The Snail Killer
You live in Kronstadt, a city in Transylvania. You are a Romanian citizen, your ethnicity is German. Your name is Wilhelm R.
The Romanian name of your city is different. You accept that, of course, but in your correspondence with Germany you use Kronstadt. You never discuss ethnic issues with Romanians. Your vanity prevents it. Your parents are not wealthy but for some obscure reason you have always felt upper class, a nobleman. You feel no tribulations regarding your ethnicity. Saxons, you say, are different from Hungarians. They claim almost nothing from Romania, but they don’t exactly feel uncomfortable in the country by the Danube and the Carpathian mountains. Many have immigrated to Germany. Why? On a whim, not because they couldn’t resist. I, for one, have never wanted to leave.
Your haughtiness is so large that it resembles an exaggerated modesty. Yes, Wilhelm, you are terribly vain, as if you were a real Graf. But you don’t even have a von in front of your name. That is what a somewhat intelligent Romanian man told you once at a party you hosted with your wife. You didn’t get mad. Or at least, you didn’t show it. You smiled politely. This Wallachian doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Certainly, he is an acceptable person. He knows how to maneuver his silverware, he doesn’t speak with his mouth full, and he does not stare at your wife as if he’d like to see her breasts and her hips through her clothes. And he has a good sense of humor. You don’t have one yourself because you are too comfortably set in your ways. Humor requires a well hidden despair. Polite despair, said Schiller. You, however, feel great on the evening of the party. You are only 45, you’re healthy. Your daughter is doing well. You make good money. What is there to do? In Romania things go the way they go, but that does not mean much. One gets accustomed.
Yes, the Wallachian, his atypical intellectual looks, his irritating strength, unclear, maybe something sexual. If you didn’t control even your thoughts, a vulgar thought might come through unintentionally, you would have told yourself, this guy is simply potent, and he likes to have sex. Women sense that. Yes. That’s exactly why he is getting on my nerves.
A few years later he became your wife’s lover. Your wife, a real lady, did not hesitate to visit him in his studio apartment on the outskirts of town. You found out fairly quickly. You came down off your high horse for just a moment, you intuitively knew that she was having a good time. Indeed, she was. The suspect near sighted dork was giving it to her. The ancient old secret.
But these things happened a while back in Bukarest, Old Wilhelm. You can be called Old Wilhelm now. Fifty-five is fifty-five any way you look at it. Infidelities don’t bother you anymore. You no longer seek revenge. You divorced. You moved to Kronstadt.
It is evening. Late spring. The sun is setting. A snail appears on your window sill. Hesitant, yet determined, (paradox!), moving its antennae, sliding ever so slowly, like in a dream. This can’t be, you tell yourself. How does a snail get to an upstairs apartment? It’s absurd. And yet. The snail is real, you’re not hallucinating.
When it reaches the edge of the windowsill, the snail stops. It retreats into its shell and falls from the sill. It falls on the table with a dull thump, a hint of a crack. Did the shell break? Will the snail die? No. After a while, the shell rights itself, the snail emerges, just as slowly as before, the definition of caution and Asian-like purposeful slow motion. Gastropods. “At the ravine Uvendenrodes/So many gastropods!” A verse belonging to Ion Barbu who married a purebred German woman. “Hypersexual / Hypermusical.” Another verse from the same strange poem.
You watch the snail’s moves carefully. It transverses the shiny solid walnut table. It leaves behind a trail of mucus. Disgusting.
Two other snails have appeared on the sill following the path of their predecessor. They, too, fall on the table. The first snail stops as if it’s waiting for the others to catch up. There are three of them, in ultraslow motion, wonderfully slow, you think. You admire them despite the fact that they are dirty. And clean! Without the mucus they could not advance. You pardon them, at first. But still, this is my apartment, they are intruders. They are trespassing, uninvited. If you had a sense of humor, you would laugh at this thought. No. You remain serious, stern, alone, impeccable in your house robe. You just got a haircut. You shave twice a day even though you barely have facial hair.
Shaving calms you down and gives you a sense of satisfaction.
The three snails have now reached the table’s edge, there is a moment of hesitation, they rotate their antennae facing each other as if they are communicating. They have made a decision. They are advancing, sliding. Antennae extended to the maximum. These guys can tell that nothing will happen to them. The rug is thick. But how do they know? Intuition, old man. Intuition. You have it, too: You know they will let themselves fall, one more time.
