Short fiction | Water

On Präsenzer Lake

A woman is sitting alone on a bench on a shore in spring, waiting for her lover. A tale about a secret place by the water

She sits by the Präsenzer Lake and waits for her beloved. It's springtime now and fire bugs crawl over the pine needles at her feet. The water still smells fresh, the rotting processes of summer begin later. Young greenery pushes the browns of winter into the undergrowth, ants plunge into the soapy scent of lime blossom and the buzz of beetles - like cracked bells. She also comes here in summer, autumn and winter. And she always sits alone on the bench made of mossy wood. Sometimes she leans forward and stares down to the bottom of the lake, sometimes her gaze rebounds from the surface of the water and turns to the sky. The devotion never stops, sometimes dark and deep, then bright, full of longing and foreboding.

This place, this shore cannot be without her. Everything is alive - only the trees persist and act like inanimate nature, standing mute and sublime, mirrored in the water. When the birds sing and scream above her, with the sun burning on the top of her head, she feels the vault of the sky, the idea of a shell and the limit of knowledge. So she flies, a bird, to the edge and back, close to the threatening arc and doesn't even have to lift her head because of it, and anyway - what a gift to be able to lift her head, to let it sink.

Sometimes she buries treasures. A ring, a strand of hair, coins, then a diary page. Sometimes she takes off her clothes piece by piece, lies down in the damp sand, where little tongues of water kiss her. She sits in the branches of the trees and looks down there, looks down at the white, glowing body in the flickering play of light from sun and shadow. Arms and legs stretched out, here is to be seen the astronomical horse, floating with a droplet of crimson blood in the corner of her mouth. Thus she wanders between the spheres, is a fish and is a bird, in the water a fish, in the air carried by feathers, so it should be, so it is not, for she dreams herself away and only in sleep she dives in, swims through the algae, is a snake, seeks out loopholes, buries herself in the sand, emerges again, breathes in, breathes out.

The other shore is far away, colourful spots suggest that water slides and pedal boats are set up there for the season. You can see a lot if you have two eyes and are not blind and the sun is shining. A few more days and weeks and children will be screaming over the playground equipment, watched over by concerned parents. She herself - had set off on her own at the age of ten, by tram to Cologne Central Station, in her luggage canned food, a Japanese knife and an encyclopaedia of stars from A for Fred Astair to Z for Adolph Zukor. At her side, her best friend, between them, on edge, the yellow rubber boat. Her friend said she had to be home for supper. She hadn’t understood anything. They would launch the boat on the banks of the Rhine, they would cross the Atlantic, they would go to Hollywood, towards a glamorous future. And you know, she told the friend, there won't be a return.

“There! What a sound! It's the water, it's calling: no one has drowned in a long time”

Seagulls screamed, the wind picked up, spray whipped over the yellow bathing boat. A wave as high as a house crashed over them. They were late for supper. The punishment for the adventure was house arrest. No one had understood anything. That was the real tragedy. The plan had been clear and good and full of promise. There! What a sound! It's the water, it's calling: no one has drowned for a long time. Away! It is not good to hear it! That was long ago. Now she sits by the Präsenzer Lake and she wonders if the Japanese knife wasn't Chekhov's rifle. And blinds herself with the blade, then looks exhausted across the water, where the horizon is strangely enraptured, the sky higher than ever. She waits for her beloved.

Along the surf's edge I walked without ever seeing a human being, he said. I walked one hour on stumbling verse foot, the second, the third, the day and the night, without meeting anyone. I walked, and always walked north. Why north, she wanted to know. There was no reason. There was nothing but the sea, sand and spray, yellowish dune grass.

The lover turned and looked at her. Tell me, where do you secretly disappear to, he asked, every day. I can see you have another lover, why else does your face glow when you return home?

Then she had to laugh. Another man? Idiot!
Prove it to me that you are honest and I am an idiot.
You can rest assured, she told him. Didn't you just tell me about being alone, about the exchange with nature? What more do you want? The world is never entirely yours.

He laughed, and she saw his anger - at her, at the world. That was something different, not to be compared. His flight to the coast was due to her inner need. She had no idea, he thought, because how simple-minded she was and was even a little ugly with her matt hair.
She was trapped, sitting on the shore, lying awake in the night, thinking. Thinking how she could keep him, whom she loved, away from the secret place. All the time! Hish, hash! Go the violins and whistles, she mused.

She looked around, heard a rustling. Something's stirring. Quiet. It’s there, nearby. He had followed her through bushes, the fields, the rape fields. If one gets to the truth and another gets there, their paths will cross. And then he stood there.

Because the day is long and the world is old, many people can stand in one place, one after another.

What a place! Why have you always kept from me that it exists, he asked, proving only that he had understood nothing, and that - was the real tragedy.

Then he shivered, it was too cold for him, and she said, you won't freeze from the morning dew.

It wasn't hard, surprisingly easy even. One thing fits into another. But what followed was sudden silence.

Then, inevitably, the moon.