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The Children Have Been Found

Author: Ursula Krechel
Translator: Mandy Wight

The children have been found. Claire telegraphed her husband in Mainz right away, the children, the children have been found. The news threw her into a state of agitation, of longing, of expectation, some great thing was happening to her for which she had no name, it was momentous and at the same time humble. She wrote a letter to the Red Cross and someone in the dairy helped her to write a letter in English to Georg and Selma, all done in a mad rush. She combed the dictionary, compiled lists – home, please, come home, parents, foster parents – groped her way through all the possible questions she wanted to ask the children. So many years were lost, wiped out. She had worried so often whether they had done the ‘right thing’ in sending the children to England. She had hoped to be able to follow her husband to Cuba and to send for the children after that, it was all one big AFTER THAT, one hope was that they could perhaps travel from Cuba to the USA. The years in England would benefit the children if that happened. But the outbreak of war had dashed all these hopes, made them dreams of a bygone era. In the attic in Bettnang her husband had made this terse comment about his emigration: I pre-empted my murder. And she really couldn’t disagree.

Claire took a train to England. She didn’t really see the coast, she barely noticed the sea, she was one taut sinew, she didn’t know herself how she did it (as if sleepwalking?), changing trains in London, finding her way from one station to another across half the city, she didn’t notice the huge escalators leading up to the platforms where the crowds huddled together like a great pied animal in their coats of different colours, the monstrous luggage trolleys, she didn’t see the English sky, a sky the colour of light blue petals with the distinct shapes of treetops standing out against it, she didn’t see the swallows zigzagging overhead. Some flew straight as an arrow at the train window and only at the last minute turned away. She didn’t see the cornfields stretching as far as the horizon, the heads of corn waving like horses’ manes in the wind behind the tiny railway stations. The light was illuminating real things. In Ipswich – they had written it down on a piece of paper for her – she had to change again, into a train with only two carriages. Hedges flew by, fences, rose beds at the stations. Claire was an exotic traveller who didn’t really belong in a British Rail compartment, that much was obvious. And she was aware of this, while being aware of practically nothing else on the journey. She had let them know her time of arrival, from this arrival everything else would follow; she would see the children again. The arrival was bathed in a magical light.

There they stood on the platform like a young couple, leaning closely together, welded into one position: no one can separate us. Georg had fine features, brown eyes and hair and a shadow of soft down above his upper lip. He looked at Claire calmly, withholding judgement, and picked up her luggage as if he were shouldering a sack of chicken feed. And she thought: that’s George, my son, and he doesn’t see me as his mother, but, with my luggage, as goods to be transported. And her first feeling was: he’s a decent boy, my son. Perhaps he gets it from his father. And there stood Selma next to her brother, feet firmly on the ground, red cheeked and well built, with a tartan blouse and rolled up sleeves. The small, dark child’s head which Claire had stroked so often had got lighter, ash blond, she had her mother’s green eyes and a full mouth with lovely, regular mother-of-pearl teeth. Claire had one more thought before she gave in altogether: like a horse, she thought. Or rather: like a young horse that can kick. And then she actually wanted not to think anything more, and not even to trust her feelings any longer. She was aware of how exhausted she was after the long journey, which had only this as its destination, standing here, standing here facing the children.

Mr Hales, the farmer, was waiting outside the station, a friendly man with a smile and big bear’s paws, who simply embraced her, the woman who was visiting her children, the children whom he and his wife wanted to adopt. It did her good. He said nothing. His English was not required and Claire was equally silent, speechless without a dictionary; you couldn’t leaf through one and look a stranger in the eye at the same time. It was a tense situation, which became easier in the farmhouse.

Claire was led into the kitchen. It was a long spacious room with dark wooden beams across the ceiling. It was dominated by a table with turned legs – it reminded her of a billiard table – and a huge stove, bigger than a bed. Claire saw some gas burners but the larger section was heated with wood, a container in which water was heated up and then let out directly via a tap into pots and pans, most practical. A cotton tablecloth with a delicate floral pattern covered the table; the plates were of stoneware, with spiralling tendrils around the edges. A door led to the dairy and behind it you could hear the chomping and stamping of cows – you could smell them in the kitchen too. Fat house-flies circled the lamp, knocked against the windowpane and buzzed back towards the warmth. Claire had to sit down on a sagging sofa; a cushion was passed to her so that she could sit a bit higher at the table. On the wall facing her she saw a picture of cattle in a pasture.

Mrs Hales had cooked. A bunch of teenagers and young adults sat there, her own children, farmhands and farming apprentices. It was a big farm and organised more like an estate, quite different from the farms above the Bodensee. Georg and Selma seemed to be on friendly terms with everyone. There was a lot of joking at the table, someone or other was constantly snorting with laughter, nudging or leaning towards their neighbour warm heartedly; indeed at times they seemed to be rather overdoing the friendliness. And a large dog lay down between the table and the stove like a woollen rug, so that Mrs Hales and the girls who were helping her had to go round him when they were serving out the food. Sometimes the dog growled, as though he wanted to contribute to the entertainment, and then he lay his chin flat on the floor, utterly content. His eyes closed. In Bettnang the village dogs stayed in the yard; no one there would think of treating a dog as a member of the family. Perhaps the whole thing was a performance by the family, a performance in preparation for a future adoption, to make clear to her, the German, the foreign mother, it’s all fine here, everything here is as it should be. You’re the one who’s upsetting things, just get lost.

Later on in the evening she realised of course that they were not just directing their talk and behaviour at her as she sat there comfortably. She understood ‘German bombs’, ‘destruction’ as if the squadrons had flown with her personal consent. She understood the conflict: shortly after the last phase of the war, in the face of growing poverty and rationing, the family had taken on German children, who had been scared stiff of German bombing raids just like all the English. Everything German was hated, harmful, hostile, dangerous. And as Germany was the enemy, to be beaten back by the English with all their might, the German children could not count on all too much sympathy. The fact that they were Jews, that they were enemies of their enemies, was a sort of specialist knowledge, perhaps known in London but not in every corner of Great Britain. They would have had to stick their necks out, the children would have had to pluck up the courage to say, loud and clear, in the situation in which they were living then, that they were Jews, they didn’t want to go to church and that they weren’t to be bothered with this and that. But they couldn’t do it: they were not Jewish, because they didn’t feel themselves to be Jewish. In reality they were NOTHING. But being children, they didn’t want to stand out,they didn’t want to be NOTHING. It was a difficult balancing act. Nothing was really NOTHING, being NOTHING hardly sent out an inviting message to others, but rather felt like a wholesale rejection of any fellow feeling. Whenever they were different, whenever they had to stand out from the others, they were absolutely mortified. So, better to be just like the English children, and to speak English without an accent and with no mistakes. And then she, Claire, came along and raked up a story from the past and wanted to take the children back to Germany, frightened and traumatised as they were. But actually they were no longer children; they had turned out splendidly, taking pleasure in sitting after work at the table made from walnut wood in the yard. Back to Germany?

The next day Georg, who was the quietest at table amidst the giggling and cackling, the teasing, showed her his school reports and while he was showing them to her, and Mrs Hales was smiling in an exceptionally friendly manner over her porridge, she realised: these were good reports, which Georg was proud of, and Mr and Mrs Hales too. Soon he would take his school leaving exams and then he wanted to go to university. Without making a great deal of it, he explained this and Claire needed few words to understand his commitment to this plan. She indicated to him that perhaps Selma, who had avoided her mother by slipping away, might have something to show her. Georg pretended at first that he didn’t understand his mother, but then he fetched Selma, who came in from outside with dirty, bare feet, much to Claire’s horror (was it cow dung?). A bit of pointing, from the reports to the girl, from the brother to the sister, from the room to the stairs, short orders, requests, so it seemed to Claire, and then Selma must have finally understood what her brother wanted from her, ‘something personal’. (Or did he have to persuade her to show anything at all to her mother, regardless of what it was ? To make contact with her?) She took a long time and was embarrassed when she returned. What she had in her hand were not reports but something in a larger format, watercolours of landscapes, pictures of horses, rural scenes, and she pointed with an innocent but grubby hand to herself. It was tactful of Mr and Mrs Hales to leave Claire on her own later in the evening, in a room which was cold but brightly lit, with fluttering curtains and a window looking out over the meadow, in a sublime rural peace and quiet, only broken by the buzzing of flies. Yes, it was really good, a calming influence on her inner turmoil. But Selma wrote late in the evening in her diary: ‘It was an immense shock to be confronted with a strange woman and told that she was my mother. I didn’t recognise her at all. Georg and I went to the station to meet her off the train. What on earth had this big fat woman to do with me?! She couldn’t speak a word of English, I couldn’t speak German and I didn’t want to talk to her. She wanted to pull me to her and hug me but I couldn’t bear her touching me.’ And that was something which her mother was never to know, but which she felt straight away.

Days full of tension, full of misunderstandings, days with no language, or always the wrong one. She felt the question emanating from Mr and Mrs Hales: why did you leave it so long before coming? The children are nearly grown up now and they feel at home here. Claire had no answer to this silent reproach. The fact that she had not received a travel permit from the French occupying forces which would have enabled her to look for the children herself, the fact that the Jewish committees dealt first of all with those children who were living in institutions and had lost their  parents, the fact that she had a slight suspicion that her children, with only a Jewish father and no Jewish mother, would be treated by the committees as second class refugees – what did that matter to these friendly people? Shortly after the end of the war Claire had read that the military authorities in the British Zone, the Control Commission for Germany under General Brian Robertson, had quite definitely ruled out taking on any responsibility for returning ‘refugees’ as long as the problem of Displaced Persons had not been dealt with. It was said that the supply situation would not allow for it. And the administration in the French Zone did not even consider making provision for returning Germans, as no refugees could have returned from France. The Pétain government had been collaborating fully with Hitler’s Germany since 1940 to make the lives of German refugees hell, imprisoning them in camps or handing them over to Germany, with the result that the remaining refugees escaped via hiding places in Marseille or without papers over the Pyrenees. Nor could the Hales know that the British publisher and socialist Victor Gollancz, himself a Jew, had made the following public declaration in 1948: To force German Jewish refugees to return to Germany would be an act of such cold-hearted cruelty that Britain’s good name and its proud reputation as a place of asylum for the persecuted could never recover from it.

The Hales would not understand all this; even if they understood the language they would not understand it emotionally. In their own way they did understand, but it was something quite different: that Claire and Richard had not really wanted the children, otherwise they would have come for them sooner. But what did ‘really’ mean?

Claire tried to make herself useful in the kitchen, but Mrs Hales waved her away. She had it all under control, the milking pails, the ladles, the sieves. And even Selma knew what had to be done, putting the harnesses on and off the horses, feeding the chickens, fetching the eggs from the nesting boxes, rubbing the chicken droppings off carefully, then sorting the eggs according to size. Claire would go walking over the fields to avoid just sitting in the house, feeling out of place. She saw flocks of pheasants pattering along in front of her with the utmost solemnity, not shy at all – she could have touched them. She heard the chaffinches’ shrill song, saw tiny, thin wild rabbits, hordes of rabbits, fearless of the pheasants, hopping into the hedgerows, the laughter of wrens lording it above them. She saw wide wheat fields, ears heavy on the stalk, lush meadows, banks in bloom. The wind went right through her; she was walking in her smart town shoes, she didn’t have any others – no, she didn’t belong here. When she got back to the farm and asked for Selma, they told her she was in the stables. Claire went into the stables and knew she wasn’t really welcome there; no stranger is welcome in a stable, she had noticed that in Bettnang too. Most agricultural work was still done with horses, tractors were a rarity. There she saw Selma hugging a big brown mare and the mare nuzzling up to her. Selma’s arm was flung around the mare’s neck so passionately that Claire felt a stab of pain, as if her daughter was expecting all the motherly love she had gone without from this workhorse, this puller of heavy carts. It was a relief that Selma didn’t see her mother watching her. Upstairs she found Georg sitting at his desk. In front of him he had several small boxes with screws and metal plates. He was working with a metal saw and some tiny screwdrivers, quickly reaching into the pile of screws. He knew what he needed. He looked up briefly and nodded to her when he became aware that someone had come through the door, then he went back to his work.

