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Beck, Zo (Sample Translation)

Das alte Kind (The Old Child)

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Bastei Lübbe, May 2010, 302 pp.
ISBN: 978 3 404 16443 1
 

Synopsis
 
The Past:
Berlin, 1978:
Carla Arnim, the manager of a well-known art auction house, contracts shingles and has to spend some time in hospital. This means that she has to be quarantined, and kept apart from her six-month-old baby daughter Felicitas. When she finally gets to see her child again she is convinced that the nurse must have made a mistake: the baby girl, she says, is not her daughter. The nurse is certain, however. Carla searches the baby ward, but without success. Fighting a mounting feeling of panic, she rejects the infant entrusted to her. Her eight-year-old son has spent the holidays with his grandparents. When she shows the little girl to him, he merely shrugs: as far as he is concerned, all babies look the same. Carla's husband, the famous concert pianist Frederik Arnim, breaks off an orchestral recording when she calls him with the news. Yet even he cannot confirm what she says he has seen very little of his baby daughter so far, having spent most of the time on tour.
 
Carla's life becomes a nightmare. She is obliged to accept the strange child as her own even though this goes against all of her instincts. Frederik hires a foster-mother to look after the little girl. A few weeks later the foster-mother reports that Felicitas is not growing properly, and that her skin is looking strange. After examining the girl, the doctors maintain that she is suffering from malnutrition and, in an attempt to explain the case psychologically because they know no better, they ascribe the child's physical problem to the obvious emotional distance between Carla and the baby. Rejecting this accusation of neglect, Carla rushes from one doctor to the next, for even though she cannot accept that the baby is her daughter Felicitas, she still feels responsible for her welfare. Soon there is a diagnosis: The little girl is suffering from Hutchinson Gilford Syndrome, better known as progeria, an extremely rare genetic mutation which causes premature aging. The average life expectancy is 12 years, and the cause of death is almost always either cardiac arrest or a stroke. Carla, who by now is undergoing psychiatric treatment, feels even more distant from the child.
 
The psychiatrists maintain that she saw the changes in her daughter's appearance even before the doctors noticed them, and that this is why she claims that Felicitas is not her child. Carla refuses to give up, however. She searches desperately for her real daughter, but no-one gives her any support. She devotes herself less and less to the sick child, and her husband Frederik takes care of it instead. For him, the little girl's disease is a publicity coup: he has never received such welcome press attention in his life. He very soon divorces Carla, moves to London and remarries. Throughout all of this, their older son is almost entirely forgotten
 
The Present:
Edinburgh, 2009:
Fiona Hayward a former art student who does odd jobs in galleries regains consciousness and realizes she is lying in her bath, and that the water is red with her blood. She manages to contact the emergency services just in time before losing consciousness again. Later, in the hospital, she maintains that someone tried to murder her, but no-one believes her. After all, this isn't the first time that Fiona has tried to seek her friends' attention in this way.
 
Fiona asks Ben Edwards, a journalist, to help her. She tries to persuade Ben that she really does have a problem this time, but he remains unconvinced. He knows about her past: she's been through therapy and is taking antidepressants. He is also annoyed that he allowed her to seduce him at a drunken party a few weeks earlier the first time he had ever been unfaithful to his girlfriend. Ben is now eager to keep his distance from Fiona.
 
A few days later, Fiona's flatmate Mrag is found dead. It is only now that Ben starts to lend credence to Fiona's story about someone wanting to kill her. Mrag not only had the same colour hair and build as Fiona, but was also wearing one of Fiona's eye-catching coats on the night she died. Moreover, she was on her way to a rendezvous which was originally Fiona's. The killer could have confused the two women Ben suspects that it was a jilted lover who wanted revenge. Fiona's reputation as a man-eater is legendary.
 
The police initially suspect Fiona of having murdered her flatmate, but eventually and reluctantly they abandon this line of inquiry for lack of proof.
 
