On the morning of Paula and Ludger’s wedding they were woken by a noise. A window had been left open and a bird had flown in during the night. Panic-stricken, it was flapping around the lamps and furniture. It flew against a windowpane and crashed to the floor, then made another attempt but again missed the opening.
Paula leaped out of bed and opened all the windows. Her heart was racing. She winced every time the bird collided with the glass. Ludger helped her and together they shooed it around the huge room. But to no avail. The bird couldn’t find its way out. It was still early; a pink sky heralded daybreak. The bird lay on the floor and they decided to wait.
Back in bed, Ludger snuggled up close. He put an arm around her and nuzzled into her hair. His fingertips caressed her belly. When a shudder ran through her body, he stopped, then fell asleep soon afterward.
Paula listened to the flapping of wings and the bird’s short, shrill cries as her fingers moved between her open legs. She had carefully shuffled out of Ludger’s embrace. She lay on her tummy and pressed her face into the pillow.
When the alarm went off, she woke with a start. She got up at once and searched the room. The bird had disappeared.
Paula returned pleasantly exhausted from their honeymoon, which they spent hiking in the Vosges. Starting in Sainte-Odile, they walked to Kaysersberg via the Col du Kreuzweg and then headed south to the nature reserve, in ever-changing weather and negotiating, in Paula’s view, endless perilous ascents and descents. Sometimes they walked for hours in silence, one in front of the other, because the paths were narrow and talking wasted too much energy. Then they were side by side again, imagining their future together.
For long stretches they wouldn’t meet another soul. They picnicked on sun-warmed rocks, in ruined castles and old war fortifications.
As soon as they took a break, Ludger would unpack the maps. He had several in different scales, and he kept pointing out to Paula exactly where they were. As they ate bread, cheese, and apples he explained the route they would be taking over the next few hours. There was no limit to his enthusiasm for the precision of the hiking maps, which showed even the tiniest path.
They spent the nights in fermes auberges, sharing dormitories with other hikers. Only on the first and last nights of their ten-day trip did they sleep in hotels, with their own bathroom and a comfy double bed, and those were the only two nights they made love. Ludger had a habit of curling up afterward and nestling his head on Paula’s chest. This was how he liked going to sleep. Whenever Paula, who couldn’t sleep in that position, carefully turned away, he followed her. Even in the deepest sleep he would snuggle back up to her the moment their bodies lost contact. Paula would then get up and move round to the other side of the bed. All the same, she liked this physical confirmation of his love.
On the first day back at work after the honeymoon, Paula’s colleagues greeted her by her new name: Paula Krohn. And when Marion, who also worked in the fiction department, called out at the end of the day, Paula, your husband’s here!, she stood up and smiled.
It was a moment she would cherish, even in hindsight. In jeans and a T-shirt, Ludger stood beside the table with the new releases and waved to her. She could not have said why this made her feel proud.
The hormonal fog lifted.
Paula spent many evenings alone in the loft. If she opened the window that looked onto the canal, the brackish odor of the filthy water wafted in, but if she closed the window, it went eerily quiet. Her own voice echoed around the cavernous space. There were no separate rooms, just a cube in the middle that housed the bathroom.
Every evening she waited for Ludger to come home. The tempering job took up his time like no other project and he often got back late. While she waited, she cooked, read, made telephone calls, or stood by the window, never forgetting that everything she was doing was merely killing time. The tension only ended when she heard his key in the lock and Paula wondered whether it was really just down to the apartment and its emptiness.
Birds kept straying into the loft. Not all of them found their way out. One day she found a pigeon with a broken wing sitting on the floor beside the dining table. A dead sparrow lay beneath the window through which it had flown.
From then on the windows remained closed.
Every Sunday they had breakfast at Café Telegraph.
Ludger would read the F.A.Z. and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Paula Der Spiegel and Die Zeit.
They rode the cycle paths along the Saale and the Mulde, visited exhibitions, went to the cinema and bickered about which film to see. Ludger preferred documentaries; Paula, biopics of artists. Ludger said critically that Paula wouldn’t have lasted a single day in the life of Georg Trakl, or a week with Camille Claudel. She, on the other hand, complained that he took everything too seriously. He had no sense of humor, no levity, she said, while he retorted that it was levity and carelessness that was causing the world to go to ruin.
They argued about things that neither would have imagined one could argue about. When they went cycling, he rode quicker than she did. He didn’t look back to see where she was. He raced across lights that were turning red and kept going, while Paula waited for them to turn green again. He also decided where they would go. He always knew the best route from any point in the city to any other. Resistance would be broken by a glance at the map that he always had on hand.
Sometimes she would deliberately fall behind and go her own way. She knew how much this annoyed him and she knew that the reconciliation would occasionally occur in bed.
When Ludger was angry, he did not put a check on his physical strength. The sex was freer than usual. And those were the nights that gave Paula hope. On other nights she would lie awake, wriggle from his embrace, and not know what to do with her desire.
Excerpted from Love in Case of Emergency by Daniela Krien. Reprinted with permission of the publisher HarperVia, an imprint of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2019 by Diogenes Verlag AG.