The Lost Son • Für immer mein

The Lost Son • Für immer mein

Translated from German by Uta Haas

Prologue – The Last Chapter

No dreams. Blank mind. Only darkness.

And suddenly a piercing noise, somewhere out there. But in here he was safely hidden. His eyelids heavy, so heavy. The rest of his body leaden. His heart beating the steady rhythm of a slave galley.

The noise grew louder. LOUDER.

Stop – my ears!

His eyelids seemed stitched together, and he had to separate them forcefully. Opening his eyes, he squinted into glaring white. Anything was better than this erratic noise blaring on and off. He must find the source and switch it off, return to blissful sleep here in –

Where the hell was he?

Slowly things took shape around him. Iron everywhere. Weights, on the floor and on bars. This definitely wasn’t his study. It wasn’t a room he had ever seen before.

The slave galley in his chest skipped a few beats. Adrenaline leaked through a hole somwhere. Not enough for coordinated action but enough to start him thinking. He closed his eyes again. First things first.

– My name is Tarek Waldmann.

Good start. Now slowly put together what had happened last, one step at a time. This routine had been drilled into him when he was a child, for the times when he had carelessly lost his leather E.T.

Last recollection before everything went dark?

– I am a murder suspect.

The leak in the galley got bigger. Panic flooded in.

– Right, how about some more concrete memories?

Let’s start again. Last memory before it all went dark?

– I was in Helga’s flat. Helga, who is supposed to be my mother all of a sudden. She had wanted to tell me the last chapter of my story and explain everything to me.

He snorted a laugh. Now that it was too late, they wanted to explain everything to him.

He had pushed open the door to Helga’s kitchen, his insides bubbling like lava. Calmly, Helga had shut the door of the little stove in the corner and turned to face him, glancing up as she wiped her sooty fingers on her navy-blue trousers. A smile that could read him.

And suddenly he was lying here, a bottomless chasm between the kitchen, and him and Helga. How to bridge that gap now? Too much work. Much better to go back to sleep. He shifted into a more comfortable position, but his back bumped into something soft.

Someone else, right beside him. A heavy arm draped possessively across his upper body, a hand curled around his chest. He took it, chuckling. Lina and her desperate need for physical contact. Her embraces had turned into something like a Heimlich maneuver. He pulled the hand and arm tighter across his chest, like the edge of a blanket, wanting to huddle up against the body behind him. No resistance.
Does that really feel like Lina? something inside him whispered. Or even someone alive?

He blinked, drew himself up, and looked at the hand in his. Strong, straight fingers. Age spots. Definitely not Lina. Without letting go of the hand, he looked over his shoulder.

It was Helga alright. There was his mother, sleeping, her arm strangely twisted in his grasp. She didn’t seem to mind. He pulled at it and shook her, but he suspected what would come next. He knew a few things about dead people by this point. They didn’t wake up in a hurry.

Two in two days, Tarek. What will the two friendly Viennese police inspectors say to that?

Once more, double-edged blades pierced his eardrums. A doorbell, jarring and demanding. Somebody banging on the sturdy door with hands and fists, making it shake. Tarek’s name – Open the damn door!

Adrenaline coursed through his heart, roaring at him to finally feel fear. It was time to accept that no one in Helga’s story was going to live happily ever after, especially someone who was up to his neck in everything. He had to do something, dammit, and at once!

He couldn’t. It was as if someone had shackled his energy and brain, and dumped them into a glassy tank of water. And now here he was, watching the two of them make a last ditch attempt to explain to him who had gotten him into this mess, urging him to get out before it was too late. It certainly didn’t look like a lesson in escapology. With a resigned smile, he patted Helga’s hand.

Oh, Mom, he thought hazily. What have we done?

Für immer mein was published in 2013 by Eire Verlag, Salzkotten.
The Lost Son is forthcoming from
Weyward Sisters

The Creative Process is collaborating with the
Global Literature in Libraries Initiative

and Weyward Sisters on global literary initiatives.

Ellen Dunne is the pen name of an Austrian writer, born in Salzburg. Ellen worked as a copy writer in advertising agencies before moving to Dublin, where she worked in various roles at the Google Europe HQ. In 2011, her first novel "Wie du mir" was published with small German press Eire Verlag. "Für immer mein" (German original of The Lost Son) was published in 2013. "Harte Landung", first part of a crime novel series, was published by Insel in 2017. She lived and worked in Berlin, Munich and Mexico City, since 2004 in Dublin.

MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Can you tell us a little about the origins of The Lost Son and why you wrote it?*:
This story originally spun off from me exploring how to turn a piece of family history of my husband's grandparents into a novel. I got fascinated by the idea of one person finding out about their family's past in the form of a self-written biography. Then the idea of a lost child came into the mix, and when I read about forced adoptions in former Eastern Germany and the initiative of a Berlin woman, Katrin Behr, to help people unearthing their stories, the idea for The Lost Son was born.

It is quite a dark story of an adopted (and quite lost) young man who is approached by his real mother under cover, but their reunification gets so marred by the lies and tragedies of the past as well as the inability of all involved to get over their personal hurt, it all goes horribly wrong.
To me, the story is best described as "family noir", and the German title "Für immer mein" (directly translated Forever Mine) reflects the possessive love that both sets of parents feel towards a child that they both deem "theirs". The English title The Lost Son aims more at the melancholic aspect of the story. Despite the dark and inherently sad story, my goal was to make it easy to read, accessible and also entertaining.

Why do you write?
I always loved to read, and also liked to spend my time inside (not too sporty for sure!). The lives of the characters just fascinated me, and also the emotions that well written books could evoke in me. In reality I often was an anxious child - reading made it possible to go places and live through adventures without the frightening reality of living through them myself.
I started my career in advertising, as a copy writer, so I am used to call myself a writer. In a sense of an author of a work of fiction, it definitely took its dear while, as I felt shy about my ambitions for a long time. Only when I started having readers because I got published I got the confidence of calling myself an author.

The Art of Translation
This translation was my first, and it was commissioned by myself, so I guess this made a big difference to the usual process. Uta Haas, my translator, just like myself, is a native German speaker, and it was also her first work of literary translation. I think she did amazingly well. One advantage, especially for the parts when Eastern German Helga was involved, was that she could very well relate and therefore translate the more tough and direct "German English" that makes Helga's language so distinct and compelling. For Tarek's more fluid communication, which is influenced by having grown up in both Austria and Ireland, we also took on board Trish Flanagan, a very capable native Irish editor. So the translation was a real collaborative work. I was fascinated to find out that, being in the English speaking world for so long and reading a lot of books of UK, Irish and US-American writers, the style I would write in English would differ quite a bit from my German writing style, while both influenced each other.

Were you born into a family of writers or artists?
I was born into a family mainly gifted and active in music. Both my great-grandfather and grandfather were conductors of the local marching bands, my brother is a musician and mixer/producer, while my stepdad was always a connoisseur of classical music. Living in Salzburg, which is steeped in classical music, my parents exposed me very early on to opera, too.

What were some of your formative influences? Which teachers supported you on your path to becoming a writer?
Still, I always read a lot and started my teenage writing "career" after a very engaged project of a former German teacher of mine, who created an anthology of our school essays, taking head shots from us "auteurs" and hand-produced the anthology. I have my copy until today, and from then on I started to write. From the start, I went for the long haul and wrote my first novel with 15. IT by Stephen King, a gift from my brother for my 14th birthday, had kicked off a reading frenzy, mainly horror novels, but also a lot of contemporary pieces. It is hard to single out names, but books that definitely influenced me as a writer and propelled me in certain directions such as Arundhati Roy, Andre Dubus, Northern Irish Bernard MacLaverty, Eoin McNamee, but also German writers such as Robert Schneider. In general, I just enjoy the often more light-hearted approach of UK/Irish writers. I do appreciate humor, especially in the face of darkness.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you?
My second passion definitely is music, and I would find it hard to write without. Lyrics of songs can inspire me but also turn me off a song completely.

What are you working on now?
Currently, I am working on the 2nd novel of my crime novel series around a half German, half Irish policewoman. The first part will be out in August 2017. It is my first major publishing contract after a good couple of years trying to break in, so I am very excited, trying to balance all my hopes with the reality of many books being published at the same time, and still being an unknown author.

What are your hopes for the future of literature?
To me, the future of literature is bright. It might shift its shape and how it is consumed, but there will always be the love for stories - so plenty of room for people who tell them.

Land of Lies • Lügenland

Land of Lies • Lügenland

Robbie was seven when he told his first lie. His mother had given him
a wrinkled old bill and asked him to buy her a pack of king-size
Kents
 at the grocery store. Robbie bought an ice cream cone instead.
He
hid the change under a big, white stone in the backyard of their
 apartment building and told his mother that a giant, redheaded kid
with a missing front tooth had kicked him in the shin and taken the
money. She believed him. And Robbie hasn’t stopped lying since.
–ETGAR KERET
"Lieland"

 

Translated from German by Rachel Hildebrandt
German version
Gudrun Lerchbaum 's Creative Process

Chapter One

Day 1

I meet up with Julia on the bank of the Kaiserwasser the afternoon before the wedding. Kati shows up, too. We toast my old life as a soldier and the new one about to begin. The break is as drastic as the one five years ago, and like that one, this one can only be survived in an inebriated state.

We loll around on threadbare blankets and squint up through the greenery at the sinking sun, the sky bluer than it has been in weeks. I fish the pills out of my hip pack, toss one in my mouth, and swish it down with vodka. Julia snags one, too. Kati doesn’t want any, although she needs to relax more than anyone else. However, my supply is limited, and I don’t force people to take anything, least of all her. Affixed by a narrow band, the topcam’s green light sits like an iridescent third eye on her forehead. It isn’t blinking today, although she’s constantly sharing everything that happens to her on Mindmine. The reality is that Ms. Public Servant doesn't want to be seen out drinking in public. Insufficient role model material.

A small child careens toward us, arms outstretched. He trips over the edge of the blanket and falls onto all fours. I turn in his direction, my head propped on one hand.

“Hey, sweetie!” I click my tongue.

The child crows and bares his four teeth, before crawling toward me. He grabs my shirt and pulls himself upright, legs spread. I stroke his plump cheek with my finger and bury my fingertip in the dimple in his double chin. I will be a mother soon enough, and a little practice can’t hurt. With his puffy little hands, the munchkin pats around on the gun stuck in my hip holster. I pop the strap open and hold the Glock out to him. He chortles and reaches for the barrel.

I have to laugh. “Look at that. You know what it’s all about!”

“Take that thing back!” Kati shrieks at the same moment the mother materializes. Without saying a word, she grabs the child around the waist with both hands and stumbles backward, her eyes wide with panic.

“What? Are you scared we might stick your little dumpling on the grill?” I call after her. “We were just playing around.”

“It would be fun to have a barbecue, though,” Julia adds as she scratches at the stump ending at her prosthesis. Without standing up, she sends a flat stone skipping across the water. Startled, three ducks take flight, forming a squadron to search for a new destination.

I am still struggling with my irritation over Kati’s company. She hangs around Julia like a terrier, refusing to get lost. A terrier whose teeth are sunk into her missing leg.

Julia takes a long swig. “To your big day,” she says and passes me the vodka bottle. “If you’ve found the one, there’s still hope for me.”

“Shut up!” I yank up a handful of grass and hurl it in her direction. “You have work, a real job. I’m just getting married, that’s all. A home, children to take care of… I’d trade places with you if I could!”

Which was a lie, since I still have both legs. 

“That’s not true!” Kati cut in quickly, her forehead furrowed disapprovingly. “You’ve always dreamed of getting married, even back in school. The white carriage, a sea of flowers, all of it. It’s the best thing that could happen to you! And now you pretend…”

As if nothing had changed since we were in school. She still knows best. I fiddle around with my gun, throw myself on my back, and take aim through the foliage at a helicopter clattering down Wagramer Strasse. 

“I’m not pretending. Doubt is the prerequisite for every advancement.” I swing my gun toward her. “I think, therefore I am. You don’t think, therefore you aren’t. Click!”

Kati’s hands fumble around in the air. “I would be very grateful… put that thing away!”

“Hey, folks, violence is only one solution among many.” Julia grinned. “Stop the shooting! You just have cold feet, girl. Relax.” She motions me over, the bottle clasped in her right hand. “Lie down!” With her left hand, she pinches my nose closed, so I have to gulp for air. She pours vodka down my open throat. I try to swallow and twist my head away, but I’m afraid I might break my nose, which Julia is holding mercilessly. The alcohol dribbles over my cheeks and down my neck. I splutter, choke.

Kati snatches the bottle from Julia and dries it with a corner of the blanket. “So, what’s your dress like?” she asks. Her eyes grow misty. “Do you remember mine? An absolute dream! You were so jealous!”

I wipe my face with my sleeve and my fingers on my pants before I unbuckle my wrist cell and straighten the display. I scroll through the pictures. “There! My mother’s wedding dress. With some extra ruffles at the bottom. It was too short.”

Kati takes the strap from me and wrinkles her forehead. “Have you already posted this?” She holds the picture up for Julia.

I watch them and know what they are thinking. I can hardly recognize myself in the princess with towering curls, sprouting out of the cloudy mountain of ruffles. Squinting, they compare my current condition with the stranger in the photo.

I try to escape their scrutiny by melting into the ground. My camo, which is just as pointless in the city as faith in a higher justice, finally has a purpose here on the gray-green blanket, splotched as it is with light filtering through the leaves above. Starting tomorrow, I will have to make do without its protection, and my days will begin with time spent in my closet, wondering what I should wear. Want to wear. Free to call shots about what I will do on a given day.

“How is he?” Julia wonders.

The vodka still stings my eyes, causing them to tear up. I sit up and cross my legs, taking a sip from the bottle before I hand it back to Julia.

“He’s alright. Except for his damp palms. In bed…” I gulp as I think about the groping and the slobbery kisses. “...well, it’ll be alright. In any case, a 78% character match and an 86% genetic combat… Shit, damn booze - com-pat-i-bil-i-ty. That’s what I meant. Better than what he had with his first wife.” The sun blinds me, and I scoot over into the shade.

Kati’s head sways. She purses her lips and resumes her sweet demeanor. “78 and 86, not bad. We had 81 and 89, but that’s not all that better.”

Julia slugs her on the shoulder. “Has your husband already started looking for your successor? Married for four years and still not pregnant. Watch out!”

“She’s gone,” I say. At least today is supposed to be about me, not Kati.

“Gone? Who?” Julia asks.

“His first wife.”

“What do you mean, gone? Dead?”

“No idea. Maybe in the militia, where all losers end up. A painter or a drinker, barren or a thinker. A stalwart weapon, aiming true, will make a soldier yet of you.” I quote the maxim used in the campaign that had lured me out of my studio five years ago. “Battle hymns cure artists’ dreams.

Childbearing or mine burying,” Julia whispers as she hands Kati the bottle with a wink. I don’t know that slogan and suspect she made it up.

Kati’s face now. Despite the fact that as a teacher, she won’t land in the militia, whether she ever has kids or not. Education is a form of national defense. Only those who know their country’s borders can defend them and all that rot. Does she think of these slogans, too? Either way, she’s gnawing on her lower lip and choking back down whatever is on the tip of her tongue. Julia can still say whatever she wants where Kati is concerned. One of the last fading sunbeams sweeps across her gentle features, causing her mocha-colored hair to gleam as the sun sinks behind the Kahlenberg. With my finger, I copy the wave of a curl sweeping across her cheek onto my pant leg. Behind us, the last family gathers up its swimming things and leaves for home.

“Something’s missing,” Julia comments, her eyes fixed on my cell. “No veil, that would be too much. Maybe a white satin band, loosely braided”

I crawl closer to her, as the ground buckles and tips beneath me. The go pill combined with the alcohol and the heat. I have a hard time keeping my balance, but eventually sit upright and prop myself against Julia’s shoulder. She has removed her prosthetic leg. The lower part now lays in the meadow, her turquoise linen shoe tied neatly and cocked at a right angle, the ruffles of a white sock frothing out, just like they did back then. Always the same combination, never changing over the years. All that’s lacking are the red splatters. The bone fragments and bloody tissue are missing from the flesh-colored limb, too.