Claire’s departure was quiet, numb; it seemed to her as if a sigh of relief went through the house. As if the cows were snorting, the horses pawing. ‘Things haven’t been dealt with’, this thought came into her sad, empty head. No, you couldn’t say ‘people not dealt with’ – she and her husband had been ‘dealt with’ and judged and unlike in a real trial, she had had no chance to defend herself. Claire went straight to Mainz. Once she arrived at the county court, she asked for directions and there she was: in the offices for civil proceedings, where her husband was at that moment dictating. It was not much comfort to her, telling him about the trip which had come to nothing. He chewed his inner cheek to disguise his upset. A messenger came and brought some papers, which he unloaded fussily from a trolley, looking out of the corner of his eye at the woman who didn’t belong here. The man stared at her eagerly, as if he were expecting the county court judge to introduce her, this woman who had blown in at an obviously quite inconvenient moment, to him, a clerk at the Ministry of Justice. The telephone was ringing at the same time. At last Richard took his wife to a cafe near the cathedral. When she began to sob uncontrollably he behaved like a gentleman, paying quickly at the counter to save her embarrassment, then walked to the Rhine promenade with her, walked up and down with her. She didn’t even seem to see the river, she could hardly put one foot in front of the other. He was almost leading her along while she told him falteringly what had happened.

Excerpted from Ursula Krechel, Landgericht © Jung und Jung, 2012
Translation © Mandy Wight

Gethsemane

Author: Ralf Rothmann
Translator: Tom Morrison

… and found them sleeping for sorrow. The first words of the day, a sentence marked by a line in the margin of the ribbon-tailed book that was a gift from Marie, and the sun is rising behind the row of chestnuts that line Fontane-Promenade, where nobody is yet to be seen, not even a dog, just a magpie hopping along the strip of sand that runs down the middle, anxiously followed by an elongated shadow. The clock by the bed, a tiny Peruvian alarm clock sunk into a shoe, has stopped; judging by the light it would have rung in an hour.
Crows, huge swarms of them in varying formations, are flying over the rooftop, absolving their daily flight to Hasenheide park. The rooms are bright already, the water almost warm, and after a few cursory brushstrokes the menthol-free toothpaste drops cleanly from his mouth – the moment in which he closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and begins again the day he thought he’d got through yesterday.
And found them sleeping. A gulp of tea at the kitchen table, the radio, two minutes of the news, forecasts of still higher temperatures for this record-breaking summer; down on Blücherstrasse the limes look dusty, ripples have appeared on the green plastic covering of the sports ground, and he prefers not to think about the fumes it gives off in the heat of midday. Never an animal to be seen on it, no birds, none of the rats so plentiful in the nearby bushes.
Shoes to be cleaned, a backpack to fill, wallet and keys to find. Not a trace of drowsiness although the night was short, no superfluous fumbling, a gravity previously unknown to him focusing every movement, even the buttoning of the blue shirt given to him by Marie. He locks his door and crosses the hallway, opens the door to her flat, two rooms opening onto the backyard. Her place is smaller than his, tidier, the whole place overshadowed by a birch, and Raul goes into the bedroom and takes down from the wall her icon, Saint Anna, hardly bigger than a credit card. Like everything else, the white handkerchief in which he wraps the likeness has been ironed.
He takes eight minutes to reach the pool; barely any traffic at that time of day, only a few bikes leaning against the wall, and the ticket-office is still closed. Men and women, about a dozen of them, are waiting at the gates, the fat retired couple at the front of the queue. Armed with cool boxes, newspapers and a transistor radio, the pair plant themselves on the patio of the café until the pool closes at eight, eating and drinking the whole time, solving one crossword puzzle after another, and never, no matter how hot the day, going near the water. Their muscular, lean companions flicking through their Filofaxes are here most mornings around the same time, absolve their lengths from seven to shortly before eight, then race off on bicycles or more sophisticated conveyances possessing over twenty gears and electronic locks.
Monthly passes flash as the gate swings open, then the dash to the changing rooms begins, some men unbuttoning their shirts en route, and Raul too tosses his backpack into an open locker, number fifty-three as usual. Bathing trunks, goggles, the armband with the key, and following a quick, cold shower the first disappointment: the athletes’ pool is closed for cleaning. Amidst grumbles and mutters the others proceed to the second pool, the heated one shaded by acacias and during the day seething with bathers, their cries audible far and wide. Its water is notorious for its bobbing freight of hairs, wads of chewing-gum, rotting leaves and plasters with dull red stains. The stew, the real swimmers call it.
He stops. A frown briefly appears on the face of the grey-coated workman who’s pushing a chrome-plated apparatus, connected to a pump, along the bottom of the athletes’ pool; but he keeps his eyes down, continues to clean the tiles row by row, only three left to go. And Raul sits down on the edge of the terraced slope for sunbathers, does some breathing exercises and contemplates the glistening surface, the poplar landscape trembling in blue.
There’s only one right thing to do now, and that is to leap into the looking-glass and so placate this day with all its lurking possibilities of destruction. And what lies behind the mirrored surface is the end of fear: a glass door, a long corridor, birds warbling in the park full of women garbed in new dressing-gowns, young women who take small shuffling steps in their medical stockings and clutch their stomachs. It’s enough. Behind it lie the last tears, a brief pain after which everything, please take our word for it, will be better, why didn’t you come to us sooner. But Marie, a thick needle in her arm, a transfusion of her own blood that will hopefully stave off the threat of infection, Marie just laughs her bright, almost twelve-year-younger laugh and shows him the gift from the woman in the next bed, a total extirpation discharged the day previously who’d re-traced her steps through the spacious grounds in order to give her the sprig of clover, four-leafed, she’d found at the hospital gates.
The body’s defences, antibodies, two thousand metres a day. And who might you be? The companion at her side during every examination and every scan, the one who wipes the contact fluid off her stomach, even takes her blood pressure. A more cautious note creeps into the doctors’ tone, they become less off-hand, the smiles linger longer on the nurses’ lips, and the words spinal paralysis make the anaesthetist sink back down in his seat. Would I be talking to a colleague?
White clouds outside the window, a few fluttering butterflies, and on the bed he places the pen, points to the dotted lines. But Marie no longer wants to know what she’s signing. Marie’s weary, spoons up her soup, swallows her pills, looks at the roses. See you tomorrow, sweetheart. Will you be here early? A waved goodbye from the nurses inside their glass cubicle; he waves the sheets of paper in reply, takes the lift down to the ground floor, and through the flap in the office door he slides the forms, among them the one requesting the patient’s consent to be dissected in the event of death, the form he didn’t give her to sign.
The grey-coated man pulls his chrome-plated apparatus out of the pool, takes a step to one side and begins on the next row of tiles. Hardly a day’s illness in her life, never had an operation, and Raul with all his useless knowledge, the raw material of his anxiety, who’s seen people dying from operations more simple by far – some tiny anomaly, flawed tissue, a tube accidentally scraped against the carotid artery, then abruptly a spouting arc of blood, and none of the doctors present can save the athletic school-leaver who came in to have his appendix removed and from whose gaping throat now issues a final, almost enraged, sound…
So who’s going to break the bad news to the boss? And into how many hospital rooms has he walked that looked just like this one, bright and cheerful, Nolde’s poppies, and how often did he dispense caps for patients to cover their hair: Morning, time to get going, need to visit the toilet first? And then Marie takes a long time, desperately long it seems to him; the nurse glances at her watch, the student yawns and gazes dreamily out the window, leaves are whirling through the air, and from the bed-end clipboard he takes the sheet of paper and studies the blood-pressure measurements he’s long known by heart. She finally re-appears, closing the door behind her, and looks down at her hand with its punctured back. Re-opens the door, reaches into the room and snaps off the light. Did I show you my shave? Very punky. And the student laughs and helps her into the bed.
Raul takes the cap out of the nurse’s hand, another task he’ll see to himself, pushes the red curls under the elasticated border then unlocks, with one kick, the wheel-block. You look just grand. But Marie senses he’s close to tears, of course she does, and strokes his arm. It’ll be alright, believe me, they did another inspection yesterday, even the professor was there. Everything hunky dory. Will you be there when I come round? Will you?
The clunking of the wheels as they trundle over the entrance to the lift, and from inside the steel shaft a waving hand and twinkling eye, fearless it would seem, the effect of the pills. Then the closing of the door, his head tilting, as hers does too, to catch one last look. Adieu.
He goes into the waiting room, teeth gritted and fists clenched, clumsily brushes a few magazines off the table in the passing, trips over the doormat on the balcony. A child’s drawing on the opposite building, bill-less birds, on the roof a helicopter, and from the flower-box he roughly plucks a handful of blossoms, geraniums, and hurls them over the balustrade.
Wind, a warm breath, blows them back. I’m there. Nothing to eat or drink, a resolution he can’t explain but right, he can feel it, all the same. No food, no liquids, be sure not to lean against anything, not the chair nor the door-frame or the balustrade, as long as the operation is taking place. Two hours, maybe three. And then the two hours she’ll spend in the recovery room, and the friendly nurse, Polish, puts down a tray next to the cold TV set, tea and sandwiches. Raul thanks her but doesn’t touch a thing.
Waiting. And the shock, time and again, when lift-doors open and a patient, just operated, is returned to the ward, the identity of the sleeping or waking head slumped deep in the pillows sometimes distinguishable only at second glance. Shadows of pot plants pretend to be Marie’s silhouette in the smoked-glass partition screening the ward from the corridor and once, briefly, he closes his eyes when a woman’s voice asks: So how long do you intend to keep sitting here?
Over twenty years. He’d nodded off in a place near the university hospital, the pub where he got drunk after deciding to hang up his stethoscope for good. No more misery and death and hope-giving lies, no more of the white-coated rat-race, nothing more to do with doctors who’d flog their own grandmothers to clinch a senior post… He wanted to rest, maybe do some research, he wanted to live and do some travelling – wanted another drink from that barmaid. The pub was so dark that he couldn’t see his small change, but every mirror in that place was alight with the glow of her hair. She brought him a coffee.
So it’s you then, she whispered when first they kissed, just one day later, not far off morning somewhere behind the pub, and to him her face, her mouth, the arch of her eyebrows and the line of her brow already amounted to some kind of scripture, a holy one that would abruptly light up and reveal to him the words offering him eternal salvation.
Twenty years. The blink of an eye. He lifts up the red-and-white tape acting as a barrier and sits down on a diving block; the workman raises a mock admonishing finger and continues to clean the last lane. And then it’s evening, the door slides open and a bed comes rolling out of the lift; he reaches the end of the bed in two, three bounds, his heart in his mouth, and the nurse smilingly whispers, Easy now! Marie, who’s conscious and looking at him in amazement, struggling to get her bearings, her whole face a wordless You? What happened? – Marie is paler than ever before, her lips scarcely distinguishable from her skin, and the hand he grasps and which doesn’t, of course, return his squeeze, her hand with a canula on its back, is cold.
He helps the nurses install the bed in her room, hooks the infusions to their stands, attaches the drainage tubes to her night-dress, pins the half-full bag to the side of the mattress. Then he unpacks the bottles with the glucose and salt solutions, twelve of either, and adjusts the drop counter. Thanking him for his help, the nurses leave him alone with Marie.
Marie is asleep. Unable to find an operation report in the file with her clinical record and results, he feels her pulse, which is racing, but her blood pressure is normal. He cautiously raises the sheet. Her stomach is brown from the disinfectant solution, the incision covered only with gauze; just above the line of her pubic hair, it stretches from pelvic bone to pelvic bone, and Marie, without opening her eyes, asks: What does it look like?
Wonderful, he says, startled, of course that’s what he says, you won’t need a new swimsuit. They’d cut horizontally and stitched only subcutaneously; the upper layer of skin is taped. No needle marks. The scar will hardly show.
She clears her throat, swallows; not allowed to drink yet. Her lips are cracked. And do you know, she breathes, what they told me before they did the inspection? What they discovered?
He makes no reply, waits, but she’s drifted back into sleep – the painkiller, and there’s two more ampoules on the table, if needed. The flushing agent drips bright-red from the tube emerging from a hole next to the stitches, liquid hydrogen and blood, not much of the latter, but it’s as potent as ink. The values seem fine, at any rate, even if he can’t make out the time of the last sample, the stamp is blurred, and he sits down on the chair next to her bed and holds her hand.
The first of the roses are beginning to droop, and it’s quiet in spite of the open window; few people left outside in the grounds, only a faint clatter of crockery and cutlery from the children’s clinic opposite, while a cat slowly crosses the grass, cutting through the thick clover.
Raul looks at the sleeping figure, her luminous forehead, the freckles below the golden-red hairline. The upper part of her nose is slightly crooked, a bicycle accident in childhood, the bow of her lips as Florentine as it ever was, and he thinks of the time also inscribed in this face so much younger than his – but enriched by so much more love. A love whose unerring confidence and matter-of-factness was a constant source of wonder to him, and often one of shame; a love that would endure almost anything, every sacrifice, all of his moods, his acts of unfairness and brutality; a love always wiser than either of them and able to stand even the fiercest of trials. After one separation of almost eight months during which they neither spoke nor wrote to each other he had phoned her, sheepish and not altogether sober – he was in the bar of a hotel in Swansea, Wales, and had been sacked by the pharmaceuticals company that had hired him to oversee its preparations for a trade fair – she just said, It’s about time! I wouldn’t have stood it for much longer.
And now the pain, the dry gulps, the creases around her mouth deepening, and he saws open the ampoule, squirts the liquid into the infusion tube. The sun is setting somewhere behind the building, its light glows in the windows opposite, a reflected ray rests on Marie’s cheekbone, on her throat, and here and there he sees a shimmer of fluff, a delicate spiral beside her ear. Her breathing is quiet, almost soundless, and after a long look at her face, which is something she always senses so that even now her eyelids flutter, Raul kisses her forehead, already less cold than it was, hooks a new infusion to the stand, and quietly closes the door behind him.
The glass cubicle is empty, and he goes through to the office behind it and requests the operation report from a nurse who is shuffling through a stack of papers, cigarette in hand. She nods but doesn’t look up. You’re neither husband nor relative, am I right? Then I’m afraid I’m not allowed to say very much. Everything seems fine, so far. A pretty normal operation. Except perhaps… As she slides the folder into the rack, he takes a step towards her: Except what?
Her cigarette smells of menthol. Well, fair-skinned redheads tend to bleed a lot during operations, that’s why we take the prior samples. But it was different in the case of your friend. Scarcely any blood to be swabbed at all, to be honest. Must be something to do with the phase of the moon… And let her tell you the rest, she adds with a wry face, and only then does Raul spot the ID badge on her coat and realize that he’d addressed as nurse the ward physician, just arrived for the night shift.
He takes a bus back to Kreuzberg, to Bergmannstrasse, where he has something to eat and drinks two glasses of red wine at Milagro. Although the more scenic route for the short walk home would be the one past the churchyards, he takes the other one. He lies down on Marie’s bed and watches TV. But then he gets tired, limbs aching, and he crosses the hall to his own flat, cleans his teeth, puts out the light. The evening has turned chilly, the old floorboards are creaking. The golden cut of the book shimmers dully. Could you not watch one hour with me?
Shortly before midnight the ringing of the phone, a call from a woman he drowsily takes to be Marie. He knocks over the reading-lamp, winds its cable round his legs. Marie? He recognizes the Polish nurse’s voice: I thought I’d give you a quick call. An examination. Nothing to get alarmed about. It’s not even urgent, but it is an examination. First thing tomorrow, at nine, she’s top of the list. So what shall I tell her? Will you be there?
He looks over at the clock above the ticket-office and takes up position on the diving block. He’ll get there on time if he confines himself to one thousand metres of crawl and then takes a cab. The grey-coated man pulls up the wire-wrapped hose, winds it round the motor, and Raul puts on his goggles. In front of him stretches the unruffled, virgin water, so tranquil it looks almost concave and Raul, already poised to dive, is briefly unsure whether the sky, in which flocks of birds have suddenly re-appeared, is above him or below. And no sooner does he see the suction apparatus, the flashing of that chrome cylinder, than he pushes himself off the block and follows his elongated shadow into the water, which is neither cold nor warm, not clear and not murky, is at that moment not water at all but something glistening and flowing, just as the yell from across the pool is nothing other than the silence inside his heart, a starry expanse in which a soft voice sounds.
The sudden recognition that a woman is special. The bright formulation of one’s own dark, and the startling concordance in matters with which one had expected to remain alone for the rest of one’s life. The strength and the warmth in the vicinity of somebody who is always optimistic and ready to be happy and the beautiful melancholy in the depths of her smile…
When Raul walks into the ward shortly before eight-thirty, he finds the door to Marie’s room open. Her bed’s empty; a man clad in overalls is cleaning the window and gives him a nod. Strips of plaster adhere to the edge of the mattress; in the bathroom are a pair of rubber gloves and the plastic bag with detergent. One red hair clings to the bar of soap, the bedside table has been cleared of everything except the medical sheet and the form he didn’t give her to sign, a question mark now entered behind its dotted line, and for one moment – the man tilts the window, the reflections of passers-by appear in the glass – he believes he sees the shape of her face, a shadowy outline, on the indented pillow.

