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Anna was a good wife, mostly.

It was mid-afternoon, and the train she rode first wrenched then eased around a bend in the track before it pulled into Bahnhof Dietlikon at thirty-four past the hour, as ever.  Cliché though it may be, the fact is absolute: Swiss trains run on time.  The S8 originated in Pfäffikon, a village thirty kilometers south.  From Pfäffikon, its route sliced upward past the Oberland, through Horgen on the Zürichsee’s south bank, through Thalwil, Kilchberg.  Tiny towns in which tiny lives were led.  From Pfäffikon, the train made thirteen stops before it reached Dietlikon, the tiny town in which Anna’s tiny life was led.  Thus the ordinary fact of a train schedule modulated Anna’s daily plans.  Dietlikon’s bus didn’t run into the city. Taxicabs were expensive and impractical.  And while the Benz family owned a car, Anna didn’t have a license.

So her world was tightly circumscribed by the comings and goings of locomotives, by the willingness of her husband Bruno or Ursula, Bruno’s mother, to drive her places unreachable by bus, and by the engine of her own legs and what distance they could carry her, which was rarely as far as she’d have liked to go.

But Swiss trains really do run on time and Anna managed with minimal hassle.

And she liked riding the trains.  She found a lulling comfort in the way they rocked side to side as they moved forward.

Edith Hammer, another expatriate, once told Anna that there was only one reason the Swiss trains ever ran late.

“It’s when someone jumps in front of one.”

 

*

Doktor Hediger asked Anna if she had ever considered or attempted suicide.

“Yes,” Anna admitted to the first question.  And to the second, “Define attempt.”

 

*

It was a drizzly afternoon. Swiss weather is mutable, though rarely extreme in Kanton Zürich, and typically not in September.  And it was September for Anna’s sons had returned to school.  From the train station Anna walked slowly the culpable quarter mile up Dietlikon’s center street, lingering over shop windows, biding small bits of time.  Her book bag hung limp in her left hand.  She’d left her German dictionary at Archie’s and the workbooks themselves were thin.  The bag felt almost empty.  Like Anna.  All post-coital euphorics had evaporated, and she was left with the reins of ennui, slack in her hand. This wasn’t a feeling she was new to.  It was often like this, a languor that dragged and jaded.

And so the optometrist’s on-sale eyeglass display dulled her.  And she yawned at the Apotheke’s pyramid of homeopathic remedies.  And the reduced-price dishtowels and plaster-molded garden gnomes that overloaded the bins in front of the SPAR supermarket bored her nearly beyond repair.

Boredom, like the trains, carried Anna through her days.

It was almost 3 pm when Anna reached her sons’ school. Primarschule Dorf was located on the east side of the town square between the library and a three hundred year old house.  Town squares mean much to small towns. A month earlier on the Swiss national holiday, Dietlikon’s was thick with citizens eating sausages and dancing to the live music of a folk band. Women dressed in dirndls and men wore Tyrolean hats and they all swayed like drunkards under a sky made bright with fireworks. During army maneuvers, soldiers parked supply trucks in sloppy diagonals next to the square’s central fountain which, on sweltering, summer days, would be filled with splashing, naked children whose mothers sat on nearby benches reading books or eating yogurt.  But that day the traffic in the square was thin.  Three women chatted in front of the library.  One pushed a stroller, another held a leash at the end of which panted a German shepherd, and a final one simply stood with empty hands. They were mothers waiting on their children. They were younger than Anna by a factor of ten years. They were milky and buoyant in places where Anna felt curdled and sunken.  They wore upon their faces, Anna thought, a luminous ease of being, a relaxed comportment, a native glow.  It was true.  Anna rarely felt at ease inside her skin. I am tight faced and thirty-seven years, Anna thought. I am the sum of all my twitches. One mother tossed her a wave and a genuine, if perfunctory smile.

