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from the December 2010 issue

On Killing

Carola Johansson’s invitation to spend a weekend in her villa in Andalusia arrived on April 7. I smiled wearily because it could only have been a bad joke on the part of one of my friends. Just days before, we had been speaking in the pub about Carola Johansson; new photos, taken by cleverly disguised paparazzi, had appeared in the papers. My friends had brought me the photos because they knew of my weakness for Carola Johansson, and now they had forged, as I believed, this invitation: I threw it into the garbage can. All I knew about Carola, all anybody knew about her, was based on rumors that were flashed in huge headlines across the world by questionable reporters and usually retracted again weeks later in a tiny column in the back section of the newspaper. It almost seemed as if no one knew her personally and hardly anyone had ever seen her. How she had acquired her evidently huge fortune remained in the dark. Carola Johansson avoided the public, and the few secret photos had often been taken from a considerable distance, so that one could merely surmise her beauty, which the media portrayed in a mysterious light.

As I sat in the pub that evening I didn’t mention anything at first about the invitation and waited until I thought my friends would broach the topic of Carola. But that didn’t happen, and eventually I lost my patience. We had been drinking for some time before I finally asked my friends which of them had sent me the fake invitation.

“What invitation?” they asked.

“The one from Carola Johansson,” I said.

“From Carola JOHANSSON?!”

My friends played their role convincingly. Until the very end no one admitted to having written the invitation. One of them even spoke of rumors that were circulating that from time to time, for whatever reason, Carola Johansson sent out invitations to total strangers, unpretentious people leading quiet lives.  Finally I gave up, changed the topic, and ordered a new round of drinks.

Upon returning home I let myself fall into my chair. I had drunk too much, and was unable to think clearly. I got up after a while however, staggered a little and, clinging to the walls and furniture on my way to the kitchen, opened the garbage can and retrieved the invitation, buried between a moist coffee filter and a hard crust of bread. I could barely make anything out and ran my hands over my eyes. Then I noticed for the first time that the letter bore a Spanish stamp, cancelled in Cadiz. No, I thought, to travel to Andalusia just to play a trick on me: my friends wouldn’t have gone that far. But perhaps, I thought, one of their acquaintances just happened to be there and mailed the letter from Spain. Drunk and grinning I sat down and wrote a reply to the person who pretended to be Carola Johansson.  And I accepted. I would be pleased, I wrote, to come to Andalusia in three weeks, in late May, during the Pentecost holidays. Then I took a walk and threw the letter into the mailbox. The fresh air felt good.

Daily routine took over, I worked, passed the time, and I had almost forgotten my reply to Carola Johansson, when two weeks later a new letter arrived, in which Carola wrote that she was looking forward to my visit. In the letter she had enclosed a ticket. Carola wrote that I should spend a week in Andalusia, for the first few days she had reserved for me a hotel near Tarifa, and on Friday she would be expecting me for the weekend in her “Residence in the Andalusian hinterland, tranquil, peaceful, and remote.” I called the airline and the hotel and received the confirmation that a flight and room had indeed been booked in my name. Then it dawned on me that it had to be a misunderstanding. Perhaps there was another person who had the same name as mine—it had to be someone Carola Johansson knew, a mix-up. I really should have written her and cleared up the misunderstanding. I did the opposite. I sat in the chair, fanned myself with my ticket, and decided to act as if all were in perfect order.

It was a short flight, first class, nonstop to Malaga, where a rental car was waiting for me, not a small Renault, not a Fiat Panda, smallest category, which I was familiar with from my frugal travels, no, it was a BMW convertible, I put the top down, and when the motor started up and I drove off, I could barely believe it. I didn’t drive to Tarifa immediately, I made a detour, drove via Ronda, looked down into the gorge, drove on toward the Atlantic coast, through pine forests, with trees that looked like innumerable extraterrestrial flying objects placed on tall shafts, passed by virtually untouched beaches. I didn’t reach the hotel until late that night.

I was given a so-called suite and had no idea what to do with all the rooms. In the morning when I stepped outside onto my balcony and saw the sea, I stood at the railing for an hour motionless. I spent the first days as if in a state of intoxication, enjoyed the beach or jogged or watched the surfers gliding over the sea, relished the occasional cool breezes, strolled across a gigantic artificially constructed sand dune and inspected the ruins of a Roman harbor town.

