I don’t understand why I had a dream like that after such a blissful evening.
An empty room. A naked lightbulb on the ceiling, in the corner a chair with only three legs, one of them broken off. The door was locked; what was I afraid of?
The woman. Her narrow eyes were very close together, on either side of the root of her nose, which had a deep wrinkle down the middle. Her forehead too was wrinkled, and her lips were slightly open, so that I could see her teeth, yellowish like those of heavy smokers. But it was her eyes that were awful.
She stood there while my fear grew unbearable. I was trembling, I had difficulty breathing, my eyes were watering, my legs went weak—this didn’t actually happen to my real body, of course, so is it possible that I wasn’t afraid at all, that it was only my dream self, just as only my dream hands were trembling? No, the fear was as real as fear can be, and burned in me, and when it was no longer tolerable, the woman took a step back, as if she were releasing me, and only then was I back in our bedroom, where I heard Susanna’s steady breathing and saw the moonlight falling softly through the window, and the baby monitor showed our daughter in a deep sleep.
Breakfast: Bright grass and even brighter sun, no clouds, the air full of birds whose names I don’t know; I’ve always regretted that I can’t identify birds by name. The way they let the wind carry them, as effortlessly as if flying were the norm, as if it took hard work to stay on the ground.
At the moment Susanna is reading to Esther for the thousandth time from the book about the mouse and the cheese moon, the little one is laughing and clapping, and I’m quickly finishing my writing before I head out. We’re running low on provisions, someone has to go down to the village, and I volunteered. Get away. Susanna said thank you and held my hand, and I looked into her eyes. They’re not actually blue, more turquoise, with a sprinkling of black.
Will you read me your new scenes?
You don’t really want me to.
Don’t be so sensitive, of course I do.
I don’t have much yet.
It just dawned on me where I know the terrifying woman from. I saw her in the photo on the wall in the laundry room—just to the right of the Miele washing machine and the dryer, I noticed it on the first day. But to get nightmares from that is really too much.
Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Kehlmann. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.