The world, like us, is circumscribed – which is to say organised, disciplined, domesticated – by language. Perception and experience are controlled by language – by a language that doesn’t belong to us. But ‘linguistic powers of expression,’ Michael Lentz tells us, ‘are limited.’ Is there such a thing – a trust in linguistic scepticism? Lentz began by writing poems and short prose – texts that are characterised by the endeavour to condense the glut of linguistic signs and thus explore ways of getting closer to the inexpressibility of things. Such writing is usually described as ‘experimental’. Michael Lentz first reached a large public in 2001 with “Motherdeath”, a story that attempts, with great precision, to find order in the chaos of a loss – an undertaking that doesn’t – that cannot succeed. “Motherdeath” is a bluntly autobiographical account of the death of Lentz’s mother. But to leave it at that is to oversimplify matters. In his story, Lentz pieces together linguistic jetsam to produce a reality that is new, but not fictional. Reality is his raw material. The text he creates does not reproduce real life; it mediates between life and literature, bringing into being an ineluctable interdependence between the two levels. The loss of faith in powers of invention and imagination, in causality and chronology, in language and all forms of traditional order, turn memory into an experiment. Rather than being sorted and filed away, memory remains elusive and thus painful. In “Motherdeath” Lentz records the death of his mother, keeping it, as it were, alive, while at the same time hinting at the unattainable by giving her a voice.
Translated by: Katy Derbyshire
Mother disappeared on the twentieth of August nineteen ninety-eight at around eleven fifty at night. At around eight thirty in the morning of the twenty-first of August nineteen ninety-eight, Father called and informed me: ‘Mother died at around eleven fifty last night.’ I went back to bed and continued reading the duck comic I had set aside the previous evening. Mother’s disappearance had been expected for a long time. In mid-April of the year nineteen ninety-seven, Father called and said her organs might now fail at any time. On the nineteenth of August nineteen ninety-eight, Mother fell into a vegetative state for the last time, having not eaten for days previously and no longer, i.e. never again, walked around. Only lying in bed and gazing at her feet, apparently without pause. She had a view of the park but she no longer looked at it. My windowless mother! Having spent weeks and days rebuking my father for never coming home on time and for the children having no table manners, she suddenly said only the occasional ‘Oh, there you are,’ once in a while or simply ‘Father,’ or ‘Father’ questioning also, when Father entered her hospital room and visited her by entering the room. She was now emaciated and sculpted to her hospital bed. She now had marks all over her body. When Father asked me two days before the burial whether I would like to see her again, I answered no. At around ten in the morning on the twenty-eighth of August nineteen nintey-eight Mother was buried. I threw a yellow rose into the cavity. The rose lay prepared in something like a box. You reach into the box and take out a rose. Then you throw the rose into the prepared cavity. But it’s not that you think of a life thrust in there, you throw the rose into the cavity and cry. I retain my image of Mother with friendly eyes. She is sitting upright in bed wearing a white cardigan to keep off the chill. She asks me whether I’m doing well and I answer yes. She says she probably won’t be coming home. She is surprisingly clear all in all. She has a surprising clarity. She has suddenly become an old woman, which she never was. She is now aging by the day. She remembers that I moved out from home years ago. She has moved out too, she says, but she doesn’t know where she actually lives now or whether she still has a home at all. She lives here and there, she says.
When Mother disappeared and Father called to inform me that Mother had died the previous night, I went back to bed and back to reading and to the mice, the ducks, stingy Scrooge McDuck. Uncle Scrooge is once again in the process of increasing his riches to immeasurable heights. The logistics he expends for the process are the most miserable. These logistics also include his nephews , who always save the day at the last moment. Donald has always had enough of this nonsense whenever Uncle Scrooge makes him work for nothing. That’s the way it is. Is Donald life and Scrooge death?
