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Editorial: Issue 2

Table of Contentsfor Issue 2

Bus stop bookshelf

Cover illustration: Bookshelf at German streetcar stop

Welcome to no man’s land 2

In the no man’s land between the literatures, translators themselves are the most adventurous scouts and canniest agents, and what they smuggle back, with effort and ingenuity, has a value beyond that set by the literary marketplace.

no man’s land was launched in 2006 as the only online literary magazine to focus entirely on contemporary German literature in English translation. The first issue presented the 10th anniversary issue of the Berlin literary magazine lauter niemand in English – a mini-anthology covering the Berlin literary scene and beyond. While retaining its basis in lauter niemand‘s literary laboratory, with its second issue no man’s land has opened up for unsolicited submissions. Our faith in the instincts of translators acting as “free agents” was more than rewarded by the diverse range of submissions – and our faith in our own instincts was confirmed by the fact that a number of translators have been tackling work by authors featured in our first issue. In several cases the translations were so outstanding that we felt it was worth featuring these authors’ work again. We’ve cross-linked to the translations in Issue 1 to let you compare the different translators’ approaches.

We’re very pleased to feature short fiction by Julia Franck, who won this year’s German Book Prize, as well as an excerpt from Clemens Meyer’s searing debut novel While We Were Dreaming, the literary sensation of 2006. Volker Röhlich takes an equally devastating look at German society in an excerpt from his autobiographical novel The Stumbler. A conception of prose as enigmatic, poem-like fragment is embodied in the work of Johannes Jansen and Veronika Reichl and reflects a strong tendency among young German prose writers, while stories by Daniel Oliver Bachmann and Florian Werner feature something less often associated with German writing – humor. Donal McLaughlin’s Glaswegian version of Bachmann’s story points toward our flourishing contacts with Scottish translators and an interest in dialect in translation which we will be exploring further in 2008. (See Events)

The poetry in this issue moves beyond Berlin to include work by the widely-recognized – and under-translated – young poets Arne Rautenberg, Silke Scheuermann and Volker Sielaff. The Berlin scene is represented by two award-winning newcomers, Nadja Küchenmeister and Jan Imgrund, as well as new work from no man’ land 1 authors Anna Hoffmann and Ron Winkler.

Enjoy!

Adrijana Bohocki, Isabel Cole, Clemens Kuhnert, Alistair Noon :Editors, no man’s land
Berlin, December 16, 2007

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial: Issue 2


Homeland … Exit … Nothing More (excerpts)


Scent


on yir doorstep, christ


pond too
what it’s all about
my thinking



The Case in Point, Rain
field portrait referring to x
Call to Higher Places in the Genealogy Tree



dead man’s float
dust
shutter



Flies


DEATHWISH DRIVER
WORKING GIRL



Face Down


Child’s Play


You should have seen that …


winged with wrath / necrologist with discipline
horoscope



Whispering Villages
Desireless Routes
Warning Against Weighing



Of Nappies, Worms, and the German Having-Kids Championship


33 Functioning Machines (excerpt)

Homeland … Exit … Nothing More (excerpts)

Author: Johannes Jansen
Translator: Stefan Tobler

Origin

Then Grell saw a bird outside his window and he saw how the bird threw its head quickly from side to side and was obviously concentrating hard on taking everything in . . . and suddenly the bird’s digestion fell out its rear, unexpectedly and without disturbing the bird in its jerky contemplation of the world.
Too true thought Grell. Jerkily and at length you contemplate the world and suddenly your digestion falls out your rear and you don’t even notice.
Just for a moment, imagine perching on a little bench at your parents’ graveside, caught up in jerkily observing the world and your digestion suddenly falls out your rear without it disturbing you in the slightest. What’s gone is gone, you say to yourself and think of your parents who brought you to birth in this country, and you are hanging around here and you don’t actually own anything any longer and to top it all you too are deformed thought Grell, it’s common knowledge that everything in this country is deformed . . .

Story

It’s night. Grell sits in front of his open window and he’s looking through the foliage of the cemetery trees at a flat opposite, that’s behind the cemetery, where a light is on and he notices in the bright rectangle of one of the flat’s windows a shadow swaying slightly as if moved by the wind. The shadow looks like the shadow of a figure who has hanged himself from the window beam. Grell isn’t completely sure, as the swaying foliage always covers something, but he thinks it quite likely that it’s a dead person and he must find it normal because he doesn’t do anything about it (what could he have done, he doesn’t even have a phone).
The next day he meets the lady who lives underneath him and not only is it the first time that day, it’s the very first time ever that the two have talked to each other. The lady tells him she saw a body hanging in one of the flats opposite. She’d only wanted to close the window and that’s when she saw him. She was so shocked that she couldn’t have done anything anyway but what could she have done, she doesn’t even have a phone. Grell says he’d seen the body too, though he hadn’t been a hundred percent certain it really was a body and wasn’t, say, a kind of bathrobe, to which she replied with conviction that she had immediately been a hundred percent sure because in a time when even she thought seriously every evening about whether it would be better to hang herself, then it was normal that in the house opposite you’d see someone who had. She had to go to the hairdresser’s now she said. By the way, she’s a blonde and of course Grell asks himself if she really is going to the hairdresser’s seeing as she supposedly thinks seriously about it being almost better to hang herself. But let’s remember the last picture of Marilyn Monroe. It supposedly shows her as she was found. Not that she hanged herself but you can see that she’d just got her hair done. So women are vain too thought Grell and thinking of this recalled a distant friend who he regularly used to go out for meals with. She too had stood in front of him one day and claimed she was going to kill herself. She said she was actually in a good mood right then but was afraid of going mad sometime. Anyway she didn’t want to end up an ugly cow (she was still young then). She was going to drive away to find one of those northern cliffs to plunge from, though in such a way that she would land nicely and if possible wearing white. She’d like to be immediately discovered and recognised as a beautiful and important body she said at the time but nevertheless went for a meal with Grell because near Grell there was a nice pub that was said to be the best thing imaginable. Not luxurious admittedly but good enough. They went there almost every week . . .
Grell doesn’t know if she’s still alive. He lost touch with her at some point because she stopped going for meals with him. After the Wall fell the pub went downhill anyway. You see one day (this is what they say) a West German undertaker came and said that he’d like to rent the pub’s cellar as temporary storage for coffins on their way from the manufacturer to the consumers. The pub had never been too full and the publican needed the money from renting the cellar. Yet after just a short while the pub was completely empty as it turned out that the undertaker hadn’t stored empty coffins in the cellar but coffins filled with corpses. Shortly after the undertaker had started using the cellar, which was directly underneath the bar area you see, the pub began to stink as if something were rotting . .

