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Editorial: Issue 9

Table of Contentsfor Issue 9

Issue 01 2006

Cover illustration: Visitors at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 2014
© Alexander Heimann Fotografie, Frankfurt, Germany

German literature is often accused (mainly from within its own ranks) of navel-gazing – we feel the fiction in this year’s no man’s land offers ample evidence to the contrary. We take a light-hearted excursion into the past with Friedrich Nietzsche in Christian Schärf’s A Winter in Nice, while Nina Jäckle’s The Long Breath takes a sensitive look at a tsunami-ravaged Japan. Vladimir Vertlib, with mordant humor, visits a Klingonian Jerusalem (The Silence of Shimon), and elsewhere describes the Way Stations of a Russian Jewish family that immigrates to Austria in the 1980s. The still more wrenching Jewish émigré experience of the Second World War is explored in “The Children Have Been Found”, an excerpt from Ursula Krechel’s novel Landgericht, which was awarded the German Book Prize. Angelika Klüssendorf’s April, shortlisted for this year’s Book Prize, tells a dark tale of a young woman who lives as an outsider in 1970s East Germany. The ultimate outsider was Ronald Schernikau, a remarkable figure whose coming-out story Small-Town Novella appeared when he was only 20, and who spent his short life torn between East and West. The two pieces set in present-day Germany are blackly humorous kammerspiele: Anja Jardine’s macabre look behind the scenes of a hotel in “Just Five Minutes”, and a spirited clash between artist and model in Artist for Rent by Feridun Zaimoglu, the grand seigneur of Turkish-German literature.

Our poetry section centers on two very different complexes of prose poems. A selection from Frederike Mayröcker’s most recent collection, études, distills the highly personal language of a great experimental poet who can look back on a nearly 50-year career. Meanwhile, Sabine Scho’s Animals in Architecture is taken from an ongoing internet project in which the poet combines text and photography. Michael Krüger, one of Germany’s great literary publishers, proves his poetic talent in a selection from Seasonal Time Change. And finally we feature two younger poets, Peggy Neidel and Marius Hulpe, with very distinct voices.

The publication of this issue is a bittersweet moment for us, as we mourn the loss, this August, of our dear friend and colleague Tom Morrison. He was a mainstay of our Berlin Translation Lab, and we are proud to have featured his fine work over the years. We remember him here with his translation of an exquisite poem by Achim Wagner, and of Ralf Rothmann’s haunting, transcendent story “Gethsemane”.

Isabel Cole, Katy Derbyshire, Catherine Hales :  Editors, no man’s land

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial: Issue 9


full moon listening
lost and found
kitchen
look at all sunday can do to us



Crow eater
Cinnamon
Mirror
Wooden house



Six Etudes


while I stroll along the frozen canal …
I slip on the technosphere …
a well, streams of data …
without extensions in the panopticon …
a promise, the glass domes …



Animals in Architecture (extracts)


camekân sokağı


The Long Breath (excerpt)


Just Five Minutes


April (two excerpts)


The Children Have Been Found


Gethsemane


A Winter in Nice


Small-town Novella


Way Stations


The Silence of Shimon


Artist for Rent

full moon listening
lost and found
kitchen
look at all sunday can do to us

Author: Marius Hulpe
Translator: Jake Schneider

full moon listening

just a couple droplets on the windowpane.
over the weekend, the man on the radio says,
it will all become clear. your elbows
resting calmly on the windowsill
like paperweights. or a teacher’s hands.
that’s how you learned it. you listen
to some wild boars at the forest edge
fighting for power in the gene pool.
fall came too early this time.
nothing was prepared for it, and here
come walnuts and conkers cracking
loud through the wood like skydivers.
in their trail, plummeting planes.
and you, crouched at the window, listening
through the night, from afar, to the impact.

lost and found

it was a thursday. we heard it plainly
through the porthole to the neighbor’s cellar: there,
after four weeks missing, she was.
one of the resident sisters hopped right
over the fence, shouted into the cold pit
and rang and rang the bell. the door stayed shut.
we tossed little bacon ribbons
through the rusty grate, sprinkled milk
to go with it. the reply sounded grateful enough.

that night a heavy-duty vehicle floated
through the drive-bay, its red brake lights
signifying dignified disinterest. no sooner had
my little sister brought the question to bear
than the listener’s head began to shake.
it is everyone’s own prerogative how things
that have turned up on their own property
should be dealt with. my sister didn’t hesitate
two seconds: the cat’s alive, she said.

kitchen
the table was set, the gray-blue flag
of morning still waving outside the window, and there
sat my grandmother – glasses, paper – spreading
liverwurst sandwiches in a race against time.
wholehearted granola soaked all cozy and cute
in its porcelain basin, a few tears afloat
and glistening on the milk’s surface,
on its white skin, trembling with tension.
a tide of cocoa flakes hauled through the bowl,
dark shapes popping up and submerging.
the radio had been on for a century,
crackling decade by decade through the morning,
a kitchen crammed with world music.
outside the buses were proliferating,
crammed with children of a thousand parents
whose minivans, a few miles south,
were speeding into a tree, just then, on a sharp
curve, and the news didn’t come till that night.

look at all sunday can do to us
look at all sunday, look at all sunday can’t, look
at all sunday can’t do, what it can’t do to us –
pacify us since we’re an angry swarm of bees
outside post offices displeased with their balance sheets,
under interest tsunamis, the lava of interest upon interest
that springs on us hissing from a telenovela;
afraid of supernatural misanthropic attacks
by bambis and other objects of contemporary discourse,
like meek sheep we ignore the now we consecrate we
consecrate ourselves quickly with spaghetti, with a nice latte,
isn’t this fun, taking time off, giving away gifts
made of hatred and words, made of shopping bags,
speaking an idiom our very own, we sure aren’t
sure aren’t hobos not gangsters either, just a bit
a bit batty around the ears in our fear and our daring
we race and swim into the morning, into the blaze.

From Marius Hulpe, Einmal werden wir © Lyrikedition 2000, 2013
Translation © Jake Schneider

Crow eater
Cinnamon
Mirror
Wooden house

Author: Michael Krüger
Translator: Joseph Given

Crow eater

Crows, tells one
who survived the war,
have to be cooked
with the wood of the pine,
to bind the poisons,
and served with sorrel
which animals spurn.
The order of a world at peace
is hard to understand.
Here we sit in the open air
and marvel at the sunset.
The crows on the pine
will have the final word.

Cinnamon

Suddenly someone comes up with cinnamon
as if that were the explanation
for all the secret entanglements
of heaven and earth: cinnamon.
My grandmother saved four stalks of it
through the war, no more.
The birch shakes off the winter;
the wind tests its resilience.
And all I can think of is cinnamon.
As far as I’m concerned, you can call
the moon a pumpkin,
but when someone says cinnamon,
I can’t feel anything except the warmth of the dead.

Mirror

It takes a hopelessly long time
to get a rough idea of who you are.
The ineffaceable love of apple trees,
the history written in the clouds.
Research on grass, not intended
for printing, enchanted water,
rendezvous in the accessible darkness.
Nothing for gods, really.
Breathe to escape the curse;
hopelessly long, yet so short.
Too short.

Wooden house

for Alfred Kolleritsch*

You have to stand with your back
to the wall in the evening light.
Then you’ll see the storm
announcing its arrival in the crown
of the lime. The mad blackbirds
as if from some late work.
We will be judged on the number
of times we withheld the truth
although the word lay warm on the tongue.
A glance at the hastening clouds,
and you understand the gulf
between the heavens and the earthly world.
Your back to the warm wood,
and then the sunset.

*Wooden house
Alfred Kolleritsch, born 1931, is an Austrian writer, poet and philosopher, particularly known for his opposition to the “return of the never-changing”; i.e. to a society plagued by narrowness and stagnation. As founder of the Austrian literature magazine Manuskripte he has aided many lesser known writers to greater success.

From Michael Krüger, Umstellung der Zeit © Suhrkamp, 2013
Translation © Joseph Given

Joseph Given’s translation of Michael Krüger’s collection Umstellung der Zeit will be published by Seagull Books under the title Seasonal Time Change in 2015.

