Fiction from Web del Sol

The Munich Window

Brian Evenson

Continued ...

sat down again on the handkerchief. I stretched my legs out in front of me, eyes closed, waiting until, with a jerk, the train began to move. I stood to open the blinds, found the quay deserted, my Grunders daughter and her psychiatrist friend gone. I had sat down and just closed my eyes when the compartment door burst open and I found himself confronted by both my daughter's psychiatrist friend and my daughter herself, who entered the compartment without asking my leave, one removing my coat and the other removing my bag from where I had placed them on the cleaned seats, moving them to filthy seats, so that, doubtless, I would have to burn both items. After having engineered these two great assaults upon etiquette, they mounted a third, sitting in the very seats they had cleared of my possessions, and whining at me from both sides. I stood up, excused myself, gathered my things without further speech and moved to another compartment. They, proving themselves again to be of the Grunders type, the persecuting type, the tormenting type, followed me, sat down next to me. I asked my daughter if she was in fact crazy, following me onto a train as she had, ignoring all the responsibilities awaiting her in Munich, responsibilities which, I told her, she could not afford to ignore. I said this though I had no doubt that her responsibilities were responsibilities of the Grunders variety, the most lifeless of banalities: taking the trash to the curb, for instance, or scrubbing the sidewalk. I informed the psychiatrist woman that it was irresponsible for her to leave her patients alone in Munich without help, while she, for the sake of a vacation, encouraged my daughter to pursue a futile course of action. I exhorted them both to regain their sense of social responsibility instantly and to disembark at the next station. In the meantime, I suggested, they should, if they had any sense of propriety, find themselves another compartment, where they would be able to converse between themselves, on the subject of their choice, without disturbing others. My daughter took this as her cue to claim that she and I still had matters to discuss. "Matters?" I said. I was not in the least interested in matters, I said, or in listening to the matters stemming from the original scene which the psychiatrist woman had created in my daughter's mind. Indeed, if she were a true daughter of mine, rather than a Grunders halfbreed, she would never have allowed anybody, least of all a psychiatrist woman, to convince her of anything. "No, no, no," I said, cutting her off. "Leave this compartment immediately; it is useless, useless." But my daughter displayed an unexpected tenacity which, though wrongly directed, revealed beneath her roughshod Grunders exterior remnants of her true heritage. Had this tenacity chosen right objects for itself, had it been directed at someone apart from me, I would have found it both admirable and endearing. In the present circumstance, however, it could not but be exasperating in the extreme, so much so that I told my daughter that if she said another word I would hurl both her and her psychiatrist friend out of the window of the compartment. "Ah-hah!" said the psychiatrist woman, pointing her stubby little finger at me in such a manner that I immediately gathered my possessions and left the compartment. Although I walked at the most brisk pace imaginable, the two women dogged my heels. I kept on down the hall, suddenly stopping, throwing my body backward against them until they collapsed, falling to the floor of the narrow passageway. I climbed off of them, breaking the psychiatrist's woman's nose while regaining my feet--sheer accident--and continued down the corridor, locking myself into the lavatory. No sooner had I shut myself in than fists began to pound on the lavatory door, to which I had no response but to contemplate myself in the metal mirror. I was not displeased with what I saw of myself, particularly in contrast with my surroundings, for I must admit that I have never been in a more filthy and cramped lavatory. The psychiatrist woman had pressed her face against the door, and was speaking loudly about child abuse, using the words "child pornography," and even the words "sexual harassment." It was clear to me, however, that it wasn't the child being abused but the parent, myself, who, by his daughter's insistence and extravagance, had been forced to take refuge in the most odiferous stinkhouse, the literal asshole of the train. I stood as still as I could, trying not to touch anything, gaining strength from my reflection, until my daughter and her psychiatrist friend fell silent outside the door. From time to time there still came knocks and feeble protests, until even these died as well. I would, I thought, remain in the lavatory until the end of the line if need be, from there making a rapid dash from the train lavatory to the lavatory of the airplane. I was planning my epic journey from lavatory to lavatory when the door sprang open, revealing a dwarfish, pock-faced conductor sporting a blue pill-box hat. The man slipped a heavy ring of keys back into his pocket, informing me that the "crappers" were for all alike, and that they served for "shitting," and that they were not to be used as a hiding place. I informed this diminutive yokel that I had entered the facilities with every intention of employing them for their proper use but, being confronted with their filthy condition, found myself incapable of moving my bowels. He looked into the bathroom, scratched his scalp, shrugged. He looked at the ladies to either side of him, rubbed his chin, shrugged. Extracting from his inner pocket an unwieldy device which, I divined, was employable for the perforation of paper, he demanded of me my ticket. I promptly removed my ticket from my own inner pocket, presented him with it. He looked it over, nodded his head, perforated it, handed it back, tipped his hat, and prepared to depart. I asked him about the ladies, about the tickets of the ladies, as I chose at that moment to refer to them. The conductor scratched his head, turned to the women, held out his