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an online quarterly journal with some of the best new literature from Europe
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Trafika Europe ISSN 2472-2138
Contents Editors’Welcome .................................................6 Michèle Rakotoson Lalana (novel excerpt)...............................8 Jacek Gutorow Invisible (poetry).......................................26 Kathrin Schmidt You’re Not Dying (novel excerpt).............38 Lilja Sigurðardóttir Cold as Hell (novel excerpt).....................58 Manuel Baixauli UNKNOWN (novel excerpt)....................74 Isabelle Baladine Howald Phantomb (poetry)..................................106 Andrea Lundgren Nordic Fauna (short stories)...................120 Lada Vukić Special Needs (novel excerpt).................140
My Name is Jensen (novel excerpt)........158
This Looming Day (novel excerpt).........178
Impure Acts (poetry)..............................200
Call Me Esteban (short story).................218 BackMatter .......................................................232 About the Authors..................................234 Acknowledgements................................238
Trafika Europe 22—Potpourri Editors’ Welcome
The uncanny follows again with Swedish author Andrea Lundgren ’s short story “The Bird that Cries in the Night,” from the collection Nordic Fauna . Lundgren examines where civilization and nature, and people and animal converge. Acute observation of humans arises as well in Lada Vukić ’s novel Special Needs . No one understands Emil and his actions, but he notices all about the truth of life. Returning again to the noir genre, Danish author Heidi Amsinck ’s protagonist Jensen, in My Name Is Jensen , sets out to discoverwho is killing unhoused people in thewintry streets of Copenhagen. Italian author Antonella Lattanzi continues the hunt for a criminal in This Looming Day . The psychological state of a mother, Francesca, intertwines with the hunt for a kidnapper, in this intense psychological thriller. Impure Acts by ÁngeloNéstore questions gender roles, desire, and stereotype. Their poems are lyric and disrupt stereotypes and ideas of “normalcy”. The title story “Call Me Esteban” by Lejla Kalamujić follows and similarly explores concepts of identity and gender through pre- and post-war Sarajevo. Memory mingles with the present as a daughter searches for herself in her psyche after her mother’s death. Artwork in this issue is by Andrew Singer. Visit our Gift Shop for some exciting art products. We hope that you can take a moment to enjoy this lovely European potpourri of wonderful literary gems.
This issuepresentsapotpourri of fictionandpoetry fromacross Europe. Sit back and relish the mélange of genres, styles, and cultures presented to you here. We beginwith French-Malagasy author MichèleRakotoson ’s novel Lalana , which follows the journey of two young men around Madagascar as one struggles with complications related to AIDS. This rawness and intensity continues with an excerpt from Polish author Jacek Gutorow ’s poems from the collection Invisible . He reflects on life and nature through both allusions to well-known pieces of literature and attention to space. Germannovelist KathrinSchmidt ’s 2009GermanBook Prize- awarded novel, You’re Not Dying , putswords to the act of losing them. Inspired by her own medical history, Schmidt explores the process of regaining speech and memory during recovery from an aneurysm. Following that, a chilling noir tale, Cold as Hell , by Icelandic author Lilja Sigurðardóttir takes place in Reykjavic where we follow Áróra on the hunt for her estranged missing sister. Next, an exerpt from Catalan author Manuel Baixauli ’s novel UNKNOWN explores the world of an artist seeking success and risking failure. Then, French poet Isabelle Baladine Howald ’s Phantomb uses words and blank spaces to haunt the pages with multiple meanings.
Andrew Singer and Clayton McKee, Editors
Lalana (novel excerpt) Michèle Rakotoson translated from French-Malagsi by Allison M. Charette
Chapter 9 The bell starts ringing abruptly, crystal clear, out of nowhere, brief, like a call. A breath of wind or a mirage must have made it move, created by Naivo, who doesn’t know where he is in this story anymore, it carries him outside of himself. He’d like to skip a few steps and be by the sea, there, at the end of their journey, but Rivo is climbing the slope up to the church even though the bell has fallen silent, and Naivo distinctly senses breathing and fabric rustling around him, bodies that surround him, and the dull slap of bare feet on the ground. He can even sense the smell of soap that washed clothes and bodies, not too nice, a smell of sulfur, and ash, and tallow, a wild pasture smell. Above it all is the sound of harmonium and songs. That’s not a dream, peoplearesinging in thesmall church. They’vegathered there, and that’swhy thevillage seems deserted, why the streets are empty, doors closed. All the villagers are at worship. These people have slidden into the strictest, most rigorous type of religion. It’s the only outlet they’ve been offered from poverty and madness. It’s that or war. After thirty years of dictators and bureaucraticwaste, they don’t want war ormassacres anymore, they’ve set a structure to survive. To push back against their
[Enjoy an interview with translator Allison M. Charette in the October 3, 2021 episode of our French Forays series on Trafi - ka Europe Radio—includes an excerpt reading from Lalana (48-Minute audio).]
