I can’t help but be happy.
Darius Kopp stood in the middle of the garden on the patch of grass between the flowerbed and the olive trees, and looked up at the volcano. It was so early that the garden was still dark and damp, but there was sun up on the slopes. The clouds had pulled back into a ruff, the cone was clearly visible. A long, white hair of smoke had detached itself and was drifting out towards the sea. Quite some view, that, first thing in the morning – or any time of day, come to that. You can’t knock it.
When Gabriella looked out of the window at 5.50 am, as she did every day, Kopp was still there. She opened the window and said good morning to him.
Oh good, you’re awake, you’ve got some time. The bulb in number three needs changing and the plug socket’s loose.
I need to get going at about eight, said Kopp.
That’s what I’m saying.
I haven’t had a shower yet. He didn’t say that though. Didn’t go and have one either. He only washed his face, hands and armpits, and was finished before the water had time to warm up. Then he shaved – there was no getting round that; if he skipped it, she’d only send him off to do it later. She knows the done thing and sees it as her duty to point it out to him. On the whole he’s fine with that; it’s her house, her country, and nobody (certainly not Darius Kopp) is as well up on the local customs. Some of her advice, of course, is unnecessary, not to say patronising, but we won’t dwell on that. The fact is, she’s the boss. Kopp did as he was told, as usual, and changed the bulb before he’d even had breakfast. Worse luck for him, the lamp short-circuited; the new bulb blew immediately. Kopp cursed (under his breath).
He went into the kitchen and told Gabriella that the lamp was broken. Gabriella was getting breakfast for the two families in apartments two and six. The milk had grown a skin – would that make her grumpy or just grimly alert?
Then get a new one. They have them in the hipermercato. You can pick one up when you do the food shopping.
A new base would do it, the shade’s still fine.
You’re the expert.
But I’m out with Francesco today.
(The hipermercato is open until ten. So there’s no excuse. I’ll get everything done today. Not tomorrow, not never.)
And the plug socket?
Haven’t got round to it yet.
Then get round to it.
I haven’t had breakfast.
It’s only two screws.
Do we even have the right kind of screws?
How am I supposed to know?
Kopp didn’t think they did; he’d have to buy screws too.
Gabriella had no opinion on the matter; she went into the dining room with the guests’ breakfasts. Kopp stayed in the kitchen and ate up the odds and ends she’d left on the table (with his fingers and without sitting down).
He didn’t manage the plug socket before he set off. Gabriella pulled a face but said nothing. The guests were within ear- and eyeshot. Darius Kopp gave them a friendly wave as he drove away. A woman waved back.
The feeling of happiness returned the moment he closed the gate behind him, and set in as he bumped along the narrow lanes from the agriturismo to the motorway. Dry-stone walls and brushwood fences on either side, or sometimes just macchia. The roads are only ever wide enough for one, but there are bays where you can wait and let people pass. A man had pulled over under a holly oak and nodded at Kopp as he drove past. Someone I know? Or just someone who knows me? It was half an hour to the toll booths. He arrived on time and waited in the drizzle and the diesel fumes until Francesco came.
By Terézia Mora
Translated by Imogen Taylor
From AUF DEM SEIL (‘Tightrope’)
Written by Terézia Mora
Translated by Imogen Taylor
Published by Luchterhand Literaturverlang (2019)
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Terézia Mora was born in Hungary, moving to Berlin in 1990. She is a renowned translator from Hungarian and an award-winning writer. She is the recipient of the German Book Prize, the Georg Büchner Prize and the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.
Imogen Taylor studied French and German at New College, Oxford and the Humboldt University in Berlin. In March 2016, she was awarded the Goethe-Institut Award for New Translation. She works as a freelance translator in Berlin.