Despite Doktor Hediger’s suggestion that she enroll in classes, Anna did know an elementary level of German. She could get around. But hers was a German remarkable only in how badly it was cultivated and by the Herculean effort she had to summon in order to speak it.  For nine years, though, she’d managed with rudimentary competence. Anna had purchased stamps from the woman at the post office, consulted in semi-specifics with pediatricians and veterinarians, described haircuts to effete Swiss stylists, haggled prices at flea markets, made brief chit-chat with neighbors, and indulged a pair of persistent though affable Zeugen Jehovas who, each month, arrived on her doorstep with a German-language copy of The Watchtower to give to her. But Anna’s grasp on grammar and vocabulary were weak, her fluency was clotted and idioms and proper syntax escaped her completely.  Occurring monthly, at least, were dozens of instances into which she commended a task into Bruno’s hands. It was he who dealt with local bureaucracy, he who paid the insurance, the taxes, the house note.  It was he who every year filed the paperwork for Anna’s residency permit. And it was Bruno who handled all the family’s finances, for he was employed as a mid-level management banker at Credit Suisse.  Anna didn’t even have a checkbook.  Anna was kept.

 

*

Doktor Hediger suggested she take a more active role in family matters.

“I should,” Anna said.  “I really should.”  She wasn’t even sure she knew exactly what Bruno did at work.

 

*

Anna had genuine reason and probable cause to approach the mothers, join them, share their small talk. Two of them she knew by sight and one by name, Claudia Zwygaert. Her daughter was in Charles’ class at school.

Anna didn’t join them.

 

*

By way of explanation, Anna offered the following self-summary:  I am shy and cannot talk to strangers.

Doktor Hediger sympathized.  “It’s difficult for foreigners to make Swiss friends.”

The problem runs deeper than a lack of command of German, itself problem enough. Switzerland is an insular country, sealed at its boundaries, bordered by a thick, beige line, and neutral by choice for two centuries.  It is non-belligerent and non-committal. With its left hand it reaches out to refugees and seekers of asylum. With its right, it snatches freshly laundered monies and Nazi gold.

And like the landscape upon which they’ve settled, the Swiss themselves are closed at their edges.  They tend naturally toward isolation. They neither trust nor talk to strangers, conspiring to keep them at a distance by appointing not one, two, or three, but four whole national languages. Switzerland’s official name is in yet a fifth: Confoederatio Helvetica.

It’s German, though, that most Swiss speak, and it is German that’s spoken exclusively in Zürich.

But it’s not precisely German that they speak.

Written German in Switzerland is standard schoolbook Hochdeutsch.  But the Swiss speak Schwyzerdütsch, which is neither standard nor schoolbook. There is no set orthography. There is no pronunciation key. There is no agreed-upon vocabulary. And the language itself leaps from the back of the throat like an infection, a diseased tonsil trying to escape. This is only a mild exaggeration. To the non-Swiss ear it sounds as if the speaker is construing made-up words from the oddest rhythms and the queerest clipped consonants and the most perturbing arrangement of gaping, rangy vowels. It is impervious to all outside attempts to learn it for every word is shibboleth.

Anna spoke the barest minimum of Schwyzerdütsch.

 

*

Anna didn’t join them. Instead, she scuffed the sole of a brown clog against the sidewalk’s curb. She fiddled with her hair and pretended to watch an invisible bird flying overhead.

It is hard to love a man outside his native tongue.

And yet, it was the Swiss one Anna married.

The school bell rang and children spilled from the building and into the courtyard. Anna noticed Victor first, roughhousing with two friends. Charles followed close behind, caught in the fat middle of a throng of jabbering children.  He ran to Anna when he spotted her, hugged her and began prattling about his day without Anna even asking.  Victor lingered with his pals and dragged his feet.  This was Victor being Victor—moderately aloof, standoffish. Anna indulged his reticence and settled on simply mussing his hair.  Victor grimaced.

As they walked towards the house, Anna experienced her first pangs of guilt.  Pinpricks of guilt really, and non-debilitating. This level of indifference was fairly new to her pathology.  It rendered her smug but nervous.