From the collection Rehe am Meer by Ralf Rothmann © Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2006
Translation © Tom Morrison

A Winter in Nice

Author: Christian Schärf
Translator: Alexandra Roesch

The following day Nietzsche wrote to his mother and sister in Naumburg saying he could barely find the words to describe the invigorating, indeed, literally electrifying effect that the abundance of light in Nice was having on his entire system. The constant painful pressure on his brain, which had begun in Naumburg in September and not left him since, had disappeared. So had the sensation of needles piercing his eyeballs that had accompanied his arrival here. His temples were entirely at peace now; the sciatic nerve had settled. He needed light, light above all, dull days crushed him and here in Nice there was light, even in December, in abundance.Furthermore, he had made some acquaintances of which he could report. During his lunch in the Pension de Genève, he had met a Prussian general and his daughter. He was ultra-conservative and deadly boring, but a man of sterling qualities with an impeccable genealogy. Also at the table had been a certain Lady Memet Ali, who claimed to be the wife of an Indian maharaja. She was always giving meaningful looks and he was unable to converse easily with her, as she spoke only English, and even less than he did, but this didn’t bother him. He knew that they had nothing worth sharing anyhow and that the maharaja’s wife preferred to impress with her robes rather than her command of foreign languages.

Still, there was an elderly pastor’s wife from southern Germany, who spoke perfect English, albeit with a Swabian accent and was always willing to translate. But translations were requested only rarely.

One among the colourful array of guests was particularly imposing, a flamboyantly dressed Persian, who usually shared Nietzsche’s table and never uttered a word. It was said that he had never spoken, but he impressed simply by way of his peacock-like appearance. He seemed to have recently emerged from an old oriental fairy tale and would probably soon be returning there.

So, as should be apparent to his mother and sister, he was keeping good company, yes, excellent company, Nietzsche summed up in his letter.

The Russians and the English above all impressed him. He observed the Russians’ comportment in particular with considerable respect, he said, as they flaunted their wealth in a manner that he had not previously encountered. The Russian upper class strolled up and down the Promenade des Anglais in sophisticated outfits in numbers that seemed to increase daily, giving him the impression that Nice would soon without doubt become a Russian city. The climatic hardships the Russians had to endure in St Petersburg or Moscow were reversed for them in Nice on the Côte d’Azur.

The train journey from St Petersburg to the Côte d’Azur took three days and three nights; the trains only stopped to take on provisions. Their interiors were furnished in sumptuous luxury and their southbound carriages carried only blue-blooded passengers hungering for warmth and light.

The first to arrive here, in 1856, Nietzsche had learnt from the landlord of the Pension de Genève, were the tsar and tsarina. After the Russians had lost access to the Mediterranean as a result of their defeat in the Crimea, the tsar and his family recovered from this disgrace in the Mediterranean of all places, and picked the city on the Bay of Angels as their preferred residence.

Nietzsche saw himself as a Pole of aristocratic descent driven into barbaric Germany, and as such considered himself in good, even excellent company here. He deemed it characteristic of his mother’s attitude towards him that she reacted so violently to the Polish bloodline Nietzsche had steadfastly appropriated for himself, even at home in Naumburg.

She was from Pobles near Leipzig and not from Posen or Warsaw, she had said to him on more than one occasion, and he should accept the fact that he was a Saxon and his father had been a protestant priest, not a Slavic earl who hunted wild boar in the forests of the Oder, danced ecstatic dances and allowed the population to bleed dry. All he needed to do was to recite the name Pobles several times in rapid succession, she said, and then he would know where his roots were.

The last September he had spent in Naumburg had been the worst month of his life thus far. He had completed the first two parts of Zarathustra. He saw this work as a tremendous synthesis, which he believed had never before taken place in anybody’s mind or soul; a herculean task had been completed, which in his eyes was without historical equal. And then, after this effort unique to global history, he had had to grapple with his riff-raff relatives in Naumburg. Had any man of his stature ever had to endure suchlike?

No sooner had he arrived in Naumburg than everything revolved solely around sausages and woollen socks. No sooner had he sat down in the kitchen with his mother than she began to ask him about his intentions to get married. No sooner had he encountered his sister than she found him lacking the efficacy and worldliness of a professor. When he crossed the market square, old people who knew him from his childhood days still addressed him as if he were a schoolboy and asked if he had returned to Naumburg for good and would finally relieve his mother from her cumbersome daily chores.  Each day spent there became a tale of woe.  Then he had to deal with his vindictive sister, who was consumed by jealousy. In his eyes, she was a truly nasty piece of work who crushed every one of his attempts to find a wife – they truly existed, yes, they did, these attempts – and would continue to do so. She would not desist, unless – which did not seem all that improbable – she were to be devoured by termites in the jungle of Paraguay, together with her anti-Semitic husband.

This husband of his sister’s pursued the idée fixe of founding Germany anew at the other end of the earth. To this purpose, he was assembling a troupe of scattered and unsettled people in Saxony, people without work or hope and exhausted farmhands, impoverished aristocrats and previously convicted men, fallen women and frail old people.

Nietzsche laughed out loud when he thought of this assemblage. He imagined them destroying each other in the jungle driven by hate and envy, degenerating through inbreeding, dragging the stupid anti-Semite down with them. None of them would ever return from that termite hell, including his sister. This notion warmed his heart so much so that he felt ashamed, something that happened vey rarely.

In Naumburg in September, his mother had time and again advised that he should now endeavour in earnest to finally find a wife at last, and his sister, the snake in the grass, had concurred. Yet it had been her who had systematically destroyed his friendship with Lou von Salomé. Now that Lou had disappeared from his life, they were once again feigning concern. Beforehand they had done everything humanely possible to alienate the young Russian from him. Lou had been the woman with whom he wanted to live his life. She would have made it complete, this project, for his life was nothing but one great, immense project. She was the only woman fit to hold a candle to him, and she of all people had been driven away by the Naumburg pack with their beastly scheming and obscure meanness.  Now he was completely on his own, from now on he would have to manage everything himself.

It was around this time that his sister brought this rabble-rouser named Förster home, a lunatic schoolmaster. An unbearable fellow, about whom she raved incessantly when he was absent and over whom she fawned when he was around, which in turn attested to her fundamental stupidity and of course proved her deranged fear of being left on the shelf; after all she would soon be turning forty. Dr Bernhard Förster, on the other hand, nurtured a ridiculous adoration of Richard Wagner. He considered Wagner, whose music Nietzsche was sure he was not even able to grasp, to be the spiritual pioneer who paved the way for his own anti-Semitic excesses. Sometimes, with a moralizing undertone, he quoted from memory from Wagner’s diatribe ‘Judaism in Music’. Moreover, Förster was preoccupied with Germanic colonization plans that he considered nothing less than a global concept; Paraguay was just meant to be the beginning. Once Förster had told his future brother-in-law, affecting a show of confidence and tone that was both prophetic and conspiratorial, that there would come the day when the world could, yes, indeed, should be healed by the German spirit. A statement that made Nietzsche want to vomit, a feeling that remained with him most of the night.

