I open my eyes. The room in semi-darkness, like a cave under the roof slope, which is covered by dark wooden panels. Patches of snow on the window. They dim the light. I can hear Jacob’s breath. Our sleeping berth is a mattress on the floor, in a foreign house.
As I undress I unfurl the shower curtain. Behind the plastic, worn and grey from scale and mould, steam rises and with it the memory of my dream. I close my eyes.
It is quiet in the kitchen. Only the ticking of the clock is to be heard. Not even the dog in his basket noticed me. I wash the dishes, put them on black marble to dry. The hot water makes my skin swelled and wrinkled. A smell of coffee. I pause.
All of a sudden there is a noise at the door. Jacob’s mother comes in, in a woollen bathrobe. Her white hair tumbled, a hot-water bottle and sleeping pills in her hand.
Good morning, I say.
For an hour we have been sitting at this table, in a pale December light, which enters the room through the winter garden. It blazes its trail through palm trees and cactuses, which don’t give it enough space. The light diminished since Jacob and I came to live here. The lamps in the rooms and hallways have failed, one after the other. Nobody exchanges them.
There is a clangour when I put my mug on the glass table. This sound drops into the silence of this morning in the countryside.
I had a strange dream tonight, I say. My mother was lying on table, I held her hand and knew she was about to die. All of a sudden the light failed, I was standing in the dark, with tears in my eyes, saying, happy birthday, mum.
Jacob’s mother remains silent. Snow gathers on the balcony rails and more is falling down. The dog gets up and stretches. She pets his head, my gaze following this movement.
You know, she says and doesn’t look up, you have to be clear about the fact, that, if you and Jacob have children, it will be mainly your task.
There is a pause in my thoughts. I try to laugh.
I say: I think this is not ripe for decision.
She looks at me and leans back.
I am glad that all works out with his daughter now, she says. But.
I take a sip from my coffee. The ticking is louder now. Her fingers pick crumbs from the plate in front of her.
But raising a small child? As you imagine it, that will not happen. He is not capable of doing it. I only want you to know.
I shift the mug. Something inside me wants to get up and leave, but I can’t.
We’ll see when the time is ripe, I say.
I can her my voice trembling.
I don’t want you to be unhappy, if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.
My fingers are clammy. I try to catch a thought, a smart one, I say: We are not thinking about having a child.
The door swings open, Jacob stands there, in his underpants and a shirt.
You are already discussing important matters, at this time of the day.
He comes closer, I get up and push past him.
I open the window in the bathroom and light a cigarette. Its taste calms me down.
In the days before this one particular night she told us about a pressure in her chest. She had her blood pressure checked, was on the phone with her doctor and asked Jacob to be available on his phone all the time.
In this one night we didn’t sleep.
We went to the movies and after that home, to our flat. At one AM she called for the first time, saying she wasn’t well. At two AM she said, there was a burning in her chest. At three AM she called to say she was on the street in the nearby forest, waiting for the ambulance. At four AM she wrote a message, saying she was in the emergency unit of the cardiac department. At half past five we went to the hospital.
The doctor said: The OP is set for half past nine. After all it was a minor infarct.
When we came back in the afternoon, her bed on the intensive care unit was empty.
They didn’t get through to the heart, she said. But they can adjust it medicinally.
She paused for a moment.
The doctor said I shouldn’t be alone during the night.
I heard myself say: We can be with you, in the first period.
I am cutting courgettes, carrots, leek. Top the vegetables up with broth. Light candles. Feed the dog. A hand on my shoulder.
You are making vegetable soup, honey, she says and strokes my back.
You wanted to lie down, I say.
I set the table. Watch her on the sofa, her small figure under a woollen blanket. The dog by her side. The candles’ light is mirrored by the windows. Snow is falling.
It is quiet in here, except for the humming of the fridge. We have dinner together, Jacob’s mother and I.
She says: I am glad that Jacob has found a girl like you.
I formed a cave on our mattress, with blankets and sheets. Therein I sit and look at the shelves in Jacob’s room. Books lined up and boxes, old diaries. On the wall there are photos of a blonde woman holding a newborn baby. It is cool in here, a smell of old carpet and wood sticks to the room. I stand up and put cloth in front of the shelves.
Have you disguised the room, asks Jacob. He sinks down next to me.
If you don’t fix your past I at least don’t want to see it.
Is it not strange for you to be sleeping in your childhood room?
Not at all, he says.
He kisses me and slips underneath the blankets. I look up to the window, covered by grey snow.
I go for a walk with Jacob’s mother. Jacob stays in the house. He draws his own circles, won’t join us. A crackling under my shoes, a rustling in the trees. The dog breaks through in a puddle, he was moving on thin ice.
