Lisa and the Heavenly Body

Silke Scheuermann

Artwork by Robert Zhao Renhui

As I walk out of the bookshop, I don't have the usual plastic bag in my hand but a crazy story in my head that Lisa Krauss has just told me—by chance, just because rain was falling in big, sad drops outside—as she stirred her drink non-stop, pulling a face like a rabbit undergoing strange experiments. Well, she said before I left the shop, not everything can turn out right, can it? I nodded but I couldn't shake off the suspicion that she was getting things mixed up, confusing sex with brutality, submission with love, love with duty. But still, you could see it positively too. Even though she hated herself, she wasn't giving herself a hard time. And that was something. I've got to get going, I said, and smiled a long farewell to our short friendship before leaving.

It's only now, feeling an urge to go home, that I realise she's really got to me with her unassuming way of talking and her sensational story—so much so that I can't stop thinking about her, as if I've seen too deeply into her soul through the sockets of her light blue eyes and found a gruesome state of affairs, things that affect my life too, and so I decide not to take the overland train but walk home, taking a detour through the same seedy Frankfurt neighbourhood that she's just been talking about—Hauptwache, Roßmarkt, upper Kaiserstraße. I walk swiftly as if I might be looking for someone or even stalking them, going past grocer's shops and the first few bars. A few children are playing in a puddle and it seems unexpectedly peaceful, as if people and things here could easily become friends. But it's only seven in the evening and things haven't livened up yet in that special way. A droning fusion of oriental music and pop throws itself like a dragnet over my exhaustion. From kebab stands, the acrid smell of frying meat pierces the air, mixed with a stench of urine and acidic cleaning fluid. How should I picture Lisa when she walked along here a few weeks ago? I close my eyes. Now it's night-time, and pink and red neon signs dot the street. The lines slowly start to blur and I picture Lisa walking down this street against the colourful background in my mind. The picture flickers and quivers and is difficult to get into focus, I have her shrill voice in my head saying they all molested me, just the way they looked at me, plucky little Lisa, seeing the details like a child, all big and scary. She ignores the leering men: a fat, moustachioed guy standing in the doorway of a bar under a picture of a topless mermaid smirks in a really dirty way, so she stares fixedly at the tenement flats behind him whose plasterwork, once white, has become so dirty over the years, especially the lower parts, that the buildings look like rows of rotten teeth. Brothels, takeaways, night bars. A big station wagon kerb-crawls alongside her. Two dark-haired men stick their heads through the wound-down windows to check her out from head to toe. She tugs down the hem of her cropped T-shirt with the strawberry pattern on, I was wearing something far too short and showy, it had fruit on it, she said, oh well.

The rain had formed a moat of water all around the small bookshop, and Lisa, back in her usual clothes, smiled at me apologetically. In the neighbourhood around Frankfurt station, she was even grateful for a moment, grateful for her mousy brown hair and her legs that stuck out from under her skirt like wan Mikado sticks, relieved because the guys soon lose interest, their gazes sliding down and off as if she was a boring wall. But then she feels embarrassed because the odds aren't very high that Sören will fancy her. The station wagon speeds up—absurdly, because it slams on the brakes only a moment later at the junction where other cars are blocking the road—and starts honking in an annoying staccato, something that Lisa takes as an omen, meant just for her. Although she knows the area from TV crime series—the ones where eager inspectors and their attractive assistants investigate drug dealers and pimps, interrogating women inside clubs with red-lit interiors whose make-up is flaking off their faces and whose breasts look as if they're about to burst out of their bras to confess their guilt—she never thought she'd feel so uncomfortable walking along here. Oh well. Good that she's got the small gun that her mum bought her after hearing that Lisa was going to her first bookseller convention in Poland of all places, by car and alone. Lisa is glad she can slip her hand into her bag now and then and touch the cold metal for reassurance, and say to herself, I can always defend myself.

