Excerpt from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Wallcreeper

by Nell Zink

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink X
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
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    Oct 2014, 200 pages


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Poornima Apte
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Print Excerpt

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

We didn't take a birding vacation that year. Without asking me, Stephen rented an apartment in Berlin for the month of June. He wanted to get serious about his music.

We took the slow train, a boxy Swiss IC where you could sprawl out and eat muffins. The German high-speed trains are cylindrical, like airplane fuselages, and you can't open the windows.

In Berne you could always tell yourself, I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. Berlin was huge and flat, repetitive to the point of bleakness. People were too rich or too poor, and there was nothing to buy. Tawdry crap for teenagers from the sticks, flagship stores, boutiques for Russians, espresso, and fast food. Families shivering in the dark shade of beer gardens, letting their kids run around to warm up.

I rode a heavy bicycle from our rental to the old Tempelhof airport almost every day to see the skylarks fight off the crows with their weapon of song. The crows walked spread out in teams like policemen looking for a corpse in the woods, turning their heads from side to side, staring at the grass with one monocled eye and then the other, but I never saw one eat a baby skylark. Or maybe I always lowered my binoculars in time.

There were lakes with swimmers, boaters, mallards, and coots. Out of town the lakes had grebes and divers, supposedly, but we never got around to leaving town. Stephen slept in. He almost never went to bed before noon. He was occasionally awake early enough to get down to Hard Wax and hear some new dubplate before it closed.

Exactly once, he convinced me to meet him at the Berghain at six o'clock on a Sunday morning. I didn't get in. He had told me to dress for dancing, and I had sneakers on. The other girls in line (I was amazed that there was a line) were bouncing on their toes to keep from teetering on their heels, wearing dresses that would have showed the sweat if they hadn't been so dehydrated their eyes looked like chalk. I hugged myself in my hoodie and shivered, obediently going home on request.

No one was sleek or fluffy in Berlin, not even me. In four weeks I didn't see a single good-looking person on the street. Once in an upscale beer garden in a park I saw young moms and dads who seemed to have gotten some sleep. But everyone else was ashen, and too warmly dressed. It would be in the sixties, and the girls would be wearing army surplus overcoats and ski caps with pom-poms, skin all wintry and sallow as if they had consumed nothing but nicotine and pasta for the last six months and lived in dungeons. The boys appeared even on chilly days in T-shirts, their faces flushed with beer. People routinely wore clothes that didn't fit at all, with wrists and belly buttons hanging out.

Except for the space-needle-type TV towers, there was no place to look down at anything. You were always looking out and up until your gaze was arrested by the next moving car.

Every time we ate out we became mildly physically ill.

Accordingly, Stephen insisted we move there. He said Berlin was where he'd always wanted to live. Berne had just been a way of getting to Europe. He had met more interesting people in four weeks in Berlin than in three years in Berne.

Given that so far as I knew he liked nothing better than electronic dance music and shore birds, I had to believe him.

He said the company had a device in development in Berlin, a little pump that had potential as an artificial pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, pituitary gland or anything else you care to name. He said my visa wouldn't let me stay in Switzerland without him unless I got a job all my own, which I would have to apply for from outside the country. Stephen held the keys to my heart.

But wanting to move to Berlin and actually being transferred there are two different things, even for an executive, and Stephen was a researcher.

Excerpted from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink. Copyright © 2014 by Nell Zink. Excerpted by permission of Dorothy, a publishing project. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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