Your Perfect Year, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2016 by Charlotte Lucas
Translation copyright © 2019 by Alison Layland
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Previously published as Dein perfektes Jahr by Bastei Lübbe AG, Köln, in Germany in 2016. Translated from German by Alison Layland. First published in English by AmazonCrossing in 2019.
Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonCrossing are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Kimberly Glyder
For my mother, Dagmar Helga Lorenz
(March 8, 1945–October 20, 2015),
and for my father, Volker Lorenz.
Editor, Hamburg News...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
You can’t give your life more days,
but you can give your days more life.
Rather a trite proverb.
—Jonathan N. Grief
Editor, Hamburg News
Hamburg, December 31
Dear Editorial Team,
Before offering you my season’s greetings and wishing you a successful start to the new year, I would briefly like to draw your attention to a few errors in your current edition.
On page 18, your review of the new movie Glacial Age refers to: “Henning Fuhrmann (33), who became a household name in recent years as the star of a number of popular TV shows . . .”
I feel I should point out that, according to Wikipedia, Henning Fuhrmann’s birthday is today—that is, December 31. This means that he is no longer 33 but is now 34, which appears to have escaped your attention. Moreover, the way you have formulated the phrase could relegate his acting career to the past; correctly, it should state: “. . . who has become a household name in recent years as the star of a number of popular TV shows . . .”
Also, on the last page, an article about our beloved Elbphilharmonie concert hall has been given the title: “Now their really going for it!” Whether this is a typo or a grammatical error, there really is no excuse.
If I may refer you to your own style guide:
“Their” is the possessive form of the third-person plural pronoun “they.” Beware of the commonly misused homophones “there” (which means “in that place” or “in that way”) and “they’re” (which means “they are”).
As ever, I trust you will take these observations in the helpful spirit in which they are intended.
Jonathan N. Grief
Monday, January 1, 7:12 a.m.
Jonathan N. Grief was not a happy man. His morning routine had begun as it always did: at precisely six thirty, he had donned his tracksuit, defied the freezing temperature, and ridden his mountain bike to the starting point of his daily run around the Outer Alster Lake.
And like every year on the first of January, he was plagued by numerous minor irritations. He shook his head at the remains of firecrackers and rockets that littered the gray slush and turned every sidewalk, cycle track, and footpath into a slippery, ugly mess. He tutted over the sooty, smashed prosecco and beer bottles that must have served as launchpads in the night, with no one apparently deeming it necessary to put them in the recycling afterward. He tried in vain to ignore the thick, murky air that the partying (and, in Jonathan Grief’s eyes, irresponsible) citizens of Hamburg had, with their brainless pyrotechnics, transformed into a nightmare of fine-particle pollution that now hovered in a blanket of smog over the city, making it hard for him to breathe.
(Now, of course, the New Year’s Eve corpses would all be lying, hungover and comatose, in their beds, having written down their resolutions to drink less and stop smoking and shot them into space on noisy rockets at one minute past midnight, before rampaging and running riot into the early hours of the morning, not caring that enough money to put the national economy to rights had gone up in flames.)
But these were not the only things bothering Jonathan Grief.
What outraged him most was that his ex-wife, Tina, had this year, as ever, seen fit to leave a chocolate chimney sweep—that cloying symbol of good luck—on his doorstep sometime in the night, along with a card in which she wished him, as ever, “a happy and successful new year!”
A happy and successful new year! As he pounded over the Krugkoppel Bridge, to where the path led down past the Red Dog Café into Alster Park, he increased his speed to fourteen kilometers per hour, every step slapping down onto the sandy surface with a heavy crunch.
A happy and successful new year! Jonathan’s fitness band now showed a speed of sixteen kilometers per hour and a heart rate of 156 beats a minute. It seemed he was on course to complete his 7.4-kilometer run in record time today. His fastest time to date was 33.29 minutes, and if he continued at this pace, he would top it.
But as he drew near the Anglo-German Club, his pace slowed again. Crazy. Why should he get so upset about Tina’s thoughtless “attention” that he’d endanger his health and put himself at risk of a pulled muscle? They’d been separated for five years, so there was no reason that a stupid chocolate figurine should get him into such a state.
Yes, he had loved Tina. Very much, even. And yes, after more than seven years of marriage, she had left him for his (former) best friend, Thomas Burg, and filed for divorce. Jonathan had always thought they were happy together. It seemed Tina had viewed things differently.
