WANDLER, Zeitschrift für Literatur, No 29

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Inhalt Anthologie “short-shorts”

Peter Blickle: I Have an Aunt in America

Bonnie Jo Campbell: The Foreign Girl

Jaimy Gordon: Beer Tents

Kurt Haenicke: Like Mike

Marcy Jarvis: Hope in a Drawer

Liesel Litzenburger: Amish in Sarasota

Daniel Mueller: German Nudists

Patricia Anne Simpson: Flamingo in Berlin

R.D.Skillings: What´s True?

Sarah Jane Smith: Pflaumenmus


One-Line-Bios der Autoren




Peter Blickle

I Have an Aunt in America

The waitress slid the menu onto his table. Her dirndl, Bavarian style, low cut, darkness between her breasts, white ruffles everywhere. Tiffany, he read on her wooden name tag.

"I'll be your server today. Can I get you something to drink?"

He looked at her, the rhythm of the language far from settled after two weeks here. And losing his wallet that morning in a Greyhound station in Harrisburg, PA, hadn't helped him to settle in either. Until he could reach his parents in Meuchelried, he had only the twenty he had folded small in the bottom of his pants pocket.

"Is someone from the owner's family here?" he asked. "Frau -- Mrs. Wolf, or her son?"

Tante Lisa. His mother's older sister, who had left Meuchelried fifty years ago with her dowry from the smithy: gone to America, gone to marry her Gustav, the small-boned American soldier who had spoken such flawless Swabian when he came in '45. And they had bought this restaurant.

"Sure, they're here. They're always here."

Tiffany watched over ten tables in this place that looked like the Traube in Egelreute, the heavy furniture, the carved wardrobe hooks, the shelves of beer mugs, even the three cuckoo clocks on the wall, their pendulums swinging in and out of sync.

"Frau Wolf is my aunt," he said.

"Her nephew, that's great!" Tiffany smiled, jumped a little, and for a moment he thought she might hug him. "I'll let her know," she said, walking happily away.

Tante Lisa. How he used to boast: I have an aunt in America! She was as precious as an autograph from Franz Beckenbauer. Tante Lisa sent them Pittsburgh Pirates sweatshirts for Christmas, and, once, a blue plastic dinosaur that split into an eraser, pen, and pencil set that made his friends giggle. So he looked at it when he was alone.

Tante Lisa. The story even the second grade teacher told whenever America came up: That Tante Lisa had returned, by plane, in 1963, rented a silver Mercedes, and had driven into town like a princess. Meuchelried, built on drained swampland in 1824, had never had a princess.

He read the menu three times. When his schnitzel came, he ate it bit by bit. Did he care for anything else? He dared to order another Paulaner.

And then he was the only one left in the restaurant. "Oh, she still hasn't been out to greet you?" said Tiffany. She laid down the bill. Thanks, Tiffany, written on the back.

He grabbed her hand. "Tiffany?"

Her face turned hard. She drew back her hand. "I don't know. All I know is, this is your bill."

The crumpled twenty just covered it, with fifteen cents for a tip.

He got up to leave, looked back again. This time the swinging doors stood open, and he looked straight into the kitchen. Tante Lisa -- his mother's compact, dumpy body -- swayed on an inverted white bucket, reaching for something on the top shelf. Her white apron was full of brown and red smears, an entire battlefield of marks where she cleaned her hands to the right and left of her rear end. She looked grey, and her back, the bony back of a mule.

He knew right away he would never tell this in Meuchelried. He wanted to yell: Tante Lisa. But he didn't. He didn't want her to see him either.




Bonnie Jo Campbell

The Foreign Girl

When I met Ursula outside the Harvard Square Pharmacy, I was caressing the skin over my knuckles, thinking maybe I’d go into a straight bar and pick a fight, something I used to do back home in Michigan. Ursula was small and soft-looking, though, with doe eyes that made me momentarily forget about wanting to punch someone. I invited her to come stay in the tiny apartment over the sandwich shop, if only to piss off the four other lesbians I lived with, including the blond jogging freak whom I suspected of being a puker. I’d always wanted to mess with a foreign girl.

Ursula, however, sat up all night telling my roommates about her peace organization, and she gave us pins bearing the phrase, "Gentleness is Strength." The following morning she and I walked to the big grocery in Porter Square, to the breakfast cereal aisle where I told her to choose whatever she wanted from the hundreds of boxes. Ursula handled Captain Crunch, Count Chocula, and Sugar Pops before deciding on plain Corn Flakes.
"Corn Flakes?" I said. "Why Corn Flakes?"
"I don’t know these other cereals."
"Listen, this is America. You’d better experience our culture before you go trying to make us peaceful." I thrust a box of Frosted Flakes at her.

She said, "You are filled with anger."
For dinner that evening Ursula took me to the Central Square soup kitchen, where we waited with smelly, unshaven, nose-picking men to get something labelled "venison stew" and a stale roll for a dollar donation. We sat across from each other near the end of a long table.
Ursula poked into her bowl with her plastic fork. "What is venison?"
"Deer meat. You know, like Bambi. I bag one every year."
"You are a hunter?"
"Everybody in Michigan hunts." In truth, I’d never hunted. Few women did, not even dykes. Especially not dykes.
"I would like to see Michigan, particularly your Great Lakes."
"Hey, Round Head over there is looking at you." I made a fist and rubbed it with my other hand. "He should keep his fucking eyes on his plate."
"He is not bothering me." Ursula was wearing a peace organization T-shirt with no bra, so her breasts were soft mounds beneath "Gentleness," and on either side of "is." When I looked up, Round Head was still staring, so I walked along the table and punched him hard in the ear. As he slumped toward his stew, I waited for somebody to speak up.
Ursula looked shocked. I said, "Listen, you’ve got to be firm with American guys."
"You are filled with violence."
"Not any more." I sat back down. "I’ve gotten it out of my system."
"I don’t understand you." She stood up, shaking her head, and walked out.

Me neither. In my twenty-four years, I hadn’t realized how desperately I wanted to sleep in a cabin near a lake and then just before sunrise carry a shotgun into the woods. I dumped the rest of Ursula’s venison stew into my own bowl.




Jaimy Gordon

Beer Tents

My first beer tent was nowhere. Like a genie who gave you things you never wished for, it billowed out of the dusty jukebox in Shep's Hideaway, a seedy barroom marooned behind a freeway overpass in sixties San Pedro. A tall Indian named Robert Lone Camp sneaked in a quarter if the gringos got too deep in their gin game, and played the same song three times. All at once Mario Lanza, as the Student Prince of Old Heidelberg, exhorted us, with a chorus of thousands, to "Drink! drink! drink!" Germany was a joke, as dark as it was corny. Nobody dreamed of going there. Jimmy Murphy's head sank between his shoulders like a turtle's, and he looked around in all directions to see where they were coming from. "Maybe we look like pals on our barstools," he said, when he recovered himself, "but fact is, every man drinks alone." "Every woman too," I said, for that was my first time in the Wild West, and I wasn't about to be left out.

The third beer tent was with Udo in Muckenried, the first time he took me home with him to Germany. I loved him so, then, that I had to dance, even in a beer tent, even to a polka. "You have a hot one there," his old soccer friends nudged him when they got him alone. "Do you have to shake your hips like that?" he asked me later and smiled that tight-jawed smile I've seen rather often since then, as if the teeth, top and bottom, had been wired together after some violence, but he was braving it.

Philosophically Udo and I are farthest apart on beer tents. The sight of a hundred or so Germans linking elbows and schunkeln, left and right, left and right, their faces shiny with friendliness, behind huge amniotic hourglasses of beer, to some Ray Charles tune horribly transfigured into a polka, makes the sweat start under my hair. My eye glides to the exit where we just came in, while in Udo the same spectacle awakens an urge to feel warm flesh on his flesh, to laugh ho ho ho and to cram as much food into his belly as it will hold at its roundest and hardest.

