Everything is Still Possible Here
by Gianna Molinari
At the Festival Neue Literatur, A Crash Course in Contemporary German Literature
Gianna Molinari will take part in this year’s Festival Neue Literatur, March 28–31. To reserve your seat, click here. The following was translated by Katy Derbyshire.
The wolf came down from the mountains, and with it came other wolves, down to the lowlands. Advanced into territories where they’d never been seen before.
They were driven by hunger, the awareness of cubs, the awareness of the cubs’ hunger.
The wolf and the wolves have no names. We call them wolf and wolves. They have hiding places. They move around at night.
I too move around at night, I too stare a lot at the darkness.
I too have advanced into territories.
There is an island inhabited by a creature that has never been seen. Scientists went there and discovered the sensation. They caught the creature with a net and put it in a jar with air holes in the lid. They drank a lot of champagne that night to toast the singularity of their discovery, to toast their successful capture of the creature and no one before them ever having seen it. They were beside themselves with joy and pride, intoxicated by the feeling of playing a part in the game of world importance. The next morning, they woke up with aching heads and sat down to discuss a name for the creature. Every one of them thought of his or her own name. They had dreamed so long and so often of giving their name to such a creature, with such delicate legs, such intricate and elegant wings. Dreamed of reading their name beneath a picture of the creature in publications.
The scientists decided they had to see the creature to find the most appropriate of all appropriate names. And there and then, on that island on that morning, many a bubble burst: the holes in the lid must have been too large or the creature capable of escaping in some other way.My job interview was held in the factory canteen. The boss sat at one of the square tables, a cup of tea in front of him. The tea gave off steam. I shook his hand and introduced myself. He introduced himself as well and asked me whether I’d ever worked as a night watchwoman before. I nodded and said I often kept watch at night, it was no problem for me, I was very attentive and reliable, I wanted to do the job.
Do you live in the town, he asked, peering at me over the edge of the cup as he sipped his tea.
Is there no way to live on the factory premises, perhaps workers’ accommodations, I don’t need much, something small’s enough.
Did I not want to look for a place in town, it wasn’t all that far, the boss said. What exactly did I envisage as workers’ accommodation, had I not looked around, there weren’t many workers left here and there’d never been any accommodations. But if I liked I could move into an empty room, water and electricity were hooked up, there was a shower and a toilet off the corridor, but it could get pretty cold, not exactly luxury, not luxury at all, but I was welcome to take a look, we’d come to some agreement over rent and so on.
I move into a large room on the first floor of an L-shaped building. There are other rooms beside and below it. The building is on the factory premises, part of the factory. Opposite the building is the production hall, far larger, far higher. Behind the production hall are two more halls, another one for production and one for storage.
The factory is outside a small town. The few staff still working in the factory live there. There are fields around the factory, and the airport further out. I can see the planes landing and taking off from my window.
Perhaps my room is too small to call it a hall. I still call it a hall. No one has ever lived here before. I’m the first hall inhabitant.
When I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling at night, I sometimes think I’m in the belly of a whale.
I try to distinguish the unimportant from the important. Is the shadow of the bird strafing the floor of the hall the important thing or is it the bird itself, which I can’t see from my chair?
My hands are important, as are my arms and shoulders, my head, eyes, mouth. My legs are important too. They take me from the table to the bed, from the corners to the middle of the hall, to the windows.
I wonder what the surface of my lungs is like, how dense the network of my blood vessels, what living in the hall will do to me.
There’s a new environment to be explored here. Everything’s still possible here.
The people on the factory premises are afraid of the wolf. I find a note on the door to my hall: A wolf has been sighted on the factory premises. These animals are on the lookout for food and are not afraid of humans. If you see a wolf, please report it immediately.
I have not yet seen a wolf.
Trespassers are forbidden from entering the premises. It says so on signs. The signs also say: video surveillance. The premises are square in shape, with a fence around the outside. Weeds grow up the wire mesh in many places. The fence is bent here and there. I walk along the fence and find three places where it reveals openings so large I could slip through them.
I ask the boss about the wolf.
The cook saw the wolf by the bins, he says, rummaging in the food waste. He’ll have to come up with something, he says, he can’t answer for a wolf roaming around on the premises.
I ask the boss why he doesn’t get the premises newly fenced, the holes mended.
That’s too expensive, the factory’s not worth the investment any more.
Why did you give me the job, then?
You’re not an investment, you’re a necessity. I want everything to be above board, I don’t want to make mistakes at the end.
I’m amazed by the tone in which he tells me that, as though even he can’t quite believe he isn’t somewhere else by now.