Michèle Rakotoson 10
despair and despondence, they picture a heaven where they will be happy, they obey a God the Father who guides their lives, and they’ve devised religious rituals in which they feel good, worthy, like their ancestors. Rivo walks toward the church and stands, half-naked, swaying in the empty entrance. The hymn stops abruptly, yielding to profound silence. Naivo suppresses the urge to scream at Rivo to stop, don’t go in the church, be careful. He’s gotten a bad feeling from that silence. But Rivo stays there, standing in the entrance, motionless, tense. Slowly, Naivo moves toward him, is about to touch his shoulder, when he freezes. The church is jam-packed, there isn’t a free seat left, except for a pew before the altar hung in white. There is that white spot, and the eyes turned toward them. There are also the shadows, shadows where faces are more guessed at than seen. And the hundred eyes, peering, shocked, and some of them angry. Naivo feels the pressure, practically physical. The eyes concentrate on them, stare at them without a word, cursing Rivo, surely, half- naked and skinny Rivo, sick and not crazy Rivo, standing there, desecrating the house of their God. They want to crush him, want him to disappear, to be destroyed. And the weight of those hundred eyes is on his whole body, heavy on his chest, suffocating, freezing every muscle, paralyzing, leaving a gulf deep within him that hurts. They’ll kill him. The thought is fleeting. He’s trying to give Rivo’s arm a gentle tug, move him back, when the harmonium sounds again. Over its slow, solemn pulsing, the pastor and deacons enter. All dressed in crisp, immaculate white, a sharp contrast to the tattered followers. They enter separately, men on one side, women on
the other, mule slippers on their feet, cords tied about their waists. A slight murmur runs through the worshippers when the pastor enters and they quickly lower their heads to hold them bowed, submissive, humble. Those processing in hold their heads high, the pastor with both hands holding the cup containing the consecrated host, then the deacons go to sit along the sides of the altar, frozen as well, not looking at the followers who are crystallized in their devotion, mute, wholly absorbed in contemplation, fully whelmed with the respect and underlying fear of their pastor, and terrified of the host and the signs of a vengeful God which are about to be laid out before them. The harmonium falls still and silence once again clutches the church. Not a breathof air, not awhisper. Nothing. All is frozen. The pastor lets several minutes pass before raising his hands to bless the throng of worshippers and inviting his companions to kneel before the altar. “Today, on this day which we dedicate to God, I say that we shall repent.” His voice resonates, extremely clear. A sigh runs through the room. “And we shall ask forgiveness of the Lord our God for all our sins, both past and yet to come.”
Naivo senses that the attention has shifted onto Rivo, even
though not a head moves, not a person turns around. It’s an odd sensation, of being clandestinely observed, like a cat who listens to you by swiveling its ears.
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” The few heads that had lifted are immediately lowered. The deaconess continues unperturbed: “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.’ The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.” The woman who looks like Saroy is watching Rivo without blinking. Next to her, an old white-haired lady waves her hand in dismissal. Rivo’s trembling gets worse. The deaconess continues her reading: “The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.” Other people are turning toward Rivo and Naivo, especially children, and one of them begins to snicker. Rivo’s shaking
The whole congregation is watching them.
Rivo begins to tremble and leans against the wall. A young woman who looks strangely like their friend Saroy stares hard at him.
“Come on, don’t stay here, let’s go.”
The woman appears to nod, although she couldn’t have heard him from where she is. Naivo tries to take Rivo’s hand, but he pulls sharply away, he appears fascinated by the ritual.
“Today I will lead service with this woman.”
The pastor continues to speak in a high falsetto voice, gesturing toward the woman next to him, whom Naivo recognizes as the one on the hill who’d gone into the trance. She seems quite calm now. She is, as Naivo hadn’t been able to see on the hill, full-bodied, voluminous, sensual. The pastor, on the other hand, he’s thin, bony, and his bald head shines under the bulbs casting their light on the altar. The woman adjusts her tunic over her bosom, which appears abundant even under her chasuble, and steps forward to say:
“Here it is written in the Revelation of John:
suddenly stops, he’s frozen, a statue. The old lady, she scowls, it’s as if her face has frozen in a complex net of wrinkles. The deaconess has begun to chant: “The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of thewaters say: ‘You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.’” The young woman strangles a scream. She has stood up, as if ready to pounce. The pastor lifts the chalice up to his lips. Naivo thinks he can hear him swallow, the congregation holds its breath, then one voice rises from the throng: A dull thudding is heard. The whole congregation stands up. Sweat beads on Rivo’s forehead. The reading of Revelation continues: “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, whohad control over theseplagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” “Lord, forgive us our sins.”
Now the whole church is beating their chests with their fists. Rivo is covered in sweat, still rigid, catatonic. The pastor removes the white cloth covering the ciborium, as the crowd recites in chorus:
“Lord, forgive us our sins and let thywill be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
By the altar, the deaconess screams, gasping air, the pastor presents the host to the throng. “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” The whole church begins to scream and beat their chests. The old lady appears to drool, the young woman clenches her fists, her brows furrowed, an evil eye.
“Forgive us, Lord, forgive us.”
