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Iris Hanika's novel "When Two Meet" - an excerpt


IN AUGUST, TIME COMES TO A HALT. The trees and bushes stand so self-confident in their deep green, as if they knew no other form than this. The days are bright and high, as if there were no darkness and the nights were only a short pause in the endlessness of being, in this eternity, in the bliss of summer. And human life, too, stands still. The bodies fall out of themselves and lie, dissolved, in the warm ponds of stalled time. Summer is a great pause in August, a door into paradise.

SUMMER HAD STARTED LATE. In May, in June, in July, for months everything had been possible: one time it seemed like late fall, another spring's approach, yet another nothing at all; the weather never corresponded to the date. Not until with August did it get hot, something no one complained about, for once. Contours dissolved in the heat, bodies had no boundaries anymore. Skin and air consisted of the same material; they drizzled into each other as if they were merely two different kinds of sand. And because interior and exterior could no longer be distinguished and all bodies flowed into each other, they were all bonded to each other and lived together in the world that, after all, belonged to them.

Inside, in the city, the streets were crowded in the late evening. Everywhere people sat in front of the empty cafés, from which music wafted and whose rooms presented all their beauty, now that their image was undisturbed by human bodies. Meanwhile, the bodies strolled past outside and presented all their beauty, as well. And if they had none to present, that didn't matter either. Where everything dissolved, not even the specifications for presentable corporeal beauty were met; and what was most astonishing about this was that no one complained about it. It was a sublime time. The days didn't want to end, and the nights were like happiness itself, simply because they were nights. And all people were brothers and sisters who recognized each other in their sameness and delighted in their differences. It was also the time when everyone incessantly thought about the possibilities of sexual commixture, because they constantly wanted to tear their clothes off anyway.

It was on such a tingly August night that his eyes came crawling up for the first time, running through her down into her heart and immediately on. That's how it always was later, as well: His eyes came crawling up from somewhere, across the table or from under the bedcovers or from the other side of the street. But usually they just crawled around in her brain. Then they came out of the salt dome of memory, which she had thought she had sealed with concrete, atom bomb-proof, and it was a big problem for her that she couldn't close his eyes, which instead immediately crawled up again when she closed her own, immediately sliding down into her heart and further on through her, caressing and dissolving her from the inside, as on this first evening in sublime August, in which she was already dissolved from the outside, anyway.

p. 15-21
SOME DAY HE'LL COME ALONG When she saw him for the first time the man I love, she was as if struck dumb. At the first moment, she thought he was an apparition and he'll be big and strong, because he looked exactly the man I love, like the man had always looked in her thoughts, the man she would one day love. And when he comes my way, I'll do my best to make him stay. He'll look at me and smile and I'll understand. In a little while, he'll take my hand, and, though it seems absurd, I know we both won't say a word. The only thing was: she had never thought about what should happen next. (We'll build a little home, just meant for two, from which I'll never roam, or what would you? And so all else above, I'm waiting for the man I love.)

Not that he was her type or that she had at least thought him especially good-looking; it hadn't been that way in the images in her brain, either. It was just that, whenever she thought of the man she would one day love, she always had this image before her mind's eye.

And now it had become flesh.

So now it was time.

Time for love to begin.

Actually, at this moment she thought less about love than about her image of love and that he looked like her image of this man with whom she would run through all the steps of love, although he wasn't the image of love in a conventional sense. Just her image of a man. The way I've so often seen him, that's how he stands here.

And because she already knew him, if only from the outside, but he was simultaneously completely unfamiliar, she stared rigidly and directly at him, not at all seductively or girlishly at any rate – it was more a doltish, stupid goggle-gaping, she staged a dumbbell ogle-gawking, uh oh, and kept on doing it. In the end it surely lasted only a few seconds, but internal time runs differently from external time, and when she saw him, time simply stopped and stood there, like he stood, in the middle of the room, maybe three yards away from her, quite calmly, directly across from her. He said nothing, he just looked at her and calmly let her look at him, as she let him look at her.

That was their first encounter.

Destiny had struck, and they accepted it.

What else could they do?

You can't fight your destiny. Or can you? Of course somehow you can. But not against your love destiny, you can't fight that, nope. And of course you don't want to. Or do you? No. No, no, no. Or do you? No. To that you say yes, I want it, I will, yes, I do.

But where destiny strikes, nothing else grows. If you are like your smile, seeing you again would be a wonder, walk with you a mile, even join you going under, even join you going under.

"You stood there like an apparition," she later told him. "When I came in, the O-Paradies was completely empty and completely quiet – well, relatively quiet – no music was playing, and then when I stood at the bar and had ordered my white wine spritzer and just by chance looked to the side, and there you were standing, staring at me as if at Bigfoot."

"As if at a dream spirit," he corrected.

"And then I didn't know what I should do," she said.

"But first you stared back at me," he said, "and I'll never forget how you stared at me. So aghast, somehow."

"But you gawked just as aghast."

