X returned to the house on Jaegertstrasse, and despite the exhaustion, shaking from the cold, the blood drying on his lips and shirt, glimpsing LaLouch’s lanky form standing in the shadows of the hallway, he thought: This is the only person I fear.
LaLouche was proud of him, his eyes sparkled.
They ate roast duck after X showered. LaLouch said: that was quite a show you put on today. Very well done.
X shrugged and ate.
You know, you don’t talk much. Every time you come to visit I have to do all the talking.
X swallowed, wiped his lips with a napkin and said, “What would you like me to say?”
Oh! He speaks!
And after a few seconds of silence during which LaLouch filled his wine glass, he said to X, Do you remember the first time we met?
I do too. I think about it often. What do you say you finish eating, and we get ourselves some hot red wine, sit in the living room, smoke a cigar and you tell me how we met? I want to hear it. That is, if you really still remember.
X said he remembered.
So that’s what we are going to do while I give Li-Long Ki-Mo the video to edit and post. You tell me the story of how we met. Make it good and long, what led up to it, how you felt, what it was like. Tell me everything. It will keep both of our minds occupied, and nostalgia is indeed the most pleasurable of pains.
After X finished his dinner they went to the large sofa and LaLouch expertly lit Cohibas for them. The smell of burning wood in the fireplace mixed with the spicy hot wine and the smoking leaves of the cigar made the mood ripe for a story. As instructed, X began to tell his:
We met on a day that was like any other in Taksedermya. The temperature oscillated between twenty-five and forty-five degrees Celsius. The air was trapped between the mountain ranges surrounding the city like a crazed mother.
Just like any other day, the mornings were flooded with burning, blinding sunshine and in the afternoon dark clouds spewed torrential rains and drowned the street in warm oily water.
After every storm, down in Taksedermya’s poor districts, a family would be swept away, drawn off with the stream to the toxic waste dumps south of town, and sometimes, if the rainstorm was especially fierce, you would find little babies or mothers hanging from telephone poles and trees. If those swept away were known in the community, friends would pitch in to lower the remains and give them a proper burial at the Taksedermyan municipal cemetery where burial was cheap and also futile, because with the setting of the sun the grave robbers descended from the mountains, stealing everything from burial suits, gold teeth, tombstones to the hardening flesh itself.
You walked into the Der Pferdschwantz, which was not really in the poor district, but adjacent to it, right around midday, when storm clouds started building overhead. Did you know that when the winds from the east start blowing and people in the street lose their hats in hopeless pursuit and leaves fill the air like a lost swarm of locusts, it’s time to find shelter? Did you go into The Pferd because you were in the neighborhood oblivious to the time and it was the first door you noticed when the wind stung your eyes, or was it by design?
When your pupils adjusted to the darkness inside is when you saw me.
I was sitting by the bar in the beautifully ornate lobby of dark oak drinking ice tea (Probably). The lobby of the Pferd was colonial style art-nouveau tiling and drippy mirrors on the walls; Plastic ivy and vine clutched at faux Greek columns and statues of mermaids painted faded pastels. You sat down next to me still frazzled by the fetid storm outside, shaking the doors and the boarded-up windows of the ruinous building which once housed a theater and now the Pferd.
I saw you were a foreigner not only because of your uncommonly pale white skin and blue eyes, but also because of the clothes you wore (it was a suit–so out of place outside of Taksedermya’s business district–and also there no local would wear one, knowing that in a matter of hours it will be covered in bat dung.) No. You were not from Taksedermya. You were from a world far far away. Despite the heat and the rain you were dry as bone, and I never saw you holding an umbrella when you came in the Pferd. How curious, I thought. When you came in, when the small bell above the door rang and the wind and the leaves and the sounds of the scuttling pedestrians and the stray cats followed you through the door, I was drawn to read the clues of your person and articulate, somehow, what they meant. I was drawn to you because I had sensed that you were coming for me.
And there you sat and ordered some sort of gin. When the barman gave you the small glass with the red liquid, (Gin and…sniff, sniff… pomegranates) you seemed dissatisfied with it, and asked me (as if that was the first time you noticed me there at the bar) you asked, “Are you stuck here as well until the storm passes?”
I smiled, unsure if you realized where you were.
