A man who looks older than he is is walking on a street. A young man snatches his bag from him and runs away. The old man gives the young man a chase.
This is the premise, and probably about half the plot, of Terezia Mora’s Fish Swim, Birds Fly, translated from the German by Melody Winkle—into, I must add, a clause-savvy English that splendidly services the digressive nature of the story while being utterly absorbing. As we read on, we see a quirky narrator turn a kinetic foot chase into a calm character study, and not only the story at hand but storytelling, in general, begins to appear to us as extraordinary and limitless. We remain eager to learn what happens at the end of the chase, of course—and there, too, the story exceeds our expectations. Immerse yourselves in this one, and I’m sure you’ll come out of it with the most satisfied smile. Maybe even a grin.
— Tanuj Solanki
The Bombay Literary Magazine
The young man was maybe 18, the old one not old at all, he is only 57, he just looks like some do at 75. An old heart-shaped child’s face. Formerly large eyes and a pointed chin, crow’s feet and nasolabial folds, but the type that flows down the side of the face as if a steady trickle (we don’t want to call them tears) had dug its bed into the skin. With a delicate hand, caress them until they go away. Wrinkles never go away. A caress is never pointless, but the man who is older than he looks has no one to stroke him. There are some people to whom he is distantly known. These call him Hellmut to his face. Behind his back, Marathon Man. People from the neighborhood you meet sporadically, for example at lunch in a traditional restaurant on the corner (of which there are fewer and fewer, etc.). There you exchange a few words, nothing deeper. Marathon Man answers only when directly addressed, polite and usually terse. A railroad retiree, a former conductor, why early retirement, no one asks. It’s not that he does anything that you can put your finger on, yet it’s clear he’s an oddball, and while that’s not an officially recognized reason for early retirement, everyone assumes it had something to do with it. He only comes for lunch when there are Königsberger Klopse, he has never eaten anything else here. The rest of the time he lives on potatoes with quark or bacon. For dessert, French toast. Maybe he needs to be thrifty, maybe it’s his passion. Perhaps he simply feels more comfortable in gray washed-out rags than he would in so-called proper clothing. He doesn’t seem to be unhappy. The face of a sad clown, but he is not sad. A smiling dwarf in too-short pants and a gray cap that he wears every day of the year, except for the 90-degree days. On the few 90-degree days that exist here, Marathon Man wears a bird’s nest of grayish-blond hair on his head that looks like he has just put on a new cap. On the day in question, Marathon Man is wearing a cap, gray on gray, while the shopping bag in his hand is canary yellow. The bottom of the bag is a little dirty. In the cloth bag, slipped into a corner: a wallet and a key ring. Why he carries his wallet and key ring (four keys: door, mailbox, apartment, basement locker) in a cloth bag, when his gray jacket has three pockets including one inside pocket: a mystery. It means he carries them that way because he is innocent. Because he feels safe in his neighborhood, on the street where he has lived, shopped, etc. for 57 years. He even swings the bag a little, and maybe he whistles to himself. The latter is not certain, the street is crowded and noisy, and Marathon Man often purses his lips, listening, thinking. I’m thinking, he says. And even: I’m dreaming. Sorry, what did you say, I was thinking/I was dreaming. Had been. And: sorry. Before he got the nickname Marathon Man, he was called the dreamer. Who? The polite one. Oh, him.
Only the clothes and the appearance of the young man make an impression, and even that only vaguely, because he did not come from behind, as one might assume. He came from the front, they even looked at each other’s faces for a moment, a young, glistening face with thick black eyebrows, and an old, gray face with a pointy grin, and then, when they were abreast, the boy ducked, snatched the bag from the old man, and ran away.