They sway now where they stand, as one, like a deranged child banging its head against the wall. At the altar, the deaconess looks over toward Rivo and roars:
“The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” The swaying crowd stops dead. They catch their breath. The deaconess’ reading becomes slower, more menacing. “They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for battle on the great day of God Almighty.” Rivo is white as a sheet, the young woman who looks like Saroy has taken a step toward them. “Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
shoulders snags on a thornbush and he keeps running, completely naked, finding strength to ascend the slope from God only knows where. Naivo tries to catch up with him, but soon he’s gasping for air, it’s too steep. At the top of the rock hill he finds him, near the tomb of the provincial prince, under a bamboo plant, on the ground, curled up like a fetus and shaking with convulsions, drooling, eyes rolling back into his head, hands clawing at the earth, as if trying to grab onto something, but grasping nothing, and he stammers a stream of words, throwing back his head as if he’s choking, as if he has all his life to expel, or all of the misery lodged in his chest and throat. Remembering the old ways, the old motions, Naivo sits down next to Rivo, he lifts him gently by his waist to give him a little more oxygen. Rivo wheezes and Naivo gives him a cardiac massage, a steady rhythm to help him breathe, while he softly sings hima childhood song. If Rivo must die here, on this rock, under this tree, may the will of he who has decided such things be done, but not in pain, and not with these afflictions. “Not with these afflictions,” he says to the mass of shadows rushing up behind him. “No, no.” “Hold on, Rivo,” he says to his friend, “we’ll go to the sea. We’ll be there in a few hours. You’ll see the waves and the vastness of “Shit, he’s slipping.”
The church is breathless:
“Curse him, curse him. Amen.”
The woman pounced but Rivo reacted faster, he raced off like a shot and Naivo has only a moment to hear the hundred throats swallow at once.
Now, Rivo is racing up the rock face. The shawl around his
it all, you’ll see the blue of the horizon fusing with the water. Hold on, Rivo, hold on.” How long does he murmur those words to Rivo, how many minutes dragging into eternity? After a seemingly endless time, he sees Rivo’s face decontract, his body slacken, and the convulsions dwindle. He stops and lays his friend’s head in his lap, still repeating the same soft words. Rivo is finally relaxed and says in a very low voice:
object from destitution too great.
Rivo’s voice is rasping, stuttering. A tear rolls gently from his eyes, slides slowly down his cheek, leaving a wet trail. He’s nearly getting worked up again, but Naivo keeps murmuring to soothe him:
“Don’t worry, Rivo, don’t worry, we’re going to the sea.”
Yes, they will go to the sea, to find dignity and peace again, to watch the waves and let themselves get swept away by the beyond, at once sought after and despised. The sea has always been forbidden to them. How can anyone dream of the sea when earning a hundred francs a month? They dreamed of rolling tides, of spray and foam, of riding the swells, of being children again, dreamed of another life, without problems, without cares, a life where the sea would be beside them, the countryside all around them, and vacations a normal thing. They stay like that for a long time, Rivo delirious and Naivo soothing him. And as he speaks, he gets the sense that the area behind him is clearing, the shadows receding. Rivo wins a moment of respite. A light breeze rises. In the distance, a dog is barking, a full-moon howl. But there is no moon, it’s the middle of the day. And terror again within Rivo, who mutters: “Yes, Rivo, we’re going to the sea.”
“They’re gone? They’re not there anymore?”
His eyes are open, but he cannot see.
“They’re gone, Rivo, they’re all gone, they didn’t follow you.”
Rivorepeats, “They’regone?They’regone?” as if hehadn’t heard the reply, imprisoned within his terror. Naivo tries to wipe his forehead with a handkerchief before finding a postcard in one of his pockets, forgotten there since he doesn’t knowwhen. He uses it to fan Rivo and beat away the fears afflicting him. After a little while, he hears him speak clearly: “He’d told me a thousand francs if you’ll do it with me without a condom, a thousand francs, one million Malagasy…” The words have finally been said, the pain that Rivo has kept silent for so long, how it was impossible for him to say no to the repugnant, the despicable, the denial of self, aman become
“I washed myself with bleach, I drank water cut with bleach, I
swallowed all the pills I could find, I still got sick. Medication is too much money, Naivo, too much.” It’s like a plea, a prayer for mercy. But what mercy is there for AIDS? What medication is there when earning a hundred francs a month? How much is just one pill for malaria, flu, or diarrhea, and what resignation, what despair for other horrors, cancer and the like? No one can get treatment, sowhat good does it do to dream of anything? People tell them about medicinal plants, traditional medicine, and other nonsense to cover the neglect, and a whole country tries to find leaves and tree bark to maintain some semblance of hope. But to no avail. In poor countries, you die a slow and lonely death, without a sound. And what some call wisdom is nothing but dereliction and giving up. Naivo chokes back a sob and begins humming a wordless song again, so as not to alarm his friend, and so he can hold on, too, while Rivo speaks in a flat monotone: He’s back in the projects, on the hill where the mind breathes, in the murky room, in the world without hope, the violent, ugly world. Rivo, he’s a prisoner of that reality, and no matter the journey, even beyond life, he cannot escape it, and he’s here on this rock, looking at this scenery and talking, talking, words spilling out endlessly. And rage overwhelms Naivo, blind rage. He’s going to kill them all, the ones strutting around in front of him, and the rest, the false pastors and their politicians blusteringupastorminthepapers, onTV, inchurches, spouting “In the projects, there’s four of us in one room, it reeks of piss.”
