It was a good year for the movies. The Day of the Locust, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Picnic at Hanging Rock. I loved movies. They were one of the things that made life bearable.
Our first-floor neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Bukinski, explained to me that watching movies was a bad thing, and dangerous, because Jehovah would destroy the world in 1975. They delivered a Watchtower magazine every week to prove it. The magazines scared the hell out of me. Not only the content about Armageddon, and Jesus revenge, but also the drawings about people who were destroyed by the rain of fire. People running through dark streets, trying to hide from total annihilation by Jesus himself, accompanied by 144,000 angry Jehovahs Witnesses.
Sometimes I looked at the foggy skies, curious and almost a bit hopeful that this would be truth. I imagined what it would be like if God dropped down from heaven. Gracefully, protected by holy powers and surrounded by a bubble of light. And he was accompanied by an army of Jehovahs Witnesses; they would inherit the earth. But first all the other people had to die. I saw it all happening in my minds eye. How the skies would turn purple and how the houses of Amsterdam would spontaneously turn red and green and purple and explode. And how the 144,000 would land in frozen streets, on top of snowy roofs, in white gardens, on slippery frozen highways, in the middle of the flabbergasted skaters on the canals. A crowd of sinners would take flight. But it was too late. The annihilation would begin. Combustions of fire would evaporate human life. People would suffocate in the streets. The destructive power would be worse than atom bombs, and the spectacle would be bigger than in any movie.
Although I didnt believe in a Supreme Being in the skies, I didnt go to the movies anymore. I thought it would be safer to behave myself until the year was over. What if the Bukinskis were right? I would never see a movie again. And I would be destroyed within a couple of weeks, because 1975, the year of Armageddon, was almost over.
December got me bored. On the radio K.C. & The Sunshine Band were shouting Thats the Way I Like it, constantly, and The Captain & Tennille sang Love Will Keep Us Together. It was too cold to go outside and too warm to stay inside.
* * *
We sat at the dinner table but we didnt speak. We all knew that if anyone spoke a word, my parents would start to argue about something unimportant. I watched my family. My mother, my stepfather, and my half-brother. They all were chewing vegetables and fish. Lothars face was light brown, the color of cardboard. His swollen lips resembled slivers of freshly carved wood. And my little brother, Muffa, his skin was brown as peanut butter. My mothers face, tormented by her heart disease, had an ashy color. She looked at Lothar, who was chewing the food slowly, wary of fishbones. My mother took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak, but then she seemed to change her mind and closed her lips again. But the silence only lasted a second. She bursted:
Dont you like the vegetables? Dont you like the fish? Dont you like my butter sauce? Just say it then. I can see it in your face.
My stepfather looked at her in amazement. He put down his knife and fork.
Of course I like the meal, he said, his eyes rolling to the ceiling. If I didnt like it, I wouldnt take more than one bite, would I? And I would have told you right away what was wrong with your cooking. So, calm down. I am enjoying the food.
I see, my mother said. Thus I have to feed you shit if I want you to talk to me? Well, let me explain something to you. Occasionally a woman needs a compliment.
The arctic silence that kept the country in its grip for months fell over the house now, and we all just chewed. Knives and forks scraped over serving dishes. Muffa grinned at me, then he opened his little mouth and showed me the dancing tail of a fish on his perfect pink tongue.
What great vegetables. The fish is perfectly cooked. What a delicious smooth butter sauce, my stepfather said after a while.
This seemed to calm my mother down. Thank you, she said. Do you want some more? She smiled almost shyly.
Lothar put his knife and fork on his dish and shook his head. No, thanks. That would be too much fat for my gallstones.
* * *
At night I often meandered through the house because I couldnt sleep. My mother and stepfather slept on the first floor at the front of the canal house. I slept in the back, where the gardens were.
If I was sure my parents were asleep I entered their bedroom and watched their silhouettes. Two works of Jehovah. Statues of meat and muscles and scents and sounds. Just like Adam and Eve.
I felt like a burglar, walking in my pajamas on tiptoes to the windowpanes, to the old chair. I sat there with my eyes wide open, night after night. I was trying to imagine a future that would make sense. I was looking for something to hold onto, a human being, a homeless dog, a sign of the universe. But I found nothing but myself: a spider in the heart of a sticky web, and every thread of the web represented a road of my life that always led back to the abyss inside me. I was captured by my own Armageddon. The future was a crack in a window glass, a gap in the ice that covered the canal, a black debt. I couldnt think much anyway. My thoughts hung rigid on walls in the labyrinth of my brain, much like the carrots of ice that hung motionless on the edges of gutters all over the city. Sometimes one of my thoughts seemed to break free, and one of the ice roots broke off and clattered onto the bottom of my skull. I heard it jingle, and that was it. There lay the fragments of one of my thoughts. Kaput.
I peeked out of my parents bedroom window. I looked across the canal and watched the whores, bathing in flesh. And I, a sinner, imagined I was one of those women. I was in one of the warm red rooms. Then the boy who worked at the book shop down our street suddenly arrived in my vision. How much? he asked.
A cold stone, a wheel of ice, ran through my guts. Jehovah, I whispered, if you are out there, please forgive me. Give me redemption, I am begging you.
Nothing but the sound of my snoring parents.
I gazed up to the firmament that had lost its stars to purple clouds, and then I looked down. The canal had changed into a salver of ice. The world was a forlorn place in space. The coldness outside the windows looked hideous; it was biting the moon in the bottomless skies. Snow whirled insanely, aroused, in endless loops behind the pane, shaping creatures that looked like phantoms. I saw the phantoms open their arms. They began to yell at me. Light bulged over their lips. I saw sticks in their hands and then I heard our neighbors cheer, Jesus, Jesus!
Redemption was near. I pulled myself together.
The empty canals: a landscape of gray dreams began to flash in front of my eyes. I stood up, kissed my sleeping parents on the cheek. I walked to Muffas bedroom. He slept in peace. I kissed his little fingers and covered his face with his blanket.
The corridor was frozen. I opened the front door and stepped with naked feet onto the ice in the streets and I began to run.