Missing Pieces (Fehlende Teile), by Birgit Vanderbeke

Excerpt, translated by Adrian Turtschi, Sept. 2000.

Irresistible sometimes: the urge and the longing to be alone. And then Lila goes for a walk alone. It doesn't happen very often, not so often as she would want to, but occasionally, it has happened. Not particularly does Lila like to go for a walk in the forest; in the forest, it is as confined as it is in life, and never does she take the dog with her--the dog is a guide-dog, and so it belongs to her husband. But she likes to walk, although rarely enough, along the water. Wherever there is a water, Lila mentions that she would like to walk alone along the water, and it happens that she ends up doing it. Anyhow, Lila often mentions that she would really like to be alone more often, to be alone and to walk alone; if you hear Lila like this, that to be alone is the peak of Lila-pleasure, you have to wonder that she still does it quite rarely; but occasionally it has happened, and then she walks along the water, for example. First she looks reflectingly onto the water, and thinks that the water is a water, then; sometimes a gray water, namely, most often; at different times it is brown, because water is brown very often; or green-like, because trees stand about the banks or a meadow with bushes grows on the banks; and sometimes it is blue, and then Lila sees blue water; regularly, then, the sky over the blue water is also blue. Lila has also seen black water, too, two times at night; when she walked along the river at night, the sky was black, and the water was black as well. One time there was a moon, and one time there was no moon, at night, over the black water. The one time, when there was a moon, and some stars were there as well, way in the back the black water glowed, and more in front there was more or less white foam on the water, because it was windy and the water moved in black waves by the wind or on its own in the direction of the land, and Lila is still not sure now if it was a black or a very dark blue water--Lila has often heard that in this case the water were called velvet blue, and this is all the same to her, if not even a cause to be annoyed about; if Lila goes for a walk alone she doesn't need false comparisons, because the water doesn't tell her anything, not how it is or how it wants to be. In those moments, she doesn't have the urge to say velvet, silk, satin, or anything else to this water, after a while she stops to say water to the water, and when she once took a walk in the night, and the moon wasn't there, the water was indeed black without a white foam on the black water. There also wasn't a wind. At one time, when she took a walk along the river alone, Lila saw red water; because the water was all red, Lila saw red water, it was on a river, actually on a river mouth, which was a delta, the sky on the delta was blue; there was a yellow beach, and rice grew behind the beach, the rice plantations were green, so according to Lila's experience the water shouldn't have been red, not the water of the river, because according to Lila's experience, river waters are brown, nor the water of the ocean, in which the river flew into; even though it can't be seen in a delta of a river mouth where the river water ends and the ocean water begins, because of the blue sky the water, where it certainly wasn't river water but already ocean water, shouldn't have been red but should have been blue. Lila has later heard that the water gets so red because of red algae. She has further heard that in river deltas dead parts of poultry and hog corpses are swimming and floating through the water, because up on the banks of the river all the way into the mountains poultry and hog farmers are throwing the dead animals who perished by accident before they were slaughtered into the water from the river banks, either in one part or in many single parts. She knew that the red water did not necessarily have a connection with chicken or pig corpses--Lila doesn't need false comparisons--red water, so she has heard, is caused by the chemicals that are also in the water, and Lila doesn't believe that large enough amounts of chemicals are contained in the one part or many single parts of animal corpses to color the ocean red, but, even though she didn't mean to, she did connect the two. She still knows then when she first saw the red water she thought that water is not supposed to be red according to its nature, then it occurred to her that some things, the way one sees and knows them, are not according to their nature, and Lila started to think when she remembered that, and in the end she thought that this can have advantages, and that it can have disadvantages. To the red water, though, she didn't get close. She also doesn't get close to brown waters, but she does get very close to black, gray, blue, and green water, often she goes into the water without a bathing-cap with her black hair. When Lila takes a walk along the river she usually takes off her shoes and stockings and gets her feet wet. Only in winter does she keep on her shoes and stockings. She says that it feels good to walk barefoot into the water and along the water, and when you listen to her you have to think that this is the most wonderful thing to Lila, and you have to wonder why she doesn't do it more often but quite rarely. Never does she take a walk along the river to look for shells in a bathing suit, but always alone, only when it's out of swimming season, and the water and the piece of land on the banks of the water are fairly empty, namely empty of people.

The few people she encounters she considers weirdoes. What she considers herself is less clear to her. Mainly, though, it isn't important. On the one hand, she must be a weirdo herself if the few people she encounters on the water while she is taking a walk along the water should indeed be weirdoes. On the other hand, she isn't a weirdo. Possibly she is something special, or she isn't, but she certainly isn't a weirdo. Once she even talked to herself, and she caught herself saying loudly that it should indeed still be possible to take a walk, and even though nobody had said that she shouldn't take a walk, she said that in a very defiant way, as though somebody did in fact prohibit her from taking a walk, being alone, or taking a walk alone, and it was then that she noticed that she herself and nobody else considered the people on the water to be weird, and that, therefore, she had to consider herself to be weird, too; the defiance in which she said, in an undertone, that it should indeed still be possible to take a walk, first amused her, but then she suspected that she might be, in the end, weird herself if she said such things along the river in an undertone and in such a defiant way; after a while she became totally meditative negotiating her weirdness, and whenever anybody came towards her she always started negotiating anew, at some point nobody came towards her along the water, and the negotiating stopped, because it wasn't that important any more, and nothing was important any longer.