The only belly I've ever touched as tight as Udo's after a beer tent was Mitzi the diapered chimpanzee's, in the new-wine tent in Katzweiler, my second beer tent, beer only so to speak, and the first time I was ever in Germany. A mustachioed gypsy thrust her in my arms as I passed and, fascinated by the arc of strong pressure under her red, white and blue striped union suit, I held Mitzi while the gypsy took a Polaroid of us -- ten marks. I pointed, in admiration, at the ball-hard gut in its American stripes. "Nicht stubenrein," he said, setting me straight, as he thought.

I once knew a monkey in St. Croix who was allowed to hang in a rum house doorway, waiting to piss on unwary customers. Are you too smart to be housebroken? or too stupid? I whispered to Mitzi in the beer tent. Is your smile a smile of pleasure? or of despair? But now that I look at her photograph, I think she was drugged. Her lips close dreamily around her lollipop, and she gazes down in peace at the dance-flattened grass.




Kurt Haenicke

Like Mike

Their names were the same, though they didn´t sound the same. One was German, one American; one man was black and athletic -- the other large but white, very white, with great round eyes and a toothy unapologetic mouth, which produced a shocking and unique grammar, puzzling even to linguists, I´m sure.
Michael Jordan, a man who had practically become a comic book hero, and my cousin Michael, the American-German whose hyphenated identity seemed to fit only him, were different men. But fans and their heroes usually are. And my cousin, who soon assumed the name Mike in order to elude the tyranny of German nomenclature and the syllables it stressed, understood that his infatuation was not so much with a particular man as with another country.
"I ain´t never liked Germany like I like America," he´d tell me. "I got to get out of here," he would say when I visited him, "cause there ain´t nothing happening here."
Here, of course, was Germany. And I would watch Mike smile above his enormous Chicago Bulls basketball jersey, the back of which, I knew, had the name Jordan printed on it.
Mike had learnt his English as an exchange student at a mostly black high school in America. He talked about rap music and asked me to get American football and basketball hats and uniforms for him. He watched the Jay Leno show, which aired now in Germany, and he loved MTV, another import. Once he even told me that he wanted to be black, which to him, I´m certain, meant American and not African.
We went, Mike and I, to the Schwarzwald once. When he needed to, he would speak German -- usually when I was confounded at a bank or a train station, and he needed to save me from an abstruse and foreign explanation from a clerk. Otherwise, he preferred English, or, rather, American. We stayed in Freiburg, and I, longing to repose in what I considered Old World beauty, suggested we have drinks at a hilltop café, which overlooked the city.
From there I could see old churches, old towers, old gates and old streets -- the ones that hadn´t been bombed away in the war. I mentioned to Mike what a shame it all was, that architecture and history should be so altered by simple explosion. There was ugliness, I noted, in the reconstruction of the town. Medieval buildings sat next to unimaginative ones; narrow alleys and winding streets connected to blocky and disconnected storefronts, and even the people wore overpriced American gym shoes and blue jeans.
"German shoes suck," Mike corrected me then. "Only old people be wearing those," he explained, laughing.
But I was old, I thought -- ten years or so beyond Mike, and I was wearing German shoes. I might even dress in a full Tyrolean outfit if someone were to suggest it to me. I´ve seen Americans do such things: they buy the hats with the feathers, the knickers, the walking boots, and they look foolish, as foolish, I know, as I, as foolish as a German kid trying to become Michael Jordan.




Marcy Jarvis

Hope in a Drawer

Fish eggs arrive Fed Ex and you take this as a good omen, sure that your husband’s pursuit of fish fertility bodes well for your own. The eggs are the consistency of tapioca -- a nice pinkish orange. The incubator looks like an old map file or chest of drawers. He takes care in spreading the eggs in the trays; you look on tenderly as he pipes in the water. It spills over the top tray and down into the next with cascading precision.

But there are pink threads of mucous in your toilet the next morning, full blood by night. Your husband says nothing, just heads down to the basement to check his eggs, picking out the discolored ones with tweezers. You make an appointment to see the fertility specialist on the 26th, scratching out the words previously written there -- upper limb buds appear!