nonsense, promising heaven and earth. He hates them and theirdeceitful paradise and their slimy lies. They all slosh in the same muddy fishbowl, splash in the same swamp that nothing good ever comes of, living amongst themselves, the Center of theWorld, as if Madagascar andMalagasies didn’t exist beyond them and their spawn, their self-centered navel-gazing that stinks of shit, and nobody listens to them anymore. Nobody votes anymore, no one cares, it’s only way they’ve found to not move toward civil war, which for better or worse none of them are going to try to start to avow their power. Naivo hates them, sees them crystallized in their stupidity, their concrete villas, their car alarms, and their pasty fat flesh. And they all jerk around in churches where they bawl their cowardice with their God’s blessing, in front of an entire country that no longer knows which saints to pray to. He hates them, all of them who have blown the nation off course. But what can he do about it, Malagasies have tried everything— revolutions, riots, strikes—and they remain unmoved. Now the whole country stays quiet to avoid a bloodbath, prays to stifle murderous thoughts. And younger people are killing themselves from despair, illness, or drugs. To the shame and disdain of pedantics who say: “AIDS is a shameful disease, a disease of tramps and prostitutes, like gonorrhea and syphilis and the like. Amen.” Rivo, he has hidden, and he would have remained there for a long time if not for that pain crushing his bowels, lungs, muscles, the pus taking over his body bit by bit, evacuating in
incessant diarrhea, decomposing him on the spot, leaving him to rot away alive. And there’s nothing for him, not even words of comfort, nothing but fear, an abject fear, scaring everyone away. A country like Madagascar, with AIDS or cancer, when calamity strikes, the head lowers, the cleaver falls, it’s merely awaiting God’s time and decision. There’s nothing for them, except a few halfhearted media campaigns, when the West is reminded that those pariahs exist and sends somemoney, most of which washes up elsewhere, usually in villas with security systems. May as well protect a few. How long did they remain there, the two of them, in that silence of anger and rage? How long for clenched fists and pinched lips? Down below, the pilgrims and all the flock have fallen silent. The pastor must have started his sermon. He can picture him from here with his preaching and lecturing, voice full of contrition, gut protruding, lower lip paunched. Naivo hates all of them, pastors, flock, believers, the rest of the mob, so much more than before. He hates them for having been there to witness the final days, final throes, final pains, those buzzards and vultures seeking a carcass to swallow, feasting on disasters. He hates them for their smugness and their cursing, they who have never offered a hand, who were there only to express their abomination. He hates them for being what they are: the stymied petty bourgeoisie, who have found religion as a means of avowing power. Naivo, he sobs with hate and despair, sudden, long, drawn out sobs, an unending wail. For years he has held back his tears, for years he has worn a mask of dignity, shoes shined, shirts threadbare but meticulously
cleaned, for years he has stayed aloof, so as never to attract pity. But now, the dikes are collapsing, their hardships are blowing up in his face, and the abandonment too. The bitch of living, and living’s a bitch. Henearly fallsapart, too, whenhesees, in thedistance, between thehills, amistywhiteveil.Atthree intheafternoon.Acurtainof rain trailing behind a cloud that drifts slowly between two hills. Out of place in that blue, translucent sky. A cloud that doesn’t stretch into gradually dimming shades as usual. No, this one is trailing a veil of rain that hides the landscape, opaquely and markedly covering parts of it. Tandrifin-drahona, a shower, the facing rain. The cloud is pearly gray andmoves its rain, in broad daylight, in full sunlight, through this advancing afternoon and these colors glowing redder, bit by bit. The ground is wet, and not far from them the droplets sparkle like morning dew, although it’s nearly the end of the afternoon, and the sweaty heat is evaporating all the water that can still make a mark on the earth.
Invisible (poetry) Jacek Gutorow Translated from Polish by Piotr Florczyk
for Stanisław Vincenz
One more stilt, one more verse propping up the rest. The sky is tart, full of unextinguished snow. Beyond that hill some threadbare afternoon redness, nothing else. Words beckon and signal an empty road; we depart from a respectable German village for the city of memories, traversing undeveloped vignettes of the past.
How is it, Odysseus? You only had to reach Ithaca. No sentimental excursions, sentences arranged in rhythmic epochs, wonderful images strewn like poppy seeds from an open hand. You were to return and settle down. And now you drop in at the gardens as into fleeting digressions, seducing girls and birds, walking steadily through an ineffable whole. 29
I try But nothing’s coming out Nothing will ever come out From this white prison From these shallow mists
Dusk. We descend the slope into the valley. A lake of lights spreads before us. A silent bird swept up by a gust discovers the way to the third heaven.