In the evening I hung out at the hotel bar, where I could eat and drink whatever I wanted, at Frau Johansson’s expense naturally. Somehow everything I saw and experienced struck me as curiously vague and distorted: Wherever I looked, whether into marble basins, in old and immensely valuable cabinets, or at the exquisite, delicate carpets, everything was so blindingly unreal, that I had the feeling that I had left my real self in Germany and sent a mere shell to Andalusia.

On Friday I woke up with a headache. During breakfast I noticed that my hand was trembling slightly.  For a moment I thought about returning to Malaga and taking the next plane back. But curiosity triumphed over cowardice. I packed my belongings and said good-bye to the concierge. In the parking lot next to my rental car was a big white limousine beside which two men in chauffeur uniforms were waiting for me. The older of the two said he had been assigned to take me to Frau Johansson. He relieved me of my suitcase and opened the rear door.  I handed the key to my BMW convertible to his companion, climbed into the limo and found myself surrounded by spacious leather cushions, soft music, and a fully equipped bar; I  helped myself. The front of the automobile was separated from the rear by a glass panel.

After some time I knocked, the chauffeur pressed a button, the window rolled down and I asked him if he were certain that it was ME he had to pick up and take to Carola Johansson.

Yes, he said, he had been told my name and given a photo.

“A photo?”  I asked. “What kind of photo?”

He reached over to the passenger seat beside him and showed me a photo of me standing in front of the entrance to my apartment in Germany.

“How did you get that?” I exclaimed.

“From Frau Johansson,” he answered. The chauffeur looked at me in the rearview mirror but said nothing more. The glass panel moved up again and I looked for a stronger drink in the minibar.

Fifteen minutes later we reached the huge walls of an estate, drove along these walls for a while until we came to a gate guarded by two watchmen with dogs. I had to get out, I was frisked, the back seat of the car was inspected, they removed my suitcase from the trunk and opened it up. One of the guards finally said: “Esta bien!” He nodded toward us, and we drove on.

The villa was huge, the windows small, a large stone lion stood by the entrance.  The door was opened by a man. He wore a similar outfit as the chauffeur. He greeted me and told me to follow him. I turned around and noticed how the car disappeared in a small cloud of dust. Then I entered the house and heard the door shutting behind me. For a moment I was breathing sheer panic. I hastily reached for the doorknob to step outside again to inhale fresh air, but I heard the servant saying in a loud voice: “This way, please!” I closed my eyes, calmed down, let go of the doorknob, followed the man, and at that moment heard an ugly, sharp, scraping noise from the outside, by the door, but I did not know what it could be.

The man led me into a large, bright dining room in which there was nothing more than a table and nine chairs.  We crossed the room and entered the kitchen. The gigantic freezer immediately caught my attention; it was so huge that I could easily have fit into it without any difficulty.  The man said the freezer was filled with frozen meals, ready to be eaten.

He would gladly have enjoyed taking care of me personally but the instructions were explicit: During the entire weekend the house was to be kept free of all staff; Frau Johansson wanted to spend the two days alone with me. And so he apologized for any inconveniences but hoped I could manage. The bedroom, he said, was on the second floor, on the right, the only door not locked. Did I have any other questions?

“Yes, indeed,” I said and grabbed at my neck. “I’d like to speak with Frau Johansson, this very moment.”

“That’s impossible,” the man said. “Frau Johansson won’t be arriving until tomorrow morning. You will be spending the first night alone in the house.”

“That’s out of the question,” I said.

“No one,” the man said very calmly. “No one,” he repeated, “wants to force you to do anything. No one wants to detain you here against your will. You are free to make any decision. Until eleven o’clock the chauffeur is at your disposal to drive you to the airport, back to Malaga, should you choose to leave.”

The man, however, looked at me with amazement, incredulous that I could seriously consider rejecting an invitation from Carola Johansson instead of anticipating the coming days with a sense of exhilaration. He told me to reflect upon things calmly, there was after all enough time. He was going to bring me a cocktail and then say good-bye. I hesitated a bit too long; he had already left me before I could have replied. A cocktail, I felt, can’t do any harm now that I was here already. But then I suddenly recalled the noise from before, the noise I had heard at the entrance, and now I knew with alarming certainty that it could only have been the door being bolted from the outside.  I jumped up, ran through the entrance hall, reached for the knob: the door was open. I stepped outside, the sun was burning hot and cast its heat all about. Then I noticed in the distance, by the gate, a flash, it had to be the chauffeur’s car.  There was no need to feel uneasy, I told myself, everything was in order.

