First published in and republished with kind permission from Short Fiction in Theory & Practice Vol. 1, issue 2.
Miriam grew up in a semi-detached house in the suburbs of Berlin. The other entrance belonged to a family that her parents barely said hello to any more. They had fallen out over the use of the garage. Her father had designed the house. His daughter admired him for that. Miriam’s mother is a quiet woman with a pierced nose. Both of them are blond and wear their hair long and straight. On photos you could mistake them for sisters. Miriam’s grades in school were good enough to keep her parents happy but not so good that she stood out. It was more important to her to be liked. The boys weren’t interested in the girls who came top of the class.
After she finished school, she began training as a window dresser. While she was arranging new mannequins in the window display of a department store, a man tapped on the glass. She didn’t react, but in her lunch break he was there waiting for her. The stranger showed her a photo of a young woman with a broad smile and a small gap between her teeth. She seemed to be a little bit older than Miriam herself. Her twentieth birthday was only days away. The woman on the photo was her half-sister, the man informed her. He asked her to meet the unknown woman. As he elaborated she gradually realised that her father had a second, illegitimate family. Her half-sister had been conceived while her parents were building the house she had grown up in. She stared at the gap between the woman’s teeth as if it was the entrance to something. The man who showed her the photo identified himself as a television producer. He wanted to film the sisters meeting. She declined and steered herself – concentrating hard, without stumbling – to the tram. She wondered whether she should be outraged, or appalled that she hadn’t known anything about this family. She wasn’t even sure whether the story was true or not. She didn’t mention the encounter to her parents. The consequences would have been too unsettling.
Not long afterwards she fell in love with a fat young man dressed in black. Her parents didn’t like the way he looked. She took a train to Denmark with the young man. He was annoyed because she had forgotten to pack his woollen hat. When her boyfriend was tired, he would become weepy. In the Danish registry office the tears ran down his cheeks. She smiled at him. Shortly after her twenty-first birthday she was married to him. Their rings were attached by a chain to an armband shaped like a snake; hers had his name engraved on it. She lived with the fat young man in a one-room apartment. When she wanted to be alone she went shopping. Her husband earned a good salary as a food chemist. But he still didn’t want to move house. He liked the narrow confines. On holiday he and his wife went to Patagonia and he filmed her by a spewing volcano. Once a month her mother arranged to meet her in a café. Miriam usually made her excuses after hastily downing an espresso.
On the way home after one such occasion, something strange happened to her. She got off the underground train at Mehringdamm station. Another train was already waiting on the opposite side of the platform. A young woman, a little older than Miriam, came towards her. They both wanted to change line. The unknown young woman smiled automatically as they fought a shadow duel, momentarily uncertain which way to go round each other. A tiny gap glared between her front teeth. The woman slipped into the train at the last minute, just as the signal was beeping that the doors were about to close. The other train also started to move off. They left behind the abandoned subterranean station. An empty stage between red-brick pillars. The walls echoed with the clattering of the train carrying the young woman who could have been her sister.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maike Wetzel was born in 1974, attended film school in Munich and in the UK and is a German writer, screenwriter and journalist. She is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories: Lange Tage (2003) [Long Days, 2008, excerpt longlisted for the Frank O’Connor short story award 2009] and Hochzeiten [Weddings] (2000), both published by S. Fischer Verlag. Her stories have appeared in over 40 anthologies, on radio and on screen. Maike Wetzel has directed short films and documentaries and also writes screenplays. Her stories are widely translated. In 2014 she was the inaugural Goethe Institut New Zealand’s Writer in Residence, spending two months in Wellington.