Nightmare in berlin, p.12
Nightmare in Berlin, p.12Hans Fallada
Doll didn’t bother to object again; there seemed no point with this doctor, who didn’t listen anyway. For a while they walked along side by side in silence. Then the doctor started up again: ‘It seems a very long time ago now, but back then I really was a very well-known writer.’
There was no hint of vanity; it sounded more like an observation from a train of thought that haunted him obsessively. And the observation he now came out with appeared to belong to the same train of thought: ‘The injection I gave your wife came from my suicide pack. It contains scopolamine, around 30 per cent. She’ll be asleep when you get back.’
And again after a further pause: ‘Yes, I’ll be committing suicide, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a year’s time.’ He extended a limp, damp hand to Doll. ‘This is where I live. Thank you for walking with me. Of course, I didn’t have a large readership like you. Anyway, I’ll call in again this evening — don’t forget about the street door.’
And as they took their leave of each other: ‘I definitely won’t be committing suicide today. You know, of course, that your wife is a real addict?’
Doll sat by his wife. She was sleeping soundly. Her face now looked carefree and happy; she was sleeping like a child. Through the open window came autumn sunshine and fresh air from the street, and the happy sound of children playing outside. Doll was not a happy man; he was feeling very tired and utterly despondent. He was also suffering the pangs of hunger. The last piece of bread had been eaten a long time ago. They had nothing left.
Why on earth, Doll thought to himself, didn’t I get him to give me an injection too? To forget it all for a while, just for once! That half-crazed doctor would have done it. So he’s called Pernies. I remember, he was famous once. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by him; he was probably more someone who wrote about art than an actual artist himself. And now he’s talking about suicide, and his wife killed herself out on the highway!
Doll started up on his chair. He had nearly fallen asleep, and yet something had to be done. It would be dark in less than three hours, and the night afforded them no shelter.
He stood up. Even as he was leaving the apartment, he had no idea where he was going. So he climbed the stairs again to their old apartment.
This time, the door was opened as soon as he rang the bell. And it was not the snippy dancer who opened it, but Mrs. Schulz, the woman whom Alma had asked to look after their things while they were away, and whose honesty had now been called into question by the caretaker’s wife.
The white and rather podgy face of Major Schulz’s widow lit up when she saw Doll. ‘There you are, Dr. Doll! I fought like a lion for your apartment — if only you had come two weeks earlier! Now you’ll have trouble with the housing office and with that woman living at the front. So where is your wife? She’s sleeping? That’s good — if she’s sleeping, that gives me time to get the room sorted out for you. You’ll have to manage with one couch for the first night — the other one has gone, but you only need to go and ask for it back. Would you like a cigarette? What, you haven’t got any more? Here, take the whole pack! Don’t be silly, I can get as many as I want, even American brands, for five marks apiece, German money … Look, I was just brewing up a pot of coffee when you arrived, so you must have a cup of coffee with me. Not the artificial stuff, but real coffee! I got some for four hundred marks a pound. That’s cheap, my dear, I only buy things cheap. We’ll have some white bread with it, and I’ve also got a tin of cheese here, and I think there’s a bit of butter left.
‘You can talk! You say you’ve lost everything? Well, my dear, you’ve no idea what it’s like for me, I literally don’t have a thing! Just the clothes on my back. No, no, today you’re my guest! Should we perhaps wake the young lady up? No, you’re right, we’ll put something back for her. But you eat up everything that’s here; I’ll be getting more later today. They all spoil me … And I never have to pay extortionate prices. Yes, the quilt has gone, stolen. I know who took it, too, but I can’t prove it, so I’m not going to speak out of turn.
‘You’ve heard that her husband has gone, I suppose? They came and took him away, of course — paid-up Nazi that he was. They should come and get the wife as well, she was worse than him! I’ve had the wall put up and plastered a bit — I’ve made a note of the cost somewhere, I’ll let you know later. It wasn’t much, a tradesman did it for me more as a favour. The two window frames with the cellophane and plywood are just borrowed, but there’s no hurry, they can stay in the wall for the time being.
‘But of course the room is available for you to use — it is your room, after all, and it’s your furniture, too. The crockery and kitchen utensils belong to you as well. I can always sleep at a friend’s place, and you’ll get the housing office to evict the little singer and her family. They’re decent enough people — but so what? These days, everyone has to look out for themselves. She’s so scared of you! They’ve got nothing at all of their own, not so much as a spoon or a cup … By the way, the teapot I’ve just made the coffee in doesn’t belong to you — all your teapots got smashed in the air raid. An old lady gave it to me; she doesn’t want any money for it, of course. I thought I might give her a pound of sugar and a loaf of bread. That’s not much, my dear: sugar is now going for a hundred, and a loaf of bread for eighty — and you must have a teapot! I can discuss it with your wife later.