I returned to the kitchen, the servant brought me my cocktail, said good-bye, and left me alone.

I heard the front door closing. No further noises. Everything remained quiet. Now—I believed the man—I was alone in the house. I drank.

After a while I got up. In addition to the kitchen, dining room, and a huge bath on the ground floor, I came upon two living rooms with large walls of windows that looked out onto a huge garden. In the garden was a swimming pool. I felt like swimming, but I couldn’t get the windows to open, I saw the tracks on which the glass was mounted; there had to be an electronic mechanism. I looked, but found nothing. I left the villa by the front door and walked around the house.  Around the back there was a small hedge that I squeezed through to get into the garden.  I was now standing by the pool. As I looked up I had an odd sensation: Carola Johansson’s rooms had to be there, the locked rooms. And what if the servant had lied? If she hadn’t left at all? If she were observing me? This very minute? Slightly aroused I undressed and imagined her standing behind the curtains and watching me. I jumped into the water. Later on I lay down on a deck chair. I fell asleep, and when I woke up I had a sunburn. Two hours had passed, my chest hurt, I got dressed, went into the kitchen, had a snack, and drank some red wine. Then I sat quietly in the dining room. The afternoon light shone through the window. My anxiety yielded more and more to a deeper curiosity. What could possibly happen, I kept thinking. To be alone with Carola in this house posed no danger. And now a novel, unknown sensation of vanity mingled with my curiosity: Here SHE was, Carola, who seemed to want something from ME, she, the well-known woman, the center of attention, wanted something from me, the nameless, unknown one.

The evening still lay before me. I went upstairs. A long hallway with five doors extended to my left: they were all locked.  To the right was an open door leading to my bedroom and bath. I sat down on the bed. I didn’t see a television anywhere. Along the wall stood a desk on which a book lay. I walked over to it. It wasn’t a printed book, but rather a thick sheaf wrapped in leather with the title ON KILLING: manuscripts, sheets of paper bundled together, partly in German, partly in Spanish, the book was only half-finished, the second half remained empty, nothing but white sheets, a sight that affected me strangely. I sat down and began to read at once. It dealt with reports about various people who had only one thing in common: all had at one time killed something. Sometimes the act of killing was forthright and direct, sometimes I had to read more closely to realize it dealt with an inner killing, a killing of emotions.  I couldn’t put the book down, I read for several hours, and when I finally looked up—I was quite startled—it was already dark outside.

Without being aware of it, I had turned on the desk lamp. I looked at my watch: it was just before eleven. The various descriptions of killing had stimulated my imagination and the darkness that penetrated the windows was oddly palpable. Then I suddenly realized that in this house which I didn’t know, in this house that had locked doors behind which were things unknown, in this house that belonged to a person I had never actually met, that in this house I had to spend the night alone. It wasn’t too late, I thought, the chauffeur was still waiting for me. I ran down the stairs and stepped outside into the darkness. I paused for a moment. I couldn’t discern anything. Crickets. A nocturnal bird. The collected heat of the day.  Little breeze. My gaze groped like a cane through the darkness. I walked in the direction of the gate, slowly. From there I heard a car being started, two taillights flashed and then disappeared. And while I still considered running or shouting, I heard a growling.

Dogs, I thought, the park is teeming with dogs. I walked back slowly, arrived unscathed at the house, slipped inside and closed the door. I took two bottles of red wine from the kitchen, left the lights on throughout the house, and locked myself in the bedroom after I had checked all the closets and corners and determined that no one was in the room. Then I emptied a bottle in the briefest of time, hoping that the alcohol would take its effect and make me tired. I undressed, got into bed, did not cover myself up since it was still warm, but I was reluctant to open the window, out of fear that someone I didn’t know might crawl into my room.

I didn’t wake up until it was already light outside. I went into the bathroom, splashed water on my face, put on shorts, unlocked the door, opened it and stood before Carola Johansson.