I’m going to ask the cook what the wolf looked like, how big it was, what it did, how it looked at him or didn’t look, how it moved.
I’m going to go to the canteen, maybe eat a bowl of soup and ask the cook how he reacted, whether the wolf gave him a shock, whether he was scared, whether he couldn’t move, which of them moved first, the cook or the wolf, what direction the wolf went, whether it looked back, whether the cook could see that. I’m going to ask him all that and eat up the soup down to the bottom of the bowl.
Visible boundaries include the forest line, the line between land and water, between light and shade, the walls of my hall and the fence around the factory. These boundaries are easy to spot. Others are not.
One floor below my hall is the surveillance room. I often sit in the room and watch the four monitors in turn. I rarely see one of the staff leaving or entering the premises, on foot, by bicycle or by car. I rarely see trucks driving in or out.
Since I’ve known there’s a wolf roaming the premises, I’ve often seen cats scurrying across the screen. Sometimes the moving image becomes a freeze frame because nothing in it moves, because the entrance, the exit, the central area and the main entrance go unchanged. The only change to be seen is the light, getting brighter or darker, and the shadows migrating slowly across the concrete ground.
I often sit in the surveillance room and read a book. Then I only peer at the monitors out of the corner of my eye.
Sometimes I think I see a movement mid-sentence. The wolf, I think, but by the time I’ve fully turned my gaze from the page to the screen, the shadow has gone.
The night watch is divided into two shifts, from five until midnight and from midnight to seven. The second night watchman is called Clemens. We alternate six days a week. No one works on Sundays. Sundays are Sundays, the boss says. The same goes for burglars, there are statistics.
And what about the wolves on Sundays, I ask the boss.
That’s an unsolved problem.
The boss leaves it up to us how we divide up the shifts. So we decided to swap the earlier and the later shift in a weekly rhythm, the same way Clemens did with the woman before me.
Clemens lives in the town. He cycles to the factory.
I don’t care about the factory’s wellbeing. I’m interested in the wolf. It won’t be long, a few more months, and then the machines will be switched off, the production shut down. They used to make telescope boxes here, carry packs, mailing envelopes, gift boxes, cardboard boxes, archive boxes, transport, sales, and presentation packaging of all shapes and sizes, out of corrugated, plain, solid cardboard, paper board or grey board. Now the production is limited to collapsible boxes.
Clemens approaches by bicycle on the monitor. His hat is pulled low over his face. Mid-screen, he raises a hand to say hello, then turns off to the right and disappears from the monitor’s field of vision.
He opens the door to the surveillance room with such energy that it bounces back off the wall.
Have you seen the wolf? He takes his hat off his head and sits down next to me in front of the monitors.
No wolf, I say. I spot isolated grey strands in his black hair.
He asks that every night, and every night I say: No, nothing.
Or should I tell him I saw a mouse vanish beneath a forklift, heard the cry of an owl or some other bird, tell him the moon was not visible, the air was fresh and smelled of swamp, although there’s no swamp nearby, tell him I cast shadow animals on the factory walls with my hands, including the shadow of a wolf?
Right then. Good night.
I get up and slap my hand twice against the table. The monitor images tremble slightly.
I spot him rubbing his eyes, then I walk past him, out of the door and up the stairs to the upper floor, and enter my hall. I brush my teeth and wash my face at a little basin and then get into bed. The bed is directly above the spot where Clemens is now sitting.
I found my table and chair outside the storage hall; Clemens brought me the bed. All I brought along to my hall was a few items of clothing, my camera, and my Universal General Encyclopaedia, which is of great importance. I am continually writing new entries into it or adding to the written ones. Yesterday, I added in tiny letters next to the word BOUNDARY:
Walls of my hall, fence around the factory.
FACTORY: I’m not here because of the factory. I’m here because there’s a new environment to be discovered here.
I’ve gotten used to living in a rectangle. If someone were to tell me the world was a rectangle, I’d be happy to believe them. But I think actually the world is the world and my rectangle is my rectangle.
I wouldn’t want to swap my hall. Not for the one-room flat opposite the shopping centre with the neon signs that bathed my room in blue light every night. Not for the ground-floor flat with access to the garden with a low wall in it where lizards lounged in the summer, where I wondered whether that was all, the scurrying and freezing, whether the lizards were capable of anything else, whether they changed colour or jumped high into the air when I wasn’t looking. I wouldn’t want to swap the job as a night watchwoman for my old job at the library. The two workplaces do have things in common. At the library, I looked for books that had been ordered, and collected them. At the factory, I look for a wolf. At the library and in my job as a night watchwoman, daylight is rare. The books people wanted were often missing, and a lot is missing at the factory too: starting with the staff, whom I so rarely see, all the way to the wolf, who is missing entirely.