The seconds to comprehend, the seconds to regain balance, to turn around. The boy, not very tall, but agile and quick, has already passed two apartment buildings in those seconds. He has a long stride, he knows that he is a fast runner, that’s why he chose this strategy but does he also have stamina? Better if he does, because, what he doesn’t know, can’t know, is that Marathon Man isn’t called Marathon Man as a joke. He is not teased with the opposite of what really is true about him, he’s not the bald man called Curly. Marathon Man completed his first race at the tender age of 6, and since then, he has run thousands of kilometers, through woods and meadows, on red cinders, and on concrete, once for a full 24 hours. It has been a long time since there was a year when he did not run a full marathon. All this exclusively in Europe, because he is proud of having never flown or boarded a ship. Also vehicles with internal combustion engines, a small part of his life. Trains, because you do sometimes need to go somewhere and they’re cheap because of your job. But by and large: birds fly, fish swim, men run, as Emil Zätopek so rightly said. Emil Zätopek, right. Emil, said the lunch cook, that’s a nice name. Whereupon Marathon Man blushed up to both ears. Of course, he does have ears that protrude a little. The Czech Locomotive, said someone at the lunch table, and the blush faded. Running is the only thing about which Marathon Man says more than a sentence or two, even without being asked. Last weekend I was in Vienna for the marathon. And then, in detail: which train he took, when and where it left from, and where it went, and when and where it arrived (mentioning notable station architectures), from there how to get which accommodation, how this accommodation was (simple and close to the railroad, but you have to get it early, you have to get it one year in advance), what he ate for dinner, what he ate for breakfast, when he got up, how he got ready, how he got his race number, how much of the entry fee he had paid in advance, what, besides the race number, was in the bag that each runner gets for their entry fee, how the bag itself turned out this year compared to last year (can be tied into a backpack with the help of two cords or a tote bag that doesn’t close, etc.), and then how it was at kilometers 10, 15, 25, 30, 35, 40, and finally 42.195, and what afterward, whether there were bananas, oranges, and isotonic drinks for free and whether there were enough toilets and so on and so forth, you can not turn him off, some leave, but somebody is always left holding the bag and they have to stay, because somebody has to have that much in the way of manners, somebody who hasn’t completely given up, who doesn’t just walk away when someone tells you about his marathon, even if you think to yourself, he’s lying, the dwarf, in your dreams, dude, in your dreams, but at some point you had to believe him, because, like someone once said, bring me back something next time? the next time he actually brought a gym bag, a rain poncho, a city map, and a pocket radio, and he distributed them among those present.
The young man cannot know all this; he relies on what he knows about himself, that he is agile and fast for the first one or two hundred meters, and reckless to boot: he waits for the moment just before the cars see green, he dives across the wide road, just makes it, immediately feels the breeze on the back of his neck from a car whizzing past, as he jumps between the hedge roses that separate the roadway from the bicycle and pedestrian path. He is lucky, no one is speeding on the bike path at the moment, he can use his momentum and jump out of the bushes onto the sidewalk, and relying on past experience, thinking he is safe, he slows down and finally stops. He looks around, but before he can even form the first thought of where to go from here, he sees that the old man is breaking through the rose bushes less than ten meters away. He too stops for a moment, his big blue eyes taking in the boy with the yellow shopping bag, and then they both run off again.
They run parallel to the cars on the four-meter-wide sidewalk, which, except for a narrow strip at the edge, is overrun by the paraphernalia of restaurants and stores that push their benches, display stands, ice cream menus, strawberries, bicycle racks, and flower pots into your path so far, a few centimeters further each day until you can’t get past them at all and more than ten people complain or someone from the office summons them back. At the flower store, for example, two pedestrians cannot move past at the same time without having to step onto the bike lane, where nobody obeys the one-way rule either and everyone speeds like a maniac when they are lucky enough to be going down a steep incline on a relatively well-paved road. On this road, a young man and an old man are now running uphill. Shortly after the flower store comes a traffic light for the traffic from the side streets, and this time the boy has no luck: the light is red and remains so, he runs towards it, nothing happens, the light remains red, and the traffic rolls by: at the last moment he turns into the small road on the left.
This does not particularly improve the situation. The small road is straighter and emptier than the big one was, he can easily be seen, and it goes uphill more steeply. The old man behind him, still two buildings back. The boy takes it up a notch, now he is maybe two stride lengths ahead. They both run up the small street.