Some people came in very deliberately but pretended chance. With you it was hard to tell. Are you even capable of innocence? Of chance? I think that questions flew through my head like the orange leaves through the streets while I regarded you and your drink and replied “This is the Pferd. If you look around you will understand what kind of place it is… and to your question, I do not hide here from the storm. At least not from the storm outside: the wind, the rain, the lightning, the thunder. This is where I live.”
I was fourteen the time we met, and I was able to see for six months.
Everything was beautiful to me then. The red of the pomegranate in your gin; the ice clinking and twinkling as it caught light from the antique chandelier hanging on one last nail from the ceiling. Those were new words to me; new concepts I had to learn: Red. Twinkling. Beautiful.
The door shook and boarded-up windows shook. The storm was right above us. You came closer and asked me to tell you about myself, you said you will be glad to pay me for my time. I told you I will tell you my story and I will do it for free, and showed you the Taksedermyan pounds I had in my pocket, about three thousand: I don’t need your money.
You sat back and lit a cigar. The same kind of cigar we’re both smoking now. I remember how its smell completely overtook the lobby of the Pferd as I began telling you my story. Even the bartender stood by, silently polishing glasses and eves-dropping.
“I never met my mother or father.” I said. “I was found at the entrance of the Covenant of Blind Faith in Heartzschlusselstrasse, underneath mount _____ in the eastern suburbs of Taksedermya.
“I was taken in by Sister Nekem and raised by her in the abbey’s orphanage with nine other unlucky boys and girls.
“Being as I was just a baby when I was placed at the front door of the abbey, umbilical still connected to placenta drying on the pavement, nobody knew if my parents had any inkling to the fact that I was born blind. Some people in the Abby thought it was a beneficial coincidence that a blind baby was placed in an abbey and orphanage dedicated to the sightless. Sister Nekem never thought of it as a coincidence. Sister Nekem did not believe in coincidences, always claiming they are the unbelievers’ excuse to remain blind. Real blindness, she would always tell us, is the blindness to God’s omnipresence. For Sister Nekem, my arrival at the door of the abbey was nothing other than proof of providence.
“Because Sister Nekem was the only adult I knew for the first years of my childhood, everything she said I accepted as truth, and I also came to see my arrival at the abbey as divine in origin.
“Sister Nekem was my teacher and my mother and my doctor for the first eight years of my life, and when I turned eight she also became my lover and my master, teaching me both the art of love and the art of murder. I learned from her how to shoot the old Lugers from the Abbey’s basement, I learned from her how to aim the Czech CZ 805, I learned from her how to apply the silencer on the JG367s sniper rifle which was her prized possession and all without ever seeing anything other than my inner darkness.
“I was not the only one. All the blind orphans were her pupils and soldiers, but I still believe I was her favorite. She would, for instance, never let Sister Shilem, her lover and sometimes assistant, instruct me. She would never let Sister Shilem beat me when I could not assemble my gun in less than fifteen seconds. Sister Nekem would do the beating herself, and though I could not see her face I felt her eyes adoringly caress my bruised skin.
“When we were eight, me and the orphans would go at nights to the woods behind the Abbey. The two nuns taught us how to, using clicks of the tongue, develop perception through sonic feedback. They taught us to develop our hearing to such a degree that we had even more assurance of movement than the average person cursed with sight. We developed our sense of smell and touch as well. I could touch a tree bark and know which bird made its nest at its crown. I could tell how long an animal was dead by pushing my finger into its carcass and feeling the temperature of its liver.
“Sister Shilem would sometimes bring other orphans–seeing orphans–to the cellar of the abbey, and on them we would practice senselessness. We would have to block out their screams and the stench of their horror as we sliced their throats.
“By the time we were ten years old, we were perfect killers.
“Our first hit was the Mayor of Taksedermya, a bitter rival of our Abbess Sister Claire. We waited for the afternoon storm to die down, and when darkness conquered the city, we went out–ten blind orphans to the streets like a pack of moles sniffing and touching and clicking for our enemy.
The Mayor of Taksedermya lived in a large villa at the center of town. The villa was a sight to behold. A mélange of Greek and roman and Italian and French architecture styles with gables and tall narrow windows. But of course, we didn’t see the villa. We heard it: A villa speaks with its stability; With its interference with the flow of space. Police sirens bounce of its walls; A bird’s chirp mutes as it passes behind the massive concrete edifice until it crosses to the other end. The wind of the vortex in which Taksedermya was built pushed against the building’s sides with its howl. That is the sound of the villa.
