Fiction from Web del Sol

The Munich Window

Brian Evenson

Part I: Station

      The face of my daughter, my eldest--the daughter who later that day threw herself a second time from the open window of her Munich apartment, this time to her death--was not unknown to me, though I had not seen her face for eighteen years. After the untimely death of her mother--who had also died by throwing herself from a window (this being a window in Dresden) in what police and reporters had maliciously referred to as suspicious circumstances--I had found it expedient to leave Germany for warmer, more hospitable climes. I had left my eldest and only living daughter with our neighbors, for what I promised would be no more than thirty minutes, but which had in truth been eighteen years. And which, had she not killed herself, would have been eighteen more. Leaving her eighteen years ago, I assured myself that I had not so much abandoned a daughter (although certainly I had done that as well) as done that which I had logically and methodically determined to be the absolutely ideal solution for her--and of course for myself, in consideration my own circumstances. Circumstances which, to say the least, were troubled, absolutely unsuitable for children. I left my daughter with a family bearing the name of Grunders, who quickly proved themselves not unworthy of the task I had assigned them in the care of my daughter, all the more impressive in that these Grunders had accomplished this task without any monetary compensation for their pains during the full eighteen years. Despite, however, what must initially appear a neglect of my daughter, I can assure you that, during my self-imposed exile from Germany, not a day passed in which I did not glance at my daughter's picture. It is the only photograph of any type which I possess, a photograph which, for the greater part of the last eighteen years, has been pinned to the wall above my desk. I had succeeded, through daily study, in engraving the image mercilessly upon the walls of my skull. Or so I believed. For, despite my careful study, I failed to recognized my daughter's face at the Munich station. Perhaps the photograph I possessed was atypical. Possibly my daughter's physiognomy had undergone a revolution over the last eighteen years. Perhaps the photograph above my desk was not a photograph of my daughter at all, but a childhood picture of my wife--for my daughter had resembled my wife, my wife as a child, to a troubling degree. When my daughter made herself known to me at the Munich station, however, she resembled my wife not in the slightest, nor did she bear any resemblance to me. Rather, she was the spitting image of the Grunders woman who, along with the Grunders man, had taken her in. I noticed that my daughter possessed the most irritating habits of the Grunders family--mannerisms which, due to my eighteen years of non-contact with Grunders, I believed to have completely expunged from memory, but which immediately leaped to the fore of my consciousness upon seeing my daughter. I realized, the instant I saw my daughter, that my daughter had adopted not only the name Grunders (a repulsive name at best), but also these people's most despicable etiquette. The rubbing-the-nose habit, the clearing-the-throat habit, the coughing-up-the-phlegm habit, the curling-the-middle-finger habit, the slouching-shuffling-gait habit, even the cracking-the-neck habit: she had marked all these tics for her own. When my daughter introduced herself to me, I thought at first, bombarded suddenly with all her nervous Grunderisms--bombarded above all by the slouching-shuffling-gait habit as, slouching, she shuffled toward me--I thought at first that the creature awkwardly introducing itself to me could not possibly be my daughter. Rather, I expected it was a Grunders sent to the Munich station to chauffeur me to the place where my real daughter was recovering from her leap from the window, her first leap, the non-fatal one. My daughter had to grip my arm, had to repeat her name several times before I paid her the slightest heed. While she addressed me I wondered if this Grunders person thought herself jocular for passing herself off as my daughter, when, as any fool could see, she was anything but my daughter. However, against all logic, it turned out that she was my daughter and, being my daughter, was only in exteriority of the Grunders breed. For although my daughter, judged by her apperance ex ungue leonis as it were, resembled the Grunders to an uncanny degree--had even made the mistake of exchanging her mother's face and figure for that of a Grunders (and had thereby sustained a substantial loss)--she had, even before I arrived, revealed that interiorly she was her mother's child. My daughter had proved herself to be the suicidal type, as was my dead wife, by making her (first) attempt to kill herself. Through this act, too, she had proved herself not only the suicidal type, but also, as was my dead wife, the vicious type. Both of the window leaps, the mother's and the daughter's, had been intended to soil my character. Both the suicide of the mother and the suicide attempt of the daughter had been performed without the slightest degree of disinterestedness --the most necessary component of the aesthetically successful suicide. My daughter had hurled herself from the window (the