Read The History of History Online
Authors: Ida Hattemer-Higgins
This Is a Borzoi Book
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright © 2011 by Ida Hattemer-Higgins
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc
A portion of the work previously appeared in
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The history of history : a novel of Berlin / Ida Hattemer-Higgins. —1st ed
This is a Borzoi book”—T.p. verso
1. Young women—Fiction. 2. Amnesiacs—Fiction. 3. Berlin (Germany)
—History—20th century—Fiction. 4. Psychological fiction. I. Title
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental
Jacket photograph by Elizabeth Etienne / © Corbis / Alamy
Jacket design by Chip Kidd
To the disappeared.
The coming awakening stands like the Greeks’ wooden horse in the Troy of dream
he oceans rose and the clouds washed over the sky; the tide of humanity came revolving in love and betrayal, in skyscrapers and ruins, through walls breached and children conjured, and soon it was the year 2002. On an early morning in September of that year, in a forest outside Berlin, a young woman woke from a short sleep not knowing where she was. Several months of her life had gone missing from her mind, and she was as fresh as a child.
She sat upright. Her hair was long, her clothes made for a man: stiff trousers, a slouch hat, and a long woolen overcoat, although underneath she wore a pair of high-heeled boots.
South of her chin was the body of a harem girl—a luxurious body moving lithely, ripe with the knowledge of its strength, youth, and loping good health. Her face, on the other hand, was the face of a mandarin, overcome with sensitivity and perpetual nervous fatigue. The dirty postcards of the French fin de siècle sometimes show women of this kind: even while offering their bodies with abandon, such females wear faces charged with the pathos of intellect, growing kittenish with leery, fragile, world-weary grins. All in all, Margaret looked like someone who would find trouble, or in any case already had.
The night hung low. Margaret cast her eyes about and saw the birches. She reached for her bag—a leather briefcase lying slack beside the tree she leaned against—and noticed in the movement that her hand ached. Both her hands hurt, and she did not know why.
For want of a better idea, she stood up and began to walk. Twigs cracked under her high-heeled boots. The sound startled her.
She came to a brook and put the bag on her shoulder and her hands down on the stones and picked her way across on all fours. The woolen overcoat dragged in the water. She saw by the aging moonlight that came through a break in the young pines that her palms and fingers were rubbed deeply with dirt, so deeply it looked as though they were tattooed with it, although the skin of her wrists was clean and shining.
Margaret found the edge of the forest as the day came, as the air
turned grey and smoky. The slash of birdcall was shrill; it blotted out her thoughts for a while, and she stopped wondering what had happened in the night.
She found a dirt road, and then asphalt, villas, green awnings, slate roofs, wheelbarrows and hibernating rosebushes, and finally Grunewald Station.
By the time she was riding the train homeward into the city, Margaret was becoming afraid again, but after a new style. No longer did the threat sit at her throat. Now it lay in the marrow of things. She saw a perfectly miniaturized beech leaf pasted with wetness on her sleeve, and it seemed a souvenir of bad and mysterious things. She looked at her dirt-printed palms and did not know why the dirt. She shifted her body on the plastic seat and felt the drag of wet fabric, pulled aside the overcoat and heavy red scarf. She saw her clothes patched with bluish pine needles sticking to the wetness, and on the hem a displaced ladybug made its slow way, and she did not know why there was evidence of so much nature, of so much disorder.
The roofers, the chimney sweeps, the deliverymen on the early morning train—they looked at Margaret’s windswept face and saw an expression rarely seen. There she was in her heavy wool, her face with its broken parts even heavier, and you could almost see it: she was crushing under the strain, trying to modernize herself to match the day. Some fine imperative had gone missing.
The S-Bahn train pulled into Zoo Station and paused. The cold air rushed through the open doors. With a heave of strength and puffed screech, an intercity train came to a halt on the neighboring track, and a platform clock struck six with an audible spasm of the minute hand. There was a chime over the loudspeaker: the announcement of departures to Lyon, to Trieste, even to Amsterdam, and the crowd on the platform shifted like a hive.
The doors shut and the train slipped into motion. Margaret looked out through the milky graffiti scratched in the window. There was the glory of the morning city, and soon, intermittent through the trees, the gilded angel in the park caught the light. A woman walked under the bridge in the Tiergarten, on cobblestones the same color as the automatic pigeons picking between them. She wore a narrow white scarf and pushed a pram, and her hair blew up toward the sky with the wind.
Margaret looked away. She looked down at her knee. She saw the red and black insect crawling there. She frowned. Her lips turned
under. She felt a fury and an envy and a sense of starvation. She reached down, and with two fingers, she lifted the checkered insect and held it in her hand.