Ich kann es nicht

Eighth illustration from “Olga & Trotsky,” a short story by Katja Hofmann.

(8) She looked the gate over. On the right-hand side there was a rusty doorknob, which she began to rattle desperately.

‘What’s going on? Are we at your house already?’ Trotsky growled sleepily from the depths of her coat.

‘No, no, look at this! Listen! Those are birds!’ Trotsky leapt to the icy ground, with more agility than anyone could have expected from a chubby old tomcat. His sensitive ears peaked, and rotated like radar dishes.

‘You’re right, birds!’ He gnashed his teeth greedily.

‘But I don’t know how we’re going to get through the gate! And I won’t be able to hold out much longer in this cold!’ Olga cried, to which the dead standing around responded with mocking laughter.

Trotsky remained undaunted. ‘Have a feel up there, on top of the wall!’ he commanded.

Stretching upwards on the tips of her toes, Olga could just reach the top of the wall. Her hands were shaking as, breathlessly, she searched its surface. Suddenly she felt a small hard object, but her hands were so cold she was convinced she would never get a grip on it. Her stiff fingers swept hopelessly over the stones, hard and immobile, like the wooden limbs of a marionette. ‘I can’t do it! It won’t work. My hands are frozen!’ Olga sobbed despairingly.

‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it,’ Trotsky mimicked her. ‘Pull yourself together, you silly cry-baby!’ he hissed impatiently.

— Translation by Steph Morris.

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Death at my heels

Ninth illustration from “Olga & Trotsky,” a short story by Katja Hofmann.

(9) While Trotsky swiped around them with his claws to keep the icy fingers of the dead at bay, with a wrench Olga finally forced her thumb and index finger to bend enough to pick up the key. Tears ran down her cheeks and dripped from her chin, freezing into tiny icicles, as she used her last ounce of strength to stick the key into the lock.

‘And? Open the stupid thing!’ Trotsky was jumping up and down like a vicious, spitting gnome.

— Translation by Steph Morris.

Threshold

Eleventh illustration from “Olga & Trotsky,” a short story by Katja Hofmann.

(11) Something coarse rasped the tip of Olga’s nose. Her chest was weighed down so heavily she could hardly breathe. The rasping simply wouldn’t stop, and continued abrasively over her cheeks and forehead. At last, Olga opened her eyes. The only thing she could see in the darkness was the twinkle in Trotsky’s pupils.

‘You really are the most useless girl I’ve ever met,’ Trotsky breathed, distressed. Olga felt the pleasing warmth radiating from his body down to her heart. ‘Look, the bloody gate has opened on its own!’

Olga turned her head to the side and looked over to the gate, which now stood wide open, allowing her a view which made her heart stop still: a sandy pathway led to an abundance of fiery lilies; a shower of golden broom cascaded from the right, teeming with the fragrance of freshly baked plum cakes. Beyond a sea of delicate violets, roses effused, unbridled as young lovers. Swallows swooped, twittering happily, to the waltz of the sunbeams. Olga leapt up, and ran open-armed into the warmth. She twirled through the tapestry of flowers in the meadow, spinning round and round till she fell dizzy and laughing into the grass.

‘Trotsky! Trotsky! Can you believe it?’

There was no answer from the cat. Olga stood up and looked around. Typical, the old crème-communist had slunk off again.

‘You take care of yourself, Olga Zherenkova.’

Olga looked back towards the gate, where the cat’s voice had called from. And saw that he was still standing on the gate’s threshold, outside the garden.

‘What are you waiting for, Trotsky? Come on, you’ll never find such lovely flowers anywhere.’

‘The gate can be opened from the outside, but not from the inside.’

‘So?’

‘If I come into the garden with you, I will never be able to leave.’

‘Yes, but outside there’s nothing but…’

‘I am a cat, Olga Zherenkova, I am a cat.’

‘Yes?’

‘A cat never willingly allows itself to be shut in.’

‘Don’t you realise the sea of ice is a prison?’

‘Yes, but it’s a large prison; a prison I know. How am I supposed to know how large this garden is?’

‘That’s the risk you have to take.’

‘What happens when the flowers have gone to seed and the winter comes?’

‘That’s the risk you take, Trotsky, that’s the risk with flowers.’

And while the birds chirruped in the garden, and the dead continued stalking souls on the sea of ice outside, Olga Zherenkova and Trotsky stood, looking into each other’s eyes, and simply couldn’t understand it.

— Translation by Steph Morris.