Fiona has a very different problem, however. In the hospital, before Mrag's death, she was told her blood group and was forced to realize that she cannot be the child of her alleged father Richard Hayward. She now confronts Richard with this. Her mother Victoria died years ago in a car accident. Did she have a relationship with another man? Or was Fiona adopted? At first Richard is reluctant to discuss the matter at all, but then he discloses that her mother disappeared for several years after learning that Richard could not have any children of his own. One day she turned up on the doorstep with little Fiona in her arms, and asked Richard not to ask any questions Fiona, however, is now asking these very questions, and turns to her mother's sister with whom she has never had any contact The aunt tells her that her mother did not die in a car accident: she committed suicide. No-one appears to know Victoria Hayward's whereabouts around the time of her daughter's birth. There is some evidence that she was living in Berlin, however. Fiona's aunt does remember Victoria talking about a certain Andrew Chandler-Lytton at that time. The name is familiar to Ben, who is currently working on a story about illegal embryo research and Andrew Chandler-Lytton is one of the main string-pullers in the background. Fiona now believes she was a test-tube baby, but her date of birth suggests otherwise. A DNA test also reveals that Chandler-Lytton is not Fiona's father. When it is further established that Victoria could not have been her biological mother, and that no adoption papers exist, Fiona now believes that she may have been swapped for another baby in hospital. It may be pure speculation, but it is still a possibility. When she enters her year of birth and the place, Berlin, in a search engine, plus the search item "swapped babies", she lands on the homepage of Carla Arnim, a woman who has been searching for her missing daughter for the past 30 years
 
At her wits' end, Fiona takes her aunt's advice and spends a few days in the clinic of a Dr. Lloyd who has been warmly recommended to her. Meanwhile Ben travels to Berlin to visit Carla Arnim. Photos showing Carla as a young woman seem like carbon copies of Fiona, and there is hardly any doubt that Carla is her biological mother. Although Carla Arnim seems slightly deranged, Ben still takes her to Edinburgh to reunite her with Fiona. Almost the moment they arrive there, an attempt is made on Carla's life and Ben now realises that Fiona is also in deadly danger. An informant tells him that Dr. Lloyd, the head of the psychiatric clinic where Fiona spent several days, is actually Frederik Arnim's and thus also Carla's son. He has had no contact with his parents for decades, having been virtually ignored by both of them ever since the birth of his sister Felicitas. His father forbade him any further contact with his "deranged" mother and sent him away to boarding school, while he continued to look after the sick child who had brought him so much positive publicity. The boy later studied medicine and discovered from a DNA test that his mother had been right all along: The child who had grown up in their house was not the daughter of Frederik and Carla Arnim. Long eager for his parents' attention and affection, Lloyd was now only interested in one thing: his rightful inheritance. He searched for his real sister, discovered that she was living in Edinburgh under the name Fiona Hayward, and moved to the city himself but did nothing until Fiona started to search for her real parents. Thinking she was his sister Fiona, Lloyd killed Mrag in a case of mistaken identity.
 
It was Mrag, however, who left Fiona lying in the bath with her wrists slashed. She wanted Fiona out of the way because she was jealous of her popularity. Ironically this set events in motion that would ultimately lead to her own death.
 
 
About the Author:
Zo Beck was born in 1975. She was raised in two languages and educated in a boarding school in Berkshire/England. On a school outing to the grave of Agatha Christie in Cholsey she discovered her interest in crime literature. After her training as a pianist, she decided not to work as a musician, but to write crime novels. Zo Beck lives in Edinburgh and Berlin.
 
 
THE OLD CHILD by Zo Beck
Sample translation (pp. 5 10)
 
Berlin, September 1978 Carla couldn't help but laugh. "That's not my child," she said.
 
The nurse gave her a shocked look: "God, I'm sorry! How embarrassing!" She took the baby from Carla's arms and hurriedly left the room.
 
"They all look the same to some people," said the woman in the bed next to Carla's a serious case of neurodermatitis. Carla's shingles had now healed, and she was allowed to see her baby again she'd been looking forward to this day for over a week.
 
"Do you have children?" Carla asked the woman with neurodermatitis, whose name she didn't yet know because she had only come to the room that day. The woman was around Carla's age, mid-thirties at the most. As Carla had suspected, she shook her head.
 
"No, and I don't want any and they all look the same to me too, actually." She smiled. "My name's Ella Martinek."
 
"Ella Martinek?" Carla sat up. "The photographer?"
 