The Benzes lived near Primarschule Dorf. Their house lay no more than one hundred meters away and would be visible from the schoolyard but for the timber-framed parish hall of the village church, which stood exactly between the two.  Anna did not usually walk her children home. Most of the time, in fact, she didn’t. She waited that day because she wanted to.  She waited that day because she still felt Archie’s hands on her breasts and a moderate self-reproach seemed to be in order.

They moved to Switzerland in June of ninety-eight. Anna was pregnant. Any apprehension she harbored regarding the move, any discouragement or fear she possessed, she hid it inside one of her heart’s thousand chambers where it would be difficult to rediscover, and if it shouted out for attention, impossible to hear. Who, after all, wouldn’t snatch the chance to live in Europe were it offered?  Anna spent much of her childhood dreaming of the elsewheres her men would one day take her to.  In those dreams she was always nonresistant, limp and submissive.  She gave the men entire charge.  And, as it turned out, that was what happened: Bruno took charge.  He’d worked for Credit Suisse for years. They wondered would he take a Zürich post. And so they packed their household and they moved.  Anna was married and pregnant and more or less in love. That was enough. This will be enough, she thought.

Bruno argued a good case.  Living in Dietlikon would merit their child—their children—a wholesome, unbounded childhood, safe and stable.  Anna thought it would be more than enough.  And when it did happen (rarely in those first months) that she grew lonesome or wistful for people, things, or places she never dreamed she would miss, she consoled herself with visions of the child that grew inside: a ruddish-cheeked Heinz to call her Muti, or her very own milk-fed Heidi with blond and braided hair. And Bruno and Anna were, more or less, in love.

 

*

The qualification ‘more or less’ troubled Doktor Hediger.

Anna explained. “Is that not always the case?  Given any two people in a relationship, one will always love more, the other less.  Right?”

 

*

At eight, Victor was Anna’s eldest child.  Charles was six. They were indeed the ruddish-toned and milk-fed children Anna had imagined.  They were ash-blond and hazel-eyed.  They were all boy, rowdy, absolutely brothers, and without a doubt the sons of the man Anna had married.

 

*

“But you had more children, yes?  It must not have been entirely terrible.”

Anna gave her that.  She told Doktor Hediger that it hadn’t been terrible at all.  Not always.  Not everything had not always been terrible.  Anna doubled her negatives, tripled them.  Ten months earlier Anna had given birth to a black-haired, bisque-skinned daughter whom she named Polly Jean.

 

*

And so they were the Benz family and they lived at Rosenweg 1, in the town of Dietlikon, in the district of Bulach, in the canton of Zürich.  The Benz Family: Bruno, Victor, Charles, Polly, Anna.  Theirs was a plain and mostly temperate household on Rosenweg—Rose Lane—a private street that cul-de-sac-ed just in front of their house, which lay at the foot of a slow, sloping hill that crested a half-kilometer behind their property and leveled off at the base of the Dietlikon woods.

Anna lived on a dead end, last exit road.

But their house was nice and their yard was larger than nearly all the other ones around them.  There were farmhouses to their immediate south, whose properties abutted fields of corn, sunflower, and rapeseed.  Eight fully mature Apfelbäume grew in their side yard and in August when the trees were pregnant with ripe, heavy apples, fruit tumbled from the branches to the ground in a thump-tha-thump-thump rhythm that was nearly consistent with light rainfall.  They had raspberry bushes and a strawberry patch and red currants and black currants both. And while the vegetable garden in the side yard had for nine years been left untended, the Benzes had, behind a thigh high picket fence in front of their property, a spate of rose bushes, blooms of every shade. Everything comes up roses on Rosenweg. Sometimes Anna thought this to herself.

Victor and Charles barreled through the front door. They were greeted before they even passed the boot room by a sour-faced Ursula who pressed her finger to her lips.

“Stille!” Ursula hissed. “Polly schlaft.”

