I know nothing about the beginning and even less about the end.
Image from Flickr via Tobi
Neither in Schleiz, nor Anywhere Else in the World
A man who prefers anonymity, a certain X—his name is irrelevant—arrives one day, one morning, one afternoon… It’s all the same in a city whose name we won’t disclose. He does nothing, which is what we wanted to report, since what he does do is so insignificant that that’s the only significant thing to say about it. He doesn’t wear a dark hat, has no umbrella or suitcase. He doesn’t have a formal suit or winter coat. His voice cannot be heard. He asks nothing and answers nothing. The only sound he makes is a short, choked cry. His head and face aren’t entirely hairy, but they’re not entirely bare, either. He walks with such infuriating slowness that you can hardly call this movement walking, so we won’t. If he contemplates something it is without feeling; if he touches something it is without reason. I think he is a man without purpose. More often than not he sits curled up, wrapping himself in his arms with his head buried between his knees, and sleeps—or appears to be sleeping. From time to time he breaks his silence with a shout that is utterly meaningless and expresses neither sentiment, nor need. He doesn’t know fear, but he also lacks courage; he doesn’t seem to have any friends, but also seems impervious to sadness. I was never able to sense any feeling of contentment in him. Sometimes, when called by name, he’ll turn his head. Usually he doesn’t look around, but instead sits in the midst of the world like a stone. But Collunder’s assumption—that he lacks any awareness of his surroundings and his immediate situation, that he knows neither love, nor hate, has neither friend, nor foe—is false. And one day I’ll prove it.
One Sunday, or Monday, or whenever—on a day—this man shows up at my office, or somewhere else. He shows up without a sound and without any discernible movement, puts one foot in front of the other until he reaches me. Then he lifts his hand; he lifts his hand with astonishing quietness and thoughtfulness, and extends it to me. At this point we’d perhaps expect a word, a remark, a message, and we’re right to do so. This meeting, at this extraordinarily slow speed, remains unforgettable: the slow handshake, the unbelievably polite tip of the hat, the way he removed it, and everything else he did. However, it is for entirely personal reasons that I do not relay the following to the public.
A man, whose name I’ve thankfully forgotten, came up to me and said something that I’ve thankfully forgotten.
Not a Word
Not a word was uttered by an unknown man as he embraced an unknown twenty-year-old woman from behind on Boppstrasse. She was able to get away and call for help. What the man actually wanted is unknown.
An Almost Complete Portrayal of the Conditions in Maybe Waabs
A man, whose name I’ve thankfully forgotten, came up to me and said something that I’ve thankfully forgotten. It happened in a city whose name escapes me, on a day I don’t remember, or on a night I don’t remember. I can’t say anything about the weather. I also can’t say what happened later. I know nothing about the beginning and even less about the end. I did, however, notice that never in my life had I experienced anything quite as dangerous as I had in this moment. But I forgot about it.
I don’t have a story to tell about an accountant’s wife who was unable to sit because she caught a filthy, itchy disease. I’ve never heard of such a case. I also don’t have a story to tell about the illegitimate birth of a child, on the occasion that the woman in question implored me not to tell the story. I have never in my life—and definitely not in a hospital—turned off an oxygen tank and then told a story about it. I know absolutely nothing about the birth of child with a frog-head, and I’ve never said anything about it. Furthermore, it is not true that I repeated a story to a group or several groups regarding the alleged comments of a man who claims that women wash themselves less and less. That I had, on the occasion of a woman’s death, said I had a dark story to tell about her, is made-up and far from the truth. It is not true. The only truth is that every one of these stories was not told by me, but by a man about whom I once told a story, and in which I claimed that he had told a bad story. But that is not the point of this story.
The penultimate story offers little cause for hope.
The Penultimate Story
The penultimate story offers little cause for hope. Around ten o’clock in the morning, a twenty-seven-year-old woman from New York tied up her Yorkshire terrier in front of a deli on the Upper East Side. On the other side of the world, a man, a certain Wischnewolski, woke up and jumped out of bed. It’s been said that a thirty-eight-year-old clerk broke into his colleague’s office in Hechtscheim and destroyed an office chair. According to statements from the fire department, the sofa in a pastry chef’s apartment on Nordring started to burn from still unexplained causes. A missing mechanic was found sitting in the back of a bus. How he got there remains unclear. Around ten o’clock, an approximately thirty-year-old cook signed in at a doctor’s office in Drais. He explained that he had woken up in a cemetery. The consulted authorities determined that the man is unable to provide his name, or his background. He’s also unable to explain how he came to be at the cemetery. A motorist stops at an intersection in front of the crosswalk and looks with interest to the right, where an accident just occurred. A cyclist might ride by at this moment. Around noon, an unemployed insurance agent calls the police and demands they remove the garbage from his apartment; it was beginning to stink, he said he felt as if he were being plagued by the smell. A superintendent says an acquaintance suddenly hit him several times in the head with a hammer. Then this acquaintance, a toolmaker, fled—no one knows where to. A waiter lets a truffled turkey fall to the floor right before my eyes. In this moment I considered the idea that I must finally come to the end of the penultimate story. The whole thing is so over-whatsit, overwhelming, that all I could think about was Wischnewolski, who jumped out of bed. When I ask him what he does during the day, what he does for work I mean, he says he doesn’t do anything, in any case nothing special. Once, he, Wischnewolski, tossed a traffic officer through the front window of a deli, where the officer lay covered in blood lying among the tender hams, the sliced sausage, and the slices of roast beef. Then Wischnewolski leaves—it’s good that he’s leaving, it’s good that this is the last time I have to say his name: Wischnewolski. Wischnewolski leaves the story. It is time. It’s Saturday, five o’clock. No one can tell what happens next.
From Two or Three Years Later: Forty-nine Digressions, 2013 Open Letter Books.
Ror Wolf is an artist (surreal collages), an author of prose and poetry (much of which has been collected in a nine-volume series), and a writer of radio plays and “radio collages.” Born in the East German city of Saalfeld, Wolf left the GDR for West Germany at the age of thirty-one. His writing has earned him many awards, including Radio Play of the Year (2007), the Kassel Literature Prize for Grotesque Humor (2004), and the Literature Award of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in 2003. Wolf’s work has been translated into over twelve languages.
Jennifer Marquart studied German and translation at the University of Rochester. She has lived, continued her studies, and taught in Cologne and Berlin. Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions by Ror Wolf is her first book-length translation.