From these stones that line the river That flows within and without me And knows nothing about me Although it is my deepest Repeat The deepest river
Fragments from Scotland
At dawn fog calm- ing wind
Flawed light Ragged clouds A foxglove’s minaret Its funny beret
sound through calm drops spi der web smoke
One island, leafed-through, with the exclamation mark of the lighthouse at the tip of the headland, with a dry dock squeezed in between the rocks, non-flammable, with a chalky coating, sensitive to the currents.
The blue over Skye is a waterfall. Language perished in the throat, the landscape surpassed the syntax
Two Poems from Rapallo
At the Pond
The end of June. We’re going out of Dante and into Virgil. Dragonflies skim the water surface, a stork plods in the nearby rushes. I want to walk along the bank, but suddenly feel that in this weather the blue pond is intransitive. I can only watch how things change:
Three steep paths, the quern of waves. Moon over a salita . To memorize this place. The voice, the shattered vase.
a cloud lights into the next frame, a flaky bark of birch carries a knotty message.
An outgoing wave. Anchored rocks. In the evening the bay illuminates the depth
and silently convenes all reflected, scattered lights.
That boy from Meno : how old is he? What colour were his eyes? A conversation with the philosopher
must have tired him out. He walks to the seashore, sits down on a stone, sees the sunset. He whispers: I’ve been here before, on a similar summer evening, with my awakened soul, watching the first star, without the desire to return.
You’re Not Dying
You’re Not Dying (novel excerpt) Kathrin Schmidt Translated from German by Christina Les
In the blink of an eye There’s a clattering all around her. When her sister got married, their mother had put all the silver cutlery in a metal bowl lined with foil. Then poured in hot salty water. After a while the clean cutlery was taken out of the bowl and dried, and it had clattered just like this. Who’s getting married then? She tries to open her eyes. Nothing doing. She doesn’t attempt anything else. Enough for now. But she can very clearly hear hermother’s voice. Aha, so it is the cutlery! What’s her mother saying? ‘The right hand’s a lot colder than the left, though,’ she’s saying, ‘and the right foot’s the same.’ Why is her mother’s right hand cold? she wonders. And can’t help smiling, imagining her checking the temperature of her feet.
[Author Kathrin Schmidt speaks all about her experience which went into writing this novel in the November 7, 2021 episode of Women in Translation on Trafika Europe Radio—includes excerpts (45-minute audio).]
‘She’s laughing!’ says her mother.
‘It’s just her face twitching.’
Did her father say that? Yes, that was definitely her father’s 41
You’re Not Dying
* * *
voice! Now she really does want to open her eyes. What’s she doing in her parents’ kitchen, where they’re clattering cutlery and checking the temperature of their hands and feet, and she can’t open her eyes? * * * She said that to her daughter in English. Didn’t she? She’s able to open one eye, and does so. Her girl is fourteen, and set off on a language exchange to England today. Why is she back already? She’s crying. For some reason she’s crying. That must be why she’d wanted to speak English, to cheer her daughter up. It doesn’t seem to be working. Something’s upsetting the girl. But what? Who can she ask? Her gaze wanders. There! Next to her daughter is her husband. ‘ My husband ,’ she says in English. Hopefully that’ll make them all laugh... ‘Oh, where do you come from? From London?’
‘…date of birth is 3/12/1972, lives in Hückelhoven…’
Stop! That’s not her! Why can’t she shout it out loud like she wants to? She has to, damn it! ‘All right, don’t get yourself in a tizzy, we’ll be with you in a minute!’ Who said that? That young man there? She thinks she might be able toopen both eyes at the same time. It’s a bit of a struggle – there seems to be something on her eyelids. The young man smiles, but that’s hardly reassuring. That’s not her, though! She’s fourteen years older, and doesn’t live in Hückelhoven! Why can’t she get any further with the sentence? Now the young man is telling theothermen in blue coats that since she’s been waking up again on and off, it’s almost as if she’s trying to speak English. The men laugh. She looks for a woman. There’s one standing behind the men, but she seems to be busy with something. ‘ I don’t… I don’t… ’
At least the man is smiling. The more she looks at him, the stranger his smile looks, hanging there as if tethered between his cheekbones like a Salzgurke.
‘ Salt cucumber ,’ she says.
Does that even exist in English?
One of the men leans over her.
You’re Not Dying
Or rather kleine Häwelfrau . It’s nice. She could do it forever.
‘Can you hear me?’
She’s not going to tell himwhether she can hear himor not. He can bellow away as much he wants.
The topof her skull is being takenoff. A robot carefully removes a blood-red piece of flesh. Something needs to replace it. So the robot is going to insert a wonderful, light-blue piece of stone. What was the stone called again? It won’t come to her. Her daughter has a bit of stone like it, and has declared it a fake because of the colour. Aha, this must be something different, then: the robot won’t be wanting to stuff anything fake into her head! When the piece of stone is in, everything that’s been unpleasantly bright up to now gets darker again. A brief moment of twilight. She can just see a long, thin, flexible plastic tube above her. Where’s it going, and where does it come from? Shame she can’t move her head and follow it along. Dark browny-red liquid is moving along inside it like rolling teardrops. * * * For some time now, a noisy young woman has been busying herself around her, talking incessantly. Who’s she got so much to say to? Is there someone else there? She can’t turn her head, but yes, there is…Nowshe really needs toopen her eyes because something is changing, she’s being brought upright, lifted, sat down. She starts to feel sick. It must be something funny she’s eaten.
