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Kathrin Schmidt's novel "You're not going to die" - an excerpt


There's a clattering noise all around her. When her sister married, their mother put the silver cutlery in a metal dish, bedded on aluminium foil, and then covered it with hot salty water. After a while the clean cutlery was taken out of the dish and dried. It had clattered in exactly the same way. So who's getting married? She tries to open her eyes. No chance. She doesn't try anything else. She's not the demanding sort. But she can clearly hear her mother's voice. Ah, so it is the cutlery! What's her mother saying?

Her right hand's much colder than her left, though, she says, and her right foot's the same.

Why's her mother got a cold right hand, she wonders. She can't help smiling at the thought of her checking the temperature of her feet.

She's laughing! says her mother.

It's a grimace, that's all.

Was that her father talking? No doubt about it: that was her father's voice! She really does want to open her eyes now. What on earth is she doing in her parents' kitchen, unable to open her eyes, her ears filled with the sound of clattering cutlery, and with people checking the temperature of their hands and feet?

* * *

Oh, where have you just come from? From London?

She said this to her daughter, in English. Or did she? She can open one eye, and does so. The girl is fourteen and left for England today on a language-study trip. Why has she come back again? She's bawling her head off, goodness knows why. That's exactly why she wanted to speak English to her: to cheer her up. Her own cheery manner seems to make no difference, though. The girl's upset. But why? Who can she ask? She looks around. Yes! That's her husband standing next to her daughter. My husband! she says, again in English. Surely that will make them laugh...

No response.

At least there's a smile on the man's face. But the more she looks at him, the stranger his smile becomes. It's suspended between his cheekbones like a pickled gherkin.

Pickled gherkin, she blurts out in English.

Do they actually have such a thing in England?

* * *

... born 3rd December 1972; she lives in Hückelhoven...

Hold on! That's not her! Why can't she shout that as loud as she'd like to? That shouldn't be difficult, for God's sake!

Just calm down, will you! We'll be with you in a moment!

Who said that? Was it that young man there? She thinks she can open both eyes at once. It's a bit difficult though: something seems to be weighing her eyelids down. The young man is smiling, but that doesn't reassure her very much.

That's not her! She's fourteen years older than that, and she doesn't live in Hückelhoven!

I don't... I don't..., she mumbles in English.

Why can't she get any more out than that? The young man is now telling the other men in white coats that it almost sounds as if she's been trying to speak English since she started coming to. The men laugh. She looks around for a woman. There's one standing behind the men, but she seems to be busy with something or other.

One of the men leans over her.

Can you hear me?

She's not going to tell him whether she can hear him. He can bellow as much as he likes.

She closes her eyes.

* * *

She knows that voice. It's Inga. She seems to have brought someone with her. Do come in! says a bass voice, but then there's the sound of something or someone falling, followed by gloating laughter. Why on earth can't she open her eyes?! She must try to work out what's happened. Her friend Inga came to visit her, she was invited in, but there must be a deep pit just inside the door and they fell into it. She starts getting agitated. Is she really flat on her back? If so, why? She makes a vain attempt to lift her arms, her legs, her head. This makes her even more anxious, she notices. What's happened to her friend? She heard her voice so clearly, after all. Ah, that's her again, she's obviously getting into a real state. Can't have been easy to climb out of the pit, can it? Do come in! says the bass.

She does feel puzzled after a while, though: where is Inga, for heaven's sake? Surely she can't have fallen back down into the pit?

* * *

She's flying through the air, like Little Häwelmann in the fairy tale! She's Little Häwel-woman. It's so lovely. She could carry on like this for ever. The light's dazzling her, that's all. She should have known the moon's as bright as that when seen close-up. But she'd never given it a thought before.

She's flying.

She's flying!

Once again she can only open one eye. What luck: a woman! She's smiling and seems to be flying along beside her, but her body's upright, unlike her own. She'd like to tell her to lie back as well: it's such a lovely way to fly along. She's holding something in her mouth. She can't close her mouth at all. She'd like to ask the woman what it is that she's gripping in her mouth, but the woman takes hold of her arm and connects it to a tube. To a whole system? A system that has taken control of her? God help us, such terrible fear! If only she could resist — but her eye falls shut again.

* * *

The top of her skull is being taken off. A robot is carefully removing a blood-red disc of flesh. Something has to go in its place. The robot is accordingly going to insert a fabulously beautiful disc of light blue stone. Oh, what is the name of that sort of stone? She can't remember. Her daughter has a stone like that, but she called it a fake because it had been dyed. Ah, this one must be something else then. The robot's not going to stuff a fake into her skull, is he! Once the stone disc is in, everything that had previously been unpleasantly bright turns darker again. Cosy twilight. Above her she can just see a long, thin plastic tube swaying about. Where does it go to and where does it come from? What a pity she can't move her head: she simply can't follow the tube. A dark, brownish-red liquid is trickling through it, drop by tumbling drop.