When she first arranged to meet Sören, she didn't realise which district the XXL bar was in. Where should we go, he'd asked, Café Comma, oh, you've never heard of it, Joie de Vivre, you don't know that either, and Lisa noticed he was getting impatient so that when she heard XXL, she just burst out, yes, of course, so as not to seem stupid, and it was only afterward that she realised it must be that place near the station, which her colleagues in the bookshop say is "in." She found the exact spot by looking it up in the Yellow Pages.


As I head to a Chinese takeaway place, I imagine Lisa walking next to me, her head ducked down as she goes past a group of men who are arguing with a bouncer at the door: they're all wearing brightly-coloured shirts and one is holding a beer can. As I order a tea from the scowling waitress behind the counter, Lisa stays outside on the street and sees the strange-looking woman walk by, the one she talked about with poorly-masked excitement in her voice, imagine a woman done up from head to toe in purple, perhaps she bought her high heels to match her hair, or maybe it was the other way round, she dyed her hair to match her heels. Lisa watches the Purple Lady's strappy shoe land right into the middle of a paper plate of squashed chips mixed with tomato ketchup and mayonnaise, she watches how the mess squishes up into the slit between the sole of the woman's shoe and her foot, but even so, the woman takes about as much notice as a cow notices flies settling. As I slowly take the first bitter sip of tea, Lisa turns the corner, almost colliding with a young man in a ripped denim jacket, so thin that his cheekbones jut out. He's holding his arms straight at his sides like a half-opened umbrella, his hands slightly raised as if he's trying to take off. Because his eyes are wide open, his expression seems happy. Lisa stares at him in shock because he looks so much like the image of Jesus on the cards she used to keep in her Bible as a child to look at when the sermon was really boring, and suddenly she thinks she can smell frankincense, right here at night on the streets of the red-light district, just like in church. But the young man, who's barely more than a child, stares straight past her, his wide-open eyes riveted on the dark sky. His gaze trips along the secret walls of an inner museum, and Lisa imagines church ceiling frescoes, perhaps that's what he's looking at, or something similar. The thought puts her in such a serene, contemplative mood that she can't bring herself to look away from his private prayer. She takes it as a sign that today, her first date with the unknown Sören, is special. She thinks back to her short phone conversation with him, how good it was after all, I kept thinking, that I'd finally plucked up the courage to put an ad in the city mag, because his letter, and all the other nice letters addressed to her box number, had proved her right in the end. Not that it was easy to get the words right. She'd wanted to come across as honest but with a hint of mystery to give her a bit of leeway. After a lot of thought, she'd pared down her thirty-line text to seeking man for intensive relationship, which was a bit mysterious and didn't sound like a marriage proposal, it would be daft to think that way at the beginning.


Just to annoy the sullen Asian girl, I order another tea. She blows her fringe in the air and finishes reading her newspaper before she budges. I wonder if there are ads in it too and whether she understands their secret language better than Lisa, whose wording must have given off some kind of signal. Perhaps she'd written that she was shy and had just forgotten? The guys who'd answered were called Peter or Jürgen or Udo or Tim and their letters were so nice that it was hard to make a decision. Lisa thought it was great that it was so easy to meet people. She felt content and happy as she wrapped herself up in her red-and-yellow checked woollen blanket to watch the quarter past eight feature film on TV. She started on her supper, which as usual consisted of cheese-on-toast, cut into two triangles, garnished with a sliced tomato sprinkled with little glittering specks of salt. She'd always liked watching the perfect faces of the actors and making a note of the best lines in the film like: the limitations of your world are the limitations of your fantasy. Or: you end up hating people for what others have done to them. This time, the film was about a nurse with a divine face who comes across bizarre murders in a hospital, and all the evidence points to the doctor she idolises. When Lisa switches channels a little later and, quite by accident, stumbles on a fabulous documentary about the Baltic Sea, The Eternal Return of the Tides, she decides to choose Sören's application—he's from Kiel, next to the sea, a sign so obvious that she doesn't dare ignore it.


