by Filip Šimunović
|part 1 of 3|
My name is Erika and I have been working as a secretary in the university psychiatry clinic for sixteen years. I am forty years old now.
Of course, that’s not my name. You don’t think I am stupid, do you? My age and the time I worked at the clinic come about just right, though.
I like the clinic. Mostly I manage patient appointments, student courses and take dictations. It is a good job. I especially like dictations. Dictations are relaxing and I am fast. Too fast, actually, so that I tend to write slower in order to fill more time with the sound of the keyboard.
The dictations I take are not live dictations. I have a small basket on my desk and that’s where doctors put their tapes with patient conversations. I pick them up, one by one, listen, and transcribe. I can also do stenography but I have little use for it now. I took two stenography courses in Stuttgart in the ’80s.
It takes me less than two minutes to walk to Altstadt, the old town, and that’s a good thing because I started going to fitness there. I can’t go every day — if I did I’d get a myalgia. That’s how the young doctors working for us call it when your body aches after training.
Myalgia. It’s Latin. I see some of them at the gym and they are nice and they always say ‘Hallo!’ Since I can’t go every day, I’m left with many empty evenings.
On such evenings I sometimes read, and so I read a book by that guy, S. King, some time ago. I’m telling you, he would pay some serious money to get his hands on the interviews I write. That is why I am writing this, thinking that if he can be famous, so can I. I have better stories to tell.
When this stuff I bang at here gets published, I want it to be known in advance that I have changed the names of participants and that I am not going to mention the name of our pretty town.
My story is about a very bad thing that happened to a very young girl. It is a real shame such things happen. The young girl was treated in our institution before the horrible thing happened.
“Erika!” Prof. Ralf Ackerman, my boss, yelled one day. He always liked me.
Professor is a great person and it is a huge honor to work for him. He has long gray hair and a white mustache. I entered his office and he instructed me to get in touch with that girl’s boyfriend and ask him to come in and see him. If there ever was an emergency in psychiatry, he said, then that was it!
I did as I was asked, happy to play a part in an emergency. Maybe I saved a life, or even several lives by acting so quickly. In any case I was very able with the phone, so we shall never know what he was about to do. I told him to come in right away! He said he would come in.
In all honesty, I forgot all about it for a couple of days. I went exercising. I felt my muscles getting harder and that made me happy. But after a few weeks I saw the name of the young man amongst the tapes in my basket: Ulises Belano.
It was then that I remembered everything and felt bad for forgetting the emergency. I hoped everything was all right. I took to transcribing his conversation ahead of some others that were due. I finished transcribing it and brought the transcription home. That is when I had the idea to publish this story.
At first, I wanted to write it up, like a real story. You know, like S. King’s. A story with introduction, physical descriptions of characters, action... I started doing all these things, but it didn’t feel right. The sound of the keyboard was not as musical, not as fluent as it is when I type dictations. I was used to writing, and I was good at it. It made no sense to me to have to think about what I write. So I concluded that dictations are much better.
I decided to publish the transcript of the conversation, the way I heard it and professionally wrote it down. It is a good story, and this is how it starts. It was last week.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Great pleasure to see you here, Ulises. May I call you Ulises?
ULISES BELANO: Thank you, doctor. Please do.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Great you could come so quickly. How was your weekend?
ULISES BELANO: Super. Never better.
PROF. ACKERMAN: You still go to university?
ULISES BELANO: No. I work.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Have you graduated?
ULISES BELANO: Philosophy.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Where do you work, Ulises?
ULISES BELANO: Coyote’s.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I see. Barman?
ULISES BELANO: I am an acquisitions manager, doctor. And a cocktail man, yes.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Right, right... Who is your favorite philosopher?
ULISES BELANO: Jimi Hendrix.
PROF. ACKERMAN: He was indeed a great individual. Amazing artist. You know, every now and then I pick up a book by a great philosopher. Recently I was rereading The Stranger, by Camus. That guy really hit some things, as they say, you know... how does the saying go? Hit the nail on the head.
ULISES BELANO: Camus wrote The Stranger. That is correct, doctor.
PROF. ACKERMAN: And The Plague, right? Or was that Sartre?
