Your Perfect Year

Your Perfect Year

Charlotte Lucas

You can’t give your life more days,

but you can give your days more life.


Rather a trite proverb.

—Jonathan N. Grief

Editor, Hamburg News

Hamburg, December 31

By email

Dear Editorial Team,

Before offering you my season’s greetings and wishing you a successful start to the new year, I would briefly like to draw your attention to a few errors in your current edition.

On page 18, your review of the new movie Glacial Age refers to: “Henning Fuhrmann (33), who became a household name in recent years as the star of a number of popular TV shows . . .”

I feel I should point out that, according to Wikipedia, Henning Fuhrmann’s birthday is today—that is, December 31. This means that he is no longer 33 but is now 34, which appears to have escaped your attention. Moreover, the way you have formulated the phrase could relegate his acting career to the past; correctly, it should state: “. . . who has become a household name in recent years as the star of a number of popular TV shows . . .”

Also, on the last page, an article about our beloved Elbphilharmonie concert hall has been given the title: “Now their really going for it!” Whether this is a typo or a grammatical error, there really is no excuse.

If I may refer you to your own style guide:

“Their” is the possessive form of the third-person plural pronoun “they.” Beware of the commonly misused homophones “there” (which means “in that place” or “in that way”) and “they’re” (which means “they are”).

As ever, I trust you will take these observations in the helpful spirit in which they are intended.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan N. Grief



Monday, January 1, 7:12 a.m.

Jonathan N. Grief was not a happy man. His morning routine had begun as it always did: at precisely six thirty, he had donned his tracksuit, defied the freezing temperature, and ridden his mountain bike to the starting point of his daily run around the Outer Alster Lake.

And like every year on the first of January, he was plagued by numerous minor irritations. He shook his head at the remains of firecrackers and rockets that littered the gray slush and turned every sidewalk, cycle track, and footpath into a slippery, ugly mess. He tutted over the sooty, smashed prosecco and beer bottles that must have served as launchpads in the night, with no one apparently deeming it necessary to put them in the recycling afterward. He tried in vain to ignore the thick, murky air that the partying (and, in Jonathan Grief’s eyes, irresponsible) citizens of Hamburg had, with their brainless pyrotechnics, transformed into a nightmare of fine-particle pollution that now hovered in a blanket of smog over the city, making it hard for him to breathe.

(Now, of course, the New Year’s Eve corpses would all be lying, hungover and comatose, in their beds, having written down their resolutions to drink less and stop smoking and shot them into space on noisy rockets at one minute past midnight, before rampaging and running riot into the early hours of the morning, not caring that enough money to put the national economy to rights had gone up in flames.)

But these were not the only things bothering Jonathan Grief.

What outraged him most was that his ex-wife, Tina, had this year, as ever, seen fit to leave a chocolate chimney sweep—that cloying symbol of good luck—on his doorstep sometime in the night, along with a card in which she wished him, as ever, “a happy and successful new year!”

A happy and successful new year! As he pounded over the Krugkoppel Bridge, to where the path led down past the Red Dog Café into Alster Park, he increased his speed to fourteen kilometers per hour, every step slapping down onto the sandy surface with a heavy crunch.

A happy and successful new year! Jonathan’s fitness band now showed a speed of sixteen kilometers per hour and a heart rate of 156 beats a minute. It seemed he was on course to complete his 7.4-kilometer run in record time today. His fastest time to date was 33.29 minutes, and if he continued at this pace, he would top it.

But as he drew near the Anglo-German Club, his pace slowed again. Crazy. Why should he get so upset about Tina’s thoughtless “attention” that he’d endanger his health and put himself at risk of a pulled muscle? They’d been separated for five years, so there was no reason that a stupid chocolate figurine should get him into such a state.

Yes, he had loved Tina. Very much, even. And yes, after more than seven years of marriage, she had left him for his (former) best friend, Thomas Burg, and filed for divorce. Jonathan had always thought they were happy together. It seemed Tina had viewed things differently.

She had protested that the problem had nothing to do with Jonathan—but anyone with half a brain knows that the problem always does have something to do with oneself.

Jonathan still wondered exactly what it could be. He had done all he could to give Tina heaven on earth. He’d bought her a beautiful urban villa right by Innocentia Park in the upscale Harvestehude district and had it renovated to her taste; she even had her own sanctuary, including bathroom and dressing room! He’d enabled her to give up her hated job as graphic designer in an advertising agency and live the life of leisure she had always wished for.

He had satisfied her every wish almost before she’d thought of it. A pretty dress, a stylish handbag, jewelry, or a new car—Tina only had to hint that she liked something, and it was hers.

It had been a carefree life without any responsibilities. Grief & Son Books—the publishing house Jonathan had taken over from his father, Wolfgang—was excellently run by a CEO, so all he had to do was put in the occasional appearance as figurehead and make his presence felt at the launches of the more prestigious publications. Jonathan and Tina had enjoyed the most expensive vacations in the most exclusive places, and they’d been sought-after guests at every worthwhile society event in Hamburg, all without the worry that their private lives could fall victim to the popular press.

Tina had fully enjoyed her life with Jonathan, had suggested ever more exotic travel destinations, worn ever more elegant designer clothes, and regularly redecorated every room in their villa.

On occasion he had wondered whether she might be getting a little bored—especially with material things. She constantly repeated the same old refrain: for a long time, she had been looking for “something more,” a something she was unable to put her finger on, to express, at least to Jonathan. She had tried running groups (at his recommendation) and also language courses, guitar lessons, qigong, tennis, and a range of other activities, without keeping any of them up for long. He had gone so far as to tackle the subject of children more emphatically (not only in word, but also in deed), despite Tina’s protestations that things were perfect for them as a couple.

And then she had seen a therapist.

Even now, Jonathan had no idea what they discussed at her weekly sessions, since she had not deemed it necessary to tell him about it. But whatever it was, clearly Tina had finally found her indefinable “something more” with Thomas, whom Jonathan had known since their school days and who was responsible for marketing at Grief & Son Books.

Had been responsible. After their separation, Thomas had chosen to give his notice, send Tina back to her job at the agency, and set up home with her in a three-room apartment in that hipsters’ paradise, the Schanze quarter.

Thinking about the two of them now, Jonathan shook his head in disbelief, his eyes fixed on his neon-yellow Nike sneakers. Wrecking their lives like that in the name of love! And now Tina, of all people, was wishing him “a happy and successful new year”? Oh, the irony!

Jonathan snorted loudly, sending breath from his mouth in a steaming cloud. He was successful, and he was also—damn it—happy!

He quickened his pace again, so that by the time he approached the dog park, he almost stumbled and only just managed to avoid one of the little parcels left behind by the unruly mutts unleashed on the unsuspecting population by their nice masters and mistresses.

He stopped, gasping for breath, and rummaged in his sports armband which, alongside his iPhone and key, also held a supply of rustling plastic bags. He took one out, slid it over his hand, gingerly picked up a dog turd, and carried it at arm’s length to the nearest garbage can. Not his favorite occupation, but someone had to do it.

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