Seven Years - By Peter Stamm



Title Page



First Page

Sonia stood in the middle of the brightly lit space; she liked to be at the center of things. Her head was slightly lowered, and she kept her arms close to her sides. She was smiling with her lips, but her eyes were narrowed, as though she were dazzled or in pain. Like the paintings on the walls, to which no one paid any attention but that were supposed to be the occasion for the presence of all these people, she seemed somehow not there, or only superficially there.

I was smoking a cigarillo, and watched through the plate glass gallery window as a good-looking man went up to Sonia and spoke to her. It was as though she woke up from her slumbers. She broke into a smile and touched glasses with him. His lips moved, and I could see an almost childlike astonishment come over her, then she smiled again, but even from where I was I could see she wasn’t listening to the man, she was thinking about something else.

Then Sophie was standing next to me. She seemed to have something on her mind as well. She said, Mama is the most beautiful woman in the world. Yes, I said, and I stroked her hair. She is, your mama is the most beautiful woman in the world.

It had been snowing since morning, but the snow melted as soon as it touched the ground. I’m cold, said Sophie, and she slipped back into the gallery, through the door that someone had just opened. A tall bald man had come out, with a cigarette between his lips. He stood far too close to me—as though we knew each other—and lit it. Ghastly pictures, he said. When I didn’t reply, he turned and took a couple of steps away. Suddenly he seemed a little uncertain and awkward.

I kept watching through the gallery window. Sophie had run in to Sonia, whose face brightened. The good-looking man, who was still next to her, looked sternly, almost offended, at the girl. Sonia bent down to Sophie, and the two of them had a short conversation, and Sophie pointed outside. Sonia shielded her eyes with her hand and peered in my direction with a strained smile, creasing her brow. I was pretty sure she couldn’t make me out in the darkness. She said something to Sophie and gave her a little push toward the door. I felt a momentary impulse to run away, to merge with the crowds getting off work and striding through the light that poured out of the gallery. The passersby glanced cursorily at the elegant, nicely dressed people within, and then hurried on their way, heading home with the rest of the crowd.

I hadn’t seen Antje for almost twenty years, and even so I recognized her right away. She must be about sixty, but her face was still youthful. Well, she said, and kissed me on both cheeks. Before I could say anything a young man with a silly-looking ornamental beard appeared by her side, whispered into her ear, and pulled her away from me. I saw him lead her to a man in a dark suit whose face was familiar, maybe from the newspapers. Sophie had collared the man who a moment ago had approached Sonia, and was flirting with him, to his evident embarrassment. Sonia listened with an amused expression, but once more I had the feeling her thoughts were elsewhere. I went over to her and laid my arm around her waist. I enjoyed the man’s jealous look. He was asking Sophie how old she was. Guess, she said. He pretended to think. Twelve? She’s ten, said Sonia, and Sophie said, you’re mean. You’re very much like your mother, said the man. Sophie thanked him with a curtsey. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, she said. She seemed to know just exactly what was going on.

Do you mind if I take Sophie home now? Sonia asked. Antje will probably have to stay till the end. I offered to take Sophie home myself so she could stay, but she shook her head and said she was really tired. She and Antje had the whole weekend to look forward to anyway.

Sophie had asked her beau to fetch her a glass of orange juice. He asked if he could get anyone else a drink. Will you stop ordering other people around? I said. I wonder who she gets it from, Sonia said. She bit her lip and looked