Melancholy

The woman was startled and brought herself up out of herself too
quickly too violently so that her face stayed in her two hands . . .
after r.m.r.

. . . a curious figure: courteous, to be sure, but afflicted by one tiresome failing. When he threw his hands up in front of his face (during one of those more and more frequent attacks) it sometimes happened that he couldn’t lower them for a good while, as his palms and the surface of his face, through that inexplicable overreaction or spasm, had formed a firm bond, making it impossible for him to take his hands from his face without also pulling off his face. It was as if upon coming into contact his palms and the surface of his face immediately turned into a strongly adhesive mush. He was left stuck in this attitude almost of mourning until of its own accord the spasm wore off, usually hours later, and the compulsively joined parts returned to their usual consistency and independence . . .

 

Scent

Author: Florian Werner
Translator: Zaia Alexander

Jäckel felt a rumble. It was still at a safe distance, like a summer storm that signals its arrival with lightning and warning shots at the horizon, but it could break any moment. Jäckel gazed across the seminar room and counted three students fast asleep, two valiantly battling Morpheus’ embrace, while five more stared out the window and counted sheep. At least silence reigned: cell phones were set to vibrate and iPod-wires so cleverly hidden in jackets, scarves and hair that they couldn’t be seen. Contrary to popular belief, today’s students weren’t so dumb after all. But neither was Jäckel, or “Dr. Jay,” as his students liked to call him. And today his senses were sharper than ever.
Through closed double windows Jäckel heard the Ammer flowing five floors below, more than a hundred meters behind the seminar building. He smelled blood from the slaughterhouse across the creek, even though the business had closed years ago, and the name “Slaughterhouse” now referred to a bar and club admired by first-year students for its existentialist, minimalist décor – white tiled walls, a metal slaughtering block for the counter, light bulbs hanging on meat hooks. And he could have told the “out-the-window-gazers”: 42. That’s how many sheep were grazing on the Österberg. At least, that’s how many had been there that morning when Jäckel went jogging. How did he arrive at that number? Jäckel couldn’t have said how, he hadn’t counted the sheep. He simply knew it. On the other hand, he didn’t know whether that had anything to do with the bite. A movement tore Jäckel from his thoughts, a twitch in the front row: the seminar’s great last hope, off to the realm of dreams. Again, Jäckel heard the rumble; it came from his chest.
He could understand falling asleep while reading a Faulkner novel: even he had spent some of his best naps in his office sprawled across a worn-out, saliva-stained edition of As I Lay Dying – a novel he’d secretly christened As I Lay Sleeping. And should he be unable to fall asleep at night, he kept a copy of Absalom, Absalom! on the night table, along with a small bottle of Codeine that his friend, a medicine professor, had gotten him without prescription. Jäckel liked to pontificate to his colleagues that great writers were like surgeons dissecting their era – but Faulkner was an anesthetist. That someone could fall asleep reading Faulkner, sure, who wouldn’t? But to fall asleep during his seminar on Faulkner, that was absolutely unacceptable. Particularly while he was lecturing on a topic to which he’d dedicated seven years of his academic career; seven grueling, Codeine-impregnated years, which had borne a more than thousand-page study entitled: “I am Whatever You Say I Am: Identity and Mimicry in the US-American Novel of the 19th and 20th Century” – nearly two years later, it was still waiting to be published.
The topic of Jäckel’s lecture was “passing” – a phenomenon described in countless novels of the early 20th century and on pages 560 to 789 of his dissertation: the attempt by light-skinned African-Americans to pass themselves off as white, in order to survive within racist American society. Passing in the sense of: “pretending to be somebody else”, explained Jäckel: But also in the sense of “to pass away” – this idiom was perhaps familiar to the students. Right? Yes, please, in the back. An idiom? Well, that’s what we call…
That’s how, for nearly an hour and a half, Jäckel spoke to his pleasantly passing-out audience; and when he finally got to the point that especially interested him – in fact, the very reason he’d even dealt with Faulkner at all – his voice was nothing more than a hoarse bark. A most impressive example of passing, he explained hoarsely while pacing between the seminar room’s front window and door, could be found in Faulkner’s 1932 novel Light in August. Was the protagonist of the book – the restless wanderer, spirits distiller and murderer named Joe Christmas – black or white? Joe’s mother died giving birth to him; his father was murdered right after he had gotten her pregnant – nobody knew him, maybe he was an African-American, maybe a Mexican, maybe he was a white man with a dark tan. Who or what his son, the orphaned Joe, was, nobody knew for sure, not even Joe himself – but that, said Jäckel, didn’t really matter. What mattered was what he was taken for: he was born a blank page, he found work in a saw-mill as a white man, a lover as a black man, and he was ultimately lynched as a man without ethnicity.
Like an animal! barked Jäckel and pounded the desk with his right hand, a drum beat, a roll of thunder, no, an attempt to regain his audience’s attention – and, indeed, it worked! Jäckel paused a moment and joyously scanned the room: the desks arranged in horseshoe form, the students behind them; most of them would never make it to the exam, but for that moment they were all there, straining to attention, furtively jabbing each other with a foot or elbow, cell phone keys that had been operated below the desk now quickly stashed away, ear phones swiftly plucked from the ear with a tug of the cable like a bathtub plug, any moment, thought Jäckel, the whole room is going to run out.
He wanted to laugh, but a growl erupted from his throat, dark, deep. He smelled blood, warm, very close. He took a step back and leaned against the chalkboard, 24 pairs of eyes watching him – or, to be more exact, his right hand. Jäckel checked it with his left hand and caught the end of the loosened bandage. He felt the burning again – the pulse beat in his palm as though his heart were making its way outside. He felt his sleeve sticking to his skin, felt the warm stream running down his arm from palm to elbow, then trickling onto the ground. Like a summer rain, thought Jäckel. The rumble in him had proved right after all. The thunderstorm broke.

