Ghostring is an unusually coherent collection of stories, both in terms of subject matter and structure. It consists of five longer stories interspersed with shorter impressions and images, which in turn create a uniform, though not obvious whole. As in his earlier collections of short stories, Kuczok is fascinated by uncanny experiences and a strange sense of threat. In most of the stories in Ghostring we can identify a similar situation: under the influence of some mysterious impulse, ordinary events that seem well rooted in everyday life, change into intriguing spectacles. That’s what happens in the opening story, Adam’s Ribs, where a young businessman’s chance encounter with a tramp sets off an “inner revolution”, an opportunity to unleash something that was previously suppressed. Ghostringis decidedly Kuczok’s most lyrical and melancholy book. The title story fully confirms this new artistic quality; it is an unusual dialogue spoken by two lovers, who talk about, but not to each other. The book is full of stories of great beauty. The stylistic subtlety is also remarkable: there are lots of literary and musical allusions, some clever play on words, elegant linguistic jokes and other “inventions” of the kind.
And once we had had our fill of making love, she wrapped herself in the sheet like a cocoon, leaving me nothing but the duvet or a blanket, so I had to lie on the rough surface of the couch, because I couldn’t wrap myself in the duvet or the blanket, it was too hot for that, it was a hot season, the hottest time of year. And once she’d totally and utterly submitted to being kissed to bits, once she’d wrapped herself up tight, she gave me an embarrassed look, as if only now had her nakedness, though dissipated in the semi-darkness, become shameful (where on earth are my glasses? I put them somewhere under the bed, but I don’t feel like looking for them now, I’ll look in the morning, but I’ll have to be careful not to tread on them I never will learn to put them away where I can see them). And once she was all tucked up and waiting for her heart to beat evenly again, I knew I wasn’t allowed to invade the sheet zone, that now she had to get used to herself again, she had to feel, from her breasts to her fingertips, from her groin to her brow, right inside and on her skin’s surface that she belonged to herself, and that what she had surrendered to me to prey on had now come back to her, and was apologising for its absence, its disloyalty, its rudeness, begging her forgiveness; her entire body, rolled in a ball and wrapped in the sheet was humbly returning to her, so that no one (that is I) would think love gave a permanent subscription in return for his favours.
He was vigilant, he knew what questions it was better not to ask, when to keep quiet, when to touch, when to be there and when to disappear, he knew it all better than I did, oh, with him I was sure I wouldn’t hear anything like “is that good? Like that? Or maybe another way?”, that afterwards I wouldn’t hear “how was it for you?”, or even worse “how many have you had before me?”, that he wouldn’t start pestering me with questions, that he’d be there just enough for me to feel him near me and at the same time to miss him; he was quite simply vigilant, yes, that’s the best word for it. Vigilant, in such a tender way.
And once the birds were in evidence outside, and it was clear we hadn’t slept the whole night away, and that the shadows would soon start dissolving, I moved gently, ever so gently, so that not even a quarter of a spring would stammer underneath us, I brought my nose close to her neck and checked to see if she had a fragrance of sleep. And as she did, I checked cautiously to see if all of her was really fast asleep, because to let you sleep fully and properly, sleep has to engulf you totally, so I kept watch as well I could, I gazed at her hair, strewn across the pillow, in case it only froze for a moment under my gaze, in case it didn’t really feel like sleeping but was planning to wander about the pillow, I stared hard at it, and if I caught any of it in a state of unrest I smoothed it back into order, I stroked it and lulled it to get it tangled up in sleep. And once her hair was fragrant with sleep too, without unwinding her early morning shroud, I moved my hand over every part of her body, feeling every muscle to see if they betrayed any tension, and thus betrayed her sleep, and if one such let itself be caught, I’d soften it with my touch, relax it and put it to sleep. And once I knew that everything in her was truly asleep, I had to programme her sleep, I had to give it the right flavour, to make sure no nightmare should settle on her breast, or whisper curses in her ear, or take her as its megaphone and start screaming its monstrous gibberish through her, that only leads to perspiration and tears, tossing and turning; I took the fate of her sleep in my hands, through her breasts with the very last caress I sealed the envelope with good, sound sleep, with the very last, though patient caress, because I only stopped when the guardian of sweet dreams had come to rest on her lips: an unconscious smile.
I don’t know when he fell asleep, I never managed to fall asleep after him or wake up before him, every time I awoke he was by my side and this is important, this was really important for me he never once turned his back towards me in bed. Oh, I’ve only seen him sleeping once, when I couldn’t get out of the stairwell, it’s a strange story, I’d never found the door downstairs locked before, evidently they were introducing new habits in the block, as if a sort of middle class was living here now, not yet in terms of income, but at least mentality, so every resident had to have a key to the main door, and no one could go in our out without their host’s consent, so I went back and rang his bell, but he didn’t open the door (he always opened it, as if he were standing right next to it, it was just as if by pressing the bell I not only set off a signal but also an automatic doorkeeper, I never waited a single second he must simply have seen me from the window and that would mean he’d been watching out…), so I thought maybe he let himself fall asleep, sure he wouldn’t see me for some time, and that I wouldn’t see him asleep, so I took out the keys and opened the door, it must all have been fairly noisy, with the keys rattling, my heels tapping, the time I spent bustling about in the hall before I found the right bunch in his jacket, and then in the corner of my eye through the open door of his room I saw a bit of duvet. So I went in and almost screamed with fright he was lying on his back with his eyes open, but he couldn’t see me, he looked as if he was dead, so even when sleeping he had his eyes open, if it weren’t for the fact that the blanket was clearly and regularly moving to the rhythm of his breathing I’d have been sure he was dead. Sure he was dead.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones