Bright magic, p.10
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       Bright Magic, p.10

           Alfred Doblin
 
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  “But, Lorry, where should I sit then?”

  “Sit wherever you want. Outside the door. I want this place kept free.”

  She stood up, crying, “So you want me to leave?”

  “Leave? Typical! You want to leave? Why? Where will you go? Oh, I know you perfectly. You want to leave; you’ve wanted to leave me for a long time. But you have to stay here, I’ll lock you in until you’re tame and obedient. You’re shameless!”

  Nonetheless, he instructed the hunchbacked old housekeeper to treat Miss Mery as the daughter of the house, or as his wife, with all possible deference and kindness. That was what he wanted.

  The gaunt man, mollified, went strolling once more with the blond girl down the wide shopping streets of Boston; he moved around her with a serious, beseeching gallantry; a plaint of desperate tormented meekness could often be heard in his voice. One time, they were sitting by the window of his consultation room at sunset; overwhelmed, he laid his bare forehead on her round girlish shoulder. “Look, Mery, look how many streets there are—there, on the other side of the square, there are five; there are hundreds more across the river, in the working-class neighborhood, hundreds. Every street has a hundred buildings, and so many men live in every building, younger than me, better than me, handsomer than me. On every floor, behind every one of these windows. They don’t have anything to think about, their thoughts are free the whole livelong day, just imagine it. And they would so like to love you, with your faithful eyes, your fleshy arms. Your body is so taut, your breasts are so firm, with rosy tips; oh, God, what soft smooth skin you have, Mery—and all for me. When it doesn’t make me happy, it weighs me down, makes it hard to breathe. Please, now, don’t ask me again if you should leave. How would that help? I would have to run after you, weeping. I would be so unspeakably happy if you didn’t exist. I would so like to bend down here at the window, take you in my arms, and strew you like a rain of flowers across the pavement, up into those windows, all over me in the room. The thought makes me melt. But no, don’t touch me, don’t comfort me, no, let my head rest on your shoulder, Mery, Mery. . . .”

  The girl was careful to avoid him; she prepared his meals, helped him with his work patiently and with infinite gentleness. When he yelled at her, beat his breast with woe at the shackles of such a calamity weighing upon him, she crept off down the stairs, cried at home, came back after a couple of hours, and timidly asked the housekeeper if the master was feeling better now. And already in the hall, he would pull her toward him by the hands, looking morose, and bluster something about a childish proclivity for dramatic tension and about her absurd idealistic notions about people.

  She would sit in the carriage next to him when he made his house calls, in a sweeping straw hat with a wide blood-red ribbon in a bow, the ends tied together in a knot under her chin. Like his daughter she sat on the cushion in a fine white cambric dress beside the gaunt, clean-shaven doctor, whose high narrow brow, straight nose, and deep lines around his mouth were hewn in marble. His skull was bald down to the vertebrae; his gray penetrating eyes stared straight ahead.

  Her lips were delicate and chaste. That excited him deeply, and he put his hard hand on her mouth with the ice-cold desire to slice off her lips with a thin knife—then all their virtuousness would be gone—and to cover her meek gentle eyes with a porcelain bell jar; to grab her wavy braids of hair and yank them from her body with one pull, one long scalping pull, the soft pleasing skin, all the smooth white skin, so that she would lie there, Mery, before him, twitching and red, her bare muscles playing, a specimen, a convulsing, snapping animal, Mery.

  He had her move fully into his apartment. Even though hardly anyone noticed her in the crowded streets, she had to wear a thick white veil, and the short hunchbacked woman accompanied her. The gaunt man, meanwhile, went by night to the worst neighborhoods outside the city and studied the lost creatures there to learn their obscenities and depravities. Mery’s room—closely watched, quiet, curtained in blue—shook with the pair’s frenzies. She sat beside him, embraced him, felt sorry for him for being so savage, but he desperately brooded over how he could completely demolish her so that no part of her would be left; he wrung his hands over the fact that she was still sitting beside him as though nothing had happened, sitting with her faithful blue eyes, her simply wound braids, her childlike voice—if only he could leave some mark in her, one single little trace. Until one time when she cried on his chest and asked him if he thought badly of her, given that they were now so beastly to each other; then he wrathfully consoled her, saying she should not ask such outré questions.