Eyes tight shut.
* * * She knows that voice. It’s Inga. She seems to have brought someone with her. ‘Come on in!’ says a deep voice, but then there’s the sound of falling over, followed by a gloating laugh. Why can’t she just open her eyes! She has to work out what just happened. Her friend Inga wanted to visit her and was encouraged tocome in, but theremust beadeeppiton theother side of the door. They’ve fallen into it. She becomes agitated. Is she in fact lying down? Why? She tries in vain to lift her arms, legs or head. That’s making her even more agitated now, she realises. What’s happened to her friend, whose voice she heard so clearly? Ah, there she is again, unsurprisingly upset. It can’t have been easy getting out of the pit, then? ‘Come on in!’ says the deep voice. After a while, though, she starts to wonder: where has Inga got to? Surely she can’t have fallen into the pit again? * * * She’s moving! She’s going forward like the kleine Häwelmann . 44
The torrent of words from the woman comes closer and closer.
You’re Not Dying
‘… Can you hear me, Helene? Not easy to say so, I suppose, is it? Anyway, soon we’ll have to start getting you upright more often. Today was the first attempt, okay? Okay? I think she can hear me…’ Was that addressed to her? She doesn’t know. Wants to sleep. Knackered. Funnily enough, she can believe her name is Helene. * * * What’s the man got in his hand there? Looks like a pacemaker. Actually, he’s holding the pacemaker in front of her nose, and saying that they’vefinally found it and taken it out.Why’ve they removed her pacemaker? She can’t get the question out. The man laughs slyly, laughing behind his hand – a hand that has her and her heartbeat in it. She has to defend herself, anything but fall asleep. They must have the heating on at night here – last night it was so hot she thought the place was on fire. That must be why they’ve taken her pacemaker out, because she’s the only one still alive and they can’t believe it! If you’ve got one of these pacemakers your heart just beats and beats, even when your body’s had it. They all smile at you in such a friendly way here, and yet it’s a murderers’ club: they want to kill you just as they do all the others. She absolutely must tell her husband. Hopefully he’ll comeagain before night- time. Where is she, anyway? She’s managed to keep her eyes 46
open for a good while now, but she just can’t work out where she is. * * * Her parents are back! She wants to sit up and ask who’s got married. Why’ve you got a cold right hand, Mum? She can’t do it. Can’t sit up, can’t ask.
Pulling herself together.
Pressing her lips together. Opening her eyes.
It really is her parents! Her father looks exactly like he did that time her sisterwent down the Geissenberg on her scooter. How longagoisthat?Sheworks itout. Is it2002?Hersisterwasbornin 1961 and was about six when it happened. So, 1967. That makes it thirty-five years. So long ago! Why has she remembered the look on her father’s face? Daddy, don’t be sad! she’d whispered at the time, and he’d hugged her and cried with joy when the doctor brought her sister home again. No, they didn’t want to keep her in hospital. In hospital? The house she was staying in now could also actually be… Her mother interrupts. Asking the woman next to her when she can start having something to eat again. Typical, always thinking about eating. She’s not hungry, though! 47
You’re Not Dying
‘Thatwon’t be for a littlewhile yet,’ thewoman says. ‘She’s being tube-fed for now, you see.’
now. She thinks she’s laughing. Her sons! Why didn’t she look at them sooner? Then she’d have been happy for even longer! One of them is at university. Where’s he studying again? In Weimar. Oboe. Yes, oboe. The oboe son holds a CD under her nose that he’s burned himself – there’s something written on it but she can’t make it out. He puts the CD into a little gadget and the headphones into her ears. Ahhh, that does her good, what lovelymusic. Oboe. Shemust surely look blissfully happy, she thinks. So now she starts to think about what she looks like. What does she look like? She has no idea, she can’t picture herself at all. They’ve pinched the picture of her! It’s like being in limbo, which comes before Hell proper, and proper Hell comes at night, when it’s dark. Somehow her sons have got to be made aware of this – they can’t just leave her here and go away again! Are you two listening? Hello, where are you? She looks up, exhausted: the boys have gone. Completely unaware of the danger. * * * A blonde woman comes up and busies herself with something next to her. She tries to turn her head at least a little bit. The blonde gives her a dirty look, but she manages to do it, and sees a whole load of monitors all piled up on top of each other. The blonde holds a pouch of mud-coloured mush in her hand. She hangs the mush on a hook and fastens a tube to it. ‘Lunch,’ she says, and laughs. 49
Tube-fed, see. Satisfied, she closes her eyes. * * *
