Chapter 6 - Like most of us Oskar goes through quite a bit of money in the process of getting published...


Chapter 6 - A Dreadful Deed


At that time something occurred that haunted me for more than ten years and filled me with remorse, even though I thought nothing of it at the time, as with all the guilt, nonsense and stupidity in my later life.

Namely, I suddenly received a letter from my brother Maurus, who was in Kassel, which caused a great stir and left me scrambling. “Dear Oskar,” he wrote – something to this effect – “I am coming to Munich and want to look for work, and I am already looking forward to seeing you.” He complained about things at home, but “now we can help each other and save our money. Then we can travel and buy books. It will be great.” This was my brother’s proposal. But I was not at all pleased at the news. On the contrary, I was horrified. Now it will all come out, I thought suspiciously. He will find out everything, and will write home and tell them how I am living, and Max will come and give me an awful beating and take me home to keep watch over me.

I read the letter again and again. It seemed to be honestly warm and frank. But I did not believe a word. I could only expect the worst from this visit. An abused and beaten dog is wary of even the most sincere person who tries to pet it.

“Perhaps we can live together, and I could get work at your place,” wrote Maurus further on in the letter. Good Lord! Good Lord! What was I to do?

I wanted to go straight to Theres, but resisted. No, I won’t, I persuaded myself in my foolish stubbornness; she’ll only have more to say about getting work, and it’ll be just the same with Maurus.

“You must find work, absolutely! Or you’ll just have to go home!” he will say as well.

I weighed my options carefully. Then I went to the landlady, whom I despised, and told her a regular romance of misfortune and entanglement. “You see, Mrs. Ulitsch, I am studying secretly! … Only my sisters know and help me out. If it comes out, I’ll have to pack up and go home, with all my talent … My eldest brother is a brute – and so are all my brothers! One of them is coming from Kassel… He has no work and no money, and he wants to live with me…”

Mrs. Ulitsch understood right away. Her face turned stone cold, and she said in her high-pitched voice, “No, no, Mr. Graf, I can’t have that! It won’t do. No, you are such a nice, quiet person. But your brother can’t stay over with you …”

“Well, of course, I don’t want him to come either but, you see …” I was literally struggling for breath and felt the sweat in my armpits. “But … you have to help me! You know what, Mrs. Ulitsch, we will help each other – I – I will show you my gratitude. I will pay more …”

I was totally confused. Mrs. Ulitsch glanced at me fleetingly and declared that she would never ask a lodger to pay more. No, indeed she wouldn’t, but gentlemen generally liked the lodgings and made a donation each year of their own free will.

“An upstanding gentleman knows what’s proper when it comes to that, Mr. Graf. And I like you, too, … I’m sure I’ll do my duty as a landlady. Am I right?” she inquired.

“Yes, yes … I knew right away when I moved in,” I lied valiantly and was trying to calculate what she would ask next. Finally we came to an understanding. I told her everything and she was on my side. “Four little marks extra, Mr. Graf – surely that’s not exorbitant,” she said, and I agreed to everything. Just to have an ally, I thought, just somebody to help me with the lying. And so after this consultation I felt somewhat relieved.

Two days later Maurus came. I put on my best show and welcomed him with a façade of joy. He only noticed how anxious I was around the landlady. I listened to his stories. He was so affectionate towards me. I went back and forth again and again whether to tell him everything, but I always held back and instead complained horribly about my landlady. She was revolting, disgusting; she didn’t like visitors; one always had to be vigilant with everything in the room; generally it was horrible living here.

My brother had arrived in the early morning. We sat together in my room until midday. I felt as if on hot coals, he was unsuspecting and ecstatic. He unfolded his plans.

“You will save, and I’ll also look for work and save; we’ll pool our money, and our fortunes are made,” was his constant refrain.

In the hallway Mrs. Ulitsch was always shuffling back and forth. Every now and then Maurus observed how nervous and distraught I was. At last we went out for lunch.

“I can sleep in your room tonight, can’t I? … You’ll be going to work anyway?” my brother asked.

“Well,” I said furrowing my brow, “I don’t know whether she’ll make a fuss – You’ll see, she won’t like it if you stay with me, but I don’t care a bit. We are together now, and tomorrow you’ll find yourself a room for the time being. If we can manage it, we’ll get a room together.”

I jumped up quickly, rushed out to the landlady, and pulled her into the kitchen. I told her all about it.

