Tonight It’s Very Clear
We took my car. I drove; Armin was sitting next to me and Blank was in the back seat. He sat right in the middle and he had both windows open, his hair fluttering in the wind. Just was written in large gold letters on the rear window behind him. The Married was vaguely perceptible. After the wedding Jacob and I had tried everything possible to clean the rear window, but when the Married would not come off after an hour, we gave up.
“Music?” Armin asked and turned on the radio. Then he turned to Blank. “What’s it really like when you die?”
“Armin!” I said, as if Armin was as a child in the waiting room who had asked his mother out loud why the uncle on the chair beside her was so fat. I looked in the rearview mirror; Blank didn’t bat an eyelash. “I’ll tell you later,” he said.
Armin looked at me. “So?”
“Wait a while,” I said.
Armin turned back to Blank. “What kind of appointment did you have?”
“I need to go see my wife,” Blank said.
I looked at Blank in the rearview mirror. “A private appointment,” I said to Armin. “With his wife, if you really have to know.”
“Is your wife also dead?” Armin asked.
“No,” said Blank. “She’s still alive.”
I shook my head.
“But getting a bit long in the tooth, right?”
“Sixty-two now, soon,” said Blank, “On the eighth of March.”
The radio host announced a new song; Armin turned around and stared at the radio. “Karate Kid II,” he exclaimed. “The title track,” and turned it up louder. “What?” I asked. “The title song,” Armin said with excitement. “I can’t understand the lyrics. Can you translate it?”
“I can’t listen and translate at the same time.”
“Here we go,” Armin yelled. “Go ahead!”
The song began; it was accompanied by an orchestra.
“‘Tonight it’s very clear,’ he’s singing,” I translated. “‘As we’re both lying here,’ he’s singing now.”
“You don’t have to keep saying that he’s singing. I know that already,” Armin said.
“‘There’s so many things I want to say,’” I translated. “‘I will always love you. I will never leave you.’”
Armin nodded. He looked at me expectantly.
“‘Sometimes I just forget,’” I said, “‘say things I might regret. It breaks my heart to see you crying. I don’t wanna lose you. I could never make it alone.’ Give me the water.”
Armin handed me the bottle of water and hung on my every word.
“‘I am the man who will fight for your honor,’” I said. “‘I’ll be the hero you’re dreaming of. We’ll live forever, knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love. You keep me standing still.’”
“‘Keep me standing tall,’” Blank corrected behind me.
“‘You help me through it all,’” I said. “‘I’m always strong when you’re beside me.’”
“Aha,” Armin said.
“‘I have always needed you,’” I said. “‘I could never make it alone. I am the man who will fight for your honor, I’ll be the hero you’ve been dreaming of, we’ll live forever …’”
“You don’t have to keep repeating the chorus,” Armin said.
“‘We’ll live forever,’” I said, “‘knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love.’”
Blank had leaned forward and looked at me from the side.
“‘Just like a knight in shining armor, from a long time ago,’” I said very loudly, “‘I will … what? … I will save the day – or something like that – and take you to my castle far away. I am the man who will fight for your honor, I’ll be the hero that you’re dreaming of, we’ll live forever, forever, knowing together that we did it all, absolutely everything, for the glory of love, for the glory of love.’” The singer did not stop stressing that, “for the glory of love, we did it all, did it all for the glory of love,’” I said, and then I burst into tears.
Blank patted me on the shoulder. Armin looked at me with disappointment. “I thought it was about karate,” he said.
We stopped at a gas station. Armin went to the toilet. I was standing at a high table drinking coffee from the vending machine. Blank walked through the gas station and looked at the sale items, the bread rolls wrapped in plastic, energy drinks and yogurt, the magazines—women’s magazines and porn and motor sports—the stuffed animals with fabric hearts on their feet that said Mom, or I Love You.
When Armin returned, Blank said: “We should buy supplies.”
“Blank wants something to eat,” I said, although Blank never needed to eat anything. Armin was suddenly in a hurry. “Let’s go,” he said, and pushed us out of the gas station.