The doctor tells you that most pregnancies are lost in the first month, spontaneously aborted. To up the ante he sends you home with pills -- a whole six months’ supply, which you dump in a drawer in the guest bedroom.

Your husband calls up the stairs to tell you that his fish have hatched. You walk out the front door and into the horse barn, thinking of the abortion you had when you were an exchange student at a stud farm in Baden-Württemberg years ago.

You lay your head along one of the pregnant mare’s necks -- feel her blood coursing through, inhale her sweet smell.

You hadn’t wanted a baby back then -- you’d wanted new riding boots.

The little town where you were was called Marbach, which is not even on most maps. (Not Marbach am Neckar, the birthplace of Schiller, where they took Queen Elizabeth by mistake. She looked around politely and finally asked, “But what about the horses?”)
Everybody back home knew about the cars, but they were surprised to hear how the Germans were engineering their horses -- breeding Arabians into the Hanoverian stock for delicacy. You gave yourself over to German efficiency, swimming groggily through the anesthesia and the language barrier while they flushed you out, a tube down your throat in case you vomited.

The regret came later, when you tried to cook an American style Thanksgiving dinner for your host family, and handled the turkey. It was around four kilos, a naked baby. You slumped against the green Kachelofen, the turkey tumbled across the floor.

Muttermund, Gebärmutter, Geburtshelfer. You’d wanted to ignore the words then. Easier to think of a cervix than a Muttermund, of a uterus than a Gebärmutter. Now, when you remember them: mother mouth, birth mother, birth helper -- you are struck: a language with none of the polite disguises of English medical lingo! This is what you want in a crisis -- plain language.

You open the stall doors and let the horses loose. They toss their manes playfully, nipping at each other. It’s cold out; you remember riding bareback in winter, as a kid, to keep warm.

Still no eggs in your sonograms. In the end you are diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. You’re sure the Germans must have a better term for this. Maybe dried up eggs -- something concrete and less accusatory. Something matter of fact that makes it easier to accept and move on.

That last one must have been a fluke, a slippery slick little fish baby on its way out to sea.




Liesel Litzenburger

Amish in Sarasota

You are there and we are here. This is our difference, the one that keeps us apart. Sooner or later, everyone must go down to the water. We are in Florida, the land of perpetual August, where the birds flash the colors of a comic book and the iridescent flowers smell like test-tube perfumes, like candy, like edible soap. The spectrum is half nature, half laboratory: popsicle fuchsia, swimming pool aqua, shocking pink, plastic alligator green, chemical yellow. It is warm here, too warm; the air is heavy with unrained raindrops. What shape are the clouds where you are? Here there is often very little difference between ocean and sky, sometimes only a shade or two of blue. We live in a theme park, a jungle terrarium, a Hollywood version of a summer’s day. The people here have little in common with the landscape. We are tourists -- and you would be too. We are, all of us, no more than visitors passing through this place, from some other place, on our way to someplace new. And this is important, all of this color, all of this light, all of this dislocation, because while you are not here, not yet, the Amish are. Amisch.

The Amish go down to the beach. They tromp across the quartz-white sand wearing black, their pockets full of the secrets of another country, their heads enclosing the language of their own private kingdom. The women go first, sturdy in long-sleeved dresses, aprons, full skirts, lace caps. The men follow in their dark wool suits, straight-cut coats, black socks, black shoes, straw hats. They fall out silently across the sand, past the retired gamblers covered in coconut oil, past the flirting girls in their tiny bathing suits and round sunglasses, past the young men bronzing their rippling chests, past the bored women immobile upon striped towels, past everyone, our blankets lined up like prayer rugs, all of us facing the sun. The Amish go down to the water’s edge whispering in German. Their children wear shirts with round collars, serious expressions. The Amish mothers grip their children’s pink hands, scold Langsam, Josef! Langsam! if they skip or run, and everyone on the beach turns to see what the Amish will do. They walk. And when the tips of their shiny black shoes are washed by the first wave, they bend to unlace them, remove their black socks with no flourish, and wade out into the surf. Their black shoes line the shore in a perfect row. The Amish stand in the water and raise arms up, high, up to the sky.