I haven’t heard from my family in a long time, I say.
You now have us, says Jacob’s mother. I always wished to have a daughter.
When we get back, the house seems to be warmer than before. We climb the stairs, a voice from the living room. “The onset of winter brought chaos to the streets of Bavaria.” Jacob in front of the TV, his arms crossed behind his head. I put my cold hands onto his cheeks. His mother sits down on the other side. She puts her hand onto his belly, he takes hold of it. I sit offside, watch the flickering of the screen in her eyes.
I change my clothes, comb my hair, wash my face. I remember our flat, in which the light is collected by big windows and reaches into the hindmost corner. It is bright and fair in this space, and warm. A warmth which doesn’t diminish. I make a grimace and try a smile. My reflection doesn’t smile back. I let the water run from the tap, and as the mirror glass gets steamed up, I watch myself disappear.
I can hear their voices and the sounds of a feature film.
There’s need for explanations, I hear her say. Otherwise people might think the film shows real psychoanalysis. This doesn’t do justice to my job.
Jacob answers, his words lost in the shouting of a male voice. I open the door to the living room. Jacob and his mother lying on the sofa. She pets his hand. On screen there is man with dark hair. He is locked up in a lift, hammers against the door.
Where do you go?, I ask him.
I have to pick up the little one from school, Jacob says and puts on his coat.
Will you come back?
No, we go to the flat. Otherwise she will have to get up early.
That means I have to stay with your mother.
You can come with us, if you like.
But someone should be with her during the night.
Then it would be wise if you stayed.
He looks at his phone.
I have to go. You stay?
The sound of the engine.
His mother calls me, asks if I could walk the dog. She doesn’t fell well. I put my clothes on. Every day is darker than the previous one. We walk through the forest, take the street alongside the brook. Only a few houses here, they stay close to the trees, invisible for passers-by. The snow absorbs every sound. Unto the local railway station we walk and back.
On TV there is a documentary about the change of consciousness. The voice of the narrator says: “Iboga is a root with a hallucinogen effect, which lasts for about 12 hours. The ritual is also called ‘breaking up the head’. Probands report on a film which is being displayed on the inner of the eyelids. It is fed by images of the subconscious mind. Allegedly, after consuming Iboga, there is a state of complete stillness in the mind.”
I would love to try that, I say.
One shouldn’t try this if one is mentally instable, Jacob’s mother says.
There was time when we used to make love in a different way. We forgot which body part belonged to whom. I remember that time didn’t exist longer than a breath, a kiss. The warmth and smell of our skins had found each other and had become allies. Until now. Sex is mechanical, it is sewing-machine sex. We rest upon old blankets, in an aftertaste of what is bygone. Jacob puts his head in the crook of my arm. I wait for a moment and then ask him, when we would return to our flat. He answers, that we were together here, and after all, our flat was too small for work.
Up on the hill, just before midday. Steep is the hill, the dog is in the lead. I turn around. At the bridge I see the house, next to the forest. A faint light in the living room, nothing moves. We continue, a circle, an hour in the hills. A friend calls me. She says that I am being missed. She asks me when I come back.
I pull the gear off the dog, hear the voice of Jacob’s mother. A door is being closed. I enter the hallway, stop in front of her workroom. I hear her say: In February you could move into the new apartment.
I knock at the door.
We are back.
They lean over a piece of paper.
We will be with you in a moment, he says. Ten minutes.
I close the door. The dog looks at me.
Yes, I say. You and I. You and I.
It is the day of Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year. It has just gone past three PM and twilight has arrived already. Another two days and it will be Christmas Eve. I am in the house by myself. Jacob and his mother went to town.
I assort the laundry. Jacob’s laundry on the left pile, his mother’s on the right pile. Mine in a bag. There is no light left in the attic. Candles are burning and from the speakers comes the sound of a guitar. A man and a woman sing a duet.
A strange form of life, they sing. Kicking through windows, rolling on yards, heading in loved ones’ triggering eyes, a strange one. And a hard way, to come into a cabin, into the weather, into a path, walking together. A hard one.
Tonight I dreamed about a car accident. I drove into a tunnel and missed the exit. I snatched the steering wheel and crashed against the wall. Splinters of glass and parts of the car flew by, I could sense gravity. But I bailed out without being hurt. I looked at the demolished car. I thought: Good that it wasn’t my car.
I put on my coat and winter boots. I blow out the candles and close the front door. The way to the local railway station seems to be shorter than the days before.
“Winter Solstice” has been published as “Wintersonnenwende” in my book “Autumn Wood’s Colour” (“Die Farbe des Herbstholzes”) in May 2012.
Translation and Text © Marianne Jungmaier. Wiltshire, 2012.