  The next day, he announced that he wanted to have her trained as an actress. She belonged to all; anyone and everyone could take her, should take her. She was so beautiful, she sang so purely, it was a waste, he said, to let her shrivel up within his four walls. She appeared onstage as a dancer in a cabaret. The curtain whooshed up, the brightly lit skull of the doctor sank down—now he was happy. Now Mery’s beauty rested on all the faces in the auditorium; the butcher’s wide mouth next to him sucked lecherously at her sweet smile; a rigidity came into the brown doe eyes of the lady next to him as blond Mery bent and stretched the round lines of her thighs in the dance; a sturdy young jackanapes in the front row took bites of her breasts with his opera glasses. Now she fell like a rain of flowers over the room. He rushed off in his equipage, breathing heavily and laughing, and left her alone, left her to the spectators. He hid in his room, shut the doors behind him; his housekeeper served him alone, like back in the good old days, while the chairs around him stood empty, no place was set next to him, and after the meal he overturned the table and chairs and contentedly stretched out his legs on the sofa.

  But no sooner did morning come, after the anxious night, than the gentleman stood by the window of his consultation room, looked down at the empty street, and reached out his arms for Mery, that whore, that low soulless thing—for the murderess, the vampire. No spider could treat any fly more cruelly than that creature did him. Every object here in the room spoke of the anguish that she had caused him a thousand times over—the troubles he had with her, while she wallowed in warm shit. No whip to hit her with! Where was she hiding, where was she hiding, his property! His bitch!

  Around five in the afternoon she rang the doorbell, smiling, happily excited, in a girlish white dress, beneath a sweeping straw hat, and she threw her arms around his neck and chattered away about how happy she was, how much they had liked her, how much she was looking forward to this evening. He did not ask where she had spent the night. He took her into his arms like a doll and fell on top of her onto the carpet with a loud sob. He kissed her on the mouth and spoke confused words. He begged her, in a hoarse voice, not to be an actress anymore, to stay home with him. She could leave whenever she wanted, but she should stay with him. The girl broke out in terrible sobs and asked what had happened to him. She trembled, lifted him up, and looked at the man, with face blazing, eyes teary, lips quaking.

  The next morning he drove to the civic registry with her, and again for a second time after a few days; then they were married.

  They had spent a few happy weeks together at a seaside resort when, one morning, while putting on her tennis shoes, she heard a terrible scream from the next room. Converdon was standing in his shirtsleeves bolt upright in the middle of the room with a crumpled letter in his right hand. He stretched his arms up toward the ceiling, shrilly screamed Mery’s name, and collapsed onto the carpet. She lifted up his feverish head and he stammered, “It’s all over for me.” Then, after he calmed down, he said she should leave him alone for a bit, he had had a nervous attack.

  Written in the crumpled letter was:

  Dear Doctor,

  Your wife is very beautiful. I am going to go after her. You are fully as certain as I am myself, my dear doctor, that I will win her. It will be difficult, nay impossible, to carry out my efforts with regard to your beautiful wife without you noticing. I therefore request that you, firs
t, acknowledge my plan, and, second, in light of the inevitable result, not cause any difficulties. As for you, my dear doctor, I recommend, moved by my great goodwill toward you, that you commit suicide on the twenty-fifth of this month in Charles Park, leaving behind a specific statement of your motive.

  P.S. I own an automobile and would like to put the car at your disposal while you make all the necessary arrangements.

  Paul Wheatstren, Acrobat

  Dr. Converdon answered Mr. Paul Wheatstren, Acrobat, after barely an hour. He confirmed receipt of the latter’s cordial letter dated today, thanked him for the binding appointment of date of death, and requested prompt delivery of the automobile, which he duly promised to maintain in good condition.