You can’t call anymore and ask for Mother now, I realized. And you never took Mother to the cinema and never took Mother to the theatre, I realized. You always took her nowhere at all. There are so many last looks that I have no idea exactly when I last saw her. It’s certainly the case that I last saw Mother at around ten in the morning on the sixth of July nineteen ninety-eight. I wave back again and the heavy grey door with the handle rubbed smooth to the touch slips slowly and safely closed. On this ward, a broken foot lies next to death. Everyone leaves via the corridor. Mother is having difficulties with her tongue but her voice is unupset. She is having trouble swallowing and has to drink artificial saliva.
Our first visit after her first voluntary and at the same time last admission to hospital is at Whitsun nineteen ninety-eight. She is in such a miserable state that I am incapable of doing anything but sitting wordlessly next to her for hours. Even looking at her is impossible. Even sneaking a hand onto the blue blanket is impossible. Barbara walked straight out of the room shot through with tears the moment she saw Mother lying there like that and in such a miserable state and so almost disappeared collapsed desiccated and bony-skulled lying there like that, straight out of room. What should I have said to Mother? Her fleeing finger is constantly pointing at strange figures over there on the wall or here on the table. She lifts her head a little as best she can and her small eyes stare intensely into the midst of her ghostly realm. Was there any point in telling her there was nothing but a flower, a soap dispenser a flesh-coloured wooden animal that was always alongside her? She didn’t want to believe it. She sees flying birds and faces, that’s the thing. When Barbara comes back into the room, Mother has just drunk tea from her feeding cup and vomited. Barbara wipes the brown brew, the gall tea, from her mouth and her white cardigan. It’s very improper, says Mother, ashamed of herself. She can’t abide it, she says, she’s always been so prim and proper. The white cardigan is unusable now, she says, in fact she can’t abide any of all this any more, and the people upstairs are having raging parties every night with sexual harassment and so on. She quietly admires my silver ring, which she would like to keep for herself. Her finger is bound to be too thin, though, she says. Between her sentences she has momentary absences, her face frozen, her gaze piercing. At Whitsun Mother was in such a miserable state that my whole body sat as though poured out next to her with something like numbness. Mother seemed not to be afraid.
I must be getting old, she said suddenly, years ago. Or she said, I’m getting old, until one day she said, we’ve got old. She’s sitting at home on the sofa. She can’t think of something or other. She remembers precisely that she can’t think of a name. Oh yes, she says, I can tell I’ve got old. She can’t think of it. At Whitsun Mother told us about meeting her father by night, about explorations by night and concerns over whether all this here was quite right, occasionally spotting a strange figure in the room, on the ceiling or close by her in bed, occasionally wanting to be handed her sinfully expensive as she put it favourite moisturizer to put on her ever dryer hands, which she could still move to a passable extent, unlike her legs – that at least. And what gave her no rest was the loss of her silver and sinfully expensive as she put it diamond ring, which she said had disappeared without trace. It could only be down to her fingers, she said, which had all got so thin that everything fell off them, everything that hadn’t fitted on them for years was now falling off. Now at last I rest my hand with no pressure on the blanket, beneath it her absolutely emaciated legs. Intuiting legs. She is so gaunt that the tendons in her neck grow out of her body like dry branches so gaunt. Her larynx protrudes as though it wanted to be alone. Her arms threaten to snap away, her whole body an ungoverned marionette whose strings somebody tangled. She shows me her magazines, which she still wants to be brought in but which she can no longer read, she says, only look at the pictures. This is the coming fashion, she tells me, and asks do I like it. She doesn’t, she says. Her feet are itchy but she can’t do anything about it, she says, because she can’t raise her legs any more and she hasn’t tried for a long time. After several minutes of just sitting there lying there thinking of elsewhere, she fears she’ll have to shit and vomit at the same time, although she doesn’t put it that way. I feel indefinably ill all of a sudden, comes shooting out of her. A nurse is fetched and we stalk up and down the corridor until Mother feels better. Her dull hair now looks even more broken off around her head, I notice. Don’t you worry, Mother had said when I saw her after her first operation. Now she says nothing of the sort. Everything embarrasses her. She can’t go to the toilet without help. They put her on a stool every time, she says, it didn’t used to be that way at all. She knows she’s absolutely stubborn, she says, she’d never have thought it would turn out this way. She wishes us all the best. Could we leave the balcony door ajar, the air is unbearably bad. Can we sympathize, she asks. She falls into brief periods of sleep or dimness. She wears her large glasses, a mark visible through them below her left eye. A dark red spot clearly visible. I never asked her why the mark was under her eye. If you ask her straight out how she is, she says she’s fine. She tells everyone she’s doing fine. I’m fine, she tells anyone who asks. I never asked her whether she was thinking of dying soon.
