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A short story by Keith Ridgway

The Long Falling
Keith Ridgway
Faber & Faber
London 1998

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Linda. She had a collection of names, written neatly on green cards, each with a short biography and sometimes a small photograph. They were arranged alphabetically in a box designed for computer disks, locked by a key which Linda wore on a gold chain around her neck. Sometimes the men at work asked her what the key was for, a stupid leery smile on their faces. She ignored them. She ignored them so completely that they would become embarrassed and afterwards they would look at her from a distance, suspiciously.

Linda added a new name to her collection, fitting it in between David Golbey, the man who, in 1983, had written a book called "Communion – The Influence Of The Roman Catholic Church On The Institutions Of The United States"; and Isabelle Delloya, a campaigner for the right of the peoples of the South American rain forests to exist on their own lands with their own cultures. The name was that of Karl Gutterman.

It was strange that Linda had not heard of him before really, but there you are. She sighed and wondered what she’d write beneath his name.

Karl Gutterman was born in Essen in 1958, exact date unknown. He was adopted at birth by university lecturer Gunther Gutterman and his Irish wife, writer Mary Singleton.

Mary Singleton had left her native Belfast at the end of the Second World War and travelled across the devastated countries of Europe, writing down her observations in an old leather bound ledger which she had taken from the offices of her father’s prosperous children’s clothing firm. These writings, direct, unemotional accounts of the sufferings of ordinary people, left to struggle with the debris of their lives while the politicians divided the land and chased down the defeated, became instantly successful, particularly in the United States, selling in large enough numbers to make Mary Singleton something of a celebrity.

For a while she lived in Paris, moving to Berlin in 1950 to write another best seller, this time on the people of the troubled city, and the soldiers who watched over them from all sides. She stayed there for three years. In 1953 she met Gunther Gutterman at a political rally. He was twenty years old, originally from Tuttlingen on the Danube, at that time studying in Munich. It is unclear why Mary Singleton should leave Berlin, following Gutterman to Munich, within days of meeting him. It is equally unclear why Gutterman, openly homosexual, and involved in an affair which by all accounts was to continue for some years, agreed to marry Singleton in Munich, on October 23rd, 1953.

The couple moved to Essen in 1957, where Gutterman took up a job teaching history at the university, something for which he was not properly qualified. His training had been in the fields of literature and political theory. It is still not clear how he managed to secure the position.

In Essen, Singleton completed her first work of fiction – "The Radix Treaty", a huge, complicated novel of the Second World War in which she set forth her critical ideas on the heterosexual male dominance of political relations, which, she believed, had been responsible for two world wars and would soon be responsible for a third. The novel’s main characters were homosexual. A publisher for the German translation was quickly found, but getting the original English version into print proved more difficult. Eventually John Koppler’s Mission House Publishers in London agreed to bring out an edition. The book was successfully distributed throughout the United Kingdom and sold very well for three days. Then suddenly, all copies were seized, and Koppler faced prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act. A succession of famous names spoke up in defence of the book, but it was banned nevertheless, and the assets of Mission House Publishers were seized to cover legal costs, as well as the costs of collecting, transporting and destroying all copies of "The Radix Treaty".

The book appeared in France in both English and French versions, (the French translation, like the German, was done by Singleton herself), as well as in The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland. After a brief flurry of official legal efforts to stop the book entering the United States, it was published there too. It stayed in the best seller lists for twenty four weeks thanks in large part to its notoriety. The book was banned in Ireland until 1979.

Meanwhile, in Essen, the adoption of Karl took place in the summer of 1958. The boy arrived at the home of Gunther Gutterman and Mary Singleton on July 6th. The date was celebrated from then on as his birthday. There is no evidence to suggest that the couple could not have had a child of their own, had they been willing to try. The official adoption documents state that the two had declared themselves to be "sexually incompatible". Notes taken by their interviewer are straightforward on this question. "They say that they are the wrong sex for each other. I do not doubt their commitment however, nor the strength of their relationship."

Linda used a Stanley knife to cut a page from her library book which contained a photograph of Mary Singleton and Gunther Gutterman with a seven or eight year old Karl, visiting Paris.

The boy wears shorts and sandals, holding his parent’s hands tightly as they swing him through the air between them. They are walking across the square in front of Notre Dame, their faces handsome and clear. In his free hand Gunther holds a cigarette and wisps of his hair fall down over his glasses. Mary’s hair is cut short, her head framed by the arch of the cathedral door, a look on her face that is at once thoughtful and happy. All three of them are smiling.

In 1961, as the East Germans began the construction of the Berlin Wall, Mary Singleton returned to the city and became, for the first time, a news journalist, reporting on a daily basis for a small, Essen based newspaper. Many of the reports were sold on to bigger German and international publications. Separated from her husband and young son, she worked long hours, gathering information and conducting interviews, constructing an image of the split city which was far too large for the pages of daily newspapers and which ended up as the basis for "Creating Darkness". The book appeared in early 1962 and was an award winning account of the effect of the division on communities, families, and on individual relationships. John F. Kennedy was said to have read the book while on the plane from the United States to Europe, and certainly quoted from it liberally during his visit to the city.

Singleton had returned to Essen in June 1962, where her husband was becoming well known in his own right for his political activism. In February of that year he had organised a demonstration against the industrial powers of the region, calling for greater rights for workers, particularly in the chemical industry. Some three hundred men and women who worked in a paint and solvents factory near Oberhausen had been exposed to high levels of toxic emissions the previous month. Half of them were still ill and the company had suspended them indefinitely without pay and replaced them with newly recruited, low paid, part time workers. The demonstration had become violent and had been broken up by police. Gunther Gutterman was arrested and spent two days in a prison cell while huge crowds gathered outside and demanded his release. When he eventually emerged, he stood on the steps of the prison building and made an impromptu speech which was widely reported and which greatly raised his profile nationally.

In November 1962 an article appeared in a right wing weekly newspaper in Cologne which drew attention to the "unusual marriage arrangements" of the increasingly famous couple. Gunther Gutterman, the article maintained, spent many of his nights in the apartment of "close friend", Dieter Schulz. It was suggested that the two were involved in an "intimate relationship". As a student in Munich, Gunther Gutterman had been well known, the article continued, for his "outspoken, some would say hysterical, promotion of perverted sexual practises."

Mary Singleton did not escape either. The magazine claimed that she was frequently to be seen in the company of women "much younger than herself", who might, it was speculated, "be persuaded, by a woman who was capable of using her standing as a famous writer, to enter into relationships which are neither correct nor proper." The article went into great detail on the contentious legal battles over "The Radix Treaty" and referred disparagingly to the book’s contents. In conclusion, the article wondered how wise it was to trust such a couple with the upbringing of a small boy. Noting that Karl was adopted, it questioned the justification for giving him into the care of Gunther and Mary. The last sentences read : "Can any one of us be sure that this child is not in danger? Can any one of us be sure that this child will not become the subject of an experiment carried out by illegitimate parents whose interest is not in the boy’s welfare, but in the promulgation of the ideas of perversity?"

The reaction to the magazine piece was startling. Gunther Gutterman was fired from his job at the university, and was removed from his position on the local labour rights committee which he had helped to set up. The unions for whom he had previously acted as consultant informed him that his services were no longer required. Mary Singleton’s books suddenly disappeared from the bookshops. Her publisher received death threats. Friends stayed away. Dieter Schulz was attacked in the street outside his home and beaten. He suffered a fractured skull and spent three days in intensive care.

At the beginning of February, a letter arrived at the couple’s home from the adoption authorities requesting an interview "concerning Karl’s position with you". A second anonymous letter was received the following day, informing them that they were being investigated by the police. Mary contacted a lawyer friend who told them that their legal position was not hopeful. The authorities had the power to remove Karl from their care while the case was being examined.

On February 4th Mary and Gunther were joined in their home by their few remaining friends, who sat with them late into the night as they talked over their options. Eventually it was decided that the couple would be driven, separately, across the border into The Netherlands and to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam they could carry on any legal battle necessary to retain custody of their son.

Karl was taken first, driven across the border to Nijmegen by an elderly Dutch couple whom Mary had met when she first came to mainland Europe after the war. Gunther followed, driven by Dieter Schulz’s sister. Finally Mary arrived in the company of her lawyer friend, Elizabeth Muller. It was Elizabeth who drove the distressed and worried family the remainder of the journey to Amsterdam. They arrived at dawn on the 6th February 1963. As a family, they would never set foot in Germany again.

