Wolfgang Hermann

 

 

(Austria)

 

 

 

Herr Faustini Takes a Trip

(Excerpt)

 

 

The cat’s eyes glinted topaz as he lifted his head and snuffled a sunbeam, his whiskers vibrating as if electrified. Smacking his lips quietly and purring in a crescendo, he nestled his head back into the grass and clamped his tail between his two forepaws. His body rose and fell in time with his breathing, and he kept his eyes shut for long spans of time, allowing their yellow to twinkle forth only briefly in between innumerable breaths before his eyes once again vanished deep within. This rhythm set the feline tempo, a tempo which exerted a calming effect over the entire garden, spreading into the house where Herr Faustini was just filling the cat bowl for breakfast.

 

How long had the vacuum cleaner been wailing this morning? It was a wailing that served a good purpose, because housecleaning could be easily described as a good purpose. Now the wailing had fallen silent, seemingly refusing to budge from where it had come to a stop. Herr Faustini listened. He focused his attention through the wall, close on the heels of Maria, the cleaning woman, who was operating the vacuum. There it was, the tiny tinkling. Herr Faustini’s ears had learned with bat-like sharpness to detect this miniscule sound. The vacuum was now running again, but it was not moving. Herr Faustini could see Maria in his mind, how she was standing motionlessly on the other side of the wall and staring at the pile of shards. Did she feel badly about this? Was this typical for her? Was it normal for Maria that each of her visits was accompanied by a crash? Maria had been cleaning for Herr Faustini for several months. And like clockwork, she broke something in the house every time she came. Once it had been a vase that had survived an eternity in a particular nook, until the day that Maria got too close to it. Another time it was a picture that she tried to dust unconventionally, whereby, in the process of being dusted, the picture fell under the effect of Newton’s Law of Gravity. The picture plunged to the floor, its glass shattering upon impact. On yet a different occasion, the victim was a small, plump cherub, which Herr Faustini had received as a Christmas gift from his neighbor, Frau Gigele, and which he had suspended from the ceiling by a long, barely visible cord. The cherub seemed to float about halfway up the wall, borne aloft by its incandescent goldenness and its smile which beamed in all directions. As the cherub smashed against the floor, it was suddenly very still in the house. Maria did not dare move. Herr Faustini could hear the silence, and even before he laid eyes on the cherub fragments on the floor, he knew what had happened. Maria retreated to a far corner of the house and acted busy. Herr Faustini stood with the pieces of the cherub cupped in his hands and thought about nothing. In this particular moment of silence, he wondered what was keeping him from seeking a different cleaning woman. He studied the fragments in his hands again, and suddenly realized that Maria was trying to teach him how to say goodbye to the things he cared about. Since only by first letting go, as Herr Faustini finally comprehended this morning, only by first letting go was he free to take other paths. Wasn’t this the very thing that so often struck him about this lovely, tidy country? Everything was cordoned off by property boundaries, the possessors frequently grimacing menacingly as they crouched over their possessions. Finally this morning, it dawned on Herr Faustini that Maria, the cleaning woman, was fulfilling a higher calling when she shattered a vase, a cherub, a frame, and that none of the associated guilt lay with her. Didn’t she always look contrite whenever he caught her with the shards? She would repeatedly stammer out something about not seeing or poor fastenings, or she would scold the thing laying in pieces at her feet, as if it had committed a horrendous atrocity by breaking under her feather duster. No, Herr Faustini decided this morning not to give Maria her walking papers. After all, how could he do that, now that he finally understood her true mission?