And yet the day had begun with unfailing monotony. As usual, the sound of the alarm-clock woke Jäckel at seven thirty – an exact replica of the English Parliament announcing the day with the strokes of Big Ben and lending him a certain feeling of lofty nobility. Every morning, as usual, he kissed his wife just a hair’s length to the side of her mouth, and thought of Shakespeare: Get you gone, you dwarf; you minimus, of hindering knot-grass made; you bead, you acorn. It wasn’t meant personally, it was just an association, perfectly normal for academics in literature. Then he forced himself into a pair of jogging pants and sports-shoes to rinse the previous night from his pores. The aromas of sleep were deeply repugnant to him, the way that night in general had something indecent about it, dirty, to be gotten rid of without delay, so he could start the day with a clean slate. He left the house at seven forty. Ten minutes later, he saw the sheep.
They must have just been brought to pasture; anyhow, Jäckel could not remember having seen them on the previous day’s round. No shepherd far and wide. Strange. Jäckel stopped in his tracks. Not that he understood anything about sheep farming; animals, particularly those in the fields and meadows, didn’t mean a thing to him, they were nothing but accessories to the landscape – not annoying, but not necessary either, like children, tie-pins, or the adverbs that he always crossed out on his students’ essays. Why Jäckel interrupted his morning routine to watch this conglomeration of senseless wool was a mystery at this moment, even to him. That the sight of bobbing lamb-tails brought tears of emotion to his eyes – he first tried to pass them off as drops of sweat, but he’d only just gotten started running – seemed downright reprehensible to him. That, on top of it all, he even squatted to pet the herding-dog, this was totally and completely inexplicable – especially since he wasn’t even sure if he was the herding-dog at all, he had appeared out of nowhere and run full-speed towards Jäckel. Maybe he reminded him of his first and only pet: Heino, a dwarf rabbit, which owed his name to the color of his skin and his eyes. Maybe it was the rabbit’s fault that, as a rule, Jäckel considered albinos harmless. That the pink-red eyes of the dog seemed familiar and trustworthy; that he had tried to pet him, and thus was now running with a bloody hand down the stairway of the Modern Philology Department, past students who greeted him shyly, the right hand pressed to his body under the jacket – he had disposed of the bloody bandage in the next best toilet.
Jäckel left the building through the back door. As soon as he closed the door to the concrete block behind him, he started to calm down. With thankful, greedy gasps, he smelled the warm weight of the evening air; only occasionally did gusts of wind graze the treetops. A blanket of clouds, like a wolf’s skin, evenly covered a sky that had been blue a moment ago. Jäckel walked doggedly towards the bridge.
Three of his colleagues, happy as clams, were heading towards the outdoor Greek restaurant from the parking lot. Jäckel had caught their scent even before he could see them; they were just about to turn around the corner of the building. Purposefully he climbed over the railing that separated the footpath from the creek, ran down the bank and took a running leap over the Ammer. When he landed, he had to support himself with his injured hand, and a blade of grass cut deep into his flesh. Jäckel sucked in air through clenched teeth. He heard three pairs of legs and ducked under the shade of the bridge. The echo of words, incomprehensible, then laughter and a thunderclap. Again, silence; the steps faded in the distance.
Jäckel crept up to the edge of the creek. He desperately needed to wash out the wound, rinse off the dirt; he bent over the water. Just then, he saw the dog again. He stared at him impatiently, panting, with drooling flews and lolling tongue, as if it had been waiting all day for Jäckel at the bottom of the creek. Despite the twilight, there could be no doubt: Jäckel recognized the eyes, like pennies on the eyelids of the dead; they shone in the water’s black mirror. He extended his hand to pet the dog on its damp muzzle – this time the dog didn’t bite, instead, it disappeared into a procession of small waves. The coolness did Jäckel good; he hummed contentedly as he dipped his throbbing hand into the water. Only a clap of thunder reminded him again of his task.
The first drops of rain were sprinkling the asphalt as Jäckel rushed past the slaughterhouse and turned left into a path through the heath. The path rose, got steeper, again Jäckel felt his hand pulsating, like clockwork growing faster, as if all that propelled him were the wound. The sweetish smell it emitted was overwhelming; Jäckel had to dip his nose into the open flesh. He sniffed, breathed in the blood, the liquid oozed viscous down his palate. Jäckel coughed, swallowed, licked his lips, then he greedily covered the wound with his mouth.
When he reached the open field a little later, he was drenched. He stopped, shook his head and torso and looked around: aside from him, there was nobody around; the city lay on the other side of the valley as if plasticized, the wet bricks on the rooftops lit matt with each flash of lightning. He turned again towards the Österberg. Just a few hundred meters from him, in the downwind of a hollow, something white was moving.
Jäckel emitted a hoarse cry and ran towards the herd. When he got near, he was able to make out the individual animals: A lamb pressed against its mother; a yearling bleated at him and began to flee uphill; three older sheep eyed him with distrust, but without any sign of fear. Instinctively, Jäckel circled the herd, once, twice, in ever narrower loops, until all of the animals stood together and he was sure that none of them was missing. Once satisfied, he stopped a few feet from the herd. He raised his nose in the air, scanned the area, then dropped slowly to his knees. He turned twice in a circle and lay down on his belly, stretched lengthwise, his head resting on his folded hands.