Polly Jean was in the middle of her nap. Anna was always grateful for Ursula’s help.  But Ursula, though usually never outright unkind to Anna, still treated her as a foreign object, a means to the end of her son’s happiness, the vessel by which her grandchildren—whom she deeply loved—were carried into the world.  Whatever help Ursula offered was for the children’s sake, not Anna’s. She had been a high school English teacher for thirty years. Her English was stilted but fluent and she conceded to speak it whenever Anna was in the room, which sometimes Bruno didn’t even do. Ursula shooed her grandsons into the kitchen for a snack.

“I’m going to take a shower.” Anna said.  Ursula raised an eyebrow but then lowered it as she followed Victor and Charles into the kitchen.  It was no concern of hers. Anna took a towel from the linen closet and locked the bathroom door behind her.

She needed the shower.  She smelled like sex.

 

*

“What can’t you live without?”

This, Anna asked Archie as they shared, incautiously, a cigarette in bed.  Anna never smoked.  She was wrapped in a top sheet.  It was Friday.

“Whiskey and women,” Archie said. “In that order.”

Archie was, quite literally, a whiskey man. He stocked it, stacked it, and sold it in a shop he owned with his brother, Glenn.

He laughed in an up-for-interpretation way.  They were new lovers, fresh lovers, ganz neue Geliebten.  Nearly virgin to each other, they still had reason to touch. Archie was ten years older than Anna, but his brown-red curls had not yet begun to thin and his body was taut.  Anna responded to his laughter with laughter of her own: the sad, empty laughter of knowing that the newness, nice as it was, wouldn’t last.  Newness never does. Novelty’s a cloth that wears thin at an alarming rate.  So Anna would enjoy it prior to its tattering. Because tatter, it surely would.

 

*

“If,” Doktor Hediger asked, “you are miserable, then why not leave?”

Anna spoke without reflection.  “I have Swiss children.  They need their father.  We are married.  And I’m not really miserable.”  Then she added, “He wouldn’t accept a divorce.”

“You have asked him.” This wasn’t a question.

Anna had not outright asked Bruno for a divorce, though she had, in her most affected and despondent moments, hinted around the possibility.  What would you do if I went away, she’d ask.  What if I went away and never came back?  She would pose these questions in a light and cheerful voice.

Bruno would smirk.  I know you’ll never leave because you need me.

Anna couldn’t deny this.  She did need him.  It was true.

And really Anna had no plans to leave. How would we split the children?, she wondered, as if the children were a cord of wood and the divorce, an axe.

“Anna,” Doktor Hediger asked, “is there someone else?  Has there ever been anyone else?”

 

*

That Friday there was time enough for Archie and Anna to share a small meal of fruit and cheese.  There was also time for them to set the plates and the mismatched glasses aside, time enough to pull away the sheet that covered her breasts, and time enough to fuck once more.  The sex was clumsy and aggressive.  They were drunk on the doing of each other.  It was good.  It gave Anna hope.

But all things move toward an end.

Later that night, after she had put the children to bed and washed the stack of dinner plates and scoured the sink to the impeccable shine that Bruno demanded, Anna opened her workbooks with the intention of at least going through the motions of studying.  Bruno was locked in his office.  Separate solitudes were not an unusual arrangement between them and Bruno retreated to his office most nights. Left alone, Anna would either read or watch television or put on a jacket and take an evening walk up the hill behind the house.

The house, when she was left to herself inside of it, often took on a pall of unbearable, catatonic stillness. Has it always been like this?  Anna would be lying if she’d said it had.  They’d had good times, Bruno and she. It would be unfair to deny it.  And even if he barely tolerated what he called her ‘melancholic huffs,’ or her ‘sullen temperaments,’ Bruno too, if pressed, would have admitted a love and fondness for Anna that, while often displaced by his frustration, held an irrefutable honor in his heart.

 

*

It was just the previous Monday that Anna steeled and sent herself to school for the first time since college.  The class at the Migrosklubschule was called “German for Advanced Beginners.”  This was the course intended for anyone pre-equipped with a minor to moderate knowledge of the language, but who lacked a rigorous understanding of grammar and a nuanced usage of syntax.

Migros is the name of the largest chain of supermarkets in Switzerland and Switzerland’s biggest employer. More people work for Migros than any Swiss bank worldwide. But the corporation has interests other than grocery stores. There are Migros-owned bookshops, Migros-owned gas stations, Migros-owned electronics outlets, sports stores, furniture dealers, menswear shops, public golf courses, and currency exchanges.  Migros also governs a franchise of adult education centers, or in German, Klubschule. There isn’t a Swiss city of significant population where at least one Migrosklubschule doesn’t exist. And it’s not just language classes they offer. You can study most anything at the Migrosklubschule: cooking, sewing, drawing, singing. You can learn to play an instrument or how to read the future with Tarot cards.  You can even learn how to interpret dreams.

 

*

Doktor Hediger, in an early session, asked that Anna bring a copy of a recent dream.  Anna did: I am very sick. I beg Bruno to help me but he doesn’t. Someone films a movie in another room, but I’m not in it.  A dozen teenage girls kill themselves for the camera.  I don’t know what to do so I do nothing.

Doktor Hediger arrived at an immediate interpretation. “It’s a sign of stagnancy.  The movie’s being made and you’re not in it.  This is why the girls do not survive. The girls are you. You are the girls. You do not survive. You are ill with inaction, a patron sitting passively in a dark theater.”

Anna well knew how passive she could be.

 

*

The hub from which most of Anna’s psychology radiated was her assailing tendency towards passivity.  It was a trait she’d never bothered to question or revise which, ironically, seemed to be its proof.  Anna was a swinging door, a body gone limp in the arms of another body carrying it.  An oarless canoe in a river.  Is it as malignant as that?  Yes, it sometimes seemed.  Volition was not Anna’s strong suit.

The move to Switzerland was entirely Bruno’s doing and Anna didn’t oppose it.  She went where he said she would go. Why wouldn’t she?  Is this not how married people behave?  As for the decision to have children, it wasn’t a decision at all.  Anna hadn’t longed to be a mother. It was nothing she yearned for in the way that many women do—in fact, a measure of anxiety and dread accompanied the very thought of motherhood.  You want me to be responsible for another person?  A tiny, helpless, needy person?  But Anna got pregnant.  And then again, and then again.  It seemed to just happen. She didn’t say let’s do this and she didn’t say let’s not.  Anna didn’t say anything at all.

But it wasn’t as terrible as she’d feared and for the most part and for most of the time, Anna was glad to be someone’s mother. Anna loved her children. She loved all her children.

Anna’s passivity wasn’t without merit, without use.  It made for relative peace at Rosenweg 1.  Allowing Bruno to make decisions on her behalf absolved her of responsibility.  She didn’t need to think. She followed along.  She rode a bus that someone else drove.  Order upon order.  Rule upon rule.  Where the wind blew, she went. This was her natural inclination.  And like playing tennis or sewing, or speaking a foreign language, it grew even easier with practice.

 

*

“What’s the difference between passivity and neutrality?”

“Passivity is deference.  To be passive is to relinquish your will.  Neutrality is nonpartisan.  The Swiss are neutral, not passive.  We do not choose a side. We are scales in perfect balance.” Doktor Hediger spoke with something that might have been pride in her voice.

“Not choosing.  Isn’t that still a choice?”

Doktor Hediger nodded deliberately, considering the implication.

