My Cream Lady, Or Two Cream Ladies...
My cream lady, or
two cream ladies, or
my namesake and me, or
sisters in different worlds, or
sisters in the same world.
A short story and images
of corpses, or imaginations
of corpses, the histories of objects
by Lucie Sahner and
my namesake (almost)
Lucie (luu·tsii) is a name that was rarely given when I was born. Only few people of my age and origin bear this name. Except cats, cats are called Lucie quite often here. The mother of an ex-partner had a cat, with which of course I share that name. She used to bite and scratch the beloved mother‘s feet, or pee on her from the stairs. The mother was of course not amused at all, and she began to curse Lucie (the cat) using strong language, also when I was visiting, which was kind of irritating. Something else, that also happened often enough, was that people jokingly asked me if my name was Lucifer. And if I was the devil. (I am not.) My family name is Sahner, which has (almost) the same spelling like the German word for whipped cream (transl. “Sahne”). Of course, it reminds people of that when they say my name; it reminds them of something like a cream cake, white foam, or a sweet dessert. “Sahner (Creamer) like “Sahne” (cream) only with an R in addition”, that‘s what my father always says, so that people spell his surname correctly.
In the small provincial hospital where I was trained as a nurse, I once met a namesake, another Lucie Sahner. She was a patient there, and she had other experiences with the name we shared. Sadly, she was suffering from a bacterial infection, so you always had to wear protective clothing when you entered her sad single room. Face masks, protective caps, gowns, and gloves. As you can imagine, all of this is pretty uncomfortable, the mask rubs against your nose and you smell your own warm, coffee-on-empty-stomach breath (which is still better than the odor of too-many drinks).
I thus felt strange when I met her, I had just started training and was not yet used to being a person completely encased in plastic; I felt like the Noodlesalat from the day before or the perspiring packed toast that you forgot in the kitchen cupboard. But anyway, without her being able to sense anything other than the stature of my appearance and my uncovered eyes we at least had our names in common – Which made an instant bond between us. She had more of rather unfunny be-calm-and-quiet-like-Santa-Luzia name-experiences, but she didn‘t mind, which I thought was great. Anyway, the care for her always took a lot of time and I was assigned to her almost every day. I learned about the life of the old cream lady and she learned about mine. Nearness and intimacy in the first place through having the same name, washing, applying ointment, and place dressings on the wounds became spiritual. Even as a patient with severe symptoms, she was curious about my life and asked back, which is very rare in a hospital. She told me a lot of stories, which I cannot even start to reproduce here at all, because they took place through more than language. But everything has an end, only the sausage has two, as the famous German musician Stephan Remmler once sang. So long story short, despite all the treatments, her vitality faded away. Despair was replaced by a long-awaited acceptance. She died. And I was incredibly sad about it.
Anyway, everyday hospital life is something special. Hospitals are strangely artificial non-places, places of transit. You follow arrows, displays, or color themes. Green means neonatal department, red palliative care – you’d better not be colorblind around here. With consent, it is okay to cut three holes in the abdomen and then look into it with the camera. Hey, this is the minimally invasive method. In these large, sterile buildings death is often commonplace (which does not in the least mean that you could not ignore transience as long as it does not affect yourself). Any morning it can be announced that someone has died, that relatives are coming, that the funeral home is there. And you? You breathe in, breathe out, have no time to spare. You have to go back to work. My namesake did not have a good relationship with her relatives (she realized her mistake quite late, so she told me), and therefore we had to wait quite a long time after her death until someone had the mercy to hire a funeral home. So, my first experience with death was with a namesake, which, after her death and a long wait for the undertaker to arrive, was an old corpse too. The difference between an old and a fresh corpse is immense (if anyone has ever seen Schlingensief‘s rabbits, they know what I am talking about). A piece of paper on a dead foot with one‘s own name on it is also quite chilling. What can I say? As coincidence would have it, I had to hand over my old cream lady to the funeral home.
Apropos cream lady, cream, milk dishes –in German there is a saying that describes the feeling of being weak from fear with the phrase of “Pudding in den Beinen haben” which means “having pudding in ones legs”. When my creamy sister was picked up, it was the first time I actually understood this expression.
I was afraid and thought for a moment that my wobbly legs could no longer carry my body. The undertaker came panting with the empty coffin, probably saw my discomfort and started telling anecdotes from his professional life immediately. He himself was already grey and very wrinkled and gave the impression that he could spend the whole day in a rocking-chair on the veranda and enjoy his retirement with a clear conscience. He talked about uncomplicated times, about the natural way of dealing with the death, about the gratitude he experienced from relatives of the deceased. How it happened that he showed me photos of his last corpses on his brand-new mobile phone, I do not quite remember. But imagine this: Leaning against the door of the mortuary, his passion for make-up and cosmetics burst out and, on his display, appeared macabre, but well made-up, one dead person after another. He was particularly proud of the face of a noble countess who brought around all her make-up, including a purple lipstick, seven years ahead of her death to make a good, final impression in the open coffin. I saw a lot of pictures of her on the screen. After her I saw corpses with pale, yellowish skin, wearing shiny red lips, faces with one eye half and one eye fully open, wearing elegant ladies‘ or gentlemen‘s hairstyles as if they had just come from a fancy hairdresser. Open mouths with the last breath left on their lips were spiced up with lip gloss, cloudy eyes with unrestrained eye make-up. He scrolled incessantly to the right, one picture chased the next, one corpse after another appeared, macabre, but I must admit, very well made-up! Sometimes, he said proudly, he was even allowed to use glitter.
After this unexpected performance, the undertaker took a deep breath, looked me deep in the eyes, and told me that he knew it was strange to look at all those dead faces. Because they seem strange and distant. He said that in these faces worlds would collide. But these worlds, he told me and opened his eyes in a promising manner, they were twin sisters. Silence. Then he smiled softly, patted me on the shoulder, said goodbye with a joke that I have forgotten, got into the car, and drove away.
*1986 in Völklingen, lives in Amsterdam
Lucie Sahner completed her fine art studies as a Meisterschülerin with Prof. Gabriele Langendorf at Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saarbrücken. She then completed a master’s degree at the Dirty Art Department of Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam. Sahner’s artistic work addresses the human body: What is a body? What differentiates it from others? What forces act on it? A sociological perspective of her approach examines the inscription of the environment on the body. Another focus of her practice is the material, as evidenced by experiments in wax and gelatin.More about Lucie Sahner