my own STORY
Im preparing myself. The meticulous intern has compiled 90 pages of material, catalogues and reviews, as well as this childrens book (title: The Story of Leo and the Notmuch). She even printed out a city map of Lugano. Theres not one interview, no real profile, there are only brief bios and conjectures about Dirk Svensson. His book has so far sold more than 100,000 copies as of July 31, the publisher optimistically anticipates double that. The book is to be translated into at least 17 languages, despite the rhymes, even into Icelandic, an American edition is already available. Its already a huge success. My colleague Jagla speaks of a relevance that is rare in childrens books, the New York Times of fundamental accuracy of statement, rarely found in childrens literature. Who copied whom here? On top of the stack lies a message from Elisabeth: My Mandelkern, the story of Leo and the Notmuch. Youre meeting on Saturday in Lugano at the Riva Albertolli pier, right by the green pedal boats. The Hotel Lido Seegarten is beautiful. This is your story now. Think about it! Elisabeth.
Think about it, Mandelkern!
She must have added the note before our fight. My Mandelkern! Think about it! 90 pages of childrens book reviews, Elisabeths enclosed commanding tone, an ambiguous assignment, my relegation to the countryside. Elisabeth demanded a decision, I resisted (my spitting, turning around, closing the doors). On instructions from my wife and superior, with a printed-out city map on a plane to Milan, on the way to a boat dock in Lugano, below us Niendorf and farther down Eimsbüttel and the Alster (my window and the ducking pines on the edge of the airfield, the howling takeoff, no complications). Elisabeth will be waking up now and vomiting the wine; she drinks so she can listen without correcting me. I drink so I can talk and not just have to listen; yesterday she drank more than I did. Then the clouds between us and the earth, the disappearance of the Fasten Seatbelts sign, a stewardess whos at least sixty years old, two mineral waters for the headache. I read in the research folders: Lake Lugano is a lake in the south of the canton of Ticino, half in Switzerland and half in Italy, named after the city of Lugano, also known as Lago Ceresio, deepest point 288 meters. Hermann Hesse lived in Montagnola in the hills overlooking the lake (and who exactly is this Svensson? my wifes large handwriting quotes me on a photocopied page). Elisabeths professional instructions: a profile of 3,000 words. In the roar of the airplane the small woman in front of me reads to the small boy from a book: The Story of Leo and the Notmuch, she reads, begins like this.
Who exactly is Daniel Mandelkern?
A journalist on a business trip in an airplane bathroom, his wifes dried blood on his hands (Elisabeth, I think, Elisabeth). It confuses me that the small woman is reading Svenssons childrens book, of all things, to the boy. I stand ducking in front of the mirror and scrutinize myself: I look tired, unshaven, and hungover, a red wine stain on my white shirtsleeve, flip-flops on my feet, my suit pants open. I ask myself in the mirrorI ask you, Elisabethhow it could have gone this far. In the much too low-ceilinged airplane bathroom of flight LH 3920, bent over and with a forced smile, I wonder when we lost our first names. We were once able to talk to each other, we were once the same age, we once knew who we were (we were once: us).
We once knew each other, Elisabeth!
I hold my shirt up under my chin and try to get the blood off my belly and out of my pubic hair with paper towels, but the towels come apart and crumble. Your blood wont go away. I feel the fine cut in my upper lip, the plane must already be in the airspace over Frankfurt, but the word divorce hangs persistently in the air (the possibility of another life). When someone knocks a second time on the bathroom door, I pull my ring off my finger and stick it in my pants pocket (E. E. E.). I roll up my shirtsleeves and brush my teeth with water (the small, pretty mother shouldnt see the red wine).
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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