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  • 'Extinguished'
  • Catrin Barnsteiner
    Translated by Marielle Sutherland (bio)

What annoys me is that my hands always shake afterwards. The sign language of my pulse. Ridiculous. Hands that can't keep their mouths shut. I give them a cigarette and a light. The cigarette falls down into the washbasin. Ever since I made the two large holes in the living room carpet I always smoke the first one afterwards in the bathroom. The ash hisses in the water for an astoundingly long time, but then it goes quiet and limp.

Bruno always smoked, I never did. But I started on the day he didn't come back. Some people light an eternal candle when somebody leaves, I chain-smoke. For a long time I didn't know what to do apart from smoke. There's not really a lot to do when life suddenly strips you and nothing grows back, no matter how much you try to make it.

After six months the therapist said something that made sense. You've got to heal the soul's wounds through the body and the body's wounds through the soul. So I went to the gym, and since I couldn't stop smoking it's taken me four years to qualify as a trainer. I have some money from Bruno, and that, along with my earnings from the gym, is enough to live on. The therapist warned me against going to the gym Bruno went to. Shortly before he – well, at the end. 'Be sensible, or it won't leave you alone. It'll never let you go', she said, and I couldn't help thinking of the black man. Naughty children are threatened with the black man, naughty adults with depressions. The black man. Bruno had black hair too, I think. [End Page 157] The therapist says I have to stop it. And I would if I only knew what I could do instead. I've lost my husband. And those who are left behind are scavengers who take what's left over. You just get less and less demanding. A crow hovering over a buffet of the hardened crumbs of memory. I'm ashamed that I'm afraid that at some point there'll be nothing left.

In the gym, before anyone has arrived, I sometimes take the barbells and load on as many discs as it takes for the weight to bend my arms slowly back down to my toes.

I like the barbells. Because nothing can make them warm and soft. Standing behind the customers doing bench presses I have to smile when they try yet again to cheat the barbell by furtively arching their backs. Because that doesn't help, they grit their teeth, rousing the veins until they bulge out from the side of their foreheads, screaming blue, like disturbed residents. I always get a bit frightened when I see that. But the barbells, they never get frightened.

'Off', gasps the man lying underneath me on the bench. Sighing, I take the barbell off him and place it back in its support. The man sweats buckets into his T-shirt, but the barbell remains cold. 'Muscle conservation', I say, sternly, as his arms fall away from his body and onto the floor. He looks up. 'Once the muscles have started to work they need more and more effort. Not so that they grow but so that they don't reduce. That's called muscle conservation.' The man sits up cumbersomely and then laughs until his face is even redder: 'It's the same with women. As soon as they're married they want more and more. But now I'm getting a divorce and there won't be another wedding for a while.' I watch him as he goes to the changing room. His T-shirt is hanging out of his trousers. I can see the band of his underpants. His name is Hermann. I find his address on the computer. I will have to look after him more.

My colleagues are grateful to me for taking customers like Hermann off their hands. And I like looking after the old men whose bellies hang gently over...


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pp. 157-164
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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