It occurred around the time that people began to plant mines in their gardens in an effort to protect themselves and their possessions. During the turbulent times around the collapse of the Union, raising a family in the suburbs was no longer such a positive thing. On the other hand, this time was a good one in terms of fashion, as men started to shave off their beards. Any bearded man ran the risk of being taken for an Islamist. The belligerent squads of the Righteous, which were running wild in those days, refused to grant anyone the benefit of the doubt. Distrust, fear, and a sense of pending catastrophe, of a massive war, hung over our childhoods like storm clouds. We did not attach any more significance to this than the threat of a heavy rain shower.

As it turned out, there was no major disaster. At least, not the one everyone was waiting for. The Righteous seized power at the last minute and purged the country, calling every citizen up for duty, drawing boundaries, and building fences.

We were playing basketball outside the garage. Julia, Kati and I. Shirin had already gone home, her parents were constantly worried about her. The ball sailed over the fence. It just sat there, glowing orange, on the grass. The chain link was only chest high, and there was nobody in sight.

Kati should have gotten the ball, since she was the one who had thrown it too hard.

After it happened, I started to pull the arms and legs off my Barbie dolls and recombine them. A black leg for the white Barbie, four white arms for the black torso. I had to sew new clothes for that one. Back then, there were still multiethnic Barbies. I also crocheted a lot.

 

“A white satin band?” I asked, staring at the wedding dress picture. “I don’t know. Maybe it should be a crown of thorns. Rose stems wound into a wreath, the petals strewn around my feet.”

The shot crashed into the tree right beside us, sending bark fragments and every nearby bird into the air.

“Take cover!” Julia shouts, as she hides behind the trunk.

The guard is standing less than ten meters away, by the fence surrounding the sports field, his semiautomatic trained on us. A bearded seventy-year-old man in the cornflower blue uniform of the civil defense corps. I reach for my weapon, my adrenaline at fighting level, sweat breaking out all over, my dizziness and shaking have vanished. I take aim at him.

“Get out of here, you drunken riffraff!”

Kati gets to her feet and slowly approaches the old man, her arms stretched out like crippled wings, palms up, a cloying smile. “Please excuse us for disturbing you. I teach over there at the high school.” She vaguely points across the water, as if the man with the gun in his hand had just asked for a school recommendation for his grandchildren. “I’m here for a bachelor send-off with my friends over there. A few high spirits are in due order, wouldn’t you say?”

She gives an artificial laugh as she raises her arms and throws her head back. As if she wants to point the old man toward the seventh heaven. He does not lower his weapon, but his shoulders unclench.

“I promise that we won’t be here much longer. After all, I don’t want to be completely wasted at the wedding tomorrow.”

I, I, I, I. All eyes on her, as usual. The bullet puts an abrupt end to her babbling. I drop my weapon, as the guard does his. Watch as she sways, falls. The guard is the only one who can see her eyes. His mouth opens, his jaw unhinged. He looks over at Julia, who is peering out from behind her tree trunk, and finally at me. He staggers back a few steps and dashes away, hunched over and darting erratically like a hare.

Julia creeps out from behind the tree, her eyes flitting back and forth between Kati and me and the spot where the man is about to disappear within the clubhouse. She crawls over to Kati lying motionless on her stomach, and stares at the hole punched into the white blouse, underneath her left shoulder blade. Like a time-lapse film of a rose in bloom, the blood is seeping into the fabric. Julia grasps Kati by the shoulder, attempting to turn her over.

Sobriety rushes through my body like ice water. “Leave it! We have to get out of here before the militia shows up.”

Shoving the Glock back in its holster, I sweep up the prosthetic leg and toss it to Julia. I wipe off the bottle on the blanket to get rid of DNA evidence and fingerprints before I hurl it into the river. I pause for a moment, gasping. How quickly everything can change. The shot had simply gone off. Just like that. I close my fingers around the still-warm pistol, yearning to wipe it down and throw it after the bottle. However, the engraved service number on it will lead straight back to me, even without my fingerprints. Besides, I’m supposed to turn it back in tomorrow when I formally resign my position.

Julia grabs my arm and yanks me away.

Lügenland was published in 2016 by
Pendragon Verlag, Bielefeld, Germany.

Land of Lies is forthcoming from Weyward Sisters
The Creative Process is collaborating with the
Global Literature in Libraries Initiative
and
Weyward Sisters on global literary initiatives.

-

Lügenland

Tag 1

Am Nachmittag vor der Hochzeit treffe ich Julia am Ufer des Kaiserwassers. Kati ist auch da. Wir trinken: auf mein altes Leben als Soldatin und auf den anstehenden Neustart. Der Bruch so drastisch wie jener vor fünf Jahren, auch dieser nur betäubt zu ertragen.

Auf abgewetzten Decken rekeln wir uns, blinzeln durch das Laubwerk in die tief stehende Sonne, der Himmel so blau wie seit Wochen nicht mehr. So blau, wie wir bald sein werden. Ich fische die Pillen aus der Hüfttasche, werfe eine ein und spüle sie mit Wodka hinunter. Julia zieht mit. Kati will keine, obwohl sie es am nötigsten hätte, endlich locker zu werden. Aber mein Vorrat ist begrenzt und ich dränge niemandem etwas auf, ihr schon gar nicht. Das grüne Licht der Topcam, die, an einem schmalen Stirnband befestigt, wie ein schillerndes drittes Auge auf ihrer Stirn sitzt, blinkt heute nicht, obwohl sie sonst jede Lebensäußerung auf Mindmine teilt. Doch beim Trinken in der Öffentlichkeit will die Frau Staatsdienerin nicht gesehen werden. Mangelnde Vorbildwirkung.

Ein Kleinkind taumelt mit ausgebreiteten Armen auf uns zu, stolpert über den Rand der Decke und fällt auf alle viere. Ich drehe mich zu ihm, den Kopf in die Hand gestützt.

„Na, du Süßer!“ Ich schnalze mit der Zunge. 

Lachend zeigt das Kind mir seine vier Zähne und krabbelt auf mich zu. Es sucht Halt an meinem Shirt und zieht sich hoch in einen breitbeinigen Stand. Ich streiche mit dem Zeigefinger über seine pralle Wange und lasse die Fingerkuppe in dem Grübchen auf seinem Doppelkinn verschwinden. Bald werde ich selbst Mutter sein, da kann ein wenig Übung nicht schaden. Mit seinen aufgeblasenen Händchen patscht der Zwerg auf die Waffe, die in meinem Hüftholster steckt. Ich öffne den Druckknopf, halte ihm die Glock entgegen. Glucksend greift er nach dem Lauf. 

Ich muss lachen. „Ja, du weißt, worauf es ankommt!“

„Nimm ihm das Ding weg!“, kreischt Kati und dann ist auch schon die Mutter da. Ohne ein Wort packt sie das Kind mit beiden Händen um seine Mitte und stolpert rückwärts davon, die Augen panisch aufgerissen. 

„Du schaust ja, als hättest du Angst, wir könnten dein Dickerchen auf den Grill legen!“, rufe ich ihr nach. „Wir haben doch nur gespielt.“

„Grillen wär aber auch fein“, sagt Julia und kratzt sich am Stumpf oberhalb der Prothese. Ohne aufzustehen, lässt sie einen flachen Stein über das Wasser hüpfen, der drei Enten aufscheucht. Flatternd steigen sie auf, formieren sich, ein Geschwader auf der Suche nach dem nächsten Ziel. 

Ich kämpfe noch immer mit meinem Ärger über Katis Anwesenheit. Wie ein Terrier hängt sie an Julia, nicht loszuwerden. Ein Terrier, der sich in das fehlende Bein verbissen hat.

Julia nimmt einen tiefen Schluck. „Auf deinen großen Tag“, sagt sie und reicht mir die Wodkaflasche weiter. „Wenn sogar du einen findest, kann ich ja noch hoffen.“

„Sei doch still!“ Ich reiße eine Handvoll Gras aus, werfe es in ihre Richtung. „Du hast Arbeit, einen richtigen Job. Ich werde nur heiraten. Haushalt, Kinder … wenn ich könnte, würde ich mit dir tauschen!“

Das ist gelogen, denn immerhin habe ich noch beide Beine.

„Ist doch nicht wahr!“, sagt Kati auch prompt, die Stirn missbilligend gerunzelt. „Du hast doch schon immer vom Heiraten geträumt, damals in der Schule. Weiße Kutsche, Blütenmeer und alles. Ist doch das Beste, was dir passieren kann! Und jetzt tust du so …“

Als ob sich nichts geändert hätte seit unserer Schulzeit. Noch immer weiß sie alles besser. Ich spiele mit der Waffe, lasse mich auf den Rücken fallen und visiere durch das Blattwerk den Hubschrauber an, der die Wagramer Straße entlangknattert. 

„Ich tu nicht so. Zweifel ist die Voraussetzung für jeden Erkenntnisfortschritt.“ Ich schwenke die Waffe in ihre Richtung. „Ich denke, also bin ich. Du denkst nicht, also bist du nicht. Klick!“ 

Kati wedelt mit den Händen herum. „Ich wäre dir wirklich sehr dankbar … leg das Ding weg!“

„Hey Leute, Gewalt ist nur eine Lösung unter vielen.“ Julia grinst. „Schluss mit Schuss! Du hast bloß kalte Füße, Mädel. Entspann dich.“ Sie winkt mich näher, die Flasche in der Rechten. „Leg dich hin!“ Mit der Linken hält sie mir die Nase zu, dass ich nach Luft schnappen muss, mit der Rechten gießt sie mir den Wodka in den Rachen. Ich versuche zu schlucken, dann den Kopf wegzudrehen, doch ich habe Angst, mir die Nase zu brechen, so gnadenlos hält Julia fest. Das Zeug rinnt mir über die Wangen und den Nacken hinunter. Ich spucke, huste. 

Kati entwindet Julia die Flasche und trocknet sie mit einem Zipfel der Decke ab. „Und? Wie ist dein Kleid?“, fragt sie. Ihr Blick wird schmalzig. „Weißt du noch – meines? Ein Traum! Du warst so neidisch!“

Ich tupfe mir mit dem Ärmel das Gesicht trocken und wische die Finger an der Hose ab, bevor ich mein Fonband vom Handgelenk löse und das Display gerade biege. Ich wische mich durch die Bilder. „Da! Das Hochzeitskleid meiner Mutter. Mit extra Rüschen unten. War zu kurz.“

Kati nimmt mir das Band aus der Hand und runzelt die Stirn. „Hast du das schon gepostet?“ Sie hält Julia das Bild unter die Nase.

Ich sehe ihnen an, was sie denken, erkenne mich ja selbst kaum wieder in der Prinzessin mit dem aufgesteckten Haarteil über Rüschenwolkenbergen. Unter halb gesenkten Lidern vermessen sie den Ist-Zustand, vergleichen ihn mit der Fremden auf dem Foto. 

Ich versuche, ihre Blicke zu ignorieren und mit dem Untergrund zu verschmelzen. Mein Flecktarn, in der Stadt so sinnlos wie der Glaube an höhere Gerechtigkeit, ergibt auf der graugrünen Decke mit den durch das Blätterdach gefilterten Lichtflecken endlich Sinn. Schon morgen muss ich auf seinen Schutz verzichten und jeden Tag vor dem Kleiderschrank grübeln, was ich anziehen soll. Will. Den ganzen Tag selbst bestimmen, was zu tun ist. 

„Wie ist er denn so?“, fragt Julia.

Der verschüttete Schnaps brennt noch in meinen Augen, lässt sie tränen. Ich setze mich in den Schneidersitz, nippe an der Flasche und reiche sie an Julia weiter. 

„Ganz okay. Bis auf die feuchten Hände. Im Bett …“, ich schlucke, denke an das Getatsche und die viel zu nassen Küsse, „… na ja, das wird schon. Immerhin 78 Prozent Charakterübereinstimmung und sogar 86 Prozent genetische Kombatt… – Scheiße, verdammter Fusel – Kom-pa-ti-bi-li-tät, wollte ich sagen. Mehr als mit seiner Ersten jedenfalls.“ Die Sonne sticht mir in die Augen und ich rutsche ein Stück weiter in den Schatten. 

Kati wiegt den Kopf, spitzt die Lippen, tut wieder einmal auf süß. „78 – 86, nicht schlecht. Bei uns waren es 81 – 89, aber so viel besser ist das ja auch nicht.“ 

Julia boxt ihr auf den Oberarm. „Hat dein Mann sich auch schon nach einer Nachfolgerin umgeschaut? Vier Jahre verheiratet und noch immer nicht schwanger. Pass bloß auf!“

„Sie ist weg“, sage ich. Wenigstens heute soll es um mich gehen und nicht um Kati.

„Weg? Wer?“, fragt Julia.

„Na, seine erste Frau.“

„Wie, weg? Tot?“

„Keine Ahnung. Vielleicht bei der Miliz. Wo alle Minderleister aufschlagen. Ob kunstverseucht, ob bipolar, ob süchtig oder unfruchtbar – die rechte Waffe in der Hand macht euch zum Teil der Heldenschar!“, zitiere ich den Leitsatz der Kampagne, die mich vor fünf Jahren aus dem Atelier geholt hat. „Marschgesang statt Ausdruckszwang.“

Kindersegen oder Minenlegen“, wispert Julia und reicht Kati anzüglich zwinkernd die Flasche. Den Spruch kenne ich nicht, den hat sie sich ausgedacht.

Katis Gesicht jetzt. Obwohl sie als Lehrerin sicher nicht bei der Miliz landen würde, ob sie nun Kinder bekommt oder nicht. Auch Bildung ist Landesverteidigung. Nur, wer die Grenzen des Landes kennt, kann sie auch verteidigen und all das Gewäsch. Ob sie auch an die Sprüche denkt? Jedenfalls kaut sie auf ihrer Unterlippe und würgt hinunter, was ihr auf der Zunge liegt. Noch immer kann Julia sich bei ihr alles erlauben. Einer der letzten Sonnenstrahlen streift ihr zartes Gesicht, lässt ihr mokkafarbenes Haar aufglänzen, bevor die Sonne hinter dem Kahlenberg versinkt. Mit dem Zeigefinger zeichne ich den Schwung der Locke, die sich über ihre Wange windet, auf mein Hosenbein. Hinter uns rafft die letzte Familie ihre Badesachen zusammen und macht sich auf den Heimweg.

„Irgendetwas fehlt“, sagt Julia, den Blick auf mein Fonband geheftet. „Kein Schleier, das wäre zu viel. Ein weißes Satinband vielleicht, locker eingeflochten.“

Auf allen vieren krieche ich zu ihr, weil der Boden unter mir buckelt und kippt. Go-Pill und Alkohol, dazu die Hitze. Den Kampf mit der Schwerkraft gewinne ich mit Mühe und richte mich auf, stütze mich auf Julias Schulter. Sie hat die Prothese abgenommen. Wie damals der abgetrennte Unterschenkel liegt sie in der Wiese, der türkisfarbene Leinenschuh am rechtwinklig abgespreizten Fuß ordentlich geschnürt, darüber die Rüsche eines weißen Söckchens, seit Jahren gleich. Nur die roten Spritzer fehlen. Und aus der fleischfarbenen Hülle ragen weder Knochensplitter noch blutiges Gewebe.

 

Es geschah, als die Leute begannen, ihre Gärten zu verminen, um sich und ihre Vorräte zu schützen. In den Unruhezeiten während des Zerfalls der Union war es auf einmal kein so großes Glück mehr, mit Kindern am Stadtrand zu wohnen. Modetechnisch hingegen war diese Zeit ein Gewinn, weil die Männer sich ihre Bärte abrasierten. Schließlich lief jeder Bärtige Gefahr, als Islamist zu gelten. Den Prügelpatrouillen der Aufrechten, die damals außer Rand und Band gerieten, wollte niemand einen Vorwand liefern. Wie Gewitterwolken hingen Misstrauen, Angst und die Erwartung einer Katastrophe, eines großen Krieges, über unserer Kindheit, ohne dass wir ihnen mehr Bedeutung zugemessen hätten, als der Gefahr eines kräftigen Regenschauers. 

