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- The Prose of Alfred Lichtenstein - 6/12 -
direction of the student's room when they left the boozy saloon. Upstairs, Maria Mondmilch laid down, with her legs crossed, on a sleep-sofa near the bookcase. The actor sank into a soft chair, next to which a small table with an ornate bottle of cognac stood. Talking was difficult. Each wanted to sob out to the other how much he or she had suffered from childhood on. They wanted to gobble each other up, so greedy were they as the minutes went by. Something stood between them. The actor drank the cognac. The student played nervously with her hands and feet.
The actor could no longer bear his agony. He cried out gently--it was as though something had been shattered to pieces: "I shall be frank. I am syphilitic"--Some tears rolled down his cheeks. He was startled by how insincere he was. The student held her hands in front of her face. As theatrically as he. But unconsciously.
He had miscalculated. Her erotic excitement was out of control. She wriggled on her sleep-sofa. She held out her hand to him. She whispered: "Poor man, come." He did not take her hand. With lowered eyes, in a face filled with unhappy renunciation, whose effect had been tried out
on many hysterical women, he said: "You of all people should know that contact with me might give you an infection, although in the last few years my Wasserman test was always negative." Then she said heroically: "Frankness deserves frankness. I am a virgin."
Instinctively she had taken vengeance. He no longer had control of his overwrought senses. Like a cat he pounced onto the girl in the middle of the sleep-sofa. Now she fought him off. Ready, with anxious eyes, to give herself to him.
As they were wrestling the student sang her theme-song: "I am Maria Mondmilch, the girl, the virgin. Open your door for me. You, I tried the surface of many men's flesh, old men and young. I tempted them all. In all of them I sought my man. No one penetrated me deeper than my skin... I prowled around during the days. Ran during the nights. I slept in the same bed with musicians and aristocrats. I was with salesmen and with pimps and with students. I ran around with bicycle artists and with lawyers. I let no man pass without looking him in the eye. Whether it rained. Or was winter. Or the sun shone. No one could call me his woman. No one was my man. One shot himself. One jumped into a swamp. I am guiltless... One went mad. One kicked me. Most went away as though nothing bad had happened... You, blue-eyed sorrowful face beneath me, oh, would that you were my man, that I might bloom in you. Are you my man, in whom I blissfully sink--"
And the actor sang to the student as they wrestled: "I am the actor Schwertschwanz, the man, the lecher. In all the bodies in which I have drunk, I sought you. I have become a drinker. Out of longing. I have poisoned my blood out of love. How meaningless it would be if I--half dead--found you now. I have looked for you too long to find you yet."
Then Maria Mondmilch called out as she fell on him: "Little Schwertschwanz, do you love me--" And already intoxicated: "He does not love me."
The man fall back in utter indolence. The student spat on his collar. Rammed the hat on the head of the spineless man. Pressed a gold coin into his hand. Threw him out.
While the actor Schwertschwanz, trembling with desire, went about searching for the right whore, Maria Mondlich sat over a thick anatomy textbook. She looked at the drawing of a completely naked man, And howled like a dog at the sea.
The suicide of the pupil Mueller
A Mr. Ludwig Lenzlich was a teacher and tutor in a mental hospital for psychopathic children. He was always called "Mr. A.B.D." He was beardless, like an actor, and he spoke like one. Generally he wore a severe, sharp mask on his face.
This Mr. Lenzlicht, two days after the burial of the pupil Martin Mueller (who had hanged himself with the stockings of the teacher Nora Neumann on the window bolt of a skylight), found in a dark corner of his desk a notebook. He took it out and looked at it. On the label was written: This work Martin Mueller dedcates to the new primitives. On the first page was written: Dear Lenzlicht, you are the only one of the imbeciles in the institution whom I believe capable of half-way understanding the observations which I have written down here. But reading this will demonstrate to you that you also, poor blind man, came into only glancing contact with my personality, as if it were some empty face, without feeling its powerful sensibility. Perhaps you will get an inkling (then you could call yourself lucky). I shall kill myself on the top-hung window, alone in the realization. My work will endure. Martin Mueller.
Mr. Lenzlicht was surprised when he read the sentences. Then he thought about the dimensions of childrens' imaginations. He was neither happy nor sad, but he seemed dark. Thinking was for him no passion, therefore he soon continued reading.
On the next page some essays were written about the value of art, about its future, about the interrelationship of individual arts, about the architecture of literary style, about the new primitives who, according to Mueller, would bring about a victorious revolution in the life of art. The essays almost filled the notebook. Mr. Lenzlicht read it without taking an active interest, and he often skipped pages.