Together with his sister, Förster had then indulged in heroic self-denial for entire afternoons, something he considered to be of the highest virtue but that was actually a form of hypocrisy that had become second nature to him. First he had lauded Christianity, then paganism and then the Middle Ages and the Germanic people.

Most recently he had also begun enthusing about the Saxons, whom he planned to take with him to Paraguay, and praised the Saxon breed, which he considered to be unique, in his words, among all German tribes. During these speeches, Elisabeth followed this assistant schoolmaster, oblivious to all that went on around him, with shining damp eyes. This was the sort of thing she wanted to hear from her brother, yet he did not speak at all when Förster was around or simply mumbled incomprehensible comments to himself, which by no means implied agreement.

Förster considered himself to be a vegetarian and an Aryan, a combination that Nietzsche considered repugnant purely by virtue of its vocabulary. Nietzsche would, he said to Förster, if he could, devour as much meat as he was able get his hands on; he would, if he could, sink his teeth into living, raw, still twitching meat every day and tear whole chunks from this life. Yet he simply could not do it, his condition did not allow it, but his reasoning was no different than that of an insatiable meat-eating animal.

When their mother noticed that his sister had completely and utterly succumbed to this Förster and, even worse, was now seriously considering accompanying this fool into the South American jungle, she asked him, dear Fritz, to help her do something about it. Just as she had previously colluded with his sister against Lou, she now intended to work with him against Förster, making the Naumburg house, including his sister, intolerable to him. Yet his sister, needless to say, had expected her mother’s reaction to her relationship with Förster and anticipated her plans. Thus she had, as quickly as possible and without giving the merest inkling of it beforehand, got engaged to Förster, by means of a letter, to add insult to injury. Nietzsche could not believe that such a thing was even legally possible. An engagement was not a legal act, Elisabeth replied with a superior smile.

During these days, Nietzsche had realized that there had to be a sequel to his Zarathustra; that he now had to present an antidote to any and all false moral and every form of hypocrisy, whose origin and place he had determined in Christianity, which is why he planned ‘A guide to redemption from morality’ as a third part of his book. After just three days, Nice had filled him with so much light and hence assurance that he no longer hesitated to tackle this creation immediately.

His sister and his mother embodied to the finest detail that against which he had to emplace the transvaluation of values, he called out in a strangely deep voice, and Cécile swore that it was audible all the way down by the harbour. She had entered his room once more that evening to see if he needed anything further. He had started to talk then, without pause or punctuation, of his family, his former fiancée and of the immense plan that he was compelled to realize. And once more Cécile had the feeling she must start over with the puzzle that this guest laid out for her time and again.

This sudden recovery, he exclaimed, this heady feeling of being healthy and becoming ever more so – who before him would have been in a position to write about the philosophy of convalescing?

In a flash, the wonderful light in Nice had helped him visualize the entire third part of the Zarathustra, in its form, and that was all that mattered. With the form so clearly visible, now all he had to do was to write everything down, find words, but they would simply come to him; he would be guided like a child in a dark forest.

He needed light, even more light for this, and he needed a friend at his side and had already called for Heinrich Köselitz from Annaberg, residing in Venice as Peter Gast from Munich, alias Pietro Gasti from Venice, who had simply needed a pseudonym, being unable to win any prizes with his quintessentially Saxon name, and who Nietzsche called Peter Gast, which he was sorry to say in Italian translated as Pietro Gasti, a name that nonetheless would do extremely well on opera posters and in various feature sections. So he needed the light, he needed Peter Gast, and she, Cécile, should please excuse him speaking to her so frankly, but thirdly, he would probably also need a woman.

After three days, Cécile had almost given up hope that the new lodger would come back to this. Cécile had made the acquaintance of many men and she had made notes on their preferences and their dislikes in particular, but she had never met one like Nietzsche. She had begun her notes as a form of bookkeeping, solely with the intention of keeping track, and had soon reached a point where she went beyond the mere fact that someone had been with her and had paid this or that price and began to make notes concerning the individual quirks of her guests.

Before she left him alone that evening, she recommended, because of the light that he so valued, an excursion to Èze. Nowhere in the whole area were the lights brighter than in Èze, she said. He nodded absentmindedly, as if he had not understood what she had said, and then asked her whether she would accompany him there. Sunday was her day off, she said, but she would not be able to converse with him, whose world was anything but hers. Nietzsche made a sweeping gesture with his arm, indicating that such objections were not valid and that the joint endeavour had been decided upon.

“My world is very easy to understand, believe me, young lady. You can breathe it in; you can taste it and feel it with all your senses. And whoever manages to physically experience even the smallest part of my world will never want to live anywhere else but there.”

“See you Sunday then,” she replied, with a brief, scrutinizing glance as if to assess his mental state, and left.

From Ein Winter in Nizza  © Eichborn Verlag 2014

Small-town Novella

Author: Ronald M. Schernikau
Translator: Lucy Renner Jones

bertolt brecht
love song in a bad timewe had no friendly feelings for each other
yet we made love like any other pair.
when we lay in each other’s arms at night
the moon was less a stranger than you were.

and if today I met you in the market
and both bought fish, it might provoke a fight:
we had no friendly feelings for each other
when we lay in each other’s arms at night.

i am afraid. am female, am male, double. feel my body departing from my body, see my white hands, my eyes in the mirror, i don’t want to be double who am I? want to be me, male, female, see only white. i am facing myself, want to reach myself, stretch my arms out towards myself where am i? i see, kiss, hug and intermingle. at some point lea appears, then reappears, and at last he is aware of her. b. senses: he’s lying in bed, it’s morning, his room is blurry, he tries to take it in, feels the movement of his head, doesn’t try to steer it. no hope for a good day today, fuckingettingup, fuckingschool, fuckinglife. what pisses him off as usual is his mother trying to wake him, year after year the same words, phrases, that tone of voice. there’s no escape from her love, it makes her wake him so tenderly that waking is almost unbearably dragged out. his coming round, collecting himself, his crankiness are all reactions to the way she tries to stave off reality. if at lunch he tells her he was late for school again, that lat wound him up or he got to flirt with lenkel in lieu of an apology or that lehm got all moral on him about his constant sloppiness, she says: perhaps we should get up earlier, or she just accepts it. it’s impossible to get up earlier if only because the morning would be dull, a dull start tinges the whole day. even throwing back the cover is an effort, so he doesn’t, certain of another warning. the patient stage of her waking-up ritual is past, now she’s ratty, soon she’ll be adamant: when she gives up, he’ll get up. after he’s made himself open his eyes, his mind becomes clearer, he runs through the school day with a glance at the timetable pinned to the wall. he can’t read what it says but he’s given each subject its own colour and almost knows the lesson plan by heart. still, to be certain, he has to overcome his short-sightedness. b. loves his glasses, they’ve been his friend in all sorts of situations, for the past two years they’ve been through what he’s been through, he’s proud of them; when he comes in from the rain and has to clean them, when they fog up in the shift from cold to warm and he’s blind; now he kisses them, murmurs, sings, does an operetta: i am your slave my whole life long. b. sits up, swings from his bed, the mattress has shifted, he stands up, turns around, black spots before his eyes for a moment, low blood pressure, he hears his spine cracking as he stretches backwards. he staggers into the hall after he’s put on his jeans, goes to the wardrobe and stands indecisively: shirt time is decision time. eventually he grabs any old thing, throws it on and sits at the table where she’s been calling for a while: i’m already at the table! two eggs are waiting for him, one in the schnapps glass with the gold rim, the other lying next to it, and the cup of coffee, into which he tips milk and three heaped teaspoons of sugar. he hears himself say: first class is double latin. the coffee is a testimony to maternal care: a lot of love, a little cocoa. from an early age, lea has determined his taste, he can’t eat anything without sweetener these days, he’d prefer something bitter or sour. as he stirs, he thinks of what he dreamed, finds it hard to remember. as always, this makes him try all the more, which makes it even harder. most times, his dreams don’t come back to him except sometimes at school, perhaps at break time, but often in some boring lesson, which makes the class even harder to endure. he gets hot thinking his own thoughts, he wants to flee, run away, give himself entirely to last night’s dream: to be alone now, allowed to work it through, in peace. but instead he has to sit with his mother whom he calls by her first name, or with a bunch of bored teenagers who are probably thinking about their dreams, or their girlfriends, or their last wank or their good grades, if they aren’t doing their homework for the next lesson. if b. storms out now, down the steps, across the courtyard to the toilet, his dream will be gone, he’ll curse himself, wait a while then go back upstairs. he knows what’s in store once he’s drained his cup of coffee: the nauseatingly trivial and familiar demands, warnings, instructions, the packing of his school bag, the bathroom ritual with constant shouting from outside the door, he forgets everything: teeth-brushing, his glasses, his money, his books, his key, notes etc. b. eats the second egg with that slow dedication that makes his mother worry whether she can ever let him leave home, making precisely this a necessity and reinforcing b.’s desire to do so: when he no longer needs to delay anything, he’ll change. he stands up, dithers on the spot for four seconds, then goes into the bathroom. he hates his morning ejaculations, his well-practised beautiful body, his hair in the mirror, his nose that, once you know, you can see has been broken, jumping on the trampoline at school, his eyebrows that join above it, his mouth with its full lips, the two incisors that appear when he smiles, the hair on his chin, so scant that it makes him feel awkward. what he loves are his upper lip, the pubescent fuzz that’s having some success, and the large, pale-red tip of his cock in his right hand. he overlooks that his eyes are large and sky-blue, he only knows that they’re much more expressive with make-up, that his long eyelashes only have their full effect when he slowly closes his eyes, which comes across as wayward or awkward or snooty or cocky. when he comes out of the bathroom, lea’s standing there in her coat, although she knows perfectly well that he’ll be another ten minutes. he tells her this, irritated, has no idea of course where his latin book has got to, reads the headlines of yesterday’s newspaper to reconfirm that he’s not alone in the world, but he’s with lea, who follows him everywhere. he picks up his german book from the floor, making the notes and the booklet inside fall out which causes a further delay of about fourteen seconds that makes them both even more impatient. digging around among the coats: the black jacket with the arafat scarf or the grey silk scarf isn’t warm enough, and the coat is too well-cut for the scruffy types to accept, a fashion without guarantee: cdu-party key rings can also hang on low-slung jeans. he puts on the cardigan which isn’t warm either but he likes it because his badges fit between the two rows of stitching: and armed with badges, he is strong. b. puts a thick pullover on underneath, loops a belt around his waist, looking like a girl from the back, reaches into the key box as he goes past and goes on ahead. long, dark entrance hall, doors on either side, lift, glass door, seventy letter boxes, seventy doorbells. it’s a beautiful, clear winter day and from the village, the bells are ringing, they cross a field, his mother enters the six-storey building ahead where all the tenants behind them work: the hospital. b.’s mother is a nurse, they live in the residential home for healthcare workers, and just now b. is reaching the misplanned intensive care unit that is now used for housing, where his classmate lives, the daughter of a doctor. b. drums his fingers on the window pane where, on the other side, leyla is just putting on a blouse and looking in the mirror. she turns round to him, sees him, laughs, makes a sign he can’t work out and leaves her room. tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is coming from somewhere. leyla comes out with lutfiye, gives him a kiss on the cheek, asks: hey, how are you? and takes his hand. you’ve got my shirt on says b. and gets a smiling yes in return for his thoughtfulness. the two sisters are a head smaller than him, the three of them look funny in the big wardrobe mirror when they visit him. have you learned the words for the vocabulary test? lutfiye asks him seriously. she’s cramming for her ‘a’ levels, sometimes tests him on stuff that they’re forced to learn. b. laughs, asks: what for? he takes for granted her solidarity and condemnation for his flights into anarchy. leyla talks to lutfiye in their native tongue – turkish – b. walks along with them, not the centre of attention, irritated, then reminds himself that he’s just used to being it or is perhaps being foolish. they go past the high hospital building where a woman jumped from the top floor not long ago. they bypass the faded traces of blood in the grass, have to climb over a chain, there’s no official path here, leyla holds it up after b. has climbed over it and bends down and under it, while lutfiye goes round it altogether. like every morning, b. feels the advantage of being almost six foot two. i don’t look brawny, he thinks, just lanky. they cross the main road, turn into a small street, go round the schoolyard that is bounded on two sides by the pavement and enter the building, a school route of five minutes. outside the doors, people stand waiting for the bell, smoking their first cigarettes, having their first moan. b. says hello!, loses the two girls to some group of kids, goes over to renate whom he owes a mark from yesterday, gives it to her, chats. renate asks, what’ve you got now? latin, b. answers, because since they started the course system, each one has a different timetable. b. gets his latin book out and looks at the vocabulary words for the first time. they have precise meanings. there is only one word for good, decent, prosperous: bonus. and liberalis means both frank and generous. when the bell rings, they linger a while, then go into the classrooms. b. has to go to room twenty-two, up a few stairs in the old building, a few hellos!, a few silent looks, arrives, goes in, sits down next to laura. hey stupid, how ya doing? she greets him like every morning, oh, just like always. she gives him an invitation for saturday’s youth mass in the village church that her youth group have been preparing for a long time. she knows he’ll come, doesn’t waste words asking, just presses the dog-eared invitation retouched with felt tip into his hand and says: you coming? b. says oh sure, and smiles. she tells him about her work, he shares her joy in the seminars and successes, the small-town pastor’s youth work. which is a great deal in a society that encourages everything except social behaviour. b. goes over to the blackboard, takes a piece of chalk and writes in his childish scrawl: those who don’t expose themselves to danger, are killed by it. someone calls out from the crowd: are you some kind of philosopher? and the ones who have read it laugh, b. too, they sit on the tables, and when the latin teacher comes in, they’ll drop into the chairs which their feet are still propped up on, they don’t even notice the steady abhorrence of him at the front. although lat pretends to be hip, they all know that he’s not quite at ease with this new-fangled way of behaving. and lat is mr banks, whose governess is mary poppins, and who singingly announces: tradition, discipline and rules/must be the tools/without them we’ll see: disorder, catastrophe, anarchy. someone who’s had to spend his whole career translating tendentious reports on infantry, encampments and attacks has a worldview infused with true values: there are hard workers and lazybones, cowards and statesmen, speakers and the people. only in this disguise is one reactionary and progressive. in latin texts, the world is ruled by the hard-working and the strong who let youths vie for their favour, a circumstance that, as lat comments indignantly, was due to the prevailing lack of morals at that time: a rare caveat. if you never learn the background to things, how are you supposed to presume there is one? no one around b. seems to notice the cruelty of lat’s example sentences that illustrate various grammatical rules. but it’s important whether he killed his mother beforehand or if he was right in the middle of it! the leader saw that the soldiers loved him! he thought he was a friend! and on cicero: the text is written for intelligent romans, not fish-sellers! and the worst thing is his repetition three or four times a lesson of the phrase: with deadly certainty! next to him peter is trying to set fire to his textbook under the desk, perhaps testing the school curriculum for resilience. b. escapes by exchanging notes with laura. now and again, he’s called on and has to recite rows of pronouns, he gets it wrong of course. lat bellows, learn, you atreuses! through the room and no one dares ask what it means. b. is done with lat. lat regularly goes over time and doesn’t give a break in a double lesson. when they’re outside, the conversations start: did you see the film yesterday on tv? crazy! the way he kept whacking him in the stomach and kept shouting: kindergarten! and everyone dead at the end. beginning was a bit tacky but otherwise resuuult! second repeat and they’re still none the wiser, b. thinks melodramatically. a few of them go over to the kiosk that makes a living from them: chatting, drinking coke, eating crisps or rum balls or trail mix, buying or sponging cigarettes, and there’s the area where the dealers hang out with their shit. the following incidents threaten to escalate into complete chaos, writes the school headmaster on a handout: every break time, the school is turned into a travelling circus. doors, tables and chairs are demolished, without anyone taking the slightest responsibility. hygiene would justify locking the toilets, the cisterns are blocked, rolls of toilet paper are shoved into the drainpipes, toilet seats are dirtied in the most revolting manner, paper towels are set alight, etc. the windows have been equipped with special security arms. in many cases, these arms have been removed in order to open the window fully. it is worrying to observe the conduct of students and motorists in front of the building. it is merely a question of time before the first accident confronts us with the reality of an administrative investigation. therefore please advise your classes once again that all pupils below the tenth grade are forbidden to leave the school yard at break times. i propose to the conference that we punish infringements with up to three days’ suspension because i cannot be accountable otherwise for pupils’ safety. to underscore the seriousness of the situation, i am sharing this letter with the town council and the parents. at the same time, i would ask all class teachers to read out my directives to their classes! despite the mostly amused reaction to the handout, profits fall, leaving only the ones who have to knock back their beer at half past nine in the morning because they can’t take it otherwise. that’s what school teaches you: if it’s all shit anyway, then just get the hell out of the whole thing, no conforming, whatever happens! resistance is a pile of shit damned to fail from the start, not worth it. better a bottle of beer or a joint. and someone who’s just toking on one and whose ‘nuclear power? no thanks!’ badge is winking from his jacket smiles at b. and says: if only we smoke enough, they’ll soon stop with their nukes. the guy laughs back. b. goes into the new building, advanced german with lenkel, counts towards ‘a’ levels. at the beginning he tells the others he’s tempted to take her hand, breathe a kiss on it and, with a struggle to control himself, stammer the words: ‘my dear lady, i honour thee.’ lenkel provokes it, she’s fashionable and small and fat. in any case nothing helps much, not discreet lilac nail varnish nor the matching handbag, watch or ear clips for every outfit: the trouble the woman goes to is simply staggering. b. watches her reading a woman’s magazine during a class test and can hardly finish his essay because he’s laughing so much in sympathy for this woman whose face reveals everything: her frustration, her difficulties.

