April 1, 2017 orangeq2017

Five Very Short Stories

Rupprecht Mayer

 

Encounter on the beach

a short film

A coastal scene. Back-lit clouds wander across a dark sky. Thundering breakers on the shore. No swimmers. A couple relax on the beach with a child and all sorts of paraphernalia. They discuss their next purchases while the child plays with sand. A soldier in heavy boots staggers out from behind the dunes, runs towards them and jumps into a pit nearby. The pit is like a battle eld trench, with soil and roots beneath the sand. The soldier kneels in the dirt and gasps. He clutches his ri e and stares into space. Did he just survive a battle? He takes off his helmet. His hair is wet with sweat. There are blood stains on his uniform. He begins to speak, in labored bursts, incoherently. He is tormented by what he has seen, what he has done. What has been done to his people, their wives, what his people did to other people, and their wives. He sobs, stammers. He does not speak to the family who are barely a yard away. They do not seem to notice him. They continue talking about their purchases. The child crawls away. Nobody follows him. One should be concerned that he’ll be swept away by the erce waves. Later the woman moves out of the scene, but in the opposite direction. The husband continues talking as if his family was still there, but, eventually, he stops. Now the soldier speaks with a low voice. He seems to be getting weaker. He probably has internal injuries. The soldier and the husband, their eyes meet. Do they recognize each other? They look similar. Without the uniform one might mistake one for the other. They examine each other, surprised, pensive, as if they had lost their memory, as if watching a reflection.

 

In the woods and on the roads

Bosnia, 1994

These people belong in offices, not in the high grass. People expect me to know every clearing. I’m pointing here and there. They must not see the tears welling up in my eyes. Luckily, I stumble and fall into an anthill, eyes and mouth wide open. When I cough they turn their backs. They shun the sight of a suffocating man and prefer to retreat into the brush.

I shake it all off and am alone. Who will comb these people out of the woods like rusty bicycles? Sure, there are other forests, but who knows what happened there? From now on, I’ll stick to asphalt roads. I’ll wander from church to church. The villages are empty. I have to enjoy the scenery before the cows, with no one left to milk them, start to bellow.

The earth was made by God so well
that none might starve and all may dwell; He waters vales and mountain tops
to feed the cattle and grow the crops.

(Hans Vogel, 1563)

 

My son

I’m an old man now, and the times are getting harder. I do not mind, because what could be harder than death? But my son is only thirty- three and already shows cracks. I‘m afraid I explained too little to him when he was still a child. He is getting porous. I did not give him enough, and now it‘s too late. I often told him that he should help others, and now he can‘t help anyone. I recently discovered that he does not know the names of Germany’s central low mountain ranges. But that‘s not the problem. There are things now that grind people. I told him that he must be persistent. I took away his computer once to let him learn more, and stressed that he chew properly. Now he is getting crumbly nevertheless. He knows from me that he has to watch out for traf c before crossing the street, but it turns out that this is not enough. My son appears absent-minded when he looks at me. We put too much trust in the teachers. By now, his teachers are in their seventies, and they stay as unmoved as I when bridges collapse. I would like to hug my son, but he‘s already too old for that.

 

Together we walk

I thrust my ngers forward so that they almost snap. I stretch my arms horizontally; in the front of me the feeling is blue. The space that’s left gets cooler, and yet I welcome it. Where are we going? It’s nice that so many of you are around me, but once the moment comes, you’ll undoubtedly back away. No one can blame you for that. The earth is sandy and soft. Is it warm from the sun or from your feet? What color is the sun above us? No, it’s not green. You’re making fun of me. Good that you’re muttering in languages I don’t understand. I always had an interest in your talk, but today I just need your murmuring. It tells me that you are there, and yet no meaningful sentences from your mouths disturb my thoughts. I’ve heard all your truths, and I’ve accepted them, learned them by heart and passed them along. Where are we going? When the moment comes, you may back away from me so nothing will strike you. Not the ngers I thrust, and nothing else either. Is the moon in the sky as well? I still remember its color; you can’t deceive me. A green sun. You’re making fun of me. I’ve learned your truths, even those that contradict themselves. I could recite them with all those ridiculous mistakes; then the laugh would be on you. You see, you’ve stopped murmuring. You’re afraid that I understand your admission of foolishness. Now, all I hear are our footsteps in the sand. Where are we going?

 

A field crew

Up and down, such an endless up and down, said Hinterseer. But beautiful, Schöller said. They worked the area between the rivers Inn and Rott. Schöller was in the eld, Hinterseer did R&D, actually. The girl sat in the back seat. There are beautiful villages in these valleys. Kirn, Kösslarn, Triftern, Rottalmünster. Ridges in between with huge four-sided farms. Windy in winter, said Schöller, who knew the region. You’re lucky if they get the snow off the street; the job takes the whole day. Then, at night, people lie exhausted on their wives. And in summer they lean against the wall apathetically and buy shit, Hinterseer remarked. Maybe it’s the product, said Schöller. Look at the creeks in the valleys. Deep chasms they are, covered with green glass. Not a single duck, and no one jumps in. I want to swim, said the girl. Out of the question, we’ll hose you down when we get back. The girl was their prototype. She talked from time to time, but the two men didn’t take her seriously because she was blind. Actually, she wasn’t blind, she just didn’t have anything above heir mouth. No nose, no eyes. In this beautiful area you won’t nd any women during weekdays, and so Schöller and Hinterseer occasionally took the girl into the woods.

 

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