my thin skin
Why a bus now, of all things? But I cant get off and walk the few meters to the airplane (departure begins with the hiss of the hydraulic doors). The accordion bus only half full, with colorful summer shirts, a few carry-on travelers and frequent fliers, most of them on the phone. I have to put up with the rocking (in the mirror over the bus door: red wine residue on my lips). The wine didnt agree with me, the wine was just too much wine. I wonder if I should call Elisabeth. Id wake her, and then I wouldnt be the only one feeling wretched. Shell want to go on sleeping despite her headache (our last, half-empty bottle next to the red digits of the alarm clock). Id have to explain to her why I left. Id have to talk about decisions and wanting a child and life plans. Id have to tell Elisabeth Im having doubts about marriage (about our marriage). I might utter the word divorce, I might quote my mother: its not what you say but how you say it. I dont call, I buried my telephone in the suitcase (such thoughts, such strategies, such cruelties).
A few seats in front of me on the bus, a woman with a child. Its not the green of her tank top that makes me notice her. She lights a cigarette. The woman is very small, her back slightly bent, the vertebrae on the nape of her neck clearly visible, short blonde hair held back by a tacky hair band (pink roses on a black background), her flowered skirt a little too short (her feet are resting on the wheel hump). I see her from behind, I have a hard time imagining a face to go with this back and this hair band. She has no baggage, in her small hand shes holding only a pack of cigarettes and a passport (SuomiFinland). Shes smoking even though its prohibited (like me). The boy clutches a small, light-blue backpack on his lap. Three, maybe five years old, I cant tell the ages of children (his light hairher light hair). Hard to imagine: her body as the body of a mother. Elisabeth is longer-limbed than this woman (Elisabeth with the skin of a redhead, her age is visible only in the corners of her eyes and around the caesarean scar below her belly button). Nonsmoking bus! cries a man, but the woman ignores him and turns around to me as if I were the one who had admonished her. She smiles at me (obstinate and condescending, Elisabeth is a master of this exact same expression). The boy whispers something in her ear. The Nordic sky outside the windows hangs over the pines (airfield, Niendorf), the bright asphalt, and the engines. The woman turns back around and strokes the boys hair, gives him the passport and the pack of cigarettes, he stows them in his backpack (shes careful not to blow smoke in his direction). The bus leans into one last turn and stops by a small plane. Im going to take a walk around the airplane now, Mama, says the boy. He takes the backpack and climbs carefully off the bus. His eyes scrutinize his mother behind the bus window.
She stays where she is until the driver finally asks her to get off, and she stamps out the cigarette on the airfield with her heel as pointedly as if the driver were the one in the wrong (dark-green Converse). The boy carries his small backpack up the stairs (one step at a time, his legs are too short), stops for a moment in front of the oval door and takes a big step over the threshold without looking back. Only then does she follow him, and I her.
Flight LH 3920
I ended up getting a window seat, and the airplane turns me away from the terminal. I notice a gray heron standing on the other side of the airfield, it soars into the air and disappears in the bright fog. The business travelers around me are talking on their phones, a crash caused by the use of electronic devices on board is now briefly my only worry. I dont have to be warned, even though I dont understand what telephones and computers have to do with the navigation of an airplane (I buried my telephone in my luggage). In the row in front of me, the woman in the green tank top, next to her the blond boy is standing on the seat and looking at me (light blue eyes, no resemblance in their faces). The woman climbs up on the seat too and takes a book out of the backpack in the overhead compartment (her somewhat too-round face and her tired eyes).
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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No Man's Land
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