Es ist ja dann auch nicht zum ganz großen Desaster gekommen. Nicht zu dem jedenfalls, auf das alle gewartet hatten. Gerade noch rechtzeitig hatten die Aufrechten die Macht übernommen und das Land gereinigt, jeden Einzelnen in die Pflicht genommen, Grenzen gezogen, Zäune errichtet. 

Wir spielten Basketball bei den Garagen, Julia, Kati und ich. Shirin war schon heimgegangen, ihre Eltern in dauernder Sorge um sie. Der Ball flog über einen Zaun. Orange leuchtend lag er auf dem Rasen, der Maschendraht brusthoch nur und niemand weit und breit zu sehen. 

Kati hätte gehen müssen. Sie hatte viel zu scharf geworfen. 

Danach fing ich an, den Barbiepuppen die Glieder auszureißen und sie neu zu kombinieren. Ein schwarzes Bein für die weiße Barbie, vier weiße Arme für den schwarzen Torso, dem ich daraufhin neue Kleider nähen musste. Damals hatte es noch fremdethnische Barbies gegeben. Auch gehäkelt habe ich viel.

 

„Ein weißes Satinband?“, frage ich und starre auf das Brautkleid-Bild. „Ich weiß nicht. Vielleicht eher eine Dornenkrone. Rosenstiele zum Kranz gewunden, die Blütenblätter zu meinen Füßen verstreut.“

Der Schuss kracht neben uns in den Baum, lässt Rindenstücke spritzen und die Vögel im Umkreis auffliegen. 

„Deckung!“, schreit Julia und sucht Schutz hinter dem Stamm.

Der Wächter steht keine zehn Meter entfernt am Zaun der Sportanlage, die Halbautomatische angelegt. Ein bärtiger Siebziger in der kornblumenblauen Uniform der Bürgerwehr. Ich taste nach meiner Waffe, Adrenalin auf Kampfpegel, Schweißausbruch, kein Schwindel mehr, kein Zittern. Ich nehme ihn ins Visier.

„Schert’s euch weg, versoffenes Gesindel!“

Kati steht auf und geht langsam auf den Alten zu, die Arme wie lahme Flügel ausgestreckt, die Handflächen offen, klebrig lächelnd. „Entschuldigen Sie, wenn wir Sie gestört haben sollten. Ich unterrichte drüben am Gymnasium.“ Sie deutet mit dem Zeigefinger vage über das Wasser. Als ob der Mann sich mit der Waffe in der Hand nach der besten Schule für seine Enkel erkundigt hätte. „Ich feiere mit meinen Freundinnen hier Junggesellenabschied, da muss es doch ein bisserl poltern.“ 

Selbst jetzt will sie politisch korrekt sein und vermeidet die weibliche Form, obwohl eindeutig kein Mann unter uns ist. Bloß kein linkes Gendersprech. Sie lacht affektiert, hebt die Arme und wirft den Kopf in den Nacken, als wolle sie dem Alten die Richtung zum siebten Himmel zeigen. Er behält die Waffe im Anschlag, doch seine Schultern entspannen sich. 

„Ich verspreche Ihnen, wir bleiben nicht mehr lange. Schließlich will ich morgen bei der Hochzeit nicht völlig verkatert sein.“

Ich, ich, ich, ich. Alle Blicke wie immer auf sie gerichtet. Der Schuss zieht einen endgültigen Schlussstrich unter ihr Geplapper. Ich lasse meine Waffe sinken wie der Wächter die seine, sehe sie taumeln, beobachte ihren Fall. Nur der Wächter kann ihr in die Augen sehen. Sein Mund steht offen, der Kiefer wie ausgehängt. Er sieht Julia an, die hinter ihrem Baumstamm hervorlugt, schließlich mich. Er schwankt einige Schritte rückwärts und rennt dann geduckt im Zickzack davon wie ein Feldhase. 

Julia kriecht hinter dem Baum hervor. Ihr Blick hetzt hin und her zwischen Kati und mir und der Stelle, wo der Mann gleich im Vereinsheim verschwinden wird. Sie robbt zu Kati, die reglos auf dem Bauch liegt, starrt auf das Loch, das unterhalb des linken Schulterblattes in der weißen Bluse prangt. Wie eine im Zeitraffer aufblühende Rose breitet sich das Blut auf dem Gewebe aus. Julia packt Kati an der Schulter, versucht, sie umzudrehen.

Wie Eiswasser schwappt Nüchternheit durch meinen tauben Körper. „Lass, wir müssen weg, bevor die Miliz kommt!“

Ich schiebe die Glock in das Holster, greife nach der Beinprothese und werfe sie Julia zu. Die Flasche wische ich an der Decke ab, genetische Spuren, Fingerabdrücke, bevor ich sie in den Fluss schleudere. Keuchend halte ich inne. Wie schnell sich alles ändern kann. Der Schuss hat sich gelöst. Einfach so. Ich lege die Hand an die noch warme Pistole, will auch sie abwischen, der Flasche hinterherwerfen. Doch die eingravierte Dienstnummer führt direkt zu mir, auch ohne Fingerabdrücke, und morgen früh bei meinem Dienstaustritt muss ich sie abgeben. 

Julia packt mich am Arm, reißt mich fort.

-

The Austrian writer Gudrun Lerchbaum grew up in Vienna, Paris, and Düsseldorf. Before and during her studies of Philosophy and Architecture she held various side jobs ranging from industrial worker to nude model for an art class. After graduation, she took up work as a freelance architect. Confined to bed after a riding accident in 2007 she started writing her first novel and became seriously addicted to the literary process. She currently lives in Vienna with her husband and has two daughters. https://gudrunlerchbaum.com

MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Can you tell us a little about the origins of Land of Lies and why you wrote it?
In 2012, I started looking after a 15-year-old Afghan girl who came to Austria as a refugee. Her story, her powerless exposure to cruel decisions by men in her country, made me furious. On her behalf, I searched for a literary voice that would be able to express her longing for a happy, quiet life as well as set free the suppressed aggression which she had buried inside.

To avoid the perception that these problems had nothing to do with our lives in the First World, I situated the story in our midst, in my own country. I wrote a short story about a distraught female protagonist living in a repressive regime in the near future. Her country is governed by a strong leader, whose party's principles echo the right-wing parties of our time. I didn't necessarily expect the future to be like this, but it seemed like one of many possible futures.

After the story was shortlisted in a competition, people started to ask me to continue the narrative. So that was what I did and the story became, with small alterations, the first chapter of my novel. I sent my stubborn heroine on a journey catalysed by a violent incident that cast her out of society, forcing her to reset her life and to take a stand against oppression on a personal level as well as politically.

As I was drawing my novel to a close, reality started to match my story. In some European countries, like Poland, Hungary and Finland as well as in Turkey, right-wing parties were elected to power. In Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands they also gained many votes, and now even the US, former leader of the free world, is ruled by a seemingly unscrupulous right-wing populist. Was the undesirable future I meant to imagine about to come true?
And the refugee girl I cared for? She now lives her life in another Austrian city. She works for her living and she defies every man who tries to limit her life and independence. Sometimes she might even be happy.

Why did you become a writer?
When I was a child I wrote stories, like many children do. They often involved horses and girls and all the sad things that happened to them, due to the fact, that they were mostly surrounded by really bad people. Eventually I stopped writing because there was so much else to do, so many experiences to be had. Finishing school, I had a brief impulse to become a writer. But as nobody encouraged me and I didn't really know what to write about, I cast that dream aside and headed for architecture.

I completely forgot about writing until the mid-2000s. At that time, I was in a relationship with a man who wanted to write a novel, and asked if I would like to contribute. He never got started, so on a lazy Sunday I wrote a few pages using what I thought was his perspective on our relationship. When I showed it to him, he went pale. I had captured his every thought. That was the moment I realized I could do it.

It was a thoroughly unhappy relationship, and we split soon afterward. But the infection had caught me. About a year later, on a riding-holiday with my daughter, I had an accident that prevented me from working and made my every movement painful for a few weeks. Bored, I took out the first pages I had written the previous year and started to develop them into a longer piece. It came as a surprise that the further I strayed from what had actually happened, the more fun writing became. I finished the novel, but it never got published, since the small publisher with whom I had signed a contract went bankrupt during the editing process.
I began to write short stories and to take courses in creative writing. My stories got published, and a few years later, my second novel was ready.

Being asked the question: What does writing give you that life can't? I have to say: Nothing! Writing gives me the same pleasure I get from imagining a building and how people would like to live or work in it. What's better, though: I can do everything on my own, follow every lead I choose. That's an incredible luxury. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite pay off as well financially, but I'll never stop dreaming.

The Art of Translation
For me, language is all about rhythm, and it's incredibly exciting to see it captured in another language. As the process of translation has only just begun, I can't provide any significant insights apart from that.

I work very closely with my translator, which of course is only possible because of my sufficient knowledge of the English language. I definitely enjoy the process and the way it improves my skills. It's hard to imagine how a translation into a language I don't speak would feel, but I look forward to that experience too.

Did your parents encourage you to become a writer?
I was always encouraged to read by my parents. They had nothing to do with writing or other arts, but they loved to read and still do. For many years my birthday presents consisted mainly of books. The occasional girls and horses story was significantly outweighed by adventure and literary children's books. I regretted, though, that girls usually played rather decorative roles in these works. On the other hand, this deficiency made me dream myself into the stories I had read, every evening in my bed when the light went out. This marked the true beginning of me inventing my own stories and switching into faraway worlds.

Which books did you love as a child?
Looking back my favourite book was Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. I also loved everything written by Erich Kästner. Beautifully written, exciting and witty – those were the books I cherished most.

Do you draw inspiration from other art forms?
All art is linked because, one way or another, you need to tell a story. Literature therefore might be the most direct form of art, but in my eyes the creative process is similar in all art forms. At least concerning architecture, I can say that for sure. You have to develop a sense of what you want to achieve, however blurry this picture may be. Eventually an idea materializes. Whether it be a persistent protagonist who struggles in your mind to come alive, or a dance-move that demands to be transformed into a building, or a colour flooding the grey city or ... You follow the lead of your inspiration, and then you have to work on the structures necessary to keep it up, to make it move or whatever it is you desire.

What are you working on now?
My current project is a noir novel featuring a woman who once sympathized with RAF terrorist movement. Now she is confined to a wheel-chair because of Multiple Sclerosis and strives to find the murderer of her ex-husband, a political journalist of Turkish origins, with the help of two equally unlikely allies. I am only halfway through it.

What are your hopes for the future of literature?
In one way or another, literature will always survive because there's an endless flow of stories to be told and an endless need to be told stories. One advantage of literature over film that I see is the fact that books leave you more space for your imagination. I hope people will always feel the need for that, too.

What are your concerns for the future of literature?
What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?

I believe that technology can change processes but not humanity itself. Whether we chat virtually or over a cup of coffee – it's still communication. In my lifetime, these new forms of communication have become available, and I have benefited greatly. One thing I worry about, however, is the increasing speed and the continuous accessibility eating up the time we need to dream and feed our creativity.

Respect is my keyword for our future, as much as for the present. We need to respect each other and the resources of the planet we depend upon. Every single person is responsible for the future.

Finnuala Fiesta

Finnuala Fiesta

And it's something every writer carries in them in their heart.
Carries–it's a big statement, but there's a small truth
within the kernel of it–carries the history, the geography, the rules
and the songs of the place they come from. 
It's inescapable.
And to throw it away or to lose it is a tragedy.
And to throw it away is a crime. So, for all my complaints
 about my native land, I am glad to be in there
on that bus
because it was a lovely thing to have.
There are a lot of them driving that bus.
I'm just one of the passengers.
–EDNA O’BRIEN

 

Finnuala Fiesta was as unpredictable as the weather. You’d finally think you finally had the measure of her when she’d surprise you with some new change of tack. The heater might go on the blink, the radio channels would change, or the windscreen wipers would spring into unexpected activity. One of her favourite tricks was to give a sudden lurch that’d drag you into the opposite lane where you could take your chances with oncoming traffic.

Her bodywork was splotched with carbuncular eruptions, some of which had burst open revealing the cancerous rust, Neil Young’s eternal insomniac, eating away at her, one crumbly orangey flake at a time. 

The blisters were O’Dwyer’s fault. He’d be before your time, from the O’Dwyers drapers above on the main street, there where the Aldi is now. O’Dwyer was a loner. Still waters and all that. Hands like shovels on him. Fond of his pint. After the pub shut he’d drive the Fiesta down onto the strand and park facing the waves, a cargo of take-out cans on the passenger seat, and The Eagles, the soundtrack to his life, on repeat. 

Finnuala chewed up the cassettes, copies he’d made from the vinyl at home. You’d see streels and ribbons of thin magnetic tape flashing in the breeze, caught up in the hawthorn hedges, and know that O’Dwyer and Finnuala had passed that way. If he’d lived long enough he would have moved on to the CDs, or the MP3s, but before he could get that far he ran straight into an oak tree, there by the corner of Kelly’s. I still feel a pang of guilt when I think of it.

The car was a write-off. For a long time you could still see traces of Finnuala’s red paint on the torn bark, the colour of lipstick or nail-varnish. That car was the only mistress O’Dwyer ever knew. The engine was shoved through his ribcage. You could say she broke his heart, and much of the rest of him too. 

It was a closed coffin funeral. If he was looking down from above he would have been surprised by the number of people who turned up, people who wouldn’t have given him the time of day if they passed him on the street when he was alive. They came for the Mammy’s sake as much as anything else. Mind you, he’d be the same with them. He was never a man for words, beyond the lyrics of The Eagles songs, which had a peculiar habit of working their way into his speech. 

For a while, there was an on-going debate down in Ryan’s as to which song O’Dwyer was listening to when he died.

 “It could have been Glen Frey telling him to Take it easy.”

“More likely your man Randy whathisface encouraging him to Take it to the limit one more time.”

“Are yiz sure it wasn’t Life in the fast lane?”

But these discussions weren’t mocking O’Dwyer, if anything they were sincere and respectful. You wouldn’t hear The Eagles played around here after that. If they came on on the radio you’d change the channel or turn it off, and this must have been the only town in Ireland without Hotel California on the jukebox. 

A few months before he died we were both caught up in an after-hours card game in Ryan’s. O’Dwyer slid the car keys to the centre of the table. 

“Are you sure you want to be doing that?”

He nodded. The cards were revealed. My royals flushed his pair of pairs down the drain. 

“Finnuala!” howled O’Dwyer, beating his head with his fists. “I’ll have her back off you this time next week if you’re man enough to wager,” he said, leaving the table forlorn and heart-broken. 

He could cast aspersions on my manhood all he wanted, I pocketed the keys. But Finnuala Fiesta was no real prize, as those remaining at the table took pains to remind me. 

“Sure that rust-bucket, she’d fall apart on you as soon as drive boy.” 

“Seen it last week down on the strand, so I did. Up to the axles in the waves and himself asleep inside of it.” 

I started to understand why O’Dwyer had given his car a name. Right from the start Finnuala showed a sight more personality than might normally be expected from a vehicle. Whether she was just naturally cantankerous, or whether it was because of the way O’Dwyer treated her, or the manner of her coming into my possession, exchanged on the whim of the cards, I can’t say. Whatever it was, she bore a grudge against me right from day one and was instrumental in the rapid withering of my tentatively budding romance with Brenda Flaherty.

“I swear, she’s neurotic,” I said to Brenda. 

I’d had a long-running streak of luck, unanimously declared by the patrons of Ryan’s, as bad, particularly when it came to the ladies. In my mind winning the Fiesta from O’Dwyer marked the beginning of a change in my fortunes and I hoped things might work out well with Brenda.

“That’s just anthropomorphic projection,” she said.

“Antropowhat?” 

“Seeing human characteristics in non-human things.” 

