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- The Prose of Alfred Lichtenstein - 5/12 -
much more deeply, more unhappily, more wonderfully, than people perceive, to a burdensome superficiality. I wish to develop out of Lisel Liblichlein her higher being. I want to make her utterly unhappy..."
While the poet Kohn was thinking these thoughts, the poet Schulz at last was stabbing himself with a salad knife. He had observed Kuno Kohn and Lisel Liblichlein in their confidential conversation in the hidden recess. He had seen how they had gone off together. He tried to drink and eat away his grief, to no avail. After he had eaten and drunk for some time, he was insane. He sang: "Death is a serious matter... Death has no time for jokes... Death is an urgent need..." Then he timidly and hesitantly stuck the first knife that he could get his hands on into his left breast. Blood and the bloody remains of salad spurted around him. This time the attempt to kill himself was crowned with success.
Lisel Liblichlein appeared the next evening earlier than the agreed upon hour. Kuno Kohn opened the door, holding flowers in his hand. He was visibly happy; he said that he had scarcely hoped that she would come. She placed her arms around his bony body, sucked him to her body, and said: "You dear humped little dummy... I love you so much--"
The ate a simple evening meal. She stroked him when something tasted good to her. She said that she wanted to remain with him until early morning. Then she could celebrate the beginning of her eighteenth birthday with him...
A church bell announced the new day.. The first loud breaths were like groaned prayers in Kohn's dusky room. There Lisel Liblichlein's young soul-body had become a temple; she had endured pain with touching matter of factness, to sacrifice herself to the hunch-backed priest. She had said: ``Are you happy now"--She lay dissolved in dream and emotion. The thin skin of her eyelids enveloped her.
Suddenly fright ran through her body. She had fear like claws in her face. Her eyes, torn open and screaming, were on the hunchback.
Lisel Liblichlein said, without expression, "This--was--happiness--" Kuno Kohn wept.
She said: "Kuno, Kuno, Kuno, Kuno, Kuno, Kuno... What shall I do with the rest of my life?" Kuno Kohn sighed. He looked seriously and with kindness into her sorrowful eyes. He said: "Poor Lisel! The feeling of complete helplessness that has come over you I have often felt. The only consolation is: to be sad. When sadness degenerates into doubt, then one should become grotesque. One should live on for the sake of fun. One should try to rise above things, by realizing that existence consists of nothing but brutal, shabby jokes." He wiped sweat from his hump and from his forehead.
Lisel Liblichlein said: "I don't know why you are going on like this. I don't understand what you have said. It was unkind of you to take away my happiness." The words fell like paper.
She said that she wanted to go. He should get dressed. The naked hump was embarrassing to her...
Kuno Kohn and Lisel Liblichen said nothing more until they parted forever at the door of the house in which the boarding school was located. He looked into her face, held her hand, and said: "Farewell--" She said quietly: "Farewell."
Kohn receded into his hump. Destroyed, he moved on. Tears smeared his face. He felt her sadly gazing at his back. Then he ran around the corner of the next group of houses, stopped, dried his eyes with a handkerchief, and hurried off, still weeping.
Like a sickness, a slimy fog crept into the city, as it grew blind. Street lights were gloomy swamp flowers, which flickered on blackish, glowing stalks. Objects and creatures had only chilly shadows and blurred movements. Like a monster, a night bus reeled past Kohn. The poet called out: "Now one is again entirely alone." Then he encountered a fat, hunch-backed woman, with long spidery legs, wearing a ghostly, diaphanous skirt. Her upper body resembled a ball lying on a high little table. She looked at him temptingly and sympathetically, with an amorous smile, which the fog contorted into an insane expression. Kohn disappeared immediately in the greyness. She groaned and then trundeled on.
Sluggishly day limped closer, smashing the remains of the night with an iron crutch. The half-extinguished Cafe Kloesschen, a gleaming fragment, lay still in the soundless morning. In the background sat the last customer. Kuno Kohn had let his head sink back on his trembling hump. The scrawny fingers of his hand covered his forehead and face. His whole body cried out noiselessly.
Maria Mondmilch was the only child of the art-historian Doctor Maximilian Mondmilch and his lovely wife Marga Mondmilch. Mrs. Mondmilch is said to have been at one time a scullery-maid in the cafe in which Mr. Mondmilch--who at the time was a student--drank tea, read newspapers, and smoked. After the birth of the child she had secretly left her spouse, supposedly to spend a few weeks with a champagne-waiter. Thereafter she fooled around alternately with very different men from very different social classes. She returned when she learned that the incurable Doctor had been brought to a mental institution for diseases of the brain. She carefully looked after the mortally ill man for the short time before he died. Then she married a wonderful coachman, who idolized her.
