The House between the Cemeteries

Yesterday or the day before I saw the picture of a house. More precisely, a photo. In me something sounded like tender music with irritating, painful sharpness. This house looked like …

I drove there, was tense, tense, went the old way of daydreaming there. To the house of my childhood.

The morning, the weather – both were suitable for this visit, because in me it has always remained a house in the clear cool light of an autumn morning. I found that the air smelled different than in the city, oh, it always had smelled different, like green, like earth, like the old huge trees, and in my nose I also had the smell of carbide. As children we shook the stuff in bottles, held matches to it and banged them against the wall until it crashed and smelled rotten and stank of gas. Behind this wall, behind it and in between are the most beautiful cemeteries I can imagine. A city cemetery and a Jewish cemetery, both old, the city cemetery being more well-kept than the other, and I was most fascinated by the tombs on the Jewish one, with their names and symbols so strange to me.

As I surrender to the old pictures, I see it: the house stands still, as if it were uninhabited. The sun shines over the gable, the roof, the upper windows until the shadows of the higher trees darken the part of the house. Two squirrels fly up the trunk at the blood beech. As always, as it was then, perhaps it is the primordial squirrels. In October I could often observe them.

The name badges in the house entrance. They are strange and yet I hope to read a familiar name. The building has been renovated appealingly, and yet I see, in spite of a new color, and a new entrance door, what once was. The heavy wooden door with the half arch upwards and the glass, insert, so that soft light falls into the hallway. The broken plaster on the corner of the house, my carved initial letters.

The years disappear, all the long time between yesterday and today, I sink into the warm feeling that this house has given me: protection, freedom and fantasy. I was also afraid. I had that when I ran through the cellar with my eyes closed. When I was alone. When I came too late. That was bad.

I walk around the light grey painted house and there they are, the windows of former times, even if behind them today there are other rooms and other people. There, out of the small one, I often climbed out and am amazed that I once pushed myself through this window gap. I remember the wallpaper, the brown closets, the elevator that had transported food from bottom to top, which I opened and found gas masks in it. I put one on, the rubber seal stank mustily, ran with it outside, towards a neighbour who began to scream. Shrill and merciful.

I go to the garden. Has he always been so small? Can’t be, because when I close my eyes, it’s enourmos, and so that a child can get lost in it. I also know that I buried a tin box with secrets in the darker corner up ahead. No, I will not look for it.

I go back, stand in front of the front door again. It is only leaning. I postpone. A wild delight runs through me: I stand on the old floor tiles with the ornamental pattern – they really still exist. I want to push down the handle of the former apartment door – but that’s nothing more than a white rejecting door with a matt-gloss doorknob. Nothing remains of the blue and green paintings on the frosted glass. Nothing.

I turn halfway. The wooden handrail is still there, as is the railing on which I slipped squeaking. Then the skin on my thighs burned like fire. They are also the old steps. I step on them, but nothing creaks anymore.

I will come again. The parental dwelling was home, so I know it today.

Monika Detering

I sweep over the walls, tenderly, as if it were a human being, pack my observations in a sack full of air and put it down there on the lower left, at the door leading into the basement rooms. I will pick them up. Someday. Again, on such a day as today, when the air has begun to smell differently, after autumn, the most beautiful smell is in this place between the cemeteries with this house that stands there untouched.

In me the years hunt like a flip book, hunt until I come to the point where I have left the house forever. Full of recklessness, arrogance and the belief that the whole world belongs to me, that I never need to come back. It had become too narrow for me, the trees too gloomy and the cemeteries so finite.

But this house had taken root in me. It was home with all the beautiful things, with all the horrors.

When I go back, past the houses of the former neighbors, I hear them all. Hear the roaring laughter of Aunt Paula, the hissing whisper between Ms. Becker and Mr. Roth, I hear them all, no matter which cemetery they are in. I see my sister, my brother, I see the shadows of all the children who played here, only I seem to be left. Nobody there anymore.

I will come again. The parental dwelling was home, so I know it today.

It is not the city. The house between the cemeteries. That is enough.

You liked this article? You can support us with PayPal!