Connie Schubert tells an old story: A man comes to town on business, gets himself a girl, and disappears. Starry-eyed naiveté and prudence.
Harry Nelson arrived in Altenburg from Frankfurt in May of '90, a week after my nineteenth birthday. He was looking or real estate, and especially for construction sites along the town's access roads. It was all about gas stations. Harry was of average height, had brown hair, and didn't smoke. He stayed on the second floor of the Wenzel, the only hotel in town. Wherever you spotted him, even at breakfast or supper, he had a leather briefcase with him, one with two combination locks.
I started working as a waitress at the Wenzel in September of '89. There wasn't anything better to be had in the area. I would have had to commute to Leipzig or Gera or Karl-Marx-Stadt. My boss, Erika Pannert, I got to know her during training, once said she had been just like me, just as thin and pretty.Of course I know my mouth is a little too small. And when I walk fast my cheeks jiggle a tiny bit with each step.
I like Harry, especially the way he would come in, nod, sit down, cross his legs, and tug his trousers up at the knee, the way he tasted wine and unfolded his napkins. I liked his cologne and his five o'clock shadow, how he kept confusing the bills of our currency and how he knew our names without having to stare at the name tags we all wore. Most of all, I loved his Adam's apple. I watched it whenever Harry took a drink. I did it automatically despite myself. On the way home I¹d try to recall him in as much detail as possible.
The Wenzel was booked full, and anyone who left to spend the weekend at home preferred to pay for the whole week rather than give up him room. Each evening there was a table for six reserved for Harry, because he always had guests. Erika would whisper their names to me, and at the mention of some of them she shook her fingers and blew on them as if she had burned herself. "They never forgot what used to be theirs," she said.
Harry just asked questions. And if he got people to tell their stories, it would run late. Working late didn't bother me. And besides, to this day I still think it's easier to wait tables than leave the house every morning with a briefcase full of contracts to get signed.
There weren't many besides Harry who stayed on the weekend. I remember a fat guy names Czisla from Cologne, who owned several stands that sold cassettes and records and moved from town to town on market days, and the Wenzel was where he hired his vendors, young guys from the area who knew something about music. The often stayed to eat and drink here, because Czisla made them wait until the books balanced. Erika took care of Peter Schmuck from Commerzbank, a skinny young guy with big hands and a soundless laugh, who hung around until she had time to listen to him. There was another guy from Allianz Insurance, we called him Mr. Wella, and a man we nicknamed Shoeshine. They didn't say much to each other during the week. But on Sundays, when you could sit in the breakfast room and watch the line waiting to buy Bild outside the train station across the way --and people bought several copies of the Western tabloid at a time they would gather at one table and crack jokes about it.
In the middle of June there were photographs in both the Volkszeitung and the local weekly showing Harry and the new mayor shaking hands. A gas station was supposed to be built before 1990 was out, a BP station, I think.
Suddenly word was that Harry was leaving. Then I heard he had found an apartment and was moving out. Then they said Harry Nelson would be gone for a week but was coming back. I wanted to put together a package of snacks for him, but I was afraid the others might notice or he might think I was being too forward.
I took a weeks's vacation and caught up on my sleep. At home my parents talked a lot about the new money that was supposed to be issued that coming Monday. My father, who had joined the German Social Union after his disastrous trip to Assisi, said I was doing exactly the right thing--after all, the Japanese made do with five days vacation, too. We'd have to put our nooses to the grindstone now. Even my mother said this would separate the wheat from the chaff, that we were already in it up to our ears. Sitting on the bathtub one day, I got caught up in the fantasy that I was kissing Harry's Adam's apple.
On Monday, July 2, my shift began at noon. There was nobody in the restaurant. It would be at least three, four weeks, or so Erika thought, before our customers would be prepared to give out Western money for a schnitzel.
Around one o'clock a dark-skinned couple who sold carpets came in--Pakistanis, Erika called them. When they paid I felt like I was starting training all over again, when we used to practice waiting on each other and then paid with play money.
Harry showed up that evening. As he entered with his briefcase he said, "Hel-loo!" and then sat down by the window, at the table that had always been reserved for him. At last I could gaze at it all again: his little ears, his wide fingernails, his Adam's apple. Harry was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, linen trousers, and sandals with no socks. Erika said Harry had quit his job but was staying on here. "A man like him," she whispered, "always needs something new, always keeps on the move."
After the Pakistanis had unloaded all their carpets from a VW bus and carried them up to their room on the third floor, they ordered some soup. Harry thumbed through last weeks' newspapers while he ate, and I brought him one glass of wine after the other.