By the time the disease reached her liver there was no hope left. She didn’t tell anyone it was probably going to be the end. No message aboutdeath. Not a word. Sometimes she burst into tears and then pretended to have choked or her mouth was dry or something strange in her throat. Father says she never spoke about death. She was glad when we came to visit. She didn’t complain when we had to leave. The only thing she complained about was Father, she accused him without interruption to his face and to everyone else of never being there for her, of coming and going when and where he wanted, of leaving her in the lurch here, of always being late. He never used to be like that, she said, but now he didn’t stick to arrangements and simply stayed away most of the time. Father tolerated these accusations with placid perseverance. His checked jacket folded neatly into a carrier bag, and her in her nightshirt shroud. Career caries. Carrière, a fast gallop. Destruction of bone parts. Careering out of control. Rottenness putrefaction. Like he used to go to the office, go to work, like she is tangibly disappearing. A third one is out of the question. She used to cry in public. Public was at home. My guess is that she was crying out of bitterness. She rarely had the flu then either or ‘heart trouble’ as the old wives’ tale was called, lay in bed during the day and night for days with the curtains drawn or pulled open and was unresponsive in a gracious way but something like receptive go and say hello sent by Father and lay there in bed in her nightshirt for days with that taboo word that didn’t exist at the time, with depression. Mother, lying in bed, even then flicking through magazines, secret and secretive. Nothing in there but refusal, though. Fashion absorption. And went out. And came back in elsewhere. Into the ward. Into the putrefaction chamber. Into the graveyard. Into dispersion distance. Was removed from our midst. Where could that be. Notations. Language as bait. Speaking of Mother as something unedited. Fragment, margin note. Canalization, rift and tug. Form and fracture, swathe and stroke.
An illness is always also a disease of the consciousness. The destination to which everything is heading. Summary of a life as notification: there’s cancer in the bowel. But mother is by no means directly notified that there’s been a progression. Up to her death she has only an internal notice, something she feared so terribly when she couldn’t shit for weeks. In unspeakable pain that she located precisely: bowelwards. One day she goes to the doctor and says, there’s something the matter. Says she’s been feeling it for months. The doctor takes pictures. He steps up to my mother and says, there’s something the matter. Can there be such a thing as a consciousness that something’s the matter, my mother asks the doctor. It’s absolutely not impossible that you knew before what I’m confirming now. And is it bad? It’s really bad. From that point on always summary summary summary. A drawing of attention. A daily portion of goodbyes.
On the evening of the tenth of January nineteen ninety-four, I’m invited to dinner. Eight treasure duck. My hostess has laid the candlelit table with herself. I want to submerge my tongue between her thighs, instantly. Telephone. It’s Father here. Mother is severely ill. Closedown. That was nineteen ninety-four. Dinner was over then.
Severely ill still sounds like the end of life, even now. If not on her deathbed. Eight cold treasures. No more dinner. I haven’t eaten since nineteen ninety-four. ‘Utterly, more than utterly ravaged!’ The sympathetic knowledge itself is a cancerous ulcer and has exhausted all sweat and toil and reserves. What is it that a person thinks? Where do all these thoughts go to after the operating system powers down? Does it continue circling in itself? Are our thoughts real, are our thoughts really windowless? Does this male know a solution, first meal and now lame? Questions that don’t touch mother. Don’t touch mother! Thinking mother, thinking the other. You’ll never be as good! Perhaps it is so that all thinking is the same – and then shut down all the same.
