In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Postcard Sea
  • Paula Köhlmeier (bio)

translated from German by Maria Fink

We rode a bike around Vienna. I sat on the carrier. My sweetheart held a cigarette between his teeth. It was burned down to the filter. With my hands, I held on tight to my sweetheart. Like in the movies. Sometimes my brain turns outward.

We sat down at a table in front of Flex. I closed my eyes and acted as if someone had shot me. My hands were glued to the gunshot wound. I tried to get up, but that was difficult with the gunshot wound in my stomach, and I collapsed back onto the bench. My sweetheart rolled his eyes. He had seen it before.

Then he was gone.

I waited.

He had said, "Wait here!"

A woman wearing a much-too-big coat, much-too-small pants, and with her face buried under three hats, sat down next to me.

"In the past," she said, "weed was much better. I like weed better than hash. It doesn't scratch your throat as much. The hash you get today, it crumbles. In the past, it was softer. I was able to roll another joint with the hash that got stuck on my fingers. Would you smoke with me, if I went out and bummed some? Only if you want to. I don't like smoking alone. It makes me depressed. I'm at war with myself when I smoke a joint alone. It makes me think too much. There should be a button to switch off your brain. I can only do that when fucking, but even then, not really. Would you smoke with me?"

She had a scratchy voice. Like the barmaids in old black-and-white movies. I felt the bullet in my stomach again. I was the wounded heroine in a ketchup-colored pool of blood.

"Yes, I would," I said.

"You have a pretty scarf on your head," she said.

I adjusted the scarf on my head. I always do that when someone gives me a [End Page 270] compliment: I highlight the compliment. My first boyfriend, for example, told me I had a pretty mouth. He was a photographer. He took pictures of candles. They were used for funeral and wedding cards. He said I had a pretty mouth and I puckered my mouth for the rest of the night. I wanted, after our date, for the pretty mouth to turn into a gorgeous mouth in his mind. That's what I mean when I say I highlight a compliment.

"I have a probation officer," she said and pulled the bottom hat farther down her face. "I was in prison," she said.

I couldn't see her eyes anymore. They were buried under her hats. I was having a conversation with a nose. Her mouth was behind her hands. The rest of her was only an assumption.

"Because of attempted assault," she said.

"But only two weeks in prison," she said.

"I'll have the probation officer for three years," she said. "Once a month I have to go see him. He said, if I only miss a single time, I have to go back to prison. Is that true? I've already not shown up twice. I think he doesn't care about me. Is he actually off work when I don't show up?"

I shrugged. Then it was quiet around us for a second.

"What's your job?" I asked into the silence. Immediately after I had asked the question I felt like a probation officer. I wanted to take the question back. Like in a game show under spotlights with a jingle for "correct question" and a jingle for "wrong question." I can ask three incorrect questions, the fourth one counts. You can win an all-inclusive vacation to Crete. A trip with sweaty people who smell like suntan oil.

"I used to sell comic books, novels, and toys in Prater. By the hot dog stand right at the entrance," she said. "Someone stole my stuff. Two big plastic bags and a blue duffel bag, all filled with toys, comic books, and novels. In the...


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pp. 270-274
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