There are prehistoric smells in my mom’s laundry area where the drain water from the washer sometimes gathers and the floor’s a stark grey stone material, a peat bog of sphagnum moss collapsing in on itself, which makes a fine home for the dead and the living sandwiched between one another, layer upon layer.
And the girls are both having nightmares independent of the other about small children they don’t know who wind up in their dreams, holding hands, then disappearing through time and space, finding themselves wearing clothes they don’t recognise, unsure if it’s really them or some persona they’ve assumed that could be part of the unknown history of this medieval house — kind of gives me the chills talking to Dawn about it, as if there’s something we should pay attention to.
When we go out to eat, we’re hiding in my mom’s village as we always do, hiding from Germans who want to stop and engage us in conversation, and today it’s an older couple with terrible teeth, and the guy’s grandfather was a Türk, the surname of the people who first lived in this house, the people after whom the street is named, my mom’s wine cellar opens like a mouth at the bottom of it — he nodded and said there were problems with that house, the attic, but there are always problems with old houses, things breaking down, leaking, getting into the walls.
Mid-September, and the German kids have just returned to school today after six weeks of summer holiday. And Dawn and I found ourselves back in German class up the road with a Polish woman, a Kurd and two Turks, no English spoken, lots of pictures and sounds and white boarding. Feels like we’re going to learn a lot more here than we did in the community college, back home.
Had dinner with our friend Miriam at her house, and learned a German phrase they say that translates to “Over Monkeys Tits Horny,” and they all say it, the young and the old, but can’t explain why, they just do.
And when we break down the German word for horny it translates to some type of plant that grows in the dark, which makes sense, and we get into the English word guile next, and beguiled, Dawn and I arguing over the definition, and throw in some French with Miriam’s German friend over a Czech herbal bitter called Becherovka, which tastes like cinnamon hell and shouldn’t be drunk with antibiotics, which are stronger in Germany.
Dawn went with Miriam to a festival and had a crush on the pumpkin carver, who has neck tatts, a New Yorker, specialises in squash sculpting and has done work for Obama.
And the kids are playing a Scandinavian yard game called Kubb, just made of wooden pegs, blocks, and one with a crown shaved in its head that’s the king in the middle, while we make the Flamkuchen inside.
It’s no surprise mom’s Nachbar Bernd is a project manager, or was, as if you can ever stop being one once you start; he’s nervous looking even at 61, ever-watchful, and invites us to spend the day with him and his grandkids at the zoo in Stuttgart, has calculated the best cost by train based on a number of factors and who will be traveling with whom, announces the time we should meet but then keeps bringing it forward in 15 minute increments each time we see him the rest of the week, until it’s 9:15 on a Sunday morning, even though I understood it to be 9:50, and we have to race out the door pretending we’re ready to go when really we aren’t.
And I take scene sketches of the animals, the gorilla who’s eating something that’s green and thick looking: leans over on his elbow in a kind of Yoga pose and hacks something into his hand, then gums it while everyone grimaces through the glass — does the same trick over and over.
And the ostrich, who’s biting at the fence at the kids, who lifts her hind legs and some pink, shiny horn comes out of her feathers and looks like a tongue, then spits white foam out of her butt, tilts her head like she’s listening to an inner voice or waiting for something more to come.
The owl, that gets dead baby chicks fed to it on a stump, their necks bent with flies circling around, but the owl looks on, uninterested.
In fact all the animals look sad, bored and uninterested — including the brown bear that’s chewing on a pacifier someone dropped, Dawn getting worried the bear will choke on it — all of us, worrying — on the train, our kids and Bernd’s grandkids running around chewing Landjäger, playing with the buttons that open the carriages between each wagen in that area no one should find themselves in between cars on a fast-moving train, where a kid could slip through a crack and never be seen again.
The parents at the zoo look embarrassed or disgusted at their kids for crying because they put their hand on the electric fence too long, the one that keeps the animals in the petting zoo, it really can give quite a shock — and Dawn asks with an odd glint in her eye if I think the kids might be tapping into something in the house, in their dreams.
If you believe objects radiate energy, why not something as personal as a house, witness to all manner of private things? And could it be, the walls hold these scenes the way a rock holds heat from the sun? That they might creep into the dreams of sensitive minds and souls and make a refuge for those just wanting a place to rest, to be remembered?
In case you missed it, last week Walt Walker announced a call for submissions on his great blog here.
Post title HT to Gordon Lightfoot from his song Ribbon of Darkness, released on his first LP in 1966.
European horror movies are always so much more atmospheric than American ones.
The knives of the mind are more real to me.
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Yeah, you might want to have a roundtable about those dreams. I may post a story soon about my wife seeing a ghost in our new house. I may have seen it too, but I’d like to give myself the benefit of the doubt (that I did not see it). Thanks for the shout out, btw. If you can teach your brood to skitter against the walls as well as you do, you all might be mistaken for mice. Might help. And you’d only have to talk to the other mice.
“Having a roundtable” – that’s a distant phrase, I like it. Thought about my mom’s neighbour Bernd, who tried to describe the kind of project management he did in Germany before he retired, which was something like “keeping IT and telecom networks updated and maintained for hospitals.” Talk about looking at the back of an entertainment console and not only untangling the wires, figuring out which goes into which, but also getting a variety of people to agree on where the wires should go beforehand, people who don’t really know, and then likely doing it yourself.