 

*

Anna sat at the dining table for almost a half hour looking at her German notes before Bruno emerged from his office like a marmot from a burrow.  He came to the table, yawned and rubbed his eyes.  Anna saw their sons in that gesture. “How is your class?” Bruno asked.  Anna couldn’t recall the last time Bruno asked after her.  She surged with a momentary affection for him and reached around his waist with her arms and tried to draw him closer into her. But Bruno—impervious or obstinate—didn’t allow his body to respond in kind. Instead, he reached down and rifled through her papers. Anna let fall her arms.  Bruno picked up a page of exercises and gleaned it for accuracy.  “Du hast hier einen Fehler,” he said in a voice he intended to be helpful, but one that Anna interpreted as condescending. She had made a mistake. “This verb goes at the end,” Bruno said.  He was right. In both the future and the past tense, the action comes at the end. It is only in the present tense that the verb is joined to the noun that enacts it.  Bruno returned her work absently.  “I’m going to bed.”  He didn’t bend to kiss her. Bruno shut the bedroom door behind him and went to sleep.

Anna lost all interest in her exercises.

She checked the wall clock. It was well after eleven. She wasn’t tired.

 

*

“A dream is a psychic statement,” Doktor Hediger explained. “The more frightening the dream, the more pressing the need to look at that part of yourself. The purpose of a nightmare isn’t destruction. It simply fulfills its compulsory task in a highly unpleasant manner.”

And then she added, “The less attention you pay, the more terrifying the nightmares become.”

“And if you ignore them?”

Doktor Hediger’s usually relaxed face took on a cast of gravity. “Psyche will be heard. She demands it. And there are other, more threatening ways of capturing your attention.”

Anna didn’t ask her what those were.

 

*

That late in the evening, most of the houses on Rosenweg were entirely dark, their inhabitants already asleep. It took years for Anna to become habituated to this, how Switzerland, machine that it is, powered down at night. Shops closed. People slept when they were meant to.  In the States if you couldn’t or didn’t want to sleep, you could always shop at a twenty-four hour supermarket, wash clothes at a twenty-four hour Laundromat, eat pie and drink coffee at twenty-four hour diner. The television networks ran viewable programming the entire night. So much never shut off. Lights always burned somewhere.  It was an insomniac’s solace.

 

*

Doktor Hediger asked about Anna’s insomnia. How long had she suffered, how it presented. How she curbed it.
Anna had no real answer and instead replied, “Sleep won’t solve my situation.” Even to Anna’s ears it sounded canned.

 

*

Anna stepped outside into the cool darkness.  The porch lamp, sensitive to motion, flickered on.  Anna was restless and fidgety. From Rosenweg 1, she crossed the street to the playground at the Kirchegemeindehaus. In the playground she took a seat on a wooden swing intended for very young children.  Perhaps, she thought, I don’t need a walk.  Perhaps I simply need fresh air.  

Even Anna would admit that it was entirely too often she prowled Dietlikon’s streets in the dark hours. In her second month of living in Switzerland, Bruno awoke in middle of the night to find her gone.  She was nowhere in the house, neither basement nor attic.  He ran outside calling her name but she didn’t answer back.  He searched for less than five minutes before calling the Polizei to tell them that his pregnant wife had either run away, been kidnapped, or had vanished like an apparition into the thinnest of thin air. By the time Anna returned from her walk, the police were at the house.  Bruno threw his arms around her and thanked aloud the god he didn’t believe in.   Everything was fine.  Anna was safe.

But when Anna and Bruno were alone behind Rosenweg 1’s locked doors, Bruno dug his fingers into Anna’s shoulders and shook her as he yelled. “Who are you fucking, Anna? Who were you with?” No one, Bruno. He was out of control. He cursed and spat. He called her a cunt and a whore. “Whose cock was in your mouth tonight?” Nobody’s, Bruno. I swear it. And it was true. Anna and Bruno were in a version of love and Anna had not been roaming the streets to meet a paramour, but to settle herself into sleepiness.  It took almost half an hour, but Bruno finally settled down and came to believe her. Or said he did.

A neighbor’s cat hissed and sputtered at what was likely a hedgehog.  Three minutes later, the quarter hour toll of the church bell rang.  The bells and their clockwork throb.  What a comfort, Anna thought. They are always on time.  Like the trains.

