Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Markus Orths' The Staff Room

Since I was early, I went straight down to the media store; key C6 fitted the door. I switched on the light and looked for the cupboard where the videos were kept. It was open. I ran my finger along the rows of videos, but couldn't find the film I needed. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me and spun round in surprise. Holding my breath, I crept past the cupboards with the copies of ancient Roman statues and circumvented the obstacle course of projectors and stands. There was no one to be seen. Then I heard the slight shuffling noise again. It came from near the floor. I bent down. There was something under the white table against the wall. I heard a cough. I had a closer look. A tangle of blue, a sleeping bag from which a face slowly, cautiously, tentatively emerged, still half asleep and not noticing me: Heiner Stramm, the Media Resources Manager.

‘My God!’ I cried, ‘what are you doing here?’

Stramm crept out of his hidey-hole. He'd slept there, he said, Stramm, Biology and Chemistry, Media Resources Manager. Kranich, English and German, I said. Since he stayed squatting on the floor, I knelt down. Why had he slept here? I asked. He… he… then suddenly it all burst out. He didn't know what to do, he said, putting his head in his hands, he couldn't stand it any longer, it was cruel, it was torture, he couldn't explain it, he couldn't imagine how it had come about, he'd no idea what was going to happen now.

‘Calm down, calm down,’ I said, squatting on the floor. ‘There's an answer for everything.’ Out of the corner of my eye I had seen that his trousers had been hung over the back of a chair and there, in the middle of the blue seat cover, by itself, not attached to anything, in all its solitary glory, was Stramm's key, within reach, I only needed to stretch out my hand.

His wife had left him, Stramm said. Or, rather, she'd thrown him out. He'd been sleeping in the media store for the last three days. Again and again he'd gone down on his knees and begged her to let him into the house, but she'd remained adamant, there was nothing he'd been able to do about it.

Had they fallen out? I asked. No, said Stramm, that was the thing, there was no reason for her to behave like that, he'd always treated her right, given her everything she wanted, his conscience was clear.

‘Herr Stramm,’ I said, shifting a little closer to him, ‘you can be open with me, mostly this kind of thing is, how shall a put it, a matter of sex, you know what I'm getting at?’

Yes, of course, said Stramm, but everything had been fine in that respect too, he'd hardly let a night pass without addressing himself to that aspect of their relationship. On the contrary, when he thought of all the effort, all the preparation he'd put into their nights — he'd left nothing to chance, he'd dutifully gone to her bedroom, he'd incorporated three, if not four changes of method into every act they'd performed. Mostly he'd used a song as lead-in and sat down beside his wife, but before it got boring he'd switch off the recorder and move on to a question-and-answer session to get her to understand her urges. Following on from that he'd often interpolated a classic skills practice section, but before that started to drag, he'd read passages from a relevant book to his wife in order to reinforce the mood that was developing. Nor had he ever forgotten to include a silent-work phase, during which he observed his wife as she came to terms with her own feelings. Every groan, every term of endearment had been recorded as key points on the blackboard they had hanging above the bed instead of the usual mirror. Later on, when all the writing on the board had become a problem for his wife, he'd even gone over to projecting transparencies with suitable positions for the sex act onto the bedroom wall; moreover he had taken great care never to occupy his wife's attention for more than forty-five minutes.

At that moment the bell went. I got up, grasped Stramm's hand, pulled him up and said, ‘Come on, get dressed, we're late already, tell me, have you seen the video of The Grapes of Wrath anywhere?’

‘Yes,’ said Stramm, ‘Herr Safft borrowed it, yesterday, he said he needed it some time next week for his first-year course.’ As I closed the door to the media store behind me, I heard Stramm's voice: ‘My key, where's my key?’ But I was already going up the stairs.