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Verena Stauffer: Orchis.

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9. Silhouette

Later he said he had first sensed tears flowing through ducts branching across the inside of his face; it had felt as if they were collecting in his lung, his heart, his stomach. Only much later did they pour forth, rolling over his skin until they plunged from his chin into the air, shattering on the ground and seeping into the wood of the ship. Sometimes he succeeded in catching one with his tongue and drinking it.
He lay on the floorboards, not sleeping, sitting up only when Lendy forced him to take some water or food. Before him, regardless of whether it was dark or light, he saw Isaac’s eyes suspended in mid-air, staring at him. For a few days now it had seemed to Anselm that everything was lighter, yellower; the air was permanently bathed in a bell-like golden light, even at night. He felt soft, open, almost transparent, and the rocking of the waves turned him into a wave himself, rolling unchecked across the bottom of the ship with nowhere to break. Suddenly instead of eyes it was potatoes, then globes, later still balls of dung that came stinking towards him out of Isaac’s face, until the dung began to blossom in the sockets and the smell grew ever sweeter, and he decided carefully to extract from Isaac’s head the flower growing out of the dung, and the stem and roots along with it. Scooped out, the head then rested in his field of vision, waiting, without rotting. He placed the orchid he had extracted from the eye sockets on his right shoulder. The roots embraced him, clung to his skin. Soon he didn’t have to hold on to them any more; they were growing into him. Sometimes he felt a twinge, tugging backwards from his shoulder across the nape of his neck and down his spine; the twinge reached almost past his pelvis, down into his leg. The orchid was putting down roots. He avoided stretching so as not to prevent it from doing so. He endured the itching. He felt the roots extending into his neck, reaching forward into his chest cavity, he felt them spreading inside him, entwining and engrafting. The process weakened him. Most of the time he lay curled in a corner; every few minutes he would abruptly fall asleep, only to wake with a start moments later and check nothing had happened to the orchid.
He had to protect it from being crushed, so he didn’t suffer the same fate as the sows who killed their piglets in their sleep. He had to supply it with light so it could live, and every movement was made solely out of attentiveness to the orchid. Yes, an orchid was growing in his shoulder, white as the fine snow from delicate feathery clouds that specialised in counterfeiting this colour. The only thing he was interested in now was protecting this flower, and at the same time he wanted to keep it forever, this orchid of his body. The roots formed a network within him. Just as his veins transported his blood and supplied him with what he needed, the roots absorbed nutrients from every area, inverted rivers. The torchlight described the shadow of the flowerhead on the wooden floor. Depending on the flickering of the flames and the angle of his shoulder, the silhouette sometimes looked like a naked, kneeling woman with billowing hair and cotton-wool breasts, then like a phallus, complete with bulging, cloud-like testes. Anselm couldn’t tear his eyes away, but he couldn’t hold on to the images. Often he would try to turn his body just so, to make it throw a particular shadow. Depending on the angle and the distance to the source of light, the phallus or the woman’s breasts and their tips would grow bigger or smaller – he could make them swell and shrink at will. How he delighted in this game! Now the orchid began to exude its scent. At one point it smelled of mandarins, which was the odour he imagined emanating from his shadow-woman’s armpits; then he thought he sensed the tangy, damp odour of delicate genitals in his nostrils. Orchids had always been deceptive plants that tricked their pollinators with false scents, Anselm thought, yet nonetheless he became completely addicted to its effect.
Angreacum sesquipedale was not one of those deceptive flowers; everything he was smelling was pure and unadulterated, everything he was smelling came from it alone and was for him alone, he thought, and surrendered himself wholly to his idyll. The orchid was growing on his shoulder, and now he had to take care of it. He tried to remember whether he had ever heard of such a case before. Nothing similar came to mind. So every few minutes he squinted at it, keeping track of its growth, then back to the shadow on the floor of the ship, feasting his eyes upon it. Suddenly, though, the silhouette looked like a face in profile; it seemed very familiar, but he couldn’t think where from. Gently he shifted his shoulder in different directions. Was it himself? Deception doesn’t get anyone far for long, he thought; beauty and perfection do. Lovingly he turned his gaze to the actual flower on his shoulder, then closed his eyes.

(pp. 69-70)

© 2018 Kremayr & Scheriau, Vienna
© English translation: Charlotte Collins, 2018

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