Gunter Grass:’ When the time comes, we will rest on leaves’

An exclusive removed from the Nobel prize-winning columnists final drive is shown how he and his wife thoughts their farewell

At long last-place, having explored our seam activity many times, testing and repudiating various intuitions at the kitchen counter, we had reached a decision; the master carpenter Ernst Adomait sat across from us. The speech began over tea and patties, hesitantly at first, but soon underway.

Adomait has worked for us for years. Hes constructed putting desks and bookcases, and many smaller parts for my wife. We told him what we wanted, never characterizing it as our last will and testament. After searching through the French space into the summery, windless garden-variety, he agreed to take the number of jobs and realise the boxes. He intimated they be measured separately for section and diameter, and we agreed. He had no objection to our is asking for two different timbers: pine for my bride, birch for me. The caskets would be of equal magnitude, but hers would be two metres 10 long and mine two metres. My box would be five centimetres wider, to pair my shoulders.

When I said not tapered towards the foot, which was once criterion and is likely to be be customary, he gestured in agreement.

I mentioned Wild West cinemas within the parameters of which this sort of plateau carpentry developed in demand. My sketch on a article napkin substantiated superfluous; the idea was clear enough. The boxes would be finished by autumn. We assured him we were in no hurry, but laced those discussions with intimates about our combined age.

The style of the manipulates was still under discussion. I required something in timber. My partner favoured strong linen belts. In all such cases, there would be four on each side, to coincide the number of our children. The behavior the boxes would be sealed was left open for the time being. The conference was down-to-earth at first, and dealt with practical details, but soon changed almost joyous. When I showed preparing the lids loosely on top after all, the load of the earth will maintain them in place or fastening them down with carpenters glue, Adomait granted himself a rapidly fading smile, then declared yearn and birch dowels more suitable.

A expensive procedure, he alarmed. Instead, screws could be inserted in carefully drilled flaws. I favoured hammering in old-fashioned fingernails with solemnly sounding blows at a opened signal. In the postwar years, I often put up gravestones in graveyards while working as a stonemason, and once made a enter into negotiations with a gravedigger: five Lucky Strikes for a good dozen hand-forged coffin nails; eventually, much subsequently, they seemed as rusty assemblages in drawings, lying this mode and that, a few crooked, each with its own shape. And every tack had a narrative to tell from years past. Sometimes I contributed dead beetles lying on their backs, and bones large and small. In one drawing, fingernails and lasso intimated at a death only humans could design. Soft pencil, hard-line pencil and ink reaps, all of them still lifes, a few found purchasers intrigued by their cryptic nature.

Adomait seemed to follow my digressions more out of politeness than interest. Then we chit-chat about current circumstances: the ludicrous rise in the cost of petrol, the uncertain summer condition, the now-familiar insolvencies. I gave a bottle of mirabelle plum brandy beside the empty teapot and what remained of the patties. Just a small glass, said the master carpenter, who still had to drive home in his truck.

Illustration
Sketch: Gnter Grass

By the time Adomait left, marriage decided on wooden dowels and bumpy linen treats on each side of the boxes. We can count on him, my wife said. He has always extradited on time. The interior decorating of the boxes hadnt come up that afternoon, because it didnt imply carpentry. The only happening we were sure of was that padded upholstery, cotton or down, was out of the question. That sort of expense are likely to be customary in commercial coffins, but we werent go looking for comfort.

It was merely at breakfast, after my customary objection that my mattress was extremely hard, and when the dishes had been removed and the tabletop was bare, that an idea came to me, somewhat vaguely at first, but soon usurping a clearer chassis. I suggested that after the obligatory shower of our lifeless people, we be laid to rest on a bed of leaves, then covered with more foliages by our daughters and sons, use whatever Nature offered, according to the season. In spring, budding foliages would extend us; in summer, return trees cherry, apple, pears and plums could give their luxuriant light-green, grow abundance. Autumn, my preferred season, would make its brightly coloured provide. And dry, rustling leaves could deck our naked forms in winter. The age-old walnut tree, the copper beech, the maple would offer hodgepodge. A handful of walnuts could adorn our leafy clothe as an extra feature. Only the two chestnut trees outside our house, sickly for years, would be forbidden to add their rust-afflicted foliage. I also requested there is still no oak leaves.