Throw the bag away! Marathon Man would like to shout to the boy. That would be the best solution for both of them, but Marathon Man doesn’t make a sound, he opens his mouth but nothing comes out, and the boy doesn’t come up with the idea on his own. He holds the bag that hinders him in the race, a dangling weight in his right hand. He turns into the next street on the right. For a moment Marathon Man loses sight of him, but then he sees him again, just as the boy runs across a small intersection into the next small street on the left. This also goes uphill, but this one is not empty. In front of a lottery store, a table, a display, a banner, in front of a restaurant, tables and chairs, still no customers, but here comes a woman with a baby carriage through this narrow spot, of all things. The boy looks around before swerving into the roadway, and Marathon Man sees in his face that he has done so, not because of any cars, but to confirm the incomprehensible fact of the man still chasing him. The varied pattering of their feet on cobblestones and sidewalk. The boy is wearing sneakers, not real sports shoes, soon the balls of his feet will be burning, while Marathon Man wears old but still decent running shoes in his everyday life. Today’s are gray with neon yellow stripes and orange soles. The jacket though is unsuitable, too big, too heavy. People who run in jackets, keys rattling in their pockets. But nothing rattles in Marathon Man’s pockets, everything he had with him, the boy now has, he is running with my wallet and my key ring and presumably with his cell phone. If it fell out, would he stop to pick it up?
Nothing falls out, they keep running, from the pavement back onto the sidewalk, back on a small street, and then onto a big one again. Here again traffic, pedestrians, traffic lights, even a streetcar, the boy throws himself into the chaos, he has to take a risk if he wants to shake off the old man. A construction site on a corner, that’s good, or wait, no, not good at all. The boy runs into the scaffolding tunnel, and before he can reach the end, Marathon Man is also inside, making the whole structure shake with his pounding feet. Two running in a trembling wooden tunnel. From the left, a wheelbarrow suddenly comes out of the building, the boy dodges at the last moment, the construction worker curses in fright, Marathon Man shouts “Excuse me!”
They run down the street to its end, there is a tunnel, at the far end another district of the city begins, and Marathon Man remembers that actually he never leaves his neighborhood unless he is running an international marathon somewhere. In contrast, he never goes to the neighboring district. Wake up, drink a glass of water, run down the hill to the park where there are stairs on whose steps someone has painted “THE ONLY ONLY THING YOU REALLY HAVE CONTROL CONTROL OVER IS WHETHER YOU GIVE UP OR GIVE UP OR KEEP KEEP GOING”. He looks at those stairs happily (that’s right, that’s right), but doesn’t run back up the hill, instead circles it at the bottom on the 1k running circuit. He runs slightly outside the circle, where the earth is softer. At one point there are bushes, there are two paths leading through them, on both a big puddle collects when it rains, it doesn’t matter which one you take. Marathon Man’s favorite number is 8, that’s how often he runs around the circuit, 7 is okay too, a magic number, if he only gets to 5 that means he’s sick. Once he was so sick that he was only half himself: a 4. He was so far gone that he thought it would be better not to run home, but to walk, but it was not better, on the contrary, he felt like dying, here, under the bare crowns of the trees, so he preferred to run again, he was less dizzy that way. (It was only a viral infection.) What does he do for the rest of the day? Not much. He keeps the apartment in order, he buys and prepares food, and he reads. He has a library card, but he doesn’t go often. Instead, he picks up books that people put at their doorways for the taking. Light novels and thrillers do not interest him. Non-fiction, biographies, history. Editions of Romain Rolland’s works yellowed to the point of crumbling. Young adult novels from the 50s. Two Boys in Shanty Town. That sort of thing. He spends the rest of the day daydreaming. Looks at the trees and the buildings. The beautiful and the ugly. He also does that during a marathon. He doesn’t have to win, the time doesn’t matter, he can look around. The beautiful buildings, the ugly buildings. If there are only ugly ones, I feel bad, if there are beautiful ones, I feel good. In short, I’m normal. Mom, you can rest assured, I have proof that I am completely normal. But Marathon Man’s mother has been dead for a while, he can’t tell her anything, and if she were alive and he told her that, she would look at him as if she had every reason to be skeptical. When you say things like that, you shouldn’t be surprised. You shouldn’t be surprised, she basically said to everything he wondered about or didn’t wonder about. Never mind, it’s past. In the meantime, Marathon Man is rarely surprised about anything. Except about this boy. Or rather, about the theft. Or rather, that it happened to him in broad daylight on a busy shopping street. Why me of all people, on the other hand, he does not ask. I look like an old bum, that’s why. Only women, old and young, are robbed more preferentially.
