Outside there was more honking. Tyres squealed, the seatbelt tore into her. More horns. Very close this time: the sound stabbed at her ears. “Yeah, fuck off!” he screamed. “They can’t hear you,” she thought. “Nobody can hear us.” Then she was forced back against the heavy leather seat again. The engine whooped, as if it were having fun. He liked Formula One.
“Do you think I won’t do it, or what?”
She pressed her forehead against the leather on the door. “No, I believe you. I believe everything. Everything you say. Every word,” she thought. The new-car smell was so strong for a moment that she almost vomited. She saw nausea like a little green flame dancing somewhere in her chest, nervous, incensed. She rolled all her thoughts around it, wrapped the little fire in darkness, and all that was left was the flame and her body somewhere out there, and she was nothing more than stillness, encasing the flickering green.
Her forehead hurt where it had struck the doorframe. She waited for shards of glass to rain down on her, for screeching metal. But there was only the chirruping of sparrows. She opened her eyes and saw them in the corner of the churchyard, taking a sand bath. They hopped in and out, fluttering on the little fleck of dried-out earth that the last heavy rainfall had left there. One after another they pressed their little bodies against the ground and wriggled with their wings as if they wanted to hug the world below them, only to shoot upwards again a few seconds later into the dazzling sunlight.
The click of the door lock seemed terribly loud to her. She pushed the door open a bit and waited. But nothing happened. She pushed again against the weight and let her legs slide out until they met the ground. They went over the cobbles, carried her across the wickerwork of joints between the grey stones. She saw the way they moved, the canvas shoes on their feet that she had laced up that morning. Despite that, though, they didn’t seem hers. As if they were sticks that someone had lashed to her body in place of her old legs.
Something hit her on the head and flopped to earth. Her bag. The colourful tassels that she had tied onto the zip, one yellow and one pink, glowed strange and shrill. As if they were screaming. They were neon colours. That had never occurred to her before.
“I hope I never see you again, you piece of shit!”
She knelt down and grasped for her bag, which was lying slack and flabby on the sun-warmed stone. Her hands struggled to grip the fabric properly. As if they hadn’t had enough practice at taking hold of things, and now they lacked the strength and the finesse to manage it.
She watched the sparrows flurry upwards as the car screeched out of the car park. They scattered into the blue and disappeared somewhere between the old houses.
“Schnapps?” She smelled the harsh kick of it. The glass that the barwoman from the pub on the corner held out to her was full to brimming. She took the drink and downed it. “Love is a right bastard,” said the woman and took the empty glass back. Her hands were red and heavy. When they had gone to her pub for a nightcap after the disco, her hands had looked quite different. It must be the light, that bright, bright sunlight.
“Hmmmm,” she said. Nothing more made it out of her mouth. Her throat burned from the schnapps. Even the ‘hmmmm’ scratched painfully in her larynx and came out thin and weak.
“If you need another one, come on in, yeah?” The barwoman hauled herself upright, walked back over the cobblestones – rounded and gleaming like buried skulls – and disappeared into the doorway of the pub. For a moment she could see the slot machine flashing. It glowed like a sun in the darkness.
From Dieses makellose blau: Geschichten, Mikrotext, 2021.