Authors: Helene Hegemann
Helene Hegemann was born in 1992 and lives in Berlin.
is her first novel.
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First published in the UK by Corsair, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2012
Copyright © Helene Hegemann, 2012
The right of Helene Hegemann to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication data is available from the British Library
ISBN: 978-1-84901-054-2 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-184901-888-3 (ebook)
Printed and bound in the EU
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For Lilly Sternberg
OK, so it’s night, and once again that grapple with death, the snatches of fearful sleep, my bedroom shaking with daemonic orchestras and all the burglars’ voices from the backyard continually screaming my name. Not the noise of city roads and not the moans of great ugly giants in agony, unbandaged. Only the dark’s spinets, the howling in my head, the arrhythmic drumming – oh shit. In the old days it all got spewed up in finest adolescent style and now it’s seriously intense literature.
I wake at 16:30, disorientated and wrapped in a duvet cover, primarily bored by myself. I cower. Laurel wreaths woven out of blood kind of flow out of my right ear. Something flashes before my eyes and I recognize it as high-society grotesquery: two cigarettes, two lines of Ritalin snorted through a till receipt instead of a banknote for reasons of hygiene, pulverized Parmesan and a nervous breakdown assuming worrying proportions, presumably the K-hole. For months now I’ve been having the wildest cancer diagnosis dreams – something deeper than nightmares, where I wake up screaming because there are so many thoughts that you can’t distinguish your own from other people’s. What with all my gastric excesses coupled with panic attacks, I feel like launching myself from my third-floor window. But instead I switch on trashy TV and watch a great nature documentary. It’s like some amazing televisual event. All of a sudden there’s this alert jackal, and then there’s a counter-shot of a herd of meerkats, and then they get all ripped to shreds by the jackal in close-up and the viewer overflows with love and thinks: yup, those freaking meerkats really do look so incredibly dumb, they just, like, don’t deserve anything better than getting eaten.
I can either wank off to high-quality hardcore porn or stare at my fingernails and then in the mirror. My dermal appendages have grown into intercrusted eczema and my eyelashes are breaking off.
At that moment, silence falls again.
A trace of social acceptability, no hardtechno track drilling through it any more, just a sobering early fucking summer wind. I didn’t go to school. Five minutes before breaktime I was struggling out from beneath the covers in mortal fear, my heart racing and pain crashing against my skull with every step, even though at that point in time I ought to have been thinking:
All right, today I’ll make contact with a tomato for a change. I have to remove it from the sandwich my responsible parental unit has placed it in for my school lunch.
An hour after hometime I’m standing in front of the mirror, my legs spreadeagled, in the vacant flow of memories of last night’s sweat-soaked gimpish grin and the power of those repetitive dance beats that take on a life of their own.
I want to build a children’s home in Afghanistan and own loads of clothes. I don’t just need food and a roof over my head; I need three villas with titanium white fixtures and fittings, up to eleven prostitutes every day and a Soviet-style Chanel suit swathing me in plush golden twenties chic. Then there’d be no such words as
any more. And no one who pretends to know you better than you do yourself – all that would count then is money. Now we’re getting there. I suddenly notice everyone gaping at me. I go out on the balcony with my fifth cigarette. I’ll just drink and drink until the money’s all GONE. Right now my existence consists entirely of dizzy spells and the fact that it’s been half ripped to shreds by a hyper-real installation of Vaselined tits blurred by Rohypnol.
I say, ‘As soon as we begin doing something for others, we release ourselves from the prison inside of us. Alice hates herself, but that’s what’s so awesome: I can see she’s losing it and increasingly destroying herself. I’m so scared I can’t think any more. I’ll do anything to still have the privilege of knowing you. It’s no big deal if you don’t want to fuck me any more. You’ve disappeared out of my life now. It’s not as if I can abuse myself here the whole time with self-reflection and self-torment; I don’t know, there must be something else, like an irrational moment, one of those moments when you give me that fixed look with your colourless eyes. I can always see you’re just working out how many people are standing between us right now. Do you remember? How we always had to work out how many metres apart we were? And how I told you at some point, when we were alone at last, what perfection that was for me? Those moments when we looked at the sea – they were so perfect that I didn’t have to savour them. I can tell I’m going crazy. I can’t distinguish any more between dreaming and what you call reality. Because everything feels the same. The wind, your skin, everything three-dimensional.’
Under the shower, drops patter down in slow motion, aspiring to spherical form through the influence of surface tension.
Against the general assumption, a droplet of water is at no time drop-shaped, that two-dimensional shite: round at one end and pointed at the other. I tug a turquoise sheet out of the dirty washing to dry myself; it’s spent the past two months in a large basket in the company of two puke-encrusted items of clothing. Is it a stranger’s puke – someone who caught me by surprise in a highly frequented unisex toilet? Is it my puke? Does that bring me closer to myself in some way? It really looks like I’m starting to forget the most essential details.