The next morning, on their way to class, three students found him in this posture. He was lying there in the meadow, like a dead man, they said to anyone who’d listen that night in the Slaughterhouse, covered in blood and motionless, like, it was just totally wrong. He looked like a gypsy, the two policemen added to the protocol after they had taken Jäckel to the station, fingerprinted and photographed him; like a dirty bum, said his wife, and what will the neighbors say? And the local newspaper? How embarrassing. But Jäckel didn’t care what people thought of him. They could say whatever they wanted. He knew who he was.

 

on yir doorstep, christ

Author: Daniel Oliver Bachmann
Translator: Donal McLaughlin

Translator’s Note

This story was first translated when Daniel and I spent the month of June at Hawthornden Castle, just outside Edinburgh, as ‘Hawthornden Fellows’. I was keen for the other writers in residence – Canadian poets Nancy Mattson & Jeanette Lynes, and New York novelist Emily Raboteau – to be able to enjoy Daniel’s work at our fireside readings each evening. Even when producing that first draft, I realised that while Daniel’s story was conversational in tone, rather than written in Bavarian, finding an equivalent voice in the translation immediately involved more dialect: in this case, Glaswegian. This did not seem inappropriate in that issues in the story such as the arrest and deportation of immigrants were also dominating our newspapers at the time. The pull of Glaswegian became so great that, in the end, with Daniel’s consent, I transferred the entire story to Glasgow and changed the characters’ names. Fellow translators with theoretical objections to such an approach should be assured that I expect this to be a one-off!

Donal McLaughlin

 

