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JAKOB NOLTE

TREMENDOUS MAJESTIES

[TRANS. AMANDA DeMARCO]




YOU PLANTED ALL YOUR EVERLASTING HATRED IN MY HEART    

ROBERT WYATT




i.
HONIK





Iselin and Edvard Honik grew up in a house. They lived out a youth, and some time as adults. The circumstances they came from were perfectly okay. One night, as the sun was fusing 564 million tons of hydrogen into 560 million tons of helium, a part of the heat released by this process reached the moon as light 8 minutes 17 seconds later, and this moon, which isn’t really a planet and isn’t really a star, but rather a moon, hung completely illuminated in the sky. Iselin and Edvard Honik’s mother saw it, was struck by its meekness, transformed into a wolf-like being, bit her husband’s neck in two, mauled parts of his upper body, and fell back asleep.



*



There are good reasons to designate the earth and moon a double planet. The moon is unique in our solar system. It came into existence roughly 4.5 million years ago through a collision between the proto-earth and a Mars-sized body, which is referred to as Theia and is hypothetical. Theia shattered completely in this collision, and its dust and a few scraps of the proto-earth compacted under the influence of gravity into what we term the moon today. The moon is unusually large in relation to the planet it orbits—similar to Charon, Pluto’s moon. At the time Theia and the earth collided, there were probably no living organisms on either celestial body.



*



Edvard and Iselin had just turned twenty when they lost their father. The year was 1973 and their birthday was in April. They were twins, born under the sign of Aries. Iselin left her mother’s body first and without trouble. Edvard had to be delivered by C-section.
            One parent’s attack on the other came as a hard blow. They were devastated. They sat across from each other for hours without saying a word. They didn’t shower anymore. They hardly ate, they smoked. They didn’t understand what had happened. How it could have come to this. That their father was dead. That their mother had transformed into a monster. As far as they knew, there was no reason why their father had to die. They esteemed him and were thankful to him for everything. They thought of him with the greatest respect and affection. Nor did they bear a grudge against their mother. On certain days they had an all-encompassing feeling of disappointment and abhorrence, but that hardly explained anything.



*



Their parents’ tranquility, but above all their emotional vagueness, had always unnerved Iselin and Edvard. Neither could remember mommy or daddy (as they called them) ever being angry, agitated, or enraged. Expressions of love or of deep, true love were unknown to them. At most, it was mentioned as a convention in letters. All anyone talked about in the Honik house was facts. The question “How are you?” was just as unthinkable for the children as the sight of physical proximity between their parents. Emotional outbursts were generally signs of fatigue, stress, or hunger. If they wanted to know how their parents were doing, it wasn’t possible to convey this via conversation (or text). They were forced make conjectures. Once, when he had drank the night through and not gotten a wink of sleep, Edvard sat down at the decked-out breakfast table in the house on Leviatvei, where his parents were just about to eat, and looked his mother in the abyss of her nurturing eye.
            “Who on earth are you trying to be?” he asked, and she smiled. His father removed his pince-nez and, commanding Edvard to go take a cold shower, dismissed him from the table. Edvard couldn’t tell if it was because he had asked his mother a direct question, or if his father simply couldn’t stand his drunken son’s presence at that hour of day. He decamped to his room and noted the fever taking hold of his body. He dreamed a continually recurring nightmare. In it, the  sound of a clattering tea service transformed into screams and other shrill noises, which later escalated into a sort of geometric hell or mountain.



*



That wasn’t quite right. Iselin could very clearly remember a genuine emotional outburst in her parents’ home. It happened when her older brother Marek died of tuberculosis. Her father’s sobs were still ringing in her ears, how they wailed through her bedroom walls. It seemed to her as if the house were quaking, as if these sounds issued from the earth’s very core. Her father seemed vulnerable, just like a child. That was probably why Edvard tried to suppress this experience. For, at that moment his father’s weakness and naïveté were so exposed that he might have lost all respect for him. Therein lay the difficulty of Edvard’s relationship to his father. There were days when the man’s severity and petulance infuriated him beyond measure, and he swore to himself that he would never become like him; but he couldn’t stand seeing him hurt. He didn’t want to forswear the things he despised about his father. He drew a great deal of strength from this contradiction. Iselin remembered the radiance of the moment when her father came from Marek’s sick bed and she no longer dared to drink her orange juice. Her father (whose name was Gabriel) was a doctor, and yet his profession couldn’t help him to protect his children. The years of study and professional experience were irrelevant in the face of this illness (which made him a tragic creature in his own eyes). Iselin saw her father walk by with slumped shoulders. She hardly dared a glance, she was so afraid of upsetting him. She stared at the yellow ears of corn printed on the green material of the kitchen curtains and secretly wondered why this brother of hers had ever lived only to die now. The thought wasn’t fair and she knew that, and yet it still seemed justified. Marek hadn’t achieved anything in life. He’d made it nine and a half years, was a failure of a pivot on the local handball team, and would soon be forgotten. Her father washed his child’s blood from his hands (tb often causes its sufferers to vomit blood) and it disappeared down the drain, like so many other things.



