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Sport 36: Winter 2008

German Word Cards

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German Word Cards

In our hallway, just as you enter the front door, there is a fluorescent orange sign pinned to the wall. It's the star-burst sort you often see in small town dairies, advertising chips and chocolate bars on special. This sign has ART! written across it in black vivid capitals.

Our house has bits of art on the walls and other surfaces—things that people notice when they come over, and that make them move around nervously like they're unsure about what is art and what isn't. And while they try to figure out whether or not they should have some kind of response. They search the walls and ceiling too quickly and say, Yeah and Cool and Nice space.

On our mantelpiece there are two coffee cup coasters that have been made to look like cartoon eyes. The coasters are propped up at one end of the mantelpiece. When I'm in the living room/dining room/ kitchen vicinity I'm conscious of the pair of coaster eyes. They're only made of the flimsiest cardboard—by some designer/artist Paula and Liz know—but they really are convincing.

Paula and Liz are art people—an art couple. They're planning on moving to Berlin soon, so they're learning German. They arrive home from their German night classes at the Goethe Institut late. When they arrive home Liz heads to the kitchen while Paula stands in our living-room looking tired and confused. This is the routine, but sometimes the roles are reversed.

Tonight Paula headed to the kitchen to prepare a late post-German snack, while Liz stood in the living-room with her arms hanging limp and her expression baffled, staring from me, to the couch, to the TV (switched off) and back to me again.

I was sitting in the armchair next to the couch. 'How was German?' I said.

Liz looked at me like she only half understood the question. Then she began unbuttoning her jacket—focusing on each button as she page 69did, like she only half understood this process also. 'Hard,' she said. Then she looked up and nodded.

A few weeks ago Paula and Liz began Blu-Tacking German word cards to objects around our house. From where I was sitting I could see der tisch stuck to a leg of the dining-table, der fernseher stuck to the side of the TV, der geschirrspüler stuck to the front of the dishwasher, and der plattenspieler attached to the record player. There was also a card attached to the lamp in the kitchen—but I couldn't read that one from where I was sitting.

The words had been written on the cards in Vivid. On most of the cards I could see, the der part of the word began large and nicely spaced, with the first few letters of the following word following the ders example. But after that the letters got progressively smaller and squished up so the last few letters of der der geschirrspüler—the püler especially—were a fifth the size of the der and half hanging off the card.

Liz sat down on the couch next to my armchair, and opened out the local newspaper across her lap. I was reading a book, but I really wanted to turn on the TV.

The fridge door was hanging wide open. Paula popped her head around from behind the fridge door and said, 'What's that?'

Liz and I hadn't said anything for a few minutes. But I looked up from my book, holding my finger to the line I was up to and said, 'German?' Then I shrugged.

Paula nodded and went back to doing whatever she was doing behind the open fridge door.

There was a German word card on the fridge door also. But I couldn't see it then because of the door being open. From memory the German word for fridge looked nothing like the English word for fridge, but more like something you'd expect to see relating to hardware.

Liz was teasing out her blond fringe with two fingers so it stuck up in a soft quiff. She was letting it hover for a moment, then when it started to collapse she tucked it behind her ear. She was repeating this process over and over, while craning her neck out, trying to see what Paula was doing in the kitchen—behind the open fridge door.

'What's she doing?' said Liz, to no one in particular.

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I could see right into the fridge. I could see the bottom shelf of the fridge was full of things (mainly vegetables) wrapped up in plastic bags. Some of these things had been in the fridge so long even the plastic of the bag had started to change colour. I could also see one bottle of Monteith's Pilsener, balanced precariously on its side on top of some small jars of chutney.

'Why is the fridge open?' said Liz. She tucked another quiff behind her ear, and discarded the newspaper to the floor. 'Want to go halves on that beer?' she said.

'I was just about to ask you the same thing,' I said.

'That's a sign,' said Liz, and she threw her head back in a genuine laugh.

Paula popped her head around from behind the fridge door and again said, 'What's that?'

Our kitchen and living room and dining room are basically one room separated only by an old sideboard circa 1970s that houses our crockery and a selection of odd jars, vitamin containers and thermoses up on top. Despite this Paula was suddenly speaking like she was more like four rooms away and the music was turned up to the maximum.

There was no music playing, but I spoke louder than was necessary too. 'Beer!' I said, then I mimed a swigging action.

'No thanks!' said Paula. 'I'm detoxing!' Then she moved both her hands up and down so they resembled scales. Then she disappeared back behind the fridge door.

'She's got a pimple,' said Liz.

'Oh,' I said.

'She thought it was a sign,' said Liz.

'A sign of what?' I said.

Liz shook her head like it was all utterly mysterious. 'I don't know,' she said.

The sound of frying started up in the kitchen. Then the catflap behind me swung open and the cat wandered in.

The cat looked from me to Liz to Paula to the catflap with an expression that read like she'd never seen us before and she was really pissed off we were sitting in the living room.

'Dear plattenschpeeler,' I said to the cat.

'Dear plattenschpeeler,' said Liz to me.

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Paula dropped something in the kitchen that made a tin on crockery sort of noise and said, 'Oh oh shit shit.'

I knew how to pronounce the German word for record player because Liz had taught it to me.

The fridge door was still hanging wide open.

The cat was still looking at the catflap.

'I hate it when the cat looks at me like that,' I said.

'Come here little,' said Liz, and she clicked her fingers at the cat.

I dropped my hand down beside the armchair and I sneakily pulled a stiff middle finger at the cat—so no one but the cat could see.

The cat left, back through the catflap.

Liz made a sad face as she watched her leave. 'Oh,' she said.

There was quiet for a moment. I looked across the room, and my eyes met the cardboard coaster eyes. The German word cards that hadn't been Blu-Tacked up yet were still sitting on the mantelpiece by the coaster eyes. I could see the little stack of them, and the stick of Blu-Tack lying beside.