on yir doorstep, christ

Tellin ye: thon boy that lives in the same block as us, wan everywan calls Tony, is a strange wan. Really strange. He’s naw frae here, that boy, he’s frae Africa, he’s black. Kenya, he said, or the Congo, or thon place Jack McConnell likes tae head tae, whit’s-its-name? Och, how shid ah know? How shid ah know whit all they African countries are called? It’s the same wi Tony. His name’s naw really Tony. He telt us his name, it’s the kinda name nay cunt can remember but. Bula summit. We jist call him Tony. Tony, as in: Tony Yeboah, the boy Leeds Utd bought frae Eintracht Frankfurt. He wis really good, Yeboah, naw a patch, but, on Asamoah, or the boy Owomoyela. Tam wished oor wee team coulda signed Yeboah. He woulda fitted in well, he reckoned. Fitted in well wi the Juniors. Stickin point, but, wis his age. Naybody knew whit age the boy wis. He didni know himself. Imagine! There wis only wan thing for it, Otto Pfister said – cut his leg open. Cut it open an’ coont the rings.
Manager of the national team – Ghana – Pfister was.
It’s naw as easy as that but, is it? Ye canni go roon cuttin folk’s legs open. Naw if ye’re plannin tae gi’e the boy a game, anyhoo.
Anyway, oor Tony – he’s involved wi fitba an’ aw. He’s the wan that cuts the grass, an’ he’s really guid at it. Totally straight lines he mows; perfect, they are. Bernard frae up above us says he wis gobsmacked first time he seen whit the boy can do. The way he gets the lines totally straight. We call Bernard Gina cos he fancies that Gina lassie. Ye know Gina Wild, don’t ye? – the wan that makes aw they films. Bernard’s got every single wan, an’ we watch them thegether sometimes. Wi’oot Tony but. “Cos the lines widni be very straight themorrow, otherwise, boys, wid they,” Bernard aye says.
He’s actually met Gina, Bernard. It wis at thon big Expo thing she’d a slot at. Shoved his way up tae the front, he did – naw that it wis easy, mind – an’ he took a photie wi his mobile phone. Ye can see Gina in it, an’ Bernard’s thumb. They’re baith in it, the mobile-phone photie. Once he’d took it, she gi’ed him a kiss, apparently, above his right eye.
“Above ma right eye,” Bernard annoonced, “is a pairt o ma anatomy ah’ll never wash ever again!”
Ye canni actually see the kiss oan the photie – so it mibbe isni true.
Tam’s convinced it isni: “The cunt’s pure lyin when it comes tae the kiss,” says he.
Tam’s the type that says whit he means.
He caws Tony Blackie an’ aw; an’ he caws his own wife his bitch.
He only says it, but, when she’s naw there tae hear it.
He says it when he’s up the stair wi Bernard, an’ the Gina video’s oan. His wife never wants tae go wi him. Disni want tae look at stuff like that.
Which is how Tam makes oot his bitch has loadsae hang-ups.
Was Tam got Tony the wee job at the Club. The cuttin-the-grass-job. Tam knows Joe, an’ Joe knows Kenny, an’ Kenny said jist to pop along, there’s always stuff needs doin. It’s cos he’s guidhearted Tam done that. It’s naw as if it’s his fault, sure: fact his bitch has loadsae hang-ups.
Tae tell ye the truth but: if ye’re askin me, ah don’t think she has. Jist cos she disni want tae see the Gina video disni mean the woman’s got hang-ups. Naw – she’s a class act, hersel, mair like. Sometimes, sure, when Tam’s up wi Bernard, ah gi’e it “Ahm away oot tae dae ma roons”. Ah used tae be a night-watchman, an’ as everyone knows: that means ye’ve roons tae dae. Ahm naw a night-watchman any mair, but ah hivni telt nay cunt. Bottom line is: when Tam’s up wi Bernard, an’ they’re all geed up for the new Gina’s “Best of”, ah know that’s me, like: know ah won’t be disturbed for an hour or so.
So ah gi’e it: “Ahm away aff tae dae ma roons” an’ doon ah go tae Tam’s wife. Already waitin for me, she always is, an’ all jokin aside, there’s nuthin – not a thing – Gina Wild could teach that wan. Which leaves me thinkin Tam’s mad: whit’s he daein, up watchin videos, when he could be doon here, daein this? Ah dont say nuthin but, naw even when she makes oot “it’s aw cos o Tony – Tam canni keep his eyes aff him, so he canni.”
“Hiv ye noticed?” she asks. “Hoo he’s always staring at the boy?”
The only thing ahv noticed is hoo Una frae the basement stares at Tony. It’s naw as if it’s any wunner. She’s three weans, Una – aged six, eight an’ ten, aw by different men.
“Every single wan o them fucked off,” says Una, “an’ left me wi the weans.”
They left her in the basement flat, where Sandy used tae have his offices. The basement flat’s awright, it’s jist a bit dark. That’s how, any time ah drop by tae check everythin’s okay, the lights are always oan. Ah always give it, “That costs money an’ aw, ye know – ye don’t get electric light for free,” but she jist gives it: “Whit am ah supposed tae dae, like – sit aroon in the dark? Sit in the dark till His Royal Highness happens tae have a meenit?”
Hiv tae say: Tam’s wife is less hard work than Una.
She’s also mair fun.
Ah see it as ma duty but. An ye only get oot whit ye put in, eftir all.
Same goes when it’s a buildin ye’re sharin.
Ye hiv tae give as well as take – that’s whit ah say.
Sandy doesni see it that way. The boy used to drive a Porsche. Used to figure everything oot doon in the basement: aw the tax stuff he done. He’d a hedge fund, whitever that is. Rosie disni know either. Yir man came up, but, one day, she telt me, an’ the tears were trippin him. Said he wis goney shoot himsel, he did. He wis greetin like that cos aw his hard work wis aw doon the drain, he said. For a while there, folk kept comin roon: they were wantin tae shoot him an’ aw. Ringin oor doorbells, they were, at all oors o the night. Livid, they were. Tam said tae Tony wid he plant himsel at the front door – that wid frighten them off. Tony’s well-built, ye see. The boy didni want tae but. Ended up: naebody shot Sandy an’ he didni shoot himsel either. Wan time eftir that but, Rosie suddenly said: “Ah shoulda done it!” That wis the time Sandy confessed the company wis in her name. Suddenly, she’d a loada debt roon her neck. She came up tae ma flat an’ gi’ed it: “Ah shoulda! ah shoulda flattened the bastard.” Frae that moment onwards, she didni want tae dae it any mair. Or mair like: she did, only for money but, an’ ye had tae pay up front, in cash. Jist cos that bastard was givin it: “Go on up, if ye want tae. Jist make sure ye come back doon wi dosh but.” Ah tried tae gi’e it: “Ye canni dae that. Ye canni ask for money eftir aw these years.” She insisted but, an’ that wis me: up shit creek.
Morally, ah mean.
Ahm naw that well aff, am ah?
Wi the new benefit regulations, nae cunt’s that well aff.
So across tae Tony ah goes tae ask can he help me oot?
Had he therty quid he could gi’e me?
Ah gave it tae her, ah did.
An’ that’s the way it’s been ever since. Ah keep thinkin: it’s naw right. Me payin aff Sandy’s debts, like. Ah end up doin it again anyhow but – an’ head o’er tae Tony’s tae scrounge therty quid aff him.
The boy’s at the table, hunners o books in front ae him. Scribblin in an A4 pad, he is, an’ watchin the telly – baith at the same time.
They boat people are on. D’ye mind they refugees? Wans that landed in the Canaries? Wans that sailed frae Africa? Well, they’re the wans they’re showin. An’ Tony’s watchin it.
