‘Stella’ by Daniel Schulz

brown pillow beside wall

I don’t like being served. Had you asked me that evening, if I wanted a cup of tea, I would have shuddered. Yet, here I was, paying up front for service. Coming toward me, she pulled my shorts down and put them on the chair. Usually, women like her don’t do anything like this. Usually, they wait for you to get undressed and ask you what you would like to do. But she… she touched me with a tenderness that I seldom felt before and kissed my shoulders, exactly where it hurt. I closed my eyes as if inhabiting a dream, as I couldn’t bear the reality: she was kind to me. I didn’t ask her to be that. Nonetheless she just was… Of course, you’re going to say something else afterwards, when you meet your friends. That you fucked her hard for one long round. That, after all, is what is expected of you. But I am not at all interested in fulfilling expectations. That has never been my thing. When women look me in the eye they become afraid, because they can see the loneliness inside of me. She sees its, too. That’s how she earns her money.

She was from the Shengen Area, she told me later in the hour, from Romania to be exact, but had lived in Albania before she came to Germany. – “Men treat women differently there,” she explained, “They beat them wholeheartedly. I once lived next to a man who killed his wife with a kitchen knife. Believe me, if I had stayed there, I would have gone crazy. I was afraid for my life. I mean, you don’t want to know what I read in the papers today.”

In her former resident country, as it turns out, a mad man wanted to blow himself up in a train station because his wife had left him. He wanted to hurt as many people as possible, especially women. The paper was the equivalent to the Daily Sun or Der Express. She, obviously, was glad to live in Germany. My eyes wandered up to her beautiful lashes. Something was hurting deep inside. I believe it was my heart, if, indeed, a heart feels like that. A heart beats, right? Like a fist, right? Something inside me was breaking. One of my hands was clenching the sheets, while the other slowly stroked the handsome unshaved fuzz of her thighs, while she smoked. Emotions were surfacing. But I remained still, as if I wasn’t feeling anything. If I remained still my feelings would perhaps ignore me.

– “How do you manage working here?” I asked.

Stella shrugged, “I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I just switch off. If I thought about what I’m doing here,” she confessed, “I’d just as likely go crazy. But I’m not going to stay here forever. In four years or so, I’m out.” – Stella, it seems, was determined to make her fortune here, in Germany. She wouldn’t be working in this locale forever. As soon as she had enough money, she was going to start her own business. – “I’ve got a great idea and the brains to make it work,” she smiled. I could feel my lips stretch, feel myself smiling back to her. Deep inside my heart, I knew that I wished her all the best.

Outside the night had become cold and lonely. I could see my own breath in front of me like a path that I would eventually have to follow. You think you know yourself? You don’t. Looking out into the darkness, I could feel something else catching up to me. I could hear my heart beating in my chest like a fist. Somewhere in the back of my head my mother was screaming. Somewhere in the back of my head my father was beating the shit out of her. Hands clenched. BREATHE. Such is the matter of memories… Maybe Stella was right. Women are treated better in this country… Hear the sirens howling in the background: An Audi at the crossing in front of me is honking at the car in front of – him? An ambulance is rushing past. Asking his friend, a man standing at the traffic light says: “What is up with that guy? Is he stupid? Why is he honking? Can’t he see an ambulance is passing?” – “No, look,” the other guy answers, “It’s a woman.’”–

While the sirens passed, I thought about the irony that in 2019 it is still a crime equivalent to manslaughter for a driver to pass by a car accident and ignore it, while it had been made law for ship captains in the Mediterranean not to save refugees drowning in the ocean. They weren’t supposed to get through the Schengen Area, after all. 

Only recently, a friend had called out against mere deportation of immigrants. She was talking about Freiburg, where a group of men, mostly immigrants but also some Germans, had raped a woman. She commented that deporting the rapists, as some people demanded should be done, would not make them vanish from the earth. Deportation wasn’t the answer she said. What about the girls and women in those other countries? And where was the justice in sending these criminals away instead of prison? – I looked through the shit storm she was confronted with, the many rape threats sent to her Twitter account precisely because she was concerned with actual justice. – “You’re right,” one of the agitators wrote, before he got censored “We should assimilate rapists and serial killers from other countries into our own. We, at least, could help them resocialize… we could train them in our brothels, let them rape all the Bulgarian and Romanian girls there, train them to loose their inhibitions. You could even offer yourself up to them, do your country a service.” – No one was thinking about the fact that they might be talking to someone who had once been raped. No one cared about who they were hurting or how they were hurting her. And if they did, it was all the more gruesome.

I tried to close my eyes that night, but that didn’t work. Every time I closed them shut, images surfaced, as if unlocked from within the depth of the dark surrounding me. And I could hear my heart beating from the bottom of that very depth. I could hear it beating. Him beating her. My mother screaming. He was kicking her stomach, when she was down on the floor. I thought of my friend, about how I held her in my arms, after she told me she had been raped. And I thought about Stella, brilliant, genius Stella… It wasn’t until my fist hit the wall that I realized it wasn’t just my heart beating. It wasn’t until my fist hit the wall that I realized that it wasn’t my mother screaming from the depth of her heart but me from the depth of an abyss within me. Something was breaking out. I could hear my neighbors pounding against the walls, asking me to be quiet, asking me to go back to sleep, asking me to see reason. But the more my demons howled at me, the harder my fists clenched themselves tight. Maybe women in this country are treated better. But maybe, just maybe better isn’t good enough. Sanity, after all, is nothing but a status quo.

Meet the Author

Daniel Schulz is a U.S.-German author based in Cologne. He is best known for his short story collection Schrei (Formidabel 2016) and his work as curator of the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne. In 2019 he co-organized and curated an exhibition for the Goethe Institute in Seattle for which he edited the book Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020). He also worked as co-editor of Gender Forum‘s special edition Kathy Acker: Portrait of an Eye/I (2019). His works have appeared in the journals Der Federkiel, Luftruinen, Die Novelle, The Transnational, Electronic Book Review, Mirage #5, Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Divanova, Kunst-Kultur-Literatur Magazin, Versification, Salut L‘absurde, Café Irreal and Cacti Fur as well as the anthologies Tin Soldier (Sarturia 2020), Corona -Schnee (Salon29 2021), Jahrbuch der Poesie 2021 (AG Literatur 2021) and Home (Fragmented Voices 2021).  Instagram: @danielschulzpoet