‘I think there is something wrong with my heart.’ Peirene stops in her stride, bends forward, both hands on her heart.
‘We don’t have time for this. We are late.’ I grab the Nymph by the arm, trying to pull her along. We are heading towards the Underground. European Literature Night starts in half an hour.
Peirene frees herself from my grip, leans against a front garden wall. ‘No, no, I’m not joking. I’ve detected it now a few times. My heart jumps about. I’m so quickly out of breath.’ She wipes her forehead. I notice her perspiration and I suddenly become concerned. ‘Perhaps we should go to A&E?’ I suggest.
For a while she fans herself with closed eyes. ‘Do you think so?’ Then she opens her eyes. ‘No. I’m better already. Let’s get to the event. If my heart irregularity comes back, we can jump into a cab and go to a hospital.’
The evening at the British Library is a stunning success. Six international authors, including our own Flemish author Peter Verhelst, on stage with the glamorous Rosie Goldsmith followed by a beautiful wine reception in the main hall of the library. But at about 10pm I want to go home. I’m looking for the Nymph. I haven’t seen her all evening. For a terrible moment I’m overwhelmed by guilt: What if she has collapsed somewhere in a corner. Then I spot her: chatting and laughing with the handsome Dutch author Jaab Robben, another star of the evening.
‘How is your heart?’ I ask.
‘My heart is on fire,’ the Nymph giggles. Her cheeks are rosy, her eyes gleam brightly. ‘The atmosphere this evening was electric. What a show. It’s just a pity that such events still struggle to draw in the general English reader. Or even English writers. I’d say 90% of the audience were people like us – people whose professions connect with foreign literature. ’
‘So your heart is no longer beating irregularly?’ I wonder.
‘Irregular? My heart?’ Peirene looks at me surprised. Then she catches herself: ‘Ah, yes, yes, of course. It did beat irregularly. Before. But not now. ‘
As we leave, she gives a little wave in the general direction of the authors and their audience. Then she adds: ‘I think people should understand that European Literature Night is a healing experience for any heart condition.’
By Meike Ziervogel
Image by Graham Richardson, creative commons.
This blog was originally published as part of Peirene Press‘s series Things Syntactical. The Pain and Passion of a Small Publisher on 16 May 2016.