She had protested that the problem had nothing to do with Jonathan—but anyone with half a brain knows that the problem always does have something to do with oneself.
Jonathan still wondered exactly what it could be. He had done all he co
He had satisfied her every wish almost before she’d thought of it. A pretty dress, a stylish handbag, jewelry, or a new car—Tina only had to hint that she liked something, and it was hers.
It had been a carefree life without any responsibilities. Grief & Son Books—the publishing house Jonathan had taken over from his father, Wolfgang—was excellently run by a CEO, so all he had to do was put in the occasional appearance as figurehead and make his presence felt at the launches of the more prestigious publications. Jonathan and Tina had enjoyed the most expensive vacations in the most exclusive places, and they’d been sought-after guests at every worthwhile society event in Hamburg, all without the worry that their private lives could fall victim to the popular press.
Tina had fully enjoyed her life with Jonathan, had suggested ever more exotic travel destinations, worn ever more elegant designer clothes, and regularly redecorated every room in their villa.
On occasion he had wondered whether she might be getting a little bored—especially with material things. She constantly repeated the same old refrain: for a long time, she had been looking for “something more,” a something she was unable to put her finger on, to express, at least to Jonathan. She had tried running groups (at his recommendation) and also language courses, guitar lessons, qigong, tennis, and a range of other activities, without keeping any of them up for long. He had gone so far as to tackle the subject of children more emphatically (not only in word, but also in deed), despite Tina’s protestations that things were perfect for them as a couple.
And then she had seen a therapist.
Even now, Jonathan had no idea what they discussed at her weekly sessions, since she had not deemed it necessary to tell him about it. But whatever it was, clearly Tina had finally found her indefinable “something more” with Thomas, whom Jonathan had known since their school days and who was responsible for marketing at Grief & Son Books.
Had been responsible. After their separation, Thomas had chosen to give his notice, send Tina back to her job at the agency, and set up home with her in a three-room apartment in that hipsters’ paradise, the Schanze quarter.
Thinking about the two of them now, Jonathan shook his head in disbelief, his eyes fixed on his neon-yellow Nike sneakers. Wrecking their lives like that in the name of love! And now Tina, of all people, was wishing him “a happy and successful new year”? Oh, the irony!
Jonathan snorted loudly, sending breath from his mouth in a steaming cloud. He was successful, and he was also—damn it—happy!
He quickened his pace again, so that by the time he approached the dog park, he almost stumbled and only just managed to avoid one of the little parcels left behind by the unruly mutts unleashed on the unsuspecting population by their nice masters and mistresses.
He stopped, gasping for breath, and rummaged in his sports armband which, alongside his iPhone and key, also held a supply of rustling plastic bags. He took one out, slid it over his hand, gingerly picked up a dog turd, and carried it at arm’s length to the nearest garbage can. Not his favorite occupation, but someone had to do it.
Yet another of the myriad concerns that plagued Jonathan Grief on a daily basis. All those “animal lovers” who kept a mastiff or a trendy Weimaraner in the most undignified conditions in their chic old-town apartments, but who couldn’t even be bothered to clean up the little heaps of shit left behind when the poor critters were dragged around the district for their obligatory five minutes.
He was already composing another email in his mind to the editor of the Hamburg News: Something would really have to be done in the new year about this deplorable state of affairs! The legislators ought to stir themselves and impose harsher fines so that every single citizen understood that their own freedom ended where it affected someone else’s life. Dog waste on the sole of a shoe—to Jonathan, that was the ultimate nuisance. Some things really stank.
As he set off again, gradually building up speed, he threw a quick glance at the Run app on his smartphone, and his next irritation was discovering that this brief pause had ruined his statistics. He wished he could get his hands on the dog-mess miscreants and their damned curs—he’d have a thing or two to say to them!
His thoughts drifted back to Tina and Thomas. Tina and Thomas, who probably called each other “Tini” and “Tommy,” or maybe even “Bunnykins” and “Honey Bear.” Who knew?
He imagined them sitting together in the evenings over a bottle of red wine from the discount store in their cramped Ikea living room, while their daughter, Tabea, slept peacefully in her crib crafted from hand-stained organic larch wood—indeed, life as a couple had clearly not been the peak of perfection after all, since barely more than thirty seconds after announcing her relationship with Thomas, Tina had brought a baby into the world.