Doctor Mondmilch's illnes was first discovered when he wanted to commit a criminal offense against his eight-year old daughter. Fortunately the atrocity was able to be prevented at the last moment. The child, frightened in heart and mind, was placed in the care of the madman's brother, the excellent Moriz von Mondmilch, a first-class administrative officer. The last word of the dying art-historian was, "Maria."
A curious affection developed between the uncle and the niece. Nothing happened that could have been construed as illegal. The passion between the child and the old man aroused the jealousy of old Mrs. Minna von Mondmilch. After the marital discord had become too burdensome, the angered civil servant felt compelled to agree one year later to a separation from his ward. He also had to consider his daughter, who had become a young woman. The parting was hard. His Excellency Moriz von Mondmilch had a crying fit.
Maria Mondmilch arrived in a large city. The strangers with whom she boarded were paid a large amount of money. But otherwise they did not concern themselves with Maria Mondmilch. She exchanged secret letters with the noble uncle, filled with overflowing longing for life and hopes for adventure. The consciousness of constantly having something to hide gave her a solemn, inexplicable superiority. Maria Mondmilch preserved her uncle's letters as though they were sacred relics. Some of the letters were lost and became evidence in the famous divorce trial that excited the whole country.
Maria Mondmilch was a student in the big city at a girls' high school She was not among the best students. Sometimes she used her time diligently. She was accused of having instigated all kinds of dirty tricks that took place. When it became know that the head of the institution had met her in the evening on a disreputable street, it was expected that she would be dismissed from school. In the proceedings against a teacher of literature at the high school who, in spite of being accused of having committed several sexual crimes, had to be acquitted, she was the most important witness.
The young girl preferred to spend the night in the notorious section of the city. Maria Mondmilch allowed every possible kind of riff-raff, to speak to her, but she ran away from most of the men. She was not yet fifteen years old when she permitted a peddlar, whose acquaintance
she had made one filthy evening in a foul alley on a bridge, under neglected, ancient gas lamps, to photograph her naked in indecent poses. When she was sixteen years old, she spent Christmas vacation with a handsome electrician, who was a complete stranger to her, named Hans Hampelmann, in a run-down hotel, posing as husband and wife. Given her erotic needs, it was not difficult to explain her decision to study medicine after graduating.
The hungry actor Schwertschwanz--an intelligent and worn-out looking person, who stank of cheap chocolate--moved with aimless longing through the nocturnal, glittering, noisy streets of the city in which Maria Mondlich studied medicine. He met her while she was returning sadly from a lecture on human sexual diseases and male disorders. For fun--pretty much--he spoke to her. Together they both went into a cheap saloon.
Before speaking to the student, the actor Schwertschwanz had been thinking about what could most readily explain the doubt he had had for many years: the ultimate unimportance of all events; or only the happenstance that important people often must croak because of a lack of appropriate nourishment and medicine... the inadequacy of women... The incurable nature of Tabes disease, the symptoms of which he believed he detected in himself... When Maria Mondmilch named her profession, he lit up. Syphilis and its consequences were mentioned. Miss Mondmilch told of frightening cases. Mr. Schwertschwanz listened, shocked and carried away. He was fascinated when she, coquetishly stressing that she unfortunately could maintain only professional relationships with men, as though unintentionally revealed a well shaped but austere leg, that was encased in an exciting, ordinary, half silk stocking.
The student did not hide her liking for the actor. His shabby appearance filled her with confidence. The area around his internally) almost rotted, true-hearted blue eyes, worn out, as she imagined, by make-up and hopelessness, by excessive whorings or masturbation, gripped her soul. His being, a mixture of smugness and unashamed aggressiveness, very much excited her. Amidst the screaming, the waiters, the beer-benches, and the vapors, under the addictive yellow gaslights, she had to call out with rapture, "I've never met a man like you before, Mr. Schwertschwanz," He was so pleased, he touched her. While a troop of soldiers marching by outside whistled the well-known folk song, "Little Maria, you sweet little creature etc..."
Without a spoken agreement, the lovers, arm-in-arm, moved in the
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