Later, in the evening, the Amish go to the airport. They sit outside in the steamy half-dark, in a field behind the runway. The Amish wait in a row, perched on the hoods of cars they will never drive, behold the airplanes within which they will never be made weightless. The Amish are quiet. They fold their pale hands in their laps and watch. They stay until the last airplanes have disappeared, one by one, and then they watch some more. Do they dream of flight?

This is no way to talk about distances and differences. This is about what we have in common; this is about a journey, yours and mine. The Amish will stay. And yet, why do we, all of us -- you over there and we here and the Amish floating somewhere near -- why do we all stare up into the heavens knowing that we alone invented the sun?




Daniel Mueller

German Nudists

Detective Alvarez drove us through the jungle in his Jeep. Gigi rode next to him in the front seat, and I sat in the back beside the ice chest. We were newlyweds, having eloped to Mexico with $8,000 in cash, a quarter of which she´d earned squeezing out soft-serve in Galveston. The rest had come from helping my brother on his sport fishing launch, preparing tax returns for sheep ranchers I knew, and dealing dope. The idea was for Gigi and me to recoup what we spent on tequila and tacos in killer weed. I´d played high school ball with several of the boys on the border patrol. Taking the smoke out wouldn´t be a problem, but now that we´d been robbed of everything including our money, getting the smoke at all would.
Alvarez stopped the Jeep at a small encampment of tents pitched near a turquoise cove that shimmered through hanging lengths of vine. He removed his pistol from his holster and fired three times into the mosaic of leaves and sky. "To let the bandits know we are here," he said.
Nudists appeared at the jungle´s edge -- three women, two men, and a child, the entire lot fair-skinned, sinewy, tall. "Warum? Warum?" asked one of the men in whose long, white pubic bush, beard, and hair, pink flowers were pinned. "Warum belästigen Sie uns?" Blue eyes, set above high cheekbones, pleaded for an answer. Alvarez fired his gun again, and the men and women retired to their tents as if familiar with the routine, then hauled out what possessions they harbored there -- flashlights, cooking utensils, toiletries, foodstuffs, camping supplies, clothing -- piling everything on the tramped ground.
Gigi smiled at the boy. "Why, isn´t he the most perfect child, Gary? The most perfect child you ever saw?"
I supposed he was.
"Our child will be just as perfect," she continued, "with hair as blond and eyes as blue. I feel it, I feel it here," and touched the tiger´s eye navel ring I´d given her as a going-steady present.
There was no reason our child couldn´t be. The boy´s mother clutched him to her breasts. Alvarez scooped a halter top from the ground and asked Gigi if it was hers.
"I wouldn´t be caught dead in that," she declared. "Anyway, this stuff isn´t stolen. It belongs to these people."
"How about these?" he asked, holding out a sequined miniskirt and top.
"Are you from Earth?" she asked.
Alvarez turned his attention to me, there in my filthy swim trunks. "Anything here belong to you?" he asked, and I realized that it all could.
Gigi, gargantuan boobs and peroxide hair, stood beside me in her leopard print bikini.
"No," I said.
All we had was what we´d worn to the beach, but we weren´t common, not either of us.




Patricia Anne Simpson

Flamingo in Berlin

That day after the demonstration, he realized he’d been searching for her. That hair hung in palm fronds over her sharp features, and it was the color of flamingoes, deep, citrus pink. Weed first saw her getting off the U-Bahn at Schlesisches Tor. She stood out against the black and silver palette of West Berlin. Like other punks, she graphed her eyes in almond lines, streaked her lips the color of blood oranges. The effect, even for his Lower East Side aesthetic, was shock; not because she stood out, but because the world seemed suburban sidewalk by comparison. All the mandatory henna reds, head scarves, and Mohawk spikes receded into the brown air of Berlin on a Smog-Alarm morning.

Hey, Weed, wie geht’s?

Kennst du sie? He nodded toward the luminous pink hair puncturing the folds of her keffieh.


