Krithi Ganesh translates a fragment from an unfinished novel written by Wolfgang Herrndorf
After all, being crazy simply means you’re crazy, not daft.
Because a lot of people think that they’re completely daft—weirdos—just because they wander around strangely and scream and shit on the pavement and whatnot. And that’s true. But it doesn’t feel that way—at least, not from within; at least, not always.
It’s just terrifying when you realize that you’ve currently shat on the pavement and know that it’s not normal, and only crazy people do that. And this fear makes you indifferent to what others think, whether they’re looking or not because you really have other problems at that moment. And my problem was that I was slowly going crazy again.
It wasn’t the first time, so I already knew how it works and that it comes in phases. For those who can’t imagine: like hunger or thirst, or when you want to fuck. That also comes in phases. And not always when it suits you. And there I stand now in the garden, four high brick walls around me. Parents are away, doctors and nurses have also just gone, and in front of me is a huge gate made of immense iron.
The flowers are blooming. The flowers that the Depri’s shown me with his Depri-like enthusiasm—they’re bad. All Depris always try to draw you into their Depri-shit straight away. But the flowers are okay and they can’t help those who find them nice. They didn’t choose this. If they could choose, maybe they’d pick me. And I’ve been thinking about that for two hours. And in the sky, the sun, my beautiful friend.
So, I raise my arm and point my hand upwards so that my right thumbnail accurately touches the edge of the sun, so that it stops moving. And the sun stops moving and time stands still. That is easy. And this is also easy: with the finger nail’s gentle shove, I push back the sun millimetre by millimetre, and that’s when I know: in the beginning, there was power. Isabel, empress of the universe, the planets and everything. If I want the sun to rise, the sun rises. If I want the iron gate to open, then the iron gate opens. And at the very same moment, the gate opens.
A truck drives by and I dart past, behind the truck, and out.
No one can see that quickly. But no one is looking anyway. Outside, everything is much better. It isn’t dark; everything is as always. And the way I see it, when everything is as always, I’m the same again. Only that I don’t have any shoes on. When this strikes me, I take off my socks too. I don’t need socks when I don’t have shoes. Orange bin and onwards.
What I’m still wearing are camouflage-patterned trousers and a white T-Shirt. In the front left pocket of my trousers are the two tablets I took out from under my tongue, in the back left is my diary, and there’s something in the front right pocket as well. I know that without having to check. But I don’t know what, and I’m not looking either.
For a while, it makes walking difficult for me. To be honest, I cannot breathe. It’s like a huge 16-tonne weight that’s hanging on my hips. But then I tell myself that I don’t have to look. That it’s my decision whether I slip my right hand into the right pocket or not. And it immediately gets much better, and while I’m still racing up the slope and over the two crash barriers, I’m happy yet again. Namely, what great fun it would be if I were to check, and that I could greatly surprise myself if I wanted to. But for now, I don’t want to.
As I hold out my hand, a car brakes at the same moment. On the windscreen in front, there’s a yellow sticker with a laughing red sun. I point my thumb at the sticker and say, “I’ve stopped the sun,” and the lady driver nods and laughs and immediately lectures me on the differences between nuclear fusion and nuclear fission, about the dangers of power generation, about coal-fired power plants and Chernobyl, about marriages in Harrisburg, mesmerism and Jakob von Gunten, and that’s when I fall asleep.
I wake up from the heavy weight on my hip and from the fact that the woman has her hand between my legs.
“You shouldn’t do this,” I say. She does it anyway, and I have the feeling that this isn’t a woman. She has an utterly asymmetrical haircut and a face that can’t be described because it has no features. And that’s when I get off and walk into the woods.
I take a tablet to test what it does, but it doesn’t do anything. And then, I walk until deep into the night and even further and until the first light and further on. I sleep by day and walk by night. I see the stars. There are no stars in the woods, but above the fields are stars and comets. Forests, fields, pastures and paths.
I climb over electric fences and barbed wire fences or creep through under them. I twist the wires above and below and climb through the hash. I always walk straight ahead. If there’s a gate three metres near me, I go through it. If it’s thirty metres away, I climb over the fence. I pause and see the stars reflected in a puddle. They dance and quiver and calm down. Regulus is in the west, Arcturus will later be in the west, then Gemma, M13 and Vega. I walk between the silent shadows of cows and horses throughout, in the circle of ghosts, in the army of the unnamed. I feel sharp gravel under my soles. I see no moon. When I see lights, I walk a large semi-circle. Most of the villages are dark.
