after language, the novel that isn't Part 24
Written by William Kherbek on Monday the 17th of October 2011
Runs a hand along the shoulders of his work-shirt. Wrinkles persist. Oskar
stands aside. As the door slides weightily aside. Highfill exits the cell. The
vast expanse of the walkway: Degrees of freedom: he's come to appreciate their
leads him down the corridor, rough-and-gentle jailer fingers close his bicep.
"Herr Highfill, you must sleep.
Madness will find you.”
Oskar deposits Highfill in the
"You must sleep...”
Fond back-slap. Oskar gone.
Highfill behind the glass, sees his
own haunted cheeks in the pale image reflected, sees the streaks of grey in his
hair-realises it's the image of a phone cord intermingling with his own: the
mercy of mirage. Jowl-sag, however: a reality.
for her. What will she say? Will she clarify? Will she declarify? Has she come
to score points, jab with sharp witch-fingernails? To mourn with him, heads
bowed, looking into the void of the desktop?
Highfill antsy. Of course she'd keep him
waiting. Thinks of her on the train, almost asleep, wine-tired, vintage
Hamburg...Highfill's then-delusions of something he called 'redemption'.
Not prepared when it happens. His
visitor faces him. Not a witch. Maybe 47, calm-smiled, well-shaved, well-kempt,
cuff-links sharp against the black of his jacket. Smile almost creaks with
Perhaps her emissary.
"Good afternoon, Herr Highfill.”
"It's still morning.”
"Everyone makes mistakes.”
47 faces Highfill blankly, blinks.
"Herr Highfill, I take it you don't
know who I am.”
"'Take it' away.”
"Then allow me to introduce myself,
my name is Helmut Schneidermann, I am a member of this government's cabinet--”
"You're behind all this?”
"There is no 'behind'.”
"There's a behind. There's always a
"Be that as it may, my portfolio in
this cabinet is limited to Finance, I generally do not intervene in the affairs
of other ministerial when they do not directly impinge upon my realms of
necessity, but in this case it became necessary to make an exception. Herr
Highfill, I believe I can help you.”
"Yes, Herr Highfill, help. I believe
you are the victim of a monumental injustice, or at the very least, a
"Yes, Herr Highfill, I would
not have believed it possible from a government that cites the Christian
heritage of this great nation as its germinal soil, but I believe you are being
used as a pawn in a rather callow political intrigue.”
"I believe the office of the Foreign
Minister is attempting to obstruct a series of policy reforms that are
indispensible to the health of this nation's economy. I believe they, the
simpering bureaucrats of the Foreign office, are using you as-if you will
permit me a crude metaphor-a scapegoat for other, more shall we say 'spiritual'
grievances. You are a convenient hate figure, Herr Highfill.”
"Spreche sie Deutsch?”
"English is better.”
"For our purposes, perhaps it is,”
phony-nervous glancing, Schneidermann knows he's safe, Highfill surmising, "Your
extradition has presented the office of the Foreign Minister with a great coup-Perhaps
that is a poor choice of words...”
Highfill, I will come to my point, I would like you to plead guilty to the
charges against you.”
"I think something's lost in
translation, Herr Schneiderman...”
"You must understand, Herr
Highfill, you will not be acquitted. No, that will never be permitted, your
case is too important. The judiciary of this country is congenitally bound to
left-wing repentances, your reputation condemns you even if your actions do
not. Your sole hope lies in admitting culpability.”
"Should you plead guilty to the
charges, you will spare this country a gruesome spectacle. Herr Highfill, I
speak as someone who lived through the period of communist atrocities, through
a period when justice had no meaning beyond that of pure instrumentality. I
have no stomach for further show trials. Yet the die is cast, you will face
something misnamed 'justice'. 'Judgment' is perhaps a more accurate term, the
judgment of the comfortably sound against the afflicted, it is a familiar
"Herr Highfill, you must be
reasonable; facing your choices, I myself would plead guilty. You will likely
be sentenced to ten years in prison-in a situation not dissimilar to your
present circumstances, far from ideal, but I think you would agree, far from
the Inferno as well-no doubt this is unwelcome news, but, consider this, with
even minimally good behaviour, you will serve, at most, five years, after
which, Herr Highfill, you may reasonably suspect the political environment may
be greatly changed, especially if the necessary reforms I speak of are
undertaken. I believe you know the nature of the reforms of which I speak, do
people will be interested in the story of a martyr. Indeed, an artist-martyr
who is more than capable of articulating his story with verve and panache.”