Czisla, who had moved out and came by just to pick up a few last things, joined him later. "Well, here's looking at you," he said. "Here's to blank ink," Harry said. And Czisla replied, "Here's to us!" I remember that, even though it was totally irrelevant. Since our hotel bar was closed on Monday, the two of them left around ten. I watched them walk past the window and head for the center of town. Czisla had laid one arm around Harry's shoulders, gesturing with the other and looking at the ground. I was left alone with the Pakistanis. The woman was speaking in a low voice to the man, who entered something on his pocket calculator and then turned it for her to see. I said I needed to close the register. They paid and left.
I did breakfast setups at the back of the dining room. That done, I sat down at the table beside the door and folded napkins. The kitchen staff closed up shop. Except for the radio at the front desk, everything was quiet.
About eleven-thirty I heard the protective screen over the front door rattle, and I knew Harry was back. I didn't even have to look up. He stood behind my chair and bent down slowly over my shoulder. I turned my head, brushing his cheek. "Connie," he said, and at the same moment I felt his hands. He touched my name tag and started groping for my breasts.
"Don't," I said. Harry pressed me into the chair. He kissed my neck, my cheeks, and, when I pulled my head back, my mouth. The he stretched out his arm and tried to grab my knees. Turning to one side, I quickly wriggled out from under him and stood up.
He was quite a bit taller than me, his face dark red, his hair all mussed. His eyes wandered down to my white waitress sneakers. I could see his cowlick. There was something reckless about Harry now, something I hadn't noticed before.
"Come on," he said, "let's get some fresh air."
I was afraid I'd do something wrong. I got my sweater, locked up the restaurant, and turned in the key at the front desk. Outside, Harry wrapped an arm around my hips. I would have preferred to be out of sight first, but we stopped and kissed every few steps. We've found each other, I thought, just like that, without a lot of talk.
At the intersection where the main road starts uphill and off to the right is the train car repair shop, he pulled me over to the little patch of lawn.
"Harry," I said, hoping that would suffice. His hands slid from my hips to my butt, moved down my legs, and came back up up under my skirt. "Harry," I said. I kissed his forehead, he slipped both hands into my panties and pulled them down. Harry held me tight now and thrust a hand between my legs, then I felt his fingers, first one and then several.
Harry seemed happy. He laughed. "Why not," he said. "Why the hell not?" I looked at his hair, at the nape of his neck. He went on talking. I didn't understand it all, because he was laughing so hard. Harry and his hand didn't listen to me. Then came a pain that ran from my shoulders all the way down my back. "Raise your arms," someone shouted, "raise your arms!" For a moment I didn't know where I was or what had pushed itself onto me. My blouse was yanked up. and the same syllables again and again: "Raise your arms!"
Harry didn't sound happy now. He braced himself briefly on my wrists, then I didn't see anything. I only heard him and felt him licking and biting. I tried to breathe slow and even. The I concentrated just on myself. No matter what happened--the important thing was that I keep breathing. That I remember.
Harry was lying on top of me. First I pulled one arm out of my blouse. I tired to turn over and push him off me. The sky was black and the streetlight a big fuzzy dandelion. Harry rolled over on his back, mouth wide open. His shirt was pushed up. His white belly was a triangle, belly button at the top. His penis was dangling to one side, just over the band of his underpants.
"Harry," I said, "you can't just go on lying here." He swallowed hard. I wanted to talk. I kept talking the whole time I looked for my panties. I was acting just like people in the movies do after an accident. I tried to tug my sweater out from under him, but couldn't manage it and just took off.
I kept thinking--just like I'd been doing on my way home from work lately--that I only had to go to sleep, and then I'd see him tomorrow, my future husband, the father of my children, lots of children, who wasn't like anyone else, who would show me the world and understand everything, who would protect me--and avenge me.
What happened after that I only know from letters and phone calls. They didn't hire anybody to replace me, and the Wenzel was closed later in the fall. Erika got a job with an Italian who tried his luck with a pizzeria on Fabrik Straße. He had to close in April of '91. Erika found other restaurants. But once they had opened and a few months went by, they closed again. The happened to her four times. Before long she had the reputation of bringing bad luck. But not for long, because by then people realized how things were going in general. By that time, Harry Nelson had left town again, taking his briefcase with him. People say he still owns several buildings. but nobody has ever spotted him again.
I found work first in Lübeck, and then, two years later, on an English cruise ship. My parents love to tell people about it. I call them fairly often, or send postcards.
They claim that although I was so starry-eyed and naive, at least I knew early on--when other people were still caught up in their illusions--clear back then I already knew just how things would turn out here. And in some ways they're right about that, too.
"New Money" is published in Simple Places (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)
Ingo Schulze was born in Dresden in 1962 and was raised near Erfurt. His first book, 33 Moments of Happiness, won the prestigious Alfred Döblin Prize and the Ernst Willner Prize for Literature.