"Well, because you… because you were so… Alas…"

Senta had spent the whole afternoon in the gallery with Lou Andreas-Salome's memoirs Looking Back and had become more and more confused by this endlessly billowing style that never gets to the point, this plethora of vagueness, this stylistically purest form of a woman's pretentious preciosity. The most detestable kind of woman, a disgrace to the whole sex, she thought, but it was merely envy, because Nietzsche had loved this woman and this woman had not requited this love. Such women are always loved by such men. If Nietzsche had loved her, Senta, then things would have turned out differently, probably even in the history of philosophy. At least she would have loved him back, of course, or at least tried to, and not destroyed him. In the photos included in the book she saw how Lou Andreas-Salome's husband had been transformed within four years from the man on his engagement photo with the beauty of an oriental prince and the ornamental eyes into a gaunt, depressive wreck with bags under his eyes and an abundance of white hairs in his beard. On one page of the book this enchantingly beautiful man, and when you turn the page, right on the other side, this almost unrecognizable ruin! Why do such men always love such women, she asked herself, who manifestly can do nothing but straightaway lay waste to them?

She had hated the book from the first paragraph on, because already it was like a blow to the head with a rubber hammer Our first experience, remarkably enough, is a loss. A moment ago we were everything, not yet separated off, some Being was inseparable from us – and then we were thrust into being born, became a remnant of it that forthwith must strive not to stumble into ever further decreases, must strive to assert itself against the counter-world rising up ever broader before us, a counter-world into which we fell from our all-fullness into an – initially thieving – emptiness, but she couldn't put it down, kept gobbling through it, page by page, feeling increasingly nauseous. Then came the story with Rilke. That's where it came the very least to the point. What did they actually have with each other? she asked herself; that is, she asked herself whether it had ever come to the ultimate in this relationship, or if they had also only billowed around at each other in it, celebrating their love in endless relationship-discourse. And that, to top it off, he had to be named Rainer! Perhaps that's why she had been unable to stop reading it, because she, too, was full with this name. With all Lou's invocations of Rainer she hoped for his answer, and since none came, the book made her feel ever more nauseous, and soon she felt as if she'd crammed six pounds of potato chips into her face; completely stuffed, but not satisfied. The reading made her weaker and weaker and more and more jealous, because this Rainer apparently answered the invocations for quite some time. It never came to the point, which made Senta especially nervous, and Lou, that ninny, invoked in the past, but however ridiculous it was, she seemed to know what she was doing better than Senta did, who also had done nothing for weeks except call on Rainer, always only in her thoughts of course. She didn't dare really call him up, since he no longer called her up and had only called her up a few times anyway.

In the end, tears came, this although for weeks she had been reading one book after the other, implacably, to finally be able to stop crying over Rainer. But then the chapter about Rainer ended with a poem, the kind every loving woman wished would be written for her, and every unloved woman even more, but the unhappily loving ones the most of all, and it was introduced with the most heartrending invocation of Rainer of all.

I always move toward you
with my entire motion
For who am I and who are you
if we don't understand each other

And then she couldn't continue, but wept without restraint. Over Rainer. For jealousy of Lou. Because of Nietzsche. Because of Friedrich Carl Andreas. Because he had been so beautiful, once. Because the world was so unjust. Because the men in the educated, middle-class circles to which she aspired always fell in love with these ninnies who always smiled so tormentedly and knowledgably when the names of important intellectuals/poets/artists/directors were spoken, and who intoned all their few sentences as if they were just now uttering something especially surprisingly new.
(– O Rainer, this moment is presence for me evermore –)

Always this wafting and this ado and "What does woman want?" and no one knows.

But did she know, herself? What she wanted, really wanted – did she know?

Well, what does it matter.

And she also cried because not only didn't Rainer call up anymore, he also could not be counted among the men who would have been worthy of her love anyway. Namely, she actually thought him a bit stupid. Actually, even quite stupid, but only in her lucid moments. That's why she wept twice as much, as soon as such a lucid moment was over. Not only in love unrequitedly, but also with someone who couldn't appreciate her love properly, even if he had wanted to!

Normally she didn't leave the building when she cried. But this evening she thought she would go crazy if she didn't leave her apartment, because she was weeping not only over Rainer, but also in rage at Lou. But to drown in tears at home and meanwhile abandon the field to the bimbos out there without a struggle – well, she still had some pride!

So she washed her face with plenty of cold water to eliminate the devastating effects of her crying. Cold water alone doesn't do the trick, so she spread Chanel Blanc Universel, which rightly bears the generic name Embelliseur de teint, all over her weepy mug after first tenderly patting Clarins Gel Contour des Yeux Anti-Poches Anti-Cernes into the swollen pouches below her eyes. Then she used eyeshadow, painted her lips red, and powdered them carefully, like the rest of her face and her throat and decollete. She had already thoroughly brushed and pinned up her hair. Finally she showered in Guerlain Champs-Elysées (only an eau de toilette, so there was no harm in using a bit more of it). Then she put on her prettiest blouse and the beautiful skirt and also the lovely shoes.

She had done herself up as if for a ball, and in this packaging she went to the O-Paradies, a popular meeting place for lesbians and gays on Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg 36 district.

I'D NEED ARMS THIRTY YARDS LONG to grasp the object of my yearning, because it's always too far away, and I can't see it well, either. It is always thirty yards away from me, the object of my yearning, and I can't say at all what it is; I only know that I have never come close to it. I only know this much: The object of my yearning is more beautiful, purer, more natural than anything I know, and it is so perfect that it also permits imperfection, acknowledging me in my particularity, just as I am. Thirty yards away from me.


Translation: Mitch Cohen
Copyright Droschl Verlag

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