There were good conversations in our life. But what were they about? They’re important things, talking about the weather and food. Mother liked talking about the weather and food. Sit yourselves down and don’t talk so much about things you can’t eat. Could have been one of hers. The weather was something that was inside of her, though, she could feel it, it made her exhausted or happy. Mother was not from this society. I think she was from the war, and she compared everything to its equivalent from the war. There weren’t many exact equivalents. She didn’t bring up her children at the level of society, I mean this society was always in the way of her bringing us up, I mean this society was always in her way, that is, there were certain biases, mutual blind spots, unliveable promises, she took her weary cycled route to school, she learned pharmaceutical things, afterwards, and then came the fractures, a suddenly so abruptly descending present, a handed-over begetting, she always took her cycled route to school. I wish I knew whether she had a mental budget, the way she had a household budget in which everything was kept track of and noted down, but she presumably wrote down nothing more than the household, the jars of fruit, the recipes, the few letters in her beautiful blue handwriting, with her homeland. Her household marriage, the most beautiful handwriting imaginable. A delicately driven river. In the end she could no longer make phone calls of her own accord but she could speak once someone was on the line. Her voice her handwriting. In the end she no longer understood the alphabet of numbers, she lost hold of everything that makes a connection to the outside world, where it’s fluent in our minds.
In her now abandoned room, I open the wardrobe wide and fish out a last note in her trembling crumpling handwriting. There it is again her dextrous warm drive her finally unlearned alphabet with traces of childhood in the familiar territory from when reading still meant picking up letters. Someone told her a name a street something yet to be done or she thought of something and she wrote it down. A buoy a location an opportunity taken in passing. What remains is her handwriting. She tries to decipher the note. She can no longer read the landscape. What she repeats over and over shouldn’t and can’t be different than more than enough. A sock, she remembers weeks before her death, there’s a sock she’s forgotten to darn for years. Now that she’s sitting comfortably or relatively comfortably in her armchair she wants to darn that forgotten sock. The fleeing darning needle is improper too. It’s not going anywhere. As she notices it’s going nowhere but time and leading to nothing but wasted time, she does nothing but sit there and should a man come with the shining beard of those unpunctual timeless patriarchs, she would be ashamed on his behalf too. Haven’t you got anything better to do? Bloodletting. Now that she’s dead she is unfamiliar. How does it happen that someone is unfamiliar when they are dead? Now that someone’s dead she is unfamiliar. Is her life a memory that is unfamiliar, the leftover asks itself. Everything stirs. There is great wonderment in the world that roots should still stir when she is dead. The mother loosened by the war, who got lost along the way. Where a thought goes when it is thought. Is there not a direct museum when someone leaves behind her cupboards and doors, her staircases and cells, her confidential matter? She opens the drawer of her bureau and nothing but keys and photo paper. She always put all sorts of things in there. Repository and locked treasure trove at once. A moment in time there is a childhood face. The lock has long since been lost. Who in the world should put it all together, think/live it all together now? A note full of names and an unwritten name parcel. Recipes photos recipes. And the photo of Grandpa in his doctor’s coat and small unused things that nobody uses now. Saved-up rubber bands never-used styluses. A world an unproduction hall. A pass. A word. A no coming back. A falling down. Photos of Father over all the years. Ordering systems filing systems. What you never lose you grieve for all your life. That could have been one of hers. She lost nothing. She filed everything away. She couldn’t even say, my order always looks so unorderly. Her order looked like all order. A mere counting up. A placing. Key systems. Locks unlocatable. Metal rods for opening the bureau’s attic. Mother showed me how and impressed me utterly. Dexterities to open the middle storey. An epiphany, evidently. I haven’t managed it for years. For years I’ve suspected, behind things and inside things, chests boxes chambers a treasure trove a familiarity a photographic anaesthetic whisking me away to the land of my mother, who lets me stand bravely for a single breathed moment in her landscape Düsseldorf Bitburg Nonnenwerth and Neuerburg that’s where she once went with us, that’s where she once pointed out of the moving car we were in that she’d once been there all for herself. My favourite of her manners of speaking though was the one that was Luxembourgian. I’d listen to that for hours, not understanding a word. She could sing it when we were in Geichlingen on the Luxembourg border to visit Grete, Grandpa and Grandma’s housekeeper. One day Grete had got her farmhouse freshly whitewashed. I thought I was doing her a favour by sticking the flies by the hundreds to the freshly whitewashed wall with the fly swatter. Looked like it had come down with the measles, that freshly whitewashed facade. Then I made like a fly. We are young and it was beautiful, someone once said.
