The Strangling Hand
by Karl Hans Strobl
translated by Joe E. Bandel
Copyright Joe E. Bandel
The Strangling Hand Ch 1 pg 17–20
When she came back to her house, the night was almost over and in the lit basement window of the bakery she saw a young boy swinging his arms as he stood waiting while the stout Master Baker counted out rolls for the morning route. Already animated noises were beginning to arise here and there in the wide and ranging building in which she lived. There was the sleepy maid with her unwillingness to work and her outrage over everything that would not leave her alone and allow her to stay