“Where do you come up with words like that at all?” 

“Books. Would you not read books?” 

“I might if it was about something that interested me, like gardening, or a bit of DIY, sure don’t I have a library card, but you wouldn’t come across words like anthropowhatsit in them.” 

Brenda had flaming red hair, though she called it auburn, and it gave fair warning of her garrulous nature, something any of her students at the community college would attest to if asked. Sharp-tongued and short-fused she was and God help the poor unfortunate who dared call her ginger or carrot-head. 

She was a well-made, broad-beamed woman, with a set of hips that would give a man’s hands ample room to rove and grip if such opportunity were ever presented, which much to my chagrin wasn’t. She had a habit of probing her teeth with her tongue that reminded me of the creature in the Alien movies, writhing around inside their hosts, ready to break free and wreak havoc and devastation to all around her, but be that as it may I was happy enough to get a taste of that same flustered tongue, though truth be told it was a rare enough occurrence, requiring the best part of a bottle of Blue Nun apiece over Sunday roast above in Grogan’s Hotel. Other than that it was hands off. 

“You must think I’m some sort of feckin’ eejit if you think you’ll be getting the milk for free without buying the cow,” she said, which was her way of bringing up the subject of wedding bells and rings, which wasn’t exactly what you might call forefront in my mind.

Like all school teachers back then she had a wardrobe of cardigans and A-line skirts, but the way Brenda wore them had a particular way of bringing the attention down from those womanly hips to the shapeliest set of calves this town has ever seen, all pure toned fibrous muscle, like marble statues of Greek Gods. 

It was the hill walking gave her the legs, she was a demon for it. I joined her a few times, panting over a profusion of granite and heather and up into the clouds. You’d never really know if you’d made it to the top, or even if there was a top. She wouldn’t say much on those hikes, but you could sense a certain calmness from her, though being true to herself she was always smouldering away beneath it, like a fire under slake. 

It all started to come apart when we arranged to go to see a film. I can’t remember what was showing, not that it matters anyhow, since, thanks to Finnuala Fiesta, we never made it to the cinema.

Brenda could have driven herself, but I wasn’t long after winning Finnuala and pictured myself a gallant prince charming come to collect his damsel in his carriage. Some carriage - more like a bloody pumpkin, and some prince as well, the sweet self-delusion of youth. 

It was the type of evening you might call soft, if by soft you meant grey and drizzling enough to justify windscreen wipers screeching back and forth at low speed, and not yet dark enough to warrant the use of headlights, though it would be understandable if you did, the type of evening you could encounter at any time of year in these parts, with the taste of salt on the air and seagulls suspended on the wind blowing in towards the land, with their moans of existential angst. Plaintive, I imagined Brenda saying. My best conversations with Brenda were always the imaginary ones. 

We’d talk about the way gulls are so unlike other birds. There’s a sense of menace about them, I imagined saying to her, like a gang of rowdies you might cross the street to avoid, and she’d say I know exactly what you mean, an aggressive aloofness in their sleek white-barrelled bodies, like miniature pit-bulls with beaks and wings, and I’d say always the vague threat that if you looked at them sideways they’d take out your eye with their curved yellow bills, though on a good day they might content themselves to just shit on your car.

Brenda was renting rooms from Mrs Maloney, up the top of the town in one of those old granite houses with the slate rooves. Mrs Maloney wouldn’t tolerate her tenants having male visitors, of any sort, at any time. I suspect that was precisely why Brenda chose those particular digs.

I parked out front and announced my arrival with a goose honk of the horn. The drizzle distorted the evening street through the wet windscreen, melting it into an Impressionist painting. 

I remembered the umbrella on the backseat and got out to meet Brenda, swinging the car door behind me, leaving the keys still snugly in the ignition.

We walked to the car, sharing the umbrella. She was wearing some sort of perfume. A good sign, I thought. Rust, or some other form of corrosion, whether moral or physical, caused the car door handle to jam. 

“Amn’t I after locking myself out of the car,” I said.

“And with the engine still running as well,” replied Brenda, in a put-down tone refined over years of use on recalcitrant adolescents. I blushed like a teenager. 

“Well that’s the evening ruined,” she said, letting out a sigh. “I hope you have a spare set of keys about you somewhere.”

I didn’t, but if anyone did it would be O’Dwyer. 

“Wait here until I go back upstairs for the keys to the Corolla,” Brenda said through tightly clenched teeth.

I almost answered “Yes Miss.” 

I stood under the pattering umbrella watching the grey evening fade to dark, breathing in the fumes from Finnuala’s exhaust while she shuddered in a manner not unlike someone caught in the throes of laughter. 

“Fuck you,” I muttered. “Anyway, I’m not the one with gull-shit on her bonnet.” 

There were only two places O’Dwyer was likely to be found, three if you counted his house, which was a long shot at that time of day, and since it was still too early for him to be parked down on the beach with the gulls and The Eagles the obvious place to look was Ryan’s. Brenda drove and waited in the car while I went inside.

I offered O’Dwyer a pint for his troubles, but he refused. 

“I’ll give them to you on one condition – you put them back in the pot on Friday night,” he said. “Plus you’ll have to give me a lift home now to find the keys as I’ve drink taken.” 

That was never something to stop him before, and I was reluctant to take the wager, but I had little choice if I was to try and salvage the situation with Brenda. She was none too impressed at missing the film, and I guessed would be little pleased at the prospect of playing taxi for a beery-breathed O’Dwyer.

Whether it was bad luck or good I can’t properly say, but when the keys of the Fiesta were placed in the pot in Ryan’s that Friday night I won.

“Double or quits ye coward,” roared O’Dwyer, which made no sense of course. I pocketed the keys again. 

One of these nights!” he called after me as I left the table, quoting his heroes, as was his wont.

 

A week later I drove up the grey drizzle street to Mrs Maloney’s. Brenda had been acting cool since our last attempted date and even in our imaginary conversations she wasn’t saying much. I had a box of Milk Tray and a bunch of flowers on the seat beside me as peace offerings. I parked and honked and saw the upstairs light go off. 

Carefully taking the keys out of the ignition I gathered up the chocolates and flowers and reached into the back seat for the umbrella. But my hands were too full, so I got out and put the keys on the roof while I wrestled the brolly out of the car. 

I closed the car door with my foot and as I did saw the keys slide down the curve of the wet roof. Instead of falling harmlessly into the gutter the trajectory of the keys’ slow-motion decent intersected perfectly with the arc described by the closing door, which clipped them and sent them sailing through the air to land in the passenger footwell at precisely the moment the door clunked shut, locked from the inside of course. 

Mrs Maloney’s front door opened and Brenda stepped out on the pavement.

“Were you going to open that umbrella?” Brenda asked witheringly. I felt like one of her classroom idiots. 

“Amn’t I after locking the keys inside again,” I stammered. “It happened just this instant. Can you drive me home so as I can pick up the spares?” 

“Won’t you come into my parlour said the spider to the fly,” she said, and then increasing the volume, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” the last three words spat out in short sharp barks.

“You wouldn’t even have to come in, just wait in the car while I get the keys.”

But she had already turned and gone back inside, but not before taking the Milk Tray and chrysanthemums. 

At least I had the umbrella. I finally opened it and walked home in the rain, cursing Finnuala Fiesta all the way. 

Spare keys safely in my pocket I retraced my steps, heading back up the town to reclaim my recalcitrant vehicle, passing the video shop with its buzzing blue neon, past the chipper with its steamed-up windows and greasy chip smell. I paused outside Ryan’s, collapsed the umbrella and went inside. 

O’Dwyer was sitting in his usual spot nursing a pint behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. 

“Is it yerself?”

“Indeed and it is.” 

“I thought you might be avoiding me.” 

“Ah now, why would I do that?”

You can’t hide those lying eyes,” he sang. 

I reached into my pocket for the car keys and dangled them in front of him. 

“Is it a game of cards you’re after?” O’Dwyer asked.

“I’d rather not take my chances. That car has been nothing but trouble to me. You keep them.”

I thrust the keys into his giant hand, not realizing that by reuniting him with the vengeful Finnuala I was sending him off to a meeting with an oak tree up by Kelly’s and a definitive place in a much too early grave.


Finnuala Fiesta originally appeared in issue 7 of
'The Incubator: New short fiction from Ireland' in December 2015

 

marcdefaoite500pxbw.jpg

Born in Dublin, Marc de Faoite lives on an island off the west coast of Malaysia. His short stories, articles, and book reviews have been published both in print and online. Tropical Madness, a collection of his short stories, was longlisted for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize.

MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Can you tell us a little about the origins of "Finnuala Fiesta" and why you wrote it?

Finnuala Fiesta was inspired by a real life incident where a friend accidentally locked his keys in his car twice. I wanted to set the story in Ireland and the rest just came from wherever it is that stories come from. Since the initial idea was quite funny I thought that this would be a humorous piece, and to a certain extent it is (or at least that was my intention) but the story in itself morphed into something quite sad, where none of the three main characters are in a better place by the end of the story than where they started.

How and when did you begin to write?
My parents brought me and my sister and brother on a camping holiday to France when we were children – this was back in the late seventies. I’m not sure what their thinking was, maybe it was just a way of keeping us quiet or entertained, but they bought the three of us notebooks and every evening in the tent after dinner by the light of a hissing camping-gaz lamp we would have to write what we had experienced during the day. I kept a diary on and off after that. I was an introverted kid and I felt terribly misunderstood, so I often poured my thoughts out into a spare copybook. I’m sure I would cringe if I was to read the sort of self-indulgent stuff I was writing back then, but part of me would be curious to read them and meet that earlier version of me. I still have the camping diary from that French holiday.

Is there a built in divide between writers and readers? Is this is what the resistance to interpretation is at least in part about?

As a writer you are trying to get something out from inside your head, or wherever stories and creativity come from, sometimes I feel it’s more through me than from me, but anyway, that process is inherently imperfect. Words have limitations and this is further complicated by the fact that words resonate differently for every reader. If I write ‘cheese’ I know for a fact that this conjures up very different images and emotional resonances and memories for me than it will for the reader. When I read one of my stories I want it to be as close as I can come to the pictures that the story makes in my head. Even if I sometimes (let’s be honest, rarely) feel that I get close to those images, when I do it is still never close enough. If I can’t read my own writing and accurately reproduce the images in my head then what hope do I have of conveying the same thing to a reader, or ensuring that the reader will see the same images or understand the same things? Reading is completely subjective. What the reader can take from writing is as dependent on what they bring to it as much as the actual writing.

When did you realize you were a writer?
It took until I had a few pieces published to actually consider myself as a writer. Yes, I spent a lot of time writing, but I didn't really feel entitled to call myself a 'writer' or even think of myself in that way for quite a while.

Why write?
Because it gives a sense of direction and coherence to an otherwise chaotic inner landscape. If I wasn't busy thinking about characters and plot and suchlike I would be left alone to face my own demons. Writing seems to me to be a reasonable way to divert the mind away from those demons, while at the same time tangentially addressing them through stories and themes.

What does writing give you that life does not give you?
I was going to say 'freedom' but I'm not sure that's true. It's certainly not an absolute freedom. But writing does allow a writer to expand and explore areas of the human psyche that might not be so readily open to exploration in 'real' life. Maybe above all writing is an act of empathy, placing yourself in someone else's shoes, allowing you to hold multiple perspectives on what it means or could mean to be human.

Were you born into a family of writers or artists?
I wasn't born into a family of writers or artists, but I was born and raised in Ireland, so that's almost the same thing.

My parents always encouraged me to read. The weekly trips to the public library were the highlight of my week. Both my parents read, but my father in particular. There were always plenty of books around the house. I suppose when you're a child you don't question it when you see a parent with a book in hand, but now as an adult I see how relatively rare that is, especially here in Malaysia where I live.

In early childhood, my reading habits were fairly mundane - the usual diet of Enid Blyton. Then the Hardy Boys and my sister's Nancy Drew books. There were some what are now called graphic novels - Tintin, Asterix, that sort of thing. I can't bring to mind any book from my childhood that made a particularly important impression on me though. In my teens I read a huge amount of Science Fiction - Asimov, Niven, Arthur C.Clarke ... the usual culprits.

Who encouraged you on your path to becoming a writer?
If there is one single person who has encouraged me most in my writing it is my editor and friend Sharon Bakar. Also Malaysian publisher Amir Muhammad who has always been very supportive, publishing my stories at first and then my collection of stories Tropical Madness. Then my wife. She gives me the time and the space and the tea that I need to write. She's very understanding about all of that and accepts that often the imaginary people in my head are more real to me than many actual people. 

Which books have been important to you?
In terms of writers I think reading Songlines by Bruce Chatwin was a bit of a revelation to me. I was also a big fan of Paul Theroux's travel writing when I was much younger. Looking at that now I see the themes of travel, and almost amateur anthropology are common there.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you?  What makes literature distinct from all other art forms?
I love cinema. Photography. Come to think of it there aren't really any forms of artistic expression that don't interest me. Maybe certain styles of music - I not much of a fan of techno or most country & western. I find a lot of pop music insipid, maybe that's an age thing, or maybe it's because all the good stuff has been done already. Architecture fascinates me, not so much on a theoretical level, but on an immediate experiential level, how the room or building or space that we are in can have such an impact on the psyche. For a number of years in my early twenties I was a live model for art classes in an art academy in Brussels. Mostly for drawing, but sometimes for sculpture which was really hard because it often meant holding the same pose over a period of weeks. That experience gave me an insider view from the 'production' side so to speak, but I've never been particularly coordinated when it comes to drawing or painting. My handwriting is atrocious.

Perhaps literature is the most 'participative' of art forms. All art is subjective of course, there's always an element of co-creation in any art form, but literature asks so much more from the reader. Most other art forms can be appreciated passively. I'm not saying they should be, but they can be. I don't think it's possible to passively read. Reading is always an activity, an action, that demands much more from the reader than just seeing.

What are you working on now?
I don't want to talk about what I'm working on now for fear I might jinx it. I'll just say that it excites me and I'm enjoying it. Even if it never sees the light of day, which is always a possibility, it will still have been worth it for what I'm getting out of it on a creative level. I think that's a key. the work has to be a reward in itself and not just a means to an uncertain end.

What are your hopes for the future of literature?
My hopes and concerns for the future of literature are very self-centred. I set myself a goal of reading 52 books this year. I'm slightly ahead, but it has really brought home how few books a person can actually read in a lifetime. I'll be fifty next year, so realistically I'm probably past the halfway post. The number of books to read is almost infinite, so there will inevitably be books I will never get to read. That saddens me in a way. It brings home our mortality.
On a broader level though, in a way it comes back to what I was saying about pop-music earlier - perhaps all the best stuff has been done, or that there are people out there creating fantastic work, but that it's drowned because there is just so much other work crowding it out.

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?
In a way technology democratizes a lot of things. Word spreads much quicker and more easily. I think that's a definite advantage for many writers, who might once have just been confined to a very narrow geographic market. Technology has also become a filter through which everything is viewed. There are certainly downsides, but I find it very exciting. As a species we've never had access to so much so easily. In the not so distant past if we wanted to hear the Dalai Lama speak we had to get to India and trek up to Dharamsala, or wait until he visited a nearby city. Now I can just go to YouTube and spend all evening listening to him speak if I wish. That's just one example. I bought a book online a few days ago. I had heard of the book from reviews I read online. I watched the author give a reading in a bookshop on the other side of the planet and enjoying what I heard decided to buy his book. All this without lifting my bum from my chair. That we live in such a world is to me quite incredible.

On another level though of course technology can pull us out of reality. Or even if, for example, as a writer we are already working on an alternative reality technology can pull us away from that too. I'm sure without Facebook I would write more than I do. I would certainly read more. On another level, and maybe this is me just justifying my behaviour here, I live on an island in almost complete isolation. I can go a long time without talking to another human being, in a face to face three dimensional reality way, but I'm always in contact with family and friends all over the world. That simply wasn't possible in the past. Like anything, technology can be used for good or bad. It's not so much the technology itself. It's a tool, like a hammer for example. A hammer can be used to help build a table or to smash someone's skull, but the violence isn't inherent in the hammer, in the tool itself. Human behaviour will express itself through whatever media, often in unexpected ways.