“Teneriffe,” the boy oan the TV says, an’ ah gi’e it: “Ahv been there an’ aw.” Wi Senga an’ the weans, it was. A long time ago.
That’s naw even true, actually.
Tony points at the screen an’ says summit that sounds like Hulahula.
His patter’s naw frae roon here, that’s for sure.
Tellin ye: he is a bit strange.
“Whit did ye say?” ah go – an’ he’s like that, “They shid stay at hame.”
Tony gi’es it: “It wid be far better if they aw stayed at hame.”
Ah go: “If you’re sayin that, it must be true. Can ye len’ me therty quid, by the way?”
He gi’es me it, an’ ah take it o’er tae Rosie – who hauns it straight tae Sandy.
An’ so the three tenners stay in circulation.
Which is mair than can be said for me. Since aw that hassle wi Senga, ahv hardly been oot ae the hoose. Ah leave it tae go tae the playin fields, aye, wi Tam on a Sunday, mibbe; or noo an’ again tae go tae the Unemployment Office that’s no’ called that any mair (the name has changed – nuthin else has but, needless tae say). Every noo an’ again, ah’ll go up to see Bernard, or droap in oan Tam’s missus. Ah should show my face there mair often, but ah don’t feel like it any mair. The need to’s gone. Disappeared – just like the therty quid.
Anyhoo: Tony’s at the table, writin somethin.
He’s a strange wan, right enough.
Then it’s nighttime an’ there’s a pure racket oot in the street. We’re used tae hassle, of course, frae the days when Sandy’s clients were aye wantin their money back. Part frae that, it tends tae be quiet aroon here, unless there’s a dawn raid – then there’s a racket, awright. It’s nighttime but, as ah say, an’ naw the crack o dawn, an’ there isni a function in the chapel hall, far as I know, an Sandy’s clients have aw calmed doon or hung themsels, in the meantime. Nevertheless, there’s a total racket but. First, there’s a racket at the stair door, then there’s a racket in the stair, then there’s a racket across frae me cos some cunt’s kickin the door in: Tony’s door. There’s shoutin an’ bawlin an’ aw. A blue light’s flashin, oot in the courtyaird. Tam comes runnin oot, an’ so does his wife who looks at me right angry, like, cos ah stood her up again. Suddenly, Sandy’s staunin there, an’ Rosie, – an’ Bernard comes doon frae up the stair. All he’s on him’s his Y-fronts, an’ he’s Gina in his haun. Una comes runnin up frae the basement an’ aw – in a nightdress that’s seen better days – an’ screams “Ur yis mad? Ur yis mad? There’s weans tryin tae sleep doon they stairs, so there is!”
A guy comes ootae Tony’s. He’s a tie oan. There’s loadsae folk in uniform an’ aw.
“You’ve ten minutes to pack,” the guy wi the tie shouts, intae Tony’s hall. “And not a second more.”
Una goes, “You got a problem, mister?” an’ the guy gi’es it somethin involvin illegally an’ deportation an’ assures her things’ll be back to normal in ten minutes.
“This will be the last time you’ll have this kind of bother, Madam,” he says. “You won’t object to that, I take it?”
Tony appears, wi a wee suitcase in his haun. Way he looks at us, ye’d think he wants tae say summit. He doesni but.
Then he does say summit, eftir all – tae me: “They books in there, maybe they’ll be some use tae ye. Dictionaries, they are.”
An’ ah think tae masel: whit wid ah want dictionaries for, but ah gi’e it: “Course, mate. Ah’ll see tae them.”
Whit ah said disni make much sense, ah know.
Then they ones in the uniforms take Tony between them an’ make tae go doonstairs.
That’s when Tam gi’es it: “Jist a meenit!”
Tam gi’es it: “Who’s goney cut the grass, like?”
Tam gi’es it: “That’s Tony’s job, an’ he manages tae get the lines totally straight.”
Tam gi’es it: “Naybody can match that boy.”
The man wi the tie looks at Tam an’ goes: “Have you tried using a goat, Sir? Or doing it yourself?”
The wans in uniform grin. There’s nay jestin wi Tam but, when it comes tae the fitba.
“There’s a game on Sunday,” he gi’es it, “an’ the grass is still tae be cut. Tony’s gaun naywhere.”
An’ Una gi’es it: “An’ ah need Tony for the weans’ hamework. He writes Colum’s essays for him. An’ he does Marie’s algebra. Tony’s gaun naywhere.”
An’ Sandy gi’es it: “An’ he’s still figurin oot the new hedge fund. No way am ah hivin a repeat o the last time. Tony, yir country needs ye. Yir gaun naywhere.”
An’ Rosie looks at me an’ gi’es it: “It’s no jist his country needs him. Ah fuckin need him. He’s gaun naywhere.”
Ah pure hate the way she looks at me.
An’ Tam’s wife gi’es it: “Sactly. He’s stayin where he is. Ah need the fucker an’ aw.”
Ah like that even less.
“Right, that’s it, folks,” the guy wi the tie says. “Back to bed, everyone. Have a nice day – what’s left of it.”
They stomp doon the stairs wi Tony between them, an’ Tam goes: “Shit, whit ur we goney dae noo?”
Bernard looks at his Gina video as if it holds the answer. Then he goes: “The chapel! Sanctuary!”
Bernard goes: “Sanctuary! O’er in the chapel! Oor Lady o Perpetual Help an’ aw that! Ah mean, if she doesni help us noo, when wull she?”
Rosie nudges me wi her foot an’ gi’es it: “On ye go, you! Dae summit!”
Why’s it always me? ah think. Since aw that hassle thon time, ahv naw done fuck all. Ah jist stood an’ watched Senga get intae the car, sure. Wan turn o the ignition, an’ off she went, wi the weans. Watched an’ did fuck all, ah did.
Rosie, but, gie’s it: “Wakey, wakey!” an’ ah can hear an engine runnin, doon below.
So ah runs doon, an’ aw the others run doon an’ aw, an’ when we get there, ah wallop the guy wi the tie on across the heid, an’ ah hiv tae admit, it felt good. So ah thumped him another wan, for Senga an’ the weans, an’ wan for the new benefit regulations, an’ wan for the machine that noo does ma job, an’ wan for the night-watchmen job ahm suddenly tae auld for. Sandy kicks wan ae the cops, that was for the fund that went doon the drain, ah reckon. Una’s tearin the hair frae the head ae anither wan, for the dark basement flat, wi three young children in it. Tam bites wan in the finger cos nuthin angers him mair than a fitba pitch that isni tended tae. His wife gets completely the wrang idea as usual an’ kisses the wan that has Tony by the neck, but that works an’ aw cos the cop lets go. Bernard grabs Tony by the arm an’ we run across an’ hammer the door ae the chapel. It nay sooner opens than we’re safe inside.
Bernard’s shoutin: “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” an’ we laugh an’ hop roon Tony like bushmen roon a totem.
That’s where we’ve been livin ever since.
Six months has passed, an’ ah hiv tae admit: livin in a chapel isni bad. The block we lived in’s empty, the cops are keepin guard, anyhoo, but. Bernard sneaked across wan time an’ came back wi aw the videos an’ the machine. So we’ve summit tae dae noo. We watch Gina Wild. The priest does an’ aw.
It’s only Tony disni. He does the hamework for Una’s weans but, helps Sandy tae figure oot the hedge fund, an’ sneaks off intae the sacristy every noo an’ again wi Tam’s wife, Rosie or Una. He tried tae slip me therty quid wan time. Ah didni want it but, naw any mair. So he took it an’ forced it intae a collection box. Forced them aw the way in, he did: three bloody tenners.
Hiv tae say: he’s a bit strange, that wan, right enough – Tony.