“It was night when we came there, slithering through the garden, bypassing the few guards that were falling asleep at their watch under the full moon. Our heightened senses allowed us to feel its reflected light on our skin. You won’t believe me perhaps, because it is something which cannot be explained, only experienced, but we could hear the paint on the walls of the villa reacting to the moonbeams. I had no concept at the time of the meaning of “white,” but I knew through the teachings of Sister Nekem, that things react to their likeness, and the white walls were drawn in some way to the whiteness of the moonlight, like hands reaching out of the sea for a lifeboat. There can be much beauty in blindness, sir (I told you there at the Pferdschwantz). Sometimes I miss it.
“We easily entered the villa through the large glassed vestibule. Large rectangular windows on the ground floor were kept open to allow for air to cool the house. We walked through blowing drapes like ghosts in A gothic novel. With subsonic codes made with the licking of our lips we communicated amongst ourselves.
“The entire family was in the house: The Mayor, his wife, their three children (Two girls and a boy) and the staff made up of five souls.
“Sister Nekem made a point of not hurting the staff–for blessed are the meek etc. etc.–unless unavoidable. The staff were sleeping on the first floor and we, all ten of us, made our way up the stairs.
“A small dog came running towards us on the second floor where the Mayor and his wife slept. In quick and precise motions we broke the dog’s neck and placed it gently down on the carpet without a sound. We divided into two groups. Five going to the Mayor’s bedroom and five to the children’s nursery on the third floor. We were told by Sister Nekem to use a piece of string as our murder weapon and to make sure to leave it at the scene. She wanted a message to come across.
“You see, a few days earlier the Mayor said in a closed session with the city’s elite that he won’t give the Abbey and the orphanage as much as a piece of string to keep it afloat.
We’ll give him the string he needs, she said and placed in each of our small hands the string of a violin, because the mayor was a violin enthusiast. Collected old specimens from around the world.
“It took two of us to hold the mayor down, one to hold his wife. The remaining couple wrapped the string across their throats and pulled it tight, strangling them and cutting into their larynxes. Their death took seven minutes. The mayor urinated.
“As the Mayor and his wife were dying on the second floor the same was done above them in the children’s nursery. I won’t go into detail with the killing of the children because I know people react differently to the killing of children than to the killing of adults. Suffice to say that it took a few minutes longer, perhaps because we had to keep one kid (The boy–youngest of the three) alive when we killed his sisters. There were only five of us in the upstairs children’s room; two for the strangling, two holding down the girls and one to brace the boy while he waited and witnessed. When we were done we snuck out just as we’d snuck in. The guards were still asleep and the night was even stiller than when we set out for our mission of mayhem.
“Slithering again through the garden back to the street in a single file, each one of us with our hands on the others’ shoulder, we arrived back at the Abbey.
You were moving uncomfortably in your barstool when I reached this part of the story.
Looking back on it now, perhaps you just realized then that I was exactly what you were looking for, and the squirming in your seat was not from fear of or offense at my crimes but rather from excitement. You ordered another drink from the barman, and didn’t notice that the rain outside stopped and the Pferdschwantz was slowly filling up with clients.
“What happened then?” you finally asked me when the red drink was set, renewed, before you.
“After the killing of the mayor and his household (the servants found the bodies in the morning–the sleeping guards were promptly executed a week later) we were lavished with every kind of sensual luxury.
“In our rooms at the orphanage we were rewarded large portions of the world famous Taksedermyan marzipan and scented wood from the dark northern woods that, when burnt, filled our quarters with a heady perfume reminiscent of cinnamon. A musician played the Taksedermyan anthem for us on the harpsichord and we were allowed baths of milk and honey.
“People who can see, can see only through two of their eyes, but we, the orphans of the Covenant of Blind Faith, being blind, had eyes all over our bodies. Every molecule reaching our nostrils, every gentle touch of our skin was a tempest of pleasure. Every pore on our skin was an eye, exuding oils.
“It was pleasure that, in the end, caused my expulsion from the abbey.
“Our reward for a job well–done corrupted my soul–so said Sister Nekem. For the next following days, while my fellow orphans returned to their normal ascetic selves, I was possessed with pleasure, writhing on the floor of the sleeping quarters, convulsing, squirting a seemingly endless stream of warm semen, soiling my clothes, crying and laughing uncontrollably for two days and two nights.
