Cycling thrilled Heinrich. When sailing down a long hill on a bicycle little else mattered. Cycling convinced him that his father was wrong. Freedom could be experienced by other means than thought.
For his sixteenth birthday, Heinrich received money. Every weekend, without fail, he cycled ten to fifteen kilometres out of Tettnang into a rolling landscape of carefully arranged fields and paths, of sharp steeples and blossoming orchards, and the same distance back. One brilliant afternoon as he was leaving town, a camera, displayed in the window of a store, caught his eye. He brought his bicycle to a halt. A small sign hanging above the camera asked, Who Are You? And below the camera a second sign answered, A Photographer!
He went into the store and bought the camera. He’d intended to spend his birthday money on a new set of panniers for his bicycle, a better air pump, an adjustable wrench, and other important items. He took the camera home and hid it.
A week later, his first attempts included the following:
1. Urinal (public but clean)
2. Pair of tennis shoes tossed into the naked branches of a tree
3. Elongated potato resting in a metal bowl
4. Two tractors facing each other on a road
5. Self-portrait, eyes closed
Over time, Heinrich noticed that his photographs were becoming beautiful, and this frightened him, so again he put his camera away. Certain scenes, however, demanded his attention. He brought out his camera, once more moved it an inch to the left, or to the right, tipped it the tiniest bit, and waited for the light’s perfect utterance. He took more and more pictures. He could not stop himself. Their beauty fascinated and repelled him. He could not bear too much beauty. Beauty brought his mother into the picture. She slipped herself between the lens and the object poised to express itself. The object went silent, replaced by his mother’s lips. Lips that offered a suggestion of a smile, a hint that he might be the cause of something.
Inge’s journals from the 1970s, those that I’ve managed to obtain, contain mostly blank pages. In a rare entry, dated April 15, 1976, she wrote:
“I don’t think Heinrich entirely believes me when I explain to him that I don’t want a reputation, that I don’t like to feel people’s opinions stuck to my skin.”
If I shut my eyes, I can hear the two of them talking, sister and brother:
“They don’t know me. Nothing entitles them to plan my future. I won’t become a diplomat, and I won’t become an interpreter.”
“Who doesn’t know you? Who are they?”
“They are they.”
Inge couldn’t bear their fingerprints on her passion. She could feel their hot, inquisitive breath all over her ability. Their whimpering, envious admiration disgusted her. They could have done as she did, shut themselves in a room and studied and studied and studied, but they were unwilling to pay the price. Heinrich, she knew, also coveted her focus and discipline. Unlike them, however, he loved her. When he spoke to her, when he looked at her, she almost believed in her own existence, that she was perhaps a worthwhile experiment. Heinrich and the rules of various grammars—these protected her. She was nearly safe from herself.
One afternoon, Helene asked, “Are you hurt?”
“I fell,” Inge answered, counting on the anger in her voice to silence her mother, which it did.
When Helene left the room, Heinrich stepped forward.
“What did you do?” he asked.
She told him: animals. When she thought of animals—of hens crammed into coops, dogs used as ashtrays, cats and rabbits put to the test—her body became obscene. She dug out the obscenity using a razor or a broken bit of glass. Skin, after all, was just another lie, a veneer of continuity, a clever bit of packaging. She had so much blood inside her. When she cut through her skin, her blood flowed unobstructed. It tasted of salt, like the sea, and belonged to a larger rhythm. To no longer be sewn into a sausage casing of tight-fitting lies.
If she ceased to exist, Heinrich would remain. He could comfort and satisfy them. She was not interested in their silly notions of success. He could do the talking, the travelling, send reports to those who worried and needed to know and felt they had a right to know. Could she count on Heinrich to satisfy them? Was he willing?
Several weeks after learning the source of the scars on his sister’s arms, Heinrich asked to take a picture of her. Inge refused. He snapped her anyway. She turned her back on him. He snapped her again. He cycled out of town, photographed a hedgehog, and was overcome by remorse.
The Search for Heinrich Schlögel
by Martha Baillie
$22.00, paperback, 200 pp.
Pedlar Press, September 2014