Leseprobe Lauf, Jakob!
The young-adult novel “Run, Jacob!” by Silvana E. Schneider
(Publisher “Edition BunteHunde", Regensburg, Germany)
Set in the 1960s and with a marked absence of pathos, the literary quality of this terse and atmospherically dense narrative is noticeable even here [in this excerpt]. The author deliberately holds the language down to its essentials to emphasize the message. That message is heart-rending. Shocked, the reader is led through the development of the narrative, but can breathe a sigh of relief at its conclusion.
The psychological entanglements are so convincing that the reader might well speculate about an actual case study. The basis for the strong focus on reality lies within the author’s own background. While she grew up in the 1960s, she experienced at first hand her friends’ parents who lived on the edge of violence. In highly compressed form, the atmosphere of this experience found its way into the novel. The description of the behavior of the antagonist is psychologically convincing, and is based on an intimate knowledge of the mechanisms that trigger violence. The fact that the aggressor is a “regular guy” unable to withstand the pressures of a “normal” social system, shows just how narrowly sometimes we walk the boundary between victim and perpetrator.
When the perpetrator attempts to preserve his self-esteem through denial [of his violence], we feel his pain and powerlessness. The boy’s indomitable struggle to survive despite his apparently inevitable fate, is ultimately successful and becomes an assertion of his human rights. [This is] a little book with an ambitious aspiration: Literature that works—against violence.
Excerpt from the novel:
Biting smoke caught Jacob’s breath as he unlocked the front door. Despite it, he closed the door behind him as quick as a flash. Nobody in the apartment building was to notice anything. Whatever happened behind this door, nobody was to have even the slightest idea. It was some sort of a last resort for Jacob; as long as nobody knew about his depressing family situation, his mechanism for repression worked, at least intermittently.
Jacob managed to make it to the small, dilapidated patio door. It was blocked by garbage bags, blankets, and pillows. He pushed everything aside with his foot and pulled at the release lever with all his might. The door squealed like a kicked piglet. Next, he opened the adjoining window as well. As he did so, the single flower pot in which a half-desiccated plant eked out a miserable existence, fell down. Jacob had no time to glance at the shards. “Baby” flashed through his mind. Where was his little helpless sister? Fear began to rise in him. In a flash, he was in the kitchen; here the thick smoke was unbearable and he couldn’t make out anything. The door to the adjoining bathroom stood ajar. He pulled a towel off the hook and held it under the faucet, then pressed it against his mouth and nose and, coughing, groped his way back through the kitchen towards the window. Desperately, here also he pulled on the window catch with all his might, until it gave. Again something crashed to the floor. The smoke was not quite as thick anymore, and Jacob was able to discern outlines. The kitchen table, piled with leftovers, bags that had been torn open and soiled dishes, was hard to make out. The stove was also piled high, with one ring glowing hot. Jacob pushed the plates and pots aside. With a loud yelp of pain, he pulled the red-hot pot by its handle off the ring, dropped it into the adjacent sink, turned off the stove, and held his burned hand under a jet of cold water.
A cloud of steam rose, hissing, when the water met the pot. Under the ice cold stream, his fingers gradually turned numb. He pulled them away; they were red and puffy and hurt like hell. What had Mom done now? Why couldn’t she pay attention? The entire house could have burned down, and Baby… The thought was too horrible, and Jacob did not want to pursue it to the end.
The worst fumes had dissipated. Now he needed burn ointment, urgently. In the bathroom, he searched the mirrored cabinet, but except for dried out tubes found only jars of cream of whose purpose he had no idea. In the end, he squeezed transparent gel from a squashed tube onto his hand and felt a cooling effect. Sighing, he walked briskly back into the living room. He felt as if someone had hit him over the head. Exhaustion forced him down onto the sofa. The thought, ‘That … went… well… one…more…time,’ was stuck in his head like syrup. ‘That … went… well… one…more…time,’ and then he slipped into a dream…
For a moment, reality and the dream were still mixing, then he jumped up, wide awake.
‘The door bell is ringing,’ hammered mercilessly in his mind. ‘The door bell is ringing, the—door bell—is ringing. The door…’ Jacob stumbled into the hallway and froze.
Anton stood in the hall. Drunk, and enraged by his long wait at the front door, he stood there, swaying. His head bright red; his hairless scalp dripping with sweat; on his temples, veins swollen like hoses. He stared at Jacob, who anxiously shrank up against the frame of the living room door.
