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- The Prose of Alfred Lichtenstein - 4/12 -
touch people and get things done. But there is no longer a Jesus to make us believe. We die every day more deeply into empty, eternal death. We are hopelessly pulled apart. Our life will remain meaningless theatrics". As she ate, the girl looked on, with a cheerful look emanating from the uncomprehending reddish brown eyes on her clear face. Schulz had sunken into gloomy thoughts. The girl said that her whole life also was a spectacle, and therefore she didn't find it to be so meaningless. In the acting school, in which she was preparing for a career on the stage as a sentimental lover, hard work was done. Mr. Kohn ought to drop in sometime, to convince himself about it. Kuno Kohn looked at the girl ardently for a while. He thought: "Such a small, stupid girl." But he soon left.
Outside, the lyric poet Roland Rufus suddenly seized his arm firmly and excitedly, saying: "Have you read the review written by a certain Bruno Bibelbauer in the monthly medical journal, in which it is claimed that the reason for my paranoia is that I imagine that I have some paralysis. Everyone looks at me strangely; I am famous. My publisher is giving me a large advance. But--ah, I must not say it--I am incurable." He went immediately into a better wine-restaurant.
A horse hobbled by, pulling a carriage, like an old man. The hunchback Kohn idly leaned against a Catholic church, thinking about existence. He said to himself: "Yet how odd existence really is. And yet one props oneself up, somewhere, somehow, without connection, irrelevant; one could just as well continue for better or for worse, anywhere. That makes me unhappy." Before him a small, silent whore's dog had stopped, had listened humbly, with glowing eyes.
A fiery glass wedding coach hopped by. Inside, in a corner, he saw the pale, expressionless face of a bridegroom. An empty carriage arrived and Kohn climbed in. He said quietly: "A seeker without a goal... a man drift...... unknown to everyone... One has a frightening longing. O that one might know for what."
The streets glimmered whitely when he opened the door of the house in which he lived. In his room he looked silently, with a solemn sadness, at the pictures of men, all of whom were dead, which were fastened to the wall. Then he began to remove the articles of clothing from his hump. When he was wearing only undershorts, a shirt, and socks, he said, murmuring and sighing, "Gradually one goes insane..."
In bed his mind slowly emptied. The reddish brown eyes of the girl in the Cafe Kloesschen came into his mind as he fell asleep.
Strangely, on the days that followed, these eyes also shone often in his brain. That surprised him. Frightened him. His relationship to women was odd. In general he had an aversion to them; his urges drove him to boys. But in certain summer months, when his soul was shattered and inconsolable, he often fell in love with a young, childlike woman. Since he was rejected and mocked most of the time because of his hump, the memory of these women and girls was terrible. Therefore he was cautious at these times. He went to a prostitute when he felt danger.
Lisel Liblichlein had taken him by surprise, without his having had any premonition of it. In vain he thought of the pain of failure. In vain he imagined that Lisel Liblichlein might be one of the many delicate creatures, confused in their wonderful ignorance and longing for happiness, who can be found everywhere on earth, resembling one another... On a soft evening, full of greenish yellow street-lights, full of umbrellas and street filth, stood a small, hunch-backed man anxiously waiting at the entrance of an acting school.
Sometimes a poisonous, searing wind arose. Like thick, glowing oil, the sun lay on the houses and on the streets and on the people, Small, sexless little people with bent legs hopped senselessly around the front garden, enclosed by an iron fence, of the Cafe Kloesschen. Inside, Kuno Kohn and Gottschalk Schulz were fighting. Others happened to be watching. Lisel Liblichlein sat apprehensively in a corner.
The reason for this had been: Mr Kohn had accompanied Miss Liblichlein from the acting school to her home several times. When Schulz learned about it, he became, without cause, jealous. He began to say terrible things about Kohn. Lisel Liblichlein, who saw through her cousin, defended the hunchback. This made Schulz even angrier. He declared convincingly that he would shoot himself. He didn't do that, but threatened that he would shoot her too. At that point she stopped seeing him.--Lisel Liblichlein needed a man with whom she could discuss her important, ordinary experiences. After the quarrel with Schulz she chose Kohn out of some vague instinct. Thus it happened that she made an appointment to meet him at the Kloesschen at noon on the day of the fight, in order perhaps to consult with him about choosing a dress, or about his interpretation of a role, or about some little event. At the moment Kohn arrived, about to ask what the girl wanted, Gottschalk burst in, stood before him with a red, swollen face, and called him an unscrupulous seducer of young girls. Kohn tried to reach up and slap Schulz' face. Then each hit the other, furious and silent. The sign for the lavoratory-attendant, which had previously read, "My institute is here, entrance there," lay shattered on the ground. Suddenly Schulz' hand violently struck Kohn's hump. The hand had a bloody wound, and the hump was injured. Pale as a corpse, Schulz cried out: "The hump is critically wounded." Then he had himself taken by a waiter to a first aid station. He ignored Lisel Liblichlein entirely.