ULISES BELANO: Doctor, in times of the Internet...
PROF. ACKERMAN: Indeed, indeed. You are not here to give me lessons in philosophy.
ULISES BELANO: I do not think that is why I am here, no.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Who was Nina’s favorite philosopher, Ulises?
ME (ERIKA): Now here was a long silence. It was a silence of many crackles that get on the tape when no one speaks. Silence of empty air. It was a very heavy silence.
ULISES BELANO: Aristotle. She always said that... she said that he already wrote everything there was to write. For her there was no point in further development of human thought.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I understand. How far was she in her studies?
ULISES BELANO: Well, she just about reached Aristotle, when... when it began.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I see. Continue please.
ULISES BELANO: There is nothing to continue. What do you want me to continue?
PROF. ACKERMAN: She stopped going to classes?
ULISES BELANO: Yes.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Why? What did she say?
ULISES BELANO: Look, doctor. Can’t we just leave it? It is over. What’s over is over. You know plenty, much more than I do. What else do you need to know?
PROF. ACKERMAN: I want to hear about her, from you. You were close to her.
ULISES BELANO: I am close to her, doctor.
PROF. ACKERMAN: You keep saying “doctor.” Same thing you reproached me for doing. Call me Ralf, if you want to call me anything. Do you smoke? Let’s step outside and burn one. Do you like one of these? Bring the ashtray please. My hands are full.
ME (ERIKA): The noise from the street was louder on the balcony but I could still hear their words. Also the patient Belano, when he got into talking some moments later, was very difficult to understand because of his accent. I managed because I am a professional.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Were you born in Germany, Ulises?
ULISES BELANO: Santiago, Chile. Grew up in Mexico.
PROF. ACKERMAN: No! Really? Your German is so fluent. It’s perfect.
ULISES BELANO: But you could hear my accent?
PROF. ACKERMAN: Yes, but the language is perfect. A slight Spanish accent, sure.
ULISES BELANO: So why did you ask if I was born here if it was obvious I was not?
PROF. ACKERMAN: No hidden intentions there, Ulises. I’m sorry. There were no hidden intentions in asking where you were born. I hear an accent, yes, but at the same time your German is flawless.
ULISES BELANO: I studied German before coming here. My family moved to Mexico City because my father got a job as an architect. I went to school and started university there.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Mexico City sounds like a tough city to practice architecture.
ULISES BELANO: I really wouldn’t know.
PROF. ACKERMAN: And Germany?
ULISES BELANO: I was visiting friends and liked it. I applied, got accepted, moved. Not a very dramatic story, I’m afraid.
PROF. ACKERMAN: And you studied for several years before meeting Nina?
ULISES BELANO: Yeah, I studied and worked and traveled and... yeah. Studied, worked and traveled, basically. Before I met her, yes.
PROF. ACKERMAN: And then you met her?
ULISES BELANO: Yes, then I met her.
PROF. ACKERMAN: When was that?
ULISES BELANO: When was what?
PROF. ACKERMAN: That you two met?
ULISES BELANO: That was, dear doctor Ralf, ehm... that must have been the beginning of the winter semester. So it must have been August. Last year in August, I assume.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I see. How was it, going out with her?
ULISES BELANO: It was good. Nothing special, in the beginning, you know? She was cute, young. I was the second guy she ever slept with.
ME (ERIKA): Intercourse has become like shaking hands. Especially with these Spanish and Italian people. The only reason they come here is to have intercourse. I didn’t have... doesn’t matter. I should let the patient tell his pornographic story.
ULISES BELANO: I met her in Café Marstall. You know it?
PROF. ACKERMAN: Of course.
ME (ERIKA): The Professor always knows everything!
ULISES BELANO: I worked there, and she’d come with friends whenever she had a break. They were new so I watched them. At first I thought they were all another bunch of loud, over-excited, obnoxious, enthusiastic-about-everything German girls.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Is that how German girls appear to you?