I don’t know why I don’t wear shoes. The first shoes I can remember were size 29. Years have passed since then. I walk barefoot through the mist, step in puddles and drink brackish water. Faltering, I reach the golden hill on the second morning. I call it that since it’s round and covered with a canopy of wheat. From the top, I look out over the land and am tired. Iron pincers rage inside me. I try to fall asleep, but can’t. I try to continue walking, but can’t. I concentrate on the situation and arrive at the conclusion that I’m hungry.
I take a stone and a cane and stumble into the village: it was behind the woods and was now in front of me. There are two small shops. I throw the stone at the bigger shop, through the window and knock the splinters out of the frame with the stick. Still, I cut my soles while climbing in. At the checkout, I grab a large bag with handles and blindly pack everything into it. The bag rips, and I slip it into a bigger bag. The bigger bag rips as well and so I place it in a plastic basket with handles. I knock over the shelf with the chocolate bars.
On the street, I can hardly walk because of the pain. Lights have been switched on in two windows. I see a shadow that switches off the light to see better. Like a hunchback, I run with the basket into the fields and back to the golden hill. After a while, I don’t feel pain anymore since my lips are bloodily bitten. I roll in the grain to make a bed. I’m nauseous. I empty the basket, rip open a packet of Choco Leibniz and drink half a litre of seltzer. After a while, the nausea fades out, and I fall asleep.
I’m sorry about the window, by the way. When I’m rich and famous, I’ll come back and compensate for the damages, I think. Maybe I’ll even throw a party for everyone. I see the sky; I wait for the eagle. My greatest wish is to work in television. A cousin of mine is there—she does a quiz show. People recognise her in the street.
A dream wakes me up in the morning. The red sun shines through a lattice of straw; a daddy-long-leg sits on my shoulder. I think about what it’s thinking. Whether it sees the sun between the straw as I do. Whether it senses that I’m a living thing. That it’s standing on a living thing a hundred times mightier than it. Whether its synapses advise it to be afraid. Whether it has synapses. I don’t know, and it teeters away like one who has such a hunch.
I close my eyes. I go back to sleep.
I have always spent the night in the open. Once, my father brought a tent home. It wasn’t my birthday; it wasn’t Christmas either. It was just like that. A cheap tent from Aldi, yellow and purple fabric—I set up the tent in the garden with my father, and then we slept in it. That was nice.
My mother thought we’d gone crazy. Since it was spring and still cold at night. But I wasn’t cold. I crawled into my father’s sleeping bag, and it was warm there and I was safe. He’d said that I need never be afraid in life, and then my mother came and placed two small bowls of nuts, hyvää yötä, kauniita unia—good night, sweet dreams. And then we ate the nuts, and that was the greatest thing. We pulled up the zipper and closed the mosquito net, and then it got dark. My father wrapped his arm around me, and I placed my arm on his mighty chest. That was five or six years ago.
Afterwards, I slept outside almost every night. I obviously wasn’t allowed to, but I had a trick. Every night before I went to bed, I’d wind up the window lever and press a few centimetres against the frame so that I could silently get out at night. I’d then sneak into the tent for almost the entire summer. And also, when the tent was taken down, then just under the bushes with the sleeping bag. And there I slept under the bushes and dreamt that I was sleeping under the bushes and dreaming. In the morning, at the first light and dew, I’d quickly climb back up through the window and secretly wake up in my bed. I haven’t imagined that. There’s also proof of that. And since then, there have been two worlds—the dark one and the other. That’s my opinion, anyway, and I don’t need to tell you that the doctors are of a different opinion.
I lie on my back. Sounds come through from the valley. A chainsaw, a laughing woman, a blackbird, a car, schoolchildren. A bus door exhales. And the blackbird again, now closer to me.
I watch the clouds and examine my soles. The cuts aren’t as deep as I’d thought them to be, but they still hurt and have bled heavily. Since I’d drunk the mineral water, I wash the blood and dirt off my feet with Fanta and decide to lie here for the day, until night. I have some more Choco Leibniz and jam and Nutella and crispbread and Snickers and Erdnussflips. I become completely clear in the head, as clear as morning light. The universe is here, Isa’s here, everything is where it belongs. I don’t think. I sleep.
In the afternoon, a combine-harvester comes and pulls its tracks, enveloped in a yellow cloud of dust. Not in my field, but in some other field. When the noise of the motor fades out, I stand up and fall over in pain. After ten minutes, I get up again.
Nothing much happens over the next few days. Anvil clouds pile up and clear up without a sound. The stars wander, and I wander too.