From Kleinstadtnovelle  © Konkret Literatur Verlag, Hamburg and Thomas Keck, Berlin/Hamburg 2002
Brecht poem cited from Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956, ed. Ralph Manheim, Routledge 1998

Way Stations

Author: Vladimir Vertlib
Translator: David Burnett

Afternoons

Shortly before her death, the old woman gives me a silver cigarette case. It used to belong to her husband, she explains to me. But since I’m such a fine young boy, I can keep it as a souvenir. When I’m all grown up someday and become a smoker myself, I might be able to use it, she says. A map of the Greater German Empire is engraved inside the case, from after the occupation of the Sudetenland, but before the invasion of the “rest of Czechoslovakia,” depicting the major cities, railroad lines and roads. The outlines of the Empire remind me of a wild animal with its mouth wide open, chasing after a ball − East Prussia − under its nose. Or maybe it’s a seal playing with the ball, or a lion about to devour a piece of meat.
Right about there is where she comes from, the old woman explains to me, pointing with the tip of her toothpick (there’s always one in her mouth) at a place outside the boundaries on the map, not far from the predator’s lower jaw. The town is in Upper Silesia, she tells me. It was the Führer who freed it from its Polish yoke, in 1939, only a few months after this cigarette case was made. Sadly, it’s now part of Poland again.
“The worst was after the First World War,” the woman says, while I look at her photo album bound in reddish-brown leather. “I was still young back then, a newlywed. The Polacks roamed the streets with big whips, beating people. My husband got a lashing too. It was thanks to the Führer that our region went back to Germany again, like it was before 1918.”
I can’t make head or tail of what the woman is telling me. Who are the Polacks? And why, on the streets of that little town with buildings that look like dollhouses in the aging black-and-white photos, did they whip those decent-looking people − gentlemen with handlebar mustaches and curved pipes, and ladies in broad-brimmed hats and long skirts which only reveal the tips of their toes? They don’t look so terrible or wicked, these people on the photos.
Complete nonsense, my parents explain to me later. It was the other way around. The Poles were the ones that were beaten and murdered, hundreds of thousands of them, millions even.
I don’t know numbers like a hundred thousand or a million. We haven’t gotten that far yet in school.Frau Ernestine Berger, the neighbor I spend my afternoons with because my parents have to work, always wears a gray hat, even in the apartment. She seldom removes her cardigan, overcoat, thick socks and boots, because even when it’s not very cold outside Frau Berger freezes like we’re in Antarctica and not Vienna. Maybe that’s because Frau Berger no longer has the strength to fetch kindling and coal from the shop in the basement of the house next door and carry them up the three flights of stairs to the cast-iron stove in the living room of her second-floor apartment. I’m hardly surprised, for she can only walk with the aid of her dark-brown-lacquered wooden crutches; she’s incredibly thin, almost incorporeal, has a hunched back, a pointed chin, and an almost toothless mouth. When she walks, her legs make curious circular movements and noises come out of her mouth that sometimes sound like a mixture of hissing and growling. She reminds me of Baba Yaga from the fairy tales my mother reads to me at bedtime, but strangely enough, from the very first moment I was never afraid of the old woman, maybe because of her friendly green eyes and pleasant voice.
My mother brings me to school every morning and back home in the afternoon. She makes a quick meal for me, usually oatmeal or kasha, along with a glass of milk or cocoa. Then she has to go to work. As for me, I go to Frau Berger’s and spend the afternoon at her place until my parents get home around five o’clock. Frau Berger doesn’t ask my parents for money for the four hours I’m allowed to stay at her place. She likes me, and is happy when I come.
Frau Berger’s apartment is a cross between a photo gallery and a natural history museum. The walls are lined with pictures of all her relatives. Unfortunately, they’ve all passed away, she says.
There’s a young man, for instance, who gazes at me from the distant past with a mischievous smile. He seems a little like a carnival character, with his spiked helmet and lavishly decorated uniform. Several crosses and coins, which Frau Berger calls medals, are pinned to his chest. Medals indicate a person’s value. Hence the coins. The man on the photo clutches the handle of a saber with his right hand. “My father,” the old woman explains. “He was in the Prussian army and fought against the French in 1870. Back then we won the war.” I can hardly believe that this so vigorous and robust-looking man is the father of Frau Berger, who can barely walk anymore. Then again, he’s been dead for fifty years.
Nowadays I can only vaguely recall the aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and the group portrait of her sisters- and brothers-in-law. A sketchy picture of her son emerges: a dark-haired man with ears that stick out and big, somewhat childish eyes. He, too, is wearing a uniform, but doesn’t look nearly as warlike as his grandfather. “My son was killed on May 6, 1945,” Frau Berger tells me. “Even the Führer was dead by then.”
The picture of the Führer himself, whom Frau Berger only mentions with the greatest reverence, is not hanging on the wall. That’s not prudent “in times like these,” she explains to me, while emptying out a drawer full of clothing − underwear, stockings and socks. A black portfolio tied shut on the side with an equally black silk ribbon surfaces from beneath the mound of clothing. Frau Berger unties the knot, opens the portfolio and shows me her portrait of the Führer. Carefully, almost lovingly, she strokes his face with the index finger of her right hand. “A fine man, he was,” she mutters. “An artist.  But he didn’t give in to his artistic inclinations. He decided to serve his people instead.”
The only thing that strikes me about Hitler is his little mustache. Aside from that, he doesn’t look at all like the great hero Frau Berger makes him out to be. “He did a lot for us,” she explains. “Most of all he got us through the Depression, put the Polacks in their place before they could get out of hand, and saved Europe from Bolshevism. Your parents were right to get out of Russia. They know what Bolshevism is… That was a mistake with the Jews, though. You shouldn’t spoil it for yourself with such a powerful people. It was the Jews that mobilized the evil powers against us. Everyone was against us in the end. That’s why we lost the war.”
I yawn.
“But don’t tell your parents I showed you the Führer picture. Promise?”
I nod.
I’m sitting on her knees, her arms clasped around me tightly in an embrace it’s hard to free myself from. Her hands are gouty, their fingers crooked, the skin is yellow with blotches of brown. Her long fingernails are black on the edges. I don’t like her hands.
The old woman rocks me slowly back and forth, recounting interminably long stories about Poland and the war, about her husband who served in the paramilitary Freikorps after the First World War and was later an accountant, about her fallen son whom I remind her of a little, about her flight from Upper Silesia, the misery, her pain, the new beginning in Austria and the arrogance of the Viennese. “I was a stranger here myself once. Your parents and I, we have a lot in common.”
I’m not particularly interested in her stories. I don’t understand most of what she says, partly because of my still rather patchy German. I’m six years old and have only been in Austria for six months. Yet the old woman doesn’t seem to mind that I respond to her stories with silence and yawning. Sometimes I fall asleep on her lap and wake up in her bed.
She gently shakes me by the shoulder. “It’s five o’clock, sweetie,” she says. “Be a good little boy and run back over to your place. Your father should be home any minute now.”
More exciting than Frau Berger’s stories are her many real stuffed animals and the antlers hanging on the wall. A fox with glass eyes and jaws wide open bares its pointed fangs. I know he’s been dead for ages, but I still don’t dare stick my finger in his mouth, just to play it safe. You never know. A falcon spreads its wings as if it were about to lift off from the corner of the cabinet. And in a corner of the kitchen, a squirrel sits on an artificial tree trunk that reaches almost to the ceiling. Frau Berger strictly forbade me to pull on its tail. I’m supposed to leave her “critters” in peace, period. Only the white poodle, perched on the living-room table so the old woman can see it when she goes to bed, am I sometimes allowed to run my hand over. “Her name is Puppi,” the woman explains to me. “I used to take her out for a walk twice a day in the Augarten back when she was still alive. I wouldn’t have the energy these days.”
I don’t keep my promise to Frau Berger; I tell my parents about the portrait of Adolf Hitler, about the Polacks and the war. Father loses his temper, is up in arms about “that old fascist.” He explains that his colleagues in the stacks of the university library, where he recently found a job, talk the same way “Sometimes I ask myself,” he says, enraged, “if maybe it was one of them who murdered my grandmother during the war. You can still see the military drill in these people. All snappy and wiry. I’d like to take a machine gun and − ra-ta-ta-ta-ta!”
“That’s a fine way to talk in front of a child!” Mother is indignant. “Is that what you want him to learn from his father? What a thing to put in his head! If you don’t like it here we can always go back to Israel. It was your idea to leave in the first place.”
“Sure, just get on my case like everyone else! Apparently it doesn’t bother you if your son grows up in a fascist country. Just listen to what he says about this Frau Berger.”
“She’s the only one who can look after our son in the afternoon. Fascist or not. All that really matters to me is that my son gets a good education.”
“Me too!”
“I couldn’t care less where.”
My parents spend the evening discussing my fate and future while I study the map of the Greater German Empire on the cigarette case and memorize the names of cities: Vienna, Munich, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Hanover, Berlin, Stettin, Königsberg, Breslau, Troppau… I never knew all these places were part of Austria. I found Vienna on the map, and Vienna – I’m positive − is the capital of Austria.
The next day I show the case to my elementary school teacher and ask her why Austria looks different than on the big map hanging on the wall under the crucifix and the picture of President Jonas. The teacher examines the case, shakes her head and asks me in a tone that’s unusually harsh: “Where did you get this?” I flinch, feeling like I’ve been caught red-handed. I don’t understand why she reacts so sternly, and mutter: “My neighbor gave it to me, the nice lady with a stuffed dog named Puppi.”
“That was foolish of her,” my teacher says and gives me the case back, saying: “That’s not a map of Austria… It’s… it’s…” She falters. “You’re too young to understand! Tell your mother to stop by my office.” Then she quickly changes the subject.
A few days later my parents take away the cigarette case from me and Father urges Mother to finally try harder to get me into a day-care center. It’s harmful for me, he says, to spend too much time with “the fascist.” It’s becoming clearer by the day, he says, that Austria is not the right country for us anyway. Mother sighs and, visibly irritated, asks Father whether he’s determined now to go back to Israel, or if he’s secretly toying with the idea of going to the Soviet consulate and trying to obtain a return visa. “Destiny brought us here, let’s make the best of it,” she says. Like always in these instances, Father accuses her of being fatalistic and not giving any thought to matters of principle. As for me, I’m only interested in one thing: whether and when I’ll be getting back my cigarette case. “You’ll get it back when you’re old enough to understand these things,” says Mother.

