Translated by Steph Morris
Institute for the Management of the Past, held his plastic employee-card against the card-reader next to the entrance till he heard a soft click, opened the door to the archive and stepped into the familiar reception area, a cube of cold light. The neon tubes, humming gently to themselves on the ceiling, illuminated every inch of the room and lent an icy shine to Frau Kermer’s groomed, blonde hair, which flowed down to her elbows. She made sure her hair remained motionless at all times and sometimes looked like a statue, a gleaming Greeting Buddha. But mostly like the dragon defending the cave. Or the guardian of the grail. And sometimes like the beast of Buchenwald. He turned the corners of his mouth up in a manner which could be interpreted as a smile. In fact it had to be interpreted that way. He observed social mores rigorously and turned up the corners of his mouth for this exact reason; this was the way a human being smiled. ‘Good morning, Frau Kermer,’ he said, and turned straight to the coat stand, the corners of his mouth immediately dropping back where they belonged. While he hung up his coat with the utmost precision, Frau Kermer wished his back a good morning. He inserted a hanger into the coat’s shoulders so that it hung with perfect symmetry upon it and returned the hanger to the rack, taking care that his coat hung as freely as possible, barely touching the coat stand and certainly not Frau Kermer’s coat, already hanging there. He bent down, took his briefcase from between his gripped legs and held it against his belly with his left arm, then ran his left hand through his hair as he straightened himself. Frau Kermer had clearly been watching throughout; as he turned to go, she flung a grappling hook after him. ‘Herr Frambach!’ She wrenched him back, he briefly lost his balance and, as she began to speak, he was unable to prevent himself turning the corners of his mouth up again. It happened automatically. ‘Herr Marschner has requested that you be available from half past eleven onwards. He has something to discuss with you.’ Frambach nodded. ‘When does he arrive then?’ he asked, in order to make conversation and give the corners of his mouth a rest. ‘Around eleven,’ Frau Kermer said. Frambach nodded again. His smile, which Frau Kermer had not reciprocated, was digging deeper and deeper into his face and now hurt. Marschner knew of course that it was highly unlikely he would fail to find Frambach in the institute any time within core working hours; after all he sat at his desk faithfully from dawn till dusk each day feeding one paper after another into the archives, and never had external engagements.