For a while, my feet still bleed. Afterwards, they don’t bleed so heavily. When I’m tired, I make a mattress of grass and lie down in the grass, and there I am.
When the morning mist has cleared in my head and over the meadows, I stand in front of a river. The river hardly seems wider than a stone’s throw. I throw a big stone with all my might and it falls in the water. I pick up a better stone and it falls on land. I can’t detect how deep the river is. There’s no bridge to be seen on the left or on the right. Afar, the river runs into the woods. But I don’t want to stray too far from my path. The water isn’t cold, but it isn’t warm either.
I get undressed. I lay the T-Shirt on the spread-out trousers and the underwear on the T-Shirt and roll up everything tightly.
After taking one step the water comes up to my calves, after two to my knees, after three to my thighs. Black smears of mud float up. The river rushes and gurgles. I hold up the bundle of clothes and regard it for a long time. Then I consider the other bank and wade back. I try two other places in vain.
I unfurl the bundle of clothes again, take the diary out of my pocket and read the last entry. If I had a string, I could tie it to my head and swim. But I don’t have a string. In the grass lies a piece of plastic wrap, but it isn’t enough to protect the paper from the water.
I put on my clothes once more, lift my right arm with the diary vertically, and go little by little in the river. Then it occurs to me that there’s still something in my right trouser pocket—though I no longer remember what—but it’s already too late. In the shadows of the shrubs and grasses, the fish sparkle. The water washes around my waist. At the deepest point, it reaches up to my chest. Under my soles, I feel big, round, slippery stones. I stand still for a few seconds. Then, it slowly becomes shallower again. On the other side, I place my diary on the grass. I take off my wet clothes and let them dry in the sun. Next to them, I lie down to dry. I turn over onto my back and write.
I write: My father was a physicist, and his work was analogous to the Foreign Office. Basically, in the sense that it was mostly confidential. When he died, I was in school. The truth is: I can’t remember. There’s a picture of me where I’m holding a school bag, and the schoolbag is yellow. There’s another picture where I’m standing with my mother in front of the school building, and next to us are seven or eight other kids with seven or eight other schoolbags and parents. The only thing I don’t know is where my father was that day. There’s no picture of him. Maybe he was the photographer. He was hit by a meteorite. I don’t like to talk about it. It was all over the papers.
When everything’s dry, I dress myself and carry on. Small ditches cut through the meadows every now and then. I hold the diary in front of me like a compass. Poplar seeds snow around me, and the sweet scent of campion wafts into the nights. I see a forest from which four tall poles rise above the treetops. At the edge of the forest stands a small hut which is part of a hiking trail, as three boxed in signs reveal. A black dash, a yellow snake, a red triangle. My name. I lie down under the eaves.
My father stands at a bus stop. I recognise him by the extendable, long, grey telescope that he carries on his back like hunters carry their rifles. He beckons me over to him. He has two travel tickets in his hand, but I don’t want to go with him. I quickly tear my ticket into tiny scraps. Desperately, my father gathers the scraps and tries to sellotape them together. But when the bus arrives, he’s far from finished, and the bus driver only allows him to board. I wave at my father for a long time.
At the roundabout is a lawn with six beech trees and a large granite cone, bay laurel and angels and rifles made of stone. Underneath is a list of about thirty names.
They died in the line of duty
Many were very young and had died at eighteen. The oldest, Erich Camphausen, was twenty-five. And he was still young too. There is a cemetery on the other side of the road. I walk around between graves. There are pebbles placed on two gravestones. I assume that children have put them there; I sweep them away in passing. Then I see that there are pebbles placed on quite a lot of gravestones. I stop before one.
Daniel Franz, 1918-1943?
The grave is unkempt; dried-up stuff lies there. But there is also a burnt-out grave light next to it.
Twenty-five years old. He could’ve been my older brother.
I work out whether he could still be alive today. He could. That briefly bowls me off the lane. But he’d be ninety-two now. Which means that he’d die soon. Or has just died. Maybe even in this very minute. I look across the street at the grey houses by the market. I see windows with filthy curtains and suet cakes in front of them and imagine that behind one of these windows lies ninety-two-year-old Daniel Franz. And he has five more minutes to live. Five minutes left to enjoy the sight of his suet cakes. What then has he gained from not having stayed in the war, like the others? What difference does it make, dying seventy years ago or seventy seconds ago? None. The five minutes are long gone. But there being no difference seems weird to me. Although there is. Unless time makes a difference. But it doesn’t, I think, and I think what I think is wrong, and then I think it’s correct, and then I think that my thinking is wrong and has always been wrong, and I scream.