Sure enough, they fall silently. You go down on your knees, you’re watching them. They are not moving. For now. Slowly they come out of their shells, they stretch, regain their chimerical appearance. They cannot move forward, the long fibers of the rug prevent them. Will they be stuck there all night? On my hand-woven rug? Inherited from my grandparents? Brought from the Orient? What if it is just a good imitation?
Look, old man Wilhelm, here’s the truth. A more vulgar person would pick them up without much ado, and would fling them out the window onto the lower roof of the house next door. He wouldn’t care what would happen to them. There would be some unpleasant cracking sounds. So what? After a few seconds it would be a thing of the past. Forgotten. Another, more compassionate person would perhaps take them to the park, would leave them in a vegetable garden, schlepping them in a plastic bag. No. Not you. You hesitate, you savor your indecisiveness. A noble man does not get his hands dirty with such things. In another era, you would have pulled on a silk chord, an imperturbable servant would have appeared. The snails would have disappeared as if they had never even been there. A servant would have then cleaned the carpet. A wet spot would have been the brief reminder of the strange and unpleasant episode.
The daylight has now dimmed. The sky is purple. Looks like draught, a farmer would say. You tell yourself, the color of an imperial robe. You should feel peaceful inside, old man. Life is definitely beautiful. And the snails, their innocence, superb. But no. The intruders are infuriating you. You, the cool and composed one, reserved even when faced with a gross injustice, you are overtaken by the common fury. As if I was on drugs. You try to regain your aristocratic conceit. A lie, Herr Wilhelm, is hysterically more expressive than the truth. The latter has a hint of modesty even if it is, let’s say, fatal. The Junker airs you put on have always been exaggerated, let’s not kid ourselves here. And your calm was and is a little fake. You’re not all that self-confident, though you don’t admit it. Testosterone, the bastard, is playing a nasty game with you. In the last few years the only thing you can manage perfectly is the pre-senile fury. It is what it is. Of course, you don’t accept any of this. Yet. You think your mental health is just fine.
The snails, the three strange ones, elicit the only available authentic reaction. Fury. You didn’t show your fury when you were laid off. The same when your wife, the grand dame with a commoner’s healthy appetites announced that she wanted a divorce. But some innocent snails are infuriating you.
You sit stiffly in your armchair, you try to calm down. You have read up on this, you know it’s better to think positive. Negativity is bad for you. How can you possibly hate some snails? It’s absurd! Me of all people! You take deep, slow breaths. A trick to help you calm down. You know this one. You know a lot of other things, by the way. You speak Spanish, for example. No one has really checked if you do, that’s true. They all believe you. German is your forte anyway. Hochdeutsch, of course. You wouldn’t utter a word in the Saxonian dialect even if you were faced by the firing squad. You try your best with your accent. You try a more guttural pronunciation, but you don’t quite manage. You speak German correctly, but it’s an old-fashioned German. Like it or not, you don’t know how the language spoken in Germany is evolving. You were forever contaminated by the Romanian drawl. Nothing can be done in this respect.
Nonsense, after all. Trifles. What does pronunciation or accent matter? These assholes have invaded my apartment. Look, there are more of them on the window sill. Mein Gott, I’m going Kafka! This is not acceptable, not okay. I’m going to gather them and take them somewhere. To a park, a garden. They like lettuce. Gardeners complain about them and destroy them. They don’t pay attention to their enigmatic appearance or to the fact that they are unisex.
When that man came to our house for the first time, the topic of snails came up. He was erudite, the bastard! He was offering nasty details about snail mating. Who cared? First of all, the women cared, even though not one of them asked to hear any details. My wife’s eye were as large as saucers, she forgot to be her usual sarcastic self. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Funny that I remember those glances now.
The specimen was providing details. Snails are hermaphrodites. They have a common sexual gland, called ovotestis which produces both kinds of cells. These have a common path initially, the hermaphroditic duct. The male ones then travel through the spermoviduct, vas deferens, and penis. The ova remain in a fertilization chamber and are then evacuated through the oviduct and vagina. The allosperm from another snail is introduced through the vagina and deposited in a timely manner – this is the word he used – into a reservoir, the spermathecae or the bursa copulatrix. From here it is taken into the fertilization pouch through a special trench of the oviduct. The snail penis is disproportionately large, he finished, very serious.