Ella nodded, curious now. "Interested in photography, are you?"
 
"I'm Carla Arnim," said Carla, and Ella's eyes widened in surprise.
 
"I don't believe it." She covered her face with her hands. "And we have to meet each other right now, just when I look so terrible!"
 
Carla laughed. "It's okay, I haven't done my hair, I'm not wearing a Chanel suit, so you can put your hands down again! It's not that bad anyway."
 
It was bad. Especially for a young woman, Carla knew that. The skin rash ran right across her left cheek and almost all of her neck. Carla couldn't see the arms because Ella was wearing a long-sleeved pyjama top, but the left hand was affected even more badly than the rest. That's probably why the woman didn't want any children because she was afraid they might inherit the disease. Or maybe because a feeling of shame about being repeatedly disfigured was preventing her from starting any serious relationship with a man. Or the fear that all the visits to the doctor and the hospital would place too much of a strain on a partner.
 
They started chatting. They talked about Ella's current project: she'd been in London for a while, going to concerts by punk bands and taking their portraits. They talked about the upcoming auctions Carla was planning. They talked shop about Lee Miller, who had died the previous year. Then they got on to the subject of housewives and depression, and realised they had several mutual acquaintances. They started gossiping about various people and had a whole lot of fun, and Carla didn't notice how long the nurse was taking to bring Felicitas from the baby ward. It was only when the doctor came into the room, followed by the wide-eyed nurse carrying a baby that Carla suddenly thought: "They certainly took their time."
 
"Mrs. Arnim." The doctor smiled at her. "We've brought you your daughter."
 
The nurse stepped forward and placed Felicitas in her arms.
 
Except that it wasn't Felicitas. It still wasn't.
 
"Is this the same child as before?" asked Carla, very confused now.
 
"This is your Felicitas," said the doctor, giving a confirmatory nod at the insecure-looking nurse.
 
"Come on, I can recognise my own daughter and this is not my daughter. You've swapped her for someone else." Carla was amazed at how calmly she was saying this.
 
Without asking, the doctor sat down at the foot of her bed. "At the moment we have only one female baby aged six months in the ward. The babies are given a little bracelet here, look." He leaned forward and gently lifted the baby's left arm to show it to her. Carla held the strange child at some distance from herself, hoping the doctor would take it away again but he did not.
 
"Your daughter's name is on it," he said calmly, and then smiled again. "It's all fine. We certainly haven't confused Felicitas with anyone else, she's fine, and she was a very good girl. She did miss you, of course." The baby girl began to cry. In a reflex action Carla began to cradle her and rock her but then she held her at arms' length again.
 
"Take her please, this is not my daughter." She tried to suppress the panic mounting inside her. When she saw the doctor's face grow more serious, and the nurse turn away from her nervously and walk over to the window, she couldn't stand it any longer. "Once and for all, will you take this child away?!" she cried, holding the screaming baby as far away from herself as she could. The nurse rushed over to her and tore the little girl from her arms, cradling her protectively and talking to her gently to calm her down.
 
"That is not my child," said Carla. Her voice was trembling, and she could no longer keep back the tears. "Where's my daughter? Don't try to tell me you don't know where she is!? You can't just take my baby away from me!" Carla knew she had to get out of the room immediately and search for Felicitas in the baby ward herself. She pulled back the sheets and jumped out of the bed so quickly that it was difficult for the doctor to stop her.
 
"Mrs. Arnim, we'll go there together, all right? Then you'll see that we haven't confused your daughter with anyone else. Now do you promise to calm down? Would you like me to give you something?"
 
Carla sensed that something was going on here that she could no longer prevent. She tore open the door and ran down the corridor, realized it was the wrong direction, ran back again and finally found herself looking through the large pane of glass with the newborn babies behind it.
 
The doctor had caught up with her. "Mrs. Arnim. What we'll do now is we'll take a nice, calm look at all the babies in the ward, all right?" He placed his hand lightly on her elbow and guided her through the door.
Not a single baby of Felicitas' age.
 
"That's not possible," said Carla, walking up and down every single one of the small beds. "Where is my daughter?"
 
By now the nurse had joined them with the little girl. The baby had calmed down. The nurse was stroking her back and staring at Carla again with those wide, anxious-looking eyes.
 