‘You can eat all of the white loaf, if you like; it tastes nice, but it doesn’t fill you up. I’ll go and get some fresh now. I might get some jam, too. If you’d come yesterday I’d have been able to offer you cake — proper butter cake with lots of sugar on the top. Pity. But I know what, I’ll have a cake baked for you for Sunday. My baker will do it for you very cheaply …’
She prattled on. And on. All Doll had to do was sit there and listen. An occasional ‘Yes’, ‘I see’, or ‘Thank you’ were quite sufficient. He had found a safe haven; at long last, when he was on the point of giving up hope, a safe haven had been found for them both. He sat at his ease in an armchair, his weary legs and aching feet stretched out in front of him. He ate one slice of white bread to begin with, then three slices, then seven slices, drank coffee, smoked a cigarette, and started to eat again. Meanwhile, Mrs. Schulz was still in full flight.
There she sat before him, a woman in her forties, just starting to lose her looks — though she was in denial about it — her clothes a little crumpled and scruffy, but unquestionably a lady. Or someone who had once been a lady — for who today was still a ‘lady’ in the traditional sense of the word?
Then it got dark outside, the big electric standard lamp by Doll’s bed was switched on, and dance music played softly on the radio. The doctor, that spectral figure with the papery skin, came and went again. He did say again that the young woman ought to be in hospital, but he didn’t press the point, and gave them both an injection instead. Now they were both relaxed and calm, the morphine making them believe that all their difficulties were now behind them.
On the table next to the couch are plenty of cigarettes, a pot of real tea, condensed milk, and sugar — and a loaf of white bread, too. They are well provided for, with a home, choice music. On the walls are pictures, originals, nothing to get excited about exactly, but of decent, middling quality.
The Dolls are not yet asleep. This time it was pure morphine that the doctor gave them. They are chatting quietly, making plans for the future … Plans? Now they have completely lost touch with reality: these are just flights of fancy, and every hope that springs to mind is immediately fulfilled. The apartment belongs to them, they have ration cards for food, a truck and trailer will fetch their child Petta and their things from the little town. Tomorrow he will begin to write books again, his head is suddenly full of plans, he will become an international bestselling author …
The young woman’s salon will be the salon in Berlin. The ‘sea surf’ talks of dresses she will have made, dresses that she once owned; he hardly
They lie there in a semi-waking dream, experiencing the euphoria, the rush; at last they have managed to escape the bitter reality. Both of them cherish a thousand hopes; no more obstacles bar their way. They gaze at each other and exchange tender smiles, not like a married couple, but as young lovers or children do …
Sometimes the wind makes the slackly fitted cellophane chatter in the window frames, and a door slams in the burned-out courtyard building. There are all sorts of mysterious noises coming from outside. Trickling debris? Rats, looking for something unspeakable in the basements? A world in ruins, which will take everyone’s determination, everyone’s hands, to rebuild. But instead they are lying on their backs and dreaming. They have no love for anything any more, and they don’t really have a life to live. They have nothing now, and they are nothing now. The smallest setback could tip them into the abyss and finish them off for good. But they are dreaming …
‘Give me another cigarette! Don’t worry, we’ll soon get some more. I have a feeling that from now on things are going to go our way.’
But then — it is not yet midnight — they grow restless. The effect of the injection has worn off; the sweet illusion has vanished.
‘I can’t sleep!’ And: ‘I can’t bear the pain any more! We must get the doctor back.’ — ‘Too late. Curfew! We can’t go out on the street any more!’ — ‘It’s crazy! What if I was having a baby? Or I was dying?’ — ‘Well, it’s a good job you’re not! I’ll go and fetch the doctor first thing tomorrow!’ — ‘Tomorrow? I’ll never last that long with this pain — I’ll go and see him now!’ — ‘What, now Alma, and with that leg of yours? Let me go instead!’ — ‘No, it’s better if I go. If a patrol does show up, they won’t do anything to me, for certain!’ — ‘But the houses are all locked up now!’ — ‘I’ll get in somehow. You know me! I’ll find a way!’
And she went off, leaving him alone. The music was still playing, the lamp beside the couch was still burning brightly. But now the high was past, and he saw their situation for what it really was: without means, ill, lacking in energy, with no desire to work and no hope … a paper-skinned spectre and a dubious lady had made them forget for a few hours what their real situation was like, but now he knew again. Yes, for the moment they had a roof over their heads, but in the greater scheme of things nothing had changed for the better, and if anything it had changed for the worse: now his wife was running around on the streets at a dangerous hour looking for a shot of morphine! He remembered how, the night before, she had insisted on leaving Gesundbrunnen station to find a first-aid post. She had talked about bilious attacks, but now that she had this pain in her leg she hadn’t mentioned her gallbladder trouble again. All day yesterday she must have been thinking only about getting this shot. An addict — so one more burden to bear, therefore!
One o’clock. She said she would be back straightaway, and now she had been gone a whole hour. He should get up and go and look for her, make sure she was all right. But he didn’t get up. What could he do, after all? Perhaps she had been arrested and was sat in some guard post. Or she was with a doctor in one of these dark houses — how was he supposed to find her? All he could do was wait, all he ever did was wait, time after time — a whole life whiled away in waiting, with only death awaiting him at the end.
His thoughts wandered. Extreme exhaustion, and perhaps also the after-effects of the injection, caused him to fall asleep. Or rather, he fell into sleep as into some deadly abyss.