Was he crazy? Or did he want to blow us away? A buffoon, rather. I didn’t say anything, of course. I could not go down to his level. Yes. True. It was enough for you to just give him a stern look, while the others (the women) were laughing. At you, too, you presume.
You realize he was hitting on your wife in a roundabout way. What can be more lewd than two coupling snails. Disgusting mucus, a sexual act with no end. Large penis. Just like that Little Johnny joke. Last name? Johnny. First name? Johnny. Sex? Enormous. Yes. He also told this stupid joke, while you and your phenomenal recall, couldn’t come up with a matching cutting remark.
He had sensed, like an animal, that what was hiding in your wife was not only a ferociously sensual woman, but also an intellectual with a sophisticated taste. He had also had an intuition that she had a certain disregard for men, in terms of gender. He made his move and got in through an unguarded entrance. He excited her by speaking about snails! Not right! Schweinerei! The results were visible later, when she started to see you as increasingly bland. You were impeccable, no doubt. Tall, lean, well maintained teeth, decent in bed. But the lack of humor proved fatal. She was always poking at you, she knew how to do it well. And you, stereotypically, would get upset. Whereas he, replacing you, laughed at his own expense when she teased him. Well, old man, he wasn’t interested in her words, you know, but maybe the strength of her thighs, and the overwhelming orgasm, of a rare sincerity and shamelessness, her final sigh. He felt like he was fulfilling a need. The Quran says it’s a sin not to satisfy a woman in bed.
These are technicalities, though, and no longer important. Things have changed. They are not together anymore. They made a good effort for five years and then separated. Such is life. Overwhelmed by anxiety, your wife began to overeat. She gained weight. No matter. After fifty, certain activities are viewed differently. “Priorities” and “considerations” change. Your problem is another. The snails. They induce a plebeian fury in you, completely undesired, but against which you have no power. You will collect them and take them somewhere. You won’t tell anyone about them. No one would believe you, anyway. Garden snails can’t scale walls, as you know. How could they reach the second floor?
You slowly get out of the armchair. No sudden moves! Your golden rule. Let others be effusive, I am obviously phlegmatic. Like a classic Englishman? Or a Samurai? The core Samurai virtues are patience and self control. The energy bursts forth with that much more force.
You take one step towards the three snails on the rug. You crush them. Crushing sounds followed by quiet smooshing. It’s over. You also execute the other two who have now appeared on the table. You do it with the palm of your right hand. The noise of the cracking shells is different, smoother. You got a cut. You are bleeding a little. You don’t feel disgust, nor regret. You did what you had to do. You realize with horror and a vague sense of pleasure that the act of crushing has given you a basic feeling of sexual arousal.
Last night you had no other “gastropodic visits.” You made up this expression and repeated it quietly. Just so you can hear what it sounds like in Romanian. In German, making the new word was easy, of course. The spirit of the language is different. Compounding words. The need for absolute precision. Romanian is different. It has poetic imprecisions. You know this, too. You read a lot. An engineer must be cultured. It applies to you. Your almost photographic memory helps. You have no trouble accumulating culture.
When the Snail (you gave him this nickname because the Wallachian sounded racist somehow, and you are the perfect democrat) started to talk about a thing as bizarre as the life of snails, you felt frustrated. You weren’t able to combat him. You told yourself or you are telling yourself now, on this morning of clarity, that he had set out with the specific purpose of putting you in an inferior light. He had contemplated how to reduce you to silence and make you listen. That night, you are remembering now, you had been on the verge of excusing yourself and leaving the party for half an hour to check an encyclopedia to find out details about the life of snails, the garden snail, Helix pomatia. So you could stuff the Snail with a fact, to reduce him to silence. You didn’t do it.
You have a habit. In the mornings you leave the house to buy newspapers. If the weather is nice, you go for a walk. On the street, in front of your second story house, reclaimed a few years ago, you stop without reason. You glare at the windows of your renters. You rented out the ground floor. The rent provides you with a decent living, after all.
A few snails on the sidewalk. An invasion? Elegant, imperturbable, with mysterious destinations. You look around. No passerby. Pretty strange. You feel a moment of panic. You recover right away. You don’t allow yourself such emotions. Fear is for others. And yet. You stop in front of the huge gate. Nobody. Not even a trace of a car.