At any frequency, when the time comes we will residue from leader to toe on leaves and be decked with needles. At most our faces will be free, perhaps with rose petals on our closed seeings, a custom-built I evidenced during our stay in Calcutta: there I attended some young men scampering along, carrying the body of an old woman on a bamboo pallet to a cremation area on a tributary of the Ganges. Bright light-green leaves were glued over her eyes.

In addition, my partner chose not to waive a shroud one she said she would hem herself.

That seemed grooming enough. Over such courses of a day no longer ours, all would decay, the box and its contents. Only bones large and small-time, the rib and the skull might continue, unlike their own bodies buried in the mire in Schleswig-Holstein , now placed on establish under glass in the Schloss Gottorf Museum. Those bones returned soft; you could still recognize tissue, surface and knotted mane, as well as flecks of clothe, relics of a ghastly ancient age, of technical significance, eagerly endeavoured as fodder for bog-bodies narratives, like the one of a young girl whose look was covered with a piece of cloth in punishment for some brutality who are able to scarcely be imagined.

The skull, on the other hand, has always hid a rich accumulate of senses, from the ingenious to the incongruous. Piled high-pitched or fitted into walls, skulls remain in the tombs of monasteries. A skull adorns the plagiarists flag, suffices as the insignium of a football guild. It signals a alarm on cans of poisonous, explosive or combustible fabric and emerges as a motif in the fine arts, in oil paintings and copper prints like the one by Albrecht Drer establishing Saint Jerome in his learn. Withdrawn from all worldly concerns, he deflects over his journals, while the fleshless skull beside them reminds us of the transience of all living things, that from birth on, extinction is a set matter.

But we werent that far along hitherto, in spite of our increasing debility. The timbers for the boxes wed ordered “couldve been” slouse to length, but a few questions were still in the air that were harder to answer: what carpenter would build a sanctuary for the wander mind, whose universe we both wanted and doubted? What facade would reach high enough for the clambering ivy of afterlife? How might we be reborn, as insect, mushroom, or resistant bacteria? What other beings might inhabit the void?

In addition to ivy, we are to be able spend a rampant afterlife as weeds no gardener could limit. And what of animals that slither and fly? With Natures all-powerful facilitate, Ive always hoped to be reborn as a bozo, drawn to the nests of strangers. One time after the other holds enormous predict. Even leaving God and his promises aside, opinions remain that wont fit in our cartons. Only the transitory nature of their contents can be guaranteed: the rigidity of the body; the greenish-blue discolouration of the surface, gassy, bloated and soon bursting; the onset of mould and all the other signals of blight; the worms.

Things we still need to think about the final interrogate: where should we be laid to rest? A good 30 years ago, when we were living in the city and first thought of looking for a scheme, I preferred the cemetery in Friedenau. But my spouse had something against Berlin as our final terminal. In the end I did too, since soon after the wall fell, the citys claim to be the nations capital gave rise to too many lustrous froths of loudmouthed boasting.

Having moved many times, we considered numerous graveyards with Lbeck as a cosy backdrop but reached no decision. One near the railway station, where you could appreciation rows of graves hedged by boxwood trees, would have parallelled my endless yearn to pas. But since we wished to be at rest, a double tomb in our plot, between the studio window of my workshop and the shed, with nothing but the groves beyond, would have been our advantage. But in spite of home countries solemn canonisation of private property, burying on ones own land is forbidden by principle. Cremation remained the only way out, followed by a fake crime of the urns by our sons, so our ashes could eke out their shadowy reality behind the blackberry hedge or in the lilac-colored shrubs. But has no such wish to repudiate the insects our being remains, we ended against ashes and agreed to talk with the pastor of Behlendorf about representing the neighbourhood village cemetery our final address. A join was easily organized. The rector, who turned out to be quite affable, if moderately overburdened by the spiritual welfare of its most recent soul, understood our aversion to resting among the rows of tombs, since as individuals and newcomers we were unfamiliar with the neighbourly or familial entanglements of the villagers at rest there. Even our tactful suggestion that as barbarians we would feel out of plaza near the medieval outer wall of the chancel was, if not warmly received, at the least quietly accepted.

We lastly settled on a towering, lonely tree off to one side. Beneath its spreading limbs I speeded out a rectangle the size of a quadruple patch. The pastor told us that this was in an area bordering the graveyard, formerly a pastoral potato field, unused for some time now, lying fallow, so to speak, although at present it glistened invitingly as a meadow.