pond too
what it’s all about
my thinking

Author: Monika Rinck
Translator: Nicholas Grindell

pond too

in the place where once was something
the hollow fills to form a pond.
the water is immediately blackish.
stagnant. in it, imagined, firs.
blackish too. and closely packed.
what comes next happens once a dozen years:
at the centre, the void rises up
meniscus-like and hoists the spot
furthest from the banks into a hook.
thus, finally, the sunken shoreline
reappears, consisting of:
rot-black moss,
distempered fauna
and something like caoutchouc.

what it’s all about

a whole landscape of ponds,
pale grey loam, mountains of building rubble,
then the insects, very large dragonflies,
hovering flat out, buzzing.
crossed skeeters use the matt varnish
of the collected water to leap from,
to land on. a ruffling. a trilling.
then their predators, the frogs
and, at the end of the chain, us too.
we walk. wade. drag our feet so.
who’d have thought it so hard to walk, so slow,
with tired, tired out knees.
the leaps. the landing. the foul sheen
on the water. the slightest touch,
such a sudden shove, minuscule rings.
atoms vibrate, vibrate in the neutral position.
frogs swallow. dragonflies. then us again.

my thinking

today, around lunchtime, i saw my thinking,
it was a meadow, grazed bare, with hummocks. though
it could have been foothills of moss-covered mountains,
the kind of fuzzy green carpet fed on by reindeer.
no, just a busily bulging landscape beyond
the tree line, and it was definitely close-cropped.
the thoughts passed over it, a little light-headed,
like currents of air made visible, no, more
like a fleet of immaterial hovercrafts. they used
the hummocks                                as ramps.

These extracts from Monika Rinck’s
zum fernbleiben der umarmung
(kookbooks, 2007) appear courtesy of kookbooks

Translation © Nicholas Grindell

See Monika Rinck’s poems in Alistair Noon’s translation,
no man’s land #1

The Case in Point, Rain
field portrait referring to x
Call to Higher Places in the Genealogy Tree

Author: Ron Winkler
Translator: Andrea Scott

The Case in Point, Rain

we perceived the fragmented body of water as an apparition
between the adjectiveslight and stormy.

it never rained only once per rain.

sometimes we sensed hormones aimed toward us.

sometimes tangible antonyms of desert.

rain, we thought, was the most drinkable weather.

a hydrogenity.

mostly it rained away from the universe.

and simultaneously towards it.

oceans sailed by overhead. capsules
brimmed with themselves.

and the data of the first hour.

 

Field Portrait Referring to X

cows, yeah, yeah, they swaggered about like outlandish typewriters
though they weren’t cows at all, but pixeled black & white frames.
besides typewriters don’t make a mess on the lawn. oh well. it was the instantaneousness
of it that was important. along with a certain ease of mind. yeah, yeah,
it’s just that several dimensions collided and, despite perpetual actualization, they yielded
only muddled results: drops of grass, existential deposits not to mention
the migration of narrow consciousness. meadows over here and there the contorted message
of its horns. eyes like vacant planets. cows, yeah, yeah, probably
cows at the biography’s end.