You quickly walk over to the snails, you crush them with your elegant shoe. The third noise: Snail murdered on the pavement. The first, on the rug, the second, on the table of solid walnut, unsure of the style. (You want to believe it’s Biedermeier.) Did anyone see you? Looks like no one did.
It isn’t elegant to kill a live creature. And yet. I can’t control myself. Should I see a psychiatrist? No. Snails are a pest. Definitely. Sure, they should be eradicated differently. They could be picked. They are edible. A business live snail export. Or frozen.
You are heading to the newsstand. Other snails, so beautiful! Incredibly elegant! Leisurely! Patient, like the Samurai. These guys savor the act of coupling before it even happens. I’m sure of it. Not consciously, of course. They live for that monstrously long copulation. Brilliant! So clean!
You crush them with precise movements. This one is the twelfth.
A very large snail is climbing the metallic newsstand wall. Could this be their king? He is progressing. He does not have suckers like insects, but he manages to climb. He denies his nature. His tentacles are impossibly long. The biggest ones have dark dots at the ends, the eyes. That gross mucus is moisturizing its body. It is wet and shiny. Its muscular leg (mollusk) looks like it is covered with chainmail like the shirt of a medieval knight. You hit him with the palm of your right hand wrapped in adhesive bandage. You miss at first. The shell cracks, but does not fall apart. The snail peels off and falls on the pavement making an ambiguous noise. You step on him. You liquidated him. You feel a vague satisfaction. A discreet impulse in your impeccable trousers, in your expensive underwear that you personally bought in a western country, from a boutique where prices were three times as much as in a regular store.
The newsstand vendor has the slightly lost old lady air about her. She hands you the papers. You pay, you thank her, leave. A bizarre sensation of lassitude. This hasn’t happened to you since you gave up sex and took refuge in a vainglorious solitude, less uncomfortable than one might think. It’s a great ending. It reminds you of some tantric techniques that recommend the so-called interior ejaculation meant to fortify the man and to make him superhuman bit by bit. You never took them seriously. But now, the big snail in front of you, dead, you tell yourself there might be some truth in that. You are thinking that the fatigue is only masking the triumph. This time, you are right. You got it, Old Wilhelm. Not a minute goes by, and you start feeling great. As if you just left a massage session. Not bad!
You return home, walking slowly, paying attention to posture. Straight, looking forward. Absolutely. The only way.
You don’t have a television. Out of spite? Or maybe you believe it is vulgar to watch TV? However, you have digital radio, the latest model. More expensive than one might think. You couldn’t even buy it in Romania, if you are correct. Blaupunkt. You turn it on. Nothing special. You’re in a mood. Let’s listen to a local station! You flash an indulgent smile. As a matter of fact, these young people are not all that bad. They do what they can. They are trained. Let’s see what’s on. A news bulletin. A serious accident took place in Kronstadt. A gas leak followed by an explosion. Five people dead. Last night.
You switch to another station. You listen to Viennese waltzes. Beautiful. Wunderbar! This music could only have come into a happy, harmonious world. Before the great wars. You are right.
You are listening in peace. You are happy right now. Your mind and your soul are clean and vaguely shining, just like the bodies of the snails. Time no longer passes in a trivial manner, with its pulses devoid of all grace, it’s stopped. For you, Old Wilhelm! How simple things are sometimes!
Slowly, though, something is starting to irritate you. The waltz is perfect, but you are not able to savor it completely. You want the local station, its idiotic modern music. Of course, with the exception of a few rare songs. You want to hear the amped up voice of the DJ. And the local news bulletin. What if they were speaking of a snail invasion? Anyway. In a suburb, an out of control truck mowed over a group of people waiting for the tram. Several casualties. A few seriously injured. I would have liked something about snails.
The invasion is an association made in our brains, nicht wahr, Old Wilhelm? – The idea of rapid aggression. A locust plague – now there is something that is comprehensible. The occupation of a country. This seems logical, too. Even an attack from outer space. But, for example, what would turtles attack? So slow, unrelentingly unhurried? It can’t be. Snails are the invaders only in a nightmare. They are much too slow. They simply cannot be associated with aggression. Plus, they are so defensive! Non-aggressive by definition. At the slightest danger they withdraw into their shells. How could they invade a city? It’s absurd.
And still, you have a premonition. You feel unsure, there is a discreet tremor in your entire being, old man. You feel it. Your vainglory is fighting a heroic battle, it pulls you to the surface a few times, where the sun of lucidity is shining. But right away, you are pulled back into the dark depths of confusion. They will say something about snails. Soon. I’ll bet they will. Or did I have a hallucination? Either I’m crazy or the snails are in the city.
You look for another local station. More music. You hold on, you wait. At eleven o’clock, finally, the news. A somewhat hesitant young female voice says that garden snails have invaded the city. The mayor’s office has taken measures. The snails appeared during the night. No one knows where they are coming from, probably from the forest. They must, because they couldn’t have been dropped by parachute, the radio jokes.
You leave the house and head for the city center. Am I going there to see the smashed snails? Me? What could be more vulgar? Nevertheless.
Your street is on a slope. In Kronstadt, the good neighborhoods are on the hills. The apartment buildings, however, are on the plain. You descend, so to say.
You come across snails, you crush them without feeling anything special. It has become habit, you tell yourself. Still, no passerby.
A group of snails. Static. You then realize they are in groups of two. They are making love! You burst out loud, ignoring your own rule never to do that. I shall not speak out loud when alone, no matter what may come! Every time you feel you’re acting old, you repeat this motto. Some Romanian cursing goes through your mind. You always thought it funny. Right now, not so much.
You kill the lewd snails. Two in one shot. Satisfaction! You have a rapid erection, not very common at your age. Your penis seems to exude an invisible steam. Almost an orgasm, Old Wilhelm! You can pat yourself on the shoulder. You are good, no reason to doubt it. A real man, despite the fifty-five years you celebrated last year on June 4th, 2007. Your wife made a mistake leaving you. Absolutely.
A teenager is coming up the street. She’s not older than fifteen, though she is tall. You know her, she lives up the street. You are almost neighbors. If this was a village, she would say hello. She is walking in a strange zigzag. This is because she is avoiding the snails. As she reaches you, she looks at you doubtfully. Her face, clean, untouched by time, her green clear eyes, her luminous skin, almost transparent. She stops, she looks at the crushed snails. One of them is still moving. Is she looking at you reproachfully? She could be my daughter, or even my granddaughter. In her mind it’s an ecologist reproach, automatic, picked up from movies and news articles. Let us protect the fauna! Let us not kill stray dogs! Let us take care of the planet’s last leopards! The forests… the Amazon jungle… let us not destroy them!
Three men and a woman are approaching. Their faces are contorted. They look like they’ve seen the devil incarnate. You never strike up conversations with strangers, by principle, but this is the time for an exception. What happened, please? You ask politely. A catastrophe. A passenger plane crashed before landing. Where? Here. They say they all died. When? A few minutes ago. I was just on the phone with a colleague from the airport. He witnessed everything as he was speaking to me. How do you know there are no survivors? There was a huge explosion. No one could have escaped such flames.
The woman is crying. Tears are streaming down her hardened face. She knows someone on the plane, the man says.
The group leaves. The girl has not moved from the spot and she is looking at you attentively. At first you feel somewhat flattered. I’m a man, after all, and she, a woman. You realize right away that it’s can’t be a case of gerontophilia. No, the girl is x-raying you, she is looking into your soul using a gift that was lost or forgotten by adults. What happened? You ask her. Please excuse me, the girl says. It’s not appropriate to stare. It’s rude. Is that what your mommy taught you to do? The girl hesitates. I think I want to find out why you crushed the snails with your feet. Oh, please, you say, almost amused. They are a pest. You can ask any gardener. If you find a bug in the kitchen, you crush it, don’t you? We don’t have bugs, the girl whispers without the trace of a smile.
Then she leaves slowly, paying attention to the snails on the street. You follow her with your gaze, shrug. Teenagers are strange. Everybody knows that. I have the right to be that way, too, because I read that after fifty people go through a phase analogous to adolescence.
You head towards the town center. The number of snails is increasing, although the opposite should be the case. You destroy a few more, plenty more. You’d like to liquidate all of them, but you don’t have enough time. You want to see what is going on.
Thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Garden snails. Calm, majestic, navigating dry land towards enigmatic destinations. Few passersby. Human passersby, that is. No one is taking a stance against the invaders. You are the only executioner. The city employees haven’t shown up.
Unacceptable! Such neglect! You don’t hold a grudge against Romanians, but in Germany this would not have been possible. There, measures would have been taken right away.
The snails are crawling up the walls of the buildings, they traverse the shop windows, they cross the public announcement panels. There are many of them on the main street that is a pedestrian-only zone. Passersby, suspiciously few of them, are carefully going around the snails. You don’t avoid them, you step on a few dozen more. The crushing sound of the shells have become familiar, you are no longer paying attention to it.
After a while you realize you are the only terminator. With the exception of a few accidents. Some elderly have also done in a few gastropods here and there. Every single time, on the faces of the perpetrators, a deep regret. Hysterics, you tell yourself. There are so many of them, a few hundred or thousands of them gone won’t matter.
You think that maybe you were chosen by a higher power to rid the city of snails. Since no one else is doing anything about it !? Someone has to do it. If you act methodically, you could have pretty good results. The local authorities could get teams of volunteers together that you can coordinate, you are a man of action.
A group of people in front of a shop window. On a large screen TV, the local news. A girl with eyes hallucinatingly shiny is speaking of a derailed train, close to Kronstadt. The number of victims in the hundreds. The onlookers are speaking with low voices. A few women are crying. A cry from an elderly country woman. She had a son on the train and is starting to mourn him quietly. People are staring. You could say that the biggest pain is mute. You don’t. In a crowd you prefer to go unnoticed. Your clothing style is testament to that. You prefer gray shades. The ties – ultra discreet. You are a true gentleman, Old Wilhelm, no doubt!
You leave the group behind. You walk like a pissing bull, that’s what the Snail would say if he could see you. From a distance one could say you’re drunk. You continue zigzag, because now your take your job seriously. You kill as many snails as possible. Your murky pleasure goes up with each and every crack of a shell. You’re almost at the climax. A thought goes through your mind that you are a sadist but you didn’t know. Freud links sadism to a primal death drive. Your extraordinary memory is helping you once more. That’s right, old man, to a death drive.
No one follows your example. The few passersby continue to go around the snails. You are the only snail assassin.
I don’t know why Herr R. seemed strange today. He looked high. He was impeccable, not just clean, but impeccably clean, as always, but something was off. My parents and Herr R. don’t exchange greetings. So I don’t say hello either. A girl from my class told me once she thought he was an attractive man. I laughed, but after that I took a closer look. I don’t know how old he is, probably around forty five. Like my father. He doesn’t have a belly or a bald spot. I have never seen him unshaven. He is so elegant! Maybe Hilde wasn’t completely wrong. So what if he is not young? I’ve seen worse things in movies.
A few times I’ve tried to look at him “provocatively.” He gave no reaction. He’s always looked at me as if I was transparent. He always seems very preoccupied. I once asked my father about Herr R. He told me he had been fired. He’s an engineer. What does he do for money? He lives from the rent he gets from the tenants on the ground floor, and from the money his parents send him from Germany.
These snails! Herr R. is killing them. I like them. I like how slow they are. Mother told me about Zen one day. It is a sort of religion without a particular divinity. You have to annul all your desires and that is how you reach enlightenment. I understood very well what she told me, even though I was only fifteen years old. They did IQ tests at school. I was at the top with 195. They repeated the test. Same. After that I went through a difficult period. My school mates began to avoid me. Even Hilde, my best friend, became distant. I got up in front of the class and started to curse them. In Romanian. I told them I had nothing to do with my own mind, and that my mind was doing its own thing. I have nothing to do with it. I am independent and you must not segregate me. That’s exactly what I said. Why are you not inviting me to parties? I shit on my intelligence. That is how I ended the speech. They all laughed and after that things started to be better. Though sometimes I think they look at me like a strange animal. Harmless, almost cute, but abnormal. My boyfriend is the class idiot. I like you a lot, Christine, he says, very seriously. Why? Because you’re beautiful but also because you look like me. You’re not bothered by my so called intelligence? No. I actually think you’re an idiot. These things crack me up! The truth is that I feel great when someone calls me stupid. Actually, he’s a good-looking boy, muscular, even hairy.
They are coming into the house, I see. They don’t bother me, I leave them alone. They make a mess though. But anything can be washed, as my mother says. One of her sayings.