first time, not the second) out of pure viciousness, in an attempt to force me to submit to her will, to force me to visit her in Munich. She assumed, after that excessive display, I would have no choice. Of course, entre nous, a mere suicide attempt is not nearly enough to provoke a man of my caliber. A mere suicide attempt is a quotidian occurrence, worthy of no notice whatsoever--particularly when it is obviously strictly manipulative, as hers undoubtedly was. I was not to be provoked by such sophomoric tricks, I wrote to her. I wrote to her that she did great dishonor to her mother by merely pretending to kill herself, instead of actually killing herself. I encouraged her to take the task of killing herself as seriously as her mother had. Indeed, a mere suicide attempt was not enough to entice me to Munich. I only began to consider that a journey to Munich might be justified when she wrote to inform me (definitely proving herself the vicious type) that there were certain matters having to bear on my personal character, matters which must be discussed with me immediately, in person, in Munich. Otherwise, she would, she indicated, be compelled to take legal action and make arrangements for my extradition from my adopted country. These were matters of the greatest import, she claimed, although she remained elusive about the content of these so-called important matters. No doubt these matters were the spawn of lies, lies which the Grunders and the press, with only an imperfect knowledge of my true family circumstances, had instilled within her. However, I purchased a ticket and came to Munich and, once I found myself standing in the Munich station confronted by my daughter, I could not help but sense the Grunders in her. I could not help but notice that she chose to utilize the slouching-shuffling-gait habit as she approached me, nor could I ignore her use of the clearing-the-throat habit as she prepared to speak. Although both her middle fingers were invisible once she had embraced me, I had no doubt that she practiced, even while we embraced, the petit-bourgeois curling-the-middle-finger habit. The assault on my senses of all these habits, made me want to push my daughter, now renamed Grunders (another indication of her viciousness), under the train, a desire which grew as my eldest daughter now did her best to exchange the light embrace I had initiated for a full, tight embrace of the kind unsuitable for public display, inappropriate for all but a married couple. It was instantly clear that my wife, by taking my other daughter, the younger daughter, the dead one, with her when she killed herself, had saved my younger daughter from the terrible prospect of becoming Grunders. This humane sentiment certainly had not been my wife's primary motivation for her jump, nor even an afterthought, though it had been one of the few happy results. In our nine years of marriage, I had never known my wife to be motivated by anything except a general viciousness toward everything around her coupled with a specific persecutory viciousness toward myself, who, of all people, was the least deserving of such treatment. I divined that my daughter to be a woman of the same stripe. I had long ago let my arms fall in embarrassment, but my daughter continued to embrace me, kept her arms locked around my ribs, refused to let go despite the fact that the patience of etiquette had long since been exhausted. I stood helpless in her embrace, observing crowds shuffle past, attempting in this painful interim, I attempted to determine why, despite perpetual dedication to the photograph of my daughter, I had failed to recognize her. Equally important, how had the girl, who must have been young when she last saw me, seven or eight or six, (I have her age written down somewhere, surely), and who had no photograph to aid her in recalling me to memory, how had my daughter, managed to identify me? Perhaps I was wrong to believe she had no photographs of me, there being some likelihood that, in my hasty departure eighteen years ago, when I had incinerated all important documents and possessions, including my photographs--first and foremost my photographs--I had passed over one or two critical photographs. The family Grunders might have found these photographs, I imagine, and had passed on to my daughter, and she had pinned them to her wall, subjecting them to serious daily study. Or perhaps the Grunders themselves had, without my knowledge, taken pictures of me themselves, pictures which had fallen by default into my daughter's hands upon her coming of age. It was perhaps even more likely that my daughter had practiced her indefatigable viciousness in order to extort a picture from my business associates--I should say ex-business associates--my ex-associates from the period before my wife threw herself from the window, an act certainly calculated well in advance, but which, out of her own viciousness, she arranged to take place under circumstances which seemed sudden and, as police and reporters had indicated, suspicious. After fleeing Dresden, I had made the mistake of writing to my business associates (leaving no forwarding address, of course, crossing national borders to mail the letters, so that the postmarks might be a misdirection) to request that they shred all my correspondence and, I wrote, all photographs as well. This