But still I think waiting for a wolf might be more interesting as a whole than looking for and collecting ordered books.
I often see the boss slouching across the premises. I wonder whether he’s attached to the factory, whether it pains him that it’s closing, whether he tried or is still trying to prevent the closure.
No one takes much care of the factory now. Weeds break through ruptures in the concrete and are not removed. Wind and weather make moss grow on the outside walls, make the plaster inside the halls crumble. Time draws fine cracks in the wall, the window grilles are rusted and are sure to rust more.
There’s no need for a night watch here. I don’t know who would take what from these premises. There’s nothing to be had here. A burglar wouldn’t find any more than cardboard here.
I wonder why the boss took me on, whether it’s really about the factory or he has other reasons to let me live on the premises. Clemens and I are probably something like consolation for the boss; as long as there’s a night watch patrolling here, his factory can still be called a factory.
I’m glad of the wolf. Perhaps the wolf lends my activity importance.
WOLF: A wolf is possible.
FENCE: There are far higher fences, there are fences without gaps.
Two truck drivers are sitting three tables away from me. I hoped I’d be alone in the canteen; then I could ask the cook all I like undisturbed. The truck drivers are eating mashed potatoes and slices of meat, probably pork but perhaps lamb or beef. The wolf will be pleased with the leftovers, I think, and I wave at the cook. He waves back. I go to the counter and the cook ladles mashed potatoes and a slice of meat out of chromed steel containers onto my plate.
I might have slightly over-salted the potatoes, he says.
I’m sure they’re fine, I say.
It’s not my day today. He points at a plaster on his finger.
One of the truck drivers fetches two coffees from the vending machine. Back at their table, they both stir in sugar lumps. The spoons are very small in their large truck-driver hands.
I look at my plate. The mashed potatoes still bear the imprint of the ladle. I stab the imprint with my fork.
The truck drivers put their empty plates on the counter and the money alongside, and leave the canteen. The cook comes over with a cloth and starts wiping down the tables.
Not much up, I say, pointing my fork around the room.
The cook looks at me. Have you ever seen there being much up around here? It was different in the old days, I cooked four menus every day, and made salads and desserts in the old days. These tables were full in the old days.
There weren’t any wolves in the old days either, I say, and I ask him all the questions I planned to ask him.
The cook answers that the wolf looked like a wolf, that it was standing by the bins and he didn’t notice it at first and got a shock. He couldn’t move but you’re not supposed to move in a situation like that, you have to stay calm and maintain your composure. The cook says the wolf didn’t move either and he put the bucket of food scraps down on the ground slowly, not letting it out of his sight—he kept his eye on the wolf and the wolf on him—and then the wolf did make a sudden move. Where exactly it went he didn’t know, into the darkness.
Clemens is standing in the doorway. His coat is wet. A few drips gather on the hem and fall to the ground.
Still no sign of the wolf, I say, and I put the kettle on.
Clemens takes a book from his inside pocket and holds it out to me. The cover is damp.
Canis Lupus, I read aloud.
Phylum: chordata, subphylum: vertebra, class: mammalia, order: carnivora, family: canidae, species: lupus (wolf).
Thought it might interest you. Clemens hangs his wet coat over the radiator. The coat goes on dripping, the drips forming a small island of water.
Why did you come to the factory, anyway, Clemens asks. You could do something else. Study, travel. Why are you here, he asks.
I like it here. It’s a good place. Everything is still possible here.
Even wolves, says Clemens.
Not long after my job interview, the boss showed me the corrugated cardboard line.
CCL, he said, the heart of production. There’s no factory without a heart. The machine noise in the production hall was so loud I had trouble understanding the boss. I had to step up close to him. The boss pointed at the machine, a steel construction over fifty metres long, running across the whole production hall.
I followed the boss around the hall. I smelled glue and damp paper. The air was warm. A worker in blue trousers and a black T-shirt was standing at a computer, pressing buttons. He kept looking to and fro between the computer and the machine. Seeing the boss and me, once we’d entered his field of vision between computer and machine, he nodded at us. The boss nodded and I nodded. Then the boss’s mouth formed words. They sounded like: Karl-Heinz. But they might have been long lines or great minds.
Suddenly an alarm bell sounded and lots of red lights started flashing. The boss looked at Karl-Heinz, who raised a calming hand. The production cycle seemed to be finished, the machines juddering quietly and then falling silent.