 

*

When she presented for the first of her German classes, Anna was empty of expectation.  She was not fully indifferent to first-day-of-school jitters, even at her age.  At breakfast she told her sons that she was starting school.  Charles sweetly offered his pencil box, which she took, assuring him that she’d return it unharmed by day’s end.  Charles was like that.  Victor was silent; he had no opinion. Ursula made a show of snapping out a dishtowel.

The Deutschkurs Intensiv met mornings, five days a week. The first day of class, Anna arrived six minutes late and knocked into a woman with her book bag as she tried to wedge past her to take the last seat at the table. It was a small class, fifteen students of various ages and nationalities and no two were in Switzerland for the same reason.  The teacher was a tall man named Ivan, whose first command was that they go around the table and introduce themselves, using whatever German they already knew.

A blond woman with heavy-lidded eyes and a darting gaze began.  “I am French,” she said, and that was all.  Another woman, younger than the first though neither as blond nor as slight, told the class that she came from Moscow, that she loved music and hated dogs.  A woman Anna’s own age introduced herself and told everyone she came from Canada with her children and her husband who was the goalie for Zürich’s hockey team.  She’d only been in Switzerland two months. She apologized for her ham-fisted German but she’d just finished the basic class and there was no place for her but here.  It didn’t really matter. Everyone’s German was unmistakably foreign, littered with mistakes.  Something about the woman’s saccharine deference grated Anna.  She wasn’t sure which bothered her more, how easily this woman self-censured, or how gently she presented her own belittling.

Then the man sitting next to Mary leaned forward and spoke.  His accent, even over broken German, was distinctly Scottish.  Glaswegian, Anna would learn. His name was Archie Sutherland.  As he talked, his eyes scanned the perimeter of the table.  By the time his introduction was over, he’d locked his gaze on Anna, who sat across the room at an angle from him.  He ended with a small, slight wink, intended for Anna alone. She blushed beneath her clothes.

When Anna introduced herself, she flashed a sincere-seeming smile and spoke the words she’d practiced in her head.  Ich bin Anna.  Ich bin in Switzerland für almost nine years.  Mein Mann ist a banker.  Ich habe three children. Ich bin from America. Ich bin, ich bin, ich bin.  When she couldn’t lay her tongue to the German word, she substituted an English one.  Anna hated introducing herself.

Anna looked to Archie.  She could not help it.  His hands seemed strong even from the distance of an entire room.

While standing in line in the cafeteria during their first coffee break, Archie leaned in towards Anna’s ear, and in a whisper, he flat-out propositioned her.

During their second coffee break, Anna flat-out accepted.

In the last third of class, Ivan reviewed a list of German prepositions: under, against, on top of, from behind.

Afterwards, Anna phoned Ursula and told her there were errands she needed to run in the city and wouldn’t be back until three.

And that is how the affair between Anna Benz and Archie Sutherland began.  And that is how it continued.  After Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s class they rode the number 10 tram from Sternen Oerlikon, where the streets ray out from an interior middle like a five point star, to Central, a stop at the north end of the Niederdorf.  From there it was a five-minute walk to Archie’s flat.  What followed was hour and a half of uninhibited sex.

On Thursday and Friday, they skipped the class altogether.

 

*

Anna twirled herself in the swing, winching the chains so that they lifted her higher off the ground than she was to begin with.  Then she pulled up her feet and let herself spin down.  She accomplished this multiple times unto dizziness.

Eventually the church bells rang their midnight toll. A low, wormish feeling of a reckoning approached her. Only in the present tense is the subject married to its verb. The action—all action, past and future—comes at the end. At the very end, when there is nothing left to do but act.

Even so, Anna was back inside the house before the chime of the twelfth bell.

 

_____________________

Jill Alexander Essbaum is the author of several collections of poetry including Harlot, Necropolis, and most recently, the single poem chapbook The Devastation.  Her poems have appeared in various journals including Image, Gulf Coast, Poetry, The Christian Century, and many others.  She teaches in the UCR-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA program. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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