Maria Matheusch
For the past five minutes his face hung so closely to his steamy soup that for the gapers in the supermarket restaurant it looked like he wanted to inhale the soup rather than eat it. A glassy, shimmering drop had by now gathered on the tip of his nose and was beginning to droop down towards the chicken broth below.
He didn’t notice it. His wife didn’t either.
She had pushed him in his basic wheelchair to one of the square tables, set the left and right brake levers and, because she had become dead tired of doing this routine countless times over and over, she had overseen that he was much too close to the table, so close that it was visibly pressing into her husband’s stomach in a most discomforting way with a roll of belly on top and probably below.
His wife didn’t notice. He didn’t notice. No one noticed.
The man stared at his own bloated hand which his wife had placed parallel to the plate edge. The gray-haired, very tidily dressed man to whom the hand belonged had once been – he had no idea when anymore – an orchestra conductor. Back then, his arms had flown through the air as light as feathers and had woven rhythm and notes into wonderfully beautiful melodies. Then, one night, a stroke ripped away the left side of his body. Since then, he lived only in the right side. The other side still carried his name, but it didn’t do anything he wanted it to do and he dragged it along with him as though it were the carcass of a dead animal. The head of the director was still bowed over his bowl and now his gaze was focused on the golden, glossy drops of grease in the soup.
His wife also was staring at the numerous buttery drops in her bowl and recognized in them the twin image to the geometric circles she had made way back in school. As a child, the finely drawn curves and curls in her homework, which always turned out smooth and not at all wavy, had always made her so happy. The solution to the calculation to which it belonged was irrelevant to her; she preferred to invent colourful fantasy stories about the various circles that overlapped one another, and she regarded them as friends who trusted each other to the same degree as they had common intersections, hooked as though arm in arm. When in a calculation it seemed that one circle did not have any touching intersection at all, then she would become very reflective and with disbelief check her work three times searching for a calculation error.
It was November 8, 2010 and the woman was not yet old, even when her face – today without make-up due to an earlier rush – showed to a viewer many thin lines around her eyes and mouth. Looking like scrawled lines of writing in a foreign alphabet, these were marks that told of long, watchful nights and worried hours. At all other times when the woman stepped out of their shared house, she deftly covered up all traces of her daily routine so that those she encountered really thought her red cheeks and springy step were the real truth and her fortune was untroubled and cheerful. In the initial years after her husband’s abrupt sickness, she was indeed able with little trouble to expand her own energy with her own vibrant will to balance out the weakness and frailty of her partner. Back then, she joked in a ringing voice, and her words about the good times together sewed for them a colourful parachute to carry them over the meadows of hope to recovery. But at some point, the sickness had settled down with them and dishevelled their optimism year by year. Like an unwanted guest, it greedily demanded both their attention.
At first, they did not notice this. And everyone else? No, they didn’t either. No one noticed.
The woman had done such a good job perfecting the show of effortlessness to the outside world that nowadays she wavered in her own judgement if her fate was easy or hard to endure. And it made her more and more uneasy that her own answer was not constant, rather it changed from day to day. Could there be in the plan of the world a powerful, unnamed law that caused a persistently lived appearance of lightness on the outside to decrease over the course of time the weight of her own inner trials? Or does she play – like everyone around her – a perfect deception, but at some point she will meet someone who will not be fooled and will thereby destroy her protective masquerade? The somewhat too sceptical look from someone at the neighbouring table had briefly perplexed her, and she was frightened by the fragility of her own strength. “I certainly look very similar to a woman whom that man once knew.” With this thought, she abruptly crushed that freshly made anxiety of hers. She didn’t want to pay attention to the stranger any more, let alone her own doubt.
The woman sat over her soup and thought back to a small eternity ago, to the circle equations of her childhood, and figured out in the flowing rings of oil with their interactions of connection and separation messages meant for her alone. There she found the past events of her childhood and marriage and searched for an omen of the future.
Numerous rings of grease were swimming individually and remained always apart. Others intersected in small crescents or neared one another only at the edges. Most of all, she liked those that covered each other nearly completely and seemed to go into one another. The woman started to, like a guiding power, push the individual drops together with her spoon. How easy it was to bring separated things together.

The sick man had deliberately turned his head in the direction of his wife, his eyes following her continuing movements of making order. Then he put his spoon in his soup and began to divide his one large grease drop into two equally sized halves.
Now the woman followed his doing and, as if he had felt her look, he paused and reached with his healthy right hand for hers. He gently caressed the gold wedding ring on her finger and his quiet gesture signalled to her to take off the ring. And because they had learned through the years to converse without words, she took the ring and let it sink into his cooling soup, after which she let his ring follow hers.
The busy people rushing past the table did not notice it. But the man noticed his wife anew, and she noticed her husband as well. And both their hearts had suddenly become lighter.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell
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