request must have had the opposite effect of what was intended, insuring not only that they refused to shred my correspondence but that they went to the extreme of examining my correspondence in its minutest particulars. It was equally possible, considering how idefatigable my daughter had been in her pursuit of me, tht she had obtained more recent photographs, photographs which had been taken without my permission, through the exceptionally infuriating investigator who had located me or through one of his equally repulsive minions. I could not help but feel exceedingly embarrassed in the station by my daughter's public embrace, particularly since I noticed now that a young woman leaning against the wall was staring at us, and that, no matter how sharply I returned her gaze, the woman refused to avert her eyes. Quite the reverse: this woman had the audacity to smile at us, to actually smile, so that, confronted by her gaze and smile, I was forced not only to refuse to return my daughter's embrace, but finally to take hold of my daughter's arms and pry them off of me. I took my daughter by the hand and shook her hand warmly, introducing myself properly and without affectation. Was it true, I asked her, that she had exchanged the surname I had proudly given her for the quite frankly repulsive name of Grunders? She said she had, whereupon I congratulated her on her lack of taste. I indicated that there was some confusion in my mind about whether she considered myself or Grunders her father. I could not help noticing that the other woman was still staring at us, the woman who, I now noticed, was sporting brightly colored petit bourgeois clothing--moreover, this woman was practicing a variation of the curling-the-middle-finger habit, a variation even more irritating than its original Grunders manifestation. I took my daughter by the arm, propelling her down the quay, demanding she explain immediately how she had recognized me. Perhaps from some weakness in her rational faculties--weakness which had no doubt been cultivated into full bloom by her transplantation into Grunders manure--she was absolutely unable to explain. "Instinct," she told me, whereupon I uttered the word "bosh." Instinct, I informed her, had been the type of nonsequitor which had composed her (late) mother's equivalent of a rosary. So-called instinct had proved her mother's downfall, and it was, by all appearances, proving my daughter's downfall as well. I told my daughter that her mother had thrown herself out the window as a result of instinct, although the actual fall from the window--which had been suicide, not murder, I said, make no mistake, the only murder being that of my youngest daughter, killed when her mother chose to take that daughter out the window with her--the fall from the window had, though triggered by "instinct", been coldly reasoned out aequo animo beforehand. I told my daughter that I had no doubt that her own leap out of the window had been a result of instinct conjoined with the same cold viciousness, corollary to which viciousness had been her demand that I make this futile and perilous journey to Munich, in order to satisfy her whims. I was close enough to her face now to see, beneath her heavy maquillage, the webwork of scars that the window glass had left on her face and neck. Glancing behind us, I saw, pursuing us down the quay, the woman who had so brazenly observed us earlier. Already? I wondered, though I saw neither badge nor camera. Redoubling my steps, dragging my daughter forward, I shouted at my daughter the words "legal action?," and demanded an immediate explanation. I could hear the woman's footsteps close behind. "Matters of the greatest importance?" I shouted at my daugther, "Child Abuse? My Mother's Murder?", and demanded she explain without further delay, and without slowing her pace. I sped up, threw a glance backward, saw the woman quicken her pace as well. "Ludicrous! Ludicrous!" I couldn't help expostulating. It was obvious, I told my daughter, that my daughter's leap--a leap which, had she been a woman of respectable character, in all rights should have killed her--had merely succeeded in leading her into the wildest and most unfounded imaginings. I swerved, heard the woman's footsteps behind us stutter, mimic my course. I would, I told my daughter, deign to spend thirty minutes convincing her that her accusations were faulty, at the expiration of which time I would board the express train again and return home, where, I told her, I proposed that she should not disturb me further. We were running down the quay, the woman matching our pace. I let the woman close on us, then stopped abruptly and flung myself backward, jerking my daughter back with me, sending the other woman off her feet to leave her sprawled on the floor, her hand cupping her mouth. I straightened my clothing, stepped over her body. I attempted the walk back up the quay, but found that my daughter had dug in her heels. I released my daughter and watched her actually fall to her knees before the other woman, actually reach her hands out to the other woman, through whose fingers blood had begun to drip. I demanded my daughter stand and deliver an immediate explanation.
      "Psychiatrist!" she choked out.
      "You poor silly thing," I said, "not in the least!" I pointed to the woman's mouth. "A dentist! A dentist!"

