The room was dark, the curtains half-drawn, the light of the half moon which sailed between the clouds mixed with the reflection of the erect, floodlit spires of the cathedral and fell through the window into a room on the fifth floor of the house, where Angelina lay in the dusk on her wide bed, behind the screening curtain swam television, bar, the pictures on the walls.
She half-lay and half-sat, in the blue shadows which marked the drapery of the setting sun which spread over the dark red, the black roofs of the old center of the city. A little studio lamp shone at the foot of the bed and cast a shimmer on Angelina's features, making her white face glow almost golden. The left arm lay slack over the plump cushions covered in heavy green silk; the right hand was raised to her lips, in her fingers a slender white cigarette, the fingernails red claws, her hands trembled slightly.
Her narrow face gazed steadily into an indeterminate distance, her green eyes gazed sharp and full of unveiled tension. Thin gray wisps rose from her full, unpainted lips, after she had sucked the smoke deep into her lungs. When she smoked her lungs expanded, her bosom expanded, the red silk robe drew tight, parting at stomach-level and disguising very little there, least of all the long slender legs, also bathed in rust-red light, lending her something of an Indian goddess, a high priestess with whose help human sacrifices are celebrated.
Not until the second glance did one notice the telephone which rested on a footstool next to the wide bed, her blue-black hair nearly reaching down to it. The telephone was as silent and mute as the entire evening; outside, behind the double panes, the street hummed quietly and anonymously. Outside the window the winter had unfolded after a sudden outbreak of cold, covering the outside of the double panes with frost flowers amidst which eyes, too, grew, gazing greedily at the creature in the red robe.
Crushing out the half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray, she thought once more that it was time to finish with Rodney. This one last evening. Then she would give him marching orders, would send him to the Devil. He was really starting to get on her nerves, and that was a rare occurrence. She still had control over the situation, she did not want to lose it.
She tried to picture the inside of her head, the fine gray mass, the many convoluted twists in which she had stored so much experience over the years since she had begun to play with men. She leaned her head a little to the side and thought how delightful it was when one felt how the sober calculation functioned. She sank into the shadows, purring like a cat, licked her lips, looked into the distance, like a picture book she opened up her eventful life, she detected the barbs, heard the men's songs of triumph - and heard them whimper. Lit a new cigarette.
It was important to do everything as soon as there was a strong feeling together. This spiritual closeness was not always present. She thought of the studio, the hot lights, the studied smile, the melting mask under which she sweated. Her thoughts jumped, hardly to be held on to in her head, as if an alien will were thinking with her. At last she saw herself in the glass bathtub, in the frothing green water, saw herself sink beneath the golden faucets.
She had covered her eyes with large sunglasses which gave her somewhat the appearance of a bloodthirsty insect which - now that she had nestled into the seat of her Lancia - crouches in the red, open calyx of an enormous flower to suck in the nectar from deep tanks, with proboscis and feelers which reach into the depths. She rolled out of the parking lot with opened sun-roof, drove at full throttle for several blocks, and then shot the ramp to the nearby overpass, cutting in front of a large silver-gray Alfa Romeo, which, somewhat slower than her Lancia, had been about to head straight down the right lane.
An ordinary maneuver. She snapped up the sun-shades to ward off the breeze, and for a short distance let her Lancia roar along the highway until her hair flew like whip-cords in the wind and the wind pressed her blouse tightly against her body, with little air bubbles here and there, as if she had just gotten out of a fresh bath. Then, as she switched from the fifth to the fourth gear and further, and as she skidded to the traffic light, her car's exhaust spat black clouds as if it were puffing hecticly on a cigar.
The car which she had cut off a few minutes before loomed threateningly large in her rearview mirror, had changed lanes, rolled on the left beside hers. She took in the driver with a fleeting glance, saw a firm, browned face, half-turned to her, saw a slight smile, looked into brown eyes now, saw black hair full of pomade, as was the fashion now. The triple eye of the Cyclops high above the street, swaying beneath the blue of the sky, had opened a green eye to rust-red facades, Angelina flew across the gray concrete road and over the sticky patches of tar, faster really than she had intended, as if driven by a demon, into the city, the silver Alfa magically drawn on, dancing in the rearview mirror.
At the next traffic light, as the cyclopean eye worked itself up to yellow, she pulled her car into a tight curve in the direction of the train station, onto the cobblestones, to settle the question once and for all. The silver-gray car skidded across the intersection with squealing tires in a bold maneuver, just like her, without blinking, and then settled in behind the red car with a cozy roar. She snorted black smoke onto his windshield, thundered down the express street past the train station. The Alfa followed without hesitation. She had gotten wedged in behind a truck, let up on the gas, the Alfa now abreast of her.
