Author: Kai Gero Lenke
Translator: Alison E. Martin, Johanna Huber, Manja Kratzin, Michèle Fischer, Susan Kolata
What Comes from OutsideA voice woke the boy. He’d fallen asleep in front of the TV, which was still diffusing its flickering light around the room. It must have been shortly before midnight. Outside the weather raged and hurled rain against the windows.
He rubbed his eyes, for a moment still entangled in his confused dream, then sat up and saw his brother in front of him: agitated and exhausted, breathing in short gasps and with a restless gaze, which meant all was not well. His hair stuck to his head wet with rain, and drops of dirty water fell from his clothes.
“What’s wrong?”, asked the boy, to whom the situation seemed as strange as if he hadn’t fully awoken, as if his big brother were also just one of the figures in his dream.
“Are Mum and Dad back yet?”
“Dunno,” said the boy.
“Are they still out?”
“I don’t know.”
His brother disappeared immediately, looked all round the house and returned. His shoes left marks on the carpet.
“Listen,” he said then. “I’ve screwed up.”
“How?” asked the boy.
The elder one looked as if he were suppressing something. Tears perhaps, or anger, and the boy felt himself become uneasy.
“I’ve had an accident.”
“A car accident?”
“I’ll show you.”
His brother grabbed him by the hand and told him to put on his shoes and a coat, and hurry. Then they left the house and walked the few steps to the driveway where his mother’s Passat was parked, the engine still ticking as it cooled.
The boy couldn’t make out any dents or scratches. He looked at his brother, who didn’t return his gaze. Instead he walked on round to the back of the car, opened the boot and gestured towards something, pointing with his index finger and saying, “Here”.
Slowly the boy moved along the side of the car. He was afraid, but said nothing. The wind drove the rain into his face; there was a smell of woody earth and moss. Beneath him, on the cobblestones, puddles had formed, so deep that half his shoe sank into them. Each time he stepped in them water splashed up to his calves, where his trousers now stuck fast to his legs.
Reaching the boot, he felt a hand on his shoulder and water ran inside his collar down his back.
“Here,” said his brother again, still looking at the floor of the boot. There, finally, the boy saw the hare lying, saw the quivering chest, the outstretched twitching limbs and the open mouth.
“I ran it over,” said his elder brother. “On the road. Didn’t see it in all this rain.”
Above the left hind leg was a visible wound, like a reddish stain in the fur. The boy felt both pity and disgust.
“I stopped and got out. Saw it was still alive.”
Blood from the wound had dripped into the boot and onto the old newspapers. The boy thought how much darker and thicker it was than his own.
“Why did you bring it home?”, he asked quietly.
“Well, because it’s still alive.”
“Why didn’t you just run it over again?”
Although the animal’s belly was trembling fiercely, its eyes were still and peaceful. They seemed to be fixed directly on the boy, who hadn’t seen a hare for a long time. A few years ago there’d still been many of them in the fields around the village, but since then they’d become rare, almost like the animals in the zoo.
“It ’s bound to be in pain,” he said.
“We’ve got to call the vet. Let him put it to sleep.”
His brother shook his head.
“We won’t find a vet this late,” he said. “We’ll have to kill it ourselves.”
The elder one had fetched a blue rubbish bag which he placed over the animal, pushing it inside. He managed with great effort not to touch the animal with his fingers as he did so. Then he picked it up and carefully took it behind the house. The boy walked beside him, watching the process intently and twitching every time something jerked against the plastic from inside.
On the stone slabs under the pergola his elder brother put it down. The rain falling on the bag created a terrible noise, even drowning out the wind, which kept on howling through the birch leaves.
“How’re you going to do it?”, asked the boy.
“I don’t know,” said his brother. “With a stone.”
He then walked a short way into the garden and opened the door of the garden shed. The boy’s heart was beating as if he had been running, and he kept watching the blue bag, trying to make out the shape of the hare in the bulges of the plastic. When his brother returned with a brick in his hands, the boy finally said that he was cold and would rather go inside, what with all the rain, his wet back and everything. His brother only shot him a fleeting glance, weighed the brick in his hand and nodded. The boy ran across the sodden lawn back to the house and switched on all the lights. Without taking off his wet clothes, he sat down again on the sofa in the living room. The TV was still on. Hopefully it’ll be over quickly, he thought. He switched channels and turned up the volume, still seeing the bloody, gaping wound, the twitching, the trembling.
