[Saturday, Jan. 6. ’90]
. . . like that?” Instead of trotting along behind us as usual so that he could demand a reward for every step he took, Robert bounded ahead like a puppy. We had to cross a hollow, the snow had a bluish sparkle and came up to our calves. Suddenly Robert gave a yell and started up the opposite slope. The moldy soil beneath the snow had not frozen. Michaela and I were running now too. When we stopped there was only the white field up ahead and grayish pink sky above us. We kept climbing, crossed a dirt road, and made straight for the woods. The wind swept the snow from the winter planting. I had to work hard not to be left behind. But the two of them didn’t turn back at the edge of the woods as we had agreed, but entered it. And so I also followed the sign pointing to Silver Lake.
The pond was frozen over. Before I could say anything Robert was skidding across the ice, with Michaela right behind. Robert, who is very proud that his voice is breaking, crowed something that I didn’t understand. Michaela shouted that I was chicken. But I didn’t want to risk it and stayed onshore. The snow hid most of the trash lying around, but there was a toy horse jutting up out of it. I was just bending down when I heard my name, turned around—and something struck me in the eye. It burned like hell.
I couldn’t see anything. Michaela thought I was putting on a show. It was snow, she shouted, just snow, a snowball!
It took me a couple of seconds to pull myself together. I was happy to feel Robert take my hand and begin to lead me. Not until that moment did I finally seem to realize that your letter wasn’t a dream, but that I had actually received it and that it was in my breast pocket. Yes, it was as if I had started to breathe again only now.
Plodding along behind us, Michaela told me not to carry on so. She probably thought I was going to cry. She thinks I’m a hypochondriac, even a malingerer, and was afraid I was just looking for some new excuse for calling in sick again.
She panicked in the middle of the field when a mutt from the village came racing toward us. He was barking and jumping around like crazy, but I was able to quickly quiet him down. Then I couldn’t get rid of him. The mangy animal escorted us all the way to the road leading downhill into town. Robert waved, and right away a car stopped. The woman sat ramrod straight behind the wheel and gave me a nod in the rearview mirror. The throbbing pain in my eye felt like my heart pounding inside my head. But the pain, or so it seemed to me, was something external, not anything that could hurt me, anything that could upset me, no matter what happened with my eye—because I have you!
At the entrance to the polyclinic I ran right into Dr. Weiss, the physician who usually attests that I’m too sick to work. “You don’t lose an eye that easily,” he said, grabbing me by the shoulder. He told me that I normally wouldn’t find anyone here at this time on a Friday, and that I should hold still—a doctor’s a doctor. “Let’s have a look,” he ordered, and turned me to the light. People going in and out shoved past us, I blinked into the fluorescent fixture. “Just a little vein,” he muttered, “just a burst vein. Nothing more than that!” Weiss left me standing there on the threshold as if he regretted he had even bothered with me. And called back that there was no need to be a crybaby, handing Michaela her triumph. By then it didn’t even hurt anymore.
The snow has already thawed again. The grass under the clotheslines looks like muck garnished with spinach. I have to drive Michaela to her performance. How easy everything is when I can think of you.
Saturday, Jan. 13, ’90
I’ve been going out every day, never for less than an hour. Besides which I’m responsible for shopping and cooking and now outshine Robert’s school cafeteria food, which is no great feat. Every evening Robert is granted his wish for the next day’s noon meal. Today I gave pancakes a try. And what do you know, Michaela ate up all the leftovers. Her cookbooks are the only thing I read these days.
I’ve already had to write Mamus twice this week. The second letter was necessary because Michaela had phoned her to ask whether she’d heard about my decision.
We are not dealing here with trivialities, this is about the betrayal of art—betrayal of it, which means of Michaela, of our friends, of life itself, so that my response to her is always that I’m not the deserter, art is. Of course, she doesn’t accept that.
I was in the “editorial office” for the first time yesterday afternoon. The building, which belongs to Georg, who is one of the two founders of the paper, is on Frauen Gasse, about three hundred yards behind the post office. You think you’ve arrived at the end of the world. But once you’ve passed through the eye of the needle—the ruins of a one-story building and a tilted wall—the world turns more hospitable again. Georg’s house is in the middle of a garden, a country home en miniature
. The garden gate is arched over by a rotting wooden structure, a rose lattice. The bell could wake the dead.