The man with the pomade-gleaming hair gave her challenging glances, as if he had no need to pay attention to the road. A grim smile played about his lips. Then he yielded to a Mercedes which edged up behind him with flashing eyes, drove past the truck, down the street, hesitated there a little, as if unintentionally, to see if Angelina would follow. She followed. Then they flew down the street like two thunderbirds.
She thought of that evening when tigress and tiger had met. They had spoken with that growl in their voices which showed that both were balancing on the crucial point, that they were circling each other like two satellites on extreme paths, that they were two comets which hissed across the sky and that they had set out on the long journey through the endlessness of space, at last to meet another fixed star. And, voila, there came this magician from the theater, who had been engaged for a guest season, the magician with the black hair and the broad hands.
She tried to picture him without closing her eyes. She never shut her eyes to the truth. Except for his hair, a completely ordinary boy, but who must possess, hidden somewhere inside him, a magnetic anchor which did the job with women. Only with those who, like he, could balance their consciousness on their fingertips, Tigress and tiger. The two elements. Primeval forces. Lightning and thunder.
Her face had remained unmoved while she thought. The telephone stood beside her, hardly visible, and silent. Night had fallen over the city, the cathedral towers shone still brighter, the frost flowers stared more lasciviously. She dreamed of penises which hung like garlic braids from the ceiling. She dreamed of sweet mouths which had to be closed. She dreamed of a last night in Rodney's arms. Something like a romantic shadow glided through the room as she realized that, for a second, emotion and intellect had fused in her mind.
She looked at the electric alarm clock which turned its silent rounds behind the console, hidden under pale red illumination. Soon it would be eight o'clock, and Rodney would come. She lit another cigarette. She shouldn't smoke so much. It was unusual, it was not her way. She would drink a little sherry to calm her nerves. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, drew the red robe closed, slipped into the terrycloth shoes and went into the kitchen with her own natural grace.
It seemed to her as if she saw a dozen men rolled into one, standing in the door, leaning against the frame, his hands folded over his chest, his eyes bloodshot, rolling. He seemed drunk. Spoke much too quickly, in an agitated, toneless voice. She laid her head to the side and listened into the past, to hear what he had to say to her. But he, who had made such a good impression before that one could almost have fallen in love with him, said nothing differently than other men in his position. What was the good of all the pleading, what was the good of the tears? She would never go down with a sinking ship.
She opened the door of the refrigerator, and the light shone in his eyes, made his face disappear; all that remained were his shed tears, as if drops of blood had fallen in the freezer. There, somewhere, she must have laid the bottle. She could not find it. But then in her mind's eye she saw traces in the ice cubes, saw the frozen blanket of snow on the slopes of the embankments, saw the mirroring ice of the frozen ponds, saw the ice-skating children, saw Rodney balancing on the ice with the camera.
Again the near-paralyzing memory of that summer returned. An implacable flywheel drove the unsorted thoughts into her consciousness. In the darkness which lay over the farmhouse, owl eyes stared, gleaming gazes in which the alcohol spilled over, near the fire, in the petroleum lamps. Rodney and Angelina were forged together in their thoughts, rolled through the garden chained in thoughts, rose straight into the sky like coupled comets. They dove into the crowds, bathed in the gazes of the others, gathered points, found scattered points of contact, smelled envious eyes, squinted at the twisting back staircases in the minds, where new constellations, connections and constructions emerged. One more marble in the box, a gleaming, glass bead, the cards newly shuffled, the cards newly added.
The night rushed over them, filled them with the caustic smell of lox and tobacco, drove dry drinks behind their brows, in the mirroring eyes, went the shortest distances, knew shortcuts which must inevitably lead to the goal and shoot out somewhere into the darkness, where the crickets chirped in the grass, in the bushes, at the edge of the forest, where the central European insects made a pandemonium as if they sat in an amplifier to make themselves audible.
The stars jingled above their heads, bent their long necks stiffly, the stars jingled in the refined necklines of the women, rose and sank and described their seismographic curves in the pre-programmed heads, dammed the quicksilver there with hot dikes, let it flow again, stopped up the paths which it usually took: Short circuits crackled through the night with bright sparks, with blue flames they sprayed into the sky, rolled behind the mirroring eyes as ghostly images, executing a spectral dance which was supposed to show which phantoms back there, black and squat, had gained form and life and bent in love, with knotted hands, over the silver silhouettes.
