F R E S H ~ P R O S E
Dr. Kai Bleifuß: Studied modern German literature, political science and art history in Augsburg and Naples. Has won a number of literary prizes, for example the „Augsburger Kunstförderpreis“ (award for the advancement of arts) and the Authors‘ Prize of the „Irseer Pegasus“. Writes novels and short stories. Many publications in literary magazines and art catalogues. Loves combining texts and pictures, for example in his book „Träumen im Steilhang“, Freiburg i. Br., Germany, 2019.
An Embankment Story
(English translation: Kai Bleifuß / Seiriol Dafydd)
Hey! Where… where did you come from so suddenly?
Well, I should say, once upon a time…
Let me go dammit; I’m the narrator, I run the show here, can’t you see?
Once upon a time, there was a friendly author named…
I can’t believe it! Take your grubby hands off me or I’ll call the police! This is deprivation of liberty what you’re do-… – No! Calm down yourself, man! – So what? Do you imagine I wanted to get into the locked ward? – Nonsense! Just because you think we live in reality doesn’t mean it’s true! I tell you, we live in literature, and I’m the narrator, and now I’m going to fulfil my mission and begin a new story!
All right. Back to my text: the friendly author was named Constanze Blau, she had obtained a moderate degree of obscurity, yet the local press had posted her latest novel The Murmur of the Flood under the category ‘surprise successes,’ and she stared full of concern out of the window. There, a tauntingly grey sky had been unrolled.
– That’s wrong! Just because we can’t see the audience doesn’t mean they’re not there! – What?! Doctor, you can’t do that! I bear the burden of responsibility! If you give me an injection now, I’ll most likely fall asleep and… – But what will happen to the story then? You don’t actually believe people will be happy if I just stop in the thick of it and fall asleep?
“Is it raining?”, Mrs Blau, actually let’s call her Constanze, heard herself asking with a faint voice.
Doctor, no! I warn you, I… Ouch, dammit! – – – Are you happy now? – And how long do I have until the stuff kicks in?… Please, how much time do I have? You must tell me! – Yeah, I wish you a wonderful night’s sleep, too.
All right. Due to unexpected circumstances, we’ll have to hurry a little…
TheMedicineHadThorouglyEmptiedHerMind – Hhhhh… Oxygen! – hhh – I’m dizzy- – hhh………..
No, this doesn’t work either……….
We have to take the risk.
“Please, doctor! Is it raining yet? You must tell me,” insisted Constanze. The physician thus addressed, head of a small exclusive mental home, cautiously looked up from his patient and out to the garden, where by this time sizeable puddles, miniature lakes almost, had already formed. “Wouldn’t you like to share with me the origins of your fear of rain, Mrs
Blau?” “But you know everything already.” “No, I’m afraid I don’t know what the core issue is. By the way, your father came by earlier and sends you his best wishes. We still don’t think it would be good to let him visit you.” “Can I talk to him now? I have to! There’s no time to lose! Talk –”
At the end of the garden the embankment in green and grey seemed to bulge like a mighty ocean wave. Oh, that reminds me I still have to make a promise: in contrast to the convention in classical embankment stories the
central object of the plot will not burst.
“Mrs Blau, if I have understood you correctly up to now, you believe that too much rainfall will lead to the embankment bursting. The embankment was constructed by your husband, correct?” “You know that as well as I do, dammit! Don’t treat me as if I was –” “Shhhh. Mrs Blau, would you like to share with me a little bit about your and your husband’s past?” “– – –” “As long as you don’t open up, Mrs Blau, unfortunately I can’t meet you half way.” “– Apart from luck, my husband is the only thing that vanishes when I come closer.” “That’s taken from your latest novel. I think I can remember where the line is in the book.” “You have to evacuate. No time left. In the end everybody will drown.” “If you drown here, Mrs Blau, then at most in your dreams.” Constanze felt the tiredness capture her once again and gently carry her upwards. A cool spray was blown against her face. Very close to her, the psychiatrist’s voice became entangled in it: “I think it’s better if I come back tomorrow.” “No! Don’t leave… I’ll tell you… When I got to know my husband, his name was Simon and he was a cook. He dreamed of building truffle towers and marzipan landscapes with breaking waves…”
Hesitantly the picture of the physician came back into her sight, and with it the room, the window, and the threatening overcast sky behind it. “It isn’t raining yet, is it? He promised me he’d create a wave. A terrible man!” “Slow down, I’m lost…,” as you, my audience, probably are too, so “…Let’s look at this one step at a time, Mrs Blau: you’ve given your husband a fictional identity, haven’t you? In other words, you have pieced together a husband for yourself and then decided that life has to live up to your literature; does that sound about right to you?” The doctor glanced out of the window. A windswept couple with red umbrellas was strolling on the embankment.