What are your hopes for our future on this planet?
To look at the future I look at the past. The world has changed irreversibly since I was a child. Damage has been done in the last few decades that can probably never be undone, at least not in our lifetimes. On one hand we've never had it so good - a much smaller percentage of people die in wars, from disease, or from famine than ever in human history. That doesn't mean it's a perfect situation, but for the majority of humans materially things are better than they have ever been. I'm no so sure about mentally, spiritually. People might no longer be as hungry or as ill, but there's a lot of unhappiness and depression. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that people feel they have less agency over their lives. In a simpler society you plant your food, harvest it, fish, whatever. Your actions count and you benefit from them, some of the time at least. at least you are participating in your own fate and destiny. AI and robotics are going to pretty much clear out the workforce. That seems quite clear. Increasingly the fields of activities in which humans excel are being supplanted by technology. One of humanity's biggest challenges for the future will be to find any meaning in life. Maybe that's where literature and art come in.

Parts of this interview were adapted from
a Q&A on Mel Ulm's Rereading Lives.

 

In Search of Benevolent Immortality

In Search of Benevolent Immortality

Someone I loved once
gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this too, was a gift.
—MARY OLIVER
"The Uses of Sorrow"

 

My mother sacrificed so much.
I try to mend fractured relations,
let light flicker into the sheltered past.
We packed whole lives into bundles
in search of what chooses us,
what wants to come back to the surface,
what needs to be said.
We had so many dreams
we didn’t know what to make of them.
And so with leopard’s ears
I hear beyond the range of sound
the ineffable, the sublime, my mother’s
breath, grandmother’s smile, ancestors’
voices, to soothe and heal the sorrow.
 

“In Search of Benevolent Immortality” was first published in
 Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2016)

Hélène Cardona was born in Paris and raised all over Europe before settling in the US. She earned her MA in American literature from the Sorbonne, where she wrote her thesis on Henry James. She is the author of 7 books, more recently the bilingual collections Life in Suspension, called “a vivid self-portrait as scholar, seer and muse” by John Ashbery, and Dreaming My Animal Selves, described by David Mason as “liminal, mystical and other-worldly.” Cardona’s luminous poetry, hailed as visionary by Richard Wilbur, explores consciousness, the power of place, and ancestral roots. It is poetry of alchemy and healing, a gateway to the unconscious and the dream world.

Her translations include Beyond Elsewhere (Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac), winner of a Hemingway Grant; Ce que nousportons (Dorianne Laux); Birnam Wood (José Manuel Cardona): and Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for WhitmanWeb. She contributes essays to The London Magazine, and co-edits Plume, Fulcrum, and Levure Littéraire.

The Girl with Green Hair

The Girl with Green Hair

Mattie got it into her head that the child was too afraid to come into the world. One night this thought was so strong she couldn’t sleep. She got out of bed, dressed quietly so as not to wake Trill and went outside. The old sycamore stood in a pool of moonlight, its branches brushed with silver. Mattie heaved her belly up with her arms and walked over the damp grass to the tree. She leaned against the trunk, feeling the texture of the bark on her skin, listening to the night sounds of birds and the scuttling of small creatures. She breathed in the earth smells of the surrounding fields. She made her child a promise.   

Next day Hathor was born. Mattie and Trill buried the afterbirth under the sycamore tree. Trill’s parents, not unexpectedly, refused to attend the ceremony and took the opportunity to voice their displeasure at Mattie’s naming their only grandchild after an Egyptian goddess.

     “Hathor? Lady of the sycamore?” Trill’s mother shook her head in disbelief. Nor was she soothed by Mattie’s explanation that the goddess, like the tree, embodied the qualities of sky, love, joy, beauty and music. Everything, in fact, that she wished for her child. 

    “What nonsense!” Trill’s mother said.”She’ll never fit in anywhere with a name like that.”

    “So... you didn’t feel that Trillion Pi was a wee bit out there too?” Mattie said.

    “Of course not. We’re mathematicians. What could be more natural?”  

Mattie looked at Trill. He shrugged. The shrug said, let it go.  Don’t waste your breath.

Hathor’s hair was flaxen, unlike her dark-haired parents, but by her third birthday it had taken on a distinctly green tinge. To refute his mother’s accusation that Mattie was dyeing their child’s hair, Trill brought someone in to look at the pipes. The plumber confirmed that the source of the problem was the copper sulphate that was leaching from the old corroded copper water pipes. When Mattie was reassured there was no danger to health she decided the pipes could stay and so could Hathor’s beautiful green hair. Trill, for once, told his parents to mind their own business. 

When Hathor started primary school her name and her hair caused enough of a stir for her parents to decide that the Rudolph Steiner school in the city would be the better option and well worth the longer commute. 

     “Oh Martha,” said Trill’s mother, “She’ll never fit in anywhere with that hair.”

    “She doesn’t have to,” said Mattie.

At her new school Hathor’s name was not considered unusual amongst all the Skylarks, Rains, Birdies, Celestials and Guineveres and nobody commented on her green hair. At home she picked wildflowers from the river banks, sang and danced in the fields and climbed the sycamore tree where she stayed for hours listening to the wind and drawing pictures of clouds and sky.

    “What about friends?” the grandparents asked. “It isn’t normal for a child that age to play on her own all the time. She should be in a sports team. A debating club. She should have piano lessons. Gym. Ballet. Choir. She should join Girl Guides. She needs to stop wasting time. She needs to study maths. She needs to stop dreaming her life away. She needs to stop drawing rubbish.” 

Trill suggested to Hathor that it might be best not to tell grandma that she had all the friends she needed in the larch, the poplar, the lacewood, the holly, and the sycamore, nor that she talked to them and that they told her stories and taught her songs. Hathor said why not, when it was true and Trill had no answer to that.

By the time Hathor was eighteen her hair was the colour of spring leaves. As many of her classmates at art school sported multi-hued hair, Hathor’s green locks passed unnoticed and everyone there dreamed and drew. At home she still sang and danced in the fields on her own, but she also painted trees and rivers and sky in all their different moods and seasons. Instead of the holiday jobs her grandmother told her to apply for to earn some money and to stop being idle, she spent her summer vacation painting. She told her parents it was a surprise and they couldn’t see it until she feltit truly expressed what she wanted it to.

When the painting was finished Hathorpropped the canvas up on the mantelpiece and called her parents to come in and look.

     They could see the painting was of the sycamore. But it looked not so much like a tree as a young girl with hair the colour of leaves, feet elongated into roots that fastened her to the earth, fingers tapering to twigs that stretched out towards the sky. 

    “Is it okay?” she asked.

    Her parents nodded. 

    “More than okay,” said Trill.

    “Much more than,” said Mattie.

The Girl with Green Hair was first published
in The Airgonaut in April 2017.

Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is a novelist, essayist, short story and flash-fiction writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia. Her work has been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally and has won several awards. Her flash fiction appears or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Blue Fifth Review and was selected for the UK 2017 National Flash Fiction Day international anthology, Sleep is a beautiful colour.
 

MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Why do you write?

My fiction often draws on environmental elements and their impact on people’s lives. Some of my short stories are set in the Arabian Gulf where I lived for a year and saw ancient buildings buried by the desert wind, and in Brazil, where I watched wind-fanned grass fires disfigure the Cerrado. In New Zealand, scorching nor’west winds rage across the Canterbury Plains in spring and summer, uprooting trees and sucking moisture out of the earth. During one such blistering wind, I saw, scored into a wooden plaque in the local butcher’s shop, the following quote from Gogol’s Dead Souls: ‘The air is torn and thundering as it turns to wind and everything on earth comes flying past.’ Soon after, I read Jan deBlieu’s book, Wind, where she describes the different names hot dry winds are given in various parts of the world and how they affect the inhabitants and the landscape. She relates advice from medical professionals about avoiding major decisions when wild winds blow. With all this in mind I wrote the short story that appears in Headland 8, "When the Wind Blows", which deals with the effect a prolonged nor’wester has on several families who live on the Canterbury Plains.

When I was 12 I watched a film on television about a herd of wild horses galloping through the surf. The film was in slow motion and I was mesmerised by the way the horses’ manes and tails caught the sunlight and sea spray, and the way light and shadow turned their eyes into dark hollows. As soon as the film finished I ran up to my room to write what I’d seen, thumbing through a dictionary to find new words to help me express my awe. I kept coming back to this story over several years, polishing and re-writing until eventually, six years later, I submitted it for a college assignment in creative writing and received a Distinction. That’s when the idea of becoming a writer seemed less nebulous.

My love of language grew from my father’s story-telling. He had been in the Merchant Navy and had travelled to exotic lands. When he exhausted his store of tales about the places he’d seen I gave him the titles and themes of stories I wanted him to make up. He also loved reciting the epic poems of Kipling and Longfellow. The books he gave me were of the adventure type that he had loved as a boy: Moby Dick, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines. Not surprising then that my first career choice was archaeologist. Though the career plans changed, my interest in what lay hidden beneath the surface remained. In my late teens I read my way through the Brontes, Austin, Elliot, Hardy, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Flaubert, Hugo, Colette, and Woolf. In my twenties, I taught, travelled, married and wrote, mostly poems I had no intention of showing anyone. In my early thirties, after moving from the UK to New Zealand, I began writing short stories for broadcast and publication, drawing on the landscape and interior/exterior worlds.

My first novel, A Distraction of Opposites, published in 1992, also excavates beneath the surface. What began as an image of a big black spider lurking in the centre of a web became a metaphor for how people can become trapped in sticky situations. The novel examines the world of the subconscious in parallel with the conscious and the story is narrated by the female protagonist trapped by the ‘spider’, a mentally unstable male. I completed this novel while holding the inaugural Louis Johnson New Writers’ Bursary. My second novel, Tomorrow’s Empire, explores the rise of a religious fundamentalist in Turkey and the culture clash between east and west. This novel took ten years to write, off and on, as I needed to do a great deal of research and travel through Turkey. It is narrated through the voice of the Turkish male protagonist and was published in New Zealand in 2000, two years after the Iranian President Khatami declared he no longer supported the killing of Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, though the fatwa would remain in place. The previous ten years had seen book burnings in the UK and bombings and killings elsewhere. Sensitivities about Rushdie’s book still ran high. When my publisher tried to have Tomorrow’s Empire published in the UK, not surprisingly, he was unsuccessful.

Can you tell us a little about the origins of this piece and why you wrote it?
A year after Tomorrow’s Empire was published my youngest daughter, Rebecca, was diagnosed with appendix cancer at the age of 22. She died 13 months later in 2002. In the year following her death I could no longer read or write or listen to music. In 2003 my husband and I decided to change our environment and the opportunity came to live and work in Oman for a year. It was a good decision and I filled notebooks with the characters we met, the situations we found ourselves in and the beautiful lunar landscape of Oman. We returned to New Zealand via a short visit to Brazil, a country we’d lived in a few years earlier. Back in New Zealand I completed, with High Distinction, a Master’s degree in Creative Writing through CQ University in Australia. Some of the short stories which resulted from this, set in Brazil and Oman, were broadcast on Radio New Zealand and one, The Stone, was included in The Best New Zealand Fiction, vol 4. This story was inspired by finding a stone with our daughter’s initial on it as we swam in the Indian Ocean on the second anniversary of her death.

My reading at that stage consisted solely of books about grief and I found that although there was no shortage of literature on grieving young adult death from suicide or accident, young adult death from cancer was so rare that there was very little material available. I thought that writing my own book might go some way to filling that gap. Because of the amount of research necessary it made sense to tackle the subject as a doctorate. I completed my PhD in 2010. The creative non-fiction part of my thesis, which details my own experience of parental bereavement, was published in 2011 by Canterbury University Press as Sing No Sad Songs. After producing several papers from my exegesis and attending conferences delivering them I was finally able to move on from this topic. In 2013 I began writing a new novel and completed the first draft while I was the recipient of the Seresin Landfall University of Otago Press Writing Residency.

When I finished the final draft of this novel in mid-2016 I discovered the New Zealand flash fiction journal, Flash Frontier and its store of beautiful short narratives. I loved the use of language in many of these stories and the way so much could be implied in so few words. I decided to set myself the challenge of writing in very short forms. Flash fiction generates a continuous flow of ideas and I have found it to be excellent discipline for writing longer pieces too. Looking at the flash fiction and short stories I have written over the past few months I see that many of them deal with loss of various kinds, but also suggest new possibilities. The ideas for these stories come from diverse sources – newspapers articles, fragments of conversation, images, memories, but some appear perfectly formed, apparently out of nowhere. An example of this is The Gatherers in Headland 7. This appeared one day as I walked by the Selwyn River with my dog. The sky was vivid blue, the Southern Alps glittered with snow, the tracks were covered in wildflowers, and the only sounds were bees and birds and the dog splashing in the water. These things filled my mind. And The Gatherers arrived.

In your childhood, who in your family encouraged you to tell stories? Who were some of your formative influences?
My love of language grew from my father’s story-telling. He had been in the Merchant Navy and had travelled to exotic lands. When he exhausted his store of tales about the places he’d seen I gave him the titles and themes of stories I wanted him to make up. He also loved reciting the epic poems of Kipling and Longfellow. The books he gave me were of the adventure type that he had loved as a boy: Moby Dick, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines. Not surprising then that my first career choice was archaeologist. Though the career plans changed, my interest in what lay hidden beneath the surface remained. In my late teens I read my way through the Brontes, Austin, Elliot, Hardy, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Flaubert, Hugo, Colette and Woolf.

You’ve also been a teacher.
In my twenties, I taught, travelled, married and wrote, mostly poems I had no intention of showing anyone. In my early thirties, after moving from the UK to New Zealand, I began writing short stories for broadcast and publication, drawing on the landscape and interior/exterior worlds.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you?
I'm interested in music and art but literature is my primary focus.

What are you working on now?
I'm currently completing a book of flash fiction titled The Girl with Green Hair and other stories.

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?
Flash Fiction is a form which has interested me in the last eighteen months. Many people believe it appeals to the internet generation because it is easily accessed and read while multi-tasking. However, I believe the best flash fiction should be read like poetry and returned to again and again for the beauty of the words and hidden allusions.

 

Parts of this interview were adapted from
a piece which first appeared in Headland 8, January 2017

 

at the still point, there the dance is

at the still point, there the dance is

"And when you write very short fiction you try
 to document a motion, some kind of movement.
It’s not even time."
–ETGAR KERET

Evening. The grandmother waters geraniums: sunset orange, red glow. Flower heads bob as she showers them. Water trickles from the bottom of each saturated pot: big pots, small pots, decorated pots. She moves along the path. The pendulum swings, tick tock. 

Geraniums: blood red, scarlet.

As a child, she stood astride the meridian at Greenwich where a circular blade sliced her in two, east west, right left. Like a magician sawing a lady in half; top bottom. North south.

‘Bipolar,’ he said. ‘Medication,’ he said.

‘Fuck you,’ she said. 

And she did.     

Geraniums in window boxes: bright orange, red passion. 

The watering can is empty. The tap squeaks as she turns it on. The harsh sound of water hitting plastic disturbs the silence. As the can fills, the sound softens. The tap squeaks as she turns it off. Water spills. The pendulum swings, tick tock.

Her mother had stayed at home ironing sending her to Sunday school where Miss Simpson, with her doilies and china tea set, hissed and spat good and evil.     

Geraniums in baskets: fire red, burnt orange.

She buried her godfather alive under stones in a dank, dark, boggy corner. Her godfather, fat doughy fingers, sniffing round her like a dog. Inside outside. Tick tock.     

Geraniums: cherry red, berry. 

She shakes the last drops of water from the can. Despite late birds on the feeder there is stillness. She brushes petals to release the fragrance. 

‘At the still point of the turning world,’ he wrote. 

She’s been there, stepped off that precipice on the edge of time and landed. With a sigh.

She leaves the empty watering can by the tap.    