The people recognized themselves in each other on different levels, in different stations of their development, in different degrees of maturity and development, grasped, sensed, insisted that it was not only a matter of grasping the self in the other, but of confirming oneself in him and thus waking oneself to life, now for oneself alone, and also in a certain sense for later smoke-impregnated evenings and nights. Nowhere near all of the ropes which swung through the air had been grasped, too numerous were the ends cut off and smeared with tar, but even there the heat of the open fire melted what had sealed their ends.
There was an attic into which one could vanish by way of a back staircase. The crowd was not as large as it might have appeared at a fleeting glance. Angelina and Rodney, seized by a sudden hot rage and desire toward one another, stumbled upstairs, groped through the darkness which was illuminated only by the meager reflection of the flames through a glass window. It almost seemed as if they were dragging their booty up the stairs, as if it were time to overthrow the conditions of nature once and for all. Angelina's hair blew in Rodney's face like the ghostly fingers of a spider, but there were no alarm- or trip-wires which could have warned him; moreover, he was objectively playing a different role, and she was the beetle scented with flowers, who had given him signals with her perfume. Anyway, both were a little drunk, in spite of all their calculation, but that only meant an equality of weapons
With that hot rage in which covetousness and hate are so closely woven, ready to topple over at any moment, to change course, to wage war in one way or another, or to resume it with other means, they fell upon one another, literally fell upon one another from the first moment they left the last rung of the ladder. Tugged, dragged, bit each other over to the bales of straw which towered up invitingly in the wan light of the moon which illuminated the only window, in the form of steps, suitable for every convenience and position.
In these minutes, where each expanded monstrously from a length of only a few centimeters, they were like wild animals struggling with one another, taking possession of each other, each devouring the other, sipping from one another, like primitive savages driving their spears into one another, attempting to elicit whatever nature presented them in the other, who registered every gesture, every expression, every snort, every groan, every moan and sigh in the uncertain wavering light, who wrote down all this DNA with implacable precision and sharp consciousness, engraved in the slates of their brains, fixed forever, information and knowledge. Weapons. Now, now was the moment when the other unveiled himself, now, now one got to know him, now, now was the irrecoverable opportunity, these drunken minute in which their dammed-up feelings exploded, where they did not pretend, where each was at the mercy of the other and each pumped the other full of that which he had and extracted what the other had to give.
The battle raged for a long time, the concept of time, dependent on motion, was lost, or rather changed its character. Gradually their feelings slowed down, slackened their rhythm, gradually they glided out of the zone in which they cramped their jaws, in which their tongues were knots, their lips tight lines, and their eyeballs rolled. Gradually they glided back into the zone of the ticking feelings, the calculated gestures, their status was normalized, compared to what they otherwise considered usual, the battle began to dissipate, retreated from the hot sphere where the tanks had rammed into each other with glowing motors. In time one saw only the silhouettes of the battle figures, frozen in their last movement, almost monuments already, with weary, slackening gestures, phantoms which melted into the background.
She found the bottle of sherry on the kitchen table, drank a glass and blossomed. She felt the summer stir in her veins, stepped, grazing the glass case clumsily, nearly losing her footing on the slippery floor, into the parlor in front of the large mirror to regard her slender body, carefully observed the bronze goddess, swung her hips, regarded the black triangle, shuddered at the thought that this evening she would once again suck Rodney dry, then to discard his empty hull.
She felt glowing streams of molten iron course across her body, beginning at her nape, then flowing down rapidly, freezing in the cavities, laying hold of her entire body in an extravagant gesture. Before the furnace of the sun she saw the spiders struggling, threw back her head so that the black-blue hair flew, and watched as the male was devoured to pay tribute to his offspring.
In the bright mirror she saw the face of her mother, saw her lips trembling with rage, saw that she was about to strike her Angelina, heard this, tonight you'll stay at home, which would not last long. The first boy in the upper-school, that had been like the beat of a drum. Once her body was aroused, once the tigress had the smell of blood in her nostrils from the welts she had drawn across the boy's back the way one scrapes off wallpaper. He had been the best in his year, and, when the butterfly did not let itself be blinded, wandered long in confusion through the building in which he had once celebrated his greatest triumph.
She had raced along the wide street, the street lined with men who danced in the air like swarms of flies and left their marks, red and yellow, on the windshield of her Thunderbird. Like flies she had collected them, laid them under glass, had studied them under glaring white light.