A burning cigarette butt rolls onto the sidewalk in front of him. He steps beside it, almost sorry. That would be so efficient! While in pursuit, stepping out a burning butt. Once barefoot as a child. And was surprised that it burns. Mother did not let me go to the sports school. Strange, even then I knew she was right. Oops, now he has almost lost sight of the boy. Sees him just as he turns. You can’t let yourself get distracted, this is a race where winning counts. After him, through an old lady’s cloud of perfume back to a large and busy street. I know this one. This was the first place I got off when the wall opened. Someone gave me a sesame seed bun and an orange. Don’t think about it now. Follow him.
The hustle and bustle is getting denser, there are several department stores and supermarkets, plus street food stalls. Attention is drawn to the two racing men, several are startled, one shouts indignantly: Hey! A teenager deliberately jumps into Marathon Man’s path. He manages to avoid a collision, but in his fright, a small, high-pitched scream escapes him, and the teenager and his friends jeer. In the end, he fails at a red light at a crosswalk. The boy makes it across, Marathon Man does not. The cars are already roaring past, he has to stop. He looks over them to the square behind the traffic light, there is a bus stop, the entrance to the subway, benches, women, men and children, and the boy is running and running.
When it turns green, there is nothing left of him to see. Marathon Man runs right off again anyway, over to the square, across the square, and further down the street. He’d like to be higher so he could see over the heads of passers-by, but you can’t run and be high up at the same time, and seen from here, the city has closed in behind the boy, like the branches of a forest behind fleeing deer. You don’t want to call it a jungle. Still: Marathon Man doesn’t stop running. I’m still fit, I’ve still got it, what’s more, I’m just warming up, I could increase the pace, the shoes are good, the jacket too heavy, doesn’t matter. He cannot walk, he has to run, even if at the moment his goal is not visible. Marathon Man is nothing special, he just has stamina. Or he can’t give up. The other day, someone he met at a race wrote to him that he had abandoned a night race after 35 kilometers. Marathon Man has never given up in a race. (If you don’t count the day with the 4 rounds). The boy has stolen his normal daily routine. Marathon Man can’t continue shopping and then go home. This is what he can’t accept. The boy basically doesn’t matter, he doesn’t want to beat him or prove anything, I may look old but, etc. No. Not punishment, not revenge. He wants his things back because he needs them to maintain his daily routine.
Now as he runs past, he looks in turn at the ground, in doorways, corners, trash cans, to see if the boy hasn’t thrown away the canary-yellow bag somewhere. Sometimes it occurs to him to keep his distance from the doorways in case he jumps out. Nothing, everything is empty. Once a door is open, you can see through to three courtyards. Something is being built at the very back.
Marathon Man runs and runs until he feels like he’s not even in his own city anymore. Not noticing, he has run into a completely different one. Everything unknown. Like when it’s foggy and individual towers rise out of the thick soup behind a row of buildings across a street that you’ve never noticed before. As if behind it, there was suddenly a new city with strange inhabitants, like you sometimes see in dreams. Although most people are strange even when you’re awake. When he’s certain that he doesn’t know where he is, Marathon Man is finally ready to stop. Now he is no longer looking for the boy or the shopping bag, but for a bus stop with a city map.
About 10 km. That’s how much he ran according to the city map. How long did it take us to do that? He still has his watch. Besides that, bells begin to ring, so it has become noon without Marathon Man having bought the things for lunch. Now, also thirst announces itself. Without money, thirsty, far from home. He thinks again about the bag, the wallet, the boy, but it is all very distant. He finally gives up. There’s no way forward from here, so look for the way back.