I met Frau Berger in the winter of 1972. We had moved into our little one-room-kitchen apartment in the fall, right after we got back from Rome. There were no rooms available in the émigré apartment building in Brigittenau where we’d lived the previous spring, and it was only thanks to our old acquaintance Madame Friedmann, who let us sleep in her kitchen, that we didn’t land in the streets.
Finding an apartment proved to be a daunting task. My mother clipped out ads from the major newspapers and went to the nearest phone booth. Half an hour later she would come back dejected. They don’t rent to foreigners, she was told the minute she opened her mouth. Even when they would show up for the scheduled viewing appointments listed in the paper, my parents had little luck. “You look like a decent foreigner,” an ever-smiling and rather verbose real estate agent explained to my mother once. “You’re not a Turk, not a Yugoslav either. But I’m really sorry. The landlord went out of his way to say that he doesn’t want any foreigners.”
Yet finally my mother met with success and we were able to move into our new apartment. The building was hardly distinguishable from the “Russian palace,” only this time its tenants were mostly locals. It was likewise located in Brigittenau, on a treeless street lined with old, gray-plastered tenement houses from around 1900. The apartment was relatively cheap. Though the toilets were in the hall, there was a washbasin with a cold-water tap in the kitchen, and the living room had a beautiful double bed, a real, sturdy single bed for me, two closets, a desk and four chairs − in other words, absolute luxury.
My parents would have been happy there too, had it not been for the elderly couple in the building across the street, standing all day at the window and staring into our apartment. They would show up at nine o’clock, on the nose, the man invariably in suit and tie, the woman in a lace collar, pearl necklace and plumed hat. They stood there with the window wide open, their arms folded and propped on the window sill, regardless of the weather, regardless of the temperature. Sometimes the woman would put on her coat and the man would wrap a scarf around his neck. Only when the mercury dipped below freezing did the window remain closed. They seemed to be petrified, two pairs of eyes staring across at us for hours, motionless. At twelve o’clock they disappeared, probably to have lunch, closed the window and returned at quarter past one. Like clockwork. The show was over at exactly five in the afternoon − to be continued the following morning.
My father was livid, since our apartment had neither curtains nor rolling shutters. He shook his fist at them, leaned out of the window in their direction and shouted obscenities in Russian. To no avail. The faces remained grave and immobile, wax-colored, as if they weren’t made out of flesh and blood but were a sculptural relief from a bygone era, a stucco decoration, not unlike the putto, medusa and titan heads on the façade of their building.
Then Father attacked Mother, told her to do something about this monstrous invasion of our privacy. But Mother refused to pay a visit to the elderly couple across the street. “Do you really think they’re going to give up their favorite pastime, just like that?” she asked. “Looking into our apartment might be their only contact with the outside world.”
“Maybe so, but at our expense!” yelled Father. “One of these days I’m gonna step in front of the window, stick my naked ass in their faces and see what happens then.”
It didn’t take long before Father made good on his word. I was thrilled, and ran around the apartment clapping my hands. Mother disappeared into the kitchen and didn’t speak to Father for the rest of the day. And yet the audience of this obscene spectacle had stared at Father’s bared rear-end without so much as batting an eyelash.
Eventually we got used to our uninvited “guests,” like just any other fixture in our apartment.

From Vladimir Vertlip, Zwischenstationen: © Deuticke im Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna 1999

