You sent me a jpeg of a drawing you made several years ago, a self-portrait sketched in pencil during a difficult time. The forehead and hair, nose and ears are all laid out in expert, economic strokes on lightly textured paper, the eyebrows a bit darker, with overlapping lines none of which, however, was reconsidered. The eyes alone were a struggle; it’s difficult to see if you smudged them with a finger, or if their darkness derives from erasure. A conflict emanates from them. You and your mirror image: it wasn’t enough to capture a likeness; you searched for something in those eyes, stared into them until everything around them began to blur. You gazed, waiting for the familiarity of your face to gradually dissolve into something else, waiting for the eyes to reveal themselves, these eyes that gaze and do not gaze, look back at their observer as though in some ontological loop. You appealed to them as to another: see me, give me a sign of recognition, but they met you with a blank stare until slowly, slowly you began to see a flicker of something in them, and what you saw was the look of a wounded animal.
You dialed her number—your number—but she didn’t answer, she let the machine pick up instead; you hung up and dialed again. Answer this time—answer, verdammte Scheisse. The phone rang, and rang, and then the machine came on. You pictured her standing next to the phone, staring at it in horror, unable to move. The sound of her recorded voice filled your ear, softening the hard edges inside you; you held your breath and waited for the tone.
— It’s me again. Please pick up.
— Liebchen, please. I have to talk to you.
All at once, there came the sound of a sharp beep, followed by a busy signal: the machine had cut you off, and the line had become disconnected. You must have been speaking too softly, you thought; you hung up and dialed again, waited through the message, twisted the phone cord around your wrist. You closed your eyes: you’d always loved this voice, it had always been so familiar, so intimate. And then your heart contracted: this is the sound of her voice recorded in another time, you thought, a time that no longer exists: her voice, recorded in the time before she fell in love with someone else. And then came the beep, and again, you pleaded with her to pick up, trying to speak a little more loudly this time, a little more clearly, trying not to shout into the receiver. Once again, the machine beeped and the connection was lost; there must have been a disturbance with the international lines. You held onto the kitchen counter to keep yourself from crying out; you hung up and dialed again. When you heard the sound of her recorded voice repeating the outgoing message yet again, you had to stop yourself from flinging the telephone across the room.
You close your eyes and turn away. When you open them again, you see a curtain billowing slightly behind you. You look out the window and see a faint yellow glow spread over the façade of the building next door: a reflection of the light in the western sky. The sun will be setting soon, you tell yourself, and then you wonder what part of your mind understands that it’s light, and what part senses the darkness hiding just behind it. Your body aches, all its muscles are tense in unanimous rigidity: she doesn’t love you anymore, she loves someone else; she doesn’t love you anymore, love you anymore, love you anymore. You can no longer breathe; your lungs have made their decision. They want no more movement, they choose stillness, cessation. Your blood agrees, has stopped in its tracks, and all the winding veins and arteries have stiffened into a complex of interwoven iron rods and wires, like the skeleton of a taxidermist’s specimen, sealing your entrapment, rendering you immobile, and out of this prison, this hardened shell, you hear your mind cry out: my God, I’m dying, I’m turning into stone.