The telephone exploded in a shrill tone. An arrow lodged in her heart with trembling shaft. Something made a move in her, her pulse rose, at the same time she was flooded by a fearful feeling of release, people of action are bound most terribly by uncertainty. She reached for the receiver as if into the midst of life.
Hello. . . .
A voice which climbed the precipice, Angelina, it's me. Rainer's breathless voice. Can we see each other again? Angelina, please?
For a moment she had the feeling that the climbing-iron was tearing out of the cliff wall, a heavy barrier shifted in her head; then her face relaxed, her voice grew calm.
Really, Rainer, she said, it's pointless for you to call me here.
She smoked a cigarette again, her movements were unbalanced, her cheeks, when she took deep breaths of the smoke, were as if marked by a grave illness. She had sunk deep into the cushions which embraced her body like a substitute lover who, with all his warmth, was still unable to soothe the terrible unease in her mind, the excitement of her nerves, the shaking of her voice, the flighty thoughts and hands. She lay as if buried, and if the light had not been so thin one could have thought that her cheeks were tinged with an unhealthy gray.
She thought as if pursued by dogs. The images pressed in upon her. They welled up as if riding on the bloody lava of a volcano. When the cigarette was unable to calm her childish impulse, she bit into a pearl necklace which she gathered up from the bedside-table. Poison pearls. She tasted blood sweet on her lips.
There are evenings which pass as if one were riding on silver arrows. There are bars which lose their gloomy charm when they are filled with the right words and turns of phrase. There are people who blossom, who come to life when they are drenched with the warm rain of other present times. This is the secret story of the inner life of human beings. If you shut someone long enough in a dark room, every paintbrush can mimic the sun. Angelina, the girl with the great qualities, had been shut up among all the men, and there at last one had come who had flung open her windows.
Somehow they had staggered, walked, flown through all these bars which he, of course, did not know, winged, soused, drunk. For certain it was not the alcohol which took away the inhibitions of the two, who were well-versed in the art of the dosage of hard liquor. It was the secret magnetic pole which drew their floating crusts together and urged the spark-spraying friction and union.
With a groan Angelina stirred in her cushions, crushed the cigarette in the ashtray, dropped her hands as if she were being opened like a book, felt herself grow heavier, felt the hot, heavy body, drew herself up on his arms, sank her fingernails into this back, and felt at last how he would fill her once and for all, and with all senses. The hours were wrapped in pale cloths which would make them cool and congeal, hours which one had to capture, which one had to hold onto as long as this dull, dusky darkness lasted.
Nine thirty. The divine bastard had not come. Had not called. Had simply left her lying there. Spat upon Angelina's mind and body. Lay in a cesspool in the arms of another woman. It was as if fireworks drove Angelina out of the cushions, rage flooded her eyes with red, she bent back on her bed, her body jerked, she felt her breasts, felt here and there, and realized with terrible wrath, with incomparable rage, that the ignorant prick had simply left her lying there.
She bit into the cushions, for if she was to suffocate, she did not want to suffocate within. She clawed at the furs with her red fingernails, imagined that a great male tiger was lying there, whose heart could so easily be torn from his body. She saw his phallus, this ridiculous, sensitive spot, saw how the sausages hung from the hooks in the butcher shop while the pigs sank into the gutter, bled to death, back in the slaughterhouse. She saw all this.
She sat up straight, lit another cigarette deliberately, wanted to keep thinking. She pressed her free hand around her body as if she were afraid it would fall apart otherwise. It was good that way. She was calm now. She wrinkled her forehead, drew her eyebrows together. Her consciousness, that splendid mechanism, told her that she would lose her mind if she were not careful. Told her at the same time that Rodney had started something with her. Told her that she had Rodney to thank for everything.
She gasped for breath. Crumpled up the cigarette. Lit a new one, quite unconsciously. That was it. That was the thought. That was the black spider which had slumbered in her consciousness, nourishing itself from her best juices. The psychological master, Rodney, the master spider. Yes, what she herself had done with so many men for whom she had conjured up her radiant appearance, cool, precise and calculating, whose wishes she had raised as if in an express elevator to the top of the house and multiplied them and enhanced them, whom she had first taught what they could be, what they were with Angelina. The scoundrel had started with her exactly that way.
From their first meeting he had sensed the fascination which he exerted upon her. The lofty banter, the idle talk which, if it had been written down, would have at most given cause for wrinkled brows the next day, he had succeeded because she had given him an advantage, a kind of trust, and he, skillful and brutal, had bound her and enveloped her and involved her in a ridiculous, tragicomic affair. The deeper she fell into his trap, the more she had betrayed of herself, thus making it possible for him to set traps, cautiously, in more distant rooms which were still closed to her reason, traps in which his precious prey was to be caught again and again.
