Kairos, the Lucky Moment—and the Long Time That Follows

The kisses, the choir, her hair

Pati Hill, Untitled (ribbons). 1976, xerograph. 21 × 35 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Air de Paris, Romainville.

Will you come to my funeral?

She looks down at her coffee cup in front of her and says nothing.

Will you come to my funeral, he says again.

Why funeralyou’re alive, she says.

He asks her a third time: Will you come to my funeral?

Sure, she says, I’ll come to your funeral.

I’ve got a plot with a birch tree next to it.

Nice for you, she says.

Four months later, she’s in Pittsburgh when she gets news of his death.

It’s her birthday, but before she gets any congratulatory calls from Europe, she gets his son Ludwig on the phone, saying: Dad died today.

On her birthday.

The day of his funeral, she’s still in Pittsburgh.

At five in the morning, ten o’clock in Berlin, she gets up in time for the beginning of the ceremony, sets a candle on the hotel tabletop, lights it, and plays music for him from YouTube.

The second movement of Mozart’s D-minor Piano Concerto, K. 466.

The aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The A-minor Chopin Mazurka.

Each piece comes with commercial interruptions.

The new Hyundai. A bank offering home loans. A cold cure.

When she returns to Berlin six weeks later, she sees the fresh sand pile next to the birch tree. The roses she got a friend to lay on the grave have already been cleared away. Her friend tells her all about the ceremony. And the music that was played.

What music was it?

Mozart, Bach, and Chopin, her friend says.

She nods.

Six months later, her husband is home by himself when a woman turns up and delivers two large cardboard boxes.

She was crying, he says, I had to give her a handkerchief.

The cardboard boxes are left standing around in Katharina’s study into the fall.

A long time ago, the papers in his boxes and those in her suitcase were speaking to each other. Now they’re both speaking to time.


Each time the cleaning lady comes, Katharina moves them onto the sofa and once the room’s been cleaned, she puts them back on the floor. When she needs to use the library steps, she pushes them aside. She has no space on her shelves for two large cardboard boxes. The basement flooded recently. Maybe she should just take them to the dump? She opens one of them and looks inside. Shuts it again.

Kairos, the god of fortunate moments, is supposed to have a lock of hair on his forehead, which is the only way of grasping hold of him. Because once the god has slipped past on his winged feet, the back of his head is sleek and hairless, nowhere to grab hold of. Was it a fortunate moment, then, when she, just 19, first met Hans? One day in early November, she sits down on the floor and prepares herself to siftsheet by sheet, folder by folderthrough the contents of the first box, then the second. It’s so much detritus. The oldest items date back to ’86, the latest are from ’92. There are letters and carbons of letters, scribbled notes, shopping lists, desk diaries, photo prints and negatives, postcards, collages, a few newspaper clippings. A sugar cube (from the Kranzler Café) disintegrates in her fingers. Pressed flower petals slip out from between pages, passport photographs stay pinned to pieces of paper, there’s a twist of hair in a matchbox.

She has a suitcase of her own, full of letters, carbons, and souvenirs, “flat product” for the most part, as the archivists like to say. Her own diaries and journals. The next day she climbs up the library steps and takes it down from the top shelf, it’s incredibly dusty inside and out. A long time ago, the papers in his boxes and those in her suitcase were speaking to each other. Now they’re both speaking to time. A suitcase like that, cardboard boxes like that, full of middles and endings and beginnings, buried under decades’ worth of dust; pages that were written to deceive alongside other pages that were striving for truth; things itemized, other things passed over, all lying together higgledy-piggledy; the contradictions and the denials, silent fury and mute adoration together in one envelope, in one folder; what is forgotten just as creased and yellowed as what, dimly or distinctly, one still remembers. While her hands pick up dust from the old folders, Katharina remembers how her father used to make guest appearances at childhood birthdays as a magician. He would throw a whole pack of playing cards up in the air, and still manage to pick out the one that she or one of the other children had chosen.

More from Issue 45