they let him sit way in the back of the car, in a tiny space above the engine, back of the soft leather seats, in a spot really designed for a single suitcase alone. there were times they went to parties. lacking a sitter, they settled him into this nook and drove around until the engine had warmed. the cozy rumble of the motor put him asleep in a wink. they parked, partied and he slept. they returned late, drove home and carried him up to his room. he never knew, but for their tales.
on road trips he climbed back there, feet drawn, knees bent, the bunk just wide enough to fit. the mottled carpet felt rough and scratchy on his legs. he lay there and looked up through the low sloping window and watched as clouds turned into high flying dragons. often he imagined them as wispy lily maidens, garlanded, beckoning, rising from trembling lakes. fully prepared to heed their call, he had keenly studied their dark drawings in a picture book of fables from the black forest. that book had smelled musty, like a fog shrouded lake where neptune rose to watch the dance of his daughters.
heat from the engine, the rev of the loud motor soon had him in a dream, slouched in a pearl shell chariot, next to salacia, neptune's alluring queen. he raised the god's trident in triumph, savage sea horses driving the skiff madly, ardent dolphins riding apace.
the clatter of rain woke him, drubbing the sleek roof above. beads of the downpour trilled past his window, slithering in the airstream chasing the car. a fly buzzed in a corner above him against the smooth glass, where the porsche badge had begun to blister and peel. he reached up and the fly, as flies do, clambered to another corner, then bumbled down, started anew and began walking upside down, why did it not fall, he thought: was it its suction cups? he pushed on one of the triangular side windows. they were pop-outs, you turned a knob and the window hinged out with a snapping sound. now he had fresh air. the nosy fly ambled over and was gone. sucked out, drawn by the draught. rain had come as sudden as the return now of blue sky.
they were on the way to a vacation in the small village of his aunt. he loved spending his summers there, away from the city, in what seemed an endless terrain, the dark woods, the deep meadows, the small brook, where he could sail his boat. he had built it himself, but his aunt sewed the sails. a small push brought the boat past weeds out into the main of the creek, where a curling eddie made it keel over, float sideways and finally sink. he loved riding a bike at the edge of the woods along a mossy forester's lane. he didn't dare cross into the trees, because his uncle had told him of bears. he and uncle once walked up from the meadows into the forest. the trail lead along narrow tracks deeper into a tall pinetree grove. as thick undergrowth begun to line the path on both sides, afternoon's light slowly faded. he was scared. he grabbed uncle's hand, wanting to turn back, down to the meadow. just then he heard a horrendously loud growl, a truly abhorrent snarl. uncle bragged back home that the boy had jumped seven feet. he found out much later that uncle had been in cahoots with his friend, the butcher's son. that always cocky boy needed a lesson. of course uncle never heard the end of this. much later he found his shoe wouldn't fit. a dead mouse found a toe hold and afterlife in the tip of his boot. the dog was blamed, but there were two who knew better.
his aunt showed him how to smoke cigarettes, helped raising a tent made of bedsheets and willow poles, which fell when the dachshund made off with a main stay. when it rained, or if he felt like it he stayed in bed reading. or wanting tea. he might sway from a swing hanging from rafters in the old hay-loft. he did as he pleased, much as his very strict holiday schedule called for. aunt called him a lebenskünstler, an artist of life.
the town of ulm was their turn-off from the autobahn, down and around to a two lane road heading south, narrowly twisting. a sudden hay wagon slowed the ride, but shifting twice they got by, though just barely. the sudden raw acceleration forced him against the back, gasping, but thrilled in the rush of blowing past. the rig's driver shook his fist at them, but he stuck his tongue out at this meandering hack. he was squealing as their motor revved high, the car cutting tight into a narrow turn. feigning now, he drove his own five-fifty spyder on the track, racing ferraris, his voice made raucous, make belief shifting gears, and screechingly braking, boosting his engine piercingly loud. high drama from back, inside his very own cockpit.
such bluster drove them batty.
stop it! stop it right now, as though he had put his toy gun to their forehead.
once a police car, flashing lights, stopped them. he slid from his den then, that very instant, pretending to sleep, lolling like an angel, snuggling his teddybear, sprawled out in the rear seat. this was only a traffic check. a madly speeding motorist had been observed, the constable noted. how could it have been them though, as they had been slowed, hadn't they, for some time at that, behind cows driven to pasture.
he then told the story they'd already heard a thousand times: how uncle got caught inside a herd of cows on his bike and how he had bumped himself on, from hind to hindquarter, nudging and pushing with one hand on some of those many rear ends, until, it had to happen, he pushed at a cow only to find his hand, then his forearm disappearing deep, than deeper into the animal's wide open rear. the cow lurched, as she would, tail up straight, uncle and bike in tow. they thought the story neither true nor very funny.
with the constable's help the herd moved finally into their pasture. the cowhand turned out a girl in a little skirt and black rubber boots, her ponytail swishing like the tail of one of her cows.