More about the derailed train on the news. This just hours after the plane crash! What a dark coincidence! The thing with the snails… The accidents… Herr Wilhelm R. All things that are not connected with each other. But still, I want to find a common denominator. Maybe the end of the world is coming, as a few very friendly strangers told me, on the street. I listened to them, though my mother told me it’s not good to get into a conversation with strangers. There will be strange signs, they said. Catastrophes, divine signs, they will herald the coming of the final moment. The apocalypse. The final battle between good and evil. They gave me some flyers, I didn’t read them.
They are streaming in from all over, more and more of them. I close the window. Should I collect them? Put them in a plastic bag and take them outside? I’m not grossed out by them. They are so weird! I have always liked bizarre things. They have given me satisfaction. I cannot talk about these sorts of things with my friends. Or with my mother. Come to think of it, I don’t even have to tell anyone. I like them, so what?
Earlier I saw their crushed remains on the pavement. Sometimes they randomly leave the green foliage for a walk. Maybe it is looking for his partner. Or her partner. No, they are hermaphrodites. I read that somewhere. Are they the perfect animals? But they do mate. I have some mating couples around the house, three of them I think. Motionless, satisfied. I am an intelligent virgin. What is there to do? This doesn’t bother me too much, though some classmates make fun of me and tell me I’m old-fashioned. The whole sex thing doesn’t seem that fascinating to me. Tempted, yes. But my vagina is not the center of the universe, nor is my clitoris. That’s what I think.
Now I’m seeing Herr R. I don’t know what’s happening me, but I simply know what he is doing right at this very moment. He’s walking through the city killing snails. Earlier he did it somewhat timidly, as if he was embarrassed. Now he doesn’t hide anymore. He is the only one killing snails. Passersby pretend not to notice. Something strange is happening inside of him. I don’t know exactly what. Something confusing, how should I say, murky. Like a drinking binge. I got drunk once and I know what it’s like. When you drink too much there is first a sense of joy then a sense of sadness. Something mixed. He is experiencing something like that.
I can even tune into his thoughts. He wants to liquidate all snails, to rid the city of them. He kills the ones climbing up the walls, on windows, on shop windows. He applies a short and precise strike, like a karate fighter. His face is flushed, Herr R. is feeling better than ever. How can that be? A gentleman so elegant and civilized! Incomprehensible.
I have some homework left to do today, but I don’t move, I have my eyes closed. I follow Herr R. I feel he should be stopped.
Some strange tingling. As if the air suddenly got colder. The windows are slightly clanking. A dull noise coming from the earth. An earthquake? I stay where I am, I’m not scared. The chandelier is starting to slowly rock back and forth. Our house was built by a guy who was afraid of earthquakes. I know this from father. It will hold.
The earthquake is getting stronger. The furniture is moving, the chair underneath me is going crazy. I go to the door and hold on. I look through the window and see some building collapsing in the valley. Shouting. Just in my mind?
The radio show is being interrupted. The rocking increasingly stronger. I hear screams in the street. This time I’m sure they are not only in my head. A sense of terror. Great suffering. Felt by someone else and by me at the same time. Herr R. has not calmed down. In spite of the earthquake, he continues to kill snails. Demented by fury. Stop him, Christine! It’s an order, from who knows who. I order you to stop him! I will start crying any second. I get over it. I visualize Herr R. very clearly. I enter into his conscience, I become one with him. His irritation and hatred slow down. The earthquake continues. Together with Herr R. I run through the streets where chimneys, plaster and bricks are falling. Like in a bomb attack. He’s no longer killing the snails. We pass a few collapsed apartment buildings. Houses with fewer floors have fallen. It’s a disaster. We thought we were not in a seismic zone. We were wrong.
A house collapses suddenly, as if by a magic trick. The wall facing the street collapses on top of us. Wilhelm has no time to step back. As the wall is collapsing, he is a snail. He is crushed, dies without suffering. This is because he no longer knows what pain means, fear, fury. In the last moments of life he is a primal creature, without a conscience of self. I hear a crushing sound, as if the shell of a giant snail cracked. After that, nothing. Quiet. And dust. A lot of dust.
I come back to myself in the doorway of my room. The earthquake has passed.
(Translation: Ioana Paulat)