Christiane Neudecker: From Heaven Above
That’s what it’s like. They come whenever they want. You’d think someone would warn you. So you could be prepared. Otherwise things can happen. Sentences might just slip out. What on earth the angel was doing in a garbage bin, for example. That he should piss off, you were in a hurry. Whether he couldn’t flap a little to one side, please, otherwise you’d have to walk straight through him. There wasn’t any alternative. So to speak. And: Somehow your head starts to spin. So you stand there and pull out the bottle of vodka you’d packed for the evening picnic and offer the angel a drink. After you’ve had a few mouthfuls yourself and so on.
“So,” said the angel and burped, “I’m supposed to have a talk to you about Christmas”. I quickly took the bottle off him. The postman waved to us from the neighbouring yard. “Well, well,” I said, “but I’m about to go swimming.” At which point he threw himself howling to the ground and began to lament. It was so unfair, he cried, why always him. Why couldn’t they have assigned him some sweet little child who clapped their hands with joy when he appeared? Instead – he threw a sideways look at me – he always got the beastly jobs. And what’s more, it was midsummer and– he spread his wings accusingly in front of my nose - he was in the middle of a molt. I felt his feathers carefully. He actually did look a little raggedy. “Oh well,” I said, “come along if you must”.
He slid down into the passenger seat of the car and stared into space, full of self pity. At every turn he dug his fingers into the dashboard. “You should cut your fingernails,” I said. He remained silent and began to rummage about in my handbag for the vodka. When he finally started to speak his voice was a little slurred. “They shay,” he said, “you’re shtuck.” “Aha,” I replied, and mistook second gear for fourth. “Oh yes,” he repeated, mulling it over, “really shtuck”. “And how that?” I asked.
He didn’t know exactly. He was only here because he’d lost some stupid bet. But I should get out of Berlin over Christmas. That seemed important. It had to do with my life having come to a standstill. Supposedly I was stuck. And if I stayed on in the city over Christmas and happened to run into a particular person again, then anything could happen. Consequently, I had to be someplace else. In any case there was a petrol station up ahead and wouldn’t it be nice to stop and get another bottle of that delicious Moskovskaya?
It helped that he was behind me as he lurched his way down the path to the lake. It gave me a bit of time to get used to him. Now and again he veered off the path and got his wings caught up in a bush. He then waited, giggling, for me to come back and free him. But at least he didn’t drive me mad with his chatter.
Christmas. Running into that particular person again. I tried to conjure up the image. That last meeting. The look before we left each other. And now. Meeting up again. A new beginning maybe. Everything went cold. I plodded on through the dancing shadows of the trees, behind me an inebriated angel crashed rowdily through the woods, the air was thick with heat, the sweat trickled down into my clothing, and inside me was something cold and blunt.
“Fiji,” said the angel. I had found us a place near the jetty, sheltered from view. Now he was sitting next to me on my towel, stretching his pale legs out in the sun. “Why Fiji?” I said, and had to sneeze. “And Samoa,” he offered, “then you could celebrate Christmas twice – you know the International Date Line and all”. “Great idea,” I said, and began to rub sun cream on my stomach, “but I’d rather stay here”. He let out a worried sigh. While leering at my bikini top. “I’ll take it off if you let me look under your skirt,” I offered. But he didn’t want to. He began rubbing sun cream on my back instead. And he started to preach to me. That he could understand why I was so attached to this particular person. But sometimes you just had to accept when something was over. Then it wasn’t any use grieving when it didn’t help anyone. You had to pick yourself up – and carry on. Experience was a great teacher; you shouldn’t make the same mistake twice and so on and so on. It was making me feel a bit light-headed. All of a sudden his voice was so soft and pure, a crystal clear singsong. I was already reflecting on whether Christmas in the South Seas was not indeed a better option than a possible repeat meeting with said person when he got the hiccups. I slid away from him and muttered something along the lines of not letting a drunken piece of poultry dictate where I was to spend my winter break.
How was I to know that he’d start to ball his eyes out? Didn’t he matter to me at all then, he sniveled, hadn’t I got the slightest idea what it had cost him – despite his fear of the ground – to come down here? How could I be so ungrateful? And all this only to protect me from myself and my own ludicrous devotion. “Have a look at yourself,” he shouted, “you are living a pre-packaged existence.” And as I shrugged my shoulders in confusion: “Do you really want to go through the same thing all over again? When I can tell you here and now that it will end exactly the same way?” I looked at him in silence. Then I reached for the vodka bottle, stared into the lake and started to drink.
On the jetty two children were playing with a ball. The girl was about two heads taller than the boy and I couldn’t tell if the boy was wearing a nappy or bathers. A ferry sailed by and far over head a jet left a vapour trail in the cloudless blue. “Dunno,” I said. “There must be something to it. Something about this person. Maybe I have to discover something. Otherwise I would have left it behind already.” He shook his head and a few feathers fell from his wing tips. “You’ve known everything you need to know for a long time now”.
At this moment the boy fell into the water. “I believe you’re needed,” I said, and pointed to the little body that floundered and screeched in the water. The angel shook his head with distaste. “Don’t like the water,” he said. „But you’re an angel,“ I countered incredulously and watched the little girl run screaming from the scene. “Yeah, I know,” he said and waved it away with a yawn, “but today I am here because of you. I have to stay here until you’re convinced.” I stretched out my neck and could just see the water begin to close over the sinking body. I sprang to my feet. I ran.
Or maybe I flew. There was something curious about this moment. Now when I think back I could swear that I ran through snow. I ran barefoot through the crunching crystals of snow on the jetty. In front of me a vast white breadth of ice. For one brief moment I hesitated on the edge. Then I inhaled the sharp, icy cold air and jumped.
As we surfaced the heat closed in over our heads. A jumble of voices, colours, smells. Colourful bathers, grasping hands. Someone reached for me, pulled me onto land. The little boy started to whimper and vomited a lot of water onto the shore. “Oh my God,” cried a woman who smelled of sun cream, of flowers, of ice cream, “Oh my God, you must have been heaven sent!” She pressed me against her sun tanned décolleté before she threw herself on the little boy and covered him in kisses. I turned around and scanned the shore for the angel.
My green towel glowed at me from behind a bush. There was no one on it. As I approached I could see the vodka bottle rocking to and fro. Just as if someone had given it a light shove. A couple of soft, downy feathers were drifting down, as if from a molting budgerigar. Again I had to sneeze.
That evening I rang my mother in the south of Germany. Her voice wafted over to me across the heat. “What’s up” she murmured languidly. “About Christmas,” I said. Short pause. I could hear the cicadas chirping in the background. „Mmm,“ responded my mother. Obviously she didn’t want to move her lips unnecessarily in this humidity. “I was thinking,” I said, “maybe you shouldn’t come to Berlin to see me this year. Maybe we should go somewhere else”. “Where then?” said my mother, ice blocks tinkling in her glass. “Fiji?” I said. “Hmm,“ replied my mother. And then it came to me. “On the other hand,” I said, “maybe I'll for once come back home.”
translated by Catherine Myson-Föhner
published with the kind permission of Christiane Neudecker and the translator