Marathon Man also knows people outside of the regulars’ table and running, for example, someone named Claus, whom he trusts to the point of depositing the spare key to his apartment with him. He knows this Claus from school, from the first grade when they were randomly placed next to each other so that they stood in two rows. Since his divorce, Claus has lived about 1 km from the apartment where Marathon Man grew up and still lives today. So about 9 from here. You could take another route back. Then you would pass through a large park.
The thought of running through a park inspires Marathon Man anew. It’s even half-forgotten what this was all about, why he had run so far in the first place. That might be crazy, but that’s just the way I am. Now completely focused on the new circumstances of running. Getting to the park. When was the last time he entered a park and didn’t run? Maybe never.
As soon as he starts on the way back, the sun comes out and it’s no longer gray everywhere. A sunny spring day. The trees, the sky, the windows, the sparrows taking flight. Later, in the park, the soil, the shape of the leaves of small plants in the grass, of which I know only the name of chickweed. Dandelion, horsetail. If this is horsetail. Maybe not. Daisies. Must call himself to order, not be so content, pleased, not to trot around through the area almost happy, through the now sunlit day, in his breath, the feeling inside his ribcage. In the wallet there are only two twenties (that’s how much is available for the week’s shopping), but also the ID card, plus the key ring, that’s not funny, no.
He’s almost out of the park again, just starting to feel regret when he catches sight of him. The boy. He is standing in a group with other young men. Marathon Man feels his legs twitch. He stumbles, he feels it in his knees and ankles, now in the soles of his feet, the shoes are not so good after all. There is a bench, he stumbles toward it and leans on the backrest.
Pretend you’re just stretching, you would need to anyway, it’s also helpful for the shaking that doesn’t come from running. Holds on, doesn’t really stretch, later he even stops pretending, he just stands there. It’s too cold to sit down, but Marathon Man couldn’t sit anyway. He can neither sit, nor walk, nor run. He can only stand there. He doesn’t dare get any closer, but he also doesn’t move further away than the point from which he can keep an eye on the boy every second.
And what are they doing? They’re playing pétanque. Marathon Man counts 6 people. They play in groups of three against three. In the broad daylight of Monday afternoon. 13 games. That is, 13 from the point when Marathon Man starts counting. They play pétanque, they play and play, they don’t stop, they drink beer while playing, they get more beer and chips from a kiosk, they talk and laugh. Marathon Man is so thirsty that he looks around to see if there is maybe a puddle nearby. No. What the hell, a person doesn’t die of thirst that quickly.
Eventually, the point comes when the young men notice Marathon Man. That someone has been standing there for ages, not moving. The boy also looks over, he looks away again, and then he doesn’t look back, not even once. Marathon Man feels very dizzy. They keep playing and drinking beer, the sky is closing in, it’s getting cooler by the minute, but Marathon Man hasn’t felt anything for a long time, and then it gets really dark because it’s evening. At some point, they can’t even see where the balls are resting. One of them comes up on his motor scooter amidst shouts to shine his lights their way. Somebody wins in a big clamor, then they go on their way.
Marathon Man, who has become stiff, more immobile than a tree, a tree stump in the darkened park, also starts to move again. He sneaks after them like I’ve never sneaked after anyone before, in a park or anywhere else.
Will the boy leave alone or with somebody?
With beer in his bloodstream. He strolls happily to an unlocked bicycle leaning against a lamppost and he swings onto the saddle.
And then Marathon Man has to run again because of the cold. You don’t stand a chance against a bicycle. Yes, you do. The boy is not in a hurry, he doesn’t have a good bike, and he doesn’t ride well, he’s just wobbling through the area. The fact that he is drunk is an advantage, for example, he does not seem to notice that Marathon Man is after him, that there are sounds: the feet, the breath… But now, he looks around, furrows his thick eyebrows, and rides a little faster and straighter.
