Fog Backwards

Noemi Schneider

Artwork by Samuel Hickson

July. You see, you can still call that last year. Now you can still say last year. Then in a year you can say two years and in two years you can say three years and in three years four years and in four years five years and in five years six years and in six years seven years and in seven years eight years and so on. You don't say that. Maybe you think it, but you don't say it. You say, last year.

June. The sound of his voice, things he would say. I wish I could freeze them so that I could thaw them out now and again. I know, she says. Me too.

May. I tell her I feel a place now, a place where there was something before. A place, like a room, where the wallpaper has been taken down. Maybe there is a broom standing in this place, or a bucket of paint, maybe above the window there's still a curtain rod that hasn't been removed, but nothing else. Now I want to smash this place, this almost empty room. I read that there is such a thing now, I say. You can erase sites in the brain: permanently rip out almost empty rooms. There is a professor named Elizabeth Loftus in California who can do that. The professor says that memory is suggestive, subjective, and malleable. She asks if I have opened the package. I take a drink of courage and open it. Inside, there is a silk scarf of his that no longer smells like him. I still remember how he smells. When I try really hard, I can still smell him. The scarf does not smell like him. I place the scarf very carefully on the spot between the broom and the bucket of paint, and then I hang it on the curtain rod instead.

April. Daffodils, pansies, and forget-me-nots are growing there now, she says on the telephone. Daffodils, pansies, and forget-me-nots are growing on him now, I say. When I come again, there won't be any more daffodils, pansies, and forget-me-nots. Then there will be roses and ivy, she says. I ask if that's all she's interested in—fucking flowers. Or fucking stones, I scream.

March. I discovered a photo where there wasn't one before and immediately threw it into the trash. If there wasn't one there before, then no one will miss it, I scream at her. She says she wasn't the one who put the photo there. It was someone who meant well. I am still screaming and yell that no one has the right to come here and just put photos up—we aren't a fucking museum. Someone has to sit there at his spot so that it isn't empty, I scream. Someone has to sit there so that someone can stand up when he comes in the door so that he can come in the door and say, that's my spot, you are sitting in my spot. So that someone can get up and he can sit down, I scream. She has cleared his things out of the wardrobe, the closet, and the garage, she says.

February. I haven't quit smoking, but he would be happy if I did, she says. How does she know, I scream, how does she know if he—where he is now—would be happy if I quit smoking. I don't quit.

January. I call her, she isn't there, but his voice is there, on the fucking answering machine. You must never delete that, I yell after the beep, never.

December. She says he wrote something for each of you. I DON'T WANT TO READ IT, I SAY. I DON'T WANT TO READ IT, DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, LEAVE ME ALONE. Fucking Christmas. He always looked forward to it the whole year—to the tree, to choosing it and decorating it. Then he would ring the bell and we were allowed to go in. Already last year he couldn't do it alone, she had to help him and he was so exhausted afterwards that he had to lie down and we all got drunk because we knew that was his last fucking Christmas.

November. All of a sudden he asked about it. And I screamed at him and said, how can you ask such a thing, and then she said yes and started to talk about graves with him, but then he was no longer listening. She thought he would now start to deal with it, but he never talked about graves again. She told him we already have the announcements and the obituary done. Good, he said. I read to him about the white whale, about Ishmael and Captain Ahab.

Don't go away, he said.

I showed him my new boots. The heels are too loud, he said. Once, he almost stopped moving. I got really scared and called the nurse. But she said that was normal.

I love you, he said, and then he fell asleep again. I went out and cried and thought make it stop because I love you so much, more than anyone else. Make it stop.

Then I watched movies all night long, zombie movies.

She spent the night there and then called me around eight in the morning.

I thought about how he stood there in the summer by the sea, in a summer by the sea with his white hat and linen pants with the legs rolled up, saw him standing there in the water, watched as he bent over to pick up a sea shell and then turned around and looked as if he knew something.

The way he looked at me as if he knew something.

She asks if I want to know anything. I scream at her:


We stand for hours in the snow and throw roses on top of him and it's fucking cold and afterwards everyone has a choice of pumpkin soup or liver dumplings, and then apple strudel with a scoop of ice cream and whipped cream, and drinks à la carte.

October. He moves sometimes and pulls the blanket up to his chin. There is almost nothing more to see of him, only the tip of his nose. He just lies there and sometimes gasps for air. Dreaming, maybe. I want to scream why and write, why. Why. I want to kick the door and write, want to kick the door. Want to kick the door. I go outside and smoke.

Suddenly he wants to design shelves. Design shelves. He wants the carpenter to come to him so that he can design shelves. Shelves. Then the carpenter came and designed some shelves, but they were too big and too heavy, and then he wasn't interested in shelves anymore.

Then he just wants it to stop, but it won't stop. Then he stops eating and drinking. But drinking is important. It sucks to die of thirst I say to him, and then he is furious and I say I am not coming anymore.

But it doesn't stop; it begins to snow.

Then he suddenly wants to go home, she talks about bringing him home and makes a lot of frantic phone calls, but then he no longer wants to go home. Then he just wants it to stop. He tells the doctors who say they can't do anything. Then he suddenly wants to go to the sea. But she no longer responds to him.

At the checkout in the supermarket, the woman in front of me says that there is a saying: If October doesn't take you, April will. I tell him this and he's offended for three days.

September. I brought him a camel, but he doesn't want it. Take it all back, he says. Everything is so messy. It was the first time I was at the fucking hospital, and he wants me to stay, and I stay.

August. The pump in the fountain breaks and he wants to come to my birthday. Fucking birthday. He can't get out. He got a fucking hospital infection. I call him, he says he's sorry and happy birthday, very quietly. I do not go to him in the fucking hospital. Instead I get on a plane and think that if I put a note in the Wailing Wall, then maybe everything will be fine. Fucking Wailing Wall. I put the note in it and talked with her every night. She said, enjoy the time and cried.

July. I returned from a trip with some girlfriends. The fountain gurgled, the gravel crunched, and the roses were fragrant. I called out to him, and he came from the garden to us and asked if he could sit down with the young ladies. The young ladies. And then he carefully sat down with us, and the young ladies drank water and smoked and talked, and the fountain gurgled, the gravel crunched, and the roses were fragrant. Then the young ladies left, and I stayed.

We sat there together, he and I, and it was late but still warm. The fountain gurgled, the gravel crunched, and the roses were fragrant. And we drank wine and planned trips and talked about tax returns, insurance, work and life, and about the fact that tomorrow, he had to return to the clinic.

translated from the German by Julie Winter