FICTION: "Forty-three-year-old woman seeking..." by Lisa Lercher
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African immigrants have permeated the Eurozone in recent years, legally and illegally, in search of economic opportunities among the demographically aging populations of the north. In Austrian writer Lisa Lercher's story, the preoccupation of an aging woman with an illegal alien leads to a grisly form of happiness.
Good things come to those who wait. That's what my mom always used to say. And she was right; I understand that now. I never used to believe it, because I'd already had so many bad experiences. And I tried plenty of things, let me tell you. The parish café, personal ads, the Internet—my niece had to help me with that. I even applied to go on my favorite TV dating show. I practiced introducing myself in front of the mirror. And I bought a new outfit for it. All for nothing, as it turned out. I was turned down. But at least I got a letter wishing me all the best. That's something, I guess.
And then one day, he was at my door. Just like that. Like in a fairy tale. I remember it exactly: there was a knock at the door, and I thought, Who on earth can it be at this time of day? I was still in my bathrobe, hadn't done my hair, and was on my first cup of coffee. I like to take things slow on Saturday mornings.
And there he was, grinning at me. The whitest teeth I'd ever seen in my life. Of course the skin color always adds to the effect. Black as ebony, like Snow White's hair. But that smile. I immediately knew there was something special about him. He was polite, too. I like that. Even though his German wasn't the best, he made an effort. You have to give people credit for that, even if they are foreigners.
His carvings were nice, too. Handmade, he said, in his tribe's tradition. He was selling them to pay his way through college, he said. And that he sent part of the money back to Africa, to help his old parents and his seven siblings. Family ties are still strong down there. They probably don't appreciate how important that is.
I apologized for my appearance and offered him a cup of coffee. Of course I didn't invite him in—he was a stranger, and you hear all sorts of terrible stories these days. Although he didn't look like he could hurt a fly, with those warm brown eyes and that kind smile. No, I'm a good enough judge of human nature at my age.
We chatted about this and that. Time flew by, and I bought two of his carvings. It was my sister-in-law's birthday the following month and I needed a present anyway. I knew she didn't like dust catchers, but what do you give people? Everyone has everything they need these days. And anyway, it would be payback for that hideous crystal vase she had given me. I've thought about "accidentally" dropping it, but that would be a waste. Things cost money, after all.
In the end, I told him to come back the following Saturday. For lunch. That sort of thing makes more sense than donating money to an aid organization—you never know where that ends up, right? Apparently, the people who run these outfits use our money to fund their luxurious lifestyles. And those who actually need the money are left to their fates. That's life: bad. But that's the way things are, and there's nothing we can do about it.
Saturday, I told him. Because I only use the summer house on weekends. I go out there to enjoy nature. I spend my vacations there, too. It's not worth it during the week—too much trouble to get to work. Plus, you can't heat the place properly in the winter, and I would have to shovel snow. And with the amount of it we had last winter . . . no, it's much more convenient to live in town. It only takes me ten minutes to get from my apartment to the office. I was lucky to find the place, right in the center. You can even see the museum from the roof—both museums; they face each other, after all.
He brought a coconut cake. A traditional recipe from his country, he said. He told me that it was normally served on banana leaves, but that he couldn't find any here. Plates will do just as well, I said. I served chicken, because I saw a program on TV once that said that they ate a lot of chicken down there. Even the sick chickens, because bird flu is so hard to detect, and they think it's all right as long as the meat is cooked. They have a different attitude to food. Here, people throw so much away. You only have to look in people's trash cans. All that waste—it's enough to break your heart.
He liked it. The rice too. Helped himself to seconds and thirds. I was afraid I wouldn't have enough. No wonder; if you haven't had a proper meal in months, you eat as much as you can when you get the chance. It was the same here during the war. That's what my mom used to say.
Then we chatted. He talked about his home country, and I talked about my life. I even told him about the men I'd been with, and why it had never worked out, and that I would have liked to have children. I'm not usually like that. Talking about personal things, I mean. It must have been him—his openness and naturalness. It's kind of true—they are more unaffected, closer to nature. I certainly don't mean that in a racist way.
He invited me to a drumming festival the following week. Impressive. So hospitable. People around here could take a leaf out of their book. I particularly liked the double-fried beef and the plantains. Of course I paid for everything. He was a poor student, after all, and you shouldn't take advantage of people.
He brought me a CD, copied by one of his friends. African music. I tied an old tablecloth around my hips, like I saw the black women do at the festival. He laughed and said that it suited me. And then we danced. A late night, but it didn't matter because it was a Saturday.
At work, they told me how well I was looking with my new haircut and asked me if I'd lost weight. I acted mysterious. Because it was none of their business. That's why it's called a private life, right?
I lived for the weekends. I'd never looked forward to public holidays so much in my life. Especially the ones that fell on a Thursday, because then I got a long weekend off. The Natural History Museum is open on those days, but that doesn't affect my work, which is pretty flexible, except when there are special exhibitions. That can be stressful, because there are sometimes special exhibits that need to be patched up. Storage damage, wear and tear. That's normal in my line of work. I don't mind. I enjoy my work. I liked biology at school and I've never regretted taking this job.
It was always going to happen at some point. Of course I thought about the age difference. He was almost young enough to be my son, after all. But you can't choose where Cupid's arrow will fall, right? I felt years younger around him. He accepted me the way I was. I wouldn't have felt that way with a man from around here. And I know what I'm talking about, believe me. My goodness, we were in love. We spent a whole weekend in bed. I'd never known how nice that can be.
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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