Marathon Man is warmed up now, he increases the pace effortlessly. But at the same time, honestly, for the first time since this hunt began, it occurs to him: what if he catches him. In a direct physical confrontation, he would undoubtedly be inferior to the boy. “I never thought that you would become the type of person who would rather be beaten to death than lose a fight,” says the dead mother in Marathon Man’s head. Marathon Man does not answer her, I am now. You ought to have brass knuckles. But of course, Marathon Man doesn’t have brass knuckles, he doesn’t even have an idea of where to get any, especially now, especially without money, and anyway, what’s the point. It’s much more likely that the boy has something of the kind. Or a knife. But if that’s the case, why has he been running away all day long? Marathon Man feels a rapidly mounting confusion sucking the strength out of his body. He’s on the direct path to an all-encompassing mental and physical paralysis, but before it comes to that, the boy stops in front of a doorway. Gets off the bike awkwardly, starts fumbling with keys. And Marathon Man, seeing this, doesn’t stop, he continues to run toward him, he doesn’t have to particularly conquer himself to do this, it’s more as if they were two magnets attracting each other, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until there is only one jump between them, and Marathon Man jumps: he jumps onto the boy’s back from behind and takes him in a headlock.
You took him in a headlock?
Yes, Marathon Man said (later, to Claus). That is, I was going to, but the bike fell over and the pedals or something must have hit him on the ankle, he screamed, and then we both fell down, him underneath, me on top, with my knee.
So it was all rather accidental, but when they landed, Marathon Man moved his second knee on him too, plus his hands, practically crawling on all fours on top of the boy, pinning him to the ground. He wasn’t exactly gentle with the boy’s throat, he didn’t know what was happening to him, he didn’t fight back at all, he just choked, “Shit, what do you want from me?”
And I said, “My money, give me my money back!”
And he said, “What are you talking about, man?”
And I said again that he should give the money back.
And he said, “What money?”
And I said, “The money you stole from me.”
And he said that he didn’t steal anything. “I didn’t steal anything, man!”
And I asked where he threw the bag away.
And he said, “What bag?” And that I should get off his neck, and was I crazy. “What’s wrong with you, man?” etc.
And I said, because I was very angry that he called me “man” the whole time, “You ripped it out of my hand! On Binzstraße! And then we ran all the way to Lorenz Square!”
And he said, shit, that he hadn’t even been to Lorenz Square that day, and he’d never been to Whatisitsname Street, and that he couldn’t breathe.
In fact, Marathon Man was in such a rage that with each sentence he spat out, he exerted additional pressure on the boy’s throat. The boy tried to twist free, but with the pressure on his throat, that’s hard to do, that is especially painful. The boy moaned and gasped, in my pants pocket! That Marathon Man should take the money he has in his pants pocket.
Marathon Man was really sick to his stomach at the thought of rummaging in the pockets of a strange (or known) man, and besides, he had begun to have some doubt. He stared at the boy’s face, and it seemed to him that he looked a lot like the boy he’d been chasing all day, and he was wearing jeans and a red sweatshirt too, or this boy was wearing a tomato-red sweatshirt and the other one was wearing a brick-red hoodie, but the face was absolutely the same, I’m not crazy, they were like twins. Maybe he really is dealing with twins, Marathon Man thought, and he shouted in deep frustration at the guy underneath him,
What’s your name?
Aras, the boy said.
And your brother?
Batuan, the boy said, and then an expression covered his face as if he had just realized something.
(Tsss! said Claus.)
Shit, said Marathon Man, who usually never swears, easing the pressure on the boy’s neck. Now the boy could have thrown him off and taken his bitter revenge, but he just stayed there on the pavement, which was dirty and hard, and asked, How much…
40 euros, said Marathon Man truthfully, and he slid off the boy. He sat on the sidewalk next to him with his head down, unable to move. Now he can bash my skull in if he wants to. But the boy was also struggling to get up. Now the two were sitting on the sidewalk in front of the doorway, next to an overturned bicycle. As if we were two drinking buddies who had overdone it. The boy moved his arms slowly. He hesitantly reached into his pants pocket and even more hesitantly pulled out a twenty, and then a five from his back pocket.
Tsss! Claus said. And what did you do?
Nothing. Marathon Man just sat there, head bowed, like a guilty schoolboy. The boy tossed the two bills into his lap, rose slowly and shakily to his feet, pulled the bicycle up. While unlocking the door, he kept an eye on Marathon Man, pushing the door open with his rear. He didn’t turn his back on Marathon Man. Marathon Man just sat there with 25 euros in his lap.