A young man on the left, one on the right. They’re looking at her, and they seem familiar, but she doesn’t want to look them in the eye. Actually, she would like to know who they are. They’re smiling and talking quietly to each other over her head. She has a think. Wants to ask the one on the left to pull the ... a bit lower, so that it’s more in the small of her back, but she can’t think of the damn word – what on earth is it called? She makes signs to both the boys for what she wants, namely that they pull the ... a bit lower for her. They don’t seem to understand. What did she even use to make these signs? Her hands? The left hand is fastened down, with a tube in it. Is she still hooked up to the network, still being controlled remotely? She wants to signal her fear to them with her right hand, but it just lies there and won’t move. Strange. Why can’t she move her hand? They must be using the network to control all her movements. And the boys? Are they network operators? She has a closer look at them now. Relief: she knows them. They’re her sons. Their names won’t come to her, but that doesn’t matter right 48
You’re Not Dying
* * * No, she doesn’t like the blondewoman. And the blondewoman doesn’t likeher. She likes theyoung girl whonever stops talking. She has dark hair. When she comes, the fear goes away. With the blonde woman, it comes back. Coming and probably. Or thereabouts. going. Between the blonde woman and the dark- haired girl there’s also a man. A moment ago he was wiping up her poo. That was embarrassing. She has no idea what’s going on down there. What exactly is going down there? Ah, here comes the man again. He pulls the bedcovers to one side and her legs apart. Stop, you can’t do that! Stop! But he smiles, like they all smile here, these criminals. Is he washing her? He’s washing her. It’s pleasant actually, she should stop resisting. He hasn’t noticed her resistance anyway, has he? So she lets herself be washed. Why they don’t let her do it herself, she’d rather not know in too much detail. No doubt they want clean corpses for the coming night. Not shitty blood dolls like her. She’s bleeding, you see. Her nappieswere full of blood. Nothing hurts, though. It can’t be that bad. What’s the date anyway? No idea. Her daughter has recently gone off on her language trip, though. That was the tenth of July. And yet she was back again on the same day! When she thinks it over, she can’t understand it. Are we on the fifteenth or sixteenth of July? Yes. Could it be her period? She’s going round in circles. When was her last period? She can remember how her father looked thirty-five years ago, but not when she had her last period.
Now the man’s putting a new nappy on her.
She wants to sleep.
* * * More hustle and bustle in the night, above and below: beds creaking, trolleys trolleying – they must really have been struggling to deal with the removal of all the bodies. She now knowsjustwhattheydowithpeople: theyextractall themoisture from them with unimaginable heat while simultaneously driving an electric current through their bodies, so they’re left with a dry, wrinkled little block. She’s seen blocks like that before, someone had built a wall out of them somewhere. Maybe they even build houses out of them! Has she resigned herself to her fate? She was tense when she herself was lying in the dryer. The man operating it said she seemed to be too fat, it wouldn’t work, so he turned it off and brought her back. * * * She’sdefinitelyscared, but it isn’tmakinghersad. Thatsurprises her. It’s just the way of things, that you become aware of almost everything when you’re nearing the end. Something still wells up inside her but it’s getting less and less. Last night she’d been hopeful of clearing off out of here. The young bum-wiper had sat next to her. Somehow he’d understood that she doesn’t want to die. He gave her to believe that during the night he’d hide her in a store cupboard, and in the morning, when he’d 51
You’re Not Dying
finished his shift, he’d take her out with him. She was happy.
Of course, nothing came of it. Instead he came in the morning and said goodbye. Only with a slight wink did he let her know the attempt had failed. To hell with it. He can hardly risk his job and his life to get her out of here. * * * When the blonde woman approaches, she gets agitated. The blonde woman’s always fiddling about with the monitors and is definitely one of the ones controlling her. She falls asleep whenever the blonde hangs those bags on the hook above her head. She doesn’t want to sleep, but that’s what happens. The blonde hangs so many of them above her, one after the other. * * * Sometimes, whenshe’sawake, the troopof mencomes by. Every time, at least one of them asks whether she can hear him. And each time she’s too stubborn to answer. After all, she wasn’t born in 1972 and doesn’t live in Hückelhoven. If they hadn’t mixed her up with someone else then she might’ve had the chance to get out of here sooner. There’s no point opening her mouth and making the effort: they wouldn’t believe it anyway. * * * 52
She knows the word, of course. But what does it mean? Why won’t it come to her? She knows it from somewhere. When the man in the blue coat said it, she recognised it straight away. After 6pm, she wants to say out loud. Yes, afasia could be their way of saying after 6pm! Night-time starts here around six. No doubt they’ll all be herded together and arranged in a spiral, once they’ve been knocked unconscious by the bag full of liquid. They watch from outside through a glass screen to see who dies. She’s become so calm about it. If she’s to die tonight, then fine, she won’t resist it. Why would she? She’s already discovered their secret plan anyway: they make little blocks out of people and stick them in the landscape.
After six o’clock, then.