The earth spins around the sun, day follows night. The pendulum swings, tick tock.     That’s all she knows. 

Her hips sway gently, two heartbeats to the left, two to the right, arms in counterpoint.     

Like a hula dancer.
 

First published by www.theshortstory.co.uk.
Winner of the Borderlines Flash Fiction Competition (2015).

Barbara Renel is a flash fiction writer, mother, dancer, teacher, performer, collaborator, and lover of textiles. Her publications include Spelk, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, FlashFlood Journal, theshortstory.co.uk, Structo, A3 Review. A reader at Arachne Press Story Sessions, Literary Kitchen FlashFest and her local Speakeasy. A member of the Patchwork Opera and Wigton Writers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University.

MY CREATIVE PROCESS
You trained as a dancer. How does your dance background influence the way you approach writing?


On Dance and Flash Fiction:

Choreography is ‘… a kind of physicalized writing.’ 1

My first dance class was when I was five years old. It was a ballet class and I continued training as a classical dancer throughout my childhood and into my teens adding contemporary dance and choreography in my late teens. I have taught dance throughout my life and I still dance, albeit with a more limited range of movement! And, like many dancers whose bodies are aging, I needed a new form in which to express my creativity.

Creativity is a source. Creativity needs to find form. It could be argued that creativity is inspirational, that formal teaching/learning crushes creativity, but I would disagree; you need the tools to express creativity in your chosen form or there is a danger that the form becomes a therapy for the self rather than an art form to be appreciated by others. Both have their place, but I am interested in performance not therapy. And what I might describe as an instinctive feel for the shape, rhythm, tone of my writing may in fact be the result of years of classical ballet and contemporary technique training and the study of choreography.

‘Choreography is … a learnt skill, a taught craft, the method to structure creativity.’ 2

Dance has the choreographer, the person who creates the dance, and the dancer, whose body is trained as an instrument to perform the choreography. This could be one and the same person and it is as a dancer/choreographer that I now write.

When I was an MA Creative Writing student, my tutor suggested I use my dance background more in my writing. He had a daughter who was training as a dancer and he was fascinated by the art form. I think he wanted to read stories about dancers, their lives, the hours dedicated to their training, the sacrifices made in pursuit of a rarely achievable perfection. I was not interested in that as subject matter but it led me to consider how dance might inform my writing. And my thoughts found form in flash fiction. I can visualize a complete flash piece, see its shape, look at it from different angles. I can hold it, feel its texture, weight. I can hear its rhythms. It is a form that suits me.

As with all art forms the dance begins with an idea, a concept, inspiration, imagination, motivation. And the role of the choreographer is to shape that initial impulse into the dance. There are as many ways to create a dance as there are to write a story. Often a dance will start with improvisation, ‘dance scribbling.’ You move, you play with movement until you find expression for that original stimulus. My writing begins in a similar way. I may not be dancing, but I am seldom sitting, thoughts flow more freely as I move around. I might jot down ideas if I am out walking or, at home, I scribble words or phrases on paper left around the house ignoring any lines and the orientation of the paper, adding arrows, circles, boxes, more a visualization of my thoughts, which are often quite random.

As with all art forms the dance begins with an idea, a concept, inspiration, imagination, motivation. And the role of the choreographer is to shape that initial impulse into the dance. There are as many ways to create a dance as there are to write a story. Often a dance will start with improvisation, ‘dance scribbling.’3 You move, you play with movement until you find expression for that original stimulus. My writing begins in a similar way. I may not be dancing, but I am seldom sitting, thoughts flow more freely as I move around. I might jot down ideas if I am out walking or, at home, I scribble words or phrases on paper left around the house ignoring any lines and the orientation of the paper, adding arrows, circles, boxes, more a visualization of my thoughts, which are often quite random.

In the dance the initial improvisation may lead to a motif – a movement or movement phrase that in some way encapsulates the initial motivation of the choreographer. And in my writing a word/s or phrase/s will stand out and set the direction for the whole piece. This is often a surprising process. A motif will be developed; there are a myriad of choreographic devices – repetition, fragmentation, reversal, layering, manipulation, deconstruction, reconstruction – that might be used. Dynamics, the adverbs of movement, give texture, energy, power, intensity to the dance. There is the rhythm, the flow – the accents, the rise, the suspension, the fall, the stillness. There is the structure of the dance where smooth transitions may be added, the arc of movement observed. This is the craft of choreography. The innovative choreographer studies their craft and then breaks the rules. And while the dance is being created, the dancer trains daily throughout their careers always striving to improve their technique, searching for that illusive perfection. When you see a great dance performance you are so wrapped up in the moment you fail to analyse the choreography or notice the technique of the dancer. You just watch and admire. And the same with great writing.

I see my writing as a craft to be studied, practiced, improved. There is the initial idea, concept, inspiration, motivation; then, as a choreographer, I create the motif/s, develop the story, shape, structure, make use of dynamics, tone, rhythm. I edit endlessly searching for that illusive perfection of the dancer. My knowledge and understanding of dance is more than intellectual; dance is in my blood, it is in every bone, muscle, organ and nerve ending, my viscera and connective tissue. I would hope that this translates into my writing. I strive for my pieces to be little rounded gems, tiny three dimensional sculptures, self-contained, satisfying, complete.

Can you tell us a little about the origins of “at the still point” and why you wrote it?
The starting point for “at the still point”, there the dance is was the word prompt: borderlines.

Initial playing with ideas
- a photograph of my children standing astride the east/west meridian line at Greenwich opposites: such as left/right, north/south, up/down, good/evil
- clocks/time: the pendulum swinging and memories of a difficult time of dramatic mood swings which were monitored by watching the seconds hand on a clock!
- suspension of time: the moment before the pendulum swings the other way, the height of a jump that momentarily defies gravity, the top of a rise before the inevitable fall, the stillness of the turning tide.

The title of my piece is taken from T. S. Elliot’s Four Quartets where he is contemplating this moment:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Structuring the work and the choreographer/dancer in me

The structure for "at the still point, there the dance is" comes from the setting and gentle narrative: a grandmother watering geraniums in her garden, an image drawn from a street scene in David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks where grandmothers water geraniums in the evening. It was a vivid image described in the simplest language – a real lesson in economy of words. And this also gave me the motif: geraniums.

Geraniums became the recurring motif giving rhythm and continuity to the piece, the different ‘red’ descriptions and sounds adding texture. There is also the repetitive rhythm of the grandmother filling the watering can and watering the geraniums.

It is within this overall structure that the initial ideas/images could be placed as memories/dreams/reflections of the grandmother.

Mary Wyvell, a poet and lecturer at the University of Minnesota, was on sabbatical in the UK during the sixties, studying at the British Library. We spent time together visiting museums and art galleries. Her poetry is quiet, contemplative and cuts through the complications of life:

… she sits
feels
warmth of sun on skin
Knows clouds move, people pass
That’s all


From Gammie by Mary Wyvell

This informed the tone of my piece and the final image.

I edit endlessly (the dancer seeking perfection!) spending time on paragraphing (the overall look of the piece on the page is important), length of sentences, choice of words, punctuation; what I call the dynamics of the piece – pace, tone, weight.

Writing flash fiction is for me a very slow process!

Were you born into a family of writers or artists? What were some of your formative influences?
Growing up there was always music in the house. My mother had an eclectic taste, but jazz dominated. And living in London there was the theatre - I was regularly at The Old Viv and the Aldwych (Royal Shakespeare Company), and The National. I saw ballet at Covent Garden and contemporary companies such as Rambert and the visiting companies at Sadler’s Wells.
There were musicals – my mother always insisted we saw the American cast and concerts – Ray Charles, Nina Simone. And I read and read. This list would be virtually endless so here are just some: earliest reading – folk and fairy tales, particularly Hans Christian Anderson. Jo March in Little Woman was the first character I identified with (well maybe the princesses in the earlier stories) but I was very disappointed when Jo married! Anything by Carson McCullers, D H Lawrence, R K Narayan and more recently, Alice Munro, Sarah Hall, Annie Proulx, Claire Keegan, Colm Tóibin, Margaret Atwood. I particularly love the stories of Yasunari Kawabata and enjoy the work of Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you?
I enjoy all the arts and love collaborative work. Fire Station Ghosts is a site specific sound work for The Old Fire Station Arts Centre in Carlisle where I worked with a sound artist and poet. Cloud Illusion combines my words with music and film. Solo for Two is a sound work with my words and music. Postcard Stories is my most recent collaboration with the illustrator, Paul Taylor. I work with the Patchwork Opera, a fluid group of writers, musicians, photographers and film makers who create live performance works.

What are you currently working on?
Paul and I plan to continue developing our postcard project. There are early plans to work with a filmmaker and dance artist. Patchwork Opera is working on a number of upcoming events. There will be a live performance of Solo for Two (it is a recorded piece at present).

1 Adshead, Janet (Ed.). Choreography: Principles and Practice. Guildford: NRCD, 1987.

2 Lewis, Murray. (1980) in Preston-Dunlop, Valerie. Dance Words. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995.

3 Preston-Dunlop, Valerie. Dance Words. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995.

Poems

Poems

I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great
lips.
–SYLVIA PLATH
"The Colossus"


Parablue

1.

The ground stiffens under her feet
As the reek of cabbage bakes in the sun
Netted in the dog’s eyelashes, an insect,
A rodent’s leg in the dusty lane
Dried to bone, a tuft of fur.
A caterpillar, cradled in a cocoon,
Dangles like wind chimes
And sways, asleep

The dog takes the rabbit’s foot between its jaws, braces it like a stick
Clamping onto it – an offer she can’t refuse 

2.
A fox and hare
Have said good night. Little birds of prey perch
In half light. A child stumbles
In the trail of a moth, blind
To the scrap of hair and bone. Dark blue,
The evening spreads out over them. Paraplui
Says her mother: dark blue between the rain
And you. Parablue says the child as she plants
Umbrellas in idyll

 

Grand View Paliano

Crowns of trees pierce a veil that divides
The view over terraced ground, its edges smoothed
By mist in pastel and gray. Day climbs
Neatly over the hills as little owls
March home, left, left,

Synchronized step, left, right,
Left: the silence of cicadas. Nothing
Stirs in the ghost’s room. Someone sweeps
Sand from the yard, the yard consists only
Of sand, the bread only of yeast-bubbles.

Grass breathes out moisture, it’s
Already hot out. The first horses will be driven
Through the streets in celebration. Here
The esplanade reaches the horizon, and in the other
Direction, the munitions factory gorges itself

On the steel of armaments. At the train station,
The unemployed stand in front of their coffee-
Counters, forty-five percent is the quota here.
The younger ones still showoff unruffled feathers.
They, too, would prefer to produce grenades. 

 

Mansion

A fountain sinks into yellowed grass. No fence
Lines the property. Imagination tells me
there was once a stable. But the building’s far
Too small. And time can’t touch stone. 

The house evenly divides the distance
Between two villages. A toad. No sign of ivy,
No sign of dust on the outer walls
But in the windows, the sway 

Of curtains. Where the soul moves.
I want. I want this house. With its mesh of spider webs.
My mother grew up in this house, you say,
And I lift my eyes to the horizon. Your mother

And I. We couldn’t stand each other. 

 

After

Your face is an accident:
A cheek-bone fracture,
A tooth knocked clean out,
And you yourself were released pending a cure
They’ve lied about. It’ll leave a scar,
The doctor said, hushing up
The wound’s repeated reopening.    

Everyone wants to take a closer look
Until they hear what really happened:
That it was simply not an accident. 

First published by Weyward Sisters
The Creative Process is collaborating with the
Global Literature in Libraries Initiative
and
Weyward Sisters on global literary initiatives.

MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Can you tell us a little about the origins of these poems and why you wrote them?
My inspiration for these poems came from Sylvia Plath's The Colossus and Other Poems. I've read a biography on her and Ted Hughes and discovered that somehow I responded to her verses with an urge to write. So I bought The Colossus, read one poem a time, thought about it and then I wrote my own. It took me about 6 months to complete my project - one poem for each of Plath's. 44 to be exact (or 50, if you count "Poem for a Birthday" as seven separate ones.)

How did you come to literature? · When did you realize you were a writer?
I did come to literature through reading. I discovered how mighty words can be, how powerful a spell a book can cast on me. Reading is such an intimate thing! And writing is power. The stories we tell about our world can do anything from widen our readers' horizons to actually shape the world we live in. So writing also means responsibility.

Were you born into a family of writers or artists?
I was not born into a family of artists. My father sells computers and is a specialist in IT networks. My mother is a nurse. There have always been books in our house, and my parents and grandparents read stories to me. But I myself was so eager to learn to read! I managed to teach myself to read with the help of a school book. After that, there was no stopping me reading.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you? What makes literature distinct from all other art forms?
Literature happens right there in your head. There is no interference, it does not have to go through your eyes, your ears, the words form in your brain, and you just can't help it - you are involved. That's what makes literature special.

What are you working on now? What are your hopes/concerns for the future of literature?
I like to explore text adventures as a future form of great literature - they do not have to be mere "games", they can be real art, entangling the reader in a web of his of her own decisions. Currently, I am writing on different projects - from a YA novel to new poetry.

Cornelia Travnicek is an Austrian poet and novelist who studied Chinese Studies and Computer Science at the University of Vienna. She works part-time as a researcher in a Centre for Virtual Reality and Visualisation. Her literary works have won numerous awards including the Anerkennungspreis des Landes Niederösterreich, for her debut novel Chucks [Converse] (DVA, 2012), and the Kranichstein Youth Literature Grant awarded by the German Literature Fund. In 2012 she received the audience award at the Tagen der deutschsprachigen Literatur [Festival of German-Language Literature] in Klagenfurt for an extract from her novel Junge Hunde [Young Dogs]. Her publications also include various texts in newspapers, magazines and journals. Her novel Chuckswas filmed in 2015 as an Austrian production.

Translator

Meg Matich is a Reykjavik-based poet and Icelandic/German translator, and a current Fulbright grantee. Her translations have appeared in or are forthcoming from PEN America, Exchanges, Words Without Borders, Asymptote, The Best Icelandic Short Stories, Aarhus, and others. In 2015, she received the PEN Heim Translation Fund grant for her translation of Magnús Sigurðsson’s Cold Moons, which is forthcoming from Phoneme Media. She has received grants and fellowships from the DAAD, the Banff Centre, the Icelandic Literature Center, and Columbia University. She is currently assisting with the 2017 Reykjavik Literary Festival.

 

Fäden-im-Morgentau • Threads in Dew

Fäden-im-Morgentau • Threads in Dew

English translation
 Katja Bohnet's Creative Process

Irgendwann muss jeder seinem Schöpfer gegenüber treten. Ich dachte immer, das wäre ein Witz.

Der Salzrand der unzähligen Margaritas hat sich auf meiner Zunge abgelagert. Ich schmatze, schlucke, der Eindruck bleibt. Morgens hat man immer zu wenig Spucke. Ich mache Halt in meinem Hirn. San Francisco. California, USA. Wir sind gestern angekommen. Getrampt, irgendein Trucker hat uns mitgenommen. Wir haben nicht mehr viel dabei. Unsere Rucksäcke haben sich in den vergangenen Wochen geleert. Irgendwann hatten wir kein Geld mehr, sie aufzufüllen. Meine Jeans ist steif vom Dreck. Mein Hemd fleckig. Ich rieche an dem Stoff. Alkohol, Schweiß und ich. Das bin ich, mein Hemd, mein Geruch. Und das reicht, um mich wieder ins Hier und Jetzt zu holen. Ich schlage die Augen auf: Park, Grünanlage, Baum. Sonne in staubigen Streifen wie Lichtstraßen zwischen den Blättern. Mein Rucksack ist noch da, unter meinem Kopf. Fucking unbequem. Jetzt tun mir die Schultern weh. Mein Rücken, mein Arsch, meine Waden sind feucht. Der Morgentau hat sich durch die Fäden geschlichen. Ich stehe auf, sehe mich um.

