The Gentlemen's Tailor by Mariana Leky.
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Katja’s fairy tale romance with her dentist comes to an abrupt end when she learns that he is having an affair. Just when it seems that things can’t get any worse, her husband is killed in a car accident. Filled with grief, Katja thinks she is going crazy, but then two mysterious men enter her life: Dr. Frederich Blank and Armin the fireman, whose uniform looks like it came from a costume shop. Armin cannot see Blank, who is recently deceased and has only returned to haunt the neighborhood in hope of visiting his wife one last time. Katja begins a relationship with Armin, which leads to serious consequences, just as holes begin appearing in Dr. Blank. When the doctor starts to fade away, Katja desperately applies bandages to patch his holes. In one moving scene, Blank visits his wife’s apartment and Katja, lifted up in the cherrypicker of Armin’s fire engine, watches the visit through the upper-floor window. But Katja quickly realizes that Blank’s wife cannot see him; she merely continues to kiss her new lover. Blank spends his remaining days easing Katja into her new role as a soon to be mother.
Praise for The Gentlemen's Tailor
"As with the magic realism of South American authors, in Leky’s story the unusual and the unreal are embedded in the everyday.”
“The strange and wonderful thing about this novel is that Leky, who was born in 1973, does exactly the opposite of what usually happens to someone who is lovesick. She does not make her narrator lament or complain, nor is her sorrow elevated to metaphorical heights. Instead, Leky breaks down everything that is emotional into tangible things.”
--Wiebke Porombka: Einfach nur die Hand heben
© die tageszeitung, 3 July 2010
About the Author
Mariana Leky was born in Cologne in 1973 and now lives in Berlin. After an apprenticeship in the retail book trade, she studied German Language and Literature and Cultural Studies at Tübingen. She also studied Creative Writing and Cultural Journalism at the University of Hildesheim. Her short stories have won several awards, including the the Allegra Prize in 2000 and the Literature Prize of Lower Saxony. Her debut a volume of short stories titled Liebesperlen was published in 2001, and In 2004 she published her first novel Erste Hilfe.
The Gentlemen's Tailor is available from Follett Library Services, YBP, Coutts, Brodart, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram Book Distributors.
The Gentlemen's Tailor
See You Later
Things could have very easily just continued as they were, but then everything fell apart. As Blank said later, that was a sure sign that things couldn’t have continued as they were, even if I believed they could. What you believe, as Blank also said later, is sometimes irrelevant to the question of whether or not something needs to fall apart.
In the mornings, when I woke up, Jacob had already been back for a while, or else he had never even been gone. He’d be lying beside me in my bed, under a sheet or a blanket, depending on the season. Jacob slept like a corpse and therefore he needed a long time to wake up completely. Often he overslept and would only wake up when the receptionist called and said, “You really need to come in now; the office is full of suffering patients.” Then, still half-asleep, Jacob would pull on his clothes, would go off half-asleep and would buy a take-out coffee on the way. He did it without saying a word, because they knew him in the coffee shop; he would come into the office half-asleep and cross half- asleep through the full waiting room. His receptionist knew that in the mornings Jacob was grateful for every word that he did not have to say or hear, so she wouldn’t say anything, would follow him into the operating room, take the crushed Styrofoam coffee cup out of his coat pocket, hand him his freshly washed lab coat and, just before the first suffering patient came in, silently point to the sleep in the corners of his eyes. It’s disconcerting to be treated by someone who still has sleep in his eyes.
Jacob was a dentist. I got to know him when I was having trouble with my teeth, which is why I knew all about dentists and really had no desire to meet any new ones. I knew about the waiting rooms, filled mostly with people who look as if they only came in for a checkup. I knew the dentist’s welcoming handshake: a short, firm grasp with a hand colorless and soft as wax from so much washing. I knew the dentist’s impatient nod when you were still trying to tell him something before you had to open your mouth and couldn’t say anything else. You’ve already begun to speak in the doorway to the dentist's office, in order to say everything you have to say in the short distance between the door and the dentist’s chair, getting flustered in your attempt to speak as quickly as the dentist wants you to; you rapidly describe the location and the strength of the pain and you assure him that you really do floss every night and use dental sticks, interdental brushes and the water pick, because you want to be on good terms with somebody who is probably going to make sure that the visit will be painful. Unfortunately, you always forget that the dentist isn’t interested in your assurances. The dentist wants you to explain even more quickly, preferably omit the assurances and finally open your mouth.
