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from the April 2004 issue

from Mrs. Sartoris

After the afternoon in N., something changed. I became cold-blooded and more demanding at the same time; Michael was surprised at me and sometimes didn't know what to do. He hadn't realized, he said one evening, what a wild temperament was hidden inside me, what a volcano. I made wild little celebrations out of our meetings; I waited for him naked in a hotel room; I bought champagne, appeared in a semitransparent robe or wore nothing under my coat as I waited for him at Reception; I got myself a book on aphrodisiacs and tested everything out; once I left a little tape set to record, and played it at our next meeting while we were making love. I didn't want any weariness and I didn't want any more repetition; each time had to be not only in a different place, it had to be a different experience, a completely new memory; I wanted to leave him speechless and helpless with love; I loved it when he trembled with excitement. I questioned him about his earlier relationships and his most secret desires and urged him on to everything; I wanted to make myself as essential to him as he had already long been to me. I gave him a ring that he wore when we were together; he brought me underwear that I kept in the car; once he put a little chain on my ankle, made of gold, with a tiny lock; soon there was a whole case full of special little things that we loved and that excited us. I blindfolded him while I made love to him, and I aroused him to a hardness that he didn't know he could achieve. I enjoyed it when he hurt me, yet I kept control over it. My passion increased, but my mind never stopped working.

I wanted an end and a beginning. I wanted to leave Ernst and start a new life with Michael and my instinct told me we couldn't wait that long. My fantasy seemed inexhaustible to me, but one day his wife would be bound to notice something, and then it would no longer be under my direction, but subject to her reaction, her threats, her fears, or her unflinching strength. I didn't believe Michael was very strong. He had always kept having affairs, as he willingly admitted to me; none of it compared in any way to us, he said, brief superficial relationships, sometimes one-night stands, on a trip, a further education event, or simply as an adjunct of some social event that he attended without Karin. She had never noticed a thing; she wasn't inclined to be mistrustful, was also completely immersed in her responsibilities as a mother and the head of her own business, and finally she had never had need to worry. They had a good, untroubled family life, the only negative factor being that she was tied to L. He would have liked to make a career, and felt he could have been successful; he had studied theater arts and worked as dramaturge for the famous N; he rattled a lot about the miserable state of German theater and how easy, fundamentally, it would be to tackle this misery-one had only to go and see N's productions, which attracted wildly enthusiastic audiences, as well as the critics. I encouraged him to talk about this, not just because I deduced that Karin never did so; it really interested me, and given how gifted he was, why shouldn't he be able to dare a new beginning? He pushed the idea away, but I could tell from the way he half smiled in a hesitating way that it appealed to him. After all, my contacts are still more or less in place, he said; an old friend of his worked at a big theater in B. and perhaps could get him in there on a project, on an experimental basis, naturally, no guarantees. I now read the theater reviews more attentively, also the ones in the regionwide newspaper that we'd subscribed to at the office; I noted the names that cropped up repeatedly and even arranged for our bowling club to go to the Shakespeare production that had just arrived on tour in L. It was a bleak evening with a lot of screaming and yelling and harsh, cackling laughter; the actors chased one another all over the stage, the racket erupted from every quarter, so that you could hardly understand the text. Sometimes there were clouds of smoke, and music droned out of the loudspeakers periodically, only to break off abruptly again, without my being able to work out why. It was deafening; despite that I found it boring, but it's true that my thoughts were elsewhere. Ernst moved restlessly in his seat next to mine, and when I asked, doubtless reprovingly, if he weren't enjoying himself, he said Yes I am, very much. Maybe just a little loud? At the interval Michael came over to our group in the jam-packed theater café and talked about the "enormous intensity" that Z could still summon up. Almost all of us held back from any criticism, only Freddy spoke up quite loudly to say that the whole thing was over his head and what he'd really like was a good draft Pils; he'd set aside time specially to read up on the play at home and he didn't recognize a thing in this; and besides, he wondered how with all this madness going on, the madness of the king was supposed to make any impression at all; that was the only reason he was staying, it interested him technically, you might say. While he was grandstanding like this, Michael stood behind my armchair, in which I was sitting with legs crossed, smoking a cigarette. All of a sudden I felt his fingers brush across the back of my neck, so that all the hairs on my body stood on end. I wanted more than anything to beg him to stop and not to stop, ever; I didn't know if it might not be the best thing for everything to blow up right then and there, as Ernst worked his way through the crowd bringing a glass of champagne for me, dragging his left leg a little as he looked round in search of me. Just as he discovered me, Michael pulled his hand back, nodded to him casually, and moved off to another group that greeted him with hellos. He didn't look round at me again, and for a short time I felt hollowed out and helpless, as if he'd left me, as if in removing his hand from my body and yielding to my husband he had taken some final decision.

Excerpted from Mrs. Sartoris by Elke Schmitter. Copyright© 2003 by Elke Schmitter. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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