Six Etudes

Author: Friederike Mayröcker
Translator: Donna Stonecipher

languished almost the whole
day with BUBI in the garden
and find flowers and
blindworms festive in thicket
and thistle glade’

and everyone asks, what are you reading these days &c.,
while the little skull = little bird bill, on the doormat. All kinds
of night pills, &c., aussi the decaying dark-blue hyacinth in the
glass . . . back then ’54 in Salzburg I set off for London, 1
vehement spring, we found 1 hotel room to say good-bye: my
memories faded, &c., don’t remember what happened there . . .
I didn’t want, you know, I did not want to go away at all,
didn’t want to leave you, but I wasn’t crying about that,
when will I turn into 1 swallow. Rolled up in a ball the dirty laundry
on the piano, oh I wandered, lost, while the lea strewn with
leaves: this forsakenness of my eyes, it’s all just bricolage

the gullet of the PRIMAVERA the stems of the white
bellflowers, should we loosen the twine around the neck of the
bundled bellflowers
so the nodding flowers bunched together in the glass in this
glittering morning as if deathbells = GLAS (french) as if
strangled, these glittering flickering harbingers of early spring
&c., there where little grasses graze on a flood of tears, the
rosy dawn 1 pink veil over the flanks/cliffs of . . .

oh the trembling autumn everlastings in the valley, as they
emerge from the village in gray jackets, walking by the fields
of wild apple trees, oh with Mother back then, not much was
said, through the garden where with garden shears and blue
apron. Mignonettes, protégée, say I, the woman waving, &c.,
such talks with Mother, toilsome walking the weather mild the
eyes of
the autumn everlastings, the trembling of the autumn
everlastings in the wind, piano practice
‘études’ . . . 1 pair of flowers from Kurtág on the way home,
practice of the season’s ‘études,’ namely 1 mountain that was
called Piano, &c.

Early spring’s columbine = gloves of our beloved lady

2 small white stones and underbrush in the flowerpot 1 tuft of
moss white forget-me-not eye you my blood corpuscle, say I,
this sm. silver tree of tinfoil on the floor with a wild thatch or
skull cut to rights with a sm. knife, trunk or nape, wears a
yellow string on its rootstock, shines like the sun — I
embedded myself on your pansy, on your pensée: how
MOUTHWATERING say I, when your branches lower steaming
hands to me: gloves in the hallway as Mimmo Paladino drew
them (shallow slopes) these roses devastation like a hunting
horn
burrowed into the pillow buried in the pillow roses
devastation ponytail-bow silky vetch say I tender child fine
little lamb Michi M.

the blushing bloom: my little sibling language in the morning I
wake up green verbena of the heavens springtide’s little
grasses: little ghosts ‘green-torn with red’ = Bernadette H.,
with the moon’s sickle in my hand through the garden
imagination, how mouthwatering, in your quiet searching
words while rain-tears on the window, this constellation light
in my eyes, composed today 5 o’clock in the morning in the
eye of the south wind or the train of golden rain, I was
enchanted by . . .  (the sparse music book &c.)

radius, littlest beautiful speech, blushing bloom up to the neck
little bell little white bellflower in the cup in the glass namely
the little headlets almost suffocating headlets namely in the
glass in the cup SWARMING presented by a friend’s hand
radius with red thread twine bow (History) by a friend’s hand
SWARMING in the glass in the cup that the tears namely
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Invention no. 6 in E major through
the airs. 1 dark piano, bark of a hornbeam on the edge of the
lane, he says, the blushing bloom he says SWARMING white
bellflowers let’s say, head to head let’s say, with whispering
little headlets let’s say and how they touch each other namely
SWARMING: ironing coiffures, with white hands body to body,
he says, filament to filament in the cup in the glass, so sheet
music with pink plastic cover, right? flood of tears let’s say, he
says, SWARMING let’s say, he says, the tears the toothlets
namely suckling piglets . . . Judas-thinkers and -turnkeys sheet
music fiery rain, the green verbena of the heavens’ banks,
heavens’ little grasses of springtide &c.
Blown-out warm-windlets, how mouthwatering

From Friederike Mayröcker, études, Suhrkamp 2013
Translation © Donna Stonecipher

while I stroll along the frozen canal …
I slip on the technosphere …
a well, streams of data …
without extensions in the panopticon …
a promise, the glass domes …

Author: Peggy Neidel
Translator: Bradley Schmidt

while I stroll along the frozen canal
a hologram appears before me in the form of my fear
a spineless jellyfish
I spit the imitation into the air
the creature flies to the ground, pulsing
my shoes find the way

I slip on the technosphere
like a second skin, intoxicated
by the idea of being something
that I simultaneously have
I took the next combination
grasping with my arms reach for something
that looks like you

if there is no fate
who is actually ruining whom?

a well, streams of data
we are quite alone in private
we finger the water with sensors
blur the lines of the garden
petals fall
into the idyll

without extensions in the panopticon
masked by junk
they’ve got burnout and are waiting
for someone to patch them up

a promise, the glass domes
depending on the light’s angle
who takes its cues from what?
no-one sees it straight away
we’re walking in different directions

why did you come here?
surely you want to exchange memories
but you’re not interested in any answers
just this shadow
that your dream casts
that was the reason for your journey

you cling to the dream
in that building at the entrance of the hall
but a pane shatters

and then the city runs away from your dreams
I run until you’re just a speck.

From Peggy Neidel, weiß © poetenladen Verlag, 2013
Translation © Bradley Schmidt

Animals in Architecture (extracts)

Author: Sabine Scho
Translator: Bradley Schmidt

Of Abandoned Cages – Old Los Angeles Zoo

Keep out and keep your hands off – the area behind you is still waiting for everything that is past.
A Picnic on Valentine’s Day in the provisional paradise and don’t forget how people disappear, maybe in a bear enclosure with permanently installed grill. Stick your fingers through the mesh – is it cool? Are you still glowing, Jimbo? “It’s just the age when nothing fits.”
It’s shrinkin’ time again, kidz. “You wanna see a monkey,” or something else? On Sunset Boulevard, while Miss Desmond waits? Drive by Bates Motel or a wedding chapel.
The collar starched, barking “nothing but the dog in me”. Don’t worry, it’s not East L.A. gang, packs have long left this place, tables and benches can’t be budged, the séance is over, the second face a silent movie set – space for projections.
There’s always just one who’s crazy enough to make a fool of themselves and the one who drives along the unending, long streets till they suddenly end after all. No, not suddenly. All of you all already knew about the crash back at the start, and that they would get you, that someone would turn themselves in, that someone would die, you knew that too. But you didn’t want to go back to the zoo.
Don’t worry, they won’t lock you away. They know that you know very well that you have plans for a nice cage, far away, with spacious interior, a trail in front of the door for flight, you’ll get settled in, thank goodness.

© Sabine Scho

Bars don’t get mentioned, they live fully glazed and have a view of the pool, a porch swing in the garden, the sins of the city lined up straight in downtown’s cabinet, where JESUS SAVES as the redeemer of the primates – a “soul-saving business” in the steel framework.
They mounted the block letters from God’s school notebook on the roof on “the flip side of Paradise,” the sky marked with lines, made ready for the quota of faith of united disciples, United Artists, but don’t forget: “There’s always a better show at Loew’s State”: “Tarzan the Ape Man tops Trader Horn for thrills.”

© Sabine Scho

The “Alphabet of Gestures” hasn’t been spelled out yet, but the first words slip out: “Me Tarzan, you Jane!”
You don’t really know where they belong. “Won’t you follow me down to the Rose Parade?” To the Old Los Angeles Zoo, where sleeping beauty waits? Where a mockingbird sings East of Eden?
High dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, child abuse and neglect, suburbia’s puberty, public enemies, “cops grill a suspect” or perhaps a lost sheep at a BBQ in Watts.

Have you ever heard such fairytales? Are you afraid of the big bad wolf? Wasn’t it you who wanted a zoo without bars? Wasn’t it you who said: It’s true anyways, reality bites?
Cypress Hill, Highland Park, Los Angeles northeast, although these enclosures are no longer appropriate for L.A.’s beasts, they can be the grave for their next funeral feast.
“Good fences do make good neighbors, you know.” Or was it the other way around?
Respect the fence in the soft focus, close to the limit, caution loose gravel, otherwise you’ll lose your grip, will be responsible for damages that no insurance would pay, in the area designated for Lost Animals.

© Sabine Scho

Fleeing animals astound with cunning, don’t believe they’ll let themselves be lured, petted, tamed, that they’re missing something you have little of.
They’re not from around here, come to and from the country, remember the zoo area, their turf, from Plato’s break room you hear them panting, invisible creatures. Watchmen from Hell.

They sketch shadows that they don’t cast, search for the zodiac signs not far from the observatory. Stargazers, armed to the teeth, lost in space.
Their shibboleth, the growling of a bear in chains, the squeal of the tires that feast on gravel, a red mustang that always keeps on track.

Lascaux is located in L.A., you just have to get out to understand that, and that the ciphers in the abandoned caves mean something.
Guess what? Mr. Psycho bombed this place.

© Sabine Scho

Cat Houses in front of the Church

First scratch with your paw, making the sign of the cross, then enter the smoky cave. Through the colored panes you will be illuminated by the glistening light of the deity. The divine attempt to reach Ground Control? You’d better not mess with Major Tom.

