How to recognize a Rat by its Tail

My life had fallen asleep. I missed Ätz. The white rabbit was sitting in a cell, the court had declared him crazy. Miro called me. Chang testified. He was talking about exterminating a rat, I turned him down. For me, there were only shopping tours left, so much so that I almost gave up drinking, because I could no longer afford it carefree. I couldn’t give up smoking though. We promised to see each other soon. Miro hung up.
I drove out into town, sat in the bar for old time’s sake. She didn’t work there anymore. She gave up her dreams for the madness of everyday life. A queen in high heels. They all lose the fire once to fight for their life. I still burned in mine and as much as I tried to extinguish it, the coals burned a hole in my cornea.
I ordered a whiskey. First drop of alcohol in months. Ulrich, the Nordic waiter still worked there. He greeted me. I drank to him and with him and asked about her. He just shook his head. I nodded. I’ve lost too many times to not clap at their wedding.
I drank the bottle, except for a lacquer, with him, gave the rest to a group of celebrating, passing by teenagers, and fled by taxi before they could ask me for my name. I gave the driver her address and he took me there.
The ride over I thought about what I would say. There was so much I wanted to tell her. The right words didn’t come to me, but I basically knew. When you meet a girl who’s worth it, you feel it. If the pure thought of her has already woken, you up from your cold rigor. The thought of the nonsense she might be up to – if she’s humming? Yes, if the only thing she would need to do is hum to put a smile on your face, give her everything. A week of good entertainment is worth more than a life in solitary glory. The dead poets can testify. Loneliness has taken more away than alcoholism or nicotine addiction, drug abuse or the idea of power and the desire for influence. More were executed with their own weapons than were killed by the rifles of foreign adversaries or hostile oppressors. No, I’m not like them, I whispered to myself. I die every day anew by my own hand. Sometimes I don’t even see the boy in the mirror anymore. I see the monster, the freak, the shy creature I am. Simply human waste. I wished her the luck of not having to see me again afterward and in the same breath, that she wanted to see me again.
I stroked the back of my head with the flat palm of my hand and walked down the road to her door, hoping I would meet her by chance on the road and she would walk straight towards me. I’d ignore her. Look…yeah…maybe staring, but that the least I’d do. I was just a real romantic.
The timing must be right because there were moments when I didn’t think I was a bottomless pit in which souls fell to die, but in this beautiful new world I was nothing, and they reminded me of that on every street corner.
I had nothing. Everyone looked at me, but not seemed to care enough to see; servants of the modern faith, I called them. The religion of work, friends, family, self-realization, love and the most powerful entity of all, pulling their strings, the money that despite folklore could buy all these things. Like all concepts, it spoke through their disciples; preaching mercy, obedience, routine and above all being happy with what you got. One cannot silence these gods. You can only surrender to them.
I was thinking about ringing the speakerphone. My thoughts were running like wildfire, but I didn’t have to. When I arrived, an old woman was walking through the door and I sneaked through the front door of the house with her. Arriving at her flat, I knocked.
“What the fuck do you want from me?” she asked me when she opened the door for me. The reunion went better than I expected. If a guy you haven’t talked to for months showed up at your door stinking drunk – one who’s always texting, you with clutching messages – you should at least expect to shoot pepper spray in his eye as a woman’s first reaction.
“God damn it, I don’t know”
“You come here, to my house, where my husband sleeps, and the work keeps me awake…”
“Then tell your husband to wake up. I’ll fight him for you”
“You’re out of your mind”
She slammed the door in my face. I knocked my fist against it. Nothing moved behind it.
“Come on, come on. A little fistfight never hurt anyone. I just want to see who’s the tougher one”
Eight times I knocked with increasing intensity. The door was vibrating under my knock. Desperately I pressed my face against it and drooled her spy full as I licked the peephole in drunkenness. I struck a little melody against the wood. No one answered. Nothing moved. I felt powerless. Beaten without a single punch.
I leaned my whole body against the door. My face slipped to the ground. I didn’t fight it. I slumped down and with the door in my back, I buried my head between my knees. Something was moving behind the door. A shadow danced under the crack. I got up, wiped my pants.
