Authors: Melanie Raabe,Imogen Taylor
MELANIE RAABE grew up in Thuringia, Germany, and attended the Ruhr University Bochum, where she specialised in media studies and literature. After graduating, she moved to Cologne to work as a journalist by day and secretly write books by night.
is her debut novel.
IMOGEN TAYLOR is a freelance literary translator and academic based in Berlin. She recently translated Sascha Arango's
The Truth and Other Lies
The Text Publishing Company
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Copyright Â© Melanie Raabe 2015
Translation copyright Â© Imogen Taylor 2016
The moral rights of Melanie Raabe to be identified as the author of this work have been asserted.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
First published as
by Random House Germany, Munich, 2015
Published in Australia by The Text Publishing Company 2016
Cover design by W.H. Chong
Page design by Jessica Horrocks
Typeset by J&M Typesetting
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
Creator: Raabe, Melanie, 1981â author.
Title: The trap / by Melanie Raabe; translated from the German by Imogen Taylor.
ISBN: 9781925240870 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781922253507 (ebook)
Other Creators/Contributors: Taylor, Imogen, translator.
Dewey Number: 833.92
I am not of this world. At least, that's what people say. As if there were only one world.
I am standing in the big, empty dining room I never eat in, looking out the large window. It's on the ground floor. You look onto the meadow behind the house, and the edge of the woods. Sometimes you see deer or foxes.
It is autumn, and as I stand here gazing out, I have the feeling I'm looking in a mirror. The colours are building to a crescendo; the autumn wind makes the trees sway, bending some branches and breaking others. It is a dramatic and beautiful day. Nature, too, seems to sense that something is coming to an end; it's summoning all its strength for one last surge. Soon it will be lying motionless outside my window. The sunshine will give way to wet grey and then crisp white. The people who come to visit meâmy assistant, my publisher, my agent (there isn't really anyone else)âwill complain about the damp and the cold. About having to scrape the windscreen with numb fingers before they could set off. About the fact that it's still dark when they leave the house in the morning and dark again by the time they get home in the evening. These things mean nothing to me. In my world, it is exactly 23.2ÂºC, summer and winter. In my world, it is always day and never night. Here, there is no rain, no snow, no frozen fingers. In my world, there is only one season, and I haven't yet found a name for it.
This villa is my world. The sitting room with its open fire is my Asia, the library my Europe, the kitchen my Africa. North America is in my study. My bedroom is South America, and Australia and Oceania are out on the terrace. A few steps away, but completely unreachable.
I haven't left the house for eleven years.
You can read the reasons why in all the papers, although some of them do exaggerate. I am ill, yes. I can't leave the house, true. But I am not forced to live in complete darkness, nor do I sleep in an oxygen tent. It is tolerable. Everything is organised. Time is a current, powerful and gentle, in which I can drift. Only Bukowski introduces confusion into the order every now and then, when he brings in dirt on his paws and rain on his coat after a romp in the meadows. I love running my hand through his shaggy coat and feeling its dampness on my skin. I love the grubby traces of the outside world that Bukowski leaves on the tiles and on the parquet. In my world, there is no mud, no trees and no meadows, no rabbits and no sunshine. The twittering of birds comes from a tape, the sun comes from the solarium in the basement. It's not a wide world, my world, but it is safe. At least, that's what I thought.
The earthquake came on a Tuesday. There were no tremors beforehandânothing that might have warned me.
I was in Italy when it happened. I travel frequently. I find it easiest to visit countries I know, and I used to go to Italy a lot. So I go back every now and then.
Italy is a beautiful and dangerous country because it reminds me of my sister.
Anna, who loved Italy even before she ever went thereâAnna, who got herself Italian lessons on tape and listened to them so often that the tapes wore out. Anna, who saved assiduously for a Vespa and then careered around our home town, as if she were winding recklessly through the narrow alleyways of Rome.
Italy reminds me of my sister and of the way things used to be, before the darkness. I keep trying to drive away the thought of Anna, but it's sticky, like old-fashioned flypaper. Other dark thoughts get stuck to it; there's no stopping them.
So it was off to Italy, in spite of everything. For an entire week, I retreated to three spare rooms upstairs that I never use, and named them Italy. I put on Italian music, watched Italian films, immersed myself in documentaries about the culture and customs of the country, leafed through coffee-table books, and had delicacies from various regions of Italy delivered by caterers. And the wine. Oh, the wine. It almost made my Italy real.