Cats stroll in the House of God like it’s my bird brain. And God licks his whiskers behind the retable, some kind of richly ornamented Spanish wall. Mouse pickers or pleasant company for Jerome in his Study? Cunning, cleaning addicts, sweet-toothed and lazy, Satan himself, the heretics’ cat has nine lives. Three times a black cat. Get thee behind me, evil spirit.

That’s not to say that completely different animals can’t live here. Corn snakes or owls as the sub-tenants of the less-domesticated kitties, tormented by original sin, nervously drawing back their paws on hot tin roofs.

The separation from God requires a mediator, but nobody knows how animals got into Paradise in the first place. Starting with the snake, where did that come from?
Their eyes, coin slots for four-legged bandits, black cats, the first gambling creatures of the Caille brothers.

They skillfully take the rats, household waste, and cockroaches out of churches, stables, and sheds before they have a go at the fledglings in the trees. The last thing most of them see is the inside of a burlap sack, when their hisses are soaked up by the canals of Venice. Their ancestors may have been saber-toothed tigers with teeth longer than their tails.

What are the cats called? Do they really have three names? One for domestic use, one for their majestic prowling, and one that is only known to each cat, dozed off on top of cigarette butts, exhausted next to the hydrants, not on Mohammed’s sleeve that the Prophet cut off in order to not rouse his house cat before leaving it to pray?
A little beast of prey for which canned food was invented, yet the can-opener was invented in its own right, because everything we feed then willingly assumes goodness and grace?

© Sabine Scho

From Sabine Scho, Tiere in Architektur © kookbooks, 2013
Translation © Bradley Schmidt

camekân sokağı

Author: Achim Wagner
Translator: Tom Morrison

number three.

on makeshift steps
i remain out of mind
just a meter of impression
exact cherry mounds they come
floating past
on a pushcart vendor’s song
in front of serial stools
the verifiable click-clacking
of dice
just as the button expelled
by a startling shirt
goes glancing off flagstones

two matching cubes dissolve in tea

(camekân sokağı = showcase lane)

Original © Achim Wagner
Translation © Tom Morrison

The Long Breath (excerpt)

Author: Nina Jäckle
Translator: Mandy Wight

Those who were laughing or silent.

It was the eleventh of March and the sea breathed out, right over the land it breathed out and then it breathed in again, deeply. The sea sucked up those who were sitting, those who were playing, those who were sleeping, those who were laughing or silent, those who were still young or already old, lively, lonely or in an embrace. The sea left a border behind. A border that from now on forever marks the place where luck was alive on that eleventh of March at two forty-six in the afternoon and the place where, at that moment, luck had deserted.
The sea’s breath is long, says my wife, you too will have to show how long your breath can be, that you can endure.

The constant scratching of pencil tips on paper.

I have a new filing cabinet where I keep the photos of the tsunami victims who have not yet been identified. There are many photos, there are photos which it’s better not to see. I’m the only person who looks into the filing cabinet; not even my boss wants to look at them.
It’s too much to ask of anyone to look at those photos, it’s too much to ask of those left behind to point to one of those photos and to say yes, yes that’s her, yes that’s him.
At first the numbering and the filing of the photos, that keeping order, that administration of the disfigured dead was unbearable. With time it has become routine. I am an identikit artist. People used to praise my identikit sketches, now they praise the sketches I make of tsunami victims. I reconstruct the faces of those who have been found, I sketch the faces without their horrific injuries, to make it easier for those left behind to identify their relatives. In this way it is not too much, in this way they can point to my sketches, to the intact faces I have sketched, yes, they can then say, yes, that’s her, yes that’s him.
I think of them as individual anatomical cases. I avoid thinking about all the drawers of my filing cabinet at once; my gaze focuses on the one photo coming next, which serves as a template for the one sketch coming next, but despite this the serial numbering of the photos is an undeniable reminder of how many people remain to be identified, of how few of the faces I have sketched and how many remain.
From that day on, one or other of the TV channels has shown over and over again the snow-white ribbon, the broad trim of white foam moving towards the coast. Relentlessly, the wave moves over the sea, relentlessly towards the coast. We have always known how to make a deal with nature, how to tame its destructive strength, we have always lived with the dangerous powers of nature, we have no other choice. Molten rock, unstable ground, the sea all around, we know how to ask protection from spirits and gods, but on that day our experience was that this doesn’t always work. We were trained for evacuation, we were trained not to wait for an alarm, we were trained to help others, but on that day our experience was that this doesn’t always work either. On that day we experienced how important it is that the worst thing that could happen doesn’t happen, and equally we experienced that the worst thing that could happen can really happen. We experienced what relentlessness means; now we are experiencing what it means to let life return in spite of everything, what it’s like to open shops again, to send children back to school, to go fishing again, in spite of everything to trust and to eat the fish, the rice and the algae.
They’re sure to be writing songs soon about the butterflies with their deformed wings, too small for their bodies, and their strange eyes. We haven’t seen the last of those butterflies, says my wife.
When my wife turns the light off at bedtime, I usually lie awake for a long time in the peace and quiet and I have the feeling that my face is glowing in the dark, as if my skin is still reflecting the light from the illuminated layout table, which I bend over day after day for many hours. And in my head I hear the noise of the pencil, the constant scratching of pencil tips on paper. And in front of me the faces appear, the eyes, the nose, the lines of the cheekbones. Again and again I ask myself whether I can sketch the hint of a smile into the faces, whether it is permissible to think of a smile, of laughter lines, to presume an expression of happiness in the faces I am reproducing, the faces of nameless tsunami victims.
We saw a boy on television. Our family, he said, was my mother and my father and my brother and me. Now, it’s my brother and the dog they’ve let us keep, that’s my family. The dog was found in the disaster area like us, he was dirty and lonely, one of his legs was broken. He’s trying not to be sad, he’s a good dog, he’s trying his hardest, he’s brave, said the boy on the television, as if talking about himself.
All day long, as I’m sketching the faces, I hold an eraser in my hand. I get to know the faces as they emerge stroke by stroke. Anatomy helps me to understand logically how they ought to look; I know without hesitation which ill judged pencil stroke to remove right away with my eraser. I always draw the eyes last. I feel nervous about sketching the eyes, as they convey most intensely the assumptions I am making: it is the eyes, the gaze, that give the faces their humour or their severity, their boldness, their disappointment or even their secretiveness. Once I have sketched the eyes, and therefore the gaze, into the faces, then the faces are ready to be identified by those left behind, by those whom the Pacific did not take because they were in the place where luck was alive, by those who escaped the long breath of the sea. My sketches of faces will stay on public display for as long as it takes for someone to point to them, for someone to look them in the eye and pronounce a name and say yes, that’s her, yes that’s him.
Our ideal mountain, says my wife, our most beautiful volcano, for so long such a favourite with artists, isn’t perfect. Over the years more and more ugly little hummocks have appeared on its slopes, but no one ever draws those hummocks. You should draw them, says my wife reproachfully, to represent the truth. I think she doesn’t like it that I draw the faces without injuries, because my drawings don’t represent the truth.
Every evening I sweep up the black eraser rubbings on my desk. I keep this evidence in a tea caddy: evidence of my misrepresentations, of my aesthetic assumptions, which the numbered faces with the logic of their anatomy managed to resist. I can’t bring myself to get rid of the eraser rubbings, they are part of the process of recreation, even if all they are documenting is my botched pencil strokes and shadings, my inadequacies.
When the sea is lying calm and gentle before me, when there are no single waves to be seen, so that the sea is one harmless, swaying whole, then I feel as if I am being taken in, as if the monster is purring like a domesticated cat, before it yanks open its jaws and shows its true colours. Since that day I haven’t often been down to the sea. We all mean the same when we say ‘since that day’.
What am I to think about, asks my wife sometimes, before going to sleep.
Since that day I’ve often thought of the big aquarium. My wife and I spent a whole day there. We stood in a large tunnel made of glass. We were surrounded by the current, the movements of fish, of plants; everything belonged together, we were the only ones in the glass tunnel, left out in the cold.
The blue and green and shimmering sea is black or brown or grey on land. Several cars floated in a car park turned swimming pool, cars banged against a house wall, a voice calling from a loudspeaker was inaudible, a family house with a sea view collapsed, people were standing on high ground, their hands clamped to their mouths. White cloths dangled out of upper storey windows to signal survivors.
I think often of our neighbours, who are no longer our neighbours, of Aoko, of the little girl Aoko.

Bottles of water like ghost catchers.