Tini, Tommy, and Tabbi, then—as corny as Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie in their cheap digs. And Huey and Dewey saw fit to worry about Jonathan and wonder how he was doing, so much so that Huey said she simply had to pop down to the nearest Aldi, they had such cute chocolate chimney sweeps there, she could buy one and place it on her ex’s doorstep with a card, since she’d left him in such a mean-spirited way and broken his heart.
“Good idea, Huey!” Dewey exclaimed. “While you’re there, please could you get a bottle of Chateau de Clochard? It’s on sale—we’re celebrating this evening!”
Jonathan’s fitness band showed a heart rate of 172 beats per minute. He had to slow down if he didn’t want to risk his health. He had no idea what was wrong with him that morning, until he gritted his teeth and admitted that he still found it impossible to stay calm when he thought of Tina and her new life.
And that was despite twenty hours with a life coach who had assured him that the problem could be rooted out after just two or three sessions. Another incompetent for Jonathan to let off steam thinking about. The fellow had even had the nerve to accuse him of failing to cooperate when Jonathan pointed out shortcomings in his coaching methods.
It was amazing, Jonathan thought as he jogged past “Bodo’s Boat’s” (could no one get apostrophes right?), how Tina hadn’t asked for anything when they’d split up. No settlement, no alimony, no share of the house, nothing.
According to Jonathan’s lawyers, she could have demanded all those and a whole lot more. But she had simply left just as she had arrived almost eight years before then—with nothing to her name and an underpaying job as a graphic designer. Despite his protests, she’d even left behind the Mini and all the jewelry he had given her.
Jonathan’s life coach had been of the opinion that Tina had shown manners and a sense of decency, since she’d been the one who wanted the divorce. He had consulted the coach in order to put the whole sorry business behind him as quickly as possible, not to listen to an unsolicited opinion on his ex’s behavior—and besides, Jonathan saw things a little differently: Tina’s refusal to accept everything she was legally entitled to was not some dignified farewell, but merely a small-minded, insidious dig to let him know that she didn’t need him. Him or his money. Especially not that.
Twenty minutes later, Jonathan reached the fitness court by the lakeside, sweating and panting uncharacteristically hard. He finished his circuit here every morning with a thirty-minute workout on the small course, which at this hour was rarely occupied. Especially not on New Year’s morning, when he seemed to be the only person left on earth.
First he did fifty push-ups, then fifty sit-ups, followed by fifty chin-ups. He repeated the whole procedure three times. Now he felt ready to face the day. As usual, when he surveyed his body after the final cooldown, he was happy to n
He was in outstanding shape for his forty-two years. He could easily compete with any man in his midtwenties when it came to fitness—and, weighing in at 175 pounds at a height of just under six foot three, he was slimmer than most men his age. Not like Thomas, who even back in their school days had suffered a definite tendency toward love handles.
Also unlike the love of Tina’s life, Jonathan had thick black hair, with just a few gray strands at the temples. An interesting contrast with his blue eyes, as Tina had always said. A contrast that no longer seemed to interest her, since Thomas, poor guy, had in his twenties developed a shiny, greasy bald pate which only the most loving gaze could see as a receding hairline. And his eyes were some color between muddy brown and glassy green.
Jonathan allowed himself a brief smile as he thought of the many times he had buoyed his former best friend’s confidence when Thomas complained of his failures with women.
It made the present situation all the more unfair. He thought of Thomas’s words of wisdom at the time: “Don’t take it so badly, buddy—you have to let the best man win!” The best man—ha! Since handing in his notice, Thomas had gone into business as a “freelance marketing consultant,” a polite way of saying unemployed; he could hardly be called successful.
Enough! Before Jonathan could yet again lose himself in the mire of wondering why on earth Tina had left him for this guy, whom any objective observer would call worse, he set his shoulders and marched over to his mountain bike, locked in its usual place at the fitness-court entrance.
He stopped short when he saw a black bag dangling from the handlebar of his bike. How did that get there? Had someone forgotten it? Why was it on his mountain bike? Weird. Or was this another of Tina’s little “attentions”? Had she decided to start lying in wait for him during his morning training sessions?
He unhitched the bag from his handlebar. It was relatively light and, when he looked closer, was little more than a zipped nylon shopping bag, the kind that could be bought packed down into a tiny bundle at any supermarket checkout.
Jonathan wondered whether to open it. It didn’t belong to him. But he didn’t pause for long. Someone had hung it on his bicycle, so he tugged the zipper open and looked inside.