Extract from Mike Mitchell's translation

Petra Hammesfahr's The Lie

It all started one Thursday at the end of July 2002, one of those summer days in this part of the world which are only tolerable with an ice-cool drink in the shade. Susanne Lasko was standing, sweaty and nervous, by one of the four lifts in the air-conditioned entrance hall of Gerler House, a large office block. The lift arrived, the door slid open and Susanne Lasko found herself walking towards herself.

In her external appearance the young woman who suddenly appeared before her was not identical with her. She was her height and had her figure, her eyes, her mouth. And it was her face — but with perfect make-up and framed by fashionably styled hair. The woman's hair was a rich brown and considerably shorter than the sunbleached mop coming down to her shoulders. Her double was wearing a light-grey, pinstripe suit with a white blouse. A boring colour combination, Susanne thought. But the suit and blouse were impeccable and looked as crisp as if they'd just been ironed. The handbag that was swinging from her right shoulder must have cost a fortune; a document case was tucked under her left arm. Never before had Susanne felt so shabbily dressed, so pathetic, so wretched, old and worn out.

She was wearing a suit as well, the green one she'd bought ten years ago. She'd last worn it three years previously, when she got divorced from Dieter Lasko. It may well have been right for that, it was less so for a job interview with a superior estate agent's. But she'd found nothing better in her wardrobe that morning.

At the time of that first encounter with Nadia Trenkler, she had two euros sixty-two cents in her purse. She'd checked before setting out to get her life going again. She'd lost her last job in January. It hadn't been a proper job, so she couldn't claim unemployment benefit and she was too proud to apply for supplementary benefit. She was also afraid they might draw her divorced husband's attention to her situation or even approach her mother, who had a little money tucked away. But her mother needed that for her old age and, anyway, Susanne wanted to keep her ignorant of her only daughter's predicament.

During February and March she'd written countless job applications and used up all her savings. Since April her mother had been supporting her — unsuspectingly. Agnes Runge didn't trust strangers and was no longer capable of looking after her accounts. Because she was afraid of injections, her diabetes had gone untreated for years and had resulted in blindness.

When her husband died, Agnes Runge had been left financially secure. She had received a considerable sum from his life insurance policy, sold the house where Susanne had grown up and taken a room in a comfortable old people's home, where she enjoyed the best of care — for three thousand euros a month. The management of her finances, that were to pay for this, she had entrusted to her daughter, happy in the belief that Susanne's clever investments would guarantee her an old age free from worry.

Instead, she was helping herself. Not to huge sums, no. And she was going to pay everything back as soon as she was in a position to do so. So far she'd taken sixteen hundred euros, four hundred a month. After deducting three hundred for the rent and other costs that came with the flat, she was left with a hundred for food and other necessities such as writing paper, large envelopes, photocopying and postage. She lived mainly on noodles and had to think very carefully before making more than a short journey on the tram. She had gone to Behringer and Partners on foot.

Four and a half miles in the heat and exhaust fumes. Her mouth was dry and her body soaked in sweat, her blouse was sticking to her sides and her feet aching a little in her black court shoes. But it was bearable, she was hardly conscious of it. Until the moment when the lift doors slid open she was completely occupied with her great hope. A personal interview! Only someone who has gone six months without a wage coming in and two and a half years without health insurance, without pension contributions, only someone whose every job application has been returned with a curt letter of rejection, or not at all, can appreciate what that meant.