by Karin S. Heigl
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
original: “Das Knistern”
I was brought to the closest town. Gnadenthau of all towns, and I had pinned all my hopes on it, at the time, so long ago. I was brought there and locked in a cell with white walls that were as white and the door as thick as my shell. I felt good there, I adjusted. The cell was my shell. And I was the pearl in its center.
It was terribly bleak, but it suited me, and it brought to bear my pearlescent beauty.
No one spoke with me. Every now and then I heard shatters of a language hammer on the walls of my shell. Shatters I did not understand, I did not want to understand. But on that level, in the world of broken things, we understood each other, this shattered language and I. I did not want to, but my body, or the fragments of my body, leaned towards it and sucked in its little cracks and crevasses, insofar as they were able to in their strange existence.
Those language shards so long ago awakened a nausea much like that existential one and, had I not spit myself out at that place I do not find again, I would have done it here and left myself lying in this cell. I believe today it’s fortunate that I had left myself behind in that wood for, still today, I’m part of this old, strong maple tree, and that gives me strength. Often I think of the tree as an evenly old, strong man, a protector out of a time before my birth.
But it does not help me.
It seems I’m damned to drift along at my sea bottom, and to see only the old maple’s shadow, or the shadow of its shadow, from far away, from deep down, to see it touch the water ever so slightly; here at the bottom of my sea that is hazy of dust, dirt and pain. But I see it, the old tree.
* * *
Then the war was over and new soldiers came. They did not smell of felt cloaks anymore. They wore cloaks made of green fabric and they smelled of a new world. They smelled of adventure and order.
But none of that touched me down at my sea bottom.
These soldiers I did not understand, either, even though I would indeed have wanted to, for they reminded me of the dusky green algae that, from time to time, were wafting by and made my day colourful.
But these soldiers did not hammer at my wall with their language shards. They opened my door. I did not want to leave my shell; I wanted to remain a pearl.
But something drew me outside, a distant pull, exotic.
But it took not only me.
On it drifted pale coral skeletons without flesh; out of a thousand cells surged, flooded shell shades without meaning or purpose, bereft of their waiting, their shells abraded on the shores of time.
I recognized them.
They did not have a pearl either. From far away I recognize them still today. It’s as if all normal beings saw them not. But I see them, they glow towards me through surf and tow like a light, a dim summer lightning on the horizon, dangerous yet surging up hope. I keep my distance today; I glide into algae woods, slip under the sand to avoid seeing them.
They are beautiful. They are oblivious, breathtaking and criminally beautiful in their fragility. They sing, they call for me in a strange language that makes me shudder underneath many layers of sand. They do not know they are calling for their hunters. I cannot forget their singing, but I do not answer anymore.
I started to drift at the bottom, poked here and there, but I found nothing. I was too tired, too exhausted.
I forgot about the other shells.
But then, one day, I remembered them. They were swimming through the abandoned seas of loneliness; brittle seashells, more fragile than I, and their allure was vast. I sought them, I hunted them, rammed and cracked them to rob them of their pearls. I knew I was harder than they. I knew I had the advantage of the manifold breaking over them. I knew I could crack them, and with each broken shell I wanted more.
I needed them so dearly.
This lasted for a good while, I did not think; I enjoyed the triumph whenever I cracked a new shell. Did they happen to possess a pearl? I took it, but it died soon, and I needed a new one. Often, for the most part, they did not have any, but it did not matter. At the bottom of the sea, I left shells wounded, cracked open; shards sentenced to die. I also liked eating their flesh, but that, too, bored me soon.
I became more and more brittle, the less I hunted; and the more I got covered by mud, the more my shell degraded. I was a crustacean. I was a seashell. Within me existed nothing but my snailsoft spine that disgusted me.
At some point I let myself sink down in between algae and stones, into mud and sand, and remained lying there.
It was nice.
Here I could rest.
* * *
The mud of millennia glided from me when they heaved me up.
That land I had known and the name of which is darkened to me had gone. In its stead a new one had come.
It was a country in which the doctors did not drive around in carts, in which there were no servants, in which the soldiers were disciplined and defended the lands instead of persecuting their inhabitants. There were strange devices I could not get used to. It was a country in which the doctors wore uniforms similar to those the soldiers wore, and in which the soldiers smelled of strange soap.
I could not get used to it.
They brought me to an institution for the sick and the old, and there I finally found someone who spoke my language. He wore a green coat similar to those the Green Soldiers wore and his face was furrowed. I took no interest in him for he was no seashell and he was not brittle. In fact nothing at all interested me anymore by now except for the mud and sand at my sea bottom. I just wanted to drift along and die. Be left alone forever.
But then something happened.
I saw him, his face, and he reminded me of my brother that had passed away many years ago and of whom I only have one single memory. This memory is fading and its forms, fringes and shades assume more and more Teemu’s and this doctor’s shape.
I cannot be sure who it is that I see. And it does not matter. They are all beautiful and free of pain and decay, of time and past in their ancient beauty there on the frayed image in my head.
In that instant, as I looked in the doctor’s face I realized he was my pearl. It was him. And my brother. And Teemu.
They all were my pearl, my treasure I had been carrying within me, for so long, all the time, without recognizing it. Without seeing it. Now I saw. Now I understood. From my eyes sank a veil of stupidity, of blindness like a thousand silver scales.
The doctor spoke with me but I not with him for in those days I did not speak, for no one understood my shattered language, and they feared its broken, sharp edges. Yet he was not afraid and looked at me for a long time.
He looked at me for such a long time, and his gaze sank down to me to the bottom that I thought he must see all, everything that was not within me. And that he must see the pearl, black and lovely as the night that lay hidden within me and in that very instant started to glow gently; the pearl that was my love and my warmth, that hurt so much, was so hard, the pearl I had to cover in softness and hide away so that it did not harm me in its oblivious beauty.
But he said nothing or not much. A while I spent in that institution for the sick and the old, or for the confused, lunatics, madmen, or whatever they were called in those days, a long time ago.
How long I do not know. I know, however, that I guarded my pearl, it was my greatest treasure and it pinched me and hurt me, but I did not care and I loved it and it grew and throve and became more beautiful with each day and hurt less with each year I spent there.
* * *
For a long time I had searched and hunted, rammed and cracked during my forage through the abandoned seas of loneliness to get hold of foreign pearls. Yet since I found my own pearl in the darkness within me, I have stopped doing that.
Countless cracked shells I have left on my way to my pearl, shards of foreign lives I have touched and left bereft. I cannot take back what I have done. But I will try to atone for it.
I have looked for Teemu for a long time. But it is as if he had never existed. And it does not matter. The pearl rests within me and glows darkly. It holds me together. It patches my backbone and smoothes my thoughts. Its powerful calmness and strength I share with the brittle.
This is life.
This is the life I choose.
I have never left that night in the wood. To me, it is like an enigmatic, dangerous friend whose dark elegance I need and admire. There, where I have rooted, I still dwell today. And yet the wood has changed. In it waft algae, between the branches fly fish, at the bottom crawl shellfish and it’s peaceful today.
I don’t remember the place, nor the name.
I am but a fragment. I am the last word, my light is broken into a world of shards, and sinks into the past.
But what remains is the crackling in my ears. It tells me that I am alive and that there is a reason for it.
Copyright © 2016 by Karin S. Heigl