aunt paula's house was small. the factory, where tall machines pressed black powder into brown bakelite light-switches, and a small office were downstairs. to get upstairs you climbed a half-turn staircase for the kitchen, a bath, two bedrooms, a hay loft and a sunday room, where he slept on a sofa nearly long enough to stretch out. aunt paula and her husband, uncle otto, and gerd, their son, lived in this upstairs, together with a little german dachshund, who came around at night to bite his toes, always making trouble, or barking at imaginary mice. there was a maid, ottilia, came up in the morning to work the household, she cooked and washed and cleaned, while his aunt was downstairs in the office doing the books, sending bills and keeping inventory straight. uncle otto dealt with the factory and smoked countless cigarettes. his girls, mostly locals, worked his huffing machines. the girls were farmer's daughters, done milking cows and cleaning stables. uncle paid well, with vacation and work finished at four most afternoons. gerd was around. unless he was off in the woods with his fiancee, or made deliveries or one time fell off his bike trying to get past a herd of cows.
his beloved aunt had walked to the end of the village to roll out a "welcome to kirchberg" banner. with all the trouble he caused, he was her summer event and she, like him, couldn't wait for his holiday to begin. his favorite dish was warming in the oven, ottilia had rolled out the dough, paula mixed the filling, now he sat down and devoured those squares, crisped in brown butter, maultaschen they called this. his parents spent a night at the mosquito hotel, they didn't sleep much, and drove back the next day. they had their own holiday for a while, until they came back to reclaim the son who couldn't be found. no one knew where he might be, clearly hiding, uncle saw him running away, but had no idea where to. while they searched, he had climbed back into his pit, back in the car, looking up through the glass, at summer clouds, already dreaming. it took paula's third instinct to spot him. they all cried good bye, he crawled out once more to give his aunt a hug made to last until next time.
uncle otto called him his mother's son. he had given him ten marks to get stamps and mail a small package at the main post office a few miles away. he pedaled his aunt's bike there and found that the parcel cost only four marks to send. uncle had said to keep the balance, which meant he could buy a small cap gun and become billy the kid. uncle called him a spendthrift. but he shot his way through the barn chasing chickens, who took off squawking in terrified flight. the dachshund thought this a wholly new adventure, ran in crazed circles, barking madly. out of ammo billy played wild west for another day. then the gun without caps ended up in a box of uncle's utterly useless items, next to a zippo without flint wheel, a one arm scissor, a lone belt buckle, old wire rims missing a lens, a bell without clapper, many, many a screw, brassy and silver, a spool of pink threat. you never know, he would say. he was a fixer. his hands knew a sledgehammer as well as a micronometer. my aunt came to him, a small splinter under her red thumbnail and he pulled it with flat tweezers. he owned three cigarette lighters: a toujour'le, a peut-être'le and of course the jamais'le, that zippo lost a flint wheel. he only spoke a certain kind of french. to keep the kid from further trouble he had him polish bakelite light-switches on a slow turning buff wheel, but the kid polished his fingernails instead. when he was to sweep the floor, he made like a witch on her broomstick. the girls thought this funny, and laughed, when uncle tried to catch him, and catch him he did, to give him a spanking. but only in jest. his aunt was sure of that.
they had only one phone and it was down in the office. a black heavy bakelite instrument to be used mostly for business. when his aunt needed my uncle and knew that he was with his fiancee, she could have called, instead she had him take her bike to fetch uncle from the other end of the village. he pedaled past the crossroads and out toward a house adjacent to woods. there he'd been told he'd find uncle, likely upstairs, but he'd better knock before walking in. he knocked on two doors with no answer, but thought he'd heard a moan from a door down the hall. uncle lay flat out in bed, toes in socks, pointing up. tony, the fiancee, midways on top, brightly naked. as she flustered a sheet, he thought her strong bouncy backside impressive. uncle's supposed to come home, he scarcely managed and ran.
blackberry brambles on the fence to the neighbor's house were regularly trimmed by a goat, but only on their side. over at paula's they grew luscious berries, which in late summer were warmed by afternoon's sun and tasted dark and juicy. he picked them hand to mouth. blackberries were himalayan, his aunt explained. he had only a vague notion of the himalayas as a place very far away, with gigantic mountains, somewhere in asia, always in snow. hard to imagine these berries would grow where it was cold and icy and wintry all the time. uncle said that huddled between those massive mountains were mild valleys. the berries likely grew there, but let's look it up. a singular encyclopedia, stamped "brockhouse" in old gold was chained to its desk-stand down in the office. an altogether fat book, with many pages, each page fragile off delicate paper, kept open to the last search by a wide red ribbon. he had to wash his hands before he could turn any pages. especially after eating blackberries. it turned out that the berries were native to virtually anywhere, most often considered a pest. he couldn't believe, that a berry so delicious could be a nuisance and began to doubt how resourceful this book might actually be. uncle thought him smart to doubt what was printed, even in the "brockhaus". but he had lost interest and ran off to the stubble fields, where two days ago wheat stood high. now he flew his kite. the wind was steady, white clouds on the horizon ballooning, the breeze taking the kite in no time.