* * *

A loud-mouthed young woman has been busying herself around her for quite a while. She never stops talking. Who on earth is she talking to all the time? Is there someone else here as well? Ah, of course, she can't turn her head, can she... Now she really must open her eyes, though: something's changing, she's being lifted, raised, sat up. She feels sick. She must have eaten something really peculiar.

The woman's torrent of words gets closer and closer.

... Can you hear me, Helene? Fair enough, hard to say anything, eh? Anyway, we're soon going to have to start hoiking you upright quite a lot. It's our first try today, did you get that? Can you hear me? I think she can hear me...

Was that addressed to her? She doesn't know. She wants to sleep. She's done for.

Curiously enough, she does believe that her name is Helene.

* * *

What's that man holding in his hand? Looks like her pacemaker. Sure enough, he's dangling her pacemaker just in front of her face, and telling her that they've finally found it and taken it out. Why on earth have they removed her pacemaker? She can't get the question out. The man was laughing up his sleeve, laughing at her expense, he had her in his hands, her very heartbeat. She must fight back, she simply mustn't go to sleep. No doubt the heating's kept on at night; yes, it was so hot last night that she thought the place was on fire. No doubt they'd removed her pacemaker because she was the only one to have survived and this had surprised them!

The heart of someone with a pacemaker goes on beating even when the rest of their body is dead. They're all looking at you with such friendly smiles on their faces, but they're a bunch of murderers, they're out to kill you like they've killed all the others, she really must tell her husband. Surely he'll get here before nightfall? And where is she, anyway? She's kept her eyes open for a really long time now, but she simply can't make out where she is.

* * *

There are her parents again! She'd like to sit up and and ask them who got married. Mum, why's your right hand cold? She can't manage it: she can't sit up, can't voice any questions.

Pull yourself together.

Close your mouth tight. Open your eyes.

It really is her parents! Her father looks just like he did that time her sister went down Geissenberg Mountain on a scooter. How long ago was that? She starts working it out. Are we in 2002 now? Her sister was born in 1961 and she was about six at the time of her scooter escapade. 1967, then. So that's thirty five years. That long! Why did she particularly notice the way her father looked? Don't be sad, Daddy!, she'd whispered, and he'd given her a squeeze and then sobbed with joy when the doctor said we could take her sister back home with us. No, they didn't want to keep her in hospital.

In hospital? This place she's in now, surely that could be a ...

She's interrupted by her mother, who's asking the woman standing next to her when she'd be able to start eating again. Typical! Her mother's always going on about eating. She's not the slightest bit hungry, though!

It'll be a while yet, the woman says. She'll be fed by tube for the time being, do you see?

Ah, so it's a feeding tube! She shuts her eyes, relieved.

* * *

One young man on her left, another on her right. They're looking at her; she thinks she's seen them before, but she doesn't want to look straight at them.
Well okay, but she would actually like to know who they are. They're smiling and quietly talking to each other over her head. She ponders for a moment. She'd like to ask the one standing on her left to move the –– down a bit so it's more in the small of her back, but she can't remember the bloody word for it, what's it called, for God's' sake? She signals to them, both of them, that she'd like them to move the –– down a bit. They don't seem to understand her.

But then how did she signal to them? With her hands? Her left hand's immobile, there's a tube sticking out of it. Is she perhaps still connected up to a control system of some sort, is she perhaps still completely under its sway? She'd like to convey her fear with her right hand, but it just lies there and won't move. Strange. Why can't she move her hand? They're no doubt determining her every movement through that control system of theirs.

And the two young men? Are they part of the system? She takes a closer look at them. What a relief: she does know them! They're her sons. It's true she can't remember their names, but so what. She thinks she's laughing. Her sons! Why didn't she look at them both a bit sooner? Her pleasure would have lasted that much longer! One of them's a student. But where? Weimar, that's it. Oboe. Yes, oboe. Her oboeist son shoves a CD in front of her face, burnt it himself, there's something written on it but she can't make it out. He pushes the CD into a little gadget and puts earphones in her ear. Ah, what a blessing, such beautiful music. Oboe. She can't help thinking that she must look as happy as Larry.

