FICTION: "Forty-three-year-old woman seeking..." by Lisa Lercher
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He didn't tell me that he was an illegal immigrant in Austria until later. And that he had made up the story about his parents and siblings. He doesn't even know where his family is. They fled after the change of power. Otherwise they would have been slaughtered with machetes. He'd paid a smuggler to get him to Italy and then made his way to Austria. Because he'd heard that black people have it better here in Europe. But since then, he had learned that life is bad everywhere if you don't have a residence permit.
I also found out that his name wasn't Elias, but Noah. Oh well, at least you stuck to the Old Testament theme, I said, and laughed at my own joke. He didn't find it funny. They take religion much more seriously down there.
At first he wouldn't tell me what he'd done with the money I'd given him for his studies. Never mind, I thought. But eventually he told me that he had used it to bribe people not to report him to the immigration authorities. Awful, isn't it? But there will always be people who take advantage of other people's misfortune.
His greatest fear was deportation. Being handcuffed and gagged and put on a plane to Africa. When he talked about it, his eyes would become big and round and there would be beads of sweat on his upper lip. I would pull his head against my shoulder. Once he even sobbed. It brought tears to my own eyes.
My neighbor is a real busybody. She innocently inquired about the nice young man who was in my garden so often. Fortunately, she went off to spend the summer with her daughter in Germany. But I was really worried about what would happen in the fall. I wouldn't put anything past her. She's the sort of person who would have denounced Jews back in Hitler's time.
But that's not how things played out. He was almost caught in a raid. He was so upset, his face was almost gray. It's hard to imagine that their faces can go gray, but when you've known someone for a while, you start noticing these things. And then he told me that it wasn't the first time that he had escaped by the skin of his teeth. If he wasn't such a fast runner, they would already have caught him. My goodness, he was so upset. He said his luck was bound to run out at some point.
Then a friend told him that things were better in Sweden. He asked me if I could imagine moving to Sweden with him. Emigrate, me? A civil servant? Live underground, like him? How would I get by? It's not easy to get a job at my age.
It made me sad. I didn't like the thought that he would leave me, and all because of society. For the first time in my life, I got really angry, at the government and the populist newspapers and all the others who make it so difficult for people to be happy.
In the end, it was a panic decision. I admit that. But what happened happened. It had to be done quickly. And looking back, it was a good decision.
We had chicken and coconut cake, like on our first evening. And beer. Champagne would have been more fitting, but he doesn't drink that. I bought Guinness especially—his favorite beer. Tastes like cold coffee to me. But he likes it, and that's the main thing. It's also bitter, so he didn't taste the tablets.
He fell asleep slowly, so gently. I stroked his head and sang to him. A lullaby and then a hymn, the only one I know. Because he likes religious songs so much.
I had borrowed the tools from work. They never check up on us, and I had taken the chemicals a small amount at a time. I'm sure no one noticed. I asked a neighbor to take care of the summer house. I told him I couldn't go because I wasn't feeling very well.
It was a lot of work. Even though I had stuffed whole lions before. The most difficult thing was his smile. I don't know what I would have done without the photo. . . . And the eyes, of course. That warm glow. Almost impossible. But with the right lighting, the effect isn't bad.
It was also hard to decide whether to have him sitting or lying down. I went for the sitting option in the end. That way, he can sit next to me on the sofa and we can watch TV together or I can read to him.
Last week there was a report about the Congo, about the massacres and the genocide. Terrible images. I heard his voice deep down inside me, telling me that he was grateful for saving him from that sort of thing. And that he loves me.
I'm planning to sell the summer house. It's a shame. But I can't take him out there with me. And to be honest, it's much nicer to be at home with him.
I also invented a new game. For those evenings when there's nothing good on TV or when we run out of things to talk about. I call it "forty-three-year-old woman seeking . . ." I pretend he is the audience and I am telling him about myself and what I expect from life. Like I would have done on the dating show, which I still watch every week. My name is Erni and I am looking for a man. What kind of man? Reliable, friendly, and quiet. And faithful. The color of his skin doesn't matter, but he should have a heartwarming smile. That's what I want. Particularly in times like these.
And then we are happy because we have already found each other, without the dating show. And there is no doubt that the relationship will last and that we will stay together. At least if I have anything to do with it. And I can almost hear him.
Yes, we'll stay together. The two of us.
Translation from the German
By Laura Ackerman
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Table of Contents
SPECIAL SECTION: German Crime Writing
Guest edited by J. Madison Davis
- Introduction, J. Madison Davis, guest editor
- FICTION: Lisa Lercher, "Forty-three-year-old woman seeking..."
- ESSAY: Beatrix Kramlovsky, "Show Your Face, oh Violence"
- ESSAY: Almuth Heuner, "Germany's Crime and Mystery Scene"
- FICTION: Nina George, "The Light in the West"
- ESSAY: Hughes Schlueter, "The Grand Duchy Strikes Back"
- ESSAY: Paul Ott, "Murder in the Alpenglow: Swiss Crime Writing in the German Language"
- ESSAY: Thomas Przybilka, "A Resource for Lovers of Crime Writing: The Bonn Archive of Secondary Crime Writing Literature"
SPECIAL SECTION: World Cup/World Lit 2011
Guest edited by John Turnbull
- Introduction, John Turnbull, guest editor
- INTERVIEW: John Turnbull, "A Conversation with Nalinaksha Bhattacharya"
- FICTION: Nalinaksha Bhattacharya, "Hem and Football" an excerpt
- POETRY: Mona Nicole Sfeir, "Laws of the Game (adapted from FIFA 2010-11)"
- INTERVIEW: Sandra Kingery, "A Conversation with Ana María Moix"
- ESSAY: Jennifer Doyle, "Soccer, Art and Desire"
- INTERVIEW: John Turnbull, "A Conversation with Elísabet Jökulsdóttir"
- ESSAY: Clarice Lispector, "Armando Nogueira, Soccer, and Me (Poor Thing)"
- WLT Online Book Club: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky
- Author Profile: Jonas Hassen Khemiri
- Czesław Miłosz Centennial
- City Profile: Tallinn, Estonia
- Raquel Chalfi, "Double Exposure in the Black Forest"
Q&A: WLT INTERVIEWS
- Ray Taras, "A Conversation with Carsten Jensen"
WEB EXCLUSIVES: MARITIME READING
- READING LIST: More Maritime Reading
- PHOTO GALLERY: Marstal Maritime Museum Photos
- EXCERPT:Vi sejlede bare (2009; We just sailed) by Carsten Jensen
- POETRY: "The Castaway"by Alessio Zanelli
OUTPOSTS: Norwich, Norfolk
- Norwich, Norfolk