I inspect the grave light and read a label from the manufacturer. There’s a small stone on the basalt, which I pocket.
“What are you doing there?” a man asks; he seems to have popped up from the ground next to me. He’s wearing a green track jacket.
“What are you doing there?” he repeats.
“What are the stones for?” I ask.
“That’s a Jewish custom.” He looks at the grave. “Although this isn’t a Jew. The people do it everywhere now. All idiots. And we have to pay for it.”
I write: The night is beautiful, the mist is beautiful, the morning is beautiful. But in the morning, everything’s bloody; it’s disgusting. It’s been going on for a year now. I try to rip a sleeve off my T-Shirt to wipe myself, but the sleeve won’t come off. I try to wipe the blood and mucus with grass, but that doesn’t work either. I walk into the woods.
I walk and walk on smaller and smaller paths, the woods get deeper and deeper, no ray of sunshine reveals the way. An enormous wild boar breaks out of the bush in front of me, stands in the small path before me, gawks and disappears. It’s scary. I might even enjoy the spookiness, but I’m hungry. And I’ve gotten lost.
But I know from my grandfather’s journals how to find your way out of any forest: you just have to watch out for the forks. If the path forks forward like a Y, you walk into the forest. If the Y is upside down, you’re going out of the woods. The reason for this is logical, and what applies to Russian forests also applies here. After three, four kilometres, I’m out of the woods.
Behind the forest are a black tree and a white railing-lined huge English lawn.
I think that where there’s an English lawn, there must also be a water pipe or a water sprinkler, and at the same moment, a water sprinkler starts up from the lawn and sprays in a circle. I’m not really surprised. I would’ve been more surprised if it hadn’t happened.
I slip off my trousers, squat on the water sprinkler and begin washing myself. I wash my legs from top to bottom, then from bottom to top, and then my hands. Then the feet and under the armpits, and exactly when I’m carefully washing between my legs, twelve headlights switch on with a bang, all focussed on me, brighter than daylight.
A blue-and-white football team cross over the balustrade. The players stretch their muscles. They talk. One jogs on the spot. In the backlight, I can’t see how old or young they are. They start jogging around the square. The straight, the curve, the back straight. It takes precisely three seconds until the first sees me and shouts. Then they all yell.
While attempting to simultaneously pull up my trousers and start running, I fall over lengthwise. I jump back up immediately, stagger and fall once again. That’s when they stop jogging. I haul on my trousers, but the fabric won’t go over my wet hips. Twenty hollering idiots cheer me on; they hoot and whistle. A tall guy pulls out an invisible telescope with both his hands, focuses it on me and acts like he can’t balance himself.
They shout out words that I’ve never heard before, and I memorise the words to write them down later. Young men, boys: sixteen, seventeen, twenty. The coach in yellow balloon silk glances in my direction, shaking his head.
“The German women’s national football team in exceptionally bad condition,” shouts the tall guy.
“Far too little movement in the midfield,” yells another.
I half-prop myself and try to crawl away on the wet grass.
“Garefrekes with severe deficiencies in the running division.”
I roll around; meanwhile, my trousers are completely soaked. I wrench out the diary from my back pocket, throw it where the water sprinkler can’t reach it and crawl on all fours after it.
“But foosball looks different.”
One by one, everyone else joins in too; while judging from the jeering, they slowly trot along. I try straightening up. As he runs, the coach holds his hands to his face, like blinders. I don’t know whether anyone can imagine that.
And so it goes on with the slogans. Suddenly, I feel sorry for them. When I’m finally on my feet again, I yank my trousers down with my last ounce of strength, sway my bum and walk slowly and shakily and uprightly from the place.
Big bins stand behind the clubhouse. I find a ham sandwich and a slice of cake. I want to set aside the cake for later, but I throw it away after taking a bite. Cream and chocolate have melted like oil. I lick my hand.
The sun rises high in the sky. I creep away under a bush and the day anchors in the stillness and heat of noon. No wind, no sound, not even the buzzing of insects. The hours go by. Although I lie in the shade, I’m drenched in sweat.
Buy raspberry jam &
Bread & butter & a knife
du süße kleine Fickmaus- you sweet little fuckmouse
There’s a black cloud above me. Then the whole sky turns black, it suddenly starts to pour. With my back reclined against the trunk of an oak tree, I crouch there. Water and mud splash up to my knees.