We were only inches apart, so close that I saw her eyes, her nose, her mouth, open and slightly blurred.  She took one step back and asked in clearest German if I wanted to swim a few laps with her. I nodded automatically. She turned around and went downstairs. She was wearing a white bathrobe, was barefoot, her hair dyed a reddish color, her shoulders strangely broad. I put on a swim suit, looked at my sunburnt stomach, took a towel and went downstairs. She had not waited for me. The glass door stood open and I entered the garden. Carola’s bathrobe was lying on the edge of the pool. She herself was swimming already. I descended the silver-gray stone steps into the pool. The water was still pleasantly cool. Not until I was swimming past Carola did I notice that she was naked, her shoulders and arms muscular. She swam very fast, and I made an effort not to lag too far behind, but I chose a lane farther away from her. She swam without speaking to me. Even at times when our lanes crossed she swam past me without paying attention to me, concentrating only on the strokes ahead. I was not accustomed to such strenuous activity so early in the morning, I slowed down and clung periodically to the edge of the pool. Carola on the other hand seemed to swim faster from lap to lap, as if the first few had only been a warm-up exercise and now she intended to give it her all.

After half an hour I got out of the water, exhausted, and dried myself off.  I saw that Carola turned and suddenly stopped swimming. She held on to the edge of the pool and pulled herself out of the water a bit. I could see the outline of her breasts. She placed an index finger on her lips. That was meant as a sign for me, but she did not look at me but rather toward the opposite end of the pool. A wild duck had settled there on the lawn and was waddling in the direction of the pool. It stopped briefly at the pool’s edge, then spread its wings and fluttered into the water. At the same moment Carola dove under the water. Quietly. I saw her crossing the pool with a few powerful strokes, silently, beneath the surface of the water, saw from above her strong upper thighs and the cleft of her buttocks. The duck, which was grooming itself in the water, was suddenly jerked under. I heard a quacking, briefly, then all went quiet. Carola did not immediately surface again, half a minute passed before her head emerged from the water. She took a deep breath, looked at me, extended her right arm toward me; she was holding the dead duck by its feet. “Vermin,” she said, and climbed out of the pool. “If I don’t do anything about it, the entire pool is filled with dirt.”  She now stood naked before me, but it did not seem to concern her. She pressed the dead duck into my hand before she put on her bathrobe and entered the house.  I placed the duck beside a deck chair and followed her. Carola was already sitting at the breakfast table in front of plates with sausage, eggs, and something that looked like bulls’ testicles. There were also two pots of a marmalade-like paste. I sat down, took a roll from the basket, spread some marmalade on it, and asked: “Peach or apricot?”

“Neither,” Carola said.

I bit into the roll, the concoction tasted anything but sweet, more like curry and cumin.

“Well?” I asked while chewing.

“Fetus,” she said. “Cat, unborn, aborted, cooked, mixed with Indian spices, a delicacy.”

I smiled a tortured smile, looked at her quizzically, and when she nodded solemnly and affirmatively, I spat the half-chewed bite onto the plate. “What’s this supposed to mean?” I exclaimed. “Do you want to poison me?”

“Why?” she asked. “Nothing tastes better than things killed off before birth. You eat eggs, don’t you?”

I was silent and looked at Carola more closely.

“What is it you want from me?” I asked.

“I had you followed and observed,” Carola Johansson said.

She was wearing her hair down, it was still wet from swimming, and individual strands fell across her face, so that she had to brush the hair from her forehead from time to time. Her fingers were narrow, her arms and shoulders on the other hand, even though still covered by the bathrobe, intimated that she was into physical fitness.

“Had me followed?” I whispered.

Carola chewed and swallowed the last bite of sausage, looked at me for a long time, and I was seized by an ice-cold desire to get up and approach her, but suddenly she began to talk, and I had to concentrate to understand what she was saying, she spoke about killing, so casually, calmly, slowly, her eyes locked with mine, she called herself a researcher in the realm of killing, a collector of varieties of killing. She spoke of the innumerable ways to kill, of the daily, hourly orgy of killing that goes on worldwide, she gave me all sorts of brutal examples, dissected the inexhaustible possibilities of killing, spoke about several personal killing experiences, as she called them, and I felt more and more constricted while she was talking, the word, “killing,” took my breath away, the repulsive Is became two terrified eyes, I understood nothing, had no idea what she intended, what she wanted, what she had in mind, and then, fitfully, strangely, violently, it was she who suddenly stood up, took a step toward me, while continuing to talk, approached me, extended her hand, pushed her chair back, which had been facing mine, opened a drawer concealed in the table, all this while still talking, talking, talking, and I was relieved that it was only a newspaper that she took out. She placed the folded newspaper on the table, then walked toward the door, and since she continued to talk in her calm, sober, cold tone, even while she was already standing in the doorway and had left the room, I thought she would return momentarily, that she would interrupt her speech only briefly, in order to continue talking after her return, and so I remained in my chair as if she had constructed with her words a cage in which I now sat.

