:: Article

Dear A.

an extract from the novel by Inga Machel, translated from the German by Donal McLaughlin

Dear A.,

I was going round the supermarket just now and speaking on the phone to Niki. I went up and down the aisles as we talked about The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, then also about Bernhard’s Mash as a title for something I’d have liked to buy to eat, and I realised, as I spoke, that I – similar, for instance, to how I always regard Nietzsche and Opa Schikowski as in-love or having-been-in-love with the same woman, no idea who, some woman or other, though the two of them didn’t know each other, of course, the same woman even less, and yet if, in the past, I thought and today still think of one or other of them, I thought and think of the corner points of a triangle – I realised that, following a similar logic suddenly unfurling before me, I assign Handke’s mother and Bernhard’s mother, i.e. the mothers of both, to the other son in each case. That Handke’s sorrow-mother and Bernhard’s causes-mother must have given birth to the infant Thomas and the infant Peter, respectively, there could and can be no doubt, however much I tried and still try to talk myself out of it. That’s what I was thinking about as I waved my bank card across the Plexiglas screen of the scanner at the till: I could see before me, like a piece of land fallowed from all sides, how, yes, why that could and can actually happen to me.

When I was four, my parents drove me to the children’s hospital one Sunday. There’s no evidence to prove this, indeed maybe it wasn’t a Sunday, basically I’m even sure of it, on Sundays patients all dream of a world without hospitals, and the healthy all go to hospitals only to visit. We were travelling by car in any case, and I’d clean clothes on, which had been lying stiffly on the fold-down bed after breakfast, and my mother, for the most part silent, was on the passenger seat, clutching its edges whenever my father drove badly. I wasn’t familiar with our route, we were travelling it together though, so to some extent, it had to be a Sunday and we were on an excursion. And so, at some point, we arrived and got out. For one disorientated moment, I liked our destination. I looked into the sun, screwing my eyes up, but was dazzled nonetheless. Nothing of what I could see suggested that the place where we’d arrived was a zoo, a circus or a leisure park. We weren’t arriving at one of those places, but it occurred to me that things were different then in our case, and I pushed close to my mother’s side, close to her leg, which I clasped with my hands. My parents were planning something completely different, something I didn’t begin to know could exist, something that would begin now, the start of which would be here, at this place. I thought and believed and knew there was no other possibility, absolutely not. And that’s why a brief twitch reached my fingertips and they then rose and fell on my mother’s trousers like the fingers of a very slow piano player when I saw that this place – where I was standing and my parents, too, were standing, and where the leaves in the trees rustled too loudly and the rays of the sun in among them were simultaneously garish and pale and the two, together, came down over me like a bell, granted a large one, but a bell all the same – that this place was a car park, pieced together from many squares. Once my father had paid for a ticket and stuck it in the gap between the windscreen and the dashboard, we fled from the centre like nocturnal animals dazzled by torches and made for the edges, for the surrounding barracks and new build. On one side, barracks; on the other, new build.

We entered a barrack, a corridor painted blue. My father took a few steps and stopped in front of a poster that he studied like it would lead into another space, whereas my mother took me by the hand and sat us down on two of the many plastic seats lined up to the side. I’d the impression there were people around somewhere, it was loud and something was humming, there was a loud humming, but there was no one in the corridor, the corridor was completely empty. Maybe there were no windows in the corridor either, as I remember suddenly no longer being able to breathe properly because the air was hot and dry and somehow solid. I didn’t know what to make of it.

Only once events started coming thick and fast; once, in response to a woman’s voice calling, we found ourselves in a large room packed full with white metal lockers and beds, a child on each bed, not in neat rows but, rather, as if everything in the room were on castors and as if the room were on a ship and the ship were in distress, and everything all over the place; only once I found that I also was a child, sitting on a bed with a white metal locker beside it, dangling my legs above the linoleum and I’d just been staring at the ceiling that, like the car park, was made up of square surfaces, but then quite suddenly looked down again; and once, on the inside of my outstretched arm that my mother, with both hands, was not just holding up but holding tightly; so once, there, beneath my skin, the full length of the needle became visible that the woman dressed in white, in a moment of carelessness or indifference or due to some other inner issue, a personal tragedy perhaps, had first let slide into me and then let go of, and that hadn’t clattered to the floor though, but had remained hanging or, better, stuck in my arm, beneath my skin; only then, once the full length of the needle was visible beneath my skin, like some creature that had crawled into my body with intentions completely unknown to me, intentions no doubt unthinkable, and I, propelled into horror and into fright, assumed that any moment, the needle, having reached its end, would poke out of me on the other side, and the creature, giddy with aggression and teeth bared would stretch its hideous little silver head in my direction, right there basically, or deeper in, to be more concrete; in the middle of all this; when I realised that nobody, no one, no person, not my mother, who had seen and experienced all of this exactly as I had, but whose hands remained motionless on my arm, as if her arms on me had absolutely nothing to do with her or me or concern on her part or with the attempt to protect me, but rather with nothing at all; that neither she, nor my father, who must’ve been around somewhere too, that no other child and not its parents either, and also that not even the woman in white, who was running off to do who-knows-what though she, most of all, had instigated the whole thing and got me into this situation, this complete danger, would intervene, so that no one in any kind of future was proposing to change anything about the state of affairs caused not by me but by all the others, for it wasn’t slow motion, it wasn’t any kind of motion at all; and so only once I knew that I was trapped with this needle, pinned so-to-speak to this non-place where no time and no action was imaginable: only at that moment was there a clattering sound. With a motion of the hand perfected by my indignation and dismay, I pulled the syringe from my arm and screamed as loud as I could.



Inga Machel was born in 1986 and studied creative writing and cultural journalism at the University of Hildesheim. Since 2010, she has lived in Berlin as an author and editor. Dear A. is one of the winners of The New German Fiction contest, which showcases fresh developments in German-language literature. The contest breaks new ground by offering both original-language publication and translation as prizes. Two winning entries by authors 30-and-under are published in German by the literary magazine Edit, and in English by Readux Books.

Donal McLaughlin is an award-winning translator and the author of two short story collections. Based in Glasgow, he often interprets at readings and book festivals both in Scotland and other countries.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 27th, 2014.