Short Stories

500-word extract

Yellow Cephalaria



Berlin, 1931






He held out the flower towards my face propitiously, like a wand or magical talisman. In that moment I was not captivated by the small plant but the almost translucent quality of Moritz’s finely-veined hands, the soft cushions of his fingers, the deeply etched lines on his palms. He had the hands of a craftsman. I had seen many hands like this in the iron foundry in Mägdesprung where I worked briefly in my youth. It was probably there, among the miscellaneous school of objects created by the foundry: railings, gateposts, machine parts, that I first developed my penchant for monochrome colours and sooty, indelible forms. Moritz once said to me that he believed the natural forms of my photographs looked like they had been forged in some Olympian, celestial smelter; that they were silvered, tarnished and erect like the spears of young warriors in the Odyssey. True or not, the analogy has stuck, and I am almost tempted to believe as he did, that it was possible to trace some invisible line of concinnity between that part of my life and this… I still remember the thick fumes of molten iron and the infernal hammering of blacksmithing tools.


In that windless day the sun’s rays dilated on the crispy leaves. The trees seemed bowed and silvered; agonised by the long summer drought. Each moment that passed was cut and refracted into a thousand others. At last I felt irritated by this lunatic and his obscure fascinations.


“Why Moritz, did you call me over to look at this? It is just a common wayside flower. I have seen it growing in fields and meadows many times before.”


“Yes, it is common even mediocre, wearing this ridiculous skirt of petals!” he replied with relish.

In one minute he had cleared the petals from the flower as resolutely as a butcher cleaving meat from a bone.  


What I observed was a kind of transformation in structure. What had once been an exemplification of delicacy had become a small, hard kernel as compact and defined as a marble. The stumpy, rounded calyx of the flower head had been revealed to be a strange and stunted growth like a pincushion, with a number of small, hooked pincers glancing out of it. The symmetrical design of this flower head whose honey-comb structure reminded me of the cells of a bee-hive, appalled and attracted me at the same time.


“It’s a scabious flower, of the teasel family.”


“Your favourite,” I replied, smiling up at him.


“When you photograph it, you must record its material being as it is now, not in the first state,” said Moritz calmly.


“But it has been manipulated!” I joked with him.


“No, it has been revealed.”




End of Extract