Marco opens the front door to the flat and can immediately smell that he isn’t there. His breathing grows steadier and he can feel his pulse change from a machine-gun rattle to a more measured beat. A whiff of the sweet stuff that he knocks back by the litre still hangs in the air; it has permeated the entire flat. But the smell isn’t fresh, isn’t mixed with the stench of his constantly sweating carcass heated up by cleaning jobs and workouts. He always has hot hands – not warm, but hot, as if he is boiling inside. When he lashes out, it is like being hit around the head with two schnitzels fresh out of the frying pan.
Marco stands in the open door and looks in. He holds the key with the pointed end in front of him like a tiny gun. Their key rings aren’t hanging on the rack – neither Anita’s stupid Diddl mouse nor his pathetic tiger’s tooth weighed down by the jangling keys of countless flats and offices. None of them are his, he just gets rid of the filth. The more keys, the more responsibility: you can tell right away who’s made something of their life. Driving a wreck of a car and living in a high-rise on the Olgaeck, three people squeezed into a 35-square-metre flat. Just last night Marco had been in Pornstar’s wallet again. Sod all. There was nothing to take, as usual. He spends it on air-cushioned trainers with ankle supports, breathable tracksuit tops, protein shakes, eight euros a can. When Marco needs something there’s no point in relying on Pornstar.
Marco doesn’t hang up his key. He wears it around his neck, on a neck strap with skulls on it, white on black. It was a present from Anita. He’ll take it with him when he leaves, as something to remember her by. Not the new Anita, the thin one, whose skin has become so brown and wrinkled from lying on sunbeds that it looks like the paper Grandma Bine puts under frozen pizza in the oven – but the other one, the one who has vanished. The thin Anita is blond, so blond, that her hair looks almost white. She sprays and blow-dries it away from her head, fuzzy as a dandelion. The thin Anita looks great, no question. That’s your mum? Wicked! She’s only plump in the right places, not everywhere like she used to be. “It’s good when a woman has got some curves, that’s the way we like it, right, karu?” Eino had said and squeezed the fat Anita. First she had pulled a face, but Eino had pushed Marco into her arms. Then she had hugged him and laughed. The fat Anita. Blubber-Anita.
“I’ve put on so much weight, I’ll never get rid of it now. Bloody puppy fat.” But then she bought an ice cream that curled up out of the wafer like a greasy lock of hair, one for herself and one for Marco. He had trudged up dusty Königstraße with the tip of his tongue in the cold mass, always one step behind Anita so that he did not bump into her rustling bags: C&A, H&M. The fat Anita liked to wear bright, tight get-up and didn’t like to get stains on it. At least a hundred times a day she would shriek: “Marco, you moron!” “Marco, you’re drivin’ me up the wall!” “If I didn’t ’ave you I’d ’ave a life”! When he wet his bed she twisted the sheet into a hard sausage and gave him a belting. But she also rubbed her nose, small and podgy, against his so that it tickled like mad. She would surprise him with pretzels, stickers, a water pistol, and – when she was in a really good mood – read to him from an old Mickey Mouse book. And in the Saturday queue at Lidl, small, blonde, with a rhinestone in her bellybutton, she pulled Eino. Eino, the Estonian, who actually had only wanted to buy a case of vesi and amble back to his building site, lay cables and solder wires in silence.
No, Marco doesn’t hang his key on the rack with Pornstar’s and thin Anita’s. He wipes the damp palms of his hands on his trousers. He hates that it happens every time. It starts when he enters the stairwell, he can’t do anything to stop it. It’s like that dog Bio-Laupp once told him about, who starts drooling whenever it hears a bell ringing. He doesn’t want to be like a stupid mutt, and still less like Mini-Marco, the nine-year-old squirt who sometimes shat in his pants out of fear, who wet his bed like clockwork. The little cry-baby, shit-for-brains, good for nothing, useless, but lippy as fuck. It’s that Russian’s fault, he programmed him the wrong way. He’s a waste of space, he should’ve been drowned at birth. Mini-Marco, Anita’s retard, Pornstar’s Russian rat, Oma Bine’s scallywag, Eino’s karu. Mini-Marco has disappeared. He has really disappeared into thin air, just as they wanted.