The Silence of Shimon

Author: Vladimir Vertlib
Translator: Marilya Veteto Reese

Klingonia

“Where’re you from?”
“I come from Klingonia.”
The man’s face doesn’t change. His smile seems artificial. His inflection shifts but the corners of his mouth remain firmly pointed upward. “Come to my shop!” he cries. “I show you. You want souvenirs? Something for your wife?”
“In Klingonia we don’t eat human food, we don’t buy what humans buy, we don’t consume things at all. I come from another planet, you see. I am not human, you see. We are not humans over there.”
The man is not deterred.
“Beautiful place, Klingonia,” he opines.
“Kronos planet,” I say.
“Yes, a wonderful place.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“I have many friends there.”
Has he really never heard of Star Trek, or is he just playing along?
“You know Captain Picard?” I ask him.
He looks at me in bewilderment for the first time, studying my face, probably trying to interpret my smirk correctly, and then says finally, “Yes, yes, nice guy. Come on, I’ll show you my shop, you won’t regret it, you’ll be surprised.”
“I have only Klingonian money.”
The man points to the money stall on the far end of square. “Over there you can exchange into Shekel.”
“I don’t think so,” I say.
It’s the third time today that I’ve been at the Jaffa Gate and the third time that the man is attempting to lure me into his souvenir shop. There are many kitschy shops in Old Jerusalem but they all pale in comparison to the items glittering in this man’s showcases. Portraits of the Virgin with luminescent blue glass eyes, rabbis with sidelocks made of marzipan, or handkerchiefs with a stylized depiction of the Wailing Wall are among the most harmless of the abominations.
Yet the persistence of the man deserves recognition. Perhaps I am not yet old enough to react with aplomb to such a trifle. Perhaps it annoys me that on this occasion, unlike both preceding times, I am unable to simply flee. My wife has gone into the Tourist Information Office, and because I did not wish to accompany her, we agreed upon this corner as a meeting place.
This time I cannot flee. And besides, Tanya is picking us up at the Jaffa Gate. She is due to arrive in ten minutes. I am curious where she is going to park given all the barricades and the crowds of people, or where she can even pull over in order to let us hop in.
I am tired, hardly slept the night before. If it were not for the shopkeeper, I could at least have a cigarette in peace and quiet. But he refuses to budge from my side. I notice that he even looks like a Klingon: broad face, furrowed forehead, plentiful hair, large, close-set eyes. Only the mustache disrupts the Klingonesque aura.
I begin telling a long story. The Klingon people, well-organized and as industrious as a population of ants, half-human, half-machine, are an aggressive species that has expanded throughout outer space and enriched its empire by assimilating other peoples. The man listens attentively. His expression darkens. Yet the corners of his mouth continue to point relentlessly upward. “Yes, we assimilate you,” I explain, reflecting at the same time that it was perhaps not especially clever to tell an Arab in East Jerusalem that I have come to assimilate him. Besides, it suddenly occurs to me that it is the Borg and not the Klingons who assimilate other peoples. In the past I would never have confused Borg and Klingons, but my enthusiasm for Star Trek: The Next Generation is now some ten years in the past.
The Klingonesque Arab is not troubled by being assimilated.
“What do you like?” he asks me. “Come to my shop, I make you a good price, whatever you want to buy.”
“Nooo!” I screech, exasperated. “Forget it! No, no, no! Go away! Piss off! Please! Just disappear!”
The man says something in Arabic. It sounds like a major insult. The only word I understand is “khalab”—dog. Then he turns and walks away. My mood is ruined. Any other man would have thought, to hell with him, and forgotten the incident. But in my case, he lingers in my head to haunt me.
Among the remnants of the communist upbringing enjoyed by my parents during their school years that they then passed on to me was disdain for any type of wheeling and dealing, for “speculators, hucksters, or bargain-hunters.” Even in my youth, when I had scarcely any money, it would never have occurred to me to bargain a merchant down or to drive all over the city to purchase something on sale. In my interactions with lawyers I often felt that they acted like the small-time conman at the Vienna Naschmarkt, who swindled me by five schillings at his flea market stand and pulled a satisfied face when I didn’t immediately protest. My parents respected people who had a “decent profession”, a job and a steady wage, and who went about their work conscientiously, regardless of whether it gave them pleasure or not. The freelancers and wheeler-dealers, on the other hand, were nothing but a necessary evil. One needed them, but did not view them as equals. The wheeler-dealer bought a product as cheaply as possible in order to sell it at maximum profit. The successful man was he who knew how to persuade a customer to buy at an inflated price. Several conmen competing was called capitalism, and this was nonetheless better than the state-directed economy in which only the state and its highest echelons swindled all the others without competition. Communism was an idealistic dream, a utopia that could not function because not all humans were honest or in possession of firm moral principals. When I went to college at eighteen to study socio-economics, I was astonished that others did not see things exactly as I did. Some attributed a positive value to the sheer acquisition of wealth.
I glance at my watch. It is five past six, no sign of Tanya, and my wife is still in the Tourist Office. The Klingon has gone on to find another victim, a young redhead in a straw hat. He pesters her until she finally disappears into his shop.
A quarter of an hour later my wife and I are standing outside the Jaffa Gate. The rooftops and the white facades of New City gleam in the light of the evening sun. Were I not so nervous, I could lose myself in the beauty of the scenery. It is neither the people nor the buildings, it is this light that makes Jerusalem into a sacred place, more so even than its elevation, the clear air, the white stone, the rustic landscape and the indisputable loveliness of this combination, this mixture of old and new, of sublime and shabby, and their baffling harmony, more than the historical knowledge and the religious sensibility that every visitor brings to it and envelopes it with. The light serves as a catalyst, as a vehicle for pleasure or for orgiastic excess, depending on how far a person wants to go.
“I’ll call her up,” I say.
“Give it another five minutes,” my wife says. “You don’t know how many checkpoints or detours there are on an evening like this.”
“You’re right.”
Even I would have been enthused by the golden gleaming city wall in the light of the evening sun, were it not for all the Orthodox Jews hastening past me in their fervor to fall upon the center of the city in order to celebrate the Seder, the beginning of the festival of Passover, in the Jewish section of old Jerusalem. They deprive me of the ecstatic moment because they seem in such a rush and thus attract glares from the Arabic population. The presence of the security forces is massive. Nonetheless the police and soldiers try to keep in the background.
“Okay, now I’m going to call her,” I say.
In that moment, my cell rings.
“I am so sorry!” I hear Tanya’s voice say. “It’s just so typical of me. But there’s no moving forward or backward right here because…” For several seconds the reception is cut off.
“…Patriarchate…”
“What?”
“I’m stuck in my car on Latin Patriarchate Street… driving back… took a wrong turn… they won’t let me out again… because…”
“Tanya? …Tanya!”
“Tanya, we’ll come to you. You are just around the corner.”
It is only a couple of minutes from the Jaffa Gate to Latin Patriarchate Street. How did she manage to drive down that alley?
The alley is not even five yards wide. It winds up the hill and curves to the right behind the Latin Patriarchate, a massive, gloomy palace from the eighteenth century, only to branch into a series of even narrower alleys. No vehicle would fit through there, but Tanya only managed to drive some fifty meters further anyway. A delivery truck is making a turnaround impossible. Several children cluster around Tanya’s silver colored Toyota Corolla, which still looks relatively new. In that car I wouldn’t have even dared to drive into the vicinity of Old Jerusalem. Some of the children are drumming on the hood, others laugh or screech, one of them sticks out his tongue, another holds up his middle finger. The driver of the delivery truck, a middle-aged man in a grey suit coat, gets out and explains something in a mixture of English and Arabic, gesturing excitedly all the while. Tanya sticks her head out the side window, looks around for assistance and smiles abashedly. “Please,” she murmurs, “Please, would you be so kind to…” She sighs and leaves off. Is this the same woman who gave a brilliant speech before hundreds of people just yesterday and had masterfully handled embarrassing questions and agitators afterward by putting them in their places?
“Glad you two are here,” she said. “I drove in here to turn around and now I can’t get out anymore.”
“What made you think you could turn around in here?” I ask. “It would have been better…” My wife turns a stern look upon me and I fall silent.
The men sitting in plastic chairs in front of the coffeehouse down on the corner watch in amusement, smoking and grinning.
“You have to drive back, please!” says Tanya to the driver of the truck, probably not for the first time. “What shall I do? Tell me, what shall I do?”
The man screams, impertinent and obdurate, as only drivers in certain situations can be: “Go away! Go! Go! Move!”
“How can I possibly move if you are in my way?” Tanya’s voice remains quiet, unperturbed, more sad than anything else. “Do you think I can fly? What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see?”
Tanya tries to avoid the man’s eyes. Suddenly she reminds me of my mother when she was Tanya’s age: the same sadness in stress situations, this same subdued determination, the tendency to confront emotional excess and irrationality with logic. Her shoulders drooped, her back bent, and when I looked into her eyes, I slipped down into the chasm between hope and reality that got wider and wider with every word. The more clearly Mother outlined her position, the more I had the sense that she was about to collapse, roll up, hide herself in her own interior.
I wish Tanya would look people like that confidently in the eye, and put insolence in its place. Why did she immigrate twenty years ago from the Soviet Union, why did she go to all the trouble and arrive in Israel to make a new life for herself while Saddam’s missiles had landed in Tel Aviv, working her way up to the chairship of a German department and raising her two daughters? Who is she and who is that slimy fellow in the delivery truck?
“Why are you speaking English to him?” I ask her.
“He says he doesn’t speak Hebrew. The children don’t speak any Hebrew either, at least they claim they don’t. They keep trying to sell me something.”
“Of course they speak Hebrew,” I say. “They’re just pretending they don’t to annoy us…”
“Stop it!” interrupts my wife. “Now is not the time to discuss this.”
I get in the passenger side, my wife gets in the back. The driver of the delivery truck swears, and walks over to his truck. Backing up is a matter of precision, inasmuch as the pedestrians only move aside reluctantly and at the last moment.
“It probably wasn’t a good idea to meet at the Jaffa Gate, I’m sorry,” I say. “But since our hotel is in the old city and we aren’t familiar with Jerusalem…”
“I’m just incompetent,” Tanya explains.
We move toward the end of the alley at a walking pace. The shrill beep of the reversing delivery truck masks the noise emanating from the Jaffa Gate.
“Will you come to my shop?” I suddenly hear a familiar voice say, “It’s only round the corner. I’ll show you.” The grinning face of the Klingon shows up at the side window.
“No!” I cry.
“Yes, okay, show me, but I won’t visit it today,” says Tanya.
I am so surprised that I don’t contradict her, and before my wife can protest, the Klingon is sitting next to her on the back seat. I would like to turn around and launch myself at his throat.
I am mute. The Klingon keeps praising his shop to the heavens. My wife attempts to put more space between herself and him. It appears she wants to melt into the side door. “I am certainly not going to go to his shop,” says Tanya half audibly in Russian.
“Dobri den! I love the Russians,” cries the man.
“We are all from Klingonia,” I explain.
“Yes, I know,” he says.
After we have finally extricated ourselves from Patriarchate Street, Tanya actually steers the Toyota toward the Klingon’s souvenir shop. But it’s a no-parking zone. Even the owner concedes that fact. The attention of the police is not something he wishes to attract, certainly not so close to one of the Jewish High Holy Days, when the nerves of those in authority are worn to a frazzle.
Nevertheless, Tanya stops the car for several seconds. “Give me your card,” she says. “I’ll visit your shop later, but not today.”
“For sure?”
“I promise.”
He gives her his business card.
“You are a pretty woman.”
“Thank you,” says Tanya.
A pink Maria Immaculata with blinking halo peers at this tableau though the glass of the showcase with her lightning-blue sled-dog eyes.

Finally, he is gone. Tanya steps on the gas before the two heavily armed policemen coming toward us can say anything.
“What was that all about?” I ask. “Do you really want to visit his shop? I always say no right away whenever shopkeepers harass me.”
We are gliding through the Armenian Quarter, leaving Old Jerusalem by way of the Zion Gate, turning onto the road that takes us around the city. The Jaffa Gate briefly appears at our right, then the Notre Dame Center on the left.
“Maybe I won’t go, but then again I always have such a guilty conscience about these people, I don’t want to hurt their feelings or offend them.”
We drive north via a multi-lane arterial highway. In the past, up until June 1967, this was the no man’s land between the Western and the Eastern sections of the city – the walls and the barbed wire coils and the famous Mandelbaum Gate. Now a segment of streetcar line is being laid.
“Why a guilty conscience? Are you responsible for the Israeli occupation? Did you resettle anyone? Besides, didn’t you tell me that you take special care of the Arab students on campus?”
“Still,” she said. “It’s not just about me alone.”
“Yes, I understand. But I’m sure that as a voter, you’re for the liberals. You came here as an immigrant, you aren’t responsible for the mistakes of the last hundred years, you don’t live in the occupied zones…”
“But we do,” she said. “To be honest, we live in the territories, in Maale Adumim, it’s not far from Jerusalem, but in the east, towards Jericho.”
Tanya had kept his fact from me up to now. I thought she lived in Jerusalem, and when she had invited my wife and me to celebrate the beginning of Passover with her and her family, I had assumed it would be somewhere in the western part of the city.
“We had no other choice. We arrived in this country completely penniless, and the apartments in Maale Adumim were cheap. The state gave subsidies to anyone who moved there. Our daughter was only five years old. We had virtually no clue regarding the ins and outs and the historical implications. We simply didn’t think twice.”
I know that Shimon also lives on the other side of the Green Line – what a strange term for a former border that still is the cause of so much suffering. Shimon had a long road  behind him, from Leningrad through the hell of the camps on the Volga and in western Siberia and finally to the Promised Land, to north of Jerusalem where the white apartment blocks encircle the barren stony hills and then creep down, up and down, on and on. Ramot is the name of the area: the heights, the plateau. The area looks from afar like a massive chain of defenses, the oldest part on this side of the former border, the highway to Tel Aviv, the periphery and gaps long since filled in with cypresses that now struggle to hold their own against rock and concrete.
Tomorrow I will travel to Ramot to visit Shimon. One reason I agreed to do this book tour of Israel, and the primary reason I accepted Tanya’s invitation to give a reading and to come to Jerusalem for a panel was to visit Shimon. This unspoken melancholy, born of having seen too much, was not something I wanted to accompany me unto my dying day.
“If there ever is peace,” I slowly begin as we turn onto the highway toward Jericho. “If it comes despite all signs to the contrary—peace, that is—and the whole area must be returned…”
“Then we will have to move out again,” says Tanya. “It wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve had to pack up and leave.”
We are silent. After a while the breathtaking panorama of the Judean desert opens up before us, its many terraces, the series of hills upon hills that extend down to the Jordan plain only to build into a massive cliff on the other side of the river, in Jordan.
“But there won’t be peace,” says Tanya at last.

From Vladimir Vertlib, Schimons Schweigen © Deuticke Verlag, 2012

Artist for Rent

Author: Feridun Zaimoglu
Translator: Steph Morris

‘Nora Sillinger,’ she said. ‘Come in.’
A cat stared at me from the hallway. Looked like it wanted to jump up at me.
‘Stay right by me!’ Sillinger said, and the cat obeyed her.

[…]

