The Erotic Études Opus VI

Étude XVIII - Johannes (II)

Étude XVIII - Johannes (II)

I woke again, in agony. The motes of dust seemed to drift in the columns of painful light, and I cried out. My voice was distant, as it always is when I am heavily drugged. I first knew that distance, that remove, when Glock treated me with morphia. And I always detested it in a peculiar and intense way. But this distance was profound, irretrievable, and I wondered if there was any way back to myself, having gone this far in self destruction.

This is what suicide is really like…

I was quite still, but dressed and shaved, when Johannes arrived. I had not seen him, nor Klara, nor anyone, for several months, but for Königswinter and Joseph, whom I found a great comfort. The servant, whose name I did not care to remember, propped my naked feet on a stool as if that somehow would balance me, or perhaps, prevent me from kicking him from concealment. He had a nasty bruise on one shin, and another, I imagine, on his testicles for attempting to undress me. I feared him. I feared all of them, with an unreasoning fear I could not imagine in myself, outside of the Aufstand at Dresden, or my nightmares as a child. My fear made me sob, unpredictably, and this is what caused Dr. P. to inject me so frequently with morphia, and when done, to feed me dribbling draughts of laudanum. I preferred the slower poison of champagne, which at least it tickles the palate. But that was denied me, even when I desired to have it brought from my own cellar.

I was a prisoner, and daily, plotted my escape on foot across the Severinbrücke to Beuel. Perhaps I could find a spot in the countryside, I mused, perhaps struggle up the cliffs to Bad Godesberg, to the place I last was happy, and imbibe the air of its subliminity, like champagne, before finding shelter and escape within the Rheinland.

I sat, my naked feet on the stool, looking vulnerable. And I felt like a pitiful child, being kept up at night without my shoes on, as punishment for being petulant. Which was, in a way, quite accurate. I had already run down the stairs and out into the open carriageway several times, and so I was confined without shoes, to keep me from escaping.

On my third attempt I brought my second pair of shoes and concealed them out of doors before being led back. Now, I reasoned, my escape plan was perfected in the last detail.

I waited, innocently and listlessly enough, for Johannes. And he came, looking miserable, with letters from Klara, Mariechen, Elise, and Jules. Ah Jules, the quiet one with the knowing countenance. I had watched her grow with fascination, back when I was happy.

Johannes sat, looking quite concentratedly at his hands, while I sat drugged and distant. "Robert…" his voice came low and slowly. And I turned my eyes gradually to him. "This is very disturbing. I have seen you quiet before, but you look… I don't know… elderly."

"I am old, Johannes… " I spoke from far beyond me. "I am old in every way. Old in my chest, old in the loins, and old in ideas."

"No!" he denied.

"Even… even my wife will not have me. What is there to live for?" My own voice, petulantly strained, appalled me, and I fell silent.

"No." he denied, more quietly this time.

I fixed an eye on him, and I knew that it was an unkind look, but I was unloosed from politeness. I sighed, and then, I spoke.

"I will die here."

"No!" he cried, this time loudly, and he grasped me bodily, in the way he had the morning of our first meeting, when I believed him infatuated. I should have known, then, that the days of my fascinating youths and bring them to bed had long passed. I was a married man now, and the only fascination I held for anyone was that I was married to a famous pianistin, and not because of myself -- and that I had not, after all, achieved anything of note. I was the shade of La Wieck.

And all of my accomplishments, and all of my pretty precious frilly dances, and all of the bold pedal-laden attacks: I regretted them all. The only thing I did not regret -- the only two things -- I could hold in either hand, metaphorically: the Fugues, which haunted my dreams, and the C major. That was all. That was all. All the rest, could be burned, and I was tempted to tell Johannes this. But I knew it would make him weep, and I knew he would not understand why. I stared at my feet, willing them to independent action. I watched my toes twitch once, then again.

I ached with the single desire to tear into scores and feed them into the grate. My fingers clenched into fists, repeatedly, and I felt a positive pleasure in the clenching. And none of this behavior escaped him. I said nothing.

I dreamed, while he spoke to me of things I no longer had interest in, as though he had not noticed I had died, and that all would be well if I wore this dressing gown. My anger grew as he prattled. At last I told him, "Cease. Please. I have an abominable headache."

He abruptly fell silent, as silent as myself, and I smoked for a time in silence, feeling blessed by his silence. He was usually so infernally talkative! That was my biggest objection to him, his effusiveness, which shattered my peace, and worsened the pounding in my head. Despite the morphia. Despite enormous quantities of morphia.

I could feel what he would say, the words that hung like anchors beneath a great ship, tethering it to its spot. Are you really mad, or are you simply angry? Will you come home? Will you speak with her again? And each of these queries echoed into my thoughts. I sighed with frustrated tension. I did not want him here, and I would not say so. So I endured in silence, until he made a quiet comment.

"I have missed you terribly." His words, tenderly rasped in an extreme of emotional stress, made me pause in my rumination, and I turned my eyes to him. For I could have sworn I heard something in his voice…

"You would not have been missing me."

"What did you say, Robert?"

"I said quite distinctly. You would not have been missing me."

"Robert, do stop that. You know she loves you."

I rounded on him in frank anger, and the drug coursed hot through my throat, leaving me dry with it, impassioned in a way I never allowed myself to be before my retreat from sanity: "She does not, and she never has done. Nor does she love you. She wants you for what she wanted me for: a moment of prestige, a source of new sound, a - servant. And you have become my replacement. It is a hard position, it will take a great deal out of you. You may end up mad, like me."

He did grasp my collar then, unrelenting, and forced a kiss upon me. By this time I was not surprised, nor particularly interested. I was dull and unresponsive to him. He drew back as though stung on the mouth by a bee.

"What… what is wrong with you?" he gasped, in a low voice, releasing me as though burned.

"I am going to die here, " I repeated, stubbornly. "I don't know why they insisted in pulling me from the river. It is most annoying."

"Robert!" he gasped.

"Johannes! Johannes! Johannes! How do you enjoy your name being invoked every other sentence! Are you in love with my infernal name? You are like my mother in this way!" I snapped at him, for I could not withhold. He cringed, and I hardly regretted it.

"Please do go. I do not want to be responsible for what I might say. Right now… I might say anything."

He bridled. "No I shall not go! I travelled twenty hours to get here. I am not going to turn around and limp away because you are angry. I know you are angry, Rob -- I know. So - talk to me about it."

I glared at him, and returned my gaze to my feet. My toes looked ugly and misshapen, freed at last from a miserable life of confinement in shoes, and tumbled out willy-nilly in strange order, bumped and misaligned. I became content in investigating these misshapen things… and briefly forgot what he was talking about.

"Robert!" he cried again, after an uncertain number of minutes.

"Johannes!" I cried. "Johannes!" And after a few more of these, the attendant came and I waved to him urgently to take my visitor away.

I said nothing more. Eventually, a look of strained disbelief on his face, Johannes let the attendant lead him down the hall and toward the stairs, his eyes fixed upon my averted gaze.

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The Erotic Etudes Index

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