“And – and please, please, Mrs. Ulitsch, can’y you give me a couple of marks – perhaps five – I’ll have to pay for our meal. My sister will come by tomorrow and pay for everything,” I implored her vehemently. She gave me the money with some reluctance.

“You can stay with me – Thank God! Boy! What a swine!” I said, as I went over to Maurus.

“You wont’ stay here long!” he said as we went out. He asked what my weekly wages were, what hours I worked at night, and if I had any success with my poetry.

“Really – twenty-two marks a week!” he said respectfully. “That’s great! And Sunday off? Good Lord, you have all the luck!” He smiled and said cheerily, “Well, in that case you’ll cover me for lunch today?”

“Yes, yes, of course. I haven’t been able to save yet, but in a year I should have pulled something together,” I answered casually. He smiled with a sneer and said, “Well then, if you’re paying, I’ll have a cheap meal today.”

Afterwards we went for a walk. He made fun of my poetry and bowled over with laughter. He was in the best of spirits and talked non-stop. In the evening we returned to my room at last, and I went to bed till eight o’clock. He sat down and read Heine for a while. At the appointed time I got up and pretended to be a hurry to get to work. He wanted to accompany me; I tried to dissuade him, but he wouldn’t budge. So we went to Seidl’s, the court bakery in Mars Street. The whole way there I was fuming with suspicion and fear, and was trying to figure out how to keep up the ruse. We stopped in front of the bakery, which had a small garden out front, and there we said good-bye. I hurried into the corridor and waited there for a good half hour. When anybody passed by I lit a cigarette and straightened my clothes. Finally I slipped cautiously out of the gate, spying in all directions, and walked towards Schwabing. I found a spot in a café till closing time, and then wandered the streets again. In the main hall of the train station I cowered on a bench, but a policeman drove me off. I passed some time in the waiting room, then I walked through town again. It was freezing and I felt utterly wretched. I cursed at myself out loud and loathed my own deceitfulness. I went to the English Garden, walked up and down along the deserted paths and noticed every toll of the church bells. To pass the time I recited a poem every now and then, and then started to make rhymes myself. Near the Monopteros I wanted to relieve myself and found a man asleep behind a bush. He woke up and gave me a cold stare. I stood there and didn’t know what to do. Still half-asleep, the man managed to stand up and then took a better look at me.

“Mornin’,” rolled off his tongue at last and he rubbed his eyes.

“Mornin’,” I said likewise.

“No roof o’er yer head either?” he asked in some sort of Berlin accent. Then, apparently annoyed at my stupid staring, he went on: “Hey man, what are you lookin’ at? – Just lie down here! – Cuddle up to me, it’ll be warmer!”

It sounded so much like a command that I was frightened. Still I hesitated. He was already curling up like a hedgehog, and nodded his head as if to say, “Come along, greenhorn!” and lay down again. I didn’t know what to do at first. I looked dazed, adventurous ideas started to bewilder me, and suddenly I lay down beside him. He moved, coughed a little, then pressed his back firmly against my chest and his buttocks into my abdomen. He grunted contentedly. I wanted to retreat, but he wriggled after me directly and muttered encouragement, “Stay a bit, youngster! Don’t be shy! Go ahead!” And suddenly he threw his arm back and grabbed me. “Cuddle! Cuddle!” he lisped, giggling, and tried to pull me closer to him. It was horrible, I was trembling and a shudder came over me. I hadn’t heard the word ‘Kuscheln’ before, and as to what it all meant I suspected God knows what. Disgust took hold of me. I wanted to jump up but didn’t dare. When he let go for a moment and grunted again, I cautiously pressed my two palms on the dewy ground, pushed myself up, and took off across the meadow towards town like a fugitive on the run. My heart was pounding, my blood racing.

When I reached the streets it was early morning, the houses were enveloped in thick fog, the streecars were already running, the street sweepers were quietly at work, and here and there the shopkeepers were rolling up their shutters. The church clock towers struck seven. I walked slowly to gather myself, and only then did I remember Maurus and what was to come. I waited until I saw the first bakery open, bought fresh rolls, and returned to my room just like a weary night-worker. “Man! How we slaved again last night,” I said hypocritically, and pretended to be very sleepy. My brother got up and I went to bed.