*



Their second-born, Kasper Honik, had already died of tuberculosis in 1955, but Iselin and Edvard were too young to have known about that. Marek and Kasper must have been peaceful, inquisitive boys. The few times their parents spoke of the two of them, a fly flew in through a cracked window and buzzed noisily through the room. The path of its flight was like a circuit around a challenging race course. After their parents had finished telling the story, the fly, having dashed itself against the window countless times, flew out of the room on accident. The silence it left behind couldn’t be described with words.



*



After Hilma Honik, mother of Iselin, Edvard, and the two dead Honik boys, and widow of Gabriel Honik, had become human again and recovered from the shock, she called her children to her sickbed, her prison bed. Her condition was critical. She was exhausted and pale, and yet she was peculiarly animated. Grizzled locks clung to her forehead. She spoke quietly. Her voice was contorted with remorse, confusion, and madness. She hoped it was otherwise, but she feared that this transformation she had experienced from a human to a wolf-like being was hereditary, and that it was very probable that one of the two would also lose control on the night of a full moon and would be driven to maul their beloved—should they have one, which Hilma earnestly hoped they would, since love was the greatest and most beautiful thing, the absolute greatest and most beautiful. But so far it hadn’t come to pass that the children of this generation fell victim to this drive (as she called it). It was a fifty-fifty chance. But it had also never come to pass that the curse (as she called it) on her mother’s family wasn't fulfilled. You could follow the devastating animalistic transformations back through the generations.
            Hilma had long hoped (for whatever reason, she interjected) that this legacy had come to an end with her. She had even forgotten her fate (as she called it) for a long time. In any case, she’d reached the proud age of 51 before she had to take her husband’s life. But to be on the safe side, she had to assume that the killing wouldn’t end with her (Hilma). However, they were also the first twins in the family, and if it was one gene that caused this metamorphosis, it could be that either Marek or Kasper had already inherited it, God (as she called it) rest their souls. But she wasn’t well-versed on the subject. Besides, the actual experience of the metamorphosis—leaving aside the irreparable loss of her husband and resulting incarceration and hospitalization (she was also of the opinion that her husband didn’t deserve to die; shame scourged her) as well as the continual medical examinations and the repugnance shown toward her here in the clinic—was amazing. Never (before) had she felt more free. Never had she been so precisely aware of her body. For example, she could sense how the oxygen in the air turned into carbon dioxide in her lungs. Her senses could distinguish between these two substances. Which was spectacular. But her sense of vision, smell, and even balance had also been immeasurably better, unmistakably, perceptibly better. In that condition (as she called it) what she did seemed right to her, and she’d even thought that it was a loving gesture. As if an improbable logic lay behind her actions. It was only that she could no longer remember the essence of this logic. Oddly enough, she rejected all imputations that she had acted while intoxicated. She also had no use for ideas like rabies or a violent fit of madness. She insisted that she had been possessed by a mad sort of reason (as she repeatedly emphasized), even if it were incomprehensible to everyone else.




Jakob Nolte was born in Barsinghausen, Lower Saxony. He is the author of essays, plays and prose. His pieces have been performed in all over Europe and awarded various prizes. His first novel ALFF (also available in English) won the Kunstpreis Literatur in 2016.




A daring, highly praised literary horror novel, ‘Tremendous Majesties’ is an excerpt from Nolte’s new novel Schreckliche Gewalten, published this September by Matthes and Seitz. German reviewers frequently compare Nolte to Tarantino—and with good reason. His most recent novel is equally charming, defiant, urbane and savage. One dark night in the ‘70s, Hilma Honik turns into a werewolf and kills her husband. From then on her two children are on their own, always scared that their mother’s bestiality runs in their blood as well. While Iselin decides to stay in Bergen to establish the terrorist group “Girls in the System,” Evard travels the outskirts of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. Each forges a separate path on their quixotic quest for meaning that leads straight through the conflicts of the late 20th century and into the intricacies of the human heart. With his dark humor—or “Nihihihilismus,” as one reviewer put it—Jakob Nolte paints a black rainbow of horror, proving himself a philosophical prankster, a master of absurdity.

“The novel’s genius lies…above all in its narrative centrifugal force, which causes it to spin out in every direction like an overwound swing carousel.”
        —Die Zeit

“Jakob Nolte’s unconventional style is among the most exciting that German literature currently has to offer.”
        —Rolling Stone



Amanda DeMarco is a translator living in Berlin.




2017.