Linda found another photograph. It was of Gunther Gutterman’s funeral.

His widow stands at the head of a large crowd gathered at the grave side, her face obscured by a black veil, her hands held together in front of her, ungloved, pale. At her side stands her son, sixteen now, as tall as his mother, with a handsome, narrow face, the thin frames of spectacles perched on his nose, his hand at his neck as if straightening his tie. In the background can be seen the tall bald figure of Peter DeVries.

Linda looked at the picture, squinting her eyes. She could not be sure but she thought that DeVries probably had his hand on Karl Gutterman’s shoulder.

She went to the desk and asked the woman whether she could have a copy of the photograph. The woman smiled and said she could have one sent to her. She asked Linda her name. Linda said she would call back for it. The woman asked her her name again. Linda asked her why she wanted her name. The woman said that it was so she could leave the photograph at the desk in an envelope. Linda told her that her name was Sinead 0’Connor. The woman gave her a funny look.

"No really," said Linda. "It is."

Mary Singleton and Gunther Gutterman lived in Amsterdam with Karl until 1974. Mary concentrated on her writing, breaking away from the kind of documentary work she had made her name with. She published four novels in this period, as well as a collection of poetry. The novels achieved huge critical success in Britain and the United States, and earned their author a reputation as great as any other writer of the time. This reputation was not damaged by Singleton’s reluctance to give interviews, or by the aggressive defence of her private life which the experiences of Essen had encouraged in her.

Gunther spent two years teaching German to private pupils before he secured a position in Amsterdam university as a tutor in modern history and politics. He gradually became involved in the political life of Amsterdam and in the growing gay rights movement.

The German authorities gave up the case against the couple over Karl’s adoption after a relatively short time, having succeeded in removing the problem to a safe distance. Mary and Gunther, (using the money that was beginning to flow in for "Creating Darkness"), bought two apartments in the city, alternating from one to the other, but with the general understanding that they could use an apartment each and live separate lives to whatever extent they felt was necessary. From the beginning Elizabeth Muller lived with Mary, finding a job (at a lower position and salary than she had enjoyed in Essen) with a small law firm. The young Karl lived with the two women, and for their first two years in Amsterdam, Gunther preferred to sleep on a camp bed in the sitting room next to his family, rather than to stay in the empty, second apartment. After Gunther did eventually move out, to live with the doctor and gay rights activist Peter DeVries, Karl began to spend more or less equal time with each parent, and there would be regular gatherings of the entire extended family in one of the apartments, lasting well into the early hours.

In 1974 Gunther Gutterman was discovered to have a brain tumour. He lost his eyesight, ability to speak, and his hearing within weeks of the diagnosis. He died a month later, on August 14th, aged forty one.

In November 1974, three months to the day after Gunther’s death, Elizabeth Muller was killed in a car crash while on her way to collect Karl from the local swimming pool. Mary Singleton was to say later that despite having written for so long about loss – the loss suffered during and after the war, by the refugees, the concentration camp survivors, the orphans, the divided families of Berlin – it was only in 1974 that she began to understand what loss really felt like.

In that morning’s Irish Times, there was a picture of Karl Gutterman. He stood beside Dick Spring, amongst a throng of reporters and television crews, his hand frozen in a gesture of emphasis, as if pointing at the person he was addressing. Linda looked carefully at his face, the high forehead and the metal framed glasses on the bridge of his narrow nose, the pointed chin and the wispy hair which was blown around by the airport winds. He was thirty five, the article said, the son of the Belfast born writer Mary Singleton who had died in 1987. He would be speaking at a public meeting in the Mansion House the following evening. At eight o’clock sharp.

Linda sang "Christ Be Beside Me."

Mary Singleton left Amsterdam in 1975, returning to Belfast for the first time in three decades. She rented a house near Queen’s University and kept very much to herself. She gave no interviews, nor published any work, for the next eight years.