The vacuum cleaner was sucking up nothing, undoubtedly to buy Maria time to pull herself together. However contrite she might feel at this point, she could not look Herr Faustini in the eye yet. Besides that, she had a weakness for vacuum cleaner noise, a racket which prevented Herr Faustini, on the other hand, from pursuing any line of thought. He all too readily perceived vacuum noise as an assault on his privacy, and he understood perfectly well why the cat vanished as soon as the vacuum started up. He, too, fled the house occasionally when Maria maneuvered the vacuum through the rooms (actually it was the vacuum that seemingly called the shots), so he could avoid hearing the shattering of the next fragile object. On the other hand, Herr Faustini was afraid that Maria would inflict even greater damage if he left her unattended. The letting go of treasured objects needed to happen in baby steps, one foot after the other. No one had the right to demand that he part with everything all at once, even if it had to eventually come to that. And Maria was the right person to prepare him for that day. The vacuum was no longer running in the neighboring room. Herr Faustini tried not to prick up his ears, but this was a useless endeavor since they pricked themselves up, straining to hear what was going on in the next room. Nothing. Was Maria collecting the pieces? He might have heard a faint clinking. She did not seem to be moving. What was she doing? This is how Herr Faustini had imagined it would be to have a cleaning woman. Within an amazingly short time span, one became the slave of the cleaning woman, doing everything possible in order to not convey the impression that one was a complacent, exploitive jerk, but rather an uncomplicated, sympathetic person. If he were sitting in his office, as he had in the past, during the times that Maria was cleaning his home, he probably would have spent the entire time wondering if everything was going alright, worrying that she had failed to tighten the faucet in the bathroom, to lock the exterior door, to set out fresh water for the cat. No, being gone was not a solution. He would have mentally shadowed Maria the entire time she was cleaning, visualizing his armchair standing under water, his bedroom flooded, and the cat helplessly locked in the bathroom.

The doorbell. Who could that be? Herr Faustini opened the door. A man with a red face and an even redder nose was standing before him. “We’re collecting,” he said, rather breathlessly. Herr Faustini looked around. All that was out here was a leaning bicycle, but it was possible that this bike and its man had been on the go together for such a long time that he now viewed the two of them as separate personalities. “We’re collecting signatures,” he continued as he pushed his glasses back in place and fixed Herr Faustini with a penetrating glare. “They want to open a noise factory here,” the red man said. “A discotheque or whatever they call it. We don’t want something like that here. It’ll bring commotion and vermin to our town.” Vermin? Herr Faustini had to think about this for a moment. What kind of vermin would be attracted to the town because of noise? You know, all the wrong kind of people would come because of that wretched place.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have any time to spare your vermin,” concluded Herr Faustini. “We’re grappling with a vacuum cleaner problem here in this house. Besides, shouldn’t you reconsider your choice of words? When you’ve had time to think everything through again, then drop back by. I’m in the process of learning how to let things go, which is why my mind’s not free to grapple with terminology like this. I’m sure you understand.”

The man with the red face traced a rectangle in the air with his head, looked down at the ground, and swung back up on his bike without a word.

Herr Faustini stepped back into the hall, unhooked his jacket, and slipped out of the house. He did not want to see Maria’s advice-seeking face, since he had no advice to give.

 

 

HERR FAUSTINI TAKES A TRIP by Wolfgang Hermann, translated into English by Rachel Hildebrandt.

 

 

 

 
 

 
 

 

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BIO

Wolfgang Hermann

 

Born in 1961 in Bregenz, Austria, Wolfgang Hermann studied philosophy in Vienna, after which he traveled extensively and lived in Berlin, Paris, Aix en Provence, and Tokyo. He has published numerous books of prose and poetry, among the most recent: Abschied ohne Ende (novel, 2012), Schatten auf dem Weg durch den Bernsteinwald (poetry, 2013), Die Kunst des unterirdischen Fliegens (novel, 2015), and Die letzten Gesänge (stories, 2015). Wolfgang Hermann’s numerous prizes include the Juergen Ponto Prize (1987), the Siemens Literature Prize (2002), the Anton Wildgans Prize (2006), and the Austrian State Advancement Award (2007). 

 
 

 

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BIO

Rachel Hildebrandt

 

 

With degrees in art history and historic preservation, Rachel Hildebrandt worked for years as a historical consultant and academic editor before transitioning to literary translation (German). She has published both fiction and nonfiction works in translation, including STAYING HUMAN by Katharina Stegelmann (Skyhorse), HERR FAUSTINI TAKES A TRIP by Wolfgang Hermann (KBR Media), and COLLISION by Merle Kroeger (forthcoming, Unnamed Press). Rachel is also the founder of Weyward Sisters Publishing, which focuses on bringing contemporary works of crime and noir fiction by women authors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to English readers.

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