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- The Prose of Alfred Lichtenstein - 3/12 -
Song of Longing
The folds of the sea crack like whips on my skin. And the stars of the sea tear me open. The ocean's evening is lonely from screaming wounds. But the lovers find the good death of which they dreamed. Be there soon, sorrowful eyed woman. The sea hurts me. Your hands are cool saints. Cover me with them. The sea is burning on me. Help then... please help... cover me. Save me. Cure me, friend.
He destroyed it. Ilka Leipke was enraged. She said that Mechenmal was coarse. The little man had soothed her with loving caresses. Later he sat down at the girl's writing-table. He took a piece of stationary and wrote:
To Kuno Kohn.
Miss Leipke, my bride, hereby lets you know that she gladly gives up any further poems; they serve no purpose at all. My bride has told me everything. Be assured that your courtship makes us laugh.
When Mechenmal had mailed the letter he became restless. He was afraid that he had handled things carelessly.
Kohn came back immediately. He went to Ilka Leipke. Showed her the letter. Howling, he asked whether she had forgotten the night with him. She said: "yes." He moaned. He wept unintelligibly about soul and suicide. Ilka Leipke showed him out. His weakness was annoying to her; even as a child she could not watch anyone cry.
But she was angry at Mechenmal. She began to tease him about Kohn. She claimed that Kohn had often been her guest; and she always found him to be nice. Mechenmal considered her stories to be true. Now he hated Kohn.
He considered how to get of the hunch-back, without being known as the one who got rid of him. It did not take him long to come up with a plan. Kohn died on a Sunday, suddenly, but without strange circumstances. His body was released for burial without any difficulty. In the newspaper "The Other A" Theo Tontod provided a short obituary. And the Club Clou sent a wreath. Ilka Leipke had herself taken to observe the body before the burial. The coffin was opened quickly. In it Kohn lay somewhat askew, because of the hump. The features of his face were distorted in a grimace. His hands were rolled up lumps. Dried blood stuck to his nose and hung over his opened mouth. Ilka Leipke overcame her disgust. She had gasoline brought, took a little silk scarf out of her dainty handbag and dipped it in the the gasoline container. She cleaned the dead nose with the little scarf. Then she left. Calm and weeping. Content with her goodness.
When Mechenmal heard of Kohn's death, he was very frightened. He could not bear his room. He left the house quickly, not without first having lit a cigarette. Church bells were ringing from the sunny sky. Mechenmal was cold and pale. He kept thinking: if only it doesn't come out. Or he considered where he might run away. He thought of the trial, of the defense, of prison, chains, letters written to the outside world, the hangman. That he would, as his last wish, be allowed to sleep with Ilka Leipke one more time. He moved through the streets like someone trying to catch up to someone. When it occurred to him that he should not call attention to himself, he suddenly began to walk too slowly. It seemed to him that all the people were watching him.
In a garden two girls, perhaps fifteen years old, were wrestling. When they saw Mechenmal, they quickly sat down on a bench, letting him come nearer. When he was close enough, they laughed at him; one of them wiggled her legs. He hurried away. Behind him one of them cried out: "See how quickly the man moves." And the other cried out just as foolishly : "Yes, he's smoking." They watched him go, then they went back to wrestling with each other.
Mechenmal gradually calmed down. He thought: They can't prove it was me. I'll deny everything. Ha! Who can prove anything about me... Even if they notice anything!--He threw the cigar away. He felt safer. He whistled with the thought that Kohn could no longer bother him. That he, Max Mechenmal, had overcome the difficulty with Kohn so completely. He thought that he tackled life correctly. That everything went well for him. He had great trust in himself. He thought: No sentimentality now. To lead a decent life, one must be a bastard.
He went home happily.
The Café Klösschen
Lisel Liblichlein had come from the country to the city because she wanted to become an actress. At home she found everything stuffy, narrow, stultifying. The gentlemen were stupid. The sky, the kisses, the girl friends, the Sunday afternoons became unbearable. The most she could do was cry. To her, becoming an actress would mean: to be clever, free, and happy. What that meant, she did not know. She had no way to determine whether she had talent.
She adored her cousin Schulz, because he lived in the city and wrote poems. When the cousin wrote once that he was tired of law and would live in accordance with his inclination to be a writer, she informed her shocked parents that she was fed up with the restricted life; she would pursue her ideals as an actress. They tried in every way to dissuade her from this plan, to no avail. She became more determined, and even made threats. They yielded reluctantly, went with her to the city, rented a small room in a large pension, enrolled her in an inexpensive acting school. Cousin Schulz was asked to look after her.