Karl was left in Amsterdam to be looked after by the man he considered to be "one of his fathers", Peter DeVries. His mother had left the two apartments to be rented, and the income from them went to Karl’s education. He attended Utrecht University, studying history and politics. He visited Belfast regularly, and spent the summer of 1978 travelling around Ireland with his mother and Peter DeVries.

In his second year at Utrecht, Karl attracted some media attention when he became president of a group which had been set up to "protect the rights and interests of gay students". The journalists knew the story of Karl’s adoption and the "flight" from Essen, and although none of the articles stated it, the clear implication was that two homosexual parents had raised a homosexual son. When, the following year, Karl became involved in more mainstream student politics, the issue followed him.

Karl Gutterman had a brilliant academic career, finishing first in his finals at Utrecht. He put off the possibility of continuing on this road and instead returned to Amsterdam, where he threw himself fully into the city’s political life. He swiftly progressed, his ability for thinking on his feet and his talent for words helping him on his way. He was also, much to his opponents’ bewilderment, enormously popular. Huge crowds gathered to hear him speak. There were several attempts to use his homosexuality against him, but all failed. When he first ran for the national parliament, in 1984, his lover of the time, Vincent DeKroop, actively campaigned alongside him, and the nature of their relationship was not in any way obscured. In the elections which followed, Gutterman received one of the highest votes for any candidate in the entire country.

It was no surprise when in 1990 Karl Gutterman became a minister in the government of The Netherlands. Many observers in fact believed that it was long overdue. His post was minor, but in a cabinet reshuffle during the summer of 1992 he became Minister For Foreign affairs. At thirty four, he was the youngest to have ever held the post, and overnight he had become, by nature of his youth, his charisma, and of course his sexuality, one of the most famous politicians in Europe.

The Mansion House was packed. Linda made her way up an aisle, searching for a seat somewhere on the end of one of the benches. Eventually she persuaded some young men to push over. She sat there quietly, with her hands in her pockets, and said a decade of the rosary.

There was an atmosphere in the hall. Linda didn’t like it. All the people seemed to be with others that they knew. There was a hum of conversation as they all prattled away at each other. She noticed that the men were effeminate and that the women had short hair. In front of the stage a crowd of people with cameras waited. They looked normal.

Linda looked at her watch.

Suddenly people were applauding and standing up. Linda poked her head out into the aisle and saw Karl Gutterman make his way onto the stage from behind somewhere, waving at the crowd with a stupid grin on his face. Linda had expected him to come up the aisle. She said a Hail Mary.

While the clapping was still rattling on, Linda walked up the aisle towards the stage. She reached the photographers and pushed her way through them. Some of them gave her dirty looks, but they said nothing and did not try to stop her because she had Jesus written all over her, she just knew it.

She couldn’t see how to get up on the stage. She said a Grace Before Meals. Then she put her hands on the stage and hauled herself up onto it getting her strength from the Holy Spirit. Some photographer shouted at her to get out of the way.

Linda looked in front of her to see Karl Gutterman, a puzzled look on his face. He was standing behind a lectern. He smiled at her and stretched out his hand. Linda reached inside her jacket and everything slowed down and she saw two men begin to run from either side of the stage, and another man appear over Gutterman’s shoulder. And the smile on Gutterman’s face began to falter. Someone in the audience screamed.

"Abomination" said Linda, loudly, to Karl Gutterman. "Experiment of the devil."

She swung out with the knife and cut his hand. At the same time the man behind him grabbed him and pulled him down, and the two men coming from the sides reached her and threw their arms around her like they loved her, and their heads banged together.

They all lay on top of her in a pile. She sang "What A Friend We Have In Jesus."

Copyright © Keith Ridgway 1998

This story may not be archived or distributed further without the author’s express permission. Please read the license.

This electronic version of Loop is published by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author and his literary agents, Rogers, Coleridge & White / Literary Agency. For rights information, email David Miller at <[email protected]> Please mention The Richmond Review when making rights enquiries.

Keith Ridgway’s stories have appeared in various anthologies in Ireland, in New Writing 6 and in Phoenix Irish Short Stories 1996. His novella Horses was published in Faber’s First Fictions 13 to great critical acclaim. His first novel, The Long Falling is published by Faber & Faber. Keith Ridgway lives in Dublin and has a Keith Ridgway Page on the World Wide Web.


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