The Cruel Stars of the Night
her life. All of her insides were a pile of ashes, black soot clung to her blood vessels, and from her mouth there came puffs of breath with the smell of singed flesh.
    The light became green and she crossed the intersection and turned into the parking lot of the Botanical Garden. At this time of year there were not many visitors and there were only a few cars parked outside. She stayed in the car and let the engine run for a good while before she got out and steered her course to the entrance. As a child she had come to the “Botan” almost every week. It was her mother who took her, sometimes she had packed a basket with coffee, juice, and rolls, and they had spread a blanket on the grass and had a picnic.
    They became friends with people who remained nameless, other frequent visitors who loved to follow the changes in the garden, many day by day They fell into conversation with these nameless strangers. Here nothing else mattered, only the flowers and bushes.
    The visitors crouched down, leaned forward and inspected the fine plants, drew in their scent and smiled. They came down to Laura’s level, looked into her face as if she too were a flower, smiled and said something about her dark hair. They spoke with low and friendly voices. No adult raised their voice in the Botanical Garden.
    Her mother encouraged her to get closer, to scrutinize some plant nerves or the petals of a geranium that had just bloomed, a daylily or a primrose of some sort. Even though her mother knew many species and kinds by name, many times she only mentioned them in passing. The names were not important, it was the shape, the color, and scent that filled her senses, that made her smile and speak with complete strangers.
    She always wanted to see the new flowers, giving cries of delight, subjecting them to close scrutiny and inhaling their scent. Sometimes Laura felt embarrassed. Her mother never checked herself, let her joy bubble over like a child and laughed a great deal.
    The garden around their own house was narrow, bordered with hedges and could be surveyed in a single glance. Laura had measured out its length in steps. Thirty-eight steps in one direction and twenty-six in the other. Everything was known.
    “Botan” by contrast was gigantic. Here she could never manage to keep track of the figures the times she tried to count it out. Laura tripped over her own legs, fell over, and the number of steps spilled out onto the lawn.
    Her mother used to sit down next to Laura, kick off her shoes and wiggle her toes, lean back and turn her face to the sun. Her dark hair tumbled back. Laura thought she looked like a statue.
    The people who walked past slowed down, glanced at her, their gazes finding their way back to her mother’s outstretched figure. They looked like they wanted to stop, turn back, and join this dark, beautiful woman and her daughter.
    It was as if Laura sat in a force field where her mother was the power source, leisurely relaxed but nonetheless crackling with a vital voluptuousness that flowed together with the garden’s strength and beauty.
    There were no holds barred in the life joy that her mother expressed. The sight of this wordless satisfaction, resting in a sea of green and blooming flowers made Laura shake as if with cold. She wanted to scream, embrace the garden and the world, throw herself into her mother’s lap, and laugh, cry, burrow her face against her mother’s neck.
    But nothing of this took place. Laura sat where she was, turned into stone, dazzled, and with only one thought left in her head: don’t let Father turn up. But the chances were infinitesimal. Her father never set foot in the garden. But what if he all of a sudden decided to go there? What if he surprised his wife and his daughter on the lawn, partly concealed behind the area for North American perennials but still visible to the world?
    The men who walked by liked to look at her mother, and although Laura could not completely identify with their

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