The boss expelled his breath. The processes are set and controlled on the computer, he said. All technology, all very precise.
He pointed at a huge roll of paper. This is where we attach the rolls of paper. The paper goes through the corrugating roll and then the glue application roll glues more paper to the upper and lower crests of the corrugation.
He stepped up to the machine and tried to reattach the corner of a sticker that had come away from the outer surface. The sticker said: Humidity must be measured for every new roll. He left the sticker as it was and walked on. The machine began juddering anew. I hurried to keep up with the boss.
The bridge, he yelled, then the heating section, the length and breadth cutters and last of all the stacking area; this is where the cut corrugated cardboard sheets are stacked.
I looked at the stacked sheets of cardboard being taken away from the machine on a conveyor belt. At the end of the conveyor was a worker on a forklift, loading up pieces of cardboard. The boss followed the forklift driver, Friedrich – if I understood his name rightly – and I followed the boss to his second machine.
The slotter, he said. This is where the vertical scores are made and slots cut so the boxes can be folded later. At the end of the slotter, the finished collapsible boxes stack neatly in tied bundles.
Impressive, I said, and the boss nodded.
The machines will rust away here if no one comes and buys the factory. If no one comes and buys the machines too, the rust will come, he said.
The boss is probably right about that: everyone knows it’ll soon be over here. Then it will be time to turn off the machines, and the main current switch too. It will be time to lock the doors and windows, close up the loading ramps. It will be time to shut down.
RUST: Rust knows no boundaries.
From my bed, I look at the wall of my hall. It’s dirty. The plaster is crumbling in places, revealing grey concrete. The exposed spots have the shape of islands. I imagine their sandy and stony margins, their vegetation, the creatures that inhabit them.
I read in the Universal General Encyclopaedia that islands change shape, that they are marked by the weather and eaten at by the sea, that frost drives indentations into islands and fractures their rock. The islands get worn away. They lose surface area, get smaller and smaller. At some point they will have vanished.
Discoverers from times long ago told of an island where shadow-foots live. Shadow-foots, also called skiapods, are one-footed people who can hop as fast as lightning; when it gets very hot they lie on their backs, stretch their leg up and provide their own shade. They are lonely creatures, always alone and avoiding the company of others. And they lie on their backs a great deal, because the sun almost always shines on their island.
The fence has holes in it. The fence no longer matters, not for the factory and not for the wolf. There might as well be no fence, just like there could be no night watch. We have not yet had to protect the factory from anything. Clemens wishes there’d be a burglar. I’ve wished for a burglar too.
Perhaps I could surprise Clemens—I’m sure he’d be pleased—if I told him I’d seen the wolf. Then there’d be an importance to our deeds. We’d look differently at the monitors.
I meet the boss in the central area. He’s lifting a cardboard box out of his car boot.
A new photocopier, he says. The old one’s too old.
I thought you didn’t want to make any more investments. I close the car boot.
You always need a photocopier.
Can I have your old one?
What do you need a photocopier for?
Like you said: you always need one.
In his office, the boss puts the box down on the floor, which is carpeted in grey. His large desk stands in the middle of the room, with a view of the window and out over the premises. Files and folders are piled on its top around a blotter, like cliffs around a calm bay. I try to imagine the boss doing his work with his back bent, looking out of the window or at the pictures on the wall. On the wall on the right is a picture of a blossoming tree, apple or pear, on the wall on the left a portrait of a man who might be his father or his grandfather.
My uncle, he says, pushing the box across the grey carpet to the side of the old photocopier. He owned the factory and before that it belonged to my grandfather.
The way these things go, I say, and I help him to lift the new photocopier out of its box.
Yes, just the way these things go, he says, and we lift the old photocopier into the cardboard box.
I try to draw a wolf. It looks like a dog. I close the Universal General Encyclopaedia, complete with my wolfhound. The time on the monitor is 00.04. The door opens behind me and Clemens enters the room.
So, Clemens asks.
All quiet, I say.
He sits down next to me in front of the monitors.
Universal General Encyclopaedia, he reads aloud. Do you mind? Clemens flicks through the pages. Did you write that in there?
Most of it.
He flicks further, then back. He starts searching under C.
No entry for Clemens. What would you have noted down if Clemens were in here?
Probably night watchman.
What would I write if it was up to you, if Clemens were in there?
For instance, nice and obliging and intelligent.
I take the encyclopaedia out of his hands and note down in the upper margin of the page headed CLEMENTINE:
CLEMENS: Furrowed brow, black hair, slightly greying, usually wears a hoodie (blue), 28 years old, nice, obliging, intelligent night watchman.