But Carola Johansson did not return. I stared at the door through which she had vanished. Not until half an hour later did my paralysis subside, it was as if the effect of a poisonous sting was wearing off, and I focused on the newspaper lying before me. I saw the photo of an accident: a burned-out car at the bottom of a gorge. Then I read the text. It concerned a rental car, more precisely, a BMW convertible. The driver was burned beyond recognition. The body could not be identified. From the car, however, one was able to discover who the man had been. The relatives of the tourist had already been notified of his death.

His remains were already on their way to Germany. I read the article once more, stood up, walked to the door, opened it, I saw no one. Slowly I ducked out of the room and felt my way along the walls to the entrance. The door was open, I walked outside and took a few steps in the direction of the gate when the dogs appeared and surrounded me. They did not growl, they didn’t even bare their teeth, remained very calm, only looked at me, panting almost affectionately. I did not move. The house was twenty yards away, the gate several hundred. I took a step forward. The dog in the very front rolled his eyes so that I could see for a moment the whites of his eyes. Suddenly his tongue was hanging out of his mouth and he salivated. I took another step forward, the dog barked, only once, as if he wanted to say, I’m not going to bother with you any longer. Quietly I walked back to the house.

I locked myself in my bedroom, pulled the curtains shut and through a gap observed the area surrounding the pool. Nothing was happening. I was alone. I was incapable of thinking clearly. I had only this one image before me: Carola Johansson, outside, in the hallway, with a loaded gun, her left eye squinting, her right one in front of the scope, waiting for me to open the door. She would be able to kill me, I thought, kill me without anyone finding out, it was quite simple, a perfect plan. It’ll be good to wait for the night, I thought. When darkness envelops the house it will also be more difficult for Carola. Then I looked around the room and searched for weapons. I found the empty bottle of red wine. I shattered it. The broken shards were sharp. I tinkered with the cord from the curtain and twisted it into a noose. I smashed a chair and placed the legs next to the bottle and noose on the bed.

The waiting began. I tried to think of something else, something that could calm me down, that I could cling to, I sought normalcy, the calm, peaceful, smooth flow of ordinary life I was familiar with. I managed to soothe my heart beat.

When it had turned dark, I placed the noose around my shoulder, took the broken bottle shard in my left hand, a chair leg in my right, cautiously opened the door and stepped outside. Everything was dark in the hallway. I crossed the hall and cringed at every creaking of the floorboards. Light was shining from under the fourth door. I crept toward it, bent down and peeked through the keyhole. There, in the room, was Carola standing and facing me, still wearing her white bathrobe. As if she had been waiting for me to appear, she turned toward the wall, lay down and stretched out flat on the floor and pulled out a small blue ball and a little chopstick. She placed the ball on the carpet, a foot or two from the wall. She closed an eye, and I noticed how she was moving the little chopstick back and forth in the direction of the ball but without touching it, as if preparing for a billiard shot.

Carola was lying there, in deep concentration, holding her breath as the little chopstick finally touched the ball, which rolled toward the wall, and then disappeared in a hole which I had been unable to detect from my vantage point. Seconds passed before the ball reappeared, propelled by a tiny muzzle of hair: a mouse was steering it out of the hole. Carola reached into the pocket of her bathrobe and exchanged the ball for a piece of cheese. The mouse crawled back into the hole with its cheese. After it had vanished, Carola sharply turned her head in my direction and hurled a glance, like a knife, toward me through the keyhole. I  ducked, lost my balance, fell down, got up, left the broken bottle and chair leg lying there, ran through the hall, bumped several times into protruding objects, and reached my bedroom door, which I quickly locked from the inside. I spent the next half hour trying to erase the image from my mind, trying to wipe her gaze from my eyes, stared again and again at the same spot, but nothing registered, nothing at all, I was obsessing about one thing only: do not under any circumstance shut your eyes. If you shut your eyes, I thought, you will conjure her up. Anything but falling asleep, I thought. If you fall asleep, I thought, she will be here when you wake up. With all my might I tried to soothe my erratic thoughts, but I failed. I only knew I had to keep my eyes open, somehow, I had to last the night, until sunrise. After a few minutes I realized what I had been staring at convulsively the whole time:  at the desk, at the book, which was still lying there.