During a pause in those discussions we pictured ourselves lying there, or as the survivor calling the first to return. As decorative shrubbery I proposed herbs: marjoram, sage, thyme, parsley, anything used in the kitchen. On the eastern rim of the measured quadrangle, an erratic stone would serve as a gravestone. The stonemason would have the job of engraving our reputations and dates in cuneiform characters. No other inscription or citation, satisfy. The stone would have a broad-minded base that held its load without being overpowering.

I paced out the approximate width of the story again, this time farther from the root organisation of the tree. Get the church parliaments approval for what we wanted, the pastor assured us, would pose no difficulties.

When we got back home, “were in” a little tired. I considered myself to a coachmans glass of calvados. On the kitchen radio the evening news reported many disasters rivalling for the prominence. According to the weather outlook, rainwater would continue in the south only. We didnt tell our pup about our successful sought for a resting place.

One Saturday in mid-September, after the second largest pacemaker theyd embed declined to give my nature the help it needed, and my lungs began to repay me for decades of self-indulgence in handrolled cigarettes and well-stuffed hoses, we were counteracted to learn the carpenter arrive with the boxes. Ready to use. The gaze of them, the shining wood, each with its own cereal, threw us in a good mood. Even Adomait, a serious male as a matter of principle, seemed satisfied, and proved his mood by struggling a smile.

We had cleared a temporary room for the boxes in the back of the cellar which is something we continued our garden implements and deckchairs. Plastic clothes would protect the boxes from flyspecks and mouse flattens. Learning them side by side like that reminded me of a special period for coffins from the old East German daytimes: Erdmbel , earth furniture. The eight manipulates stands at accurately measured intervals. Although well seasoned, the timber reeked brand-new. Without lids the interiors beckoned invitingly.

Illustration
Portrait: Gnter Grass

Before leaving, Adomait did not rule out my now customary present of a shot of plum brandy in gala. On meridian of the statute, which was more than reasonable, he residence a clearly defined bag of wooden dowels for the lids; he had drilled pairing pits in the upper boundaries of the boxes. There were several extra dowels in the sack. As the carpenter had proposed, my bride stored them carefully in a drawer of her table where, along with the usual odds and ends, she preserved our passports, the dogs vaccination credential and other important papers.

The very next Sunday, with no tourists scheduled, we removed the protective covers, as well as the eyelids lying loosely on top, took off our shoes, and lay down in the boxes. They were the right span and shoulder extent. We became no note, so solemn was the prospect of our laying out.

How strange to sounds each other gasping. My wife facilitated me clamber back out. When we had superseded the lids on the boxes, we spread the treats over our final the house and imparted free rein to our thoughts, which remained, nonetheless, unspoken. Shortly afterwards, my partner said she was sorry she hadnt taken a picture of me in the box; she would be sure to have her camera with her next time. You searched so content, she said.

Once united had our ordeal lie-in, as we called our call to the cellar, life went on as usual. While my bride was developing supper two perch with coat potatoes I sat in front of the Tv watching the usual Sunday evening world news with its portraits from around the globe. When I watched the two fish lying side by side in the pan, with cucumber salad on the side, the analogy seemed so apt I couldnt help joking about it.

The chests have been waiting ever since. From time to hour we remind ourselves how beautiful they find themselves. Im too shy to ask my wife if shes finished sewing her shroud. But I know well have slew of needles to robe and comprise us. They will always be available: freshly fresh in outpouring, luxuriant dark-green in summer, brightly emblazoned from October on, faded and brittle through the winter.

So let another time or two pass. Were not in any move. At the moment my pacemaker is doing its enterprise, as promised. Even the children and grandchildren, when they come by for a brief visit and bring up the deckchairs from the cellar on sunny daylights, have grown used to the slew of our master carpenters custom work.

Lately my spouse has started storing dahlia tubers and other bud bulb in her casket for the winter. Next March we hope we will plant them in the flower plots and encompass them with fertilised grime from the garden.

Text and graphics copyright Steidl Verlag and Gnter& Ute Grass-Stiftung 2015, English translation copyright Breon Mitchell 2016. Of All That Ends is published on 1 December by Harvill Secker. To ordering a imitation for 10.65( RRP 12.99) going to see bookshop.theguardian.com or announce 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders exclusively. Phone prescribes min p& p of 1.99.

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