  The first drive Dr. Converdon took with the car was out to the acrobat’s country house, to arrange that nothing about the coming events should reach Mery’s ears. Wheatstren, a squat, broad-shouldered man with a square, ruddy face, late thirties, ordinary features, but clear, calm eyes, received him. He shook the doctor’s hand, laughing, and explained how happy he was to have met the doctor’s beautiful wife and her honorable spouse.

  He hoped to spend many happy hours with Mrs. Mery. They sat down for a glass of wine. Wheatstren did not neglect to make the conciliatory remark, after the first glass, that the lady was not responsible for the impending demise of his guest, nor was he himself; rather, said demise would come about on its own, given the circumstances, and thus it would also be reasonable to carry out the suicide on the twenty-fifth entirely out in the open, like any other decent and seemly action. Over a second glass, Dr. Converdon went up to his astonished host with a drawn revolver and discussed with him the possibility of putting a bullet in his, the host’s, right eye, immediately in fact—an advantageous approach, he said, because the latter was unarmed at the moment and he was an excellent shot with his trusty Browning. The other man, without a moment’s pause for reflection, confirmed the possibility of such a course of action, but added, with a superior smile, without moving in his chair, that nothing about the situation would thereby be changed in the least. Another man would come along next month and find Mrs. Mery beautiful and inform Dr. Converdon. Wheatstren stood up with a reproachful look in his eyes and went over to the doctor, who lowered his revolver, ashamed. He had written to Mr. Converdon, he said, because he considered him a reasonable man; such men surely did not take it upon themselves to try to delay the onset of necessary events. He took the revolver from the doctor with a good-natured laugh, clapped him on the shoulder, and they contemplatively drank some more wine.

  Back home, Dr. Converdon hurriedly put on tails and a top hat and drove to church. He listened attentively to the sermon and asked to be announced to the minister after the service. Sitting on a chair by the door, he explained the situation and asked the minister whether the latter, as a connoisseur of the human soul, believed that the motive for the suicide set to take place on the twenty-fifth might be eliminated. He himself, he said, was a woman’s doctor, and thus not well acquainted with psychology. The minister, a young and deeply serious man with the face of a Jesuit, discussed the situation with the doctor attentively and thoroughly. At the conclusion of their talk, he explicated that, at least insofar as one could tell from the viewpoint of psychology, there was a certain darkness and a narrowness present in the doctor; as an inborn quality, nourished by education and lifestyle, it could hardly be eliminated at this stage. The situation was a happy one for Mrs. Mery, he said; to the doctor he could offer only the consolation of alluding to the triviality and meaninglessness of the doctor’s life.

  With this the celebrated gynecologist came to a full and complete understanding. He still had two weeks to live. In the days that followed, as he clearly reflected on the situation, he was overcome with a calm he had absolutely never known. He went around with a feeling of joy that all could see from the gleam in his eye. In particular, he treated his young wife with deep gratitude, drove her in the automobile out for walks in the country, was truly profoundly devoted to her with all of his heart during this time. She had granted him these beautiful, hopeful days; for a few days he was alone once more. How simply all the trifles of the soul could be resolved through a mechanical movement in accord with the good advice of Paul Wheatstren, Acrobat. He and Mrs. Mery went daily to see the cabaret in which the man in question was performing; the doctor never tired of praising the man’s suppleness; he bought a picture of the acrobat and placed it in his bedroom, next to his bed.

  Two days before his demise, he went to see everyone he knew in the area and told them of his plan—he went to the shops, the greengrocer’s, the boutiques. He added that, in light of the pleasure of leaving them, he was bequeathing them a legacy in the form of one thousand dollars each; he would also be sending them telegrams an hour before his decease with the heartiest curses. He observed that this declaration produced approving astonishment on all sides, and that they gratefully kissed his hand.

  On the twenty-fourth, he decreed in writing that he was to be painstakingly dissected. On the morning of the twenty-fifth, he parted from his beautiful wife in boundless joy: The serious, bald-headed doctor danced in his tails around her, kissed her, and couldn’t stop laughing with her. At about ten o’clock he sat down in the automobile, handed over the telegrams, drove to Charles Park, and left the car at the entrance to the park, having left a note with the news of his death taking place at ten thirty. Standing amid the bushes, he realized that in his joy he had left the revolver at home, so he hanged himself, not without difficulty, with his necktie.