And now I'm walking through the alleyways of Rome, in search of a particular restaurant. The city is muggy and hot, and I'm exhaustedâexhausted from battling against the current of tourists, exhausted from warding off the advances of street hawkers, exhausted from drinking in all the beauty around me. The colours amaze me. The sky is hanging grey and low over the Eternal City but beneath it the Tiber flows a dull green.
I must have fallen asleep because, when I wake up, the documentary on ancient Rome is over. I'm confused when I come to. I can't remember dreaming, but I have trouble finding my way back to reality.
I seldom dream nowadays. In the first years of my retreat from the real world, I dreamed more vividly than ever before, as if my brain wanted to compensate for the lack of new impulses it was receiving during the day. It invented the most colourful adventures for meâtropical rainforests with talking animals, and cities of brightly coloured glass inhabited by people with magic powers. But, although my dreams always started off light and cheerful, they would sooner or later grow dark, like a sheet of blotting paper dipped in black ink. The leaves in the rainforest would fall, and the animals would stop talking. The glass became so sharp you could cut your fingers on it; the sky turned the colour of blackberries. And inevitably he would appearâthe monster. Sometimes it was a vague sense of threat that I couldn't get a proper hold on, sometimes a shadowy figure lurking almost out of view. Occasionally he would pursue me and I would run, trying to avoid looking back because I couldn't endure the sight of his face, not even in a dream. Whenever I looked straight at the monster, I would dieâdie and wake up, every time, gasping for air like a drowning woman. And in those first years, when the dreams were still coming, I had trouble driving away the thoughts that came at night and settled on my bed like crows. There was nothing I could do about them; no matter how painful the memories, I couldn't stop thinking of her in those momentsâthinking of my sister.
No dream tonight, no monster, but I still feel uneasy. A sentence I can't quite make out is echoing in my head. There is a voice. I blink, my eyes gummed up. I notice that my right arm has gone to sleep, and I try to massage it back to life. The television's still on, and that's where the voice is coming fromâthe voice that had found its way into my dream and woken me up.
It's a man's voice, business-like and neutral, same as all the other voices on these news channels that broadcast the lovely documentaries I'm so fond of. I heave myself up and grope for the remote control, but I can't find it. My bed is vast, my bed is the sea, all these pillows and duvets, waves of coffee-table books and a whole armada of remote controls: for the television itself, for the receiver, for the DVD player, for my two Blu-ray players customised for different formats, for the sound system, for my old VHS recorder. I snort in frustration, and the news voice tells me about things in the Middle East I don't want to knowânot now, not today. I'm on holiday, I'm in Italy, I've been looking forward to this trip!
It's too late. The real-world facts that the news voice is reporting onâall the wars and disasters and atrocities that I'd been hoping to block out for a few daysâhave forced their way into my head, chasing away my sunny mood in seconds. The Italy feeling has gone, the trip's off. Tomorrow morning I'll go back to my real bedroom and clear away all the Italy stuff.
I rub my eyes; the brightness of the screen makes them ache. The newsreader has left the Middle East and is now reporting on domestic affairs. I watch him with resignation, my tired eyes watering. Now the man's finished his spiel, and there's a live broadcast from Berlin. A reporter is saying something about the Chancellor's latest trip abroad, while behind him the Reichstag rises up out of the darkness, majestic and imposing.
My eyes sharpen their focus. I start, I blink. I can't believe it. But I see him! Right here in front of me! I shake my head, dazed. It's not possible. I can't believe my eyes. I blink again, blink frantically, as if I could get rid of the image that way, but it makes no difference. My heart contracts with a pang. My brain thinks: impossible. But my senses know it's true. Oh God.
My world is shaking. I don't understand what's going on around me, but my bed starts to tremble and the bookshelves sway and then crash to the floor. Pictures fall, glass shatters, cracks form on the ceilingâhairline cracks at first, and then rifts as thick as your finger. The walls collapse, the noise is indescribable, and yet it is silentâutterly silent.
My world lies in ruins. I sit on my bed among the debris and stare at the television. I am an open sore. I am the smell of raw flesh. There's a flash in my head, so dazzlingly bright that it hurts. My vision turns red, I clutch my heart, I am dizzy, my consciousness flickers. I know what it is, this keen, red feeling: I'm having a panic attack, I'm hyperventilating, any second now I'll faint, I hope I'll faint. This imageâthis faceâI can't bear it. I want to avert my gaze but it's impossible; it's as if I've been turned to stone. I don't want to look anymore, but I have to. I can't help it; my eyes are fixed on the television. I can't look awayâI can't; my eyes are wide open and I'm staring at it, staring at the monster from my dreams, and I'm trying to wake up at last, trying to die and then wake up, the way I always do when I see the monster up close in a dream.