hand. The psychiatrist woman and my daughter looked first at each other, then at the conductor, whereupon he verbally requested their tickets. The psychiatrist woman pretended not to hear. "What is the price of the ticket?" asked my daughter, reaching into her purse. "No tickets?" the conductor queried. I suggested that the conductor have these two women--women clearly travelling illegally and women who, I felt compelled to add, had had no intention of ever buying tickets--expelled from the train at the nearest station. Or better yet, I said, he might hurl them from the train without further ado. I would, I indicated, be more than happy to aid and abet him in either operation because of my great respect for his profession. My daughter was waving a somewhat meager handful of bills which began to attract the conductor's gaze with greater and greater frequency. I discouraged the conductor from accepting the bribe--if he did, I told him, he would be morally ruined. He shrugged. Not only morally ruined, I said, but professionally ruined, for his lapse would be described by me to his superiors in the least favorable light. The conductor stood quite still, hearing my words, giving no sign that he understood. When his mind had gathered that I was finished, he removed from another inner pocket a flat metal case, which he unfolded. From it he pulled a set of blank tickets and a list of fares. DM 27,50 for the first stop, DM 275,20 for the last, he showed my daughter. She counted her money, asking where she might travel for DM 25. Knowing the answer to be nowhere, I volunteered this information, whereupon the psychiatrist woman informed the conductor that since they were with me I would pay the difference to make up their fare. The only fare I would pay for either of these women, I declared, was the fare due to Charon, the boatman. The conductor rubbed his chin, told me this was a train, not a boat, while the psychiatrist woman screamed out the responsibilities of a father, the duties as a parent. I told her I did not believe I was her father, but surely she was not mine. The conductor remained rapt before this exchange, his pen poised over the blank ticket which he had spread on his metal case. I informed the conductor that never in my life would I, under any circumstances, purchase tickets for these women, and demanded that he eject them instanter from the train. He had the nerve to tell me that until the next stop he could do nothing to remove them from the train. Pocketing his metal case, tipping his hat, he left us to our own devices. I immediately locked myself back in the lavatory. I listened to the pounding. I stared into the lidless metal toilet bowl. Through the hole of the bowl I could see the movement of the tracks, feel the air gush up. I closed my eyes, averted by head, waited until the pounding stopped. I slid the lock out and opened the door a crack, saw, leaning against the far wall, the psychiatrist woman. Her arms were crossed, and she was staring down the hallway, her face twitching, her nose all crammed with cotton, blackening near the eyes. I swung the door wide, politely asked her to inform me where I might find my daughter, whereupon she loaded me with verbally epithets, thereafter attempting to endow me with her psychiatric textbook-case notions of what it supposedly means to be an ideal father. I asked her politely to refrain from speaking of fatherhood and matters patriarchal, matters about which she knew entirely nothing. She had taken from her pocket a set of photographs which she waved at me, yelling, "Nothing about? Nothing about?" finally managing to hold the photographs still long enough for me to see that the photographs were the remainder of a series of situations involving my daughter and myself, photographs which I believed I had long ago destroyed, save for the photograph hanging over my desk. There was nothing improper about the photographs, though they could be considered in the wrong light because of my daughter's clothing and my daughter's poses, poses which she herself had chosen, but which were likely to be interpreted as my choice in a court of law. "Kiddie Porn" was, I believe, the curious and inelegant term the psychiatrist woman had developed to define the series of photographs, showing once again her paucity of intellectual phraseology. I struck her in the mouth, wresting the photographs from her hands, tearing them to shreds, upon which she took great pride in informing me that these photographs were by no means the originals, that the originals were safe in my daughter's hands, hidden carefully away. I grabbed the psychiatrist woman by the neck, pulling her toward me, crammed her into the tiny bathroom, forcing her to straddle the toilet bowl while I crammed myself in and locked the door. When, a few minutes later, I squeezed out, alone, my daughter was there, outside the door, holding the psychiatrist woman's purse on one shoulder, her own on the other. Grabbing my daughter by the arm, I propelled her down the corridor, away from the lavatory, down to the end of the car, out of that car, into the next car. I told her, in all sincerity, that her psychiatrist friend had been a fair weather friend, who, at the least hint of profit, had deserted her. I had bought off the psychiatrist woman (it was wrong to call her "the psychiatrist friend" now, I informed my daughter), I said, quite inexpensively. Walking my daughter down to the end of the train, I asked her not to waste another thought on her psychiatrist friend. "Foremost, psychiatry," I maximed. "Lattermost, friendship of the contingent variety." I entreated her to drive all thought of the psychiatrist woman from her mind with the utmost ruthlessness, to make the woman dead to her. I placed my fingers to my daughter's lips, quelling her protests. I told my daughter I intended to compensate her in every way possible for the loss of the psychiatrist woman. I myself would return with her to Munich, to her apartment, where I would discuss with her everything that troubled her. I would stay with her as long as she wanted. I was there for her, I said, and would be there for her until the day she died. Wrapping my arms around her, I embraced her warmly.