I knew the sentence that dentists always use when your mouth is finally open: “We’ll have to see each other again a few more times,” they say, before they begin the examination. And I knew about the dentist’s subsequent silence. Apparently dentists have not been taught that some things are less painful if you are told what, why, and how long the pain will last. I knew the blank look dentists get when they’re busy with their drills, which always sound like a fax machine that you’ve dialed by accident—only much louder.
Once, when my previous dentist was on vacation, I went to see his stand-in. The stand-in was Jacob, who I called Dr. J. Wiesberg at the time. No one sitting in his waiting room was there only for a regular checkup.
When I first saw Jacob he looked well-rested; my appointment was in the early afternoon. As he greeted me with a welcoming handshake a tear ran down his cheek.
“Are you crying?” I asked, because the unexpected emotion
surprised me. Besides, it’s disconcerting to be treated by a crying dentist. “I’m not crying,” he said. “My eyes are just too dry.” He pulled a little bottle out of his lab coat pocket and held it out to me. Tears Again, the label read, and Jacob explained that he had to put the drops into his dry eyes every so often, which meant that from time to time a tear would run uncontrollably down his cheek.
I turned the bottle in my hands and didn’t know what I should say,
since no dentist had ever revealed anything about himself to me, and finally I said, “It has a user-friendly design.” Jacob nodded and smiled at me. I gave him back the bottle and began to say all the things I wanted to say as quickly as possible before I opened my mouth. Jacob did not nod, not at all, but asked constructive questions. He looked at my teeth, muttered some letters and numbers and said: “We’ll have to see each other again a few more times.”
“Please raise your hand right away if you feel any pain, and we’ll stop right away,” he said as he began the examination, and then: “And now, just think about something pleasant.”
Because the opportunity presented itself I thought about Jacob, because Jacob was pleasant, even though he was a dentist. Jacob drilled away at my tooth and repeated several times that I should raise my hand right away if I felt any pain, because then we’d stop right away. He said it earnestly and emphatically, as if we were not at a dentist’s appointment, but on a particularly daring expedition that no one had ever attempted before me. Jacob explained in great detail what, why, and how long the pain might last; he wasn’t a bit reticent. “You’re really doing wonderfully,” he said, although it wasn’t particularly painful. “You’re getting through this with flying colors,” he said. “People who have such a high tolerance for pain are rare,” and, “you’re handling this with the tranquility of an Indian yogi.” He said all of this earnestly and softly, and now I finally understood why Jacob's waiting room was so full. I was happy to have stumbled onto Jacob, of all people and—even when I started to feel a little pain—I didn’t raise my hand, but looked instead at a big sign hanging on the ceiling above the dentist's chair. In large letters it said: Soon it will be over.
In fact, it was over soon and, in fact, no one had any idea that the thing with Jacob was beginning at that exact moment. It is both totally normal and totally outrageous that we never have any clue when such affairs are beginning. At first we never have any idea of the extent and the impact of it or about what, why, and how long it will be beautiful or painful, and I wish I knew what would have happened if the sign above the dentist’s chair had said This is the beginning instead of Soon it will be over. If it had said, That’s Jacob. This is the beginning, and it will be a very, very long time before it’s over. And: It will be beautiful, more beautiful than anything has ever been before, and then it will be painful, more painful than anything has ever been before, but unfortunately, by then it will be too late to stop right away. If it had said exactly how beautiful or painful it would be, I wish I knew what would have happened if I could have read all that on the sign above the dentist’s chair while I had a drill and a suction unit in my mouth and Dr. J. Wiesberg was concentrating on fixing my tooth.
Maybe nothing would have been different and I would have only been surprised that I, of all people, would end up with a dentist. Maybe I would have been happy about the part with the unprecedented beauty, and maybe, about the part with the unprecedented pain, I would have thought, “Well, we’ll see about that,” like a normal dentist says when you start telling him about dental sticks and brushes as soon as you enter the office.