Conny. Warum er auf diesen Mädchennamen hört, verstehe ich bis heute nicht. Irgendwann gewöhnt man sich wohl an alles. Er schläft noch. Ich schubse ihn mit dem Fuss. Aber Conrad Meyer dreht sich einfach noch mal um. Ein Lichtstrahl fällt direkt in mein Auge, blendet mich. Da stehe ich in dieser scheiß Stadt, in diesem scheiß Park und habe trotzdem keine Ahnung, wo ich eigentlich bin.

„Ausweise?“

Conny und ich legen unsere Reisepässe auf den Tresen. Der Typ besteht darauf, die Passnummern selbst zu notieren. Als hätte ihn die Arbeit in einem Hostel von Natur aus skeptisch gemacht. Wir schweigen, sehen zu, wie er unter dem Vorhang seiner fettigen Haare Zahlen in das System hackt. Heute braucht keiner mehr einen Stift. Der Tresen: Holz. Hinter dem Typen an der Wand: Holz. An der Decke: Holz. Hässlicher geht es nicht. Wir übernachten nur in den billigsten Absteigen.

Er gibt uns einen Schlüssel. „Dritter Stock, Nr. 356, links den Gang runter.“ Er schaut nicht mal auf.

Wir gehen die Treppen hoch. Amerikaner stehen auf Teppichböden. Einer bunter gemustert als der andere. Ich habe tatsächlich Albträume, in denen ich von den schrillen Ornamenten blind werde. Ich schreie dann und irre orientierungslos mit ausgestreckten Händen umher. Irgendwann falle ich, werde von bunten Polyesterfäden vergewaltigt. Nach dem Teppich zu urteilen, könnten wir in einem Casino sein. In Las Vegas sieht‘s auf dem Boden auch nicht anders aus. Aber der Rest um uns herum ist San Francisco: Dreck, Armut, Arbeitslosigkeit vor einer hübschen Kulisse. Das Wetter ist toll. Man merkt hier drinnen nur nichts mehr davon. Auf dem Weg nach oben zähle ich zwei Fenster. Beide sind mit Sperrholzplatten zugenagelt. Im zweiten Stock gibt es nur noch zwei Lampen im Flur, im dritten Stock nur noch eine. Ich bin froh, dass wir nicht im Vierten wohnen. Nachdem wir uns ein Mal verlaufen haben, stehen wir vor drei-fünf-sechs. Den Schlüssel brauchen wir nicht, die Tür ist auf. Wir gehen rein. Conny stellt seinen Rucksack ab, wir sehen uns um.

Das Fester: vergittert. Kein Stuhl, kein Tisch, kein Schrank. Die Matratze: durchgelegen, abgewichst. Ich zähle sechs große Flecken. Zwei davon sind definitiv Blut. Menstruation oder anderes? Die anderen sehen aus wie Pisse, riechen auch so. An der Wand irgendein Schleim. Aus Mund oder Nase, das ist schwer zu sagen. Conny beugt sich runter, betrachtet die Matratze genau. Ich weiß, dass er nach Wanzen sucht. Hatten wir alles schon. Auf der gewellten Oberfläche bleibt es ruhig. Hat nichts zu bedeuten, aber es besänftigt uns ein wenig. Wir rollen unsere Schlafsäcke aus.

„Ich muss mal.“

Conny nickt, setzt sich auf‘s Bett, vorsichtig, als fürchte er, hinterrücks von einer Wanzen-Hundertschaft überwältigt zu werden.

Ich gehe raus auf den Gang, muss meine Augen erst wieder an das Nicht-Licht gewöhnen. Adjust. In meinem Kopf spielt ein Lied. „Ooh la la la it's the way that we rock when we're doing our thing ...“ Lauryn Hill nimmt mich an die Hand. Zieht mich zur Toilette. Wenn sie mich nicht führen würde, fände ich das beschissene Loch erst gar nicht. Wir lassen die letzte Glühbirne hinter uns, wandeln ins Dunkel, der Teppich schluckt unsere Schritte. Lauryn ist eine Katze. Ich wünschte, sie wäre real.

„Your money!“ Die Stimme ist heiser, männlich. Der Typ dazu stinkt noch mehr als ich. In seiner Hand ist ein Messer. Das Rumgefuchtel macht mich nervös. Wenn das Messer nicht wäre, sähe man rein gar nichts. Der Stahl blinkt hier und da, fängt das bisschen Licht ein, das sich hier im Flur noch aufhält. Würde ich nicht gerade bedroht, könnte ich es vielleicht sogar schön finden. Lauryn hat mich einfach losgelassen.

Ich sage, dass ich nichts habe. Das stimmt. Mein Geldbeutel liegt bei Conny auf dem Bett. Das, was ich noch an Kohle besitze, ist keinen Überfall wert. Ein komplexer Zusammenhang in dieser heiklen Situation. Der Typ sagt was von „Travellers Cheques“ und noch mal „money“. Ich merke, wie Adrenalin mich überschwemmt. Wie Angst meine Beine aufweicht. Ich stottere noch etwas, was, weiß ich nicht genau, dann kommt etwas Dunkles auf mich zu. Schwarz im Dunkelgrau. Es frisst sich in meinen Bauch, mir wird ganz warm, ich gehe auf die Knie. Jemand stöhnt. Das muss ich sein, weil die dunkle Masse weg ist, die heisere Stimme auch. Ich bin allein. Und weil ich Angst habe zu verbluten - denn das ist es wohl: Blut, das aus meiner Seite rausläuft - rapple ich mich auf, stütze mich an der Wand ab und stolpere weiter. Ich will mich in Sicherheit bringen. In mir läuft ein Notstromaggregat. Ich drücke eine Klinke runter: nichts. Ich schleppe mich weiter an der Wand entlang, presse meine Hand auf das Warme, Feuchte. Hinterlasse wahrscheinlich eine Spur aus verwischten, roten Klecksen. Wie Madonna in Take a Bow, Juliette Binoche in Drei Farben: Blau - mein Leben verkommt zum Zitat. An der nächsten Tür habe ich Glück.

Am Tisch sitzt ein Mann. Ziemlich alt, weißer Vollbart, helles Hemd. Er kommt mir bekannt vor. Das Leben ist ungerecht, denke ich. Warum hat der einen Tisch und wir nicht?

„Hallo“, sagt er. Schaut auf seinen Bildschirm. Irgendetwas flackert in seinem Gesicht.

„Äh, Entschuldigung. Können Sie mir helfen?“

Er schaut wieder auf.

Ich kenne den Mann. In meinem müden Verstand sind alle Alarmlampen an.

„Einen Moment“, murmelt er.

Hoffentlich habe ich den noch, denke ich und warte.

Dann erhebt er sich, winkt mich zu sich. Achselzuckend bemerkt er: „Die Situation in Mali macht mir Sorgen.“

Ich denke: Was?! und sage: „Ja, mir auch.“

Dann kommt er auf mich zu, nimmt meine Hand von der Wunde und verzieht das Gesicht. Weil mir schlecht ist, setze ich mich sicherheitshalber auf den Boden. Einen kurzen Filmriss später kommt er mit ein paar weißen Tüchern zurück. Dann liege ich auf seinem Bett, um meinen Bauch habe ich einen Verband, kein Leck mehr. Mir ist kalt.

Er sitzt schon wieder an seinem Bildschirm. „Dieser Ahmadinejad“, besorgt schüttelt er den Kopf. „Die Rezession.“

Und da endlich. „Sind Sie Gott?“

Leicht abwesend nickt er.

„Was machen Sie hier in diesem runtergekommenen Loch?“

Er sieht mich an, traurig, enttäuscht. „Die Rezession hat auch das Elysium erreicht.“

Seine Hoffnungslosigkeit macht mir Angst. „Lieber Gott. Bitte hilf mir!“ Mir ist plötzlich so jämmerlich zumute. Es ist mir fast peinlich.

„Du kannst mich Dave nennen. Gott ist so ... steif.“

Ich nicke müde. Dann fange ich an, zu begreifen. „Muss ich jetzt sterben?“

Gott - Dave, fuckin‘ whatever - zuckt mit den Schultern. Er scheint sich noch mit sich selbst uneinig zu sein. „Die Situation in Mali macht mir Sorgen.“ Dave hat es nicht leicht. All diese bewaffneten Konflikte.

Mir geht es gerade auch nicht gut. Aber was bedeutet schon mein Leben im Vergleich zu Mali? Ich denke an die Geschichte mit dem bösen Sohn, dann an die mit dem entlaufenen Schaf. Hätte ich in Religion mal besser aufgepasst. Denn leben, das würde ich schon gern.

Dave - es fällt mir immer noch schwer, ihn so zu nennen - breitet die Hände aus. Ich erkenne den Klassiker mit den weiten Ärmeln. Oder war das sein Sohn? Er sieht mich an, erst ernst, dann nickt er, lächelt.

Ich habe keine Ahnung, warum, aber es wird mir plötzlich warm.

Conny grinst mich an. „Na?!“

Ich habe Krankenhäuser schon immer gehasst. Aber ich stinke nicht, ich friere nicht, und das lässt mich besser über die weiße Bettdecke, die mintgrünen Wände und den Geruch nach Sagrotan denken. Es ist `ne Wanzen freie Zone.

Und Conny strahlt, als hätte ich ihm was ganz Tolles geschenkt. „Und ich dachte schon, du hast nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank. Kein Wunder nach all den Margaritas. Du hast immer Dave zu mir gesagt.“

„Ich dachte, du wärst Gott.“

„Denk ich auch manchmal.“

„Wusstest du, dass Gott in unserem scheiß Hostel wohnt?“

„Nee, echt?“

„Aber er hat einen Tisch. ... und einen Stuhl.“

„Verdammte Zweiklassen-Gesellschaft!“

Ich ziehe mir die Nadel aus der Armbeuge, freue mich über den Anblick der roten Tropfen und beschließe, bei Gelegenheit die alten Platten wieder rauszuholen.

"Fäden im Morgentau" deutsche Fassung in
„Das Prinzip der sparsamsten Erklärung" Nr. 10, 2/2014, Hrsg. Bross, Kreuzmair, Michalek, Pfaller, München

-

Threads in Dew

"Threads in Dew & Other Stories"
translated by Rachel Hildebrandt,
published at Weyward Sisters Publishing, USA, 2/2017

Everyone has to meet their maker someday. It’s just I always thought that was only a joke.

The salt from countless margarita glasses has coated my tongue. I slurp, swallow, but the taste lingers. You never have enough saliva in the morning. I try to stop my thoughts.

San Francisco. California, USA. We got here yesterday. Hitchhiked. Some trucker picked us up. We don’t have much with us by this point. Our backpacks have grown emptier over the past few weeks. We eventually ran out of money to keep them full. My jeans are stiff with dirt, my shirt has spots. I sniff the fabric. Alcohol, sweat and me. That is the extent of me, my shirt, my smell. And that is enough to bring me back to the here and now. I open my eyes: park, grass, tree. The sun in dusty strips, like light trails slipping between the leaves. My backpack is still here, under my head. Fucking uncomfortable. Now my shoulders ache. My back, my ass, my calves are damp. The morning dew crept between the threads. I stand up and look around.

Conny. I still can’t understand why he goes by a girl’s name. You can get used to anything eventually, I guess. He’s still asleep, so I nudge him with my foot. But all Conrad Meyer does is flip over. A sunbeam hits me right in the eye, blinding me momentarily. Here I am, standing in this shitty city, in this shitty park, and I still have no idea where I really am.

“ID?”

Conny and I set our passports on the counter. The guy has insisted that he has to write down our passport numbers himself. Maybe working in a hostel has made him suspicious. We say nothing as we watch him type the numbers into the system, his greasy hair creating a curtain between him and us. Nobody needs pens anymore these days. The counter: wood. The wall behind the guy: wood. The ceiling: wood. It couldn’t get any uglier than this. We only stay in the cheapest dumps.

He hands us a key without looking up again. “Third floor, Room 356. On the left, at the end of the hall.”

We head upstairs. Americans really like carpeted floors, each one more brightly decorated than the one before. I actually have nightmares in which the garish patterns bind me. I scream and stumble around, disoriented, my hands stretched in front of me. At some point, I fall and am raped by the bright polyester threads. If you went by the carpet, it looks like we’re staying in a casino. The floors in Las Vegas don’t look any different, but the other things around us are pure San Francisco: garbage, poverty, unemployment - all against a flawless backdrop. The weather is great, though there’s no sign of that here inside. I count two windows as we head up. They’ve both been nailed shut with pieces of plywood. The second floor has two lamps along the corridor, but the third floor only has one. I’m glad we’re not staying on the fourth.

After getting lost only once, we come to a stop in front of 3-5-6. We don’t need the key, since the door is wide open. We go in. Conny drops his backpack, and we look around.

The window: barred. No chair, no table, no closet. The mattress: sagging, discolored. I count six large spots. Two of them are definitely blood. Menstrual or something else? The others look like piss, and smell like it, too. There’s some kind of slime on the wall. Hard to say whether it’s from a mouth or nose. Conny crouches down to examine the mattress more closely. I know he’s looking for bedbugs. We’ve had it all. The wavy surface isn’t moving. That doesn’t mean anything, but it reassures us a little. We unroll our sleeping bags.

“I’ve got to go.”

Conny nods and sits down on the bed, cautiously, as if afraid of a rear attack from a battalion of bedbugs.

I go out in the hall, and my eyes have to get used to the dim light again. Adjust. A song is playing in my head. “Ooh la la la it’s the way that we rock when we’re doing our thing…” Lauryn Hill takes me by the hand, pulling me toward the bathroom. If she weren’t leading the way, I’d never have found that crappy hole. We leave the last lightbulb behind, strolling into the darkness as the carpet swallows our footsteps. Lauryn is just a cat. I wish she were the real thing.

“Your money!” The voice is rough, masculine. The guy reeks even more than I do. A knife is clasped in his hand, and his fidgeting makes me nervous. If he didn’t have the knife, I wouldn’t be able to see anything. The steel gleams every now and then, as it catches a bit of the light that has worked its way in here from the hallway. If I weren’t being threatened, I might even find it rather pretty. Lauryn has abandoned me.

I explain that I don’t have anything. It’s true. My wallet is lying beside Conny on the bed. What I have in terms of cash isn’t worth a mugging anyway. A complex correlation in this dicey situation. The guy mumbles something about “travelers’ checks,” and again “money.” I notice that my adrenaline is running at full capacity, that fear is making my knees weak. I stutter something, though I’m not sure what, and then something dark comes at me. Black in dark gray. It bites its way into my stomach, and I grow very warm, as I fall to my knees. Someone groans. It has to be me, because the dark blob is gone, as is the rough voice. I’m by myself. And because I’m afraid of bleeding to death - because that’s what it is: blood, which is spilling out of my side - I pull myself up, brace myself against the wall, and stumble on. I need to get to safety. I’m now running on my backup generator. I turn a doorknob: nothing. I slide along the wall, pressing my hand against the warmth, the dampness. I’m probably leaving behind a trail of smudgy, red spots. Like Madonna in Take a Bow or Juliette Binoche in Three Colors: Blue. My life dwindles down to a quote. My luck turns at the next door.

A man is sitting at a table. Fairly old, white beard, pale shirt. He looks familiar to me. Life isn’t fair, I think. Why does he get a table and we don’t?

“Hello,” he says, before glancing back down at his computer screen. Something flickers across his face.

“Um, excuse me. Could you help me?”

He looks back up.

I know this man. All of the alarm claxons go off in my weary mind.

“One moment,” he mumbles.

I hope I have one to spare, I think as I wait.

Then he stands up and waves me over. With a shrug, he comments: “I’m worried about the situation in Mali.”

I think: What?! But I say: “Yes, me too.”

He walks over to me, pulls my hand away from the wound, and frowns. Because I feel sick, I sit down on the floor, just to be on the safe side. I blank out for a moment, but here he is returning with a couple of white towels. Next thing I know, I’m leaning back on his bed with a white bandage around my stomach. I’m not leaking anymore. I feel cold.

He is sitting back in front of the computer. “This Ahmadinejad,” he shakes his head apprehensively. “The recession.”