His brother entered the house ten minutes later. The boy followed the noises in the hallway. He could hear his elder brother open the door to the toilet, turn on the tap and let the water run for quite a while. Later he also returned to the living room, holding a towel in his hands, rubbing his hair. He looked past the boy to the screen, still wearing his dirty shoes, which left more dirty marks.
The boy looked at him closely, first at his face, then at his hands. He thought that he ought to sense some change now, but didn’t know what it might be.
“I wonder where they’ve got to,” said his brother. His voice still sounded strange, though in a different way from a few minutes ago.
The boy didn’t reply.
“I’m going to bed,” his brother continued. He still hadn’t looked him in the eye. Then he turned and headed back towards the hallway.
The boy turned the television off, sat buried in the sofa and did not move. Only when he heard his elder brother going upstairs did he call out, “Is it dead?”
The steps paused. Again the boy felt his heart beating.
“Yes,” he eventually heard, “Yes, it’s dead.”
Then the stairs creaked and shortly afterwards a door closed.
He’d been thinking about his brother, wondering whether he would be able to sleep. What he would see in his dreams and what he’d thought as he finished the hare off with a brick. In his mind he’d seen the animal and its suffering look over and over again. And then he’d decided he needed to see it once more, so that the memory of the dead animal would suppress the memory of the dying one.
Now he stood with the flashlight in the garden and, barely dry, was getting wet again. He shone it all over the area under the pergola but couldn’t make out anything. He looked in the rubbish bin, searched behind the shed and in front of the garage, went round the house several times with freezing feet. Again and again he wiped the wet from his face, but each time it returned and with greater intensity.
The darkness constantly managed to deprive him of his sense of direction, even though he knew the garden like the back of his hand, even though he’d spent most of his life there. Only in a few places did something of the hazy light from the house find its way out, where it was immediately choked by the darkness.
After a long time, just as he was about to give up his search, something was reflected in the beam of his flashlight. It came from the blackberry bushes which bordered on the neighbouring garden. The boy trudged across the muddy ground, trying as much as possible to keep his frozen hand from shaking, and headed over to the object. It was indeed the rubbish bag, which now looked as if it had always been lying there, as if someone had forgotten it there long ago.
Stopping in front of the bushes, he looked at it. It made him think about his hamster buried not too far away. The family had held a small funeral service after its death. He hadn’t cared much then, because he wasn’t yet able to understand. Suddenly the hamster was simply gone. Something like death had not yet existed and had certainly not impressed him. It was not until he’d played with the dead pet for half a day that his parents had noticed and hurriedly removed it.
Just as he was beginning to make out the form of the hare through the bulges in the bag again, it moved: an abrupt movement, followed by a slighter one. The boy almost dropped the flashlight in fright. He looked around, but couldn’t see anything in the dark, and directed the light back towards the bag, which was now still. He said to himself that he couldn’t have been imagining things. What if it were still alive? And then something moved again and he was certain.
Cautiously the boy got hold of one end of the rubbish bag and pulled at it. Only now did he feel its weight, which he’d underestimated all along. Whenever something moved, he sprang back and let go, which was why he needed several attempts to pull the thing out of the bushes. He realised too late that the stony ground was tearing the bag in various places, that it now had several holes through which fur and form had become clearly visible. The eyes could also be seen again, capturing the glow of the flashlight and reflecting it back into the night.
“Keep calm,” said the boy. He hadn’t meant to say anything, it had slipped out of its own accord. “Keep calm.”
He tried to calculate how long the animal had lain dying, and the evening seemed to him like an eternity. The ribcage wasn’t moving as rapidly as before. Now it gave more of a shudder, exhausted and feeble. Meanwhile the fur had become soaked by the rain and the boy imagined it like an acid etching deeper and deeper into the wound. But the worst thing, he thought, had to be the plastic bag which had been rustling in the animal’s ears the whole time, like a delayed warning that refused to cease.