“But that was just a game. It was quite clear to me that his name wasn’t Simon, but he did look like one; it could have been… He disappointed me terribly.” “Because his name wasn’t Simon?” “No, because he played along with me just so he could have me. Oh yes, and to kill people.” “Details please.” “Even more?! He’s not a guy for games, only for calculation – the great organiser of the embankment project! We’ve been married for six years now, I’ve known his real name for seven, but I only got to know the real him – oh, when was it – on Wednesday. Or was it? I guess it must have been.”
Constanze raised her arms and actionistically began to flounder about. How on earth could she get the man in the white coat, a friend of her husband, to call the police, the Agency for Technical Relief, the Coast Guard? She had already told him the new embankment was built on sand; if he didn’t believe her, what more could she do?
“Let me use the phone! The facts are clear: the current is so strong in certain places that the embankment needs a concrete foundation, that very special stabilisation measures are necessary… The embankment is even more useless than the old one! I’ve seen it on my husband’s computer, but… What do you think he – and his little friend from the building authority – gained by ignoring all the regulations? Why, in your opinion, would he contract only unskilled workers from Romania, anybody as long as they had no idea about building embankments; can you really believe it’s a coincidence?” “No, of course not.” “See!” “He must have done it to save money for the company.” “Oh, nonsense…”
The doctor glanced out of the window. “Mrs Blau, everything you have told me about the embankment up to now was in the newspaper about two weeks ago. In an article about your novel. I found the summary very exciting, so I bought the book and read it at once. You are an excellent writer. But fiction is fiction and reality is reality. You see, just as flowing imagination and, how can I put it, the solid facts differ greatly, your husband has made sure that water and land don’t take bites out of each other. That was formulated nearly as you would have done in your stories, right? Your husband was never called Simon and he was never a cook. He was a structural engineer through and through, and he has blessed you and all of us with a stable embankment.”
Now, I think the best thing we can do is to leave the current perspective, which can’t possibly reveal anything of more substance to us now than some side views of continuously growing puddles, and float upwards, right through the windowpane – rain, cold, gust of wind – up to the roof tiles of the clinic. Admittedly, this place is not too comfortable, but from here we do have a first-class view over the embankment. And don’t worry: the voices from the room aren’t lost to us, they get caught and multiplied in the raindrops… “Mrs Blaulaulaulau…” – it’s true, you have to concentrate more to follow them – “Docdocdocdocdoc”; what a drumming around us, a real cloudburst, Ladies and Gentlemen, and from the west in these minutes a strong breeze seemed to arise.
“But dam” – er, “doc,” I mean… – “my husband is almost certainly already in South America or the Middle East, and the building authority tart with him.”
Well, if we want to be precise, only you, the audience, are scaling the roof. I, the narrator, am lying in bed. Better sit up a little. The sedative, you know…
“Of course not! Don’t you remember?” said the doctor. “I was in your home myself when the police stood at the door; I wanted –“ “Sure I remember.” “And we both received the message that your husband and the lady you always refer to as his little friend had unfortunately had a car accident.” “Yeah, yeah, and the car burnt out completely and you can read all the details in my short story ‘About Smoke’” “…which remains unpublished…” “The style needs more polishing.” “…but you couldn’t show it to me either…”
“He must have deleted it! How often do I have to tell you? All the construction workers had gone home to Romania or Bulgaria or wherever, all except one, who of all people had brought his wife with him. He – my husband, that is – must have held them back on some pretext, and put them in the car instead of himself and his darling in order to…”
“But Mrs Blue!” – oh, “Blau,” I mean… – “Why would he murder someone? Even if it’s true that safety regulations were neglected during construction: In the novel the villain just runs off to a foreign country, he doesn’t kill anybody. Why then…” “Because I knew the score. The woman in the novel didn’t know anything about the embankment fraud, but I know, you understand…? He wanted to take me off the streets! He knew I would go crazy when I heard about the accident; that’s quite… obvious…”
Wait, I knew what I wanted to say just a moment ago. Oh, yes, a little opinion-forming suggestion by the narrator: the tart, I mean the one from the construction authority, well, she only had a temporary job at the construction authority anyway. So why not make a getaway with the embankment builder? – But you didn’t get that from me.