The last essay in the notebook seemed to interest him more. His eyes widened, and they fastened themselves to the letters. He held the paper like someone who was near-sighted, and with both hands. Sometimes he said something vague. Or he laughed without knowing it. Or he laughed, (the way someone would say "damn"). Or he let his tongue hang out of his mouth. In the notebook was written:
I sit at the desk and dream, which would seem suspicious to the good Lenzlicht: The young should not dream. Lenzlicht has already noticed that the skin around my eyes has become ashen. He often asks, with special emphasis, whether I slept badly saying that I look so funny. Once I became angry, and said: "You too, Mr. Candidate." Smiling embarassedly, he beat me until I bled.
I had to interrupt my writing, because Miss Neumann had come in. Today she has colored legs with patent-leather shoes--I find that exciting. I had promised myself to watch her no longer... lately she shown herself to be such a prude... in the afternoon she went into the city. She came back late. I met her on the staircase. But she broke away and said, excitedly, "Go to bed." And she went into her room. In the following days I did not see her. The servant Hermann said she must be taking care of her room. I asked why. He said she had become engaged. He smirked.
For me the erotic discussions had gradually become detestable. I always try to free myself. I am seldom successful. I know that an understanding woman might free me. This one wouldn't: Miss Neumann is a silly young thing, eighteen years old. The cook is an immature bitch.
The housemaid Minna is arrogant; she is unapprochable, unjustifiably. Perhaps the head of the institution, Dr. Mondmilch, is a possibility, but when I try to make my valleys and peaks comprehensible to her, looking with longing into her eyes, give myself to her--she is distant, takes notes, has secret talks with Lenzlicht, prescribes tranquilizers. She is very brutal, I sometimes believe that she loves me secretly. She seems to be unhappy; I like her.-Yesterday I had to interrupt my writing, because the fat idiot Backberg called me to the table. I sit next to the Russian Recha. She likes to pinch my leg; she says I'm too fat. She kisses tall Lehkind, because he looks like a skeleton. Anyway, I can't stand the vermin that have been assembled here. There's trouble every day. In particular, the very small seven-year old Max Mechenmal--an unusually insignificant person--causes me unusual trouble. He does not like me, because he is conscious of my superiority. He tries in every way to make me look ridiculous. He is deceitful and cowardly. No one finds him nice. He likes nothing better than to provoke us against each other, to spread angry gossip, and to do as much damage as possible. He knows how to stay in the background, to disappear at the right moment. -Once I was writing, suspecting nothing bad, in our spacious bath and w.c. (here I was safe from surprises) a longer work on the "Hoax of Genius". I explained that genius is a title, not a quality. That fact is often overlooked, and engenders great confusion. The name is accidental, generally suspicious. Whoever is called a genius is therefore not a brilliant person. Brilliant people usually do not attain the title, which is awarded by the crowd. The most brilliant people of all time flowered in madhouses and prisons. Someone who is understood by thousands of
every-day people, is loved... is worthless to me.-At that point I was startled by the slow, soulful screams of blind little Kohn, with whom I had established a friendship, in spite of my anti-semitic principles. I leaped up, hurried out. I saw how Max Mechenmal was running back and forth, pinching Kohn in the legs or doing other nasty things, while calling out: "Catch me." The little Kohn was pale. In his helplessness. He pressed his back against a wall. His thin, suffering hands groped in the air... I have never seen such concentrated pain as lay in the dead eyes of little Kohn. Without giving myself time to put my clothes in order, I hurried to Mechenmal, to beat him for his brutal behavior. My trousers were damaged by a nail which was sticking out of the wall. Mechenmal used the delay to slip by me, run into the w.c., which he locked behind him. I beat on the door. He said: "Occupied!" I was very angry. It occured to me that in my haste I had forgotten to take with me the paper on which the work on the hoax of genius was written. I called to him to pass it out. He did not answer. Later I heard how loudly he giggled. And I knew: I would never see the manuscript which I had intended to send to the new newspaper, "The Other A." Sadly I went away-Ah, little Kohn unfortunately is now dead. He has died of his ghosts, as he had often predicted to me. The blind little Kohn had seen his ghosts. Sometimes in stark daylight. At such times he was found trembling, pale, in a corner. He had drawn up his legs so far that his thigh was pressed against his sunken chest. His head lay between his knees. The tiny, frightened fingers clutched the tops of his shoes. If someone touched him, he shrieked. The shriek was so piercingly frightening that one instinctively let him go, as though one had been shoved. Each time it happened one was as as helpless as the first time. Doctor Mondmilch was called. She stroked him a bit. His rigidity dissolved in sobs. He received drops, was put to bed, slept badly. Mechenmal called out, so that it echoed in the street, "Kohn is mad again."
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