I turn anonymous unknown people back into human beings, with a family, with a past they can talk about, I tell my wife as soon as I see that she’s worrying about me. Once I brought one of the sketches home for her; she had asked me to do so. I had also brought one of the photos which went with it. I talked about human anatomy, about there being no ambiguity with bones, about them providing clear guidelines which help to reproduce faces with almost complete accuracy. I’m mostly working from faces which have been destroyed, but they become more and more familiar to me as I draw, like the faces of acquaintances or neighbours, I told my wife. The one I had with me was number 32; the next day I was going to hang it up alongside the other finished sketches. So that the dead can be identified, so that they can have back their names, so that they can be buried, so that all can find peace, I told my wife. On the photo that I’d brought home, there was no longer a face to recognise, the tsunami victim on the photo no longer had a past, it was only through my sketch that his past would perhaps be restored to him, his family too. I hoped that the drawing would comfort my wife, would relieve the distress caused by the photo. My wife said nothing.
When you see something under the water, it’s not actually in the place you think you are seeing it. That’s true too when you’re looking out of the water into the air beyond. As a boy I was fascinated by this reaching out for something and missing it, or the fact that my foot under water was not where I saw it. Recently I dreamed that I was trying over and over again to pull something out of the water, but was again and again reaching out into nothingness. The water was light green and clear, the rocks and coral had sharp edges, my blood could hardly be seen in the waves. I think often about looking out of the water into the air beyond, and I also think of Aoko – for her nothing up here is where it should be when she sees it from down there. I think too of reaching out and missing, of no one holding on to Aoko.
First bones, then muscles, then skin. With skin comes shading. Once the eyes are sketched, the face soon becomes more than just a number, I told my wife. She nodded quietly. Since she saw the photo and the sketch I made from it, she has asked hardly any more questions. I think she doesn’t like what I do, sketching the faces.
Before, I sketched pictures for forensic purposes, of criminals and crime scenes. At home after work, I would sketch landscapes, birds and plants. Since I’ve been sketching the tsunami victims I’ve no longer touched my pencils or sketch block at home. It wouldn’t seem right to draw landscapes or birds or plants. The scratching of pencil tips on paper is now the sound of faces.
The sea women have always worn white suits and white headscarves; the white protects them from sharks and from bad luck, they say. I’m not sure if they’ve been allowed back, since that day, near the coast and on the sea bed, gathering snails, mussels, sea urchins, algae, especially ormer. Their protective suits probably don’t protect enough since that day. There are only a few of the white sea women left. Yesterday, in my lunch break, I drew Aoko in a white suit, with a white headscarf. That’ll help against the sharks and a little against bad luck, I whispered, then I threw the drawing into the waste paper basket.
Brown algae is harvested on the sea bed, sea urchins are found in coral reefs, eels, carp and pike-perch are fish which live on the ocean floor. Normally there is no caesium in the body, not even on the sea bed. You always used to see cleaned octopus hanging up on washing lines to dry, whole villages had cleaned octopus hanging up to dry in the garden behind the house. Octopus is found near the coast and since that day the usual method of cleaning has not been good enough – everything coming from the sea bed has taken on a different meaning. Inedible fish is thrown back in the sea and the fishermen receive compensation based on the weight of their catch. Children learn new words, they learn fast. The words iodine, caesium and plutonium will probably make up their counting rhymes in future. Mothers are lining up water bottles like ghost catchers. It’s supposed to help against radioactive particles, says my wife. Two-litre plastic water bottles bordering children’s playgrounds, I’ve seen it on a photo, it looks like they’re playing Defenders, she says.
When my wife is asked what I do, she says that I sketch portraits. That was a good portrait, she said to me recently. She was probably thinking of sketch number 32 and I guess she was trying to forget the photo on which this 32nd sketch was based. My wife may well have been thinking about the hint of a smile sketched into the face, and was then able to call it a portrait.
What I absolutely must forget, says my wife, is the sight of a lampshade in the dirt, the sight of an iron between rocks, the sight of splintered planks of wood next to a toy bear, the sight of a shattered bowl, of a broken picture frame containing a torn photo, the sight of a bicycle with no seat, of a child’s shoe in the mud, a door handle, a dirty cushion, I absolutely must forget the sight of plastic sheeting between the rubble, human sized plastic sheeting it was and soldiers everywhere.
Since that day you can no longer gaze over the water admiringly, you can no longer look at the horizon, observe the waves or the mirror images of clouds or the reflections of sunlight or of moonshine. You can’t imagine that this sea could ever again appear on a postcard. When you look out over the ocean, you see before you the children, the fathers and mothers, the houses, passports, school reports, fences, dogs, cattle, chicken, cats, desks, radios, saucepans. There are postcards of the sea, written and sent off before that day, which are meaningless now; the Pacific these postcards show no longer exists for us. Everyone here knows what it means when we use the phrase ‘since that day’. It means life and everything to do with life and also everything which used to be to do with life, it means everything we don’t talk about and also everything which is yet to come. It also means the postcards which are meaningless, which were sent from here to the city, which people now no longer want to read or look at, it means the many urns which are yet to be filled, it means our memories of whole families, of factories, of farms, of whole neighbourhoods, of whole woodlands, of playgrounds.
Draw me some spiders, Aoko had called out, a sheet of paper in her hand. Two spiders and a lovely wooden box to go with it, with flowers on it, and then draw me a spiders’ web so that we can have a story about them, just us two, said Aoko.
There are children who will be born into the cramped world of the containers, the too-small temporary accommodation. They will be told that people haven’t always lived crammed in side by side like this, that people will not always live like this crammed in side by side, that there will be bigger rooms and more of them, one day. They will be told that there was a wave, shortly before they were born, a wave which managed to sweep away a whole village in less than a minute. Despite the levee, despite the flood barriers, people will add. The children born into containers will be told that water can flatten cars, that the rubble from one thousand six hundred houses can fit into a baseball stadium.

Not from the memory held in the bones.

Everything else depends on the favour of the moment, depends on being looked on favourably in one single moment. Since that day this favour resides in none of the earth’s plates having moved. In the evening when we go to bed and my wife turns the light out, another day has gone by with no serious earth tremor, another day when the sea has not come to fetch us.
Because they don’t know what to do, says my wife, they tell us things aren’t too bad. Difficult, but not hopeless, they call the situation. This is no comfort to people, who are getting restless. Many people are talking, some are quarrelling, some just sit there saying nothing, others want to get away and just sit there saying nothing, many people spend all day wanting to get away and just sitting there, says my wife.
A few weeks ago I was working on a sketch and only when I was working on the mouth did I recognise the face. It was the face of my aunt. I had drawn a portrait of my mother’s sister. I had messed up the nose; I rubbed it out, I drew the nose again, now from my memory, not from the memory held in the bones. I didn’t sweep the eraser rubbings into the tea caddy with the other eraser rubbings. I left them on the desk – I didn’t know what to do with them. My aunt had been a tiny old woman; it wouldn’t have taken much to carry her off. There were quite a few photos of my aunt at the seaside. My aunt loved the Pacific, her father, my grandfather, had been a fisherman. In the summer he caught octopus and eel, in the autumn, salmon and in winter, cod. My grandmother was always scared that my grandfather wouldn’t come back, that he would go missing with his fishing boat and the other fishermen. My grandmother feared the Pacific but my aunt loved it. I wrote my aunt’s name after the number she’d been allocated.
People say that the fishermen returned from sea one day and found the harbour completely devastated. They had felt no hint of the gigantic wave, nor had they seen anything when out at sea. The fishermen called the wave tsu-nami, the wave in the harbour.
I heard a boy telling stories. They’re all doing fine down there. You see, they’ve got what they need down there, he said. Their houses, their cars and motorbikes, their bikes and dogs, loads of toys, trees to climb, a lot of space, even shade and mountains and valleys, they’ve got it all down there, said the boy and no one contradicted him. Down there, that’s what the boy called it – that phrase still rings in my ears. Down there. When he uttered the phrase it sounded like the name of some fantastical place, our very own Atlantis, you might think. The boy picked up his unicycle and rode off, his arms outstretched, pleased with his story.
And again and again on one or other of the TV channels, the snow-white ribbon, the broad trim of white foam moves towards the coast.
They say that the earth has been turning a little more quickly since that day, the earthquake lowered the moment of inertia and in this way the fatal blow dealt to us shortened the length of a day on this earth by almost two microseconds. I told my wife this and I know she was thinking about all those people for whom the earth no longer turns at all. You never cry, she says.