Part II: Cafe

      I informed my daughter, as she helped her psychiatrist friend to her feet, that I had brought only one small valise to Munich, that I had every intention of departing on the next train. In the meantime, I would allow her a few minutes which she could use, if she used them wisely, to explain succinctly and to my satisfaction the threatening letter she had mailed. Immediate legal action, matters of the greatest import, child abuse, my mother's murder: Were these phrases proper to use with one's father? She had, I told her, a few minutes to present her case in the station café, where she would purchase for herself a Coca Blanc and for myself a glass of Perrier--since I had never fallen into the vice of drinking alcoholic beverages, though she, having been raised by Grunders, surely drank gallons of the cheapest lager. My daughter's psychiatrist friend had removed from her pocket a wad of crumpled, undoubtedly soiled, papertissues which she pressed against her lips and gums in a futile attempt to halt the bleeding. Watching her, I felt obliged to inform my daughter that I was not, in all honesty, interested in being shadowed by such a person. Her psychiatrist friend was, I told my daughter, as the psychiatrist woman pressed bloody tissues against broken teeth, obviously a tapeworm, or perhaps a ringworm. A dabbler in sir-reverence, no doubt. I advised my daughter to sever the connection between herself and the psychiatrist woman without further delay, by all means within her power, and to do so while her psychiatrist friend's mouth remained hors de service and incapable of spewing its venom. Imagine my surprise when, purely for viciousness' sake, my daughter refused to dismiss her psychiatrist friend, having the gall to insist that her psychiatrist friend was what she called a "nice person," making perfectly clear to me how far she was under the psychiatrist woman's spell. She even attempted to introduce me formally to this psychiatrist woman who, I had no doubt, was not in the least a "nice person" but was a disgustingly and vulgarly unbearable person, was even more of the Grunders type than my daughter was--a person who participated for money in the most ugly sort of mountebankery--viz. that of, upon promise of a cure, stripping people of their personalities, as she was doubtless doing even now to my daughter. I would not under any circumstances, I said, sit at the same table with this psychologist woman. In all this, motivated as I was by principles of reason, I was blameless. What I finally did allow, against my better judgment, was for the psychiatrist woman to sit at a table near us, where, forbidden to take notes on the matter my daughter and I discussed, she could remain, as long as she promised not to penetrate our conversation with "insights," particularly insights of the psychological variety. Psychological insight, I confided to my daughter, was synonymous with psychological nonsense. I pushed the psychiatrist woman, who had not succeeded in arresting the bleeding of her mouth, toward a table two tables distant from the table I had chosen for my daughter and myself, a table at which I sat in such a manner that I could see at all times this psychiatrist woman and, above her and beyond her, the station clock. Once seated, I told her, told my oldest daughter, to begin speaking without further delay, removing at that same moment from my breast pocket the train schedule, examining it with the greatest avidity. The next train, I saw, the train which would take me from Munich, was departing in slightly less than twelve minutes. I folded the schedule neatly again, telling my daughter to have done with niceties and gibberish, and to come directly to the point in the next ten minutes, for in eleven minutes she would see the last of me, and in twelve she would see me not at all. Waiting for my daughter to speak, I made the mistake of glancing at the psychiatrist woman. Holding up one hand to my daughter to keep her from speak, I was compelled to command the psychiatrist woman to stop staring at us unless she desired to be personally escorted from the Munich station. I leaned closer to my daughter and asked her, confidentially, if she actually employed this woman, a woman who was now in the process of stuffing an entire tissue up her left nostril in an attempt to stop the bleeding of her nose which, perhaps from sympathy, had joined the bleeding of her mouth, creating a veritable symphony of bleeding. I informed the psychiatrist woman that the most effective method of stopping this type of bleeding was first to heat the end of a spoon, second to thrust the spoon handle up the nostril. I graciously offered her my utensils and the use of the candle on our table to perform this delicate operation, all of which instruments she declined. I whispered to my daughter that surely it was impossible for her to have hired a woman of this sort. I told the woman psychiatrist that, as regarded her mouth, the proper thing to do was to see a dentist, which I encouraged her to do without further delay, without minding us, as we would proceed without her aid. I informed my daughter that she had approximately seven minutes to enlighten me as to what events the accusations mentioned in her letter alluded. At the least, I could not help but say, holding up a finger to stop my daughter for just a moment more, the psychiatrist woman should volunteer the gratuity for having imposed herself upon us--although her volunteering the gratuity would have done absolutely nothing to repair the miserable impression she made by cramming whole boxes of paper tissue into a single nostril. Waiting for my daughter to speak, waiting while my daughter did not speak, I sipped at my drink. How refreshing! I told my daughter, holding up a finger, to be in a country in which drinks make