My second tea is ready, the water steams up into my face. I thank the Asian girl, bringing a weary smile to her tired face. Lisa has already reached the disco: XXL stands in large green and yellow neon letters over the entrance where a few young people are waiting, shifting their weight from one leg to the other with such weariness that it seems they could do with a third. Lisa checks her watch to make sure that she's definitely on time. At ten to eleven at home, she'd normally be thinking about getting ready for bed but tonight she's not tired in the least. She stands at the entrance to the disco behind a young man whose shaved head is shiny, like a perfect egg. Is Sören already inside, she wonders, how stupid not to fix a meeting place, the small photo will have to do, and he, on the other hand, knows she's wearing a T-shirt with a strawberry on it. As she stands awkwardly at the entrance, the bony elbows of a young woman with very large, gleaming eyes dig into her and, instead of apologising, she giggles and asks, so you don't feel like sleeping tonight either, before grasping Lisa's hand with cool, dry fingers and dragging her to the entrance. It's as if she's read Lisa's mind and knows that she doesn't want to be alone right now, and Lisa's reminded of the strange Jesus figure as she stares at the girl's tight trousers. Snake patterns, she thinks, make skinny legs look fatter. She smiles at the woman, her nice little nose and shiny pink lips, her gleaming blue eyes like china saucers. All at once, Lisa decides to trust the future, she's just sure all the boredom will end and the years ahead are hers for the taking, a whole range of opportunities before her. She gives the bouncer a banknote and in return, he stamps the back of her hand and the snake woman's too. Before Lisa has a chance to explain that she never meant to pay for them both, her new friend has already disappeared. Lisa catches a glimpse of her reptile bottom snaking its way toward a metal door, on it a picture of Lady Di, the women's toilet, next to it, one with a riding instructor. Lisa checks the urge to follow her—perhaps Sören is already waiting. She goes into the disco, which she thinks is nice, walks around the side of the dance floor that's lit with soft orange light, and goes toward the bar. At the same time, she scans the sparse room for Sören, which is easy as it's still quite empty. She's memorised the blurred photo but he doesn't seem to be among the party-goers, so after hesitating for a moment, she decides not to go back up to the entrance but to take a seat here.

She sits down very conspicuously, forcing herself not to move her bar stool too far into the corner so that he can see her. The bald man she followed in is already sitting there, feeling visibly at home: half leant toward him on his lap, there's a girl with long red hair and he's clasping her round the waist just under her breasts, and their two heads lean together, the bald one and the hairy one, grinning so widely that the grin leads from one face to the other, connecting their two bodies like a cord.

Lisa waves over the big-breasted barwoman, who's wearing lots of black eyeliner and black lipstick to match, but she doesn't see Lisa even though she seems to be looking right at her. Only when Lisa shouts awkwardly, hello, can I order something, does she come over and say, sure. Her entire left upper arm is tattooed with a complicated mesh of symbols, letters, and animal figures. Lisa can't stop staring at this strange artwork until the woman rolls her eyes, irritated, and asks, so what's it gonna be? Lisa orders sparkling white wine that just makes her thirstier, she sips her drink and watches the bar woman turn away. Her back is as broad as a barred door.

It starts filling up. Here and there, a few attractive girls start dancing on their own; she watches the flickering light on their bronzed arms and legs and looks reluctantly down at herself, put out that she didn't think of going to the solarium. However, perhaps North German Sören is used to fair-skinned girls—and familiarity, as Lisa knows from her own experience, is a strong magnet. That's a comforting thought, after all, she doesn't want to dampen her mood entirely and besides, when he'd suggested this impossibly late time to meet on the phone, he'd sounded as if he'd wanted to meet her quite urgently, which would mean that he needed a girlfriend, which would be wonderful, because she, yes, she needed someone quite desperately, someone she could talk to in the evenings about her day and perhaps I'd make up a few interesting stories too and believe they'd happened, just because I'd told him.