Part IV. The Munich Apartment

I could not help but notice that the Munich apartment of my daughter bore considerable resemblance to the Dresden apartment of my wife, of myself and my wife. Both possessed, among other charms, three sets of full-length French windows, easily accessible to a woman desiring to commit suicide. My wife, I informed my daughter the instant we entered the apartment, had jumped through the middle set. My wife had had a great love of symmetry, despite the fact that her mind was unbalanced. My suspicion was, I informed my daughter, that my wife had such a great love of symmetry precisely since she was internally imbalanced. Her suicide had been an attempt to attain a balance. It had also been, I informed my daughter, a malicious attempt steal my equilibrium, an attempt which I had of course escaped, without damage. "Which window did you throw yourself from?" I asked my daughter out of politeness, although I was sure of the answer, the answer not being the middle, which she herself confirmed. I strongly encouraged her, in future, to throw herself from the middle set of French windows. The results would be more aesthetically pleasing and would make for better photographs, I told her, as witnessed by the widely publicized photographs of her mother. "Works of art," I said, stabbing my index finger into the air. My daughter poured herself a drink, threatening to pour me a drink as well, but I would not allow it. I took a seat on the ottoman, refusing first whiskey, then chardonnay, then alcoholic drinks of all kinds, then finally bottled water. She poured herself a drink, put the bottle on the parquet, a herringbone cut, oak, freshly waxed, similar in every respect to the parquet of the Dresden apartment. She dragged her chair close to the ottoman. She offered to take my gloves. I refused to part with them, saying finally, upon being further importuned, that my fingers were cold. She offered to take my coat and valise, which I allowed, noting carefully where she placed them in the closet. I informed her that the Dresden apartment had had a similar closet, perhaps an identical closet, in the same location. It was this closet, I assumed, in which she claimed to have been shut at the time of her mother's unfortunate accident. Was it that closet? I wanted to know. Was she perhaps thinking of another closet in the Dresden apartment, one of the other three closets? I stood, walked to the closet, opening it. I noted aloud that the closet had no lock on the door. Commonly closets do not have locks on their doors: What made her think that the Dresden closet had been the exception to the rule, that in that apartment she could have been locked in the closet? She looked confused. I confided in her that psychiatry creates its own data to fit its assumptions, that her analyst--did she mind if I called the psychiatrist woman her analyst?--had pre-determined what my daughter's symptoms would indicate, and had molded her memories into prearranged patterns. I told my daughter that I was prepared to accompany her to Dresden, prepared to prove that there were no locks on the closet doors in the Dresden apartment. She was pressing her palms to her skull, refusing to respond, a gesture which belonged not to her but to her mother. It warmed my soul to know that her mother was not completely dead after all. I wanted to embrace her, my dead wife, my daughter. Instead I opened the closet and looked inside. "The inside of this closet," I decreed, "is absolutely identical to the inside of the closet of the Dresden apartment." I proceeded to cram myself into the closet, once in asking her to shut the door on me, which, after much persuasion, she did. I demonstrated how easy it was to burst out of the closet, that it was just a matter of leaning slightly against the door--a task which even the most feeble of children could accomplish. She, I didn't need to remind her, had been, like her mother, a particularly well-developed child. She sat on the chair, sipping her whiskey, not speaking. I made my way to the ottoman, sat down, crossed my legs. "Now that we have resolved the closet dilemma," I said, cracking my gloved knuckles. Did she have "proof" of her other vague accusations, material we might examine together, photographs, perhaps? She did not respond, except to place her empty glass on the floor. I informed her that placing on the floor a glass which contains or has contained liquid, even for a moment, would leave a ring of moisture on the floor--a ring of moisture liable to warp the floor!