“I’m going to the confectionery workers’ registry, and I’ll be back in the afternoon,” said Maurus and went off. I breathed a sigh of relief like someone saved. But I was tormented by the worst restlessness. My mind was in a whirl. I jumped out of bed, dressed, walked up and down, but I couldn’t calm myself.

“He has to leave! He must leave, or I am lost! He must leave!” The words buzzed in my head non-stop until I was distraught. Suddenly I was struck by an extraordinary idea. I stood still, considered it again, and yet again – and wrote home to my bitter enemy, Max. “Dear Max, I have got a good job here in Seidl’s court bakery and I’m earning good wages. I have joined the Catholic Journeyman’s Guild and like it. I want to ask, that you write Maurus and tell him to come home at once. He arrived yesterday from Kassel, has neither money nor work and is become quite destitute. And he is also in ill health. I can’t look after him. He has to go home. And he won’t easily find work here. Yours, Oskar.”

When I returned from dropping it in the mailbox, I was full of loathing. I was totally ashamed of myself. I would have liked to spit at myself, beat myself, and knock in my skull. I fearfully imagined what would happen next, and saw no way of escape. I lay down in bed again completely bewildered and didn’t wake up until Maurus was standing next to me.

“Guess what, I found a job, and for the time being a place in Sendlinger Street … It’s only sleeping quarters, but it will do for the moment,” he told me and was overjoyed about it. To me it was a stab. “Tomorrow I’ll start work!” he said happily. “But today we’ll have a good ol’ time together, what do you say?”

I got up, washed and dressed, and we went for a walk. We talked of books and poets and were warm to one another. We made plans for the future and laughed a great deal. We went to a café, and about seven o’clock we parted.

“Sunday afternoon, then,” said my brother. I nodded and left him. Maurus, unlike me, was very thrifty, almost stingy. He never allowed himself the smallest luxury beyond a cheap Reclam book once in a while, and saved up all his money. Though he was naturally suspicious, he brought me his hard earned wages every Sunday to set aside as a “deposit,” and I noted the amount in a notebook. Each time he asked, “How much do we have now?” and I showed him the book.

But he did not stay in Munich long. Max really did write that he should come home at once – there was a lot of work to do. He was surprised, and I pretended to be. I advised him for and against, as the mood struck me. Finally Maurus gave up his place and went home. He promised to send me all the money he could from home, and was firm in his romantic resolve: when there was enough money we would set out together.

“Yes,” I said, and again, “Yes.” At first I managed to hold on to the money. But Mrs. Ulitsch came and demanded the rent, I had to pay for dictation services, and no more food parcels arrived. Slowly I began to go through the money. At first I had a guilty conscience, but gradually I grew indifferent, and when it comes to that point, there is no stopping.

Again and again I cursed the money, all the money, and the unfortunate meeting with Maurus. I wanted to up and leave again; I wanted to go to Theres and ask her for advice and help, but I let things come and go as they may. I idled away the days and – wrote poetry.

Oh come on, I said to myself from time to time, he doesn’t know anything about it yet. It’ll turn out alright. You’ll simply find work and pay it back secretly. But I did nothing of the kind and didn’t make the slightest attempt to find a job. The money melted away without any effort on my part.

I was often overcome by a true sense of vengeance directed against myself. “You thief! You criminal! Dirty scoundrel!” I snarled inwardly, and in order to relieve the gnawing pangs of conscience, I would go out and give five marks to a beggar on the street, or treat complete strangers, workmen in a pub, to a round of beers, or put a few marks into the offertory at a church.

“He’ll kill you anyway; nothing matters, nothing at all!” I said to myself. “It’s all over with you! Nothing matters!”

Once again a kind of stupid, impudent defiance came over me. I met Theres and boasted how well I was doing. I said nothing about Maurus.

“I am simply a genius! I am a poet, finally!” I said to justify myself in her eyes when she started in again about finding work. “I have no need for any of you!”

I worked myself into a rage at the world’s failure to recognize my talent, and lived in a state of indifference. Aimless days and weeks passed by. I was confronted for the first time by my muddled and despicable character.

Maurus sent me less and less. Often I didn’t even have a penny. I was glad about it, and when I was hungry it seemed like a just punishment. Autumn came and Maurus stopped sending altogether. My time passed in dull terror. I read a great deal, and wrote, and composed poetry; but in truth I was simply awaiting the catastrophe.






Congratulations to Ivan Bozicevic whose work "Shaken from a crane's bill" was selected for performance by Random Access Music in Brooklyn in May 2018!


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