"You're a fan?”
"I read Couples.”
Oskar: "Times up.”
"Think about it.”
Another game. Highfill wearied of
games in Mali.
Something within him, the old itch, says play along. One more time. Maybe he'll
"Congratulations on your fascinating
"Herr Schneidermann, I am surprised
to hear from you. What 'strategy' do you mean?”
"No, of course it isn't a strategy.
It would be vulgar to suggest as much. Still, as with any political
undertaking, however virtuous and undiluted, there must be strategic
considerations. I congratulate you on your efficiency in dealing
"You are very committed to
congratulating me today, Herr Schneidermann.”
"I consider you a very brilliant
"I just looked, Ludo is booked all
"Ms. Hoelle, must you always impugn
my motives? To wit, I am not interested in discussing Mr. Osterberg today. In
fact, this my interest in Brother Ludo is waning somewhat, I must admit, no, I
am now more interested in your plans for the future, Ms. Hoelle.”
"The future is a long time, Herr
Schneidermann, I believe it would be best to get through the present
legislative session first.”
"Of course, but perhaps in the next
session, perhaps working for Ludo might not seem so appealing. Your analytical
capabilities might be more suited to a more quantitative portfolio.”
"I believe Ludo needs my services
more than you do, Herr Schneidermann.”
"Yes, well, I suppose that is hard
to dispute. And you are determined to continue on the present course?
Prosecuting our friend Nathan Highfill?”
Highfill. Shudders ensue. Just
hearing him say it. The word in Schneidermann's mouth. Clearing the witch
throat: weak cover.
"Have we become disconnected?”
"Is a political prisoner, as we both
"I did not make the murder laws,
Herr Schneidermann, I do not even enforce them, perhaps you should be on the
phone to the Federal Prosecutor so-"
"Oh, don't worry about that, Ms.
Hoelle, I have been. I have been. He says what he must say given the
circumstances, though I believe, and surely we both believe, his personal
feelings might incline him toward other conclusions.”
"He will do his job. He is a
"Ms. Hoelle, I am surprised at how
much of a villain you appear to conceive me. Another man, less used to
misunderstanding would be hurt.”
"I don't know what you're talking
"Come! Your deep antipathy to even
modest systemic reform is well known. I can see your face contort when The
Chanzellerin turns to me in cabinet meetings, do you think you no one can see
you? My God, you act as though I were planning to poison the water supply...I
only want to give individuals greater freedom. For this I am likened to
"The freedom will not belong to
"Yes, yes, once eine kleine
Kommunistin always, I suppose. Still a loyal Little Pioneer, are we, Ms. Hoelle?
I'm sure you were very cute in your little scarf or hood or whatever they
forced your parents to force you to wear.”
sees it now, he's going to try to turn Highfill against her. A thousand things
pass through her mind. He's good, Schneiderman. And evil.
"Yes, of course. I must admit,
Fraulein, I like you, in many ways you remind me of my granddaughter. She is
full of unfounded ideas about the perfectability of mankind. No, I do not think
you would be the best fit in my office, where the numbers often tell us a very
different story. As you say, Ludo is more in need of someone like you than I
am. And so I must wish you the best with your strategic virtue. But, as history
has shown us, even the most carefully conceived plans are at risk of, shall we
call them 'unforeseeables'.”
"Yes, that is the difficulty with
well thought out plans and plots and what-have-you, they are often so
contingent upon-to use a term from the sciences, Ms. Hoelle, 'idealised
conditions' such plans begin to sunder as soon as conditions become less than
ideal, as is so often the case in this fallen world of ours,” Schneidermann
sighing, wearily, perhaps loosening his business-belt, "No doubt, given your
position, Ms. Hoelle, you are also as concerned about our commitment to NATO
operations in Afghanistan as so many in our party are.”