“Is he gone?” I heard her ask behind it. When I heard it, the two of them probably didn’t know I could. I walked down the hall and down the stairs. One floor below, I knocked at the second door on the left. Where there wasn’t have a flower vase standing in front of the apartment door, so I didn’t have to expect a frightened housewife. I was right. A fat man with curly hair opened it for me. He had two heads above me.
“YES?” rumbled the frizzy skull.
“Hello, my name is Nathaniel”
“What do you want?”
“Can I use your phone?”
“Don’t you have a cell phone?”
“Wouldn’t ask if my cell phone worked”
“Okay, then don’t” I nodded thankfully to the man with the curly hair. I turned around. I was dizzy.
“Wait a minute”
I turned around, he locked the door. I waited two minutes, then he unlocked the door and pressed his smartphone into my hand.
“One call” he hissed.
“Thank you”, I dialed the number, “Do you have a can of beer or something I can buy from you? I’m thirsty, otherwise, I’ll get clear in my head again”
“Don’t cross the span”
I typed the number from memory. Twice I had to delete it completely, then I finally entered the number correctly. While the dial tone sounded from the loudspeaker, I scratched my head. I was still dizzy. My eyes felt like they were popping out of my skull.
“Hello?” she beeped into the phone.
“I’m sorry,” I said and hung up.
I gave the man with the beer belly and the curly hair his phone back.
“That’s it?”
I didn’t answer. He took his phone back and threw the apartment door shut. Down the stairs, I struggled not to just let myself fall. I took the subway home. Back in my room I took off my shoes and threw them through the room. I tore the T-shirt off my upper body, pulled the pants off my legs, then the socks and the underpants. I also threw my jacket over the desk chair, I just couldn’t remember it. I pulled out my smartphone, opened the messenger app. I started typing on it.
“In the evening you don’t care if you lie in his arms, snuggle up to his breast and stick your tongue in his mouth. I know that, too. But early in the morning, you think of me. .”
“Oh, shut up” I heard her think through the phone. Nothing just came back. Her silence was clear.
“… yes, in the evening you don’t give a shit about me, the day has already got you there, and to waste a foul thought on a miserable bastard like me doesn’t come to your mind. Why should it?”
I counted the minutes I waited for an answer as I drank myself into unconsciousness. Again and again, I checked to see if it was just my smartphone. Often, I didn’t see notification coming back until I opened the app. Hours later, nothing came yet. When I woke up, she had read it.
She was gone. Not from my mind, but from my life. I really had done it. I had reached a low from which there was no coming back for me. That I couldn’t talk myself out of.
I didn’t do that again. I laid down on my bed and wrote on paper what I thought. Not nice thoughts. There was a lot of talk about suicide. It had a name in the first draft. I called it “How to recognize a rat by its tail”


In the morning I drove back to the village. I only left the house the days after that when I had to. Martina had written me a message, I met her at the beginning of the next week. Until then, I sat imprisoned in a house full of dead memories, writing masses of paper full of incoherent scraps of conversations, I had with her, and compulsively trying to combine words that could express the essence of our relationship. Nothing was good enough. I felt connected to her, while I didn’t even believe in connection and she didn’t believe in ours. It was just a feeling, not a clear thought. I could have put a clear thought into words, but it was only a feeling because I could not. What was I hoping for? My life had fallen asleep.
My night with Martina was like any other. We were together, talked and fucked and hardly slept. In the morning she jumped up, hurried to the bathroom and was away without me even getting out of bed.
At the remains of the wall we met and got closer, I mentioned that we should end it. She left without words and then I didn’t hear from her for a week. I thought she’d finally realized what a mistake she made with me. I stayed at my house and looked at the TV. Just bullshit like usual. Two days TV program and I was thinking about finally connecting the house to the net. I just didn’t want to talk to the employee from the internet company. The week went by, and then I heard about it. Martina had died in a car accident on her way to work. And even if I didn’t dare to think it: I almost wish she’d gotten it, not Martina. She was innocent.

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– First Chapter: The Romans Would Have Eaten Fries




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