Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Fire Doesn't Burn

When he comes back from the lake with the dog the next morning, there's a little basket on his desk – cherries from the Green Man. It's a farewell gift, the old villa with the overgrown garden has been sold to a man from the West, a politician, and is to be restored in the summer. Only recently one of the violent storms, that have been occurring more and more often of late, blew off half the roof and the hermit covered over the damage with a heavy plastic sheet that billows and crackles in the wind; it's an old cinema advert and now a gigantic Spiderman is crawling over the roof-ridge. It's the last grey house in the street; the variously sized stones in the mortar of the roughcast, only cursorily smoothed out and typical of the former GDR, have created structures which look deliberate but are presumably simply due to a lack of sifted sand, and on some days countless sparrows and tits cling to it, fluttering their wings as they pick insects or their larvae out of the holes; there even moss growing on the side exposed to the weather, a shimmer of brown like an animal's coat.

The day before he leaves, Alina takes the man a bottle of champagne and chats with him for a while over the garden fence. He's found somewhere to live, a flat in one of the GDR high-rise settlements in Marzahn, about ten kilometres to the north, and after he's loaded two suitcases, a foam mattress, a few pans and a standard lamp in a little trailer, he waves to them and gets into a Trabant driven by a woman. From the cap on her greying hair it seems she's a nurse and she bursts into a ringing laugh when the engine stalls as she lets in the clutch. But then the two-stroke chugs off over the cobbles with its rattling load and Wolf breathes in the special smell of the bluish smoke that hangs in the air for a while; usually he abhors it but now it makes him almost melancholy, as if it's something precious, the essence of a story that accompanied his own for a short stretch. ‘A nice man,’ Alina says, taking his hand. ‘He thinks we're a happy couple.’