In her last photo, Mother is wearing the dress she would later be buried in. It always suited her and seeing as it’s her last photo, says Father. Marked by death, as they commonly say, that’s how Mother looks one-to-one nine months before her death. As though she had to take a position unprepared in a very short time, although even mere presence was already a great effort for her. Everything coagulates into a so-called. She appears before me every day. When I’m dreaming she’s not dead. I know that off by heart. I can’t get there. Not to forget Bas Jan Ader, who set out from Cape Cod in a small sailing boat to cross the Atlantic to England on the ninth of July nineteen seventy-five. Nope! A half-rotten nutshell. That was it. Drifting bottom up. West of Ireland. The man himself disappeared. Bloodletting. ‘My body, practicing drowning,’ he once noted down. And then I’m too sad to tell you, that wonderful sixteen-millimetre film of uninhibited crying. That’s it. A universe of crying. And is there a moment of peace after that. Is everything over after that universe. Sometimes with your own crying, you can’t distinguish it from movie crying. You learn and you cry your whole life long.
Oil. Liquid candlelight a five-day ration of eternal light. And returning. And rethinking. The memory is a tree. A bunch of flowers. Praying comes flying in and is immediately interrupted. A date of death as a memory ring. A spring flower stirred with roots. A dish. And returning. Earth turning. And winter coming. And standing alongside. Always just getting there until someone gets to you. At grass-touching distance on tourist routes. Perhaps with that unspeakable picture on her lips with the freezing or no longer performable head movement. The way she lies there. The way she can do so little now. Turning around like that for example, an impossibility. Saying goodbye an impossibility. Short-sighted with no return greeting. Short-sighted and full of space in her face. Embarrassed. Standing on one side. Then on the other. All of life is breaking a habit. And a death does help with that, like this one. Lying-in all on her maternal own on her deathbed. Father’s eyes already closing. The death awaited for hours but refusing for days now. Comatose with her head stretched back. Wearing a vest. No last words handed down. Was there went away. Mereness. And where that leads. Father’s eyes falling closed. He’s going home for a bit. A room devoid of mothers devoid of souls in which mother disappears. She doesn’t say, you go home for a bit, I have to die now. Step over. Snuff it. Make my peace. Make space.
Having heard wrong a whole life long. Asking herself a whole life long, did I understand that right? And wanting to get something straight. The operating system Mother kept checking its interfaces a whole life long, so to speak. Perhaps there weren’t even any there. A hearth burning out of its own accord. Which is beautiful, though, glowing blissfully in itself. Burning out so dry in the sheets. So unpolitically on the twentieth of August nineteen ninety-eight. The way we walk into the room and think we’ve had a heart attack. The way everything suddenly stands still. The way we hear the hearing in what we hear. Perhaps it’s something that never stops, this DYING that never stops. The thin little arm shooting out of the sheet. The unringed hand yearning for a ring. The completely downstairs body incapable of understanding. I was more complete just yesterday, the body says to itself, again and again. Seriously, what is it suddenly that it won’t work any more.