--and demanded she take the glass off off the floor and carry it into the kitchen without further delay. She did not move. I cracked my knuckles. I repeated, whereupon she responded, "Why did you do it?" I informed her the "it" she had used had no known antecedent and could not refer to anything outside of the narrow confines of her mind. The sentence, as it stood, had no sense. Had she never been taught grammar? I wanted to know. "It what?" I said. "It? It?" Hastily, I scrambled to my feet and took her glass to the kitchen myself. The liquid that had condensed on the exterior penetrated through the ventilation holes in the fingers of my gloves. In the other room, my daughter was saying something, which I ignored. "Marvelous Kitchen!" I shouted. "First Rate!" Opening the cupboard, I discovered that my daughter had kept her mother's dishes, the black glazed dishes her mother had received when she had married me. I took the dishes out one by one, examining the scratches and chips on their dark surfaces, trying to determine which chips were new and which, eighteen years prior, I had made myself. Feeling my daughter standing behind me, I replaced the plates one by one, closed the cupboard, returned to the ottoman. I sat wondering what else of my wife's was in the kitchen, what else I might find in the apartment to threaten what I had erected from my wife's death. Objects of the highest danger, objects I would have to approach with the most terminal ruthlessness and with the greatest efficiency--dishes, ancient waterspotted glasses, a fork with a bent tine, a flour sifter with two rusted screens, a set of knives with oxidized blades, the uneven and badly carpentered corner of the third drawer down, the slow leak of the ice box, a cracked window pane held in place with Scotch tape, the spot on the wooden handle of a spoon which had been polished and worn smooth by my wife's thumb, my wife's long smooth fingers flicking ash from a cigarette, her fingers tracing my jaw, her hair shook down out of the pins and over my face, the feel of her body moving beneath my open palms. Across from me, straddling a chair, was my daughter, the very picture of her mother. "You are very lovely," I said. "Quite lovely." She brushed her hair out of her eyes, hooked it awkwardly behind her ear. Grunders, I realized, despite all. Saved by a mannerism. I felt rationality returning. I informed her I was aware that she had certain photographs in her possession, photographs which troubled her, and that, if they were the photographs I believed them to be, I could easily explain why she was dressed as she was, and what precisely she and I were doing, and how an unjustified unpleasant effect could be wrongly construed. I told her that, as soon as she brought out the pictures, I would explain all matters to her satisfaction--surely she was not afraid to show me the pictures, I said, when she failed to get the pictures: surely she didn't think I would do anything to the photographs. If I did destroy them, which I certainly would not do, I said, doubtless she had copies elsewhere. With her psychiatrist friend perhaps? Only with her psychiatrist friend or were there other copies? I wanted to know. I told her that I didn't imagine that she would have the nerve to show such photographs to anyone else because of the harm which (considering the possibility of misinterpretation) such a revelation might do her own reputation, not to mention my own. Had she provided copies of the photographs to anyone but her psychiatrist? I wanted to know. Not that it would matter, I explained, but being in some of the photographs myself I had a right to know. "Does anyone else, besides your psychiatrist, have the photographs?" I demanded to know. I requested she retrieve the photographs, and, when she hesitated, kindly led her from room to room, asking repeatedly, "Are they in this room? Are they in this room?" When this failed to elicit a response, I began pulling drawers open, showing her the insides of them, my eyebrows raised quizzically. Perhaps she wanted to call her psychologist friend, I suggested; perhaps it would be wise to call her psychiatrist friend and ask her advice. I was, I claimed, not adverse to such an idea. I picked up the telephone and brought it as close to her as the cord would allow. She stood dialed her her psychiatrist's telephone number. No response. I mimed surprise. I looked at my watch, told her I hadn't time to wait until her psychiatrist friend was home since I had a train to catch. It was either time to resolve everything or for us to part forever. After being confronted with similar rational reasoning, she brought me the photographs, though she did not allow me to see where they had been hidden, but she brought them to me, refusing to look at me as I examined them. I looked at each photograph carefully. I requested of her a magnifying glass and a good flashlight. I informed her that, provided with the proper equipment, I could show her how the print had been tampered with. What she thought was she, in an obscene posture with myself, was in fact not she and I together at all, but two pictures superimposed by a malicious soul. Holding the flashlight close to the photograph, I looked through the magnifying glass, forcing her to look through it as well, telling her there was the slightest of lines where the photograph of her had been grafted onto the photograph of myself. The line outlining the shoulders, could she see that line? I told her it was easier to see in negative, that if you tilted the negative in the right way you could immediately see how the graft had been touched over. Did she possess the negatives for these pictures? I wanted to