She sees it: in the wing-mirror, the
offer she couldn't refuse. Now here comes the offer she can't resist. The offer
she'll have no say in...She parries quietly:
"I believe our present commitment
levels are sufficient. Perhaps even overgenerous.”
"Unfortunately, of course, not
everyone thinks of the situation as you do,” the controlled sighs are coming
more frequently, denoting weary truths, "Many feel our troop commitments must
increase. Many influential editors and journalists feel the same way.”
It would be the war...
"The electorate does not agree.”
"No, not today, perhaps. But-well,
as I said, 'unforeseeables'. It would be most unforeseeable, someone such as
yourself, with your beliefs, helping to craft the escalation of our commitment
to the NATO mission, but, of course, stranger things have happened.”
"War is a strange thing, Ms. Hoelle,
one may think that a war has ended, that an enemy is completely vanquished, and
yet, after some time has passed, the enemy reappears in a most unlikely guise,
with a completely different strategy, perhaps even with different objectives,
and then, well, Ms. Hoelle, anything is possible...”
"Just so we understand each other.”
"Yes. I believe we do.”
Schneidermann clicks off.
Composure: difficult to find. She
stares at her desk briefly, until she hears Ludo cheer. He's discovered
"Drei punkten! Ha-ha!” simulated
crowd noises follow.
Zoloft in Zoo Station. So much for
Germany. Guitar case clatters as he rushes up the escalator. Earlier than he
thought. Never knows what time it is. Buys a coffee at the stand on the
Clock-arms sweeping away the
seconds overhead. Another fifteen minutes, not enough time for anything. Drops
into the plastic mesh seats behind a guitar/ruck-sack fortress. Impregnable, he unsheathes his journal: "No
more girls with short hair.” Ever. Misses her now, knows she's gone. Knew she
was gone when he kissed her good-bye that morning on Karl Marx Allee.
"I'll call you.”
"I'm going to Prague. It's the next show.
"I'll still call you.”
C'est la tour, non? Involuntary
Sinead-memories: proliferating. The last day. He drove back from the station.
Fucking Watson. She was in the main room in his chair. She was writing in her
lyric book. Zoloft didn't ask. Tried to take her by the hand, it had almost no
weight. How could it happen? How couldn't it...She only lasted until about five
in the afternoon. Columns of pink light passed through her body. L.A. Sunset. He couldn't touch her. He reached
out: only light. As she faded away, feet first, waist, shoulders, face-freckle
by freckle-her last words, he couldn't hear them, but she mouthed them
carefully, "You knew...”
her she should eat something, why? Maybe it would keep her there, tie her to
the world somehow...He had no idea.
if he knew...
Then she was gone.
was wearing one of his shirts. At first he was aggrieved, then, strangely
beatified. Then he was alone. Broke a lot of CDs that day, and days after. Period
of irresolution. Period of cheap beer. Period of cheap vodka. Period of not
going to work.
gave up the Good Flat, finally. Sinead-prints everywhere. Found a dump-let near
the studio. Place to be alone. Tried to keep the rope from fraying, turned up
at work twice, three times...Fuck it.
the stumblings: there were some drugs, some vomiting, some passing-out on pavements,
some getting robbed while being passed out on pavements, some contemplating
suicide, some taking a shower with a toaster nearby.
the record got made-studio guy felt for him, wanted to see the baby walk
(finagled a writing credit on a couple of songs, NB). Somehow it got released,
got reviewed, praised: blog hero. Now this. Ten minutes: Praha, Holoscevice.
convincing himself that it all happened. Harder: that it didn't.
"I expect a man of your intellect
becomes very paranoid.”
"Oskar, I am in prison.”
"Well, yes, but...”
"Shouldn't have brought it up.”
"Oh, no, Herr Highfill, I am
pleased you feel you can confide in me.”
Cell searches: best part of
confinement. Oskar's mood: usually better than Highfill's. No chance of contraband,
still, Oskar's a pro, does a thorough job. Gives them time to talk.
"What would you do?”