© Feridun Zaimoglu

‘How do you plan to work?’
‘I suggest three sittings,’ I said, ‘mornings after breakfast, afternoons, and evenings. One and a half hours.’
‘I can work with that. Do you need to be alone first thing?’
‘No.’
‘Then we shall have breakfast together.’
She picked at her blouse. Tiny dark stain – a crushed mosquito? A monogram. I looked her in the face. She’d had her teeth whitened. She didn’t like being looked at. A difficult model perhaps.
She asked what I wished to drink that evening. Dry red wine, and water. She left and the cat followed. I put a clean shirt on, brushed my hair and tightened my laces. A loose shoelace might annoy her. I stepped onto the balcony. Children in the courtyard, a girl with a lisp, screaming. I felt imposed on by their mothers, their lessons in free development. Women exhausted me. They found themselves a man, he proved a disappointment, the daily grind made them bitter, they started domestic fights, the man lost interest and they fell out of love. The lisping girl noticed me and threw a handful of sand up, which the wind blew back in her face. The mother ran to help. I decided the time had come, and went downstairs.
She heard my steps and called me into the kitchen. The animal was chewing a chair leg. ‘You scrub up nicely,’ she said. She assumed I had made an effort in order to improve her mood. I didn’t disabuse her. We ate spaghetti. I asked for a spoon. She shook her head; ‘you turn spaghetti against the bowl, not a spoon. Spoons are for sauce.’ I was her guest. I had to behave and didn’t argue. Then she said, ‘the etiquette in this house is to eat Bockwurst with your hands – a family tradition.’ Then she said, ‘you may not talk while chewing. You have a half-way decent singing voice.’ Then she said, ‘you suffer from emaciation. You look like something from the arse end of the day, the late afternoon. You need to cough it all up…’
She had a tongue on her. It didn’t bother me.
‘I was not a happy housewife,’ she informed me. ‘I was frequently spat at; I didn’t care.’ I finished my supper, my glass of wine; she filled it up.
‘The sittings will take place in the living room.’ Her words. She yawned, covering her mouth. I got the message. ‘Just leave everything,’ she said. ‘I have a dishwasher.’ Just as it seemed she had dismissed me for the day, she spoke of the risk she had taken. She didn’t know my work. She had never heard of me. Was I one of those artists who do the rounds to no avail? Or the kind who rise to the surface like grease and scum? There’s not much in it, I said, and she shrank back as if I’d said I practiced witchcraft. Couldn’t believe I was undiscovered. Museums were exhibiting mouldy scraps and clutter; at a young artist’s opening recently she’d been invited to admire dead flies in rusty, flat tin cans. An irate bourgeois lady: I sat and listened. I asked her to wait a moment, ran upstairs, ran back down, and handed her my portfolio. She leafed through the collection of loose sheets, studying the drawings in their sleeves. ‘You are the inverse of art.’
‘Inverse as in backside?’ I asked.
‘No, like the other side of a coin. Where do your pictures hang, aside from our mutual acquaintance’s gallery?’
‘In my flat. And in my friends’ flats.’
‘All of women,’ she said.
‘I’m not interested in observing men.’
‘Very sensible. The background in this picture,’ she said, ‘it looks like bonemeal mixed with yolk.’
‘It’s just paint.’
‘Do these women have names?’
‘In a sense,’ I said. ‘They’re called the astonished woman, the hungry woman, far-sighted, unfading…’
‘No. You have to find some new titles. Unfading – give me strength! Do these women really exist?’
‘Pure imagination,’ I said.
‘This woman has a hand like a flipper. Design or incompetence?’ she asked.
Night-time, in the kitchen of the woman employing me. Night-time, tired and fractious – a new city, new people. What should I do – an about turn? Like a fan opening up, I went into a rant. About the new elite, curators and decision makers, rewarding the trendiest and noisiest. Ornament dead. Painterly mystique beaten senseless. Many resorting to counterterrorism via handicraft. Gristly, fermented theory, codswallop from America; pseudo-intellectual bull sold for millions. I spoke, but then felt silly, and fell silent. She simply said, ‘Well, good night.’
Dismissed at last. In pyjamas, later, in bed. Fire and fever; hot forehead – momentum from the build-up. No. Shivering fit. Cold sweat. Drank two glasses wine fast then lay down. Sillinger was still up; I heard a newsreader. Politics infuriated her. She switched channels. A natural history programme. I listened to the animals’ cries. Fire and fever; sweating. I drank some water, writhed in the bed, fell asleep. Woke up. What was that sound? Stood at the window in the dark. A man stood below, waterproof jacket, pressed trousers, baseball cap. A man in the back courtyard just before dawn – he could not be there by mistake. Now what was he doing? Pebbles rained against the window I stood at. I grabbed my shoe from the floor, flung the window open and hurled the shoe at him. I missed. He fled. The cool dawn air was good; I stared blindly ahead. Creaking floorboards behind me: I turned.
‘Soon they’ll all find out,’ she said.
‘What?’
‘That you’re here. These men are prepared for a confrontation.’
‘With me?’
‘You are a man; that makes you a rival.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you go to the police?’
‘To report people walking at night? That’s how they’d present the facts. At best. You should calm down and go back to bed. You don’t look good.’
‘I think I’ve caught a chill.’
‘Get some sleep,’ she said, and left my room.

[…]

My shoe was outside in the courtyard. Clean shirt, clean socks, yesterday’s trousers: I stumbled downstairs. Saw the tips of the cat’s ears, asleep behind a cushion on the sofa. Saw the ribbed rubber caps Sillinger wore on her thumb and fingertips. Page turners. She took the gauntlets off and put them on the open newspaper.
Breakfast for two. She explained: stray pensioners, they fell asleep in front of the TV, set their alarm clocks for an ungodly hour then went out to throw stones. Her head was a pouch of desires; they reached deep inside. At least two biros, with tight grips, in their breast pockets. A cat, a newspaper, I thought – did I see something else? I stood up and dashed into the drawing room, returned with a handful of paper strips. She had torn up a drawing of mine. A temple facade, flagged with inscribed banners. On the roof a woman in make-up – resembling her. Clearly she couldn’t tolerate this.
‘A fit of rage,’ she said. ‘I will reimburse you naturally.’
My losses so far: one shoe, one picture. After a little haggling we agreed on three hundred euro. She used money to burn out evil impurities. I stuffed the notes into my trouser pocket, asked to be excused for five minutes and went to search the courtyard, even checking the bins. The stone thrower had taken my shoe with him. A trophy.
She was waiting on the doorstep. ‘You will have to get out of the habit of walking around in socks. Here are some shoes and socks of my husband’s – he has no need of them.’
‘My thanks to the deceased,’ I said. She flinched. The sitting took place in the drawing room. Portrait of a lady in a white blouse, bloodless lips, hair up, rouge, eye shadow, mascara, fine, strong features. She had no truck with people who shoved leftover food around their plates. Not a woman who huddled by the radiator on cold nights. Shading for the forehead: soft pencil held sideways. Mark the hairline, pencil in the left hand, swoop of the brows – seen from my left – drawn with an arc. Pencil in the right hand. Right eyebrow done.
‘You work with both hands,’ she said.
‘Yes.’
‘Did you teach yourself that or could you always do it?’
‘Always done it. I have a weakness for damaged left-handed women – on paper, not in real life.’
‘You’ve got yourself a rather crude proclivity there.’
‘Sit still, please,’ I said.
Transition from neck to head – a mistake, rubbed out, corrected. Better. Dimpled chin. No, no flat hollow on the chin. Back to the eyes: she was looking at me. She was watching me work, with a smile. Her smile didn’t fade. She really was amused. Eyes light blue, a woman’s gaze. Harder than I thought to catch this look. Half an hour, then I had succeeded. I turned the piece of paper round, we remained seated. ‘Do you recognise yourself?’
‘If I had small children, I wouldn’t employ you as a tutor.’
‘What are you trying to say?’
‘You are meant simply to be copying me,’ she said. ‘Instead you seem to be trying to fathom me out. Those are not my eyes.’
‘We see ourselves reversed in mirrors,’ I said.
‘Is that so?’
‘Yes. I believe we are distorted in photos too.’
‘That there is an object with signs of wear and tear. That thing there is not me.’
‘Your word is my command,’ I said, and screwed the sketch up.

She suggested we run the first and second sitting together. I reached for the next piece of paper, told myself to keep it simple, held the pencil as if noting down an address. Frowning forbidden. I was standing on a snake’s tail; I would get bitten if I got it wrong again. A woman, early fifties, well groomed and attractive, no money worries. Don’t make up stories, I thought, put the black on the white, control yourself. The lady of the house in portrait, static, in daylight. She asked for a minute’s break. Rotated her head, vertebrae clicked softly. I bunched my hands into a fist, pumped them, banished the pain. Onwards. Sitting still, drawing seated. I showed her the result. She said, ‘Much better. But I see one mistake.’
‘What?’
‘Some people do have banal faces. Made up of two equal halves. Two semicircles welded into a globe. With the join running from crown to chin…’
‘I get it,’ I said, and screwed my right eye up, held my right hand up flat to obscure the left half of her face: rage and trauma. Left eye, left hand, right half hidden: gentle and smooth. Different muscles, different mechanisms, different air breathing through this side. We arranged to meet in the evening.

[…]

A machine, turned human. A shredding machine. Man shredder. She shredded all feeling, all warmth. Her god-given right. I would survive. I was just the artist-for-hire in her little palace. Sillinger had described the saddle slashing incident to me, and the inquiries she had made, the grating silence in her head. Who were the suspects? She didn’t know.
‘Perhaps it wasn’t a man,’ I said, ‘but a child.’
‘Children do graffiti,’ she said. ‘This required grown-up nerve.’
She had a new saddle fitted.
Enough sketches, enough drawing. I wanted to start on the painting – I released her from the sittings. She bought an easel, plastic sheets to protect the carpet from splashes, falling paint and falling sweat, paper tear-off palettes, pigment thickener, cheap paintbrushes in plastic sheaths. She had saved jam-jar lids. I congratulated her. Good for mixing paint. Grim weather, the city veiled and swimming in rain. The water dripped from awnings and eaves in strings of pearls, both thin and thick. I began. Staring ahead: the cat nosing at a bird’s corpse. Staring at the canvas: ninety by fifty. Delineation first. Pinned-up hair – important. Background – sky or drawing room? Cityscape or burgundy velvet curtains? Sillinger hated complicated patterns. She liked simplicity. More intelligent than her portrait. Representation, not a window onto the soul. Don’t tear, don’t cut. I worked into the night. Her animal rubbed at my trouser legs. She sat still on a chair behind me; rustling cloth from time to time, her tights crackling as she crossed her legs. She wasn’t a machine now, I could tell.
I felt nothing. Just thirst, no hunger. Blue outline, a gazing woman on a dusky pink ground, a string of lanterns – I painted it out; the taught cable looked like a distant horizon. She laughed, and I turned. ‘You’ve finished,’ she said.
‘Yes.’
‘And it will dry quickly.’
‘Then I’ll fix it.’
‘What with?’
‘With hairspray.’
‘Really? That’s hardly professional.’
‘Will you stop whinging just for once,’ I said. ‘Try accepting something for a change.’
‘You must be tired.’
‘Because I’m answering back?’
‘Yes.’
‘The painting will be ready for framing tomorrow.’
‘Maybe I won’t want to have it framed.’
‘You will.’
‘Why are you in a bad mood?’
‘Don’t play games with me. I’m not some pensioner stalking you.’
‘Should I pay you now?’
‘If you have the money in cash.’
‘I’ll be right back.’

She gave me a moment to calm down. I was not going to apologise to this woman with a grievance against everything. I allowed myself some mean thoughts: move to Switzerland, get older and greyer there, delighted that no-one spits on the pavements each time you go for a walk. Enjoy the company of perfect ladies and fearful men. Crack up. Drop dead at eighty-six. Your bloody life…
Sillinger returned, called me to the table, counted out the money I was owed, still standing, placed the notes in an envelope and handed them over like a trophy of war. Business concluded. She asked about my plans for the following days – I got the message. Next day, after breakfast together, I would leave. She smiled in anticipation. Soon it would be just her and the cat, walking around her legs. In bed I reflected. Now she was removing her makeup. Now she was slipping into her nightdress. Now she was shaking out her pillows. Now she was regretting inviting an unknown painter into her house… What was I doing? I hated her. She hid herself like a mouse in a corn heap, always popping out, no peace in her presence. Tomorrow the search for a new client would begin. My hollow refused to warm up; I wriggled out of the papery larva, it crumbled into dust in the night. A body which did not want to be enveloped, eeriness – that strange word in my head. Down the stairs, into the kitchen. There she sat, her hand flat in a pool of honey on the table top. Slightly bent, her nightdress tight round the shoulders, scent of some herbal ointment. Silver strands in her hair, at the back. Was it right to watch her from a distance? She said, ‘You have eyes which get wet when you’re not even sad. Stupid really.’
‘Always these little insults,’ I said.
‘Don’t take it so personally,’ she said. ‘Sit down.’
I did as she said. She never asked; she gave instructions.
Her hand in the pool. Shiny fingertips.
‘I take it you haven’t gone mad,’ I said.
‘No. There but for the grace…’
‘Are you alright?’
‘What kind of question is that?’
‘Have you eaten anything?’
‘Next you’ll be feeling my pulse.’
My hand on her hers. I lifted it up, pushed her gently towards the kitchen sink, washed the honey from her hand using both of mine, wrapped her hand in the teacloth and rubbed it dry. She gazed at me the entire time.
‘My husband.’
‘Yes?’
‘He broke his back.’
‘Nasty,’ I said.
‘Let go of my hand,’ she said.
‘Of course,’ I said.
‘Stay another day. As a favour.’
‘If it helps.’
‘It will,’ she said. ‘What has happened to your hair?’
‘My pillow is my hairbrush.’

From Der Mietmaler by Feridun Zaimoglu © 2013 Langen Müller in der F. A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH München, All Rights Reserved