Mr. Schulz frequently was in the company of Cousin Liblichlein. He took her to cabarets, read poetry, showed here his Bohemian digs, introduced her to the literary cafe Kloesschen, went with her hand-in-hand for hours through the streets at night, touched her, kissed her. Miss Liblichlein was pleasantly dazed by all the new things; soon it occurred to her that most of what she saw was not as beautiful as she had once imagined. Right from the start she was irritated that the director of the theater, the collegues, the literati of the Cafe Kloesschen--all the people with whom she often came in contact, found pleasure in touching her, caressing her hands, pressing their knees against hers, looking directly at her without shame. Even being touched by Schulz became burdensome to her.
To avoid hurting his feelings, as well as to avoid seeming provincial, she seldom showed her discomfort. But once she struck him vigorously on the face. They were in his room; he had just explained the last lines of his poem, "Weariness." They were
The evening stands before my window, grey man! It would be best if we went to sleep-Then he tried to remove her blouse. Schulz was utterly stunned by the blow. He said, almost weeping, that she must have noticed that he loved her. Moreover, he was her cousin. She said that she didn't like someone opening her blouse. Besides, he had torn off a button. He said that he could no longer stand it. If one loved someone, one must yield to him. He would try to lose himself with other women. She did not know what to answer. Groaning, he thought: Oh, oh. She sat next to him dejectedly.
For the next few days he was nowhere to be seen. When he returned, he was pale and grey. His bloodless red eyes lay tearfully in grimy shadows. His voice had only a sing-song tone, with a mannered melancholy. Schulz spoke mournfully, dreamily, about despair, whoredom, and being torn apart inwardly. He said that he was fed up with the joy of life, that he would soon catch up with his own death. He avoided showing signs of tender feelings, but he often sighed painfully. He flirted theatrically with a longing for dying. He brought his friend to corpse-strewn tragedies, to gloomy film-dramas, to serious concerts in darkened halls.
Perhaps a week had gone by. A woman had sung. The hands of the listeners applauded loudly and long. Gottschalk Schulz passionately grasped Lisel Lilichlein's fingers, laid them gently on one of his thighs, and said: "Isn't it strange how a woman's song grips the soul!" Then he again began to speak imploringly and tearfully of love and yielding. Lisel Liblichlein said that this was boring or disgusting to her. Out of pity--and because she wanted to go up--she finally declared that she would agree to the love if he would give up the business of surrender. Schulz happily pressed her to himself. He stood there dreaming for a long time. He sang: "O tears. O goodness. O God. O beauty. O love. O love. O love..." He dashed through the streets. He had disappeared into the Cafe Kloesschen. But Lisel Liblichlein sat in her small room, awkwardly smiling under a reddish tallow lamp. She did not understand these city people, who seemed to her strange, dangerous animals. She felt abandoned and more alone than before. She thought with longing about her innocent homeland: about the breezy sky, about the laughing young gentlemen, about tennis matches, and she felt nostalgia for the Sunday afternoons--she took off her garters, placed her little bodice on a chair. She was inconsolable.
On a transparent summer evening the Cafe Kloesschen was bathed in light. The city sky of dark blue silk, upon which the white moon and many small stars lay, enveloped it. At the rear of the cafe, alone, a long time before he suddenly died, smoking at a tiny table, on which something stood, sat the hunch-backed poet Kuno Kohn. People crouched around other tables. Among them moved people with yellow and red skulls: women; writers; actors. Everywhere shadowy waiters darted.
Kuno Kohn was not thinking of anything special. He hummed to himself: "A fog has so gently destroyed the world." The poet Gottschalk Schulz, a lawyer, who had painfully flunked all the tests he had taken, greeted him. A beautiful girl was with him. They both sat down at Kohn's table. Schulz and Kohn collaborated with the enthusiastic little Lutz Laus, to produce a monthly journal, "The Dachshund," designed to refine the level of immorality. Schulz told Kohn that the Dachshund-Laus would soon invent a godless religion on neo-legal principles, for which purpose he intended to call an organizational meeting in a nearby movie-house. Shaking his head, Kohn listened. The lovely girl ate cake. Kohn said sadly: "Laus can
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