She says her goodbyes. Her time has come. * * *
Hang on – is she still alive, then? It’s dark. In summer it’s only dark during the night, not in the morning or evening. So it’s night-time. Why is she not lying in the big spiral with the others? Maybe she’s unexpectedly been the only one to survive again? If the campaign started at six it could have been over around nine, and now they’ve brought her back. Something is itching like mad on her head and she wants to 53
You’re Not Dying
* * * She’s freezing when she wakes up. Absolutely freezing. It’s cold here – so the blonde really did take her cover away. Now she’s making her report to another woman who’s also in a blue coat. They’re both standing a little way from her bed. ‘Frau Kiering, Yvonne,’ says the blonde. ‘Punctured lung after a road accident.’ Herewe go again. They’re still mixing her upwith other people. The blonde says Yvonne Kiering has slept peacefully through the night. They never once look at her while spreading such lies about, of course. Or are they perhaps not talking about her at all? She tries, slowly, to follow their gaze, arriving at another bed, with another woman in it. She seems to be unconscious. She’s got tubes in her mouth and nose, in her arm and in her groin. Where did she come from, all of a sudden? Could it be she’s not the only one to have survived the night? * * * Questions upon questions. There’s a rattling in her head when she’s awake. She seems to be awake for longer now. Which 55 Questions upon questions.
scratch it. Does her right hand want to scratch it too? No, it doesn’t. It lies on the bedcover as if strapped down. So she has to trywithher left. Sheyanks it upagainst all possible resistance and can actually touch her hair. But where it itches, she doesn’t have any hair. What’s happened to her hair? That’s why they’ve pinched the picture of her! Ha, she’ll win it back, and that’s a promise. With all her strength she starts to run her fingers over her scalp. They don’t get far. There are little metal anti- tank obstacles stuck in her skull and she tries to prise out two or three. Suddenly she feels fluid on her fingers. She tastes it. It’s blood! Where did they get the right to ram these anti-tank obstacles into her skull? She starts to shout and throw herself around in the bed – and it’s definitely a bed she’s in. Someone is coming. The blonde woman? Yes, as it happens. She looks down at her moodily. ‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, really? I’ll have to wash and change you again now. I’mgoing to strap you down and take your cover away, to teach you a lesson. Who knows what you’ll get up to otherwise!’ The woman keeps grumbling as she cleans up around her, putting back the anti-tank obstacles and cleaning the blood from under her fingernails. When she’s finished, she binds her left arm and left leg firmly to the edge of the bed with a piece of white material. The bed seems round to her.
There, she’s hanging yet another bag on the hook! 54
You’re Not Dying
means the rattling goes on for longer, too.
towards the sink. He pulls a plaster off and removes a dressing from his right eye. Gosh, what’s wrong with him? She’d so like to ask him, really she would. When he comes to the bed, he’s crying. Has she had a baby perhaps? The last time she saw him cry was when their youngest daughter was born. That was five years ago, and he’d stood at her bed exactly as he’s doing now. She has a quick look, just in case there’s a bundle of baby on her chest.
Yvonne Kiering! Born in 1972 and resident in Hückelhoven! Now she gets it! She laughs loudly, pleased she’s worked it out. She wants to tell the dark-haired girl, who’s currently doing contortions with Yvonne Kiering. But Yvonne is unconscious! Since when can you do contortions with people who are unconscious? Oh, it’s so stupid that she can’t say anything. Why is it she can’t say anything? After all, what shewants to say takes shape in her head. It just doesn’t come out of her mouth. She lifts her left hand, with the tube in, to her mouth. And her nose. What, has she got tubes there too, just like Yvonne Kiering? Right, that’s it. Determined, she pulls them. It doesn’t hurt. She pulls and pulls. The dark-haired girl calls out. Comes over to her bed. Asks in an aggrieved tone whether she wasn’t enjoying her food.
Just checking, obviously.
Is there something wrong with his eyes? That would explain the crying. Why, in the time she’s been here, has she not once thought about her five-year-old daughter? And – she has another one! And another! Five, fourteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty-three – yes, she actually has five children! Astonishing, the stuff that just pops into your head.
‘Were you not enjoying your food, then?’
But she’s smiling a bit, too.
* * *
There’s a knock at the door.
‘Your husband’s here, Frau Wesendahl.’
Wesendahl… Her husband is here. Is he called Wesendahl too? Before she can think about it, her husband takes a step 56
Cold as Hell
Cold as Hell (novel excerpt) Lilja Sigurðardóttir Translated from Icelandic by Quentin Bates 21 Her mother had been as good as her word, calling ahead to announce Áróra’s arrival. Her fingerwas poised over the button marked Daníel Hansson , ready topress it, when thedoor swung open. ‘Good morning,’ he said. His voice was deep and welcoming, and Áróra had the feeling she had heard it before, although the man’s serious face was nowhere in her memory. He looked to be well past forty, with a touch of grey in the close-cropped hair that she guessed he clippered short himself. The eyes that met hers were a pale grey but strangely warm. ‘Hello,’ she said, extending a hand. ‘Apologies for the inconvenience.’ ‘No problem,’ he said, ushering her in. ‘It’s no inconvenience at all. It was good to speak to your mother. I hadn’t heard from her for a long time.’ Icelandic style, Áróra took off her shoes in the hall and followed him on stockinged feet into the living room, overwhelmed by the feeling of being a child again, visiting Iceland. She could 61
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