Ten o'clock. The alarm clock glowed red. She staggered away from the bed as if drunk, the mummified men of her past reached their arms toward her, their desiccated faces grinned with yellow teeth. She had to destroy this scoundrel, had to lay his psyche in ruins. She raged. She had to free herself from this man. Ten o'clock. The swine had not come. Ten o'clock. Red-glowing alarm clock. Sterile wisdom of glass and plastic, electric wands which fed it.
In front of the transparent glass doors, behind which the brown-hued contours of the park, in its midst the broadcasting center, were limned, she remained standing, in this summer, scrutinized her appearance cooly and as if to banish all doubt that she was desirable. Saw the blue-black hair flowing down upon her shoulders. Saw the narrow, pale face, the high forehead, the direct challenge which every man was forced to answer. Saw the green eyes which knew their dominion over the world of men. A scrutinizing look at her body. The silk blouse buttoned high on this summer day, neither semi- nor fully transparent, since it was neither a display nor a general merchandise store. The skirt, slit up the side, was also somewhat longer than usual, with silk-embroidered hems, a self-confident, cool charm which neither squandered nor threw away what was to be given only with care.
Indeed, her figure was almost painfully stirring. The curves on which nature had experimented so long, for so many millions of years, and which could only have come into existence in harmony with the minds of men, followed certain curves pre-programmed in the brain, called up patterns and signals, associations, made the mouth water, as if a bell were being rung which shrilled inaudible but loud in the cerebral zones. Since the men chased perfection in their way, in the attempt to approach that which nature and society permitted them to hold as their ideal, the hot terror which overcame them at the sight of Angelina was shadowed by the foreboding: should one take one's ideal image, should one pluck this rose, and what would happen if?
Toward twelve o'clock she was calm at last. The disheveled, rumpled hair hung over her shoulders, the tracks of tears had dug themselves into her make-up, her fingernails were broken. The things in the world and in her head were sorted out again, to a certain degree, orderly. She decided that she would go to bed soon. She pulled herself together enough to clear away the dishes, empty the brimful ashtrays and clean up the apartment a little. She sensed her mind grow clearer as she performed these simple chores. These were simple things which went quickly, which worked. They also proved to her that she was once again fully and completely and rightly focussed on reality, that her senses were beginning to normalize themselves, that the things which had shifted to the wrong places in her soul had returned to their old positions. Now she suddenly remembered things which had escaped her behind the blockade of her rage, her sorrow and desperation. As if of its own will that day's drama returned to her, she needed only to glance at the newspaper which lay untouched in the corner.
She also sensed memory press into her skull, her thoughts stirred in her mind like independent beings, they came creeping into her consciousness with tip-toeing steps. Once again she felt hot, excited pangs in her heart, but now she bore the realization. A hard, grim smile played about her lips as she headed for the kitchen to fetch scouring cloth, rags and caustic substances. On her way she cleared away the long knife which was meant for cutting bread. She laid it in the sink in a caustic solution, in the vague hope that the blood would dissolve by itself over night so that she would not have to dirty her hands. Then she returned to the bedroom, secured the curtain and turned on all the lights. Red, dark red, congealed, it shone out at her. Fleetingly she remembered again. They had wanted to go to a pig-sticking. Nothing had come of that. Strange, that in life all wishes are fulfilled after all. She made a feeble, playful attempt to remove the blood. It was hopeless, blood is best removed when still damp, with cold water, but of course only when it is not present in large quantities. Really she had meant this cleaning action only as a demonstration.
Now that she was calm, it was time to clear away the cleaning utensils. Tomorrow she would think of some way to get rid of the bloodstains. She turned out the lights in the kitchen and the hall. In front of the glass case, which was closed by a glass door, she stopped. She looked at Rodney. He was a rather unfortunately-crucified Christ, for the clothes-hangers had not held. Even in death one could see his ignorance. With his open eyes he stared past her unceasingly, as if he wanted to punish her with scorn. His mouth was twisted. Remotely the pose of the victor, in which she had seen him last, could be glimpsed. She thought one could win a prize at an exhibit of modern art with him. She kissed the pane, but Rodney did not return the tender greeting.
She lay in bed and turned out the lights. She saw the moon sailing behind the closed curtains. She saw the red dial of the alarm clock. The telephone lay in the dark. There was a smell of blood and sherry.