Later on, he was aware of her lying down on the couch beside him again. She was in excellent spirits. Yes, a patrol had stopped and detained her, but they had behaved very gallantly. ‘Go and see your doctor’, they had said. ‘Hold a white handkerchief in your hand, and nobody will bother you!’
No, she had not been able to get into the house of the strange Dr. Pernies, but she had found another doctor, a most accommodating playboy type, who had opened the door to her in his pyjamas and given her a shot of morphine straightaway. She laughed merrily. And for him she had brought tablets — no, of course she had not forgotten her husband, never! He was to take these tablets right away, the doctor had said; they were as good as morphine, and very strong. She laughed again. ‘Look, I’ve even got a few cigarettes. One of the soldiers in the patrol gave them to me. Let’s see, eight, ten, twelve — wasn’t that kind?’
This isn’t right, Doll wanted to protest. This is all heading in the wrong direction. We shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing, getting hold of cigarettes like this, or the morphine. That business with Mrs. Schulz was already way out of order. We can’t be doing this, even if I have thought to myself a hundred times that I’m all played out. We can’t be doing this, otherwise we are completely finished. No more begging for cigarettes, no more running around after a shot of morphine …
But he said nothing. A leaden weariness had descended upon him, and the feeling of apathy had come back with renewed force. There was no point in talking to her: Alma would always do exactly as she pleased. She was so far away. It was as if he perceived and heard the world, and her, through a curtain; everything seemed somehow unconnected to him. Nothing mattered to him any more; as hard as he tried to be ‘there’, he couldn’t do it. He had also taken the tablets, of course, the ones that had the same effect as morphine and were said to be very strong. Perhaps they would blot out these thoughts that haunted him, and transport him from this earthly abode for a while …
He remained in this state for days on end — how many days? Later on, he couldn’t say, and nor could she. At some point he awoke from an artificially induced deep sleep, and gazed at the little cellophane window. Then it was light or dark outside, day or night, but it was all the same, whatever it was — he stayed in bed anyway. What was there to get up for? He had nothing to do out there; he felt no sense of duty or responsibility.
He struggled to collect his thoughts, and then turned over slowly and looked beside him. Sometimes she was sleeping there next to him; sometimes she was gone. Sometimes he was gone, too (it sounded strange, but that was exactly the right way to put it!), and then she had nagged him to go and see a doctor. Yes, he did that, too, since she absolutely insisted, but the truth was that he stayed in bed and did nothing because he had no purpose or goal any more, was completely drained and empty …
But generally she went herself, even though her leg was now constantly weeping pus, and all the doctors were saying she needed to be hospitalised immediately. They had quite a lot of doctors by now, but it was important that none of them knew about any of the others. Sometimes, when Alma had arranged for several of them to call on the same evening, she took fright in case they met up and it came out just how many shots she was getting every evening. But it always worked out all right. She usually got plenty of shots now, while he nearly always went without, but she made sure she got a good supply of sleeping pills for him. When the doctors came, he had to get dressed and play the healthy husband. In his own mind, he often felt like some sort of ghost, sitting there and making polite conversation about his sick wife’s condition.
But if he was not able to get himself up and ready, he would go and hide in the little servants’ toilet until they left, or else he squatted in the room that had been gutted by fire, and stared out at the ruins; their whole street consisted almost entirely of ruins. But they didn’t depress him quite so much now; he and they seemed made for each other, somehow …
When the doctors left, he went back to bed and soon fell asleep. Or else he lay there for hours, as if in a drugged stupor. And throughout this time, however many days it was, they did nothing, abs
They would have succumbed from weakness a long time ago, of course, if Mrs. Schulz had not looked after them, together with Dorle, a friend of the young wife’s, who had turned up from somewhere — Doll didn’t know where, or why. (Even in more normal times, he had never quite worked out who was who among his wife’s many friends.)
But Mrs. Schulz would not have been Mrs. Schulz, always a dubious character even when she was doing good, if her ministrations for the sick couple had been in any way regular. She said she’d look in on them the next day, and then didn’t show her face for two whole days. Not that it mattered that much to the Dolls — one day or three days or a week meant nothing to them now. If they got too hungry, Alma would sneak into the kitchen. A kind of friendship had developed between her and the little dancer — who was not a dancer at all, but an actress, and one of no small standing at that — and more especially with the woman’s mother. Both parties had realised that the other was not as bad as they had initially thought. Alma usually returned from these trips to the kitchen with a little piece of bread, or even a jar of jam, but sometimes with only a plateful of cold potatoes or a few raw carrots. He no longer made any protest, but ate his share of whatever she’d got, before they both tried to sleep again and forget the world.
And now there was Dorle, this friend of his wife’s. She was still a young girl, with a child and a mother. The mother had been in hospital since the fall of Berlin — she’d been shot in the leg, and the wound wouldn’t heal. And the child had an insatiable appetite. So unlike Mrs. Schulz, Dorle was not able to help out with food for the Dolls; it was more a case of her sharing the food they had. But she cleaned the room, dusted, did the small amount of laundry there was, and dressed Mrs. Doll’s wound as best she could. And she was always willing to go and fetch new doctors — more doctors in addition to the old ones. They could never have too many.
Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes