Detlef Says

by hargitai

Detlef falls. The tray from his hand falls. The beer mugs and ash- trays hit the floor and burst into thousands of splinters.

"Everything breaks, everything goes to pieces," he closes his eyes, "whatever's left stinks and shrivels up like abused liver."

He pulls himself up to the bar and leans against the cold mahagony. "My god," he steadies himself, "I am going to die."

He leans against the bar with his palm pressing down on his stomach. His body convulses as if trying to rid itself from the hardened unwanted substance.

"Oh my god," he whispers, "there is filth all over me!" He pulls himself up onto the bar and takes his medication with a glass of vodka. Then he waits, leaning on the counter, moving little. "Another week. It is just one of the things, one of the things I would like you to remember...Like..."

He leans forward and washes his face in the sink. "Like cleaning the sink...Remember the sink must be washed every day, else it will have bad breath of the pipes, stale beer, second-day liver."

He washes his mouth, wipes the filth from his lips, the blood that slowly trickles up from his stomach, from the hardened cavities of his tortured body.

"You have to scrub, hard as you can. And the detergent will slowly eat itself into your skin. After years your hand will become blotchy, permanently red. Your skin will die. Slowly the poison will set."

The phone rings. He makes a move, but falls on the floor. "Answer the phone," he whispers, "somebody answer the phone." But he is late. The rings stop. There is less and less connecting him to the world.

"Tips go in your pocket. Tips you don't share. It is a gratuity, a special pay for your services, not as the barman, but as yourself, the person, the one playing the role. Tips are a private matter. Private, delicate, between the one who gives and the one who takes."

He pulls himself up onto the flat marble of the counter. "No fingers. Never touch the ice with your fingers. People do not like that, fingers in the ice-box is like fingers in the drinks."

He falls again. This time on the trap-door going to the basement. "Down there it is cold like the Byelorussian Winter. One always shivers. One never wants to be alone. It is a trap...Cold on account of the drinks. Soft drinks taste better when chilled, rum when tepid...The door downstairs opens only from outside. If it slams shut you are stuck. First you'll shiver, then the chills will come, then suddenly it will all be hopeless. You'll be cut off from the others, you'll be isolated like a block of ice. And if no one's around and...there will be no one around..."

He tries to light a cigarette but he doesn't have the strength to lift his arm anymore.

"At first it was all bright, white powdery snow, white skies, white trees. And it was all quiet, very very quiet. Nothing moved, yet thing were coming closer and closer. The gasoline jelled in the tanks, in the transport barrels. The jeeps, the trucks the locomotives were all disabled. No one washed, no one had cigarettes. You could see fifteen miles away. But there was only snow and the unmoving things closing in. Men were like blocks of ice, isolated and slowly dying. There was no one around and we knew if no one came we would all freeze. It was all white. We were waiting for the enemy to save us."

The phone rings. He makes a last move to pull himself up onto the counter, but he falls back, crashing to floor. His head bounces hard on the wall, on the cold metal of the freezer, at last his face comes to a rest on the trap-door. "Karl-Heinz Muttich, Otto Schiendler, Peter Lautner, Franz Ebike. Wolfram Wilkie, Karl and Hugo Eberhardt, Willie Bauer and Franz Linwand, Otto Schmucke ... fuer das Vaterland gefallen."

Copyright © 1997
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