Weed walked with his friends at the back of the demo. He recognized people and props from other events that year. On today’s menu: Ronald Reagan at the Wall. The border that had drawn Weed to Berlin; he loved scars, anything that refused to heal. The Wall, canvas of frustration, obscenity, and talent (always bland in the East), reminded him of an inscribed cast -- Gute Besserung.

"All those who are planning to throw rocks, get up front."

Weed stayed in the back. He protested with some trepidation, though most demos seemed more like social gatherings to him. To study at the TU, he had to sign something that said he’d steer clear of politics. What else was there?

Just stay out of jail, his sister begged.

Are you going to the good Germany, or the bad one? his mother had asked.

Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

Geography and politics, acquired traits.

Flamme moved to the front of the class.

The next time, he followed her. It was a spring morning, he was still up from the night before. Weed sat in a café with a cigarette, black coffee, and an aspirin (breakfast combo number three). The smoke choked him, the coffee scalded and soured his mouth but purged his head. It was early, it was late. Then he saw her hair go by and he bolted up from his seat, an old church pew with a worn teddy bear for a cushion. She ascended the stairs to the U-Bahn. Sun lit her hair. She wore a white cotton sweater, charcoal linen pants, normal from the neck down.

Weed switched to the S-Bahn, got off at an unfamiliar stop, and entered a blockish building, a porcelain factory, through the main gate. Just in time for the tour.

Past the ovens, the plumbing pipes, the chemist’s crockery, the guide led the group into a studio where skilled artists painted miniature field flowers, prince’s profiles, and other motifs on plates and pots. She sat in a butterscotch cubicle, impervious to the amused comments that percolated the room.

With that hair she’s painting Watteau!

Look, how precise! With those claws!

So was gibt’s doch nicht!

Weed turned an inside key.


She looked at him, her eyes the blue of a swimming pool. The tea cup fell to the floor; it lost its handle.



9. R. D. Skillings

What´s True?

I don´t care what´s true. I write for the fun of it, and may as well. Walter Solmitz was a German-Jewish philosopher who survived the death camps, moved to America, and taught at Bowdoin College, a place boys went to get an education and job in 1956, before we put our flag on the moon or most of us knew what napalm meant. He was a moral presence. "One sentence of Spinoza is worthy of two weeks of contemplation," he would say. His classes took place in his dusty office around a table littered by books filled with overdue notices. He was probably not a good teacher. He sat among us, in no particular chair, shabby, brown and nondescript, a bent man with a beaked nose and circles under his eyes, chain-smoking and speaking English with grave embarrassments and wry chagrins, asking questions about Kant we could not answer, squinting to think, and then attempting to answer them himself. Now and then he set himself afire or lost his watch. He spent months correcting our examinations and returned them the following semester covered with comments. We didn´t study much. Some took his courses because he gave only As and Bs, but he tried to teach us all. I was afraid of his concern and hid behind trees when I saw him coming. I always owed him papers. He called me once on my landlady´s phone.
"Is this Mr. Skillings?" he said, then began to spell, "S-K-I-L-L-I-N-G-S?"
"Yes, yes, yes," I said, but he went on, stubbornly, to the end, then said he was disappointed in himself, he had expected better of me. I listened for irony and heard none.
So I wrote a paper on Nietzsche´s idea of Christ, got an A on it, and next year sold it to a friend, who got a B. Once in the Union I was introduced to his wife and son, a freshman at another college, and once he invited me to his office and asked me what I was going to do with my life.
After college I often thought of him and wrote him letters I never sent.
At his death an official of the college delivered a eulogy saying everyone loved him. He had won some honors, written some books in Germany before the war, before the Holocaust, before coming to America. He was working on a book about Plato. Nothing was said of his suicide.
I know nothing about Walter Solmitz. I write the word Holocaust, but what does it mean?
He cut his wrists with a razor, and bled into a bathtub.
I couldn´t believe it, no one could believe it at first. It was like the fall of hope.
Louis Asekoff wrote in rage from Europe that the world destroys the good, that only the equivocators, the cowards, survive. During the Berlin Crisis he had met Mr. Solmitz on the steps of Widener Library in Cambridge. He was incoherent and talked of trying to see the President. Louis could not tell what he hoped to do. Perhaps he meant to stop history.
About the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis Louis came back and began to teach in New York City. One night in The Paradox, a macrobiotic restaurant, I asked him if it were true, as I had heard, that Mr. Solmitz met his wife in a concentration camp. "You´re going to make a story of him, you bastard," Louis said, and refused to tell me anything.
Five years later, in a bar near the Bowdoin campus, a cellar of wooden table carved with initials of students, while the Kingston Trio sang "Scotch and Soda," David Lovell, who lived in town, told me something he had seen the day of Walter Solmitz´s death.
There was another German professor at Bowdoin, a gentile who had fled before the war. The two were friends, loved music, and one year sang side by side in the chorus for the Brahms Requiem. At noon, under a hot sun, David saw him running down Maine Street, spilling books and papers, his hair flying like white flames, his shirt undone, his face red. David thought he must be late for class, and laughed, and walked on.