Later, he got to his feet and looked around. The street was empty, lights were burning behind some of the windows. Marathon Man trembled. The tension from the earlier attack, and just now, belatedly, the fear. Great fear in this dark area unknown to him. He put the money, not in his jacket pocket, but in his pants pocket, and off he went, staggering at first, stumbling, but eventually coming into a trot and then out of a trot into a run, as fast as he could. It took him a very long time to get his bearings, and then it took forever to make his way to Claus. The last part, when he was almost there, was the hardest. The street where Claus lives has recently been surrounded by the type of streets where people go out. In every building, a pub, a bar, a club, the sidewalk full of young people dressed to the nines. Men in jackets, women in mini dresses. Plus the supermarket, which is open until midnight. Running was no longer possible, Marathon Man had to walk, that is, sway, suddenly he could only sway. His unfinished shopping also came to mind. I’ve been running all day without eating or drinking anything.
Hopps! Claus says. A name that has been in use again since the last class reunion (40 years). You’re here? At this time?
Can I have a drink?
Claus and Hopps fit well together. Claus also has nothing decent in the house. Marathon Man drinks two large glasses of lukewarm, cloudy tap water.
Now tell me, says Claus. What’s going on?
Do you have anything to eat?
Some dried brown bread and some ready-made herb quark. Nothing tastes good, nevertheless, Marathon Man eats. Finally, Claus even gives him something like a dessert: a fruit yogurt with something crunchy in it. It tastes pretty good, though.
And the police? Have you called the police yet? Claus asks, while Marathon Man carefully scrapes out the yogurt cup.
The police? No.
No cell phone, no money, but the truth is that he just didn’t think about it. And now that he’s got the 25 euros from the guy….
Tsss!, Claus says a third time and shakes his head.
I have to have an ID card made up. Photo and everything. At least, there is no need to block the bank card. It’s at home. Along with the passport one sometimes needs when running marathons.
He has your ID and your keys? Claus asks.
Yes. I also have to have the keys copied.
Do you realize, Claus asks, that if he has your ID, he knows where you live and he also has the keys to the apartment?
No, Marathon Man didn’t think about that until now, and he suddenly gets heartburn so severe that he can’t say anything. He slouches forward, and then he even slides off the kitchen chair and kneels on the kitchen floor with a sharp, tight fire in his chest. A gasp rises up from somewhere very deep inside him, he can hardly hear what Claus is saying.
Hopps! Claus says. Hopps? Can you hear me? Can you hear me?
Terézia Mora, Die Liebe unter Aliens. Erzählungen
© 2016 Luchterhand Literaturverlag, München, in der Penguin Random House Verlagsgruppe GmbH
We are grateful for the assistance and generosity of Ute Zörbach and Gesche Wendebourg in helping us with the copyright.
© BA Street Art.
For street art aficionados, the Cuvry Graffiti has an iconic status. The two murals were created in 2007-2008 on Cuvrystraße in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district by Italian artist Blu and the French artist JR (Jean-René). It was born in that state of furtive anarchy which passes for freedom on the street and perhaps unfortunately, an instant bourgeois success. About six years later, for a number of reasons, the artists decided to paint over these works with black paint. Fortunately, we were able to dusted off our trusty time machine and retrieve this image. Terézia Mora’s story also has two men and a bicycle, and in their brief encounter, there is a lifting of masks, the possibility of mutual comprehension, as it were. In other words, the artwork felt like a fit for the text..
Terézia Mora (author)
Terézia Mora, who was born in Hungary, is an acclaimed author who was awarded the German Book Prize in 2015 (for her novel Das Ungeheuer) and the prestigious Bremen Prize in 2017. She has been described as an unflinching chronicler of the present time.
Melody Winkle (translator)
Melody Winkle is a translator of German into English, specializing in marketing and subtitling. She spent stints in Alaska and Berlin but has been living in Seattle, Washington for a long time. She has been published in Lunch Ticket.