Simply everything stopped then, anyway. Lila takes a walk along the river in order for everything to stop, and once everything has stopped, everything is only what it is, it doesn't say anything, and it doesn't talk, and Lila doesn't need to say anything or talk as well; once she stops talking to herself and negotiating, not even does she have to say water to the water, after having walked for a while, because the water really doesn't care how Lila calls it, and the beach doesn't care either. Sometimes there are also sea-gulls, and here and there a fish that lies about dead. If everything is what it is, and if there's a fish lying about dead, it can happen that Lila is afraid. She gets a little sick because she always gets sick with dead fish and birds, and after being sick for a while she starts to be afraid. Dead fish look at you in a funny way, as do dead birds; funny may not be the correct word for the way dead fish and birds are looking, but Lila is very afraid--that's why she doesn't remember the right word--the only thing that comes into her mind is this false comparison, because she is so afraid. Lila thinks it very funny the way dead fish and birds look at her, so funny she could vomit, more precisely, so funny as to be afraid, so funny as to run away. As soon as Lila sees a dead fish lying in the water she wants to run away, but then she ends up not running away, because one doesn't have to run away from dead fish and birds--one can't run away. Instead, she continues to walk, calmly, and starts to think anew; tentatively she intensely thinks about doing her taxes, about the flight to Bremen; she thinks if she should fly on the seventeenth, or better a little earlier; maybe better a little earlier, but maybe the seventeenth will be OK, that's what her head thinks, but in spite of this the dead fish doesn't disappear from her eyes, nor the dead bird; although she already moved on and doesn't see the dead fish any more, and the fish, in any event, can't see her any more, because it is dead, she still sees it, and what is even worse, it sees her, namely it looks at her in a funny way. Lila looks back and sees that everything is the way it is, the water is here as water, and mostly brown or gray or blue, the pebbles are here as pebbles or the sandy beach as a sandy beach, grass sometimes grows on the beach, and that grass is exactly what it is, namely grass, and nothing else, and everything is exactly what it is, only with a dead fish or bird in front. Doing her taxes doesn't help, the flight to Bremen helps even less, particularly because when thinking about flights Lila thinks airplanes, and thinking airplanes, she thinks dead birds--she can't help it, it just happens, automatically. It is at these moments that Lila is always very alone at the water, as if all weirdoes of the world were removed from the world and have disappeared; not a single weirdo is around, nobody sees Lila but the dead fish, nobody hears her, and nobody distracts her. Besides, the dead fish is what it is, too, simply a dead fish, even though, in such moments, Lila is fleetingly thinking about a soul doctor whom she has gotten to know a little while ago in Zurich, or wherever this was, a worldwide expert and authority, this doctor, and for a moment she is distracted because she has to think if it was in Zurich or where in the world it was, so the fish is a fish, and Lila dismisses the doctoral authority, as authorities and soul doctors are responsible exclusively for such fish and birds that are not real fish and birds, but dead and alive only in imagination. Lila's dead fish is not imagined. Lila sees herself dragging the Zurich authority and expert on his sleeve along the beach to the spot with the dead fish: see for yourself, here lies the fish and it is real, naturally already somewhat rotten since last week, and if the water and the sea-gulls have not taken and eaten it, it still is here, yes, indeed it is; Lila notices how the authority becomes embarrassed and clears his throat, and after clearing his throat has to admit the fish really is real, and equally real it really is dead, and that it looks at them in a funny way. Don't you think it looks at you in a funny way? Lila would ask the soul doctor, and the soul doctor would think so as well and have to admit to it; out of decency and out of embarrassment, he would of course pay the flight from Zurich here to the beach out of his own pocket, and of course the whole session would be free of charge, this session, which wouldn't have been a session at all, but a walk along the beach to the spot with the dead fish; the soul doctor would have to apologize verbosely that he confused the dead fish with an imagined vision of a fish, and nothing would be won or solved with that, the fish would remain a fish, and in front of Lila's eyes, exactly like the dead bird that once lay in front of her car, and the other bird that was first still alive when it flew through the window into the room, and then it flew constantly against the walls, against all four walls, just not out of the window again; such a stupid bird, it didn't find the window again. Lila, in the room, couldn't get herself to run away, even though she felt very sick, so sick she could have run away. The bird was a young blackbird, and it was at least as afraid as she was from having to die and from the walls, out of fear it dropped bird shit all over the place, and it squeaked, and finally it had to die; it fell directly from the wall to the floor, such a stupid bird, for all that, not too far away from the window; once on the floor, it tried to fly a little bit with its wings, then it twitched its wings a little bit, then it twitched not its wings but its breast, for a little while, and then it didn't twitch at all any more, and Lila had a dead bird in her room. As she is continuing her walk along the water she suddenly sees all dead fish and birds at once in front of her and on her, glued on her own eyes, glued on the retina, and impossible to get rid of, and all of them look at her in such a funny way.

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Thanks to Matt Spieker for improving the overall quality of this text.

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Adrian Turtschi, Feb. 2001