The wind gets fiercer, it drives me around the trunk. The meadow foams and throws bubbles. In the light of the flashes, tatters of the white sky become visible behind deep violet clouds, later cobalt blue smudged with burnt orange. Shredded anvil clouds wander over the horizon, like herds of huge extinct animals. The thunder rolls metal drums under them, over them.
I count the seconds between the lightning and thunder. Three seconds, two, one, and the grey silhouette of a dog scampers through the rain. I take notes.
When it stops, I walk across swampy meadows and through slimy fields.
I cross over a railway embankment and a motorway feed road. The blanket of clouds ruptures, and the heat sinks back to the earth from the fan of the sun’s rays. Everything’s steaming. I wring out my T-Shirt. Then I stand in front of a fence. Behind the fence lies a field. On the field stands a house in between six tall beech trees.
I imagine how my life would proceed if it weren’t my life but a novel. Then the house would be mine now, and my great grandfather would have planted the six beech trees in the earth a hundred years ago. He would’ve built the house by himself too; that was common a hundred years ago. And when everything was complete, I think he would’ve named it Gut Hohenbuchen—Manor Tall Beeches—despite the beech trees being tiny plants at the time. But he knew they were growing, and one evening, when the sun was red, he sat next to my great grandmother on the little bench in front of the door. There, he placed his arm around her and said, when something is so beautiful, it needs a name, and then he named it thus. Because Gut Sechsbuchen—Manor Six Beeches—doesn’t sound good, and you can’t really say Gut Sechshohenbuchen—Manor Six Tall Beeches.
And so it’s still called, and I’d now be standing there in the kitchen wearing an apron. The kitchen would be renovated somehow, but it still hasn’t lost the smell of old wood fire even after a hundred years. This smell will never go away, and the walls that were hung with enormous knives and old aluminium pans and black soup ladles—a hundred years ago—would still be filled with them, and I’d also use them sometimes. The old cast-iron stove alone would just be decoration since I’d obviously have a ceramic stove. And on the spacious kitchen counter nearby, I’d chop onions and have tears in my eyes, but not because of the onions. But because I’d be sad. With my elbows propped up on the table, I’d look out of the window and sigh and say, “Oh, hopefully, he still lives, dear God. Please let him be alive and let him come back from the war! Daniel, and his loyal friend Erich too, but mainly Daniel.”
And while I’m crying and mourning and losing faith in God, the novelist will take the opportunity to quickly roll my life by before the readers’ eyes and let my character shine in all its facets, like pictures on a calendar. And there, you could perhaps also see that Erich, at the very beginning, had a good prospect of winning my heart, but then I would’ve chosen Daniel because he was more handsome. And then the chapter would end. Then a new one would begin. There, I’d be seen vacuuming, still crying and sighing, and would suddenly stop because I’d have heard footsteps outside the door. I’d think—Hey, who’s ringing the doorbell? —and I’d really have no idea whom that could be since I’m not expecting anyone at Gut Hohenbuchen and I never get any visitors either. And then, all of a sudden, Daniel stands there, and we fall into each others’ arms as if crazy, even though we don’t recognise each other at first.
So much time has passed since he had to leave for Afghanistan. His face is haggard and bony, and I immediately start making vegetable soup for him, because that’s the only thing I can do, and because that’s what German soldiers like best when they come home wounded, even if they aren’t wounded like Daniel. Right and left, his comrades have been shot away, but miraculously, he only has one bullet through. And there’s something wrong with his head as his soul has shell shock.
That’s why he can’t stand still now. He twitches and trembles and stares right through me, and I immediately know that he’ll never stand still again, he’ll always tremble, and his aquamarine eyes will always stare right through me because they’ve seen things that no human being can bear. But that doesn’t matter. He is the love of my life, as the author has already clarified at the beginning, and I’d be faithful to him and do everything for him. And evening after evening, we’d sit on the little bench in front of the house, where my great grandfather and great grandmother used to sit, and I’d hold his trembling hand in mine. In front of us would be a little table on which there would be two coffee mugs, and on one of them, it would say: FIN.
Everything’s so beautiful when it’s beautiful, but mostly it’s just in my head. I’ve placed a hand on the fence, and a huge German shepherd comes bolting towards me from the direction of the house, barking and biting the air. He jumps and slobbers, and although I’m not usually scared of animals, I’m afraid he might come over, and so I keep my distance. I run. Behind Gut Hohenbuchen, there’s an open field. The barking is still ringing in my ears after miles.
Note: The translated passage is for academic purposes only and has no commercial application.