He left the hare lying in the middle of the lawn. He went back to the bushes and shone his flashlight on them. The ground was like a swamp with pond-sized puddles and streams. With his free hand, he began to dig around in the drenched soil. He had to be careful that the branches didn’t scratch his face. Then at last he grasped what he’d been looking for. The brick he fished out of the rivulet was by now all black and slippery.
When he returned to the hare, he felt as if it were staring at him in panic, already sensing what was to come. Again something wanted to burst from him, but this time he managed to suppress it. He took one last look at the animal, memorised its position, switched off the flashlight and put it in his pocket.
Surrounded by nothing but blackness, he thought about his brother again. How far had he gone before he decided to leave the animal alone? Had he also let a few words slip? Maybe he was still awake at this moment. Maybe he was asleep and would never think about it again. For one last time, the boy heard the hare kick, then struck a downward blow with all his might.
He was certain he’d hit the head, but the animal wouldn’t give up and kicked around at his feet. The plastic made more noise than ever, sounding like wood cracking on a camp-fire. The boy felt dizzy. Now he couldn’t see anything, he lost his sense of balance. He struck again, but the blow missed and the brick hit the lawn. Something damp splashed up into his face.
The animal would be in even worse pain than before, he thought, he should hurry, be quick about it. With his left hand, he groped around on the ground, found the bag and felt something warm, something that moved. He clutched hold of the animal as tightly as he could. With its last ounce of strength, it seemed to want to escape from him. He struck a third blow and a fourth and a fifth and each one was harder than the last. It took a while, then there was silence.
At that point, nothing quivered in his hand any longer. No twitching and no trembling. He took a few steps back, his right arm completely numb. He hurled the brick in no particular direction, without hearing it hit the ground, and simply stood there for a while motionless.
Shaking, he took out the flashlight again and switched it on. The animal at his feet no longer moved, but its eyes still reflected the light back at him. It looked strangely twisted in the position in which it lay, since some bones were broken, but he had imagined it would be worse and less reassuring. Many yards off to one side, a piece of torn-off plastic fluttered through the air and caught in the bushes.
He pulled at what remained of the plastic bag and threw the dead animal back into the bushes. With his hands he pushed some of the wet soil over the areas which were no longer covered by the plastic. He also piled some onto the head, until it was no longer recognisable as a head.
Afterwards he went back towards the house, unhurriedly this time, and with care. It didn’t bother him any more that the rain still hadn’t stopped, that maybe it was falling even harder than before. His flashlight shone the way across the cobblestones, where the water was forming small eddies. On the driveway the streams merged, heading towards the street, where they parted again immediately.
In the bathroom he washed away all trace of the rust-brown layer of dirt covering his hands, caught even under his fingernails. His cold fingers began to twinge in the warm water, but he left it running until he could no longer stand the heat.
Lying in bed, he hesitated for a long time before turning off the light on his bedside table. Even now he could still hear the rain and how it dashed against his window pane, as if trying to shatter it with all its might. Since he’d pulled the blanket up to his chin and buried his arms under it, he soon became warm again. He could also move his toes once more. He rubbed them together and it felt good.
He wondered what he might see in his dreams. And then his last thought was what his elder brother was seeing now. What were his thoughts as he fell asleep? He was certain they must have been more disturbing than his. Yes, they had to be many times more dreadful than his.
And finally he couldn’t think of anything else, because exhaustion overwhelmed him. He was only aware of his parents pulling into the driveway. The engine stopping, the front door opening. Far off the rumble of thunder. Then he fell asleep.
Original © Kai Gero Lenke
Translation © Alison E. Martin, Michèle Fischer, Johanna Huber, Susan Kolata and Manja Kratzin
This translation was undertaken as part of an extra-curricular seminar in Literary Translation (German to English), offered by Dr. Alison E. Martin in the English Department of the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. This course had a dual aim: to hone the skills of students of English in Halle in the area of literary translation and to enable the work of young writers from the Deutsches Literaturinstut Leipzig to reach an international audience. Having considered issues of register, style and audience, seminar members prepared a section of the translation week by week, compared in class the divergences between these individual translations and discussed the most appropriate solutions. Once a first draft of the English text had been completed, we contacted the author with any queries and invited them to offer feedback on the translation, thus enabling the student translators and author to interact with each other and gain further insight into the creative processes that underpin both writing and translation.