Marie, Summer 1942

Daniel Mylow
Marie, Summer 1942
Even though I was also on a certain day in July 1979 at a certain time travelling on the way to R., I never really arrived there. In my previous life that was easier. Then I could fly, my grandmother said.
I stand at the window and look at the birds. Where is the one who flew up into the sky last night? I remember only the light that reflected from the waves on his open wings. Its spray lay like a light negative on the horizon in which the labyrinth of the evening light glowed like phosphorescence, gradually hushing the flight of the bird as though its wings were weighed down by a foreign body.
A face suddenly appears in the window. I open the door and walk out in front of the house. No one is there, but I know she is there. Perhaps she is waiting for me somewhere. Whoever waits here, waits forever, said my grandmother. The clouds above the sea are not clouds, they are ships on their way to nowhere.
In the evening, I close the window panes. I lock the silence out. Before falling asleep, my eyes wander over to the photo beside the bed. April 1972. Marga smiles. The small boy holding her hand does not. Cedrik was a serious child. It is the last photo that I have of them. I took it at the airport shortly before the airplane took off west. Something is missing in the picture. Earlier I thought it was time.
The morning is a quiet hesitation. Dew from the wind has caught the surface of the sea. The longer I look, the less remains from what I see. My Aunt calls. As she learns that I am going to R., she says that I am in the act of making the present in to the past. Perhaps she is worried that I could also become an ex-patriot.
I take a walk. With every step, the houses grow along the horizon like shadow letters. I go into the café at the top of the beach and drink a lemonade. Marga gives me a hug with a gesture that wants to ask if this is really the life that we find ourselves in. I want to tell her that we already have everything, if we can succeed in not thinking about freedom. Cedrik waves from the beach, his shovel reaching into the sky like a broken wing.
“What would you like to have?”
I turn around. I cannot see anything at all, because the one to whom I speak has not been living for seven years.
In my first summer with the FDJ here on Rügen, I found in a drawer in the house of my grandmother the photo of a young girl. She sat on a bench in front of the house wearing a white dress. I asked my mother who she was. She told me that Grandmother had hidden a young girl from Denmark in the house during the war. She was Jewish. Her parents wanted to leave the land by ship. But the ship never reached its goal. In the confusion of war, it was lost without a trace. Grandmother managed to keep Marie safe for seven years. No one on the island knew of her existence. On the day that the war ended, she sat with Marie by the radio and heard the news. The next morning, Marie left the house without a word. She never came back. Later, Grandmother found her things on the beach. She never spoke with anyone about it. Many years later she wrote it down. So had my mother learned about this story.
It is during this summer on Rügen that I finally understand this girl. You are here and you are not here. If she had sought to begin back at the point seven years ago when time had erased her tracks, then the same thing might have happened with her as with Orpheus. Orpheus went down into the underworld to bring Eurydice back. As she saw him, she looked at him amazed: who is this man?
How strange the light falls here; it goes, whispers, floats. How strange the sea is at noon in my seventh summer without family in R. Back home, I try to write. But regardless of the room in the house in which I try to escape, it always feels as though I am replaying a Super 8 film.
On the second day after my arrival on the island, there is suddenly a knock on the door. I see the face of a young woman. She says that she works as a photo-journalist for a magazine. The story concerns houses that are typical for the island and the way of life in the 70’s. I let her in. She takes many photos. The house freezes in her lens. But the light is somehow pressing, halted and hesitating. When I see the photos later, I notice the shadows. Subtle plays of light that blur reality into a light negative. As the photo-journalist came a second time, I told her about Marie. She didn’t take any more photos. We were sitting on the veranda. The quiet voice of the journalist told of the summer break which she spent as a child with her grandparents in a house much like this one. Everything was twilight and infatuation, but I didn’t notice that it was a transformation, she said. That became clear to me as my son and husband died by a car accident. As a child even before I had met them, I cried about them. Do you understand that?
In that moment, I wished that I could speak about the escape of my family to the west with the same kind of naturalness. Over the hard times afterwards. The visit of the police. The questions about who the woman on my side actually was.
We are looking out over the sea. The sky turns for a minute the colour of snow before tiredly becoming bright. The journalist puts her hand on my arm. Over the sea, the wind blows the feathers of birds upwards. In the expression on her face that the woman beside me gives, I see one that she must have had a long time ago in some moment of her life.
By the way, she says with a quiet smile, in my previous life I could fly.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell
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