know. Would she get the negatives for me? She left the living room, went into the bedroom, returned with the negatives, held them a moment, handed them to me. I immediately stood, shook her hand, thanked her for obliging me in this small particular. I counted the negatives, pocketed both photographs and the negatives, buttoned my coat tightly shut. I told her that the matter of the photographs had become a matter of the utmost annoyance to me, a matter which I was not interested in pursuing. If she could not see the graft on the photograph, she would doubtless fail to see the graft on the negative. I had no more patience left, I said. She would have to take my word for it, end of discussion. There was one matter, however, I told her, still unresolved, that matter being the death of her mother, and I was willing to spend a few more moments, at the risk of missing my train!, putting my daughter to rest over that issue. Everything she had heard heretofore on the subject of her mother's death, I said, was a lie, but I had the truth, the truth being that I had not killed the woman--she had jumped of her own accord, partly out of maliciousness, partly for being the suicidal type. I was the only one who could know for certain, I was the only one who had been there, except her mother, who was dead and who, in any case, dead or alive, was an unstable and unreliable witness. As for my daughter's memories, a scene examined through a keyhole is distorted, and was, in this instance, even more profoundly distorted by the imagination of the six-year old observer, by eighteen years of Grunders thickheadedness, by the dubious fabrications of a psychiatrist. Luckily, I was here to correct everything, to put everything in the context in which it belonged.
      I asked her to open the windows, the French windows, all three of the French windows. She refused. Did she or did she not, I asked incredulously, desire the truth? The time to strike the anvil was the present--or never. After a number of similar comments, movements toward and away from the door, and similar rational argument, she roused her stolid brain enough to open the middle set of windows. "Wrong!" I cried. "Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!" I told her to close those windows immediately, to open the two other sets of windows first, to open the middle windows last. She closed the middle windows, opened the right-hand windows somewhat listlessly. "No!" I said, "No! Put some life into it!" I announced that she was her mother's child, no doubt about it. I had been witness to her birth, and it was time for her to start acting like who she was, conscious of her heritage, of her mother's influence. She began to weep, whereupon I informed her that overindulgence in alcohol had obviously ruined her ability to know when a display of emotion was acceptable. I yanked open the windows for her in a proper fashion, commanding her to stand closer to the middle windows. I took a pillow from the ottoman and threw it at her, telling her she should hold it, that it was our baby. I demanded she move closer to the window, and, when she failed to do so, took several steps toward her, fists clenched. "Don't!" she begged. I lifted my open hands, held them, fingers splayed to either side of my nose, wiggled them. "Am I touching you?" I said. "Have I touched you? Have I laid a finger on you? Have I given you a push? Have I given you a shove? Have I given you the slightest nudge?" Her only answer was to try to move past me, to move away from the middle windows. I moved in front of her, kept moving in front of her. "You are touching me, now," I said. "That's different, entirely different, a world of difference; you are running into me now, I'm the one who should feel threatened." After she had exhausted herself sufficiently, I told her to get up and to pick her baby up. Couldn't she see that her baby was lying on the floor? Had she no shame? Was that any way to treat her baby, leaving it lying on the floor? I got close to her and yelled, "Have I pushed you? Have I pushed you?" The correct answer was no, I was not touching her, no, but she gave no response. I repeated the question until I had the response I desired. Pulling her to her feet, I encouraged her to stand on the window sill.
      I told her, as she stood in the window frame, that the photographs were genuine, utterly genuine. Not only had she done what was depicted in them but she had enjoyed doing them, she had asked to do it, had begged me to do them to her. All this playacting with her had gotten my blood boiling, I told her; I was eager to continue our relations where they had been left off years before. I was willing to do whatever she would beg of me, I was willing to make an effort, willing to try my best; no one could accuse me of not trying.
      She stood on the sill of the Munich window, holding the pillow, hesitating. Blameless and seething love, I spread my arms wide. "Come to Papa!" I cried, sliding toward her. "Come, embrace me!"
      I am blameless. Alis volabat propriis. She jumped entirely of her own volition. Just like her mother.