“Step on the gas,” he said when we got in the car. I drove off. Once we were on the highway Armin opened his bag; there were three yogurt drinks and three-wrapped sandwiches and several candy bars inside. “Where did you get all that?” I asked.
“What?” I asked and in shock gave it so much gas we were forced back in our seats. “Careful,” Blank cried, and clutched my head rest. “It’s only bread,” he said, “it wasn’t a bank robbery.”
“Why did you do that?” I asked. Armin bit into a chocolate bar.
“Just because,” he said, chewing.
I drove faster than I had ever driven in my life. “Give me one,” I said, reaching into Armin’s pocket without taking my eyes off the road, pulled out a packaged roll and tore the foil off with my teeth.
“You have a few screws loose,” I said with the foil between my teeth.
“Calm down,” Armin said.
I spit the foil into the footwell and bit into the bun.
“You can let up on the gas,” Blank said. “We’re not in a getaway car.”
“Sure,” I said.
We arrived at night. For the rest of the trip, Armin had repeated the plots from Ralph McQuincey’s karate movies. Armin had chosen the guesthouse De Vrolijke Herder. Everywhere in the narrow hallway and in the reception area, pinned up with colorful tacks, hung huge photos of sunrises and sunsets, swaying, tall grass, glittering snowflakes on branches and rainbows over seas, and on each of the images there was a curled sentence that presumably said something contemplative. Right next to the entrance hung a large mirror, and above it were the words: Here you see the person who is responsible for your life. I looked in the mirror. Blank was standing behind me. “That’s very kind of you,” I said. Blank laughed. “You, too.”
We had two single rooms. “Would you have an extra bed?” I asked the owner, who looked like Jacob’s ancient, transparent grandmother. “There is one already there,” she said. Armin grinned at me. “I thought of everything,” he said.
There was also a rainbow photo hanging in the room I shared with Blank. The bathroom was across the hall. The bed was short, the extra bed even shorter. “Take the regular bed,” I said, and Blank was too tired to say that it was uncomfortable for him and would prefer me to take the bed. “Thanks,” he said, and lay down. I brushed my teeth and lay down on the bed. “It’s fine to wake me,” Blank said, “if there’s anything.” And then we fell asleep.
At three o’clock in the morning I woke up. I turned on the bedside lamp. Blank was fast asleep, his feet in the black patent leather shoes hanging over the edge of the bed. The light in the windowless hallway was broken. It flickered on briefly in irregular intervals, and then it was pitch black. I remembered that there were five doors in the hallway, but I no longer knew which one was the door to the toilet. Suddenly I heard a suppressed cough at the end of the hallway.
“Is anyone there?” I asked.
“Yes,” whispered Armin and turned on his flashlight. “I’m here.” He was sitting in front of the last door, wearing nothing but striped pajama pants.
“What are you doing?”
“Come here,” Armin said. I went to him; he pulled me by the arm down to him. I sat down beside him. Armin put his arm around me, pointed at the door in front of us and smiled, as if we were sitting on a sofa watching his favorite show. “What?” I asked.
“Not so loud,” Armin whispered and waved his arms, “or you’ll wake him up.” Then he leaned back again and beamed at me.
“He’s in there,” he whispered.
Reprinted with permission from The Gentlemen’s Tailor
By Marianne Leky
Translated from the German by Eugene H. Hayworth
English translation copyright © 2013 Owl Canyon Press
Mariana Leky was born in Cologne in 1973 and now lives in Berlin. After an apprenticeship in the retail book trade, she studied German Language and Literature and Cultural Studies at Tübingen. She also studied Creative Writing and Cultural Journalism at the University of Hildesheim. Her short stories have won several awards, including the the Allegra Prize in 2000 and the Literature Prize of Lower Saxony. Her debut, a volume of short stories titled Liebesperlen, was published in 2001, and in 2004, she published her first novel Erste Hilfe.
Eugene H. Hayworth is the translator of several contemporary German novels. As the faculty director of Social Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, his research includes a focus on library instruction, collection development, and management in the areas of social sciences. His secondary area of interest is literature and literary criticism.