And then finally. “Are you God?”

He nods, a little absentmindedly.

“What are you doing here in this dive?”

He gazes at me, sad, disappointed. “The recession has also reached paradise.”

His hopelessness scares me. “Dear God. Please help me!” I suddenly feel pathetic, almost to the point of shame.

“You may call me Dave. God is so… formal.”

I nod wearily. Then I begin to understand. “Do I have to die now?”

God - Dave, fuckin’ whatever - shrugs. He seems to be struggling with himself. “The situation in Mali worries me.” Dave doesn’t have it easy. All those wars and fighting.

I’m not doing so well at this point either, but what is my life compared to Mali? I think about the story of the prodigal son, and then about the lost sheep. I should’ve paid more attention in religion class. I really would like to keep on living right now.

Dave - it’s still hard for me to call him that - spreads out his hands. I now recognize the classic image with the wide sleeves. Or was that his son? He looks at me, seriously at first, but then he nods with a smile.

I have no idea why, but I suddenly feel warm.

Conny grins at me. “Well?!”

I’ve always despised hospitals, but I’m not stinking or freezing, and this lets me take in the white coverlet, the mint green walls, and the scent of Lysol all the better. This is a bedbug-free zone.

And Conny is beaming, as if I’d just given him something real wonderful.

“I thought you had a screw loose somewhere. No wonder, considering all the margaritas. You kept calling me Dave.”

“I thought you were God.”

“I think that too sometimes.”

“Did you know that God is staying in our shitty hostel?”

“For real?”

“But he has a table. … and a chair.”

“Damned two-class system!”

I pull the needle out of the crook of my arm and savor the sight of the red droplets. As soon as I can, I’ll take the old records back out again.

-

Katja Bohnet writes. Born in Mannheim (Germany) in 1971, she pursued film studies and philosophy in college, and now lives somewhere between Frankfurt and Cologne. Travels: a lot. Jobs: a few. Kids: a couple. A former TV writer and moderator with WDR Cologne, she now spends her time making up novels and stories. Her works have appeared in various periodicals and anthologies, including entwürfe, Am Erker, erostepost, und the MDR Literaturwettbewerbs 2013. Her debut thriller novel Messertanz was published in 2015 by Knaur.

-

My Creative Process
I sit down. I write. I do not plot, only make a rough plan. Focus on an idea. Mainly on two or three characters whom I try to get to know well. Develop a first person narrator, second or third. Sometimes I work with mixed perspectives. Try to ignore rules. Start with a strong sentence, an emotionally powerful situation. My approach is immediate. I work continuously, if possible, every day. A few pages. No fear. Because only in chaos is there an order which comes by itself. Trust. The story unrolls. I just follow. Long hours of reading have established my intuitive understanding of rhythm and timing. For the required length of a novel or a short story. I do not hold anything back. I do not aim for perfection. Writing is about taking risks. Down to the point, disturbing, poetic.

Can you tell us a little about the origins of “Threads in Dew” and why you wrote it?
Traveling inspires me. I have stayed in a variety of unusual, sometimes uncomfortable places around the world. Speaking different languages inspires the imagination. From a building, a situation or an atmosphere, I build the story. I like to mix literary elements, to walk along the boundaries between reality and fantasy. My characters enjoy our journey. Writing is traveling. While you travel, noir and a sense of humor walk side by side. The original title for this story was "Two-Class Society." My former agent proposed something less political, more lyrical. So I went for a strange bit from the story itself: "Fäden im Morgentau." Translated into English by Rachel Hildebrandt as "Threads in Dew."

Why did you decide to become a writer?
Accidentally. I never wanted to be a writer. Too much respect for the profession. Actress, tv presenter, photographer: yes. To be a writer was too far off, too intellectual. When my kids were small, I realized: Fuck, my life is over. I will never have a career. I studied, I worked, but I have been out of the loop for a long time. The market doesn't forgive. I have to be there to raise the kids, and part-time jobs for freelance journalists pay ridiculously low amounts or are, in fact, nonexistent. So I knew, my only option would be an office or sales job. At this point, I knew I had nothing to lose, so I wrote my first novel. I had an idea, two characters. I did not hesitate. I did not have the slightest idea how it would turn out. When I finished the first draft three weeks later, I was ashamed. I worked on it for some more weeks. Nobody knew. And then I gave it to friends. That felt embarrassing. They were critical. I rewrote. There were doubts: I messed up. Maybe I would publish it myself eventually. It was mediocre. No big deal. Nothing more than a waste of time.

Somebody talked me into sending the manuscript to a literary agency. I did and received a contract within two hours. I did not call myself a writer until I had my first contract with a big publishing house in Germany. It felt important not to misuse the title. It had to be earned through rough times. It was an endless up and down. It still is. I work in different jobs. I try not to depend on writing because it sucks the life out of me. Being a writer is more valuable to me than having the title of "artist." I am a practical person. I do not want to distance myself from other people by calling myself an "artist." Writing is still thrilling and a constant pain in the ass. There is too little time. Writing becomes an urge, necessary and repellent at the same time. Sometimes it is sheer pleasure. I have written eight novels and over forty short stories over the past five years. No other job fulfills me like being a writer. If I have nothing more to say or write, I'll just stop. Today I have finally arrived at a place, that I did not know even existed. It's like coming home. To myself.

Who were some of your formative influences? Are there other writers or teachers in your family?
Nobody in my family is a writer. We are all academics. Economists, teachers, lawyers, bankers. But not artists. I tried every other artistic thing on this planet. I am very attached to art. Of any kind. I make a very good black sheep. Everybody in my family reads. Even as a child, I read everything. Books, comics, newspapers, magazines. From every genre, every literary direction. I do not like to talk about "favorite books," because to fall in love with a book, the circumstances and timing are the most important things. I have reread a few of my favorite books and was sometimes disappointed or puzzled. For different reasons. So now I just read a book once. Despise it or love it. I have long been a fan of American and French literature. I greatly enjoyed all the creative writing classes that I took after I wrote my first few novels and short stories. I suddenly understood things I had done intuitively. I realized how the machine worked that I had operated for some time. Finally, somebody showed me an operation manual. I long thought I would never become a teacher. That job can be close to a missionary's, but perhaps that will be the next thing I do.

Literature and its Links to Other Mediums
Photography, painting, sculpture, drawing, graphic novels, film, dance, music. Any artistic kind of expression gives me a kick. Literature allows you to play God in your own universe. You have an unlimited budget; your canvas can be tiny or huge. The world may not be enough for the things you have to say, so you tune your instrument and only play the music you like. There are no boundaries, no frontiers to literature. Go wherever you want to go. It`s the greatest possible freedom. It is about communication and liberation. Words are silly, and they fade. Yet there is something tragically important about every word that is written down. A small sign grows into a message. Like a tree. From a letter to words and sentences to a story.

What are you working on now? What are your hopes for the future of literature? What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?
I work on a new thriller. Am about halfway through. Like so many times before, it seems impossible that I will ever finish it. So it is just another rollercoaster ride. I am also waiting for my next novel to be published in February 2018. Waiting. One of the most important skills for a writer. Literature will always be here. Somehow. As paperback books or e-books or data files. Or as something yet unknown. The future for the next generation seems unstable. International conflicts, climate change, water shortages, a growing gap between North and South, rich and poor. But the world is a difficult, tragic, wonderful place to live. That is why there is (noir) fiction. Hope in the middle of despair.

The Links between Film, Art, and Literature: Bronka Nowicka's Creative Process

The Links between Film, Art, and Literature: Bronka Nowicka's Creative Process

The Creative Process is collaborating with film schools and universities on intensive workshops and 4th-year courses combining film and literature. Multi-disciplinary artist Bronka Nowicka is directing one such program at Łódź Film School, and we are honored to showcase the imaginative works of their students and faculty.

“We have been inspired by The Creative Process to implement
a special 4th-year course dedicated to combining literature and film,
and making adaptations of notable Polish writers’ work.
Polish films were always very closely related to literature,
especially in the Polish Film School of the 50’s and 60’s.
The best Polish films were made at those times and most were based
on literature. It did change recently and here in Łódź Film School

we’ve been thinking of how to restore this relationship. That’s why we
are delighted to collaborate with your project and for
the opportunities to screen the films created by this program
at international venues associated with The Creative Process.”
–PIOTR MIKUCKI (Dean of Directing Department)
& MARCIN MALATYŃSKI (Deputy Director and Head of International Relations)
Łódź Film School

 

Can you tell us a little about your artistic background? Apart from film, what mediums have you worked in?
My name is Bronka Nowicka. I graduated from the Film, Theatre and TV Direction Department at the Polish State Film School in Łódź, and from the Faculty of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. I received my diploma at the Film School in 2004 and in 2011 I received my diploma at the Interdisciplinary Studio I, Academy of Fine Arts.

As early as during my studies at the Film School, my interests focused on the relations between people and things. In the films and film études that I directed the thing was not an actors’ stage prop but an equal character. It underwent personification, it symbolized or embodied the dead, it brought back memories. This was the case both with the film Tristis, awarded the grand prix at the International Film School Festival in Bologna and a distinction at the International Film School Festival in Munich, and the graduation film Mantra, awarded, interalia, for the best graduation film screenplay.

After graduation, I started to work at the theater. All the plays directed by me included subplots connected with the thing: a consumerist addiction to it or getting into relationships with it; relationships that substituted interpersonal ones.

In some of your work objects sometime become more than things? They come to personify a story.
After that period my work began to focus on photography and video. I created cycles of works where things served to portray their owners, as in A Self-portrait in the Thing and Word, or were used as peculiar timepieces, as in the cycle The Calendar.

I also started to use the thing as a medium for documenting events, including meetings with other people. Dried, used teabags, marked with notes about dates, times of the day and events connected with the act of drinking tea constitute a peculiar diary. Used teabags, deprived of dregs and filled with photographs of people with whom I had tea, became an aestheticizing record of the meetings. The work People I Have Drunk Tea With was being created in the course of one year.

At the beginning of my Ph.D. studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow I started a para-research project connected with various relations between people and things.

I have documented several hundred stories about human-thing relations. I have met a number of people at various ages, representing various backgrounds and points of view.

This resulted in an archive containing photographs of things and recorded conversations and monologs that give an account of the relations between the owners and their things.

What touches me, hurts me, interests me about the thing? I can assume that every single thing undergoes anthropomorphization or personification to a smaller or larger extent. It means that the world of things is a theater which reflects the world of what is human. I am interested in the human – I want my creations to be about it. However, I choose the thing as the main character of my works. Why?

Yes, this is what I find intriguing about your work. There is sadness, meaning, and symbolism underpinning objects when we look closely at them. As a painter too, this is something I think about a lot. Often you find the true focus of a portrait is not the sitter themselves, but an object or possession which defines them...

The feeling of tragedy evoked by images of things tends to be equally overwhelming, or even more so than the one that manifests itself directly through the human fate and the mortal body. The tragic nature of the thing seems to consist in the fact that it prolongs somebody’s or something’s life only several steps. A thing that outlives its owner and becomes his representative, as well as a thing that commemorates the bygone in another way, finally dies.

However, before the matter deteriorates and falls apart, it ‘remembers’, symbolizes, embodies. By talking about the spiritual through the material, about the alive through the dead, by treating the thing as a character that is present in the matter of the work of art more frequently than the human being – an equal character, I can talk about him without the pathos that results from direct representations.

Your recent work uses medical technology to examine the process of memory...


Three years ago I started to search for a method of imaging what was interesting for me – the way from matter to memory. I was looking for a medium capable of documenting things, proving – in the most reliable way – their existence, shape, kind of matter, texture, color; a medium that could reach deeper than photography or video recording. That is why I decided to subject a group of objects, which were condemned to annihilation, to an X-ray examination in a CT scanner. The scanned objects were: everyday articles, old toys, things that belonged to deceased relatives: their bags, suitcases, shoes, sacks with clothes.

In order to be able to obtain and process the images of the scanned objects on my own, I participated in training at the Department of Radiology at the Jagiellonian University Medical College. There I gained access to a CT scanner by courtesy of Professor Andrzej Urbanik, a staff radiologist and head of the department. My knowledge allows me to arrange shots consciously and to create image poetics so that it is in keeping with the themes of individual works – films, video installations.

The software that goes with the CT scanner makes it possible to obtain a 3D reconstruction of the scanned object from each master scan of organic and inorganic matter. The images testify not only to the appearance of things, but also to the authenticity of their existence proved by a test with a medical device. X-rays pass through matter. The penetrating potential of the device makes it possible to stratify every image of matter. The possibility to remove subsequent layers from the image allowed me to form associations connected with memory, for example, the deterioration of recollections and the slow process of forgetting.

The CT scanner software has numerous functions applied for diagnosing particular body parts. By using these functions to shape images of inorganic matter, I could obtain various image poetics: from ones having associations with hyperrealistic drawings to ephemeral ones, reminding the fleeting, thus also the recollection too.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 16.03.21.png

The chances for imaging the way of the thing from matter to memory became greater when I learnt about the filmmaking potential of a CT scanner, which is used in medical diagnosis only sporadically and for purposes other than constructing a narrative. The CT scanner makes it possible to obtain moving images of the scanned matter: to record their fluid movement around any axis, to remove and superimpose individual layers that correspond to the layers of the scanned object. Some operations that are possible to do within the scan resemble film production operations: tracking in towards an object, using the zoom, sliding together with a moving object, horizontal, vertical and side panning, recording the objects with boom shots and steadicam shots.

By learning about the potential of a CT scanner I have discovered a new medium in the area of video art, and a poetics that is appropriate for spinning a narrative about going from the material to the recollected.

Bronka Nowicka graduated from the Film, Theatre and TV Direction Department at the Polish State Film School in Łódź, and from the Faculty of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, where she now is a PhD student. Her fields of inspiration, exploration, and creation include human-thing relations, images in motion, language, encounters. She is looking for new media in the field of art; she uses a computer tomography scanner as a film and graphic tool.
She creates videos, tomo-videos, video installations, photographs. She took part in exhibitions at the International Centre for Graphic Arts in Kraków, the Susanne Burmester Gallery in Germany (in Putbus, on the Rügen Island), the Małopolska Garden of Art in Kraków, the Promotional Gallery at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, the Fine Arts College in Kazimierz Dolny, the Art Centre in Sosnowiec, the Ducal Castle in Szczecin, the Media Art Faculty Gallery in Warsaw, the Kunstnernes Hus during the Festival for Digital and Visual Poetry in Norway (Oslo), The Trubarjeva Hiša Literature in Slovenia (Ljubljana). She participated in the international literary festivals, including Prima Vista (Tartu, Estonia), Kosmopolis (Barcelona, Spain), Slovenian Book Days (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Festival of the European Short Story (Zagreb – Rijeka, Croatia). She took part in interdisciplinary artistic projects, interalia Corresponcences & Interventions, Open Studio of Mechanisms for an Entente, Labirynt Wolności (the Labirynth of Freedom); interdisciplinary scientific conferences, eg. “Posttechnological experiences. Art-Science-Culture” at the HAT Centre (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań). She is the author of publications on new means of narration in the field of video art (e.g. in Załącznik Kulturoznawczy, Wiadomości ASP). She is the director of theatrical plays (e.g. “Shining City” – Studio Theatre in Warsaw, “Look, The Sun Is Going Down” – the Adam Mickiewicz Theatre in Częstochowa and the Na Woli Theatre in Warsaw, “Theatre de compose ou I'homme belle” – the Jaracz Theatre in Olsztyn, “Far Away” – TVP Kultura). She is a screenwriter and director of television programs: educational and travel series. In 2015 the Biuro Literackie publishing house published her poetic book “Nakarmić kamień” (“To Feed a Stone”) that was awarded the third prize in the competition Złoty Środek Poezji (The Golden Mean of Poetry) as the best poetic debut, and the prestigious Literary Nike Award for the best book of the year. From 2017 Bronka Nowicka is one of New Voices from Europe – the project implemented by Literature Across Frontiers and European Platform for Literary Exchange, Translation and Policy Debate.