Kohn did not pay much attention to his injured hump. He sat down again at the table with Lisel Liblichlein, and ordered tea with lemon. She saw how ever more clearly blood was oozing through his threadbare jacket.She called his attention to the bloody jacket; he became frightened. She asked if she should bind the wound--He said bitterly, to touch a hump would not be pleasant for her. She said, blushing sympathetically, that a hump was human. She said that he could come to her place. The hump must be cleaned and cooled. Then she would apply a dressing. He could spend the afternoon at her place...
Happily and hesitantly Kohn agreed to her suggestion. They sat into the night in Lisel Liblichlein's little room. They talked about souls, humps, love.-From that day on the writer Schulz was missing. An acquaintance had last seen him in the evening, in front of the display window of a shoe store. "Hot Heroes"--a journal for romantic decadence--received a special-delivery letter, in which Schulz reported that, for pyschological
reasons, he was on the point of taking his own life. Some people regarded this as nothing really new. Most people were excited. The newspapers carried exciting notices. A fund to find Schulz' body was established. An owner of a factory donated a tasteful coffin.
Woods and fields were searched. All the lakes were probed with long poles. No trace of Schulz was found. They already wanted to give up the search, when they found him disfigured, in a middle-level hotel in a distant suburb. On a windy pond he had contracted influenza, which had kept him in bed for a week. He was found on the creaky steps of the hotel, covered with many blankets and shawls, experimenting with the idea of carrying out his intention of committing suicide. It was not difficult to dissuade him, and he was brought in triumph back to the city. The coffin was sold off. From the profits and the remainder of the fund to find Schulz' body a party for Bohemians was organized-Gottschalk Schulz himself was enthroned as Faust, world-weary, in a corner. The gifted Doctor Berthold Bryller appeared as one of the wealthy literati. Lutz Laus played the Pope. The high school teacher Spinoza Spass--the clown of the Cafe Kloesschen--had wrapped a Siegfried-costume around his belly, and given himself a Goethe haircut. The lyric poet Mueller soon lay like a green, drunken corpse. Kuno Kohn, who had made a formal reconciliation with Schulz, came as himself. Lisel Liblichlein also came with him, wearing a rustic outfit. The others scuttled back and forth wildly among themselves, screeching like Chinese, chimpanzees, Gods, nightwatchmen, sophisticates. The whole crowd from the Cafe Kloesschen was present.
Lisel Liblichlein danced on this tumultuous, screaming night only with the hunch-backed poet. Many people watched the strange pair, but there was no laughing. Kohn's hump pressed hard and heedlessly, like the edge of a table, against the delicate others. It seemed as though he had the constant desire to press his hump against a dancer. He never failed to say, in a falsetto voice, "pardon," with unashamed courtesy, when a crazy woman cried out or someone blissfully snarled "damn." Lisel Liblichlein held on to the poet with one hand holding the hump like a handle, and with the other had she pressed Kohn's square head gently to her breast. In this way they danced like possessed people for many hours.
Kohn's hump became steadily more painful for the other dancers. They tried to express outrage. The people in charge of the party informed Kohn that he was requested to refrain from dancing. With this kind of hump one should not dance. Kohn did not resist. Lisel Liblichlein watched as his face became grey.
She led him to a hidden recess. There she said to him: "From now on I shall tutoyer you." Kuno Kohn did not answer, but he accepted her sympathetic soul like a gift in his water-blue troubadour's eyes. Trembling, she said that she suddenly loved him so much that it was incomprehensible.., she would never again let his arm go... she had not know that one could be so wildly happy... Kuno Kohn invited her to visit him the next evening. She accepted gladly.
Kuno Kohn and Lisel Liblichlein were the first to leave the giddy celebration. They moved through the heaven-bright moonlit streets, whispering. The poet in love cast fantastic shadows with giant humps on the pavement.
When they parted, Lisel Liblichlein lowered her head and kissed Kohn's mouth several times. Thus Kuno Kohn and Lisel Liblichlein parted... He said that he was pleased that she would visit him the next evening. She said, very quietly, "I... oh... also..."
On the well cared-for streets, the carefully arranged houses stood like books on shelves. The moon had scattered bright blue dust on them. Few windows were lit, shining peacefully, like the eyes of lonely people, with the same gold-colored look. Kuno Kohn went home thoughtfully. His body was dangerously bent forward. His hands lay firmly at the end of his back. His head was hanging low. The hump towered above, an adventurous, sharp stone. At this time Kuno Kohn was no longer a man; he had his own form.
He thought: "I wish to avoid being happy. That would mean giving up the longing that transcends all fulfillment, which is my most exquisite meaning. To degrade the holy hump, with which a friendly destiny has endowed me, through which I have experienced existence
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