From Nina Jäckle, Der lange Atem © Klöpfer & Meyer Verlag Tübingen 2014
Translated by Mandy Wight

Just Five Minutes

Author: Anja Jardine
Translator: Rebecca Heier

She knows right away the hand is dead. She isn’t scared, just the opposite – she feels a flicker of annoyance, though it quickly gives way to the peculiar thrill that accompanies such a sensational discovery. Instinctively, she goes to the window and opens it wide, as if fresh air were an automatic reaction to death. As she picks up the phone to call the front desk, her glance sweeps his face. Listening to the phone ring and waiting for someone down there to answer, she studies him: not yet fifty; thick, dark hair lying tousled on the pillow; blue t-shirt. Suddenly she hangs up. She pulls the footstool up close to the head of the bed and sits down, as if she were visiting a sick person or going to read a bedtime story to a child. Propping her elbows on her knees, she looks at him. Just five minutes, she thinks.

Normally, she has nothing to do with the people. Whenever she’s with her housekeeping cart next to hotel guests in the elevator or maneuvering the bulky thing through the halls, she nearly always looks down, focusing on the vinegar-water cleaner –wouldn’t do to have it slosh out. She always wonders whether people can smell it. Whether they think she smells like that, too. You can’t get rid of it, she’s tried everything. Maybe it’s just her imagination and the smell has simply settled in her nose. Sour, acrid, a little like hospital. Sometimes somebody will say “Guten Morgen“. She just nods, though, if even that. She used to look up and return the greeting, loud and clear. But she quickly noticed it wasn’t her they were talking to.

She looks around the room; he laid his clothes on a chair –jeans, shirt, sweater. There’s a short, gray coat hanging on the hook near the door, a pair of brown boots standing next to a leather bag. That’s it. She hears the sound of a door shutting somewhere and sits up and listens, but everything’s quiet. Her cart’s in the hall, she’s turned the night lock out so the door can’t fall shut. Ever since that incident with 219 a couple of months ago, she sometimes gets a little edgy whenever she’s alone in a room and suddenly doesn’t hear anything anymore.

219 was conspicuous from the very first. It was one of the rooms occupied by the trainees of a company holding a management seminar. He’d transformed the room into an office. He’d shoved the dresser up to the window, taken out the drawers and leaned them up against the wall. The pillows were stacked on the footstool. She sat down and tested it out: it was because of his knees. He’d taken the drawers out so his knees would have room. Everything else he’d put on the floor: the vase with the silk flowers, the tray with the glasses, and the folder with the stationery and the brochures. A laptop and charger had taken their place. With the exception of the ceiling light fixture, not a single lamp had been left in place. She left everything just the way he’d put it. The bathroom looked like an old-time pharmacy – a bunch of bottles and little jars, all with handwritten labels on them. Right from the start he gave her the creeps.

Actually, she likes being alone on the floor. Sometimes, to pass the time, she fantasizes about being on some kind of TV quiz show: first she’d be shown pictures of twenty people followed by pictures of twenty rooms, and then she’d have to match the rooms to the people. She’d be able to do it without batting an eye, she’s sure. She’s got an exact picture of them all. Nobody pulls the wool over her eyes.

The man in 211, for instance. A regular. She always recognizes him by his pajamas, which remind her of school and youth hostels and overnight field trips. They’re usually made of terrycloth, either blue or green, and lie neatly folded into a letter-paper sized square on the pillow. Whenever she enters the room, she finds the bedspread turned back, the window opened, and the toothpaste tube screwed shut. Signs of respect that she appreciates. He puts his clothes in the closet. Never would he leave her an orange peel lying on the nightstand. Hardly ever does he help himself to anything from the minibar. If there is something gone, then maybe the peanuts. He’s a polite man, polite and odorless. It takes her no more than ten minutes, max, to do his room. Mostly not even that long.

One day she saw him in the lobby and knew in a flash: that’s 211. A gentleman in beige corduroy pants, friendly eyes behind small round glasses. And she was right – weeks later, when he was in the hotel again, she had to go up to the second floor to deliver a platter of fruit to a check-in and happened to see him fumbling with the lock on his door.

Or the guy in 213 at the moment. The kind who’s old enough to carry hair growth tonic and Viagra in his luggage but hasn’t yet figured out what a toilet brush was invented for. His wedding ring’s being stored in the toothbrush tumbler. A crying shame, but it does happen. Actually, she doesn’t care if there are two people in a single room, but nobody should think they can keep it a secret from her. The bed is messed up in an entirely different way. Especially the pillows. One person alone either throws one of the pillows off the bed, or puts one on top of the other, or just touches one. But they don’t put them side by side and roll their head from one to the other.

213 has been in the room for two nights. He has something to do with solar energy. Salesman, probably. In any case he’s got two open boxes in the room – one contains solar pocket calculators and the other ballpoint pens with “SOLAR” written on them. They look like advertising freebies.

Yesterday morning there was a big “Dankeschön” written on the mirror – in fingernail polish, the “ö” shaped like a heart. Unbelievable. She had to make a special trip up to the storage room to get cleaning solvent, after she’d ruined her nails trying to get that message off. She’d be able to identify 213 blind and ten miles upwind, that’s how overpowering his aftershave is.

With check-outs, of course, there isn’t as much evidence, even if there are great differences in the way people leave the rooms behind. For some, she’s not even a person; they seem to think there’s a cleaning machine that comes along, like a street sweeper or something. If they think anything at all. She wonders what kind of mothers they had. Other folks leave a few coins – mostly foreigners, probably wanting to get rid of their change.

Once she had a very strange check-out. A drama in real life. There was a complete set of clothes in the wastebasket: jeans, sweatshirt, sport shoes, and even a pair of panties. The clothes had been worn, but they weren’t old. She had them washed and kept in the lost-and-found for a while. The bed was practically untouched. Someone had been lying on it, but hadn’t slipped under the covers. Above all, the room reeked of cigarette smoke, even though it was a non-smoking room, and there was an empty Champagne bottle bobbing in the ice bucket. In the armchair were two elegant-looking paper bags and the packaging from a pair of silk stockings, and as she was folding up the bags a couple of receipts fell out. One of them had a high price written on it, and on the other she saw something with sequins. Then she discovered the sheets of stationery lying all crumpled-up on the floor, and this time she couldn’t resist smoothing them out. On the one stood simply “Dearest Gerhard” and on the second she could barely make out “Dearest, it’s 2:37 a.m. and you” – the rest was illegible. Oh, no! she thought, the poor woman. She felt sorry for her; she knows what it’s like to be stood up. For the rest of the day she couldn’t stop thinking about her. Where had she wanted to go dressed up in her expensive sequined thingy in the middle of January? Why hadn’t she taken her clothes with her? It was a mystery. And why hadn’t this Gerhard shown up?

She notices one knee sticking out from under the bedcovers. The dead man’s lying on his side with one leg bent. She resists the urge to cover him up. He looks like he’s sleeping, and yet not. She gazes at the brown forearm on the white sheet, the fine, golden hairs glistening in the sunlight, the pale-pink nails of his strong hand. He looks so healthy. They’re still growing, it occurs to her. She read that somewhere. For how long? Funny, she thinks. Your heart’s not beating anymore, your brain’s not thinking, and your nails are still growing. He looks like a nice guy. Not one of the typical suits they usually host.

They’re a meeting and convention hotel on the outskirts of Hamburg. Three stars. When they’re booked full it’s backbreaking work. Then she sometimes imagines Housekeeping as an Olympic sport to get herself up to speed. That’s even kind of fun. Ideally, all the rooms on her floor are check-outs with everyone already gone. Then she can turn up the radio full blast and cut loose: open the windows, strip the beds, take out the trash and dishes, replace the towels, clean the bathroom – toilet, sink, shower, mirror, in that order, then wipe down the glass shower partition and polish the fittings, mop the floor – put clean sheets on the beds, vacuum, dust, check the minibar and the information packet, re-stock the shampoo and soap, and finally take a critical look at the general impression – adjust the drapes and so forth. Her record for a normal check-out in a single room is 5 minutes, 26 seconds. After three rooms she’s dripping wet. That morning of the incident in 219, too, she was in full swing.

She was on her knees in front of the toilet. The bathroom in 219 is so cramped that you can’t use the floor mop; you have to get down on your hands and knees to wipe up every last hair in every nook and cranny. While she was doing that, her foot bumped against something that was too soft to be the door frame. She turned her head and saw him. 219. She had no idea how long he’d been there. Arms folded across his chest, he was smiling down at her, a smug, tight-lipped smile. She jumped up as quickly as she could from that awkward position, snatched up her scrub pail, and said she’d come back later. He blocked her way.