"You've messed something up here, and now you're trying to fob me off with the wrong baby, that's it, isn't it?"
 
"Look," said the doctor, placing his hand on her shoulder this time. "It's best if I give you a brief injection, and then we can discuss this in the consulting room. Okay?"
 
Carla stared at him. Then she looked across at the strange baby, being put back in its little bed by the nurse. Then back at the doctor. "You're intending to sedate me?" she asked, very quietly now. "Those injections over the past few days they were sedatives too, weren't they?"
 
He raised his hands and shook his head. "I'm afraid you're really jumping to false conclusions there. We - "
 
"You've abducted my baby!" she screamed. "Or did something else happen? Did Felicitas die, and now you don't want to tell me? What have you done?" The tears were streaming down her cheeks.
 
"Come along, let's go to the consulting room." The doctor's grip was firmer now; he pushed her across the room and hurriedly closed the door behind him. "And please don't shout like this. Think of the children!"
 
She shook herself free of his grasp. "I'm thinking of my child! You've taken my child from me!" Without thinking, she started hitting the man. Blinded by grief, she kicked and hit him continually. She saw him raise his hands to protect himself. He couldn't escape, she'd trapped him in a corner between the changing cabin and the examination chair. She hit him on the nose, punched him on the mouth, he started to bleed. Suddenly someone grabbed her from behind and pulled her away from him. There must have been two of them, she was unable to defend herself against them, she didn't even see them. Carla shouted for her daughter, saw the doctor lying on the floor, his face covered in blood, saw the nurse standing over him and then looking across at Carla with a horrified expression. Then Carla felt a hypodermic needle in her flesh, her limbs suddenly grew heavier, everything around her started to swim, she couldn't speak because she was just too tired, she couldn't even whisper. Everything went soft and dark and silent.
 
 
1.
 
Everything they tell you about blood is rubbish. All those stories about fainting at the sight of other people bleeding all over everything the sight of your own blood is never a problem at all.
 
First you have to realize that it actually is your own, though.
 
Fiona didn't even know it was blood. She thought of ink, because the dark liquid wasn't blending together with the water at all, it just looked like thick, dark cigarette smoke spreading across a room that was far too small. Just like ink in water, in fact. At that point she'd have gone back to sleep again but then she realized that she was not in the habit of sleeping in her bath when it was full of water, and certainly not with her underwear on, and what was all that ink doing there anyway, someone must have played a practical joke on her and then forgotten to tell her about it.
 
She blinked until she could see more clearly: rose petals on the surface of the water, little tea-lights on the rim of the bath. From the radio in the kitchen she could hear some kitschy love song. It wasn't her favourite radio station, but this was definitely her bath. She felt something moving along her wet hands, something that was warmer than the water. Her wrists were itching. She wanted to scratch the itch, but noticed that the ink was running from her forearms. She felt no pain, no panic, she just thought: Okay, I must have been pretty drunk, but an ambulance might be a good idea. Then the penny dropped, and she vomited over the edge of the bath.
 
She never could stand the sight of blood. And certainly not her own.
 
She made it as far as the phone, even though she fell down twice on the way there, and left a trail of her blood from the bathroom across the corridor and into the kitchen, where she realized that makeshift tourniquets for her wrists might be a good idea. Fiona took two dish-cloths that had been lying on the floor for days to soak up a litre of spilt coke. The tourniquet idea was probably no use because she was scarcely able to make a tight knot. Cowering on the floor, she dialled the emergency number. She couldn't tell the friendly woman at the other end what was wrong, because her tongue felt heavy and also tasted weird, and that distracted her. But she had probably given her name and address. Or maybe she hadn't said anything at all, and the people at the emergency call centre had simply found out where the call had been made from.
 
She passed the time by looking for a different station on the kitchen radio. Then her eyes fell shut, but to keep herself awake she sang along with the song that was playing.
 
(Falling about You took a left off Last Laugh Lane )
 
Around ten minutes later someone broke down the door of her apartment and rushed into the kitchen. And then she thought a little sleep couldn't do any harm.
 
 

Translated by David Ingram
2010 by Bastei Lübbe, Cologne  
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