Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit
You’d die for your family. But would you kill for them?
Family is everything. So what if yours was being terrorised by a neighbour – a man who doesn’t listen to reason, whose actions become more erratic and sinister with each passing day? And those you thought would help – the police, your lawyer – can’t help you.
You become afraid to leave your family at home alone. But there’s nothing more you can do to protect them.
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I shouldn’t write that—it seems a bit much, when your father’s in prison. If anyone had to get out, it was my father, but he couldn’t. We, on the other hand, would be leaving as soon as possible, and as four o’clock approached, we transferred what was left of the cake from the baking sheet to two paper plates—one for my father and one for Kottke and his colleagues—and then we hugged him and left, not forgetting to say thank you to Kottke. My father remained behind, of course. He’d been sentenced to eight years. The six months he spent in remand count towards that, and he’s served another six months here in Tegel, which leaves seven years. If he behaves well—and we firmly expect him to do so—he might be released in three or four years’ time. Kottke has told us repeatedly that there is no better-behaved inmate than my father, and that fuels our hopes. It would give him another few good years of life as a free man. That’s what I tell my mother. ‘If only he doesn’t die in there,’ my mother often says, and immediately repeats herself: ‘If only he doesn’t die in there.’ He’s healthy, I tell her, when she says that. He’ll make it.
‘Dad?’ I asked again, after chatting a while with Kottke. That’s how I tend to spend my time here: Kottke and I talk. He does most of the talking—Kottke’s nothing if not talkative—but that’s a good thing. It’s a help. I find the silence of the prison intolerable, because eerie sounds emanate from t that can be heard in the visitors’ room—metallic noises I can’t identify, not ringing out sharply, but flat and dull. At first I thought I could hear rhythms, as if somebody was tapping or filing, but over time I realised that I had become the victim of my own expectations—namely, that a prison must always be filled with the sounds of thwarted communication or attempted flight. There were no rhythms, nor was there any quiet sighing such as I once thought I heard—only unfamiliar, unaccountable noises coming from deep inside the building. I was glad when Kottke drowned out these sounds with his grating Berlin accent. He has a long career as a jailer behind him—more than forty years serving the law—and has a great many stories to tell. I never really wanted to know so much about the world of crime and criminals, but that world is not without interest, especially now that it intersects with our own.
Kottke was soon looking at the clock. He has an unerring instinct, always knowing when our hour together is up. ‘Time we made a move,’ he said, as usual, and I was grateful to him: this turn of phrase makes it sound as if the two of them have to leave a pleasant coffee party and drive home. Home for my father is a cell, but this uncomfortable fact is obscured by Kottke’s well-chosen words. A jailer’s sensitivity—there is such a thing. We’ve been lucky.
Until then, Kottke had been leaning against the wall next to the window. Hardly had he spoken when he took two steps across the room towards my father and put out a hand to touch his upper arm. He always does that—there are a whole host of rituals here, of repetitions and routines. In this place the gesture seems almost official, a warning that it’s not worth trying to escape, because Kottke, friendly though he may be, must do his duty. But I think he acts out of solicitude—he wants to support my father, even though there’s no need. Dad is quite capable of getting up by himself.
When Dad stood up, so did I. We gave each other a brief hug (we can now), and then he left, Kottke at his side. My father is taller than his guard: a slim six foot two to Kottke’s corpulent five foot six. He is still as trim as ever, but he has lost his hair, and with age his legs have become bowed, giving him a rolling gait like a seaman. Not that he ever was a seaman—my father was a mechanic and then a car salesman.
When they had left, another jailer appeared, one whose name I don’t know. He too was fat (a lot of the men here are), and he looked dutiful rather than friendly. We didn’t exchange a single word as he accompanied me to the door. At last, the street—cars, birds, wind in the trees, life. Twenty paces off, my Audi winked cheerily when I pressed the button on my car key.
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