On repeated occasions, she mis-enters information. For instance her vehement denial of ever having had a son. ‘What do you mean my son visited!’ Until the end there was lunch chosen by Father for Mother, chosen a week ahead, this time some kind of steamed soup meat and tralala. For her diet’s sake deathly boring digestible and departureworthy. But what can you do. Everything in the world finds catastrophic comprehension somewhere in the world. When Father asked two days before the burial whether I wanted to see her again, I answered no. I’d have liked to develop a comprehension of what goes on organically, what declines and fails organically. The thing is that I really would have liked to encroach with this keyboard into her innards, but the other thing is that I would never have managed that in my lifetime. German grammar always emits such an extreme stench of decay. This permanently papally blessed German language. This bargain language. This philosopher’s language. This money-back deposit bottle of a language. This dying Christendom. This evacuated being. This pride: ‘He will do me wrong / who grieves my death.’ Her death. A death a real-time and all around it something like hermeneutics or karlsruhe carnival. ‘Pale death will with his cold hand’ I read, but it didn’t shock me.
We visited her at Whitsun nineteen ninety-eight. Even looking was impossible. IT chased you out as though there were no room! But she’d bought huge amounts of underwear from an underwear shop shortly before her death and always wanted to go shopping. Shopping was always an act of state for Mother. The senior municipal director father, and Mother goes shopping for the senior municipal director family. Goes shopping in Düren, that dump of a place. Shopping in that mentally decrepit Düren. With the exception of the museum, the whole town should please be shut down at the first opportunity! A town ninety-eight per cent destroyed in the war, ought never to have been rebuilt. They should have left it all as it was to rot away. Then they could have taken people and women from all over the world there fifty years after the war and said: THAT is war. Please shut down Düren everyone. A wannabe town like Swiss cheese. Little structure around lots of nothing. The nothing shows through. Always the idea of becoming less. And waking with a start in the night because Mother is still sitting there, and there’s talk of a miracle. Talk of her being over the worst. Of there being not much more that can happen. And so Mother sits there enjoying life. Unkillable. Sits away to herself. A visit from another world. Talks very differently suddenly than in the physical sense.
Waking with a start again because I’ve spotted the trick. Instantly realizing Mother is gone. Reassuring to know, so to speak. All as it always was. She was afraid of the nights too. She didn’t want to have the nights any more at all. Only lying in bed and gazing at her feet, apparently without pause. She had a view of the park but she didn’t look out any more. There’s a sculpture out there in the hospital park. Once, my mother looked out of the window into the park and she saw precisely that thing there. A thing that she liked. After Mother disappeared on the twentieth of August nineteen nintey-eightat around eleven fifty, Father commissioned the sculpture-maker to make a nice pillar for her grave. It turned out a very earthy device made of grey stone, twined or twisted around its own centre. Gathered moss by now. No, my mother didn’t call me personally to tell me ‘I’ve got cancer.’ Several weeks after Father’s notification that Mother was severely ill, I got a telephone number from that same father, using which I could visit my mother, who had been operated on and was still bedbound in hospital. Neither of us had a good conversation approach at the ready. Her voice was a strong weakness. Just give her a quick call, Father had said. A life is always a wish from one another. No, these are such jaded words. That’s no exit. To improve one’s style means to improve one’s thoughts, someone once said. It’s not just once that you don’t just dial that number all the way through, but only ever to the nearest point, only ever up to the last-but-one number, only ever up to the last number at most, but that one doesn’t quite go through, instead you let it ring a little at the longest and then slam down the receiver. One dreads a first love like a first death. It’s all mediated and numerous. Pick up the receiver again because it’s the only voice that counts.
There’s one single letter from her. In it she informs me she has kept my trousers, which I forgot during my last visit after the move, and which she offers to send me, for the time being. It’s from years ago. She politely sent me the trousers, now long since out of so-called fashion, in a cardboard box. I had written her a letter, please send me the aforementioned trousers because it’s getting cold and I miss the trousers. The trousers have rotted away; I’ve kept the cardboard box. All sorts of unaccountable stuff in it. So I kept the cardboard box but never looked in it again. The trousers were too short from the very beginning but I still wore them with pride and called them ‘hose’. Between the death of a close person and the death of an almost identical person comes only the wearing of a pair of trousers. Or the alphabet. You put on a pair of trousers and Franz Papaver talks about identity, which is nothing but varied repetition.