Now Anton started to sway, so far that it looked as if he were about to fall down forwards. Jacob wanted to support him, moved a step toward him, but right then the bulky body regained its balance. Anton opened his eyes wide, as if he were seeing only now that the apartment was trashed.
“You little rat, you… What mischief have you done now, you bastard?” he screamed into Jacob’s face. Every word was accompanied by alcohol spittle. The horror of his mean words paralyzed Jacob. Anton felt this fear. It stoked his desire to frighten the boy even more. His feeling of superiority; it came so rarely. At all other times it was he who was on the receiving end. But the child was unable to defend himself, and the mother had long stopped intervening. She too was afraid. Here at home, he was the one with power.
Here, in this shabby place, he was able to rage and hit as much as he wanted. The neighbors also refrained from intervening, no matter how loud he screamed; they did not want to get involved.
Because alcohol had made him lose his inhibitions, and after the day’s frustration had dissolved the last boundaries, he perceived Jacob as a welcome scapegoat on whom finally he could let off steam without fear of being punished. He projected onto the boy all the injustices, all the put-downs, even his entire hatred for this world. It was this kid’s fault that he was a loser. It was this kid’s fault that his wife didn’t like him anymore. This kid was responsible for the wretchedness of his whole life.
“I am going to kill you, you punk!” he spat at Jacob. Then, just when Jacob thought he was going to lunge at him, Anton veered off into the kitchen. Uttering wild curses, he dumped the contents of the kitchen drawers onto the floor, with a loud clatter, one after another.
Hypnotized, Jacob looked on as silverware, ladles, rubber canning rings and a myriad of little household items whirled through the air. A flash from a shiny object startled him. Jacob realized in a split second, ‘He has a knife in his hand!’ Then he was no longer thinking, but running for his life.
Only the bathroom door had a lock. Mustering all his strength, Jacob threw it shut and locked it. In the next moment, the knife hit the door leaf. He saw the wood splinter and prayed out loud, “Help me, dear God. Please, please, help me!”
Again, the knife hit the door; again, wood splintered.
“Yes, you, hah—now I’ve got you; you’re done!” Anton raged at the other side of the door.
Again wood splintered, and Jacob saw the tip of the knife come through the thin pressed-board again. He cowered down in the corner, with arms crossed over his head, praying quietly. Salty tears dripped into his mouth. A sudden silence made him look up.
What had happened? Where was Anton? Had his prayers been answered? Had Anton suffered a heart attack? Or was he simply trying to draw him out by keeping quiet? Stunned, Jacob looked at the wrecked door: “Why? Why me?”
Again he cowered down into the corner between the bathtub and the outside wall. He felt so cold; his body was being shaken by an invisible force and he was unable to do anything against it.
For a long time, he sat this way in the corner of the bathroom; for an eternity… Finally he began to feel somewhat calmer. He mused: it was possible, after all, that Anton had stumbled and fallen onto the knife himself. Or that he lay in the living room, simply sleeping off his drunkenness. Either way, he had to get out of here. Slowly and as quietly as he could manage, Jacob unlocked the door. Carefully, he opened it a tiny crack and peeked out. He couldn’t see anything.
Jacob was so wound up that his body was as stiff as a board. He stared through a tiny crack in the door. Where in the world was this horrible person? Was he still alive? Was he lurking out there? ‘I have to get out of here; I have to leave the apartment; he is going to kill me if he catches me,’ Jacob thought and also, ‘Dear God, let him be dead.’
The silence was unbearable and he could not take it any longer. He pushed the door open a bit more. Nothing; there was nothing to be heard, nothing to be seen. Another bit further; now he could see the part of the hallway which led to his parents’ bedroom at the end of it.
But his escape route—the front door—was on the other side. If he could reach it, he would be safe. His view, however, was blocked by the bathroom door. Regardless, he had to risk it; there was no other way. If Anton was lying in the living room, passed out, he was only losing precious time.
Once again, Jacob prayed silently, ‘Please, please, dear God, let Anton be lying in the living room. Let me reach the front door. Then I will be good forever!’
He had just opened the door in wild desperation, and had turned toward the front door with his head down and was ready to run like never before in his life, when a heavy hand came down on his head.
©Silvana E. Schneider