I walked over and opened it. Don’t close your eyes, I thought, don’t close your eyes, keep your thoughts clear and calm, be prepared for what will transpire. I took a pen from the table and began to write, without thinking, spontaneously, immediately, I wrote about what was at stake, I wrote about life, I wrote about my life, I wrote as a matter of course about the most reassuring, the most comforting, the most peaceful thing imaginable, about one of my endlessly ordinary days at home. I minutely picked to pieces one of these ordinary days from getting up in the mornings, squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube, washing and shaving, all the details of my daily routine. I virtually burrowed into this day, described the monotonous streetcar rides to work, the endlessly long hours that dragged on as I labored over masses of documents. I described the reading, the underlining, the separating of copies, the sorting, the never-ending rubber-stamping of documents that had arrived, that had to be dealt with, that had to be dated, that had been completed, that had to be sent back, all of it totally uniform, in the same color, day after day shuffling by in the same seedy garment. In precise detail I described how the rubber stamps felt, how they looked, how they smelled, I described each and every one of these stamps, which I regularly had to press onto the same spot of every arriving document, I wrote in real time, so to speak, and in this eternally detailed description I brought boredom itself back to the desk. After I had depicted my entire day at the office in detail that bordered on madness, I finally wrote myself away from the office and ordered, in writing, something to eat. I ate surrounded by every domestic detail; I even mentioned the toothpick with which I pulled little threads of meat from the gaps between my teeth, immersed myself in my daily visits to pubs, wrote about my daily beers, made myself intoxicated with words, noticed how my handwriting slipped on the paper more and more, stumbled, got up again, staggered, lost words,  and with my last strength I wrote myself into bed, cursed the following morning and tapped a number into the alarm clock before asking myself why someone like me existed at all.

When I woke up she was there. I no longer knew when I had stopped writing, when I had gone to bed, and when I had fallen asleep. All I knew was: she was there. I knew it even though I kept my eyes firmly shut.  And suddenly I thought: she is here only if I see her, she is here only if I open my eyes. I didn’t move. I pretended to be asleep. I thought I felt her hands hovering above my body.  I didn’t really feel the pressure of her fingers, it was as if she were holding her hands a few millimeters above my skin, so that every little hair stood on end. And then her breath. Strangely cold and fresh. And everywhere. As if her mouth were exploring, very slowly, my body.  After some time I noticed that she was withdrawing. It became warmer. I heard something from the direction of my desk. I kept my eyes firmly shut.

Don’t open your eyes, I thought, whatever you do, don’t open your eyes. I didn’t sleep anymore that night. Not even for a second. I lay on my back. Birds woke up and provided the noises of the morning. With closed eyes I left the bed and tapped my way to the window.  I pushed the curtains aside. An orange-red behind my eyelids. Light flooded over me.  Finally. It poured into my room as if through badly closed watertight doors, and I looked. At first I saw nothing, held my hand over my veiled eyes, squeezed them shut, turned around, and looked into the room. No one was here, and the book was gone.

It’s pointless, I thought. I have to resign myself to it. At some time, I thought, I will leave the room. Will have to leave.  It’s pointless.  There’s no way out.  I opened the door, prepared for anything, but nothing happened. I waited for a while: silence. Then I walked down to the pool. No one stopped me. I swam. I swam extremely slowly, rested from time to time. Altogether I spent about two hours in the water, the sun burned my head, but I was certain: these are my last moments.

But suddenly the chauffeur approached the edge of the pool, he held my suitcase and my belongings. “Your plane,” he said.  I got out of the water, dressed, asked no questions, took the suitcase and followed the chauffeur to the car. No dogs anywhere in sight. The chauffeur held the door open for me, I climbed in. The man did not say one word on the way to Malaga.  At the airport he drew a letter from his pocket, handed it to me, and nodded good-bye.

I checked my suitcase, and then sat in the terminal and waited. I fanned myself for a while with the letter, then I opened it. It contained a bent white card with black trim. It showed a cross. And above the cross Carola had scribbled:  “As thanks for your text on killing.” I flipped the card open and read the invitation, read my name, read the customary words of mourning, read the date of the funeral, of my funeral. The day after tomorrow. In Germany. And then I pictured myself standing behind a tree, at the cemetery, with sunglasses, a hat, staring at my coffin, which was slowly sinking into the grave, and I: agitated, oddly relieved, finally, to be dead.

From Fluchtversuche. Copyright 2006 Markus Orths, copyright 2006 Schoeffling and Company, Frankfurt. Translation copyright 2010 by Renate Latimer. All rights reserved.

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