There she stood, pail in one hand and sponge-cloth in the other, a few strands of hair straggling across her sweaty face, and he grabbed her breasts. He put each of his hands on a breast and squeezed so hard it hurt. The smile on his face unchanged, the eyes without lashes, the chapped, flaking skin. She couldn’t help registering all that. “That’s the way you like it, isn’t it?” he breathed, and a twitch at the corner of his mouth betrayed his arousal. He had just forced his knee between her thighs when they heard voices in the hall, and it was due more to plain accident than quick thinking that at just that moment she dropped her pail. He leapt back, swearing, and she was already out the door. There probably wouldn’t have been any repercussions – she was in a sort of shock for the rest of the day – if he hadn’t complained about his leather shoes. Hand-sewn, from England. The maid hadn’t noticed him, he said, when he returned to his room, and in her clumsiness had spilled her dirty scrub-water all over him. Only then did she fly into a rage, and it all came out.

The seminar leader asked her not to press charges, assuring her the young man would have no future in the company. The next morning 219 was gone. The seminar leader sent her flowers and an envelope with a 100-euro bill in it. The boss, Frau Steinhäuser, called her into her office again and informed her that she’d no doubt overreacted and would she please refrain from such dramatics in the future. There was some discussion, though, about going back to cleaning the rooms in pairs, but Frau Steinhäuser decided it just didn’t make financial sense.

She and Antje used to be a team. But Antje was useless as a maid. Too fat. In no time at all she’d be out of breath. She usually wound up sitting on the beds, eating the gummy bears they were supposed to leave on the guests’ pillows as part of the turn-down service.

Now Antje works in the kitchen. There she’s in her element. This morning she was getting a tray of cold cuts ready for the breakfast buffet when she arrived at the hotel. “What do you want first?” Antje asked. “The good news or the bad?”

“Bad news first,” she answered, and already knowing what was coming, added, “Kale Feast of the Young Christian Democrats or the General Convention of Retired Railway Workers?”

“Not bad,” called Antje, “it was the young assholes.”

“I’ll get it over with,” she said and went straight to the banquet room to clean the toilets.

That’s how the day had started.

The good news was that Antje had squirreled away a croissant for her, which was not without risk, because sometimes Frau Steinhäuser counts them. While they were having a quick cup of coffee, Antje told her that the thief who’d been stealing money from the staff coatroom had finally been caught. Frau Steinhäuser had treated a ten-euro bill with some sort of special fluid, and at lunchtime, the new girl in the kitchen wondered why her fingers were blue. “Frau Steinhäuser just said, ‘Would you please come into my office?’ and that was that.”  Antje always knows everything. You don’t want to get on her bad side. Then she read her horoscope and went up to her floor. By the time she had her cart ready, the first rooms were free. She wanted to make sure to finish on time today because of a date later on – not exactly a frequent occurrence. That’s why she was making such good time. Until she found this guy lying here.

Suddenly she feels ashamed of herself. What’s a date in comparison with the catastrophe that this death means for someone else? Somewhere a life is going to fall apart today. Maybe he has children. And no one knows anything yet. He isn’t wearing a ring, but for sure he belongs to someone. Somebody like that always belongs to someone. She looks at him. He has a nice face. She’d have liked him, too.

On the nightstand is a water glass, and next to that the note with the gummy bears. “Sleep beary well!” is printed on it: “Gute Nacht! Good night! Buona notte! Bonne nuit! Buenas noches!” Instinctively, she opens the envelope. And for one awful fraction of a second the crazy thought flashes through her mind that this could be her man from 221. The one from back then. After all, this is Room 221. But there’s nothing written on this card. The little bag of gummy bears is still there, he just put it off to the side. Really, it’s absurd. Why should it be him, of all people?

For a short time there was someone who wrote to her. She’d been about to throw the card into the garbage bag when she saw the line: “You’re sweet to share, but I don’t care for gummy bears.” For the rest of the day, all the while she was changing bed linens and towels, vacuuming, moving furniture, she racked her brains trying to come up with little rhymes – the cupboard is bare, we have none to spare, we are so verr-y sorry. Stuff like that. They went back and forth for a week, maybe more. First thing every morning she’d hurry to his room to see what he’d written. Their poems kept getting longer and longer. One lunch break she went to the supermarket to buy chocolate or licorice with her own money, only to discover she wasn’t able to rhyme much of anything with “chocolate.” The days flew by like that.

She was sorely tempted to get just one look at him. When one morning his room was empty, she could have cried. He’d left a box of candy with a note for the “poet maid.” The others kidded her, but she was sad, as if she’d been abandoned. And for weeks afterward, she checked every single good-night card.

The telephone rings, jolting her out of her thoughts. She nearly drops the receiver picking it up. “Guten Morgen, Herr Klein. You tried to reach us?” she hears Bea’s voice saying.

“It’s me,” she says. “Herr Klein is dead. He’s lying here. Can you send up Frau Steinhäuser?”

“My god, dead? What do you mean? Where is he?”

“In bed. Nothing horrible.” She surprises herself at the way she puts it, but she doesn’t want to raise a ruckus, doesn’t want a fuss. Already, though, she can hear Bea shouting to someone, “There’s a dead body in 221!” And now there’ll be a big commotion. Now they’ll all come, and Antje will surely be the first, short of breath or not. She stands up. Time to close the window.

From Anja Jardine, Als der Mond vom Himmel fiel. Copyright © 2008 by Kein & Aber AG Zürich – Berlin
Translation © Rebecca Heier

April (two excerpts)

