We arranged to meet in an extremely loud restaurant on Paulinenplatz (mandolin music and Italian stage noise). At least its from Italy, I said, meaning the wine. I wanted to begin the conversation with all due caution. Elisabeths reply: Svensson doesnt have children either, even though hes a childrens book author, he seems to be a strange man, maybe the two of you will get along. I noticed Elisabeth wasnt smoking. I dont think so, I shouted back, straining to laugh, he has a black dog with three legs, Im averse to black dogs, starting with the color, black dogs stand guard at the gates of hell and wait. Elisabeth gulped her wine down quickly and refilled our glasses. Id like to have your problems, she said, maybe theres a good story there. We ordered and gazed into our glasses (Elisabeths slender neck when she swallows like a swan). When I asked later why it had to be this weekend, Elisabeth answered: Staff availability. Or would you have preferred to go to Châtenay-Malabry and test the moral content of Lance Armstrongs frozen urine samples?
But Elisabeth doesnt have my problems.
She ordered another wine, the same grape variety, this time a glass (Barbaresco). We still had some bottles in our apartment, Elisabeth said, and I replied only reluctantly: Okay. Not much later I opened one of those bottles and we started drinking in the kitchen (our kitchen), and didnt speak much there either (she on the glass stovetop, I on the floor next to the cases of wine). I ignored the two black folders full of research on Svensson lying on the kitchen table. She informed me she was giving up smoking, like this and that female editor, she talked about yoga and her thirty-eighth birthday. I knew all these things already, I began, these days we only spoke on this surface level, I really needed to talk again sometime to the woman Id married, we should have an actual conversation again sometime (were circling a child). Elisabeth stood up, put down her wine glass and took a breath:
You should actually write something good again sometime, Mandelkern!
So that she wouldnt keep talking, I stood up and tried to kiss her. We wrestled, we looked resolutely past each other, then she caught me on the upper lip with her elbow, reflexively I grabbed her wrist a bit too tightly. Her incredulous laugh as I let go of her and felt my upper lip for blood (our work is coming between our lives). Somewhat later, and finally drunk, we ended up in bed after all, for the last few weeks sex for Elisabeth and me has been a question of drunkenness, and maybe we had to ignore the condoms next to the bed (her pills in the old pencil box from school, three names carved into the back, I couldnt find much else from her life before me). As we rolled over each other and I slipped out of her for a moment, Elisabeth said: Nothing is going to grow in me today, now hold still, Mandelkern! Elisabeth suspects my plans for the childless months and years to come (up to now I havent been able to say anything to her; I cant manage to do it). Elisabeth knows: sometimes one wrong word is all it takes, and I shrink and dwindle and get up and go to the window, only to look out at the darker end of Bismarckstrasse and say it cant go on like this (in summer you cant see the streetlights through the leaves of the chestnut trees). So I held still (so I decided to take the plane).
Elisabeth and I live in a prewar apartment that is too large and too expensive for my means on the corner of Bismarckstrasse and Mansteinstrasse. Bedroom, living room, study. We got married in the summer of 2003. I love Elisabeth. Im educated as an ethnologist and work as a freelance journalist writing for the culture pages. I struggle as everyone struggles. We have an empty room that we call a guest room. Elisabeth is a beautiful woman. I drive a twenty-year-old Renault 4. Maybe another life is a better life. With our salaries the only sensible thing, says Elisabeth, is for me to pay the rent and you the telephone bill. Elisabeth is the most beautiful woman Ive ever lived in a prewar apartment with. For me, ethnology has nothing to do with Papua New Guinea. I wear a wedding ring on my left hand (brushed silver). Elisabeth has stopped taking the pill, now she wants a child. Elisabeth is a sober woman. She had a child, she lost it, she wants to risk it again. Nothing is going to grow in here, said Elisabeth. So I held still. Then Elisabeth cried Daniel Daniel, she cried Daniel right in my face, she must have really meant me.
Excerpted from Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger, translated by Ross Benjamin. Copyright (c) 2008 by Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln. The translation of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut which is funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. English translation copyright (c) 2011 by Ross Benjamin. Originally published in German under the title Bestattung eines Hundes. Used by permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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