While she'd been in job training and still living at home, she hadn't been as lonely as she was now, even if her parents had sometimes got on her nerves, but now, in the seven weeks she'd spent living in her small flat in Adlerflychtplatz, it was getting her down. She had to remind herself that at home it hadn't been all roses either. In her mum's tailor shop, her old school friends' parents or aunts came by and talked about all the exciting things her former classmates were doing. Fat Alexander Becker, for example, had become a diving teacher in Thailand and paddled around in waters where James Bond films were shot, and Felicitas Dauth, who'd had a perm since she was twelve, was now studying fashion design in London; Pit had wandered through deserts for months and Katharina had married a famous genetic researcher. All this only made Lisa think that life was taking place elsewhere, so when she moved into her new flat, she was in good spirits—out in the city, things could change. But when there was no change after all, she'd put an ad in the paper. I was brave and fortune favours the brave. She scouts around again for Sören but no one looks even remotely similar to the man in the photograph, and no one returns her searching gaze.


I pay for my drink. I've changed bars twice and I already have the next one in my sights. The streets are busier now and I like hanging around here, the same way I like the fact that I'm not like Lisa, not one bit. I've learnt how to dress in a certain way, paint my lips with a certain kind of self-confidence—red, orange, or pink, depending on what's in fashion—to listen to a certain kind of music, to dance to that music, even if everyone is watching, even if the dance floor is completely empty, yes, I even prefer it that way sometimes. I've learnt to abandon myself completely to the rhythm of the music so that my body no longer belongs to me but is obeying the will of some strange god instead. I've been involved with quite a few men and especially because I used to be as romantic as Lisa, I wish for her sake that she'd at least lost her virginity in a different way, on an evening when she'd felt pretty, in her own room, with someone who treated her with love and tenderness, not with someone who was just into weird positions but who caressed her and kissed her, before and after.


But Lisa has only been in love twice in her life, once before and once after she left school, and both times unhappily from start to finish. I ask her about those experiences and she tells me stories that are as detailed as fresh wounds even though they happened years ago. For Hansi, whose real name was Hans-Günther, she had wandered like a stray cat around the TSV tennis courts every afternoon after school where he practiced in white shorts and white socks. Because she couldn't attract his attention despite her efforts, she asked her parents if she could have tennis lessons. Her mother had held up one of her thin arms between her pudgy fingers, pressed hard and said in a friendly way, what muscles are you thinking of using? The real reason was money, of course. So Lisa decided to pretend that she was a former tennis player who had to stop after an interesting injury. She checked up on the rules of the game and famous players but it was all for nothing, as she put it. Her made-up story lay coiled inside her like a rare animal that no one wanted to coax out of its den; she didn't get to talk to Hansi, only his mother, who often hung out at the tennis bar with a glass of white wine. The one who did notice her was the barman: pale, podgy Ralf Buselfink, who vaguely resembled a maggot, his ears sticking out from his head like leaves on a rubber tree. She noticed that he was often around at Hansi's team parties and tournaments, so when he talked, Hansi's name often cropped up and that was better than nothing. When he threatened her, saying that she was getting too boring, she had sex with him, sex that consisted of her kneeling in front of him as he repeatedly thrust his cock into her mouth until Lisa ended up with a mouthful of lumpy pap that tasted of turpentine because Ralf took protein and vitamin compounds; it made her want to rinse out her mouth every two minutes for the rest of the day. After Ralf mentioned in passing that Hansi had a girlfriend and wanted to move into the city with her after his 'A' levels, she stopped meeting Ralf and going to tennis courts. She crossed that pilgrimage off her inner map.

It took months for her world to grow a little in size. During a bookseller conference in Poland, she met Klaus, whom she let into her room four evenings in a row even though he was married; he showed her how to hold his cock in her hand and first make it big and then small again but she didn't really sleep with him properly, perhaps, said Lisa, that would have been the beginning of adultery for him, yes perhaps, I replied and asked, did he really say it like that, in baby language, first big then small again, and she said, yes.


At quarter to twelve, Sören finally arrives. Straight away, Lisa recognises his figure in a loose white shirt, ploughing across the room as purposefully as the sailing boats on the Baltic Sea in the documentary she'd watched earlier on. He isn't exactly good-looking—perhaps because his legs are too short in proportion to his body—but he makes up for this with his energy, that's for sure, and anyway, she's already made up her mind not to be disappointed, not even if he turns out to be as round as a ball or very short, and neither of these is the case. There, now he's recognised her, his light blue eyes fix on her breasts under the strawberry print T-shirt and he smiles a smile like a cool sea breeze. Hot in here, he says, before he's even asked if she's Lisa. But he looks so fresh and sporty in his white cotton clothes that flap about him like a fluttering sail that she can't believe he's hot. Quick as a flash, he sits down on the bar stool so that the disproportion between his body and legs doesn't show any more, and Lisa thinks he's attractive enough after all and immediately forgives him for being late. So instead of bringing it up, she says, somewhat shakily as he grins, well, yes, I'm Lisa, and she's confused that he doesn't reply but scrutinises her instead, from top to bottom and back up again, like an object he's thinking of buying but isn't yet sure if the investment is worthwhile. Lisa wouldn't have minded so much if he'd at least said something as he did so, but on the other hand, she can't think of anything to say herself, so she's happy when the waitress comes over, this time without prompting and with a broad smile, probably because of Lisa's generous tip the last time. While they're waiting for the drinks to arrive, he simply carries on looking at her and she feels strange. She was expecting some sign of disappointment, but his gaze just casually walks all over her body without revealing anything. Lisa drinks her glass down in one go, out of sheer nervousness. Sören whistles cheerfully and orders a new drink with a tip of his finger. I live in Bornheim, she says, and he answers uninterestedly, yes, you told me that on the phone, and I knew it wasn't true, she says to me, I hadn't told him that at all, but she doesn't say anything, she just drinks, it's good for the jitters. And all around her, the walls of the disco breathe in and out, the room expands and contracts as if she's stuck in a mysterious pump.

Lonely-hearts ads are the best, says Sören all of a sudden, ending his sentence by slamming his glass down on the bar, and Lisa wonders, the best of what. She doesn't know if it's because of the music, which is getting louder and pounding harder, but she can't understand what he's saying, anyway luckily, he adds, yelling into her bewildered face, getting to know people this way is so straightforward, and you know, I hate wasting my time. Lisa doesn't quite know if she likes this comment or not, but she finds it interesting because she's never looked at love at first sight in this way, as a potential time-saving device.

She crumples an empty cigarette packet that someone has left lying on the bar, and thinks. If he really hates wasting his time but is still sitting next to her, this can only mean—as outrageous as it seems to her, it's only logical—that he likes her. What do you do for a living, she shouts, her high-pitched voice fighting against the noise, like a much too high, solid wall, but he just waggles his head, vaguely nodding—he probably hasn't heard what she said—and lifts a cigarette toward his large white blocks of teeth. She says it again and he comes in closer until his mouth is almost touching her ear, and she can smell the nicotine on his breath, mixed with a sweetish aftershave and some sweat, and the concoction confuses her so much that she doesn't quite catch the answer but it has something to do with computers. Really, that's interesting, she says and he laughs scornfully and says yeah, right, and she imagines that what he does is probably so specialised that he can't explain it, besides, he's probably not in the mood to discuss it with her, an amateur, and he's quite entitled to both these points of view. And anyway, he replied to her ad so he could improve his private life. He brings his lips to her ear again, are you feeling relaxed, he asks, I hope so, and he takes a sip from his glass then looks at her again, this time with slightly narrowed eyes. Yes, says Lisa immediately, affirming without thinking, and as she does, she realises that it's even true, she really does feel relaxed. That was the right answer, he nods in satisfaction and asks another question, and you have a good imagination, don't you? Lisa is thrilled; he's interested in her personality, and the apparent disjointedness of the conversation is most likely because of his nervousness but that really doesn't matter, no one understands that better than she does, and waving her hands she says yes, imagination, I've got a good imagination, I really have, yes, like a mantra, and she wonders how it's possible that the selfsame situation, which almost overpowers her when she daydreams, can be so nice and simple in real life. She finishes her drink, it's easier saying it aloud, I've got a good imagination, she crows again, and she realises that this is true, even though no one has ever said this of her. But now her personality is laid open in front of her like a grand palace, and inside, her qualities are spread like precious furnishings, ones she never knew she had before she met Sören, no, it took someone to come and do a guided tour: here, ladies and gentleman, is Lisa's belly, here's her heart, here is her fondness for the Monday evening thriller on Sky, and over there, that great big colourful thing that looks like a friendly cloud, is her imagination.

It was important to her to repeat this conversation to me, word for word, and she frowned slightly as she did so, as if she were trying to pass a test. Since then, I've understood why: it was the only way she felt she could justify what happened afterward. She was still searching for the misunderstanding at the bottom of it all. In truth, I can understand only too well how she interpreted the silence that seemed like a good kind of silence, after all, North Germans are known for their love of silence, how she watches Sören, fascinated and slightly drunk, occasionally taking a sip from his bright yellow drink, how he lets his fingers dance a ballet, only to lift a bluish-white tissue to his red, moist lips and dab at them. Lisa watches this performance, unable to tear her eyes away, and then, all of a sudden, he catches her admiring gaze as if he were juggling a ball in the air, smiles and says, let's go, I'll show you my flat, and Lisa goes with him because in films, they're always that quick and direct, aren't they?

Outside as she walks, every step feels as if she's sinking into cotton wool, and when she looks down at herself, she notices that the reflection of the pink-neon lettering makes her legs look like flamingos' legs, and she has to giggle and uses this as a pretext to lean against Sören. The traffic has slowed to a crawl now, it's pitch black, and one bar looks much like the other. The station neighbourhood seems to have grown into a city in its own right while she was in the disco, with possibilities previously undreamt of, a behemoth lacking a conventional plan. Lisa feels as if she's in a cabinet of mirrors because the façades of some bars and clubs seem to repeat themselves over and over again. It wouldn't surprise her to come across Sören and herself a few more times. The number of people has increased too but now, accompanied by Sören who determines how fast they walk with purposeful, firm steps, no one gawks at Lisa, quite the opposite, she openly stares at the others: the woman over there, her long legs encased in stiletto boots and whose taut bottom sticks out in a skimpy, red miniskirt. The group of sullen-looking men in grey suits and yellow ties, and over there, the tiny man dragging a pit bull by the lead with a sagging face and red eyes. Normally, Lisa crosses over to the other side of the road when a dog of this size approaches on the pavement, but not now. Whatever happens now will be good, she thinks, and a wave of anticipation carries her forward. When Sören lays an arm across her shoulders because she's swaying slightly, she has the feeling she can tune in to the rhythm of his steps without missing a beat.

After ten minutes, they stop in front of a building crouched on the corner, crooked and lopsided, they trip up the stairs through a corridor that reminds her of a tunnel, with a pallid light from a window at the end. Shortly before they reach the last flat, Sören bends down, clearly fishing for a key under the mat, the door gives in, creaking. Eager to know what awaits her next, Lisa takes a bold step forward. Then she takes a step back as if to give the room a second chance, as if she expects that the room is just playing a joke on her, and will immediately transform itself into a friendly two-room apartment with a round kitchen table and a bottle of red wine waiting for Sören and her, but the flat remains what it is, a bare hole.

It's a hole that someone's tried to fill, only making it look bleaker. A lengthways part of the windowpane has been replaced and points like a clean finger to the remaining three panes. Otherwise, there is a bed, a chair, and a half-blind mirror, decorated with a chain of brand-new, shiny coloured lights that are vaguely like party lights. The grey-brown door probably leads into the bathroom and gives the impression that any minute now, a junkie with a satisfied expression on his face could cheerfully walk out. What's certain is that no one lives here. Slowly, Lisa's mood darkens, as if a spoonful of cocoa has been stirred into a glass of pure milk, turning it into a murky brown soup. She turns around just as Sören is locking the door from the inside before putting the key into his trouser pocket. He hasn't stopped smiling; there you go, she thinks, so this is what he was after, to sleep with me in this shoddy room.

And with a desperate courage brought on by sadness, she thinks of tearing the key from his hand and storming out, back down, along the street, back to the station, into the overland train, home and into her bed, pulling the covers over her head and forgetting the whole thing.

But Sören is behaving strangely all of a sudden, he's now sitting, sunken into himself on the bed, looking up at her with searching eyes, is something the matter, asks Lisa, unsure because this transformation puts her in mind of a diabetic she once knew, a very loud and energetic person who, shortly before she had her injection, sunk into herself just like this, an abortive cake, and then asked if she could lie down until later, when she'd slowly recovered, when she'd ask for a glass of water. Lisa feels outright motherly concern for Sören right now, what's the matter, how can I help? And the reply comes, almost ruefully, as quick as a shot, he asks, can I dress you?

Dress me? Lisa doesn't get it, senses something unsavoury behind all this, something spine-chilling about to happen, repeats, what do mean, dress me?

Sören bends down and reaches for a certain place under the bed where he digs out a plastic bag, shakes out something black, smooths down the empty plastic bag with his hand like a meticulous shop assistant, then treats its contents even more carefully, handing it to Lisa like crown jewels. Lisa, infected by the momentousness of the occasion, as his expression reflects, takes the offering with outstretched arms. She unfolds everything and looks at it. There are two sections: two parts for each foot, or rather, leg, it's a piece of clothing that is a cross between a pair of boots and tights, all made of stretchy, squeaky rubber. She weighs it in her hands, squints up at him, there's a childish, excited expression on his face when he says, wait, I'll help you, and suddenly he starts fumbling with her skirt like a little boy who's playing with his sister's sacred doll, and all this makes her curious after all – as if she's been zapped by accident into one of those strange arty films on Channel 4, a film which has scenes without any connection to the actual plot but which stay in your mind for a long time—and passively, she lets him take off her skirt, T-shirt and panties.

She slips the rubber thingummy on all by herself while Sören kneels in front of her to help; it clings to her skin and can only be pulled up with effort. She has to do up the laces on the thighs like ice-skating boots. Sören, with a care normally shown to newborn babies, is now holding a pair of black pumps, shoes that are far from new, quite the opposite, the heels are crooked and the patent leather is scratched on the sides, a shabbiness that bears no relation to the tenderness with which he puts them in front of her feet, and she puts on the shoes, teetering on the high heels that point down into sharp stilettos, so that now she's a good deal taller than Sören. In this outlandish get-up, and more than a little confused, she stands in front of him feeling mortified, but he says, you're so beautiful and gazes at her in such an admiring way, a way that she's never been stared at before, and all at once she doesn't find the ugly paraphernalia that bad but exciting instead, it emphasises the specialness of the occasion after all, and she feels like a queen, proud and attractive. She takes a few steps up and down. The items of clothing are like a costume, prompting her by the mere fact of their existence to act in the strange play that she's been thrown into. The half-blind mirror reveals a completely unrecognisable person, an abstract pattern—white on top and black below—and as she's looking at herself, Sören switches the little coloured lights on above and she looks different again, perfectly formed, scattered in a myriad of colourful dots, the figure of Madonna in a medieval church window. Entranced, she stares at herself in the mirror, just as she sees a silhouette approaching her, naked and white. Quick as a flash, he's undressed himself; she feels a tongue in her mouth, not soft and slimy like Ralf's but small and so hard that it could loosen her teeth with its thrusts. Shall I take this thing off? she asks into his mouth, and is utterly shocked when she hears his voice, its biting tone. No, says Sören, now we carry on, now it's up to you to use your imagination, make a bit of effort, and then he lies back on the bed without more ado, so that the little coloured lights illuminate him from above as if he were a card lying on a casino table. She looks at him uncertainly, his cock waving in the air like a gearstick, as he waits for something to happen, something that she's supposed to do, but she doesn't know what.

After he's been lying there for a while, he swears inaudibly, grabs her and rolls onto her with an infuriated sigh. She feels him thrusting and a stabbing pain, she screams. He covers her mouth with his hand and grunts, never thought you'd be so horny. After that, she just whimpers quietly, and tries to twist her head past his body so that she can breathe. At first, everything was ghastly, horrible, and repulsive. But then she sees his face. It's distorted in an asymmetrical way, as if there were two shadowy half faces belonging to two very different people over her—the eyelashes and eyebrows so fair that they're almost invisible—and it's this difference, which in their ecstasy blends into one, that reminds Lisa of the two expressions of the fishermen in the documentary film, their introverted expressions taking no notice of the camera as they make headway over the waves. And all this means that she almost takes pleasure in the whole thing. She watches his closed eyes, his mouth opening and closing to his soft moans that match the rhythm of the thrusts between her legs. The pain throbs and beats, it reduces her body to one spot near the back of her hand, and although tears run down her face because it hurts so much, at the same time she feels a sense of relief, as if the pain in her heart has been condensed into the much smaller area between her legs, has become manageable, controllable. She becomes an arrowhead of hatred, self-hatred, and she starts liking it. Really enjoying it. Strange, huh? But suddenly, it's all over, blood and sperm are smeared on her thigh, Sören turns away and lies, rolled up, he looks peaceful as if he's asleep. Hello? she says uncertainly, but he only grunts threateningly. She notices a spider crawling across the bottom end of the covers, and the dirty corners of the walls and all at once, she feels such revulsion, the alcohol adding to her nausea. She stands up, runs into the bathroom and gags over the sink but nothing comes up, and then she washes out her stiff, painful vagina with a few hand movements. She stands there for a while and simply stares into the sink until she notices old hairs in the drain, curly ones that didn't grow on anyone's head.

Slowly she realises what has happened and what hasn't, Sören, she says clearing her throat, Sören, I'm going. Yeah, fuck off, he says gruffly without even looking up at her and she wishes she hadn't said anything at all. She begins to get dressed with swift, determined movements. Her skin is sticky in places from Sören's sweat. When she pulls on her T-shirt, she briefly thinks back to how, earlier this evening, she'd tried on all five skirts she owns, slipping them onto her freshly showered body, moistured with coconut body crème, trying on different tops until she'd finally found the best combination. She'd like to laugh about it now but that's not going to happen, the tears are already welling up. It hadn't mattered at all what she was wearing. She's still not crying as she takes the key out of Sören's pocket, unlocks the door and leaves, she knows that if she starts now, she won't be able to stop.


Outside, the morning sun blinds her, burning her eyes as if someone has sprayed them with pepper. Dazzled for a moment, Lisa stumbles forward, almost colliding with the neon-orange-jacketed men who are picking up litter off the streets with pincers, looking like big hungry birds. Life seems to be going on as usual, not taking the blindest notice of her disappointment. The blonde girl in snakeskin trousers has probably gone home to sleep already—no, more likely, she's met someone and isn't on her own this morning like Lisa. She tries one last time to suppress the tears but she can't hold them back any longer, and the world begins to blur around the edges, light blue and bright yellow, breaking up into coloured whirling dots. This time as she turns the corner, she really does bang into the young man in the ripped denim jacket, his arms stretched out again or still stretched out. Taking off, thinks Lisa, is the only thing he can't do, not with all the drugs in the world. How could she have taken this emaciated guy to be a sign of hope? Suddenly, she hears a command on the morning streets in the station neighbourhood, given by the same god who forces others to dance: it says, avenge yourself on him, go on, it's so easy, just take out your gun and shoot . . . The young man, almost still a child, isn't looking at her but is still gazing with wide-open eyes at the dark sky, as if his gaze were wandering along the walls of an inner museum, so yes, Lisa would be doing him a favour, just closing the door so that he could stay there forever.

She looks at him scornfully, yes, this night certainly was a special one, and it was the one when she finally gave up hope forever. With her scrawny figure, she will never be loved by anyone, no one will ever want to lavish time on her, or eat off her new china with the blue edging. The girl in the snakeskin trousers will always be the one they prefer, even if she can't cook at all. Tonight has finally proven that she'll never experience normal love, that she'll have to think up something else, perhaps force men at gunpoint to touch her, and she looks down in the uncanny silence that has spread across the streets, to the Christ figure, at the thin young man whose ecstatic expression, she realises with astonishment, has only become more intense in death, as if in the end she has done him a good turn.

translated from the German by Lucy Renner Jones

"Lisa und der himmlischen Körper", in: Silke Scheuermann, REICHE MÄDCHEN (c) Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2005