Everyone Dies, Even the Paddlefish

Kathrin Aehnlich: Everyone Dies, Even the Paddlefish

Übersetzung Edna McCown

Chapter 2

The new boy with the big ears stood in the cold neon light of the cloakroom, right in the middle of the room, and his school slippers seemed to be stuck to the green linoleum. Take off your pants, Aunt Edeltraut said, and the new boy pressed his hands against the seams of his cords. All the children take off their pants here, said Aunt Edeltraut. Her voice still sounded friendly, but it had that slight quaver that signaled danger. The boy wasn’t familiar with the danger, it was his first day in kindergarten. Slippers, tights, sweater, smock, said Aunt Edeltraut. The dress code was set. The boys wore boys’ smocks, which looked like oversized bibs that crisscrossed and buttoned in the back, the girls wore girls’ smocks in bright colors, some with little gathered pleats. They all wore the same tights, ribbed cotton with one seam in front, two in back. There were children who never learned. The tights bagged at the knees and the backside, and after naptime skinny little Matthias Seibt, one of those who never learned, bagged at his stomach and at the backs of his knees.

We don’t want to introduce any new fashions here, said Aunt Edeltraut. She fixed the new boy with a look that would have had every single one of them staring at the floor. But the new boy held her gaze.

Take off your pants!

No! the new boy said and looked Aunt Edeltraut straight in the eye.

He said it loudly and clearly. His voice revealed neither fear nor provocation. It was a no that excluded all possibility of doubt.

Oh, so you can speak, said Aunt Edeltraut, and surprisingly her voice sounded a withdrawal. Then tell the other children what your name is?? She took pleasure in drawing out the question mark.

Jean-Paul Langanke.

What?? How’s that?? Aunt Edeltraut’s battalion had regrouped for ambush.

Jean-Paul Langanke.

Ah, Jahnpole, said Aunt Edeltraut. Jahnpole! She said it like a bad word, like something that would breed decay if you held it for too long in your mouth. And soon enough Matthias Seibt, who was always squealing on others to hide the fact that he could neither tie a knot nor put his tights on right, would pipe up and say, Aunt Edeltraut said a naughty word!

Jahnpole, Jahnpole, Jahnpole, Jahnpole. Aunt Edeltraut savored the thrill of the forbidden, clapping her hands in excitement, and all of the children clapped with her, louder and louder. Except for Skarlet. But before she was forced to see how the new boy, who now didn’t seem strange to her at all, turned away in tears, her unconscious took pity on her and released her from her dream.

She ran barefoot across the cold floor to the kitchen to put on water for tea. The plate of spaghetti, the remains of yesterday’s meal, was still sitting on the table. The tomatoes and cheese had developed a crust. At Aunt Edeltraut’s everyone cleaned their plates and emptied their cups.

Skarlet needed only to close her eyes to see before her the Sprela cart, its formica top covered with red plastic cups filled to the brim with a mix of warm milk and alledgedly healthy buckthorn berry juice. She knew that only those who drained their cups would be allowed to go out and play. Aunt Edeltraut would lean back in her desk chair, arms crossed over her massive bosom, and wait. She kept watch over the uneaten cheese slices and spurned lentil soup. She found every piece of meat Scarlet concealed under her tongue, every slice of cheese stuck in the pocket of her smock, even the blood sausage under the doll’s bed mattress, and she knew that Skarlet’s blowing on the milk was merely a delaying tactic and that the milk had long since cooled. We drink the skin as well, Aunt Edeltraut said, summoning up the starving children of the world. Six-year-old shoeshine boys from Rio, rug weavers from India, all of whom needed to be saved by Communism. Skarlet knew that if she didn’t drink her milk the skin would just get thicker, and she knew there was no escape, for in the end Aunt Edeltraut would hold her nose for her for as long as it took Skarlet to swallow it down. See, that wasn’t so bad!