In the distance the flood came surging, but you see that yourself from the roof; what am I going on about? Would you have believed the sea or the river, or whatever that is, could hiss so monotonously in one’s ears? I’m afraid Mrs Blue will have to be overcome with tiredness now, otherwise I won’t be able to follow her any longer… Author, an extra portion of tiredness for Mrs Blue please – it’s on me…
Uncertainty about the waves: which one will roll over, which will give it a miss, which will froth or falter or…? Some, do you see that, some drag along bows of spray behind them in the wind, that’s quite sensational… Or wait, that’s the wrong word… Threatening. That’s it…
You know what I find strange? The sea is pitched! Totally pitched, you see that? Or wait, the roof is pitched and corrugates its tiles… Whatever. Now come down from there; it’s dangerous…
Doc: “Visited your home because your husband asked me! Said: ‘Stay the afternoon, say you’re waiting for me, look what she’s doing.’” Blau: “It figures!” Doc: “He was sure you need help.” “But that’s –” “Hey Blue, you stash booze in the wardrobe! Well, not here, but at home. I’ve checked.” Blue sound of horror: “Did he know, too?” “He drew my attention to it.” “He drew me! Into a hell called marriage……… A little slug from time to time – what of it??” ………..
Sorry? Did you say something? Eh, audience, I’m talking to you: did you say something or was that the psych…-iatrist(?), who by the way during the… – oh boy, I can usually spout the language of the narrator in my sleep –… who over the course of the last few minutes…….. Well, the suspicion was growing deep inside him – [yaaawn] – sorry, my manners have gone to sleep – that the words of his patient, however much alcohol her wardrobe might contain, were quite true, although he wasn’t ready… to acknowledge it openly, which was down to one, no two causes. For one thing, he was afraid of himself – that was also what drove him to become a psychiatrist – and he had reasonable… thingy… to believe he would incur his wrath with a bad misdiagnosis,………………… and for the other………………… Chrrrr – pffff, chrrrr – pffffffff………………
Huh – er, what(?); what’s the matter?!… Pardon me. Perhaps I ought to leave this bed at last; that could still help, couldn’t it?
You know what’s wobbling? The embankment. And the floor. – Back to my text. The other concern, which weighed much heavier, was the fear that Mrs Blue’s facts, should they really exist, would start to burst this green-grey wave at the end of the garden. That one should have long since alerted the police, the Agency for Technical Relief, the Coast Guard, and that his clinic was already lost hours ago. After all, they had forecast high water for today, a storm, snowmelt, spring tide…
Constanze attempted to summon her last ounce of strength to cooperate, since an enormous wave of tiredness – just in time for me – had ambushed her. “Isn’t that a strange coincidence, doctor? He invited you to have an indiscreet look at my condition, and as soon as you arrived, he had an accident.” “Tragedy, Mrs Blue, is a force that interferes in our lives when we least expect it. Try to accept it: you have written an embankment novel, a book borne of your husband’s world, because you expected a popularity boost as an author from the interlocking with reality. You wanted the success, Mrs Blue, you wanted to finally be not just the wife of a well-known structural engineer, but yourself…, Mrs Blue, celebrated…, read…, art today needs little jokes like these to…; such elements were quite appropriate for you…; famous name with applause…; ‘The Murmur of the Flood’; murmur and mumble; admit it, something is already roaring in our ears, Mrs Bllllllllllllllllluuuuuuuuuuue – a name like an ocean – Mrs Bbbllllllllllllllllllllllllllluuuuuuuuuuuuuuelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllluellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue relishhhhhhed the continuous growinggg and shrinkinggg offffff the sofffffft waaaavves on whichhh-she lay tucked, and uuuuuuuuuuuuup to the sky she swept, and dooooooooooooown to the world, uuuuuuuuuuuuuup to where nobody could follow her, and down where the cool spray massaged her face and devoured the psych…-iatrist’s voice.
Oh yeah, I’m so… happy for you, Mssss Blllue; you can enjoy the sea; you only have to lie……………, but I, I stand, you understand what that means(?!); I have to avoid every single wave I describe… and to ba…-lanccce… – oh no, another one –; just get on with it, oh yes, make fun of me, why not(?); oh boy, author, what were you thinking, stabbing me with that needle(?); you’re quite… quite stupid, aren’t you?
– Police…, there, by the doctor, there are police officers in the room all of a sudden… They weren’t there a minute ago!…………… Police: “Have questions for Mrs Blue.” Doc: “Too bad. Blue in a bad state.” Police: “Pretty urgent. Phone call from Romania:……. Construction worker disappeared. And his wife… Have questions for Mrs Blllllllllllllllllllup and down and uuuuuuuuuuuuup and down…………………… Where… where did all that water come from… Listen, I’m the narrator, I run the show here; no one makes me stand in the… water up to my knees… at least not with impunity; officer, where did the water come from…; no, just wait; no time left………………………
The emmmmmbbbankment did nooot bbburst, it just… sssssslumped dddown, you understand – silence out there(!), will you kindly scream more quietly; the wwwavvvvvve in green-greyyy… gave wayyy…………………. to the bllllllllllllluuuuuuuue…- llllllllllllluuuuuuuue…-llllllllllllluuuuuuuue…………………………….
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Copyright @ Kai Bleifuß ~ ARIEL-ART Feb 13 2023