So now she's thinking about what she looks like. What does she look like? She doesn't know any more, she hasn't got a picture of herself. These people have stolen it from her! She's in the ante-chamber to hell, and hell itself comes at night, when it's dark. Somehow, though, her sons must know that: they mustn't leave her here, they mustn't just go away again. Do you hear me? Hello, where are you both? She looks up, exhausted. The boys have gone. They haven't the least inkling of the danger she's in.

* * *

A blonde-haired woman comes in and busies herself with some apparatus to the side of her. She tries to turn her head just a little to the right. The blonde glances at her crossly, but she manages it and sees a whole stack of monitors piled on top of one another. The blonde has a bag of mud-coloured goo in her hand. She hangs the goo on a hook and attaches a tube to it. Lunchtime, she says, and laughs.

* * *

No, she doesn't like the blonde. The blonde doesn't like her. She likes the young woman who never stops talking. She's got dark hair. When she comes, her fear disappears. It reappears when the blonde comes in. It comes, it goes. There's a man as well, in between the blonde and the woman with dark hair. He's just wiped her shit away. So embarrassing. She simply doesn't know what's wrong down there. What is wrong down there, for heaven's sake?! Ah, here's the man again. He's pushing the bed cover aside and pulling her legs apart. Stop it, you're not to do that! Stop it! But he's smiling, just like they all do here, these criminals. Is he washing her? He is washing her. It's very pleasant, to tell the truth; she could stop resisting it. He hasn't even noticed she's resisting, has he? So she lets herself be washed. She doesn't really want to know why they won't let her do it herself. No doubt they want nice clean corpses in the morning — not blood- and shit-encrusted scarecrows like her. Because she is bleeding. Her nappy things were dripping with blood. It doesn't hurt, though. The fact that she's bleeding won't matter all that much. Come to think of it, what's the date? No idea. Her daughter went off on a language-study trip a short while ago, didn't she? That was on the tenth of July. But she came back the same day! The more she thinks about it, the less clear it seems to be. Is it the fifteenth or the sixteenth of July today? Probably. More or less.

Could it be her period? She can't work it out. When was her last period? She can remember a look on her father's face from thirty five years ago, but she doesn't know when she had her last period.

The man's just putting a fresh nappy thing on her.

She wants to sleep.

* * *

Once again, a great din throughout the night, chaos everywhere, beds creaking, trolleys toing and froing, they presumably haven't coped with all the corpses they had to cart off. Because she realises now what they do with people. They extract all their moisture by using fantastic heat and pumping electricity through their bodies, then all that's left is a dried-out, wrinkled little lump of matter. She'd seen lumps like that once, there was a wall somewhere that had been built out of them. Perhaps they even build houses out of them! Has she bowed to her fate? She was thoroughly on edge when she was in the drying-out machine herself. The man in charge said she was somehow too fat for it and it wasn't going to work, so he turned it off and brought her back.

* * *

Although she's full of fear, it's not making her miserable. She's surprised at this. That's just the way things are: shortly before your end you become aware of pretty well everything... There are flickers of resistance, but they grow weaker and weaker. Thus she'd entertained some hope the previous night of escaping from this place. The young arse-wiper had sat down by her side. Somehow he had understood that she didn't want to die. He let her know that he would hide her in a store room sometime during the night and take her with him when he left at the end of his shift in the morning. She was over the moon.
Needless to say, nothing came of it. Instead, he came in the next morning and wished her goodbye. Only with the merest flicker of an eye did he convey to her that his plan had failed.

But so what! After all, he can't risk his job and his neck trying to get her out of here.

* * *

She gets agitated whenever the blonde woman comes in. The blonde's always fiddling around with the monitors and is doubtless one of the people controlling her through that remote system of theirs. She falls asleep whenever the blonde woman hangs those bags on the hook above her head. She falls asleep even though she doesn't want to. The woman hangs up countless different bags, one after the other.

* * *

Sometimes when she's awake the gaggle of men turn up again. As ever, at least one of them asks her whether she can hear him; as ever, she stubbornly disdains to reply. Fact is, she wasn't born in 1972 and she doesn't live in Hückelhoven. If they hadn't mixed her up with someone else she might have stood a chance of getting out of here. There's no point going to all the trouble of opening her mouth: they wouldn't believe her anyway.

* * *


She knows the word, of course she does. But what does it mean?! Why can't she remember? She knows it from somewhere, but where exactly? When the man in the white coat mentioned the word it immediately rang a bell. 'A phase here': she'd like to say it out loud. That could be what it means. The phase when night begins. No doubt they'll be squashed together again and arranged into spirals once they've rendered them unconscious with their bags of fluid. They can look in through the panes of glass and see who has died. It doesn't really bother her any more. If she were to die tonight that would be fine, she wouldn't resist. And what would be the point? After all, she has rumbled their most secret of secrets: they turn people into little lumps of matter and deposit them across the countryside.