their appearance unencumbered by ice cubes, a country where one did not even have to ask for one's drink to be served without ice--where one's drink was each and every time served without ice. The drink itself, of course, was no good, I said, no good at all, but the fact that the drink had no ice, automatically had no ice, eo ipso made the drink verge on the bearable. Germany taken as a whole is absolutely unbearable, I said; however, Germany's relationship to its ice is one of sublime beauty--Frankfurt, I informed my daughter (who certainly could not help being interested in such matters) is the unfortunate exception, as is West Berlin. I settled back to allow my daughter to absorb these simple facts, and then elucidated. When one goes to Frankfurt or to West Berlin one never knows, because of the American soldiers in the first case, and American soldiers and American tourists in the second case, one never knows whether one will or will not be served ice. In the same Frankfurt restaurant, in the same West Berlin restaurant, on the same day of the week, served by the same waiter, I informed my daughter, one might in the morning be served a beverage with ice, in the evening be served a beverage without ice. Appalling! I yelled. Appalling! One must spend one's time in Frankfurt, in West Berlin, in mortal dread of whether one's drink will be served with ice or without ice. East Berlin, however, I said, finishing my drink, is an altogether different story. One is never served ice in East Germany--but how long will it last, how long? "One must rebuild the Berlin Wall for the sake of ice," I declared, pounding my fist on the table to punctuate my statement. I put my empty glass on the table, asking my daughter why she had dragged me to Munich and now refused to discuss those matters which, she had insisted, were crucial. "Matters of greatest import," I reminded her. "Child abuse!" I shouted, "My mother's murder! Immediate legal action! My mother's murder! Child abuse! Matters of the greatest import! Child abuse! Immediate legal action!" I said. I was all ears, arrectis auribus, I told her, checking once again the station clock. Why didn't she speak? I wanted to know. She had exactly two minutes, I told her; she would have to be succinct and extremely precise, but it could be done, she was my daughter. My daughter looked away from me, looked over her shoulder at her psychologist friend. The latter clutched her hand into a fist and pressed it against her breast, contorting her face into what was supposed to be an expression of solidarity, I assume, but which, with one wad of tissue crammed up her nose and another wad hanging out from under her top lip, made her look as if she was a hospital case. My daughter, who had far too much Grunders in her, apparently found this nauseating gesture reassuring, for immediately thereafter she turned toward me, though refusing to meet my gaze, and informed me that I had slaughtered her mother. My daughter said she knew that I had pushed her mother out the window of our Dresden apartment; that, with the help of her psychiatrist friend, she had been able to "reconstruct the original scene" as it had "actually happened" eighteen years ago, along, she said, with some other scenes which illustrated how I had treated her as a child, what (she said) I had done to "abuse her trust" when she was a child. After many months of therapy, she claimed to have succeeded in reconstructing the murder of her mother, and was prepared to repeat this elaborate joint fabrication of a non-existent original scene to me had I not stood and told her that her time had expired. I informed her that she could not have possibly seen me murder her mother, since she had been in the closet at the time. She had been unable to see anything, let alone her mother's murder. Her mother had not been murdered by me, I told her, although circumstances had been contrived by her to throw suspicion on me. Her mother was a victim of self- murder, having thrown herself out the window of her own free will and choice--my daughter herself had been the victim of attempted (failed) self-murder. Her so-called psychiatrist friend had created false memories in order to keep extracting a fee from my daughter, I said. I was not impressed, I said, by the viciousness of her psychiatrist friend, nor was I impressed by the viciousness of my own daughter, had I anything else to say to either of them. Having proved her "Matters of utmost importance" to be no more than mere trivialities and imaginings, I would waste no more time at the cafe, nor at the Munich train station, nor, for that matter, anywhere in Munich. Shaking my daughter's hand vigorously and thanking her for a delightful visit, I picked up my valise, and walked hurriedly back to the quay to catch my train.

Part III: The Hamburg Train

      I soon found a compartment which, although filthy, was less filthy than the other compartments, and had the additional qualification of being empty of other passengers. I took out my handkerchief and unfolded it, using one side of it to brush clean the seat upon which I placed my bag. I took off my coat, folding it neatly, placing it on a seat two seats from the bag. On the seat between bag and coat, I carefully spread the handkerchief, soiled side down, and sat down myself. No sooner had I insured my comfort when I heard an odd repeated tapping on the window, devoid of any percussionary sense. Glancing over, I was not surprised to see the ruined mouth of the psychiatrist woman, her index finger engaged in erratically striking the glass. She began to wave madly. I refused to acknowledge her existence, whereupon she actually began beating on the window glass with both palms, as if to break the glass. I stood up, pulled the shade down between us,

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