“On Sister Nekem’s orders two orphans, holding my ankles, dragged me across the hall to the room that was Sister Nekem’s and Sister Shilem’s sleeping quarters, their office and center of operations. She told the orphans to go, leave me there, which they promptly did. Standing above me the two sisters said with audible displeasure. We had high hopes for you. Sister Nekem kneeled at my side and caressed my cheek. I smelled her. But this is not how a Child of the Covenant acts. she said, and then she added that they will have to let me go.
“She snapped her fingers
and a wave of sensation flooded me.
“I felt as if my head would explode. My brain was suddenly filled with lava, or warm spit, and I realized after a few seconds of complete horror and surprise, that it was light that was entering and mutating the neurons in my brain.
“Seeing the human form for the first time, though blurred and somewhat colorless, was stomach turning. It was grotesque and somehow familiar, as if from a prehistoric memory buried deep inside the psyche, or as if I had a nightmare about it, my mind concocting from pure imagination a monster that at the end turned out to be real.
“My concept of three dimensions, composed of sound waves, seemed to superimpose itself, slowly, blurringly, on the room around me. There was a slit with bright light on one of the walls and I knew it to be a window. There was a rectangle in the center of the room which I knew to be a table (and much later, recreating these first images in my mind ) I discovered it was brown.
“The two silhouettes standing before me, more shadows than women, were the nuns. The tall wide-shouldered one, I recognized immediately as Sister Nekem. The other one, short and fat, was Shilem.
“Sister Nekem clapped her hands and two blind orphans came back into the room. “Take it out of here” she told them, pronouncing “it”–meaning me–with contempt.
I walked the streets of Taksedermya for a week, without a home, without food, but I needed neither, for a world of endless sensual stimulation fed me and comforted me. Instead of just feeling the warm sticky liquid on my skin, I saw the fat drops fall from the gray skies at midday. I saw the mountains guarding the city, their green slopes and rocky peaks. It was as if I was transported to another dimension, given a new life.
At the end of that week, with my body weak from lack of food and rest, I started missing Sister Nekem. It didn’t feel right for me to go anywhere, seek shelter and a warm bed, without the say so of Sister Nekem. I didn’t know how to react, how to feel without her.
But then, when I was already thinking of ending my life – it seemed to me an impossibility to stay much longer in a state of sensory overload–sitting in a street corner, half naked, eating snails found on the sidewalk after the rain, I met Dagobert, the owner of the Pferdschwantz. He took me in and allowed me to live at the Schwanz for as long as I wished. My only job would be to serve the patrons in any way they desire.
Sexually, the only experience I had until I started working at the pferdschwanz was gratifying Sister Nekem. She gave me a taste for strange desires. You could say that all that I knew of desire was strange. And so my work with the clients at the Schwanz was very easy. On top of that, it allowed me to relieve some of the fullness and richness of my newfound senses. I would impart my experience to my clients, and quickly became rather famous among the elite clientele who frequented Dagobert’s establishment…
LaLouch looked at X.
The foot of his cigar died out. The smoke in the room sunk down to their ankles like morning fog.
“And then you just sat back on your stool by the bar in the Pferdschwanz and looked at me and wondered if you believed any word of what I said.”
X smiled at him, his face looking like a pair of Groucho Marx glasses with a mustache.
LaLouch knew not believe that mask of a face. “And of course I didn’t believe you.”
X shrugged his shoulders.
LaLouch stretched his arms, clicked his neck to the sides, put the cigar in the ashtray and while getting up slowly from the couch said to his young visitor, “Well, it’s time we now go to sleep don’t you think?”
X was tired.
The dinner and the storytelling took a lot out of him, and tomorrow he will have to be on his way again. Hopefully he will find a train back to Paris.
LaLouche didn’t ask X to sleep in his bed. Their relationship was of the mind.
X went up to the third story bedroom while LaLouch went to his on the second.
In the center of his large king-sized bed LaLouche chucked to himself as he warmed his bones under the covers. It wasn’t like that at all. He thought and closed his eyes. He mumbled himself to sleep, it wasn’t like that at all… and when he slept he dreamed about Alexis Margoulis, about Polaris, and about alien mushroom spores from outer space.
— Amir Naaman was born in Israel in 1984 and since 2012 lives in Berlin. He has published short stories, poems and plays in Hebrew and English . His first novel The Hummingbirds was published by Tangier press in 2020 and will be released in Germany in autumn ’22. He works as a personal trainer in a gym in Berlin-Neukölln. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram.