Almost Everything Very Fast, by Christopher Kloeble

AT THIS WEEK'S FESTIVAL NEUE LITERATUR, A CRASH COURSE IN CONTEMPORARY GERMAN LITERATURE

February 24, 2016  By Christopher Kloeble
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Christopher Kloeble will be appearing as a featured writer at the Festival Neue Literatur. The following excerpt is translated by Aaron Kerner.

Almost Everything Very Fast

Five Fingers

Up in the sky, the last two clouds were drifting slowly toward each other. A lightbulb with blurry edges, and a white, puffy shape that defied comparison.

Down below, Albert stood flanked by his suitcases in the patchy front yard of a house in Königsdorf, eyeing the doorbell, lost in thought. Anyone acquainted with Albert—admittedly something only few could claim—would know that he couldn’t help it. When

he was younger the other kids had called him bookworm, or four-eyes, though he didn’t wear glasses and was anything but studious. Whenever some assignment was handed to him, he attempted to tackle it, whatever it might be, by thoroughly thinking it through. That was all. And it didn’t mean he always got good grades, either. For Albert, there was no sentence so surreal as I would never have thought of that. How could you not think of something? (He often thought.)

But the toughest assignment Albert had ever been given—the solution to which he’d been seeking for nineteen years now—was waiting for him behind the door whose bell he was touching, but hadn’t yet pressed.

On this particular afternoon Albert had a journey of more than seventeen hours behind him—on the night train, the commuter train, and finally bus 479, whose driver had made every single stop in the Bavarian uplands, from Pföderl via Wolfsöd through Höfen, though no one at all had gotten on or off—and now that he had only a tiny scrap farther to go, he wasn’t so sure he even wanted to arrive.

This is what Albert always thought when he came to Königsdorf: that he’d been coming to visit Fred since he was three years old, initially accompanied by a nun from the orphanage at Saint Helena, and later alone. That he and Fred had never grown particularly close. That when he was five (and, as far as Albert knew, Fred forty-six) he’d made sure that Fred had donned his water wings when, hand in hand, they’d leapt into the Baggersee. That only a few years later he’d started paying for Fred whenever they found themselves facing a cash register, because Albert could count up the change without having to use his fingers. That at the age of twelve, he’d tried to dissuade Fred from his dream of becoming an actor. (The latter had fully rejected this plan only later, on the grounds that he didn’t want, as he put it, people watching him while he worked.) That the following year, he’d still been vigilant about Fred’s water wings. That at fifteen he’d tried to explain the facts of life to Fred, who hadn’t wanted to hear, and had simply responded with a sheepish laugh. That Fred had never called him anything but Albert, and Albert had never called him anything but Fred. That he had never called him Father.

Fred was just Fred—this was the first rule in Albert’s life. It had been that way since he was born, and it would be that way this year as well.

For a few more months, in any case.

In his office the cardiologist had waved the fingers of one manicured hand, and Albert had asked himself if the doctor always did it like that, if he generally told his patients the number of months remaining to them with his fingers, to spare himself the search for sympathetic words. Five fingers. Albert had barely paid attention to them, had taken Fred by the hand and left the hospital with him, ignoring the doctor’s shouts, as later he would his phone calls.

Because he couldn’t talk about it with Fred, he prattled on about other things as they made their way home, especially about the foehn, how strong it was for this time of year, really unusually strong.

Fred had interrupted him: “Five fingers are bad.”

Albert had stopped in his tracks, searching for something to say.

“Five fingers are very bad, Albert.”

“Five fingers aren’t all that bad,” Albert had eventually answered.

“Really? How many do you have, Albert? How many fingers do you have until you have to go dead?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is five a lot?”

“Five is a pretty good number,” said Albert, as encouragingly as he could.

“I have five fingers!” A relieved laugh. “And you, Albert, I bet you have plenty of fingers, too.”

That same evening Albert had left town again, to take his high school exit exams. An obligation that, in light of the news, seemed to him as ridiculous as his decision to fulfill it.

Though in fact, all he really wanted was to get away.

Two months later, after the exams, most of his friends had vanished beyond the horizon. Australia and Cambodia were destinations especially popular with orphans; when they returned from a trip to Angkor or the Outback, not only had they “found themselves,” also they had an idea of where they belonged in the world, and what they wanted to start doing with their lives. Supposedly. Albert, on the other hand—who’d never been able to understand why so many people assumed that answers unobtainable in the immediate neighborhood were awaiting them in far-off lands—had decided to move in with Fred. He hadn’t known what to expect, and still didn’t this afternoon, standing before Fred’s house—he knew only that, whatever it was, there wasn’t much time.

Three more fingers, thought Albert; he rang the bell, lowered his head, grabbed the handles of his suitcases, and stood there, motionless. The heat bored down into his skull. People would remember this summer for a long time. Contrary to all predictions, there had not been a storm for weeks now. The grass in Fred’s garden was rust-brown, even the chirping of the crickets sounded feeble, and the shimmering heat on the stretch of the main street that ran in front of the property was playing tricks on Albert’s eyes.

* * * *

Ambrosial!

Now the door opened and on the top step there appeared a gangling, six-and-a-half-foot-tall giant, sheepishly dipping his head.

They stared at each other.

“Albert!” shouted Fred in his silvery voice, and before Albert knew what was happening to him, he’d been plucked off his feet and pressed hard against Fred’s bony chest.

“Hello, Fred.”

“You’re fat, Albert!”

“Thanks,” said Albert, looking him over—unsure, as he so often was, whether or not Fred was aware of what he was saying. Albert knew him well enough to sense that he didn’t really know him at all. In that respect, at least, he seemed like any other father.

Still, Albert had to admit to himself that Fred had a point. After a shower, Albert usually wound the towel around his body so that he wouldn’t have to look at his belly when he stepped in front of the mirror. Where all that auxiliary lard had sprung from he couldn’t quite explain. He didn’t think he ate and drank any more than other people. Presumably he didn’t move around enough: regular jogging, power walking, or even strolling would, as they say, “do him good.” But the notion of movement merely for movement’s sake didn’t especially appeal to him.

“Is it the holidays again?” asked Fred.

“No, not this time. This time I’m staying longer.”

Fred looked at him hopefully. “Till when?”

“Until . . .” Albert dodged his glance. “As long as possible.”

“As long as possible could be a long time!” shouted Fred merrily, clapping his hands. “That’s ambrosial!”

“Right. It’s great.”

“It’s ambrosial!” Fred lifted a forefinger in rebuke. “You need to read the encyclopedia more, Albert.” With Fred, reading bore no necessary relation to understanding; he seldom saw beyond the sounds of the words that he scanned with the aid of his forefinger, to take note of their meanings. And even when he did, most of them slipped from his memory in short order, bursting like soap bubbles.

Fred tore the suitcases from Albert’s hands and marched into the house. Albert followed. He paused in the vestibule. Though the sugary odor of Fred’s home had been there to meet him whenever he’d arrived, year in, year out, it still managed to take him by surprise.

“Albert?” Fred turned back to him. “Are you feeling faint?”

“No.” Albert drew a deep breath. “It’s fine.”

Albert draped his jacket on a coat hook beside Fred’s royal blue poncho, within whose collar a childish script warned: This belongs to Frederick Arkadiusz Driajes! A plaque by the doorbell bore the selfsame name. Nobody addressed him by his full moniker. Quite possibly because nobody knew how to pronounce it. Naturally, there were a couple of oafs in Königsdorf—permanent fixtures at Hofherr’s beer garden, where they sat nursing their glasses—who maintained he was slow in the head, and called him Freddie-are-you-stupid? But for most people, he was simply Fred, the hero of the bus accident of ’77, who spent half the day at Königsdorf ’s only bus stop in order to tally the green cars that passed along the town’s main street and wave to their drivers.

As Fred set down the suitcases by the stairs and proceeded into the living room, Albert felt a fit of déjà-vu coming over him; or, to be more precise, a déjà-vu of many previous déjà-vus.

He thought: First, they’d sit themselves down on a worn-out, cherry-red chaise longue, precisely where they always sat, and no matter what he touched, thousands of crumbs would adhere to Albert’s hands, reminding him that, now, he rather than the nurse would have to provide Fred with at least one warm meal per day, tie his shoelaces, make sure his teeth were kept spruce and the house spick-and-span.

His eyes would fall on the world map fixed to the wall, where a ring drawn with a green felt-tip marker, which was supposed to indicate Königsdorf, actually encircled all of Bavaria. He would ask Fred how things were going, to which, of course, the answer would be “Ambrosial,” and the next moment Albert would be asked to read aloud from Fred’s favorite book, the silver encyclopedia, as he so often had in the past, before bedtime or afternoon naps. Fred would snuggle up to him, lay his head, pleasantly warm, in spite of the heat outside, in Albert’s lap, and close his eyes, and Albert would hardly dare to move. Still, he’d open the encyclopedia and begin reading somewhere, say at Billiards, and wouldn’t get any farther than Binary star. Fred would snore, looking much younger in his sleep, mid-forties at the most. Albert would flip the book shut, then slip a pillow under Fred’s head and lay a short fleece blanket over his long, long legs. In the kitchen, Albert would have something to eat, soothing his stomach with thick slabs of brown bread while running his eyes across the crack-shot window above the sink, whose lower-left corner was adorned with two taunting letters, HA. He didn’t know who had left them behind, nor when, but since they’d been scratched into the pane from the outside (six tiny scratches, Zorro style), he could only assume that they were the initials of his grandmother, Anni Habom. Albert would lean forward, his left hand braced on the sink, and breathe on the window, and on the clouded pane he would trace his own initials beside those of his grandmother—AD—thick as his finger. And watch them fade. Later, in his bedroom on the second floor, he’d make sure that there was enough of Fred’s medication left in the little nightstand by the bed. Only then would he allow himself to be wooed by the sagging mattress, and feel the exhaustion creeping over him, though he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep.

And that’s just what happened.

Though the whole time Albert was telling himself that he ought to be feeling something special—not déjà-vu, but dernier-vu. After all, he’d come home for the very last time.

* * * *

Most Beloved Possessions

Albert had lain on his bed for barely ten minutes, leaden, empty, and with a towel over his eyes—the sun was still blazing in through the curtains, as though this day would never end—when Fred burst in:

“Are you sleeping?”

Albert waved him over—what else could he do?—and Fred plopped himself down on the mattress.

“Tell me,” said Albert, observing Fred’s chin, “when was the last time you shaved?”

Fred blinked. “Yesterday.”

“You’re sure?”

Fred blinked again: “Totally sure.”

“You may have missed a few spots.”

More blinking.

“Frederick . . .”

“Mama says I look handsome!”

Fred was particularly fond of bringing Anni into play, in order to stress that this, that, or another notion hadn’t sprung from his own head, but from that of a significantly higher authority. An authority who had last said anything to Fred sixteen years earlier, when Albert had been three years old. Albert’s memories of her barely deserved the name; it sometimes occurred to him that he might simply be imagining them, since he’d spent so much time examining the innumerable photographs of her in Fred’s house, comparing her features with his own, searching for resemblances. She had lived to age seventy, an apparently hard life, saddled with chronically high blood pressure (as revealed by the cardiologist’s postmortem diagnosis). In the end, her condition had led to systolic heart failure; that is, her heart had succumbed to its own imposing bulk, and Albert’s grandmother, his last real link to the past, had died. That much he knew. In a handful of file folders, whose primary function had been to support the bottommost shelf of a rickety bookcase, he’d discovered a scrappy collection of documents revealing mainly that she hadn’t been insured. Evidently she’d never set foot in a hospital or doctor’s office. No one had ever told her how many fingers she had left.

Albert sat up, mimicking a pair of scissors with his index and middle fingers.

Fred clapped his hands over his prickly cheeks: “But my dad had a blond beard!”

Fred claimed that his father—Albert’s grandfather Arkadiusz—had been a diver. A man with extraordinary lungs who had reconditioned subterranean canal systems, who had once dived to the floor of the Baltic Sea without aid of equipment, and who, back when Fred was barely larger than the belly in which he’d spent nine months, had been snatched away by a sudden rush of water and disappeared forever into the rambling network of sewer pipes beneath the town. It may have been true, or just a fantasy, but in any case it meant that someone always had to flush the toilet on Fred’s behalf, something he balked at even more than he did shaving: “My dad is traveling forever through the pipes—sometimes he’s in America, and sometimes he’s in Poland, and sometimes he’s here, too.”

Albert stood up, stepped into the bathroom, and plugged in the electric shaver, but when he turned around, Fred was gone. After hunting through the whole house, he finally found him out in the backyard, in the BMW 321. It was a vintage model from the late thirties that belonged to Fred, even though he didn’t have a driver’s license. He called it the Speedster. Its mint-green paint looked as if it had suffered a high-temperature pressure washing. Its tire treads hung in tatters. The sound of the horn was best described as whiny. The leather upholstery smelled—in Fred’s opinion—deliciously musty, just like it did between his toes. An empty flowerpot kept the passenger-side door from falling off its hinges.

Albert climbed in beside Fred, who was sitting at the wheel. His stubble gleamed in the late sunlight, and the encyclopedia lay in his lap. He had it open to D. D as in Death. With his index finger he pointed to the illustration of a tombstone in Carrara marble. “What color is that?”

“Dove-white?”

“Do they have swan-white, too?”

“Definitely.”

“Can I have one like that?”

“A swan-white tombstone?”

Fred nodded. “It has to be a very beautiful stone, Albert.”

“Done,” said Albert. “A swan-white tombstone for you.”

They sat silent for a moment while, outside, the noise of cars passing along the main street subsided, and they were blinded one final time by the sun before it plunged behind the moor. Fred looked dreamily at the picture of the tombstone.

“Everyone always says going dead is bad. I don’t believe it. I’m sure it’s completely different. I bet it’s great. Like a huge surprise. Actually, I’m looking forward to it. It would be even better if the two of us could go dead together, Albert. Only, I think that would be hard. Because I’m faster than you.”

“I’ll hurry,” Albert promised him, and immediately Fred beamed at him like a child—a child who had gotten on in years, with bags under his eyes, gray temples, and little creases around his mouth.

Then the smile slipped from Fred’s face: “Mama says all your Most Beloved Possessions go dead, someday.” The tone of his voice had changed, as if he’d just that moment remembered what dying actually meant.

“And what would that be, a Most Beloved Possession?” asked Albert.

Fred laughed, as if Albert had asked an unbelievably stupid question: “A Most Beloved Possession can be anything at all!”

“A father, for instance?”

“Sure! Or a car.”

“And what’s your Most Beloved Possession?”

Fred snorted and rolled his eyes. He stretched out one arm, opened the glove compartment, and drew out a dented tin box in which something rolled and rattled. While opening the scratched lid, Fred bent over the box, obstructing Albert’s view, as if he wanted to make sure that what he expected to find was still there. Then he held a chestnut-sized stone, which gleamed metallically in the evening light, under Albert’s nose. “Take it!”

To call the look on Fred’s face one of pride would have been an enormous understatement.

Albert weighed the Most Beloved Possession in his palm—it was astonishingly heavy, and resembled a wadded-up, petrified sheet of rich yellow paper. An absurd thought came to him, which Fred promptly uttered: “Gold.”

“Really?”

Fred whispered, “My Most Beloved Possession.”

Even though Albert nodded appreciatively and stuck out his lower lip, he was skeptical. The stone in his hand corresponded precisely to his idea of a gold nugget, and that immediately aroused his suspicion.

“Who did you get this from?” asked Albert, and handed the gold back to Fred.

Satisfied, Fred stowed the stone back in the tin box.

“I said, who did you get it from?”

Fred said, “It’s mine.”

“Did you steal it from somebody?”

“I never steal.”

“Was it always here? Why haven’t you shown it to me before?”

“When I’m dead, you can have it,” said Fred, and looked at him excitedly; the green of his eyes shimmered like the surface of a lake, one whose depth it’s impossible to gauge. “Then you’ll be rich.”

Albert returned his look, wishing once again that it was possible to ask Fred a simple question and receive a simple answer. A completely normal conversation, that’s what he wanted, one in which Fred didn’t sidle away from his questions. Most of all, he wished he could believe Fred, that he didn’t find himself doubting every last one of his statements.

“Hmm,” said Albert.

“Hmm,” said Fred.

At that precise moment, the neighbor’s rooster unleashed a wild cry. Fred grimaced and rolled up the driver’s-side window. “He never knows when to be quiet!”

Albert tapped on the stopped dashboard clock beside the speedometer. “It’s late,” he said. “The Sandman is making his rounds.”

* * * *

Papaaa

That evening Albert couldn’t sleep. He lay there with his eyes fixed on a luminous, fingernail-sized, star-shaped sticker on the beam above the bed. When he was younger he’d looked at it every evening until his eyes shut; he’d found it comforting that this tiny light had shone for him, shone defiantly against the blackness of the country night.

From a drawer in the nightstand he drew a yellowing newspaper article. The second April edition of the Oberland Messenger from 1977. Right on the first page there was a report by one Frederick A. Driajes, a story that as a child Albert had read over and over again before falling asleep. It bore the title:

The Day the Bus Attacked the Bus Stop

When Albert read the report today, as a nineteen-year-old, he recognized in it some of what bothered him about Fred: most of all, the way he exaggerated, describing things so that you could never be quite sure if his mental disability was responsible, or his character, or some combination of the two.

But as a child he remembered he had loved Fred for this more than anything—that people called him a hero. Back then he’d seen Fred as an even greater hero than He-Man or Raphael, the turtle with the red bandana, named for some other Raphael that Sister Simone was all gaga over. At Saint Helena, Albert bragged about Fred, thereby drawing the envy and hostility of all the other orphans who not only didn’t have heroes for fathers; they had no fathers at all. Why did he live in Saint Helena if Fred was so great, they asked him, and shook their heads maliciously. Albert ignored that. Sister Alfonsa had prepared him for such situations; he followed her advice, didn’t stick his tongue out at the other kids, and told himself that because they didn’t have anyone, they wanted to be like him, they were just being jealous, petty. And that helped Albert, who was the only one of the younger kids in the orphanage who knew what petty meant. At Saint Helena, Albert favored the lower mattress in the bunk bed, on the one hand because he was no lover of heights, and on the other because he could decorate the underside of the bed above him with what he wanted to be the last thing he’d see before falling asleep: Fred’s newspaper report. Even back then he had never called Fred Father. As a one-year-old he’d called him Ped, then Fed at two, and a few months later he was proudly gurgling Fred. Anni had told him to. And after Anni’s death, Sister Alfonsa wanted it to stay that way. Which confused Albert. Often he wanted to call him Papa, with an elongated second a that opened the throat and cleared the mind. Whereas Fred curled his tongue and sounded like an out-of-tune doorbell. Yet he trusted the nun, for in spite of his precocious mind, he was still small enough to believe that adults, among whom he counted Fred, knew everything, and always did what was right.

It wasn’t until age five that he realized how wrong he had been.

During a visit to Königsdorf he and Fred lay, as usual, on the chaise longue in the living room, in front of the television set. Albert couldn’t recall anymore which program had been playing at the time. He’d never cared much about that, for him the important thing was snuggling up against Fred and feeling his inextinguishable warmth. And that’s how it had been that evening when Albert, needing to go to the bathroom, had worked himself loose from Fred, whose gaze never slid from the TV even for a moment. After Albert had pressed the flush on the toilet, he stood there waiting, for Fred’s sake, until the sound of the rushing water had subsided, before opening the door again. When he bounced back into the living room, feeling almost perfectly happy, he saw it.

Even before Albert first beat Sister Alfonsa at chess, even before he wowed his teachers with essays cobbled together out of quotes cribbed from German writers (never getting caught), even before he began learning the English version of his favorite book, The Hobbit, by heart, even before he baptized a stray dog “Maxmoritz” and trained it to pilfer sausages from the convent kitchen, even before, bored by the inflationary use of kindergarten curse words like dummy or poopy butt, he started to call his envious peers “cretins,” even before he explained to said cretins, who, when exam time came around, scored worse than he did across the board, that his namesake, Einstein, had never been a poor student, merely Swiss—even before all of this happened, Albert understood for the first time just how little his father understood.

Fred was lying in exactly the same position on the chaise longue, but his gaze didn’t reach what was happening on the screen. He was staring in its direction with the concentrated yet unambiguously desperate expression of someone marooned on an island, scanning the horizon for ships.

The first words Albert addressed to Sister Alfonsa after that visit were “Is he crazy?”

Alfonsa greeted him with a bear hug and one of her standard tooth-concealing smirks—back when she was a child, people had put little stock in either tenderness or orthodontics. She was famous far beyond the walls of Saint Helena for her inscrutable facial expressions. Albert himself had once witnessed how an adventurous orphan—Rupert—had mistaken her smirk for a suppressed smile, as he clambered up onto the unstable roof of a garden shed accompanied by her shouts that he should definitely go on scrambling, there would be absolutely no consequences, she thought it was an excellent idea, if only all the boys were daring enough to try to break their necks. A penance of fifty Our Fathers had brought Rupert considerably closer to an understanding of the concept of irony. Some people thought everything Sister Alfonsa uttered was devoid of emotion. But even as a child, Albert had felt this was only half the story. It sometimes seemed to him as if she’d found her way to Saint Helena by mistake. Something about her just didn’t fit there. What exactly it was, he couldn’t say. But he had a suspicion it was connected with how seldom she left the building, and how often she listened to Frank Sinatra.

“Is Fred crazy?”

This time Albert pronounced the question as if he was expecting a yes. Sister Alfonsa shut the door to her office, and led him over to a little table on which a chessboard of stained boxwood was waiting. To the left and right of it stood wooden stools. Lately she’d been teaching him to play chess—an honor she bestowed only every few years on an orphan who, in her opinion, had great potential, or, as she phrased it, seemed “bright enough.” In Alfonsa’s lessons, chess pieces were dispensed with. In her opinion, a clever-enough mind could make do with checkers—memory would take care of the rest.

Albert hesitated, he had little desire to play, but he also sensed that he had no other option, if he wanted to hear her thoughts. Faint daylight fell through a tiny window—it was another of those murky autumn afternoons. Albert took his seat. His feet didn’t reach the floor. For a moment his hand hovered above his bone-white troops, before opening the game in classic fashion (pawn to e4). The nun mirrored his move (pawn to e5), and then sat down.

“You think your father is crazy?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe we are, too.”

“No way.”

“How do you know?”

Albert made his next move (knight to f3), which she again mimicked (knight to f6).