 

A Call from Higher Up the Genealogy Tree

why of course you can have an outer space. in fact,
take two. as comfort blossoms or simply as a vice-situation
for a copy guest. how are you by the way? still
the same arsenal hunger? why don’t you host a jamboree against
the industrial gnawing? and please don’t forget to restock the joint with several descriptions.
you know how it is: sundays we’re closed.
i’m still half-asilt. i mean this entity over here
is o.k. except for the fawn-falsification, but i’m
still caught in in a (re)boot loop. keep in touch, now, won’t you?
particularly in the folder not junk.
oh and i wish you a nice contact reality. and always in the heavens

a stint of sun.

dead man’s float
dust
shutter

Author: Nadja Küchenmeister
Translator: Lara Ehrenhofer

dead man’s float

just the clouds drifting today and the film begins
smell of summer and scorched meadows and myself
waterborne playing dead man’s float and this stone that
gashed my foot still there in the showcase under
dust and scribbles the cards three people in the grass the
midges came father why aren’t you saying anything
but you don’t need to rescue the dead and mother
brother looking up from their hands and did not turn
to see the dead

dust

when the door is closed, even the dogs
quieten in their kennels. air traffic has ceased, no
lawn mowers, no clocks tick, no disturbances. just

the hem of the curtain trailing on the floor. a ray of light
piercing my eye. feverish feelings. the wood creaks quietly,
just a wasp pummeling the window. outside, pines

are swaying. in the room, under my bed, where there is
someone with a blunt knife, fluff jitters. dust.
dust. i hear the wasp above me. the clattering

of dishes from the kitchen, glasses clinking, cutlery now:
who, if i cried out, would hear me, once the nature film
had started on channel three and conversation was in full swing

and none of it is meant for me, trapped in the endless
afternoon light. dust. dust. am i the insect, exhausted
beyond measure my mother lay in this bed as a child.

shutter

there’s a bee-hive up in the rafters
even years later, you meet
at funerals and talk about stings
i hardly recognised you
now the room is light again

and you remember: he was always one
of the nice ones. stood at the fence and kept on waving
even when everyone was out of sight
and heading for the motorway. he would stand
and wave for hours to hell

with the bees! i’m no specialist in
these things then, in the evenings, he takes the dog
to go look at boats in the backwater, commen-
ting on the water level, on cloud cover.
youngsters (rural face) pricked ears: don’t

pull, then you can stroke him…
listen to stories about beehives in the rafters
he sleeps alone, nights. they won’t give you honey
just stings. lies on the old camping mat, view
of the window, no curtains. nothing is sealed.

worm-eaten floor. there’s a draught. a hole in the
clouds reveals the stars, soon reobscured
the opening and closing of the shutter up there, he
nods off for several hours. woken by
perpetual humming. now the room is light again

and the smell of honey cake leaks from the kitchen
where father sits with coffee black and cigarettes,
the radio playing quietly. it is still the dead of night. his
voice, however, speaks. a single star in the crossbars
which, a short dream later, had expired long ago

Flies

Author: Volker Sielaff
Translator: Steph Morris

Flies

A village lad, I grew up with flies, with their
Humming. Some time or other they just fell
Down past the tiny glass panes, and no-one ever wanted

To brush them away; they lay there for days,
Their legs lifeless, left dangling from a bloodless body
Which could no longer hold them,

Caught in the rainwater ridge on the toilet window ledge,
Where they glistened a good while longer, sated leaden blue or
Sulphurous yellow, while the others’ wing-music

Carried on cheerfully … as they did today, between the cherry tree
And the sky, at around half the tree’s height,
While opinions were passed round, and I switched off,

From this sluggish afternoon, coffee and cakes,
My eyes turning to the darting up and diving down,
As if they were all tied to an invisible thread,

Here under this blueness which has nothing more to say
A swarm of flies weaving its clear web
Through the summer air.

 

Original © Volker Sielaff
Translation © Steph Morris

DEATHWISH DRIVER
WORKING GIRL

Author: Arne Rautenberg
Translator: Ken Cockburn


DEATHWISH DRIVER

bruno schmitz / ground floor left

i will appear and you will see
me with your own eyes by the crash
barrier behind me mere nothingness

on the snaking asphalt they skid they
choke press down on the pedal i will
appear and you will see me

with your own eyes by the crash
barrier behind me mere nothingness
before me your daughters and sons

the only going back left to me
is a suck on the cigar the smoke
i draw it down deep maybe

more of me are coming behind me
flashing lights whatever i blank out now counts
for nothing whatever i fail to notice

was always what was left
of the oncoming traffic and the faint
reflection of hares’ eyes on the verge then

suddenly i will appear and you will see
me with your own eyes by the crash barrier
behind me mere nothingness when

will you send the next dazzler? for
only what appears from in front can
pass i drive as long as my engine turns

in it my monotony burns then
i turn off the light and if
you are in luck i drive by

WORKING GIRL
nicole / ground floor right

the last tired dyed strands blonde
like marilyn grow out of these years
when diamonds cavort on sunday evening

a carnival of bedroom carpets
the curtains drawn (just a narrow slit)
the monsters look on some guy

lies back and drinks his aperitif acquires
a taste for wrinkled hands and the
unblinking eyelashes of back-combed beauty

the happiness of true nudists far removed
from all rays of hope oh man when will you come
true i would devotedly implore you

big strong man oh oh oh yes touch
me or else i cannot believe i am real
a hypochondriac shadow sitting

on checked polyester if i can no longer
be beautiful why should i not just
die why should i not just

wait until a madman goes for me with
a knife why oh why are the strands
growing out of these years

 

Geisterfahrer and Straßenmädchen are from a sequence
of twelve monologues,
Das Dunkle Haus (‘The Dark House’),
published in
edit. Papier für neue Texte, Leipzig, 2002.

Originals © Arne Rautenberg
Translations © Ken Cockburn

 

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.”
“Sick?”
“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