In his place is Marco, nearly thirteen years old. No longer one-metre-twenty tall but one-metre-sixty-seven. Nobody checks his clothes anymore, or his schoolbag, or looks for piss marks on the loo. He’s got a bit of hair now, on his chest, on his arms, on his balls. Every part of him has grown. Recently Pornstar cut down his daily dosage, as if he could smell that Marco was no longer a kid. Of course he still lashes out, but not like he used to. Maybe he doesn’t hit as hard as before, maybe he’s got weaker, older, smaller. It doesn’t really hurt anymore. As a result, things have calmed down in Marco’s head. He remembers things that he hasn’t thought about for ages: for example, Eino’s note in the lining of his mattress, right at the back. Even if you turn the mattress around you can’t see there’s a hiding place there. Marco had opened the seam very carefully with a pair of nail scissors. And he doesn’t fiddle about with it all the time, he doesn’t want it to wear out and become obvious. He thought of that. He’s not stupid, he even manages school stuff somehow. Not like Hurat, Hassan and Ufuk, who are gonna fail big time.
He probably got his brains from his dad, Tobi. The früchtle, as Oma Bine always calls him. Apart from Oma Bine, nobody talks about Tobi anymore. Thin Anita hardly talks to Marco at all anymore. But fat Anita used to rant at Mini-Marco: “We don’t talk about Dad, we can manage alone!” Although he wasn’t really sure what fat Anita managed. She liked to sit in front of the TV, watched shows and series, sometimes cartoons with Mini-Marco. She talked to friends on the phone or argued with Oma Bine. “How am I supposed to go and work, when I’m stuck with Marco? No one’ll take him off my ’ands. You won’t, will you? No one’ll give me a job.” Sometimes she did women’s hair or nails in the kitchen – women she knew from the playground or from their block. In the evening she went out – “I’m goin’ dancing so I know I’m still alive” – sprayed herself with perfume, applied lip gloss, and hung huge earrings from her fleshy lobes: peacock feathers, golden suns, silver birds. Mini-Marco stayed home alone on his mattress next to the pull-out sofa and couldn’t sleep. He knew that she always came back, picked at the lock with her key for ages, stank of smoke and beer and was in a bad mood the following day. She never brought anyone back with her. Back then, Eino had rung their bell in the afternoon with a case of water in front of his chest, a family pack of ice-lollies – bright yellow Calippos – stuffed between the bottles. The damp wrapping tore off noiselessly.
These days, Marco’s real dad, Tobi, is known by most people in Marbach as Electro-Breining. Except by Oma Bine. “You’ve godda laugh,” she says. “The früchtle! I still call him Tobi when I see him on the street. So Tobi – how’s the family? Then he turns bright red and disappears quick smart. Just like he did with Anita.” Because Tobi got Anita pregnant. When she was sixteen for the love of god. But because Tobi was still just a lad at the age of seventeen, and didn’t feel like playing happy families, he turned on the waterworks a bit in front of the ice-cream shop on the high street and buggered off. Marco has never seen Tobi, but he reckons that somebody who knows something about technology and stuff can’t be that gormless. And if Marco isn’t kept down a year at school, even though his mind’s never on his work, then it must be down to Tobi, because Anita is dumb. She let Eino go and dragged home Pornstar, so she must be dumb. The lights are on but nobody’s at home. Like a little beetle with an illuminated butt that staggers through the night and attracts little bugs and critters, never mind what kind. Pornstar flew after her and got his hooks into her, a fat stinking dung beetle with pincers.
Twelve minus nine is three. Marco can work that out in his head, no problem. Which means that that prick has been here for three years. Marco sniggers. Happy three-year anniversary! Marco forces himself to breathe slowly. There’s nobody in the flat. He’s at the cleaning company and so is Anita. Pornstar got her the job so that he could keep tabs on her all the time. When they get home it will be dark. They’ll think he’s behind the curtain, out of the firing line. In fact he’ll be long gone. But first he’s got some time – lots of time – to himself.
was born in 1970 and studied German and English literature, as well as Folklore in Hamburg. She lived in Berlin for several years and now lives and writes in Stuttgart.She is the author of the short story collection Kavaliersdelikt, for which she was awarded the Clemens Brentano Prize in 2005, the novel Kürzere Tage, which was longlisted for the German Book Prize in 2009, as well as the novel Am Schwarzen Berg, which was shortlisted for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize in 2012.
studied English and German at Oxford University before working as an editorial assistant for the Daily Telegraph in New York and then branching out into travel writing and editing for Condé Nast Traveller and Time Out Guides in London. In 2005 she moved to Germany, where a sideline in translating soon turned into a full-time career. In 2012 she joined Transfiction, a collective of literary translators in Berlin.