In any case, I saw Mother for the last time at about ten in the morning on the sixth of July nineteen ninety-eight. Mother had just had breakfast, which she seemed to enjoy unlike in the previous days, Father said. It was absolutely clear to me that I had seen her for the last time. By entering the room again, that awareness could have become a different one. There was no excuse though, no pretext for entering the room again. I have to go now, I called out to her, waving again, and the heavy grey door with the handle rubbed smooth to the touch slipped slowly and safely closed. Go where, though? Leave the room, leave the ward, leave the building. Take one last note of the remoteness. Of the place of repair, healing and ending. Say firm as a rock, you don’t want to come back here until the end of your life. Act like nothing had happened. Distract your mind, so to speak. Where to, though? Past the old demolished swimming baths, past all the overexertions pulled out of a hat by the name of Düren. Past the whole ensemble of necessities. Past the middle of town. Past yourself drinking coffee in those run-down central establishments. It’s a small town thoroughly worth forgetting. Suddenly sits upright in bed, having not made a sound for hours. Is there another phantom chasing her? Questions she asks. Did I hear what grandpa says. She’s astounded, she says, that grandpa is saying something in front of all these people here. Because grandpa only ever tells her things when she’s on her own, she says, in the bathroom in the morning. She asks me to throw the people out. Tells me it’s not true what I’m saying. Says I’m not alone in this room with her. Says these other people have evil intentions. Tells me she sometimes doesn’t quite pay attention. She has the feeling as she says in her bright moments of having aged considerably for some time but all this she says has nothing more to do with aging for God’s sake, this is something else entirely, and can I help her out with a pointer of what exactly it is, she may have heard of it at any rate but have forgotten it, at any rate she has other things to do. Apart from which, but she says it’s not important, she can’t think of the word. A word for something being final. She slumps back into bed as if dead. So that’s what she’ll look like when she’s dead perhaps. She’s been dead for ten minutes now. The skin on her cheeks. Her shiny forehead, which she rubs more and more with a let’s say high-proof ointment. What has become of us. That everyday question that anointed pain. The veins on her temples pressing down like a stream down a mountainside. Her sleep that is a mountain range. And from out of the mountains she suddenly looks up with an almost conciliatory smile that seems to have everything in view. Are we still on time? Is it all still in good time?
On the eighteenth of August two thousand, Father informs me he has found Mother’s love letters. They were in a biscuit tin. In some kind of tin in any case. Mother and he had decided to destroy their love letters, he tells me. She had obediently burned HIS love letters. And now he’s found as if by coincidence, in a brown cardboard box, and even if it’s only an insignificant old box, these love letters from HER, which he must not have destroyed as agreed. He’s surprised at himself, he says. They were in a tin here in this brown cardboard box. Mother burned all his love letters, says Father. It’s clear she did, says Father. So he took this box here out of the cupboard and instead of the expected Christmas decorations these letters here were in there. Over all the years he must have kept her love letters addressed to him, most recently in this place, while she burned his love letters as agreed, he assumes. So he finds Mother’s love letters in this biscuit tin immediately removes the remaining envelopes with all the changes of address and throws them straight in the bin, says Father. He shows me a ring binder with neatly punched handwritten sheets of paper. Mother’s love letters. That’s incredible, I reply. Asked why he punched holes in the letters and threw away the envelopes instead of keeping them unharmed in the tin in the cardboard box, Father responds that he’s only interested in the letters. There are two holes in each one now, he says, but he has taken great care to make sure none of the writing is affected.
Image: Bas Jan Ader, “I’m too Sad to Tell You” (1970-1)
A Girl in the Café
Get great reads straight to your inbox
Want to listen to audio editions?
Purchase a subscription and enjoy unlimited access to all features.
By subscribing you contribute and support authors, translators and editors.
Want to save items for later?
Subscribe and get full access to all our features
By subscribing you support and contribute to authors, translators and editors.
Already a subscriber?