“You’ve actually come,” he said. The vestibule was filled with all sorts of garden tools and quite a few bicycles.
Turning left, opposite the stairs, you first enter a windowless antechamber and then a small room with a floor of wide planks and a beamed ceiling that I can touch with my outstretched arm. A table and chairs take up almost the whole room. It smelled of furniture polish and coffee. When seated I’m taller than Georg, whose short, skewed upper body squats atop endlessly long legs. The whole time he talked about plans for the newspaper he stared at his folded hands. Whenever he paused, his mouth vanished into his beard. Then he would glance up at me as if checking the effect of his words. I was uncertain how to address him—at our first meeting we had used formal pronouns with each other.
There are various postal scales on the windowsills. The glass of the panes is old, distorting the view to the garden. You only have to move your head a little and trees shrink to bushes or shoot up sky high.
Later we climbed up behind the house, the garden rises in several terraces. When I thought we would have to turn back, Georg made an opening in the thicket and began walking up a steep footpath. I had trouble following him. Then a marvelous view: the town lay at our feet under a lilac sky, the hill with its castle to our right, Barbarossa’s Red Tips to our left. There was something agreeably unfamiliar about it all, it even felt like I was looking at the theater for the first time.
I inhaled the cold air and the smell of moldy soil and felt very glad that from now on I’ll be able to enjoy the view whenever I want.
Jörg, my other boss, had arrived in the meantime and made tea. He’s that same little bit shorter than Georg is taller than I. Jörg formulates his sentences so that they’re ready to be set in print. He seems to have his doubts about me. He never let me out of his sight and responded to everything I said with a slightly mocking smile. But I won’t let that scare me.
Georg and Jörg want to pay me the same salary they make, which means I’d earn two thousand net a month, almost three times my wages as a dramaturge. They’ve given up trying to get money out of the New Forum. The main thing is that I don’t have to go to the theater anymore. I was falling apart there. There’s no place more boring!
A little before six o’clock Georg invited us to a light supper. His wife, Franka, and his three sons had already gathered round the table. As we sat down there was a sudden silence, I automatically expected someone to say grace. But it didn’t happen.
I’m now reading newspapers. On the first page of the ND is a photograph of Havel. He changed professions just in time. Whereas Noriega’s picture looks like a mug shot. Some soldiers in Gleina went on strike for a few days. They demanded a new military code. Even an army prosecutor was sent in. But they refused to be cowed. And now, so I read, there actually is a new military code.
I think about you all the time.
[Sunday, Jan. 14, ’90]
Your letter has been lying here in the kitchen, on top of the fridge, since yesterday. Michaela brought the mail in, so the mailbox was empty when I took a look. Just now, right after breakfast, I suddenly recognized your handwriting on an envelope.
Now that the date is set and you’ve booked your flight . . . for the last few days I’ve been feeling stronger than I have for a long time. I was even a match for Jörg, who’s like a fox lying in ambush. But it won’t be long now and you’ll be so far away . . . oh my, I’m sounding like Mamus. Does she even know anything about it?
I have no idea what Beirut is like, but I can’t understand why Nicola doesn’t want to bring his mother to Berlin instead? And how much business can there be amid all that rubble and desolation?
I’m frightened for you—which is also egoistic of me. I won’t be able to help you. I’ve got two thousand marks in my account. Do you need it? How much is that? Three hundred West marks?
I’ve got plenty of time to give you, however. I’m living under some kind of spell, I’m awake at four or five at the latest. Even though I rarely go to bed before midnight. And yet I’m not the least bit tired, not even in the afternoon. When I get bored with brooding, I thumb through the dictionary. It’s amazing how many verbs and adjectives we know without ever using them.
I called Johann in the middle of the week to tell him I had quit the theater and am joining the crew of a start-up newspaper. He was extremely distant and brusque. And now I get a letter that could have been dictated by Michaela. I never used to read newspapers, so why was I trying to avoid these new artistic challenges (and he used that very phrase!). And went on like that for four pages. What a stranger he’s become.
What you wrote about this nobleman sounds really promising. If in fact he does want to come to Altenburg, you can give him my address, and our editorial office will soon have a telephone.
Verotchka, if I’m not going to be able to see you, at least write and tell me about what you’re doing, about taking care of final details, anything! There is no one else who I can count on.
Your HeinrichFrom the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from New Lives by Ingo Schulze. Copyright © 2008 by Ingo Schulze. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.