Author: Angelika Klüssendorf
Translator: Deborah Langton

Chapter 1
The young woman rings the doorbell for the ground floor flat. Fancy writing on the name-plate, Frl. Jungnickel. A bird chirrups, two little trills, then all’s quiet again. The man next to her clears his throat and then he’s pressing the bell push too, impatiently, insistently. This time they hear footsteps, the barred window set in the door opens and an old lady looks through it, motionless but for a twitch of the eyelid. After a bit, she seems to grasp what the man from youth welfare is telling her. The young woman and the man have to show her their papers before being allowed in. They follow her through the hall into a tunnel-like room. The young woman looks around, feels an icy draught on her face; the window can’t fit properly. This is where she’ll spend the next few months, maybe even years. She’s just eighteen and has been allocated the room by youth welfare, as well as the clerical post at the central power station.
They go into the kitchen with the old lady. Never in her life has she seen so gloomy a kitchen, even the man registers surprise. The floor tiles are black as pitch, the walls have been covered over with dark paint, oily and glistening, the worktops on the kitchen cupboard, and even around the sink, are coated with black linoleum.
It’s because of the ‘dest’, says the old lady in the local dialect. It’s the first time she’s ever heard the word and she asks, What’s dest? She can’t quite follow the explanations but thinks she understands it to mean ‘muck’, and yet the kitchen is spotlessly clean, not a speck of dust in sight.
The man takes his leave and wishes the young woman good luck for her future life, as if it were a game of dice.
Fräulein Jungnickel, scraggy, around seventy, vanishes into her room, leaving the door open just a crack. Now the chirruping is quite loud, together with the voice of the old woman, carrying out a conversation with the bird.
In the afternoon the furniture she was allowed to choose from the house clearance place gets delivered, a settee, two armchairs, an old glass cabinet, then pans, crockery, bed linen.
She’s spent the last few years in children’s homes and has been released into adult life with a hundred marks and the paperwork for the flat allocation. She’s called herself April. April’s meagre possessions are inside her only suitcase, which she now heaves up on to the stove. She’ll have to get hold of some coal, there’s still half the winter ahead. It’s midday Saturday; she goes to the only store there is and buys bread and a huge supply of packet soups. On the way back, she tries to memorise which buildings have piles of coal outside on the pavement.
Just when she wants to make a packet soup for herself in the kitchen, Fräulein Jungnickel comes in and stands in front of her, arms folded. The old spinster stays put, silently watching April. As soon as any drops of water splash the black linoleum, she picks up a neatly folded cloth and wipes them away, then resumes her previous position. It goes on for some time like this. April stirs the soup, a little drop or a speck of something go astray, the old woman swoops on her prey, hawk-like. April knows she has to get on with the old bag, so she smiles as she would over a little joke.
She makes up her bed on the settee, wrapping the blanket round herself tightly. As she tries to read, the clock chimes. Just as it strikes ten, her door opens and in comes Fräulein Jungnickel, and switches off the light without a word. April lies on her back and stares into the darkness. From upstairs there’s a prolonged, persistent knocking that carries on echoing behind her forehead. When the noise stops, she notices how very quiet the room is.
In the morning, she wakes early and becomes aware first of the hideous wallpaper, then her feet, numb with cold. She stuffs the blanket around the ill-fitting window, lights the gas stove in the kitchen and warms herself by its flames. The bird’s making what sounds to her like some lament. She dresses and leaves the flat. The harsh rays of morning light fall on deserted streets, the snowdrifts piled up against the kerb are mucky with soot, the place smells of flue gas, coal dust and sulphur. She wanders around aimlessly, the snow crunching beneath her feet. The shops look as if they were abandoned years back, the usual lifeless tat in the windows. April wonders what she’ll buy with her first pay packet. There’ll be a record-player, whatever happens. She’d so often pictured herself with a room of her own, listening to Janis Joplin. She’s proud of this album, the one she’d got by swapping a Wolf Biermann, which she’d previously got hold of in exchange for Shakespeare’s works, a superb edition bound in green leather.
There’s no sighting of the Fräulein all day. She even makes her packet soup without interruption and yet overhears the dialogue with the bird going on until well into the evening. This time April switches the light off herself, before the clock strikes ten, relieved that Sunday is over.
She wakes before the alarm, quietly goes into the toilet and cleans her teeth at the washbasin. She wants to look tidy so she can’t put on her favourite stuff, her patched Levi’s and tee shirt from the West, the one with the US flag on it.
It’s still dark when she gets off the tram in the city centre. She joins all the others walking towards a large, low building, with the power station’s official name, “VEB Kombinat Starkstromanlagenbau Leipzig -alle”, written in neon over the main entrance. It should actually say ‘Halle’ but the ‘H’ isn’t lit up. For some reason she likes this, although she has little appetite for her new job. But what other routes could possibly be open to her? She’s nothing more to show than the basic school-leaving certificate and an incomplete apprenticeship at a cooperative.
The doorman escorts her to her department. The smell of disinfectant lingers in the corridors. As she steps into the room everybody looks up, then a middle-aged woman at the end of the large table gets to her feet and introduces herself as the office manager. She gestures, as a hostess might, towards the vacant seat by the window. April counts up seven more people, all staring at her nosily. The office manager introduces her to everyone, but the names barely sink in. The woman to her left immediately starts a lecture about their tasks. These consist of allocating cable to companies, filling out a form for every single allocation, and, in doing so, adhering to the coding from one to ten, where number one signifies government property and is to be given priority. The woman’s speech generates a lot of saliva and April tries discreetly to wipe the spit from her own face. A man with thinning hair carefully combed over his scalp firmly and repeatedly runs his pencil along the edge of his ruler. He’s the only man in the room. After just one hour, it’s taking all April’s self- control not to fall asleep on the table. She tries to fill out the forms in her best handwriting. During the breakfast break she buys coffee, sausage and some bread rolls from the kiosk. She feels intimidated eating in front of all her colleagues; she thinks she can see a gentle sense of superiority in their expressions and what she’d most like to say to them is, I won’t be here when I’m as old as you are now.
With her first pay packet of 320 marks, she buys herself a record-player and a beautifully illustrated old edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Whenever she reads her favourite story, the one about Gretel, the clever cook with the two roast chickens, she goes back to her childhood when she used to get locked in the cellar as a punishment and would distract herself from her hunger by reading this story. Now she reads the book with the feeling she has escaped, for the time being.
She’s left with a paltry 28 marks for the rest of the month. But there are always ways and means of making ends meet. She steals whenever she can. Back in the children’s home she was the cleverest thief, once spiriting away ten bars of chocolate from right under the shopkeeper’s nose.
Before setting off early for work, she places the Janis Joplin record on the turntable, repeatedly lifting the needle back to the same track, ‘Summertime’, her best-loved song that winter.
She tries to get on with the old spinster, although for quite a while now she’s stopped just taking it all. If the old woman switches her light off in the evening, April simply puts it back on and ignores the nagging, knows to let it go in one ear and out the other.
She has got hold of some coal and missed a rental payment. She lives on packet soups and the kiosk breakfast. During the day she daydreams about meeting interesting people. In the evenings in her room, she writes long letters to an unknown lover, presenting herself in a variety of roles, sometimes a student of veterinary medicine, sometimes an actor, or sometimes just an adventurer.
One particularly icy day, she puts more coal on until late into the evening. When a coughing fit wakes her in the night, she finds the whole room full of smoke. Bleary-eyed, she switches on the light and finds her suitcase smouldering, still on the stove. Half asleep, she flings open the window, drags the case into the hall, dopily leaves it there on the wooden floor, tumbles back into bed and goes back to sleep straight away. But then she gets woken again, this time by a deafening hammering and when she opens her door, she finds two firemen coming towards her through clouds of smoke. Fräulein Jungnickel, dressed only in a nightdress, is wandering around in the hall, one of the firemen is trying to calm her down and the bird is pitifully squawking for its life. The men carry the suitcase outside, hose down the wooden floor and one of them shouts something, wondering how anyone could be so incredibly stupid.
With the suitcase, April loses everything which connects her to the past. Letters, diaries, objects she’s collected up during the course of her life. Once everything has calmed down, she can’t get back to sleep for some time. Perhaps the fire was a sign, a sign of a new beginning, but she has no idea what that’s supposed to look like.
After this incident, Fräulein Jungnickel doesn’t let April out of her sight. The old woman comes into her room whenever it suits her, comments on every speck of dust in her sing-song Saxony accent, even follows her to the toilet and waits outside the door. She complains loudly to her bird about April, and lets fall the word ‘dest’ over and over again.
Friends from April’s old crowd pay her a visit for a flat-warming. They travel in from villages, cross the Styx to see her, the one who now lives in the big city. During her apprenticeship, she’d spent all her spare time with them, roared around the area on the back of a motorbike, always after new thrills. Off to Brno to watch motor racing, eat goat’s cheese, drink a dark beer; in March, the first dip in the Baltic Sea; once they’d even spent the night in a church.
Schwarze Paul has brought along two crates of beer; he’s a sheep-shearer and his powerful arms could carry five like her. He greets her as if he’d seen her just yesterday. Well now, Ribby, it’s pretty cold in this place of yours. He shows her a bruise the shape of a sheep’s hoof on his hand. ‘Bastard animal,’ he says. ‘Could have bloody throttled it.’
She likes her nickname. ‘Ribby’ has a comforting sound. A while back, the boys had had rather different names for her: ‘Bag of bones’, ‘Twig’, ‘Rake’.
Sputnik arrives, called after one of the many Soviet satellites. She was the only one who could match up to April’s long-distance running at school. Sputnik takes in April’s room with a sceptical look. ‘Hey, really bourgeois wallpaper, and who’s that old bag out there?’
The old bag’s never been young, says April, she was even born old, and with her cleanliness fixation, she’ll be blowing my nose for me if I’m not careful. She relates how Frau Jungnickel keeps her under surveillance – they all quickly agree the old spinster is mad.
God, you can’t put up with that, said Schwarze Paul, his slight squint taking a slide, giving him a dangerous look.
It’s late afternoon and the whole gang’s gathered together in her room. They drink, smoke, chew over the old days like war vets, Midge does a send-up of Walter Ulbricht, they sing seventies’ hits. Midge is even thinner than she is, his features chiselled like a wooden puppet. April has never heard him speak of his terminal disease, but Sputnik says he’s not going to make old bones. In the evenings they get the bus to a small-town disco, the ‘Riviera’, and queue patiently to get in. By the time the pock-marked bouncer waves them through, the best seats by the stove are gone, so they warm themselves with a ‘traffic light’, a liqueur mix of crème de menthe, apricot and cherry. Midge stands round after round. The atmosphere’s really brewing up in the packed hall as April, high as a kite now, fights her way across it, dipping and diving until she manages to get up on to the stage to ask the DJ to play ‘April’ by Deep Purple. As day breaks she just doesn’t want to go home, doesn’t want to stop dancing, but the house-lights snap on harshly even while ‘Je t’aime’ is still going. She’s had a dance with Frieder, snuggled up close to him, and when the music stops, she’s still there, captured in a freeze-frame, her eyes closed as she returns his kisses.
Early in the morning she’s the first to wake, her friends in sleeping-bags all over her floor, her room stinking of alcohol and yesterday’s smoke. April’s shaky and hungover. At the window she notices a glittery icicle, drops escaping from its tip; she thinks she can hear the explosion as each drop bursts. Frieder’s lying next to her on the settee. She tries to remember what happened the night before, but nothing more than smooching comes back. April is in love, which means nothing, as she’s often in love. She can exchange glances with a stranger and dream of him for nights on end; just one encounter is enough to make her heat beat faster, but it doesn’t last. Frieder’s mouth is gorgeous but his kisses are hard and dry. He’s joined up for three years because he wants to be a doctor. The girls really rate him, and not just for his looks. He wears Levi’s and knows stuff about music. She clambers over him gingerly, goes to the kitchen and while she’s putting the kettle on, notices there’s no birdsong coming from Jungnickel’s room, not a single tweet. Gradually, all the others wake up and Midge finds more booze in his rucksack, a bottle of high-proof miners’ schnapps; she only sips at it. At some point, Schwarze Paul has this idea about paying a call on the old woman and her bird. April isn’t too keen, but says OK.
Let’s toss for it, says Midge. Heads or tails and the winner has to strip off and warble some song in front of the old dear, starkers.
Heads, calls Schwarze Paul and wins. He undresses as if everything’s quite normal. Sputnik lets out an admiring whistle at his frighteningly impressive dimensions. It’s now that April wants to call the whole thing off but Schwarze Paul’s already on his way.
They can hear him belting out ‘Ramona, goodbye’, then a shrill screeching, rising through the octaves, mingled with the crazy sound of a bird seeming to scream out hue and cry, and when Schwarze Paul comes back, he’s deathly pale. That old girl has never seen a naked man before, that’s obvious, he says.
In the evening, once her friends have said ‘bye and gone, April doesn’t dare go into the hall. She can hear some banging around, as if furniture’s being shifted, and she visualises the old spinster barricading herself in behind a wardrobe and thinking about Schwarze Paul.