The night phase, then.

She wishes the world goodbye. Her time has come.

* * *

Well, well: is she really still alive!?

It's dark. In summer it's only dark during the night, not in the morning or the evening. So it's still night-time. Why isn't she in the big spiral with the others? Perhaps she has defied expectations once again and been the only one to survive? If their plan was put into action at nightfall, perhaps it was all over within a couple of hours, and then they brought her back?

There's an unbearable itch on her head, she wants to scratch it. Does her right hand also want to scratch it? No, it does not. It lies there on the bed cover as if totally numbed. So she has to try it with her left hand instead. Against all the odds she yanks it up and, hey presto, she can touch her hair. But at the point where it itches there isn't any hair. What's happened to her hair?! So that's why they've pinched her photo of herself! She'll get it back, oh yes she will! Straining every sinew she starts to draw her fingers across her scalp. She doesn't get very far. Tiny metal tank traps are embedded in her skull. She tries to pull a couple of them out. Suddenly she can feel wetness on her fingers. She tastes it. That's blood! What do these people think they're doing, ramming tank traps into my skull? She starts screaming and writhing about in her bed — and a bed it undoubtedly is.

Someone's coming. The blonde woman? It's her! Her, on top of everything else! She looks down at her with a surly look on her face.

I don't believe it! Was that really necessary? Now I've got to wash you and change you all over again! As a punishment I'm going to immobilise you and take your bed cover away. Otherwise, who knows what tricks you'll get up to!

She moans away, meanwhile cleaning her up, replacing the tank traps, getting the blood out of her finger nails. Once she's finished, she ties her left arm and left leg to the side of the bed with a length of white material. The bed seems round to her.

* * *

When she wakes up she's shivering, really shivering. It's cold in here. That woman really has taken her bed cover away. She's now busy reporting the situation to another woman who is likewise wearing a white coat. They're standing some way away from her bed.

Frau Yvonne Kearing
, the blonde woman says. Collapsed lung following a road accident. There they go again! They're still mixing her up with other people. Yvonne Kearing had a good night's sleep, so the blonde woman tells her colleague.

Needless to say she doesn't even look at her while she's spouting such lies.

Or could she be talking about somebody else? Ever so slowly, she tries to follow her gaze. Her eyes light on another bed, on which there's another woman. She appears to be unconscious. She has tubes in her mouth and nose, tubes attached to her arm and groin.
Where has she suddenly come from?! Perhaps she isn't the only person to have survived the night?

Questions and more questions.

* * *

Questions and more questions. So long as she's awake her head never stops buzzing. She seems to be awake for longer now as well. Even more scope for her head to buzz.

Yvonne Kearing! Born 1972, lives in Hückelhoven! So that's it! She laughs out loud, thrilled that she's worked it out. She wants to tell the dark-haired woman. She's doing gymnastics with Yvonne Kearing. But she's unconscious for heaven's sake! Since when could you do gymnastics with people who are unconscious? What a nuisance she can't say anything! Come to that, why can't she say anything? The things she wants to say take shape in her head, but they won't come out of her mouth. She raises her left hand, plus tube, to her mouth, then to her nose. What?! So she has the same kind of tubes there as Yvonne Kearing? Right, that does it! She gives a determined pull. It doesn't hurt. She pulls and pulls. The dark-haired woman lets out a yell and comes to her bed. With a look of dismay on her face she asks her whether she hadn't liked the taste.

Didn't you like the taste?

But there's a trace of a smile there as well.

* * *

There's a knock on the door.

Your husband's here, Frau Wesendahl.

Wesendahl ... Her husband's here. Is he called Wesendahl as well? Before she can ponder this any further her husband steps over to the wash basin. He takes a strip of sticking plaster off and removes bandaging from his right eye. Oh dear, what's happened to him? She'd like to ask him, she really would. He's crying as he approaches her bed. Has she given birth perhaps? The last time she saw him cry was when her youngest daughter was born. That was five years ago, and he stood by her bed exactly as he's doing now. Just to be sure, she glanced down to see if she had a baby at her breast.


Fine; she just wanted to be sure.

Has he got something wrong with his eyes? That would explain the tears.

Why hasn't she ever once thought of her five-year-old daughter throughout the whole time she's been here? And she's got another one as well! And another! Five, fourteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty three — yes, she really does have five children! Amazing, the things that suddenly come to mind.


Translation: John Reddick
Copyright Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag
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