ULISES BELANO: Nina’s girls were like that. Away from their mamas for the first time, living on their own, thrilled with everything... They get in this over-ecstatic condition, their nerves tensed between insecurity on one side and freedom on the other. German girls are like that, and it takes them many years to cool down and relax. Many never do. Others, say Spanish or Italian, they too are insecure when they are young but they are cooler. If they are in cold waters, surrounded by unknown people, they are cool. They don’t get in these extreme love-hate relations with people they hardly know. They take a step back, observe.
ME (ERIKA): This is stupid. German girls are the best. They have principles and values. They don’t prostitute around.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I see. Impressive. Did you ever consider doing psychology?
ME (ERIKA): I’m sure the Professor didn’t tell him how stupid he was just because he wanted scientific information from him.
ULISES BELANO: I considered doing everything, doctor Ralf. As for psychology, I went to the best school possible — the school behind the bar in Marstall Café.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I’m sure it was a great experience. Let’s talk about Nina. What was she like?
ULISES BELANO: Quiet. Very quiet. “Nina amongst girlfriends.” That would be the title of a painting I would paint if I could. If I could paint, that is. It would show her as she was, a little sad and very quiet, classically beautiful, surrounded by faces of women disfigured with undirected energy, pubertal laughter and feverish chatter. Do you know Dürer’s painting of the child Jesus surrounded by the disfigured faces of the “teachers”? It would be like that. You know that painting?
PROF. ACKERMAN: I think I do, yes.
ME (ERIKA): Professor Ackerman is brilliant. A worldwide expert working in the best hospital and he can also talk about books and art and other things!
ULISES BELANO: She was tall, she had long black hair that reached her lower back, big eyes and a face that Michelangelo could have made.
PROF. ACKERMAN: How did you start going out?
ULISES BELANO: Since the very first encounter there was something. You know? Something. I had a feeling she did not want to be with her girlfriends all that much. So I would, when she came for tea or cookies, I would always say something, a word or two. And before you knew it she was coming alone, sitting at the bar talking to me.
We went for a walk after work, for a dinner... She was extremely pretty but I did not feel the need to get her in bed. She was bony and awkward. Not sensual. But very pretty. She was taller than me by five centimeters. It was easy to talk to her because she was just starting philosophy and wanted to know everything. More about people and the staff of the Philosophisches Seminar than about philosophy, but that was all right. She needed advice.
PROF. ACKERMAN: When did you sleep with her for the first time?
ULISES BELANO: After a week or so. It was bad.
PROF. ACKERMAN: What was bad?
ULISES BELANO: Sex.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I see.
ULISES BELANO: We ended up spending more and more time together. She stopped seeing her girls and I found out, as I had already suspected, that she never liked them. Now that was a situation that made me feel uncomfortable.
PROF. ACKERMAN: I see. Which situation was that?
ULISES BELANO: In a way, her life was suddenly surrendered to me. Philosophy is not exactly the most time-intensive thing to study, and having no other people to hang out with, she hung out only with me. That did not feel right.
PROF. ACKERMAN: How attached was she to you?
ULISES BELANO: Very. Well... I should not say that. It was complex. As complex as any other relationship, but perhaps even more. At times she would ask me how we would name our children and soon after during the same day she’d distance herself and become cold. You know? She’d say I am her whole life and half an hour later she would not want to hold my hand on the street.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Of course. In her condition that is normal. I’m sure she loved you, Ulises. She was unable to build a healthy, mature relationship. With anyone, not just with you. It is the nature of a schizophrenic either to become over-attached to someone, or to be unable to attach at all.
ULISES BELANO: Or both at the same time.
PROF. ACKERMAN: Exactly — or both at the same time. I admire you for sticking with her.
ULISES BELANO: You know, it wasn’t that bad. I learned that she had these periods, these pits that she fell into from time to time, and I’d just leave her alone when it happened. If she turned like that while we were out somewhere I’d just get up, take her home, and go about my own business. What else could I have done?
PROF. ACKERMAN: There was nothing you could have done. Even we poorly estimated the severity of her disease.
ULISES BELANO: It would certainly seem you did.
PROF. ACKERMAN: There was nothing anyone could have done.
ULISES BELANO: If you say so. You’re the doctor. But you should hold on a second, I haven’t even started the real story.
Copyright © 2010 by Filip Šimunović