Sarah Jane Smith


The screen door opened with a shudder of aluminum and glass. The wooden door opened to pebbly white and green linoleum and dark redwood walls, a TV that stared, pea green and monstrous. The door slammed, jolting the house. Valerie dropped her jacket onto the rocking chair and slumped onto the sofa draped with a green cotton bedspread.
The dogs barked downstairs. Their nails scratched at the closed door of the den.
Their dependence tired Valerie, yet she needed those dogs, especially Sevya. Little Wit was Jimmy´s. James Benjamin was interning at Detroit Receiving. She was so proud of him, a surgeon! Jimmy spent his few vacations at home, fishing with Little Wit. The dog brightened with life then. She didn´t sleep all day in her blue bed. She´d accompany Jimmy fishing, or play badminton or hockey. Jimmy fed her prime rib and hamburgers from Lutz´s Five-Mile Drive In. Little Wit´s name was a joke. She was a shockingly smart dog, full of terrier and bite.
"Pee yew." The dogs barked, scampering around the door as Valerie opened it. They jumped up and splotched her with urine.
Upstairs Sevya leapt onto the sofa and curled into a ball. Little Wit drank from the water dish and lay stiffly in her blue bed. Little Wit was nearly incontinent. She barked incessantly when she needed to urinate, until somebody let her out.
"Let´s poison her dog-food," Jonas joked.
"She´ll be dead soon," Valerie would reply. It´s like eating mattress stuffing, she thought, while she peeled a head of lettuce, and washed the leaves in the kitchen faucet. She hated salads, but Jonas raved over green food. She broke the soppy leaves into pieces and arranged them on a platter. She quartered tomatoes and sliced a carrot, and sprinkled raisins over the salad. Valerie had dried the raisins herself, the fruit yellow and plump like kidney beans.
"You warm your own soup." Valerie placed the salad inside the refrigerator´s white empty space. The whiteness looked blank and scary, with only a few items there: a tub of margarine, a jar of dark purple pflaumenmus -- homemade damson plum jam -- a carton of eggs, and green leafy things. Valerie liked beet greens. Nobody ate at home much anymore. Nobody had dinner together. Every year Valerie simmered for hours a huge thickening pan full of pflaumenmus. She´d eagerly ask Jonas or their daughter Clara or anybody who was home to taste -- please come taste the good pflaumenmus. Jonas turned his back, reached for the bottle of Scotch in the cupboard. Clara spit out the "Sour, Mom!" mixture into the sink. Valerie made the jars of jam for herself.
She closed the refrigerator door and turned around, facing the kitchen windows. The lake would freeze soon. The water was the color of veins in her arms. Somewhere in the trees a squirrel clicked and hissed. On the front porch blue jays squabbled around the empty bird feeder. "I can´t afford so many fifty-pound bags of birdseed a week," Jonas had shouted. "What´re you trying to do? Feed the whole woods?" So her aluminum cans on the porch, once stuffed with seed, were empty. She refused to feed the birds now. Period.



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