“Okay,” she said, “let’s assume that we’re not crazy, and Fred is. Isn’t that merely our thesis, then?”

Albert wrinkled his forehead (knight takes pawn), Alfonsa didn’t (likewise).

“What’s a thesis?”

“A beginning.” She smirked. “In our society the stronger rule over the weaker. A clever little fellow like you declares: ‘Fred is crazy.’ And because Fred is hardly capable of refuting you, everyone concludes that you’re right.”

“I am right” (pawn to d3).

“So: guilty until proven innocent” (pawn to d6). “And what if we’re wrong?”

“. . .”

(Pawn takes knight, and likewise.)

“What if we’re crazy? What if the whole world is controlled by madmen, who lock away all the sane people like Fred so that nobody gets wise to them?”

“That’s not possible.”

“Says who?”

“Me.”

“All children are mad,” said Alfonsa.

“Why?”

“As the stronger of the two of us, I’ve just decided it.”

“I’m not crazy!”

“You are now.”

Albert slammed down a game piece beside the board. “I don’t want to play anymore!”

“It was just an illustration.” She tousled his hair. “Do you really want to know what I think?”

He nodded, and looked at her obliquely from below, to express that he wanted to be taken in her arms.

“You are both perfectly insane.”

No ambiguity intended. Albert might have understood less than half of what she was saying—even his brightness had limits—but he could feel that this time she was speaking with admiration.

“That’s good,” he said and, just to be safe, added, “right?”

“That’s special,” she said, “and the very reason why you can only ever call him Fred. He’ll never be a proper father.”

“I can explain it to him!”

Sister Alfonsa smirked. “Nobody can do that. Not even you.”

A week later Albert ran away from the orphanage for the first time. Over the following month, he absconded on four separate occasions. Thereafter he repeated his escape attempts with reliable regularity. On average he made around twenty per year. At first he failed because of the bus drivers, who wouldn’t let some squirt, especially a smart-alecky squirt, ride unaccompanied by a grown-up. Often enough, the other orphans ratted him out. But even when an attempt succeeded, the nuns were barely ruffled; they knew where he was going every time. And why.

“I’m your son,” said Albert to Fred.

“You’re Albert,” said Fred to Albert.

“And I’m your son,” said Albert. “And you’re my father.”

“I’m Fred.”

“And my father.”

Fred blinked.

“Do you understand me?” asked Albert.

“I always understand everything,” said Fred.

“What did I say?”

“You said, Do you understand me? I understand you, Albert.”

“And before?”

“You said, And my father.”

“Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” said Fred, “and I’m hungry.”

“I come from you,” said Albert. “Without you, I wouldn’t exist.”

And Fred said, “Thank you. That’s nice. Can we make pancakes with raspberry jam? Pancakes with raspberry jam are ambrosial.”

Later, at Saint Helena—there was always a later-at-Saint-Helena—Albert would fight his disappointment by reading Fred’s newspaper report each night before falling asleep, and imagining that the child Fred had saved was him, not some girl called Andrea, who, after the bus accident, had left Königsdorf, along with her mother, forever.

He always hoped, and sometimes believed, and occasionally knew, that someday Fred would come and rescue him—that in the middle of the night Fred would storm into the dormitory, flip on the lights, run to his bunk, and take Albert with him. Where to was negligible — all that mattered was that it be away.

But the passing years withered his hope. Even his boundless longing couldn’t shield him from that. Again and again he ran to Fred, counter to Sister Alfonsa’s claim; it will work this time, he told himself, incorrigible; this time Fred will get it—and then Fred got nothing at all. It was all the same as ever. And Fred was simply Fred.




Christopher Kloeble
Christopher Kloeble
Christopher Kloeble is a German novelist and scriptwriter. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the Juergen Ponto Stiftung Prize for “Best Debut” and the ABU Prize for “Best TV Drama,” and he has held teaching assignments and residencies in Germany, the US, UK and India, among others.









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