  The autopsy, performed on the twenty-sixth, produced no findings whatsoever.

  On the very evening of the postmortem, Mr. Wheatstren paid the widow a visit and told her that, as she knew, he was a friend of the dearly departed. He did not want to make any big speeches, simply inform her that he had it in mind to spend a number of happy hours with her. He asked her to honor the memory of the dearly departed, for it was solely in deference to their happiness together that he had hanged himself on the twenty-fifth with his tie. The broken blonde shed abundant tears and said that that sounded just like Dr. Converdon, he was always so good to her. It was all happening so fast, but life was like that, wasn’t it.

  She drove out to his country house with him in his automobile and enjoyed happy hours of her own. He, for his part, soon felt disgusted by the gentle blue-eyed lady’s routine while enjoying her pleasures, as he had hoped to be the one to teach her himself. So, after a week, he took over the management of her estate, cursed Dr. Converdon’s treachery, and asked into her background. Upon learning that she had started by working as Dr. Converdon’s secretary, the acrobat remarked that he had no need of a secretary, or rather, he saw no point in having one, as a gymnast. He would go on conscientiously managing her wealth, would guarantee her an adequate monthly interest payment, but her whole character seemed to suggest that she was not made to be with a single man such as him, as did the talents she had demonstrated. He forcefully urged her to monetize her gifts; one runs through even the greatest store of capital eventually, he remarked. She met his analysis with an open mind. And Mr. Wheatstren drove the young blond lady, whom he also married, to the racecourse, to the theater, treated her roughly and calculatingly. She praised him at every turn, however, because he offered her the greatest thing that there is on earth: considerable variety.

  MEMOIRS OF A JADED MAN

  I HAVE never felt it necessary to write about one’s own life. True, one thing is just as unimportant as the next, and it doesn’t make much difference whether you conquer countries or pray or embrace women or write memoirs. True, I knew quite early on that some things can be savored only in recollection, and I have certainly accepted patiently various dismal and embarrassing things for just that reason. But still, I never wanted to write anything about myself—I didn’t want to, and that was that.

  But now I do want to do something to enlighten the people who read this. And also draw up a complaint.

>   It must be done! A loud voice must ring out against the enemy who murders in the dark and has done so for centuries. Who runs rampant in the dark and traps us. That is why I am writing this.

  •

  I first heard about love when I was still relatively young. I read about it in novels, poems, later in the works of certain philosophers. The sources I availed myself of were truly diverse: in part the above-named discursive or elevated observations, in part the newspapers, whose daily chronicle of suicides gave me many a desired hint.

  But what I read there seemed so bizarre to me that I could not believe it. I read about love and it seemed like an expedition to the North Pole, an Indian attack on a railroad train. People told me that someday I too would fall in love—but the thought filled me with fear and sadness, as a disease would. For a long time I could not bring myself to take love seriously. And so I was and remained happy, my heart at peace.

  •

  One force that truly motivates me is a thirst for education. I owe many things in my life to it, both good and bad. Once I had reached a certain age, it felt inappropriate not to possess any knowledge of so widespread a human activity as love, and to be so far behind my contemporaries. So I set out in search of love. The men I turned to first—men known to be intelligent and reasonable, in leading positions, partly in government, partly in industry and finance—responded with a smile when I asked them about love. Some told me straight out that it was all just pointless chatter. Others felt that love was something for people who had nothing better to do, and they left it to their half-grown daughters with time to spend on classic authors, playing the piano, and love.

  This was what I learned from the men of the world. When nothing more was forthcoming from them, and their contradictory information had left me crestfallen, I turned inward for guidance and set out for myself. This decision would prove to be of the greatest importance for my entire life. More and more I oriented myself toward love; I wanted to come to terms with love, once and for all. It was a serious matter.

 
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