Chapter 4
Fräulein Jungnickel is complaining about the heat. Sonny, I’m in a lather of sweat, she says to her bird; to April, not a word. The old woman has never called the bird by name before. April glances into the room, sees only the empty cage and that’s when she realises there’s definitely no more chirping in the flat.
She’s on holiday leave. She doesn’t miss Sven. But sometimes she wonders whether he and the guv have tried the poisoned sugar, whether they’ve both died, but then she calms herself with the thought that that kind of thing only happens in films.
April dozes her holiday away by the hour, but still feels tired. She goes to the outdoor pool they went to as kids. She thinks of her brother, Alex, and how they climbed in over the fence. She would swim for so long her lips went blue while Alex spent hours crouched beneath a tree, his snorkel always in his mouth.
Midge is dead. A blood disorder. He lies in state, behind glass. She can’t associate this face, wizened like a newborn, with Midge. She can’t help thinking back to when he’d asked her for a kiss. And what had she done? Fobbed him off with an empty promise. Later, Midge, when we’re grown up, then I’ll kiss you. Miserable, lying bitch! April wants to mourn but senses only her loneliness. After the funeral, she and the group go to the pub, drink beer, schnapps, wine, sing Midge’s favourite love songs. Schwarze Paul tearfully kisses away the beer froth still on her lips. Saying goodbye to her friends afterwards seems to April like a conclusion, as if this phase of her life is over.
Late in the evening, she’s wandering through the streets in the city centre and goes into a particular bar for the first time. The lighting has a watery hue; she sits on a stool and takes on what she thinks is a suitable pose. She tries to make herself heard by the barman. A vodka and cola, she says loudly, and when he looks at her inquiringly, she says it again. A vodka and cola.
You old enough, kid, he asks her, and butterflies flutter in her stomach as she puts her identity card on the counter. It feels as if she’s been caught stealing. But the barman just pushes the drink across the bar to her. April lights each cigarette from the still glowing tip of the one before and waits for the alcohol to help her unwind. Blinking, she sees wisps of colour whirling through the air, feels so light her bones could be hollow. She orders the same again. When a man raises his glass to her, she goes over and, without introducing herself, tells him all about Midge’s funeral. She’s talking as if to complete a sentence begun lifetimes ago. The man buys her drinks, but when he wants to kiss her, out in the street, she breaks free and runs off.

For days, she keeps meeting Midge in constantly changing guises. He checks her ticket on the tram, is on the till at the store, crashes drunkenly into her in the hall, calls her a stupid cow, comes walking towards her on the street, wearing a Tyrolean hat. Midge gloats over her misfortune, becomes her departmental manager and puts his hand on her breasts, actions only permitted to the dead. He asks her why she’s fucking up everything she’s fought to build up, and when she refuses to answer, he says, Well, you really should be thinking about that. Then he leaves her for good – which is precisely the ways she treats friends, too.

She’s barely uttered a word for days, feels the beating of her heart, so intense and loud, as if in an empty room of its own. In the office, her colleagues are discussing whether she should do an apprenticeship to become a trained industrial clerk. It would mean she could get a proper qualification once and for all; that would clearly be the best thing for her. April barely makes any contribution to the discussion, doesn’t really feel involved, says politely yes, that would be nice, a real profession. And highly respectable, adds Herr Blümel, slightly annoyed at her lack of ambition.
She finds the form-filling so boring she thinks up little games. She allocates cables not to the government and the armed forces, but to smaller organisations. This contravention goes unnoticed until a building site supervisor sends her his thanks and a donation to the coffee fund, whereupon the office manager makes it clear to April that her little unauthorised acts could also be viewed as acts of sabotage.
She’s surprised other people even bother thinking about her. She has really no conception of how she’s viewed by others; sometimes her feet feel twice the size of the rest of her body. She simply ignores her colleagues’ pointed remarks. When Herr Blümel’s female neighbour at the table casts a critical look in her direction and remarks, men want to move in with a woman, not a stick insect, she doesn’t care. Men. Women. Slugs and snails. A woman’s cunt. She hates the ‘c’ word but can’t think of anything better. And if she can’t even think of the right word for the thing between her legs, then it’ll just have to remain unknown.
She calls the women in the office ‘harpies’. Herr Blümel’s a harpy, too. As the only man here, he can’t really be anything else, and she assigns female characteristics to him, too: deceitfulness, rage, weakness. Whatever happened to gratitude? And as for herself, maybe she isn’t a woman? Still, at least she’d found herself a name. She feels forcibly stalled in childhood, a girl trying to act like a woman without making it across the invisible boundary in between.

She can’t concentrate on anything anymore. A dark mood has given itself squatting rights in her body. She doesn’t go to the office, stays on the settee all day, wrapped in a sweat-soaked sheet. She hears Fräulein Jungnickel talking to herself, her shuffling footsteps in the hall, doors opening and closing. She waits until Tuesday. On Tuesdays, Fräulein Jungnickel works late, on toilet duty at the factory. This is the day on which April is planning to kill herself. She’s not particularly anxious or upset at the thought, she’s simply sick and tired of breathing.
Early on Tuesday morning, when the flat door slams shut at long last behind the old woman, April carries her mattress and record player into the kitchen. She has a thorough wash, carelessly spatters water around the place, and slips on a kimono. She turns on the gas, puts on Janis at full blast. She lays down, her head on the stove door. The kimono, a gift from Schwarze Paul on her seventeenth, had been his grandmother’s, the silver-grey cloth embroidered with colourful birds, the arms cut wide and loose, the lining now cool against her skin. It’s like something a wizard might wear. April manages to get up once more to turn the record over.

Tiny, white lace cloths are fluttering down on her from a long way up. Or are they birds? Little sparrows, made of wool? Feathers? No such thing as woollen sparrows, thinks April, although she finds it hard to believe. She’s on her back, can’t bring any order to the voices round her. She blinks, tries to keep her eyes open like the voices are telling her to, and when she eventually does, she sees people clad in white and immediately realises she’s in hospital. She nods in response to a question she doesn’t understand.
It could have turned out quite differently, the man in a white coat is saying. It was close. If your landlady hadn’t turned up, we wouldn’t be talking to one another now.
April takes a deep breath. She’s alive, that’s how it’s turned out, even though she definitely wanted to die. But then if dying is as hard as living, she’ll definitely go on living a bit longer. She has survived and the elation unlocks a real sense of exuberance deep within her. She could just herd sheep or go to sea. Look at the opportunities! Why hasn’t she thought of this before?
But the enthusiasm doesn’t last long, her spirits already tempered by the prospect of having to see Fräulein Jungnickel as her saviour.
Fatigue catches up with her and the happiness evaporates like a puddle in the heat.
A doctor is sitting on the edge of her bed. She refuses to look at him as he talks about her feelings. She’s supposed to describe her unhappiness to him, her rage. Her rage is cast iron, but she says nothing. The doctor’s a psychiatrist. A bloody psychiatrist! She isn’t mad, surely.
The psychiatrist won’t be shaken off. When he suggests she goes into a clinic for a couple of weeks, she agrees but only on condition he assures her she doesn’t have to go into the secure unit, that she can go into an open ward and be allowed home at night.
When she rings the doorbell at the flat, only the little window set in the door is opened and Fräulein Jungnickel gives her a long, hard look of disgust. The caretaker’s got the key, the old woman snarls, slamming the window shut.
The caretaker would rather spit on her. So we’re getting you back as well, are we, he says, and she wonders what this ‘as well’ is all about. Who have they already got?
Fräulein Jungnickel’s resentment is relentless. Well into the night, April has to listen to herself being described as a murderer, a monster who tried to blow the entire building sky-high. And then there’s all that ‘dest’!

From Angelika Klüssendorf, April © Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2014
Translation © Deborah Langton