I’m standing in the hallway, terminally depressed, on a carpet laid for some inexplicable reason in the dim and distant past, and it’s kind of greyish green, it’s dirty, it’s covered with burn marks. Oh God, it’s all so awful.
1. I’ve lost my patchworked personal history which is marked out by anal sex, tears and necrophilia.
2. I’ve got an open sore in my throat.
3. My family is a bunch of pathological self-promoters stuck in some early childhood omnipotence phase. In the most extreme case, they might write a pop-culture essay on the issue of why the avantgarde belly dances DESPITE IT ALL, but that’s
I’m like, ‘Excuse me? Could you maybe help me with the beef here, I don’t know what kind of beef to buy.’
I’m standing in front of a large freezer at Lidl.
Cue heterosexual female communication designer in blue and grey striped cardigan.
‘I’m supposed to buy beef for dinner, but they’ve got stewing beef and stir-fry beef, and I don’t know what kind I need to get.’
‘Well, sorry, but I don’t actually know whether your mother needs stewing beef or stir-fry beef.’
‘My mother’s dead. She’s been dead for ages.’
‘And your father?’
‘He’s one of those assertive left-wing wankers with an above-average income permanently doing stuff with art, living between the galleries and boutiques on August-strasse. Every day up to eleven prostitutes, hair wax and highlighter pens to colour in melancholy expressionist artworks he puts together out of black-and-white record covers. And then at night he and his gallery owner nail them to the wall on LSD. His life’s all about depressing music. The Melvins, Julie Driscoll, Neil Young – as if no one else made music apart from Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Every week he orders records for three hundred dollars. I hardly know him.’
‘So where do you live?’
‘With my brother and sister.’
‘And what do your brother and sister do for a living?’
‘My sister’s called Annika and she’s a scheming marketing bitch. My brother Edmond designs motifs for a selection of textile items sold by a social commerce firm based in Leipzig. He uploads his designs on to an online platform and waits until someone has the ridiculous idea of walking around in a cream hoodie with “Our national colours are crap” printed on it in black, red and yellow. And he even designs T-shirts with the slogan “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m drunk – alcoholics go to meetings!” He’s twenty-three, a mixture of Marlon Brando and, er, who else? I don’t know. He owns one of only five hundred existing pairs of Pro Bowl 2007 Air Force 1 Nikes. Unemployed, demonstratively arrogant, Ray Davis fan.’
If found, please return to the club.
‘And what about you?’
‘Like any underage drug addict with an ability for reflection, my tendency to escape from reality expresses itself in a pronounced reading addiction. I devour everything from enlightened literature about Pakistani psychoanalysts to theses on the links between Moby Dick and Nazism. I shrug off daylight with a dismissive gesture.’
‘Well, it was lovely talking to you!’
‘Yeah, great, see you around!’
* * *
I remember the time when I did things in good weather other than pulling the blinds down. Dejected, I give myself a shot of legendary non-fiction on the praxis of DJ CULTURE:
Over the past twenty seconds the situation on the dancefloor has altered drastically. Cheers, screams, new levels of extremity everywhere out there
‘Hi, Edmond. When are you coming home?’
‘Don’t know. I’m hanging with Luther at the store on Alte Schönhauser. Penny should be here any minute, that girl with the PCP.’
‘And when are you coming back?’
‘I don’t really know. Thingy and Kleini just came in, you know, the guy with the girlfriend who always wants her own way— Is it mixed by you? It’s mixed like shit! Berlin is here to mix everything with everything, man!’
‘Did you make that up?’
‘Berlin is here to mix everything with everything, man? I steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels my imagination, Mifti. Films, music, books, paintings, cold-cuts poetry, photos, conversations, dreams . . .’
‘Street signs, clouds . . .’
‘Light and shadows, that’s right, because my work and my theft are authentic as long as something speaks directly to my soul. It’s not where I take things from – it’s where I take them to.’
‘So you didn’t make it up?’
‘No. It’s from some blogger.’
‘But when are you coming home?’
‘Hey, I don’t know exactly, maybe soon.’
‘Soon. Maybe in a minute.’
‘Yeah, in a minute, right now.’
I open our front door to the new housekeeper, the shock at all this excessive neglect spreading across her foolish face. She looks at me as if she was scared of coming across putrefying animal corpses inside the flat.
‘Why do you want a housekeeper, Annika?’
‘Because it’s totally awesome to get your bedlinen ironed and all that.’
‘But don’t you think it’s really bad having all those people in your possession?’
‘You know, Mifti, you used to be just a poor little neglected kid and now you’re such a poor little neglected rich kid you’ve forgotten that housekeepers are human beings.’