The boss is standing outside my hall door; I invite him in. No one has seen the inside of my rectangle since I moved in. The boss walks along the windows past the row of books, which is not even half a boss’s stride long. The boss looks out of the window and contemplates the premises.
Nice, he says, and I don’t quite know whether he means how I’ve set up my hall or his factory premises.
The thing with the wolf worries me, you know. It rummages in the canteen bins.
Do you think that’s bad, I ask, pushing the loose sheets of paper on my table into a pile.
I think it’s extremely unpleasant to know there’s a beast like that on the premises.
Do you think the wolf’s really that dangerous?
Wolves attack people.
The possibility exists, says the boss, and he takes a sheet of paper out of his coat pocket. He unfolds it and puts it down on the table.
Here, look, this is the traps plan. We’ve hidden steel traps here and here and here. He points at three red dots on the paper.
And here, this one I designed myself, a special kind of wolf trap. It works like a pit trap. When the wolf puts its weight on one end of the board, the board tips downwards and the wolf falls in. Here, look, the construction plans. A hole has to be dug for the pit trap, deep enough, big enough, the boss says. I wanted to ask if you and Clemens could do it.
Can’t you hire a digging machine for it?
He could, the boss said, but it wasn’t exactly a swimming pool he wanted to dig.
I think there are plenty of small swimming pools, and I ask whether he wouldn’t rather put up a photo trap.
Then all we’d have would be pictures, the boss says.
Pictures would tell us something about the existence or non-existence of a wolf.
That’s not enough, the boss says.
I tell him I’ll dig the hole; it will make a change.
The boss starts circling the measurements on the construction plan with a red pen. Three metres long, two metres wide and three metres deep, then he taps his finger on all the trap sites again.
You can keep the map so you don’t step in a steel trap.
I’ll take care, I say, folding up the plan.
WOLF: In times of poor food supply, the wolf eats both carrion and food waste.
I leave my hall and the building, following behind the boss.
Wolves come in packs, that’s well known, he says. We have to be aware we’re not only dealing with a single specimen.
They also migrate alone, I say.
Up to ten of them, just imagine it. The boss dashes ahead, checking the trap plan.
The wolf will have its reasons, I want to tell the boss. It won’t come onto the premises voluntarily, it’s hungry, I want to say. In times of poor food supply, the wolf also eats food waste.
The boss stops still, looks at the ground covered in high grass and underbrush, says here and fine and ideal ground. He takes three large boss strides in one direction, stops, turns ninety degrees and takes another two strides.
I look down at the piece of ground selected by the boss. There are a lot of dandelions growing on it.
I remember a film I once watched. It opens with a scene in a supermarket, by the refrigerated section. A woman stands in front of a wall of yogurts. She stands there a long time, the camera not moving; the woman paces to and fro. Then she walks up to the shelves, reaches for an apricot yogurt, then puts it back, reaches into the shelves again, this time for a vanilla yogurt. Puts that back again as well. In the next scene, the woman is sitting in front of a television.
On the TV, a volcano erupts and people are killed by bombs. The woman sits at a kitchen table, filmed from behind. We hear newspaper pages turning. The camera zooms in on the woman, in on her back, shoulders, and over her shoulders in on the newspaper. There’s a picture of a destroyed city in it. The woman eats bread and butter and the earth is on fire before her. And then suddenly, a sparrow flies in through the open kitchen window. The woman puts her bread down and tries to shoo the bird back out of the kitchen. In the attempt, she beats the sparrow to death. The camera films the kitchen. Zooms in on the kitchen table, the newspaper still open on it with the dead sparrow on top. The camera pans to the open window and out of the window. There, the woman appears on screen, walking down the road and pulling a wheeled suitcase.
I haven’t killed any sparrows, but I have left my home. I doubt that the security I live in corresponds to reality. I long for insecurity, perhaps for more authenticity, for reality. I’d like to be able to distinguish what is important and what isn’t. I’d like to be part of a story or many stories at the same time.
Perhaps the woman in the film went to the Himalayas, the Carpathians, to Madeira or another island.
I went to the factory.
About the author:
Gianna Molinari was born in Basel in 1988 and lives in Zurich. She studied Literary Writing at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel, then Modern German Literature at the University of Lausanne. Since 2015 she has been working as a programming assistant at the Solothurn Literary Forum. In 2012 she received a grant to attend the authors’ workshop Prosa at the Literarischen Colloquium Berlin, and won the jury prize and audience prize at the 17th MDR Literary Competition that same year. In 2017 she won the 3sat Prize in Klagenfurt for an extract from her debut novel.
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