I can’t write in summer, that’s what I always tell myself, I need naked trees around me and days shorter than nights. So I arrived at Civitella in June with no set agenda, except for finishing the editing of my second novel. But then, as I stayed in this incredible landscape, surrounded by great people, enjoying our conversations, while catching fireflies, watching movies, going on field trips, sharing the rooster, I wrote. Back in Vienna I realized it was more than ever before in summer, including a lot of notes for my next novel. I am deeply grateful and I can’t wait for fall to arrive.
I amuse myself as I recuperate; I will continue to amuse myself, until they say: Elfriede, now your happiness is back. Walter will take the evening shifts, when the days are bad. Walter will stay calm when Erwin reads from the newspaper, they will silently drink their beers at the bar, only once in a while interrupted by Elisabeth, who will sigh when there is a good song on the radio. A good song, she says, and moves her index finger along her glass, shatters my heart asunder. Your splintered heart, Joachim then says, and Erwin looks up from the newspaper before he grips his golden necklace and lets it fall upon his chest, the sign that he wants silence.
Elfriede, Walter screams now, look, there is a swan swimming. Walter stands too close to the water, he always tends to step too close to the edge, it is dangerous there. Walter, I say, this is no swan, this is a plastic bag, come over to me, but he doesn’t hear me, he moves on, whatever, let him do it, if he thinks it is better there.
What Walter would say: It is you who stepped too close to the edge, you—he would then put his hand behind my neck and immediately draw it back, because he knows that I don’t like that. Joachim would nod when Walter leans his hand on the bar. I know all your ticks, and I know when they occur. Elisabeth’s glass-rim-finger, Erwin’s golden necklace grip, Joachim’s neck nod. I know your signs and your phrases.
An excursion gives the opportunity to recharge your batteries, Walter says, as we packed the suitcase, you like Italy, don’t you, that’s what you always say, anyway we wouldn’t miss anything here. We locked the door of our apartment, we turned the key twice. At least twice, I heard Erwin whispering, in times like these, but he wasn’t standing behind us and it wasn’t the glass door at 2 am. Our glass door, which we open to head to our happy spots at the bar, Erwin had said, when Walter suggested to replace it with a new one, our door should stay as it is.
The edge, I knew it. Now the guard comes and indicates to Walter to walk more in the middle and Walter takes one step back, before he photographs the guard, how she is pointing in his direction and now she knits her brows, she is frowning, and it looks as if the guard doesn’t want to be in any of Walter’s pictures, which he will show to our customers when we’re back home.
What does home mean? A room full of smoke and photos on the wall, from days which were lighthearted. It is there, where the blast furnace rises into the sky, where on winter days we sweep from our cars industrial snow, which is created through emissions of water vapour, where pig heads lie in front of mosques and refugee centers burn, even before they are opened. At home it is particularly beautiful, Walter says every time someone speaks about it.
Walter waves, he holds the camera in front of his head, I don’t look at him, I look left, where the mountains grow out of the water and almost look like the ones in our country. He who stays home does not escape his world, Walter whispered as we started the car, this is what you usually say. I shook my head. They will come back, the others, they will forget all about it. I shook my head. You crossed the line, that’s not the way to talk to your customers, Walter whispered, then he asked a bit louder: Did you pack the sausages? No trip without sausage. Yes, no worries, we have it in the trunk.
On days when the car is parked in front of the glass door, Erwin knocks on the trunk before he stumbles home. On days when he is angry, Erwin beats the top of the bar with his fist before he grabs again at his golden necklace. We need happy people in our country, Joachim had said before, I don’t remember why. Elisabeth moved her index finger along the rim of the glass, our country she repeated. I don’t want any fence around our country, I said into the silence, I really don’t want that, and Erwin looked up from his newspaper and then—is it Walter who is putting his feet into the water?
On this day, as Erwin became particularly angry, he smashed the glass door. Joachim and Elisabeth watched silently, they didn’t come back the next day and also not the day after. Good-bye, Joachim had said on parting, we’ve been here too long.
It is Walter who is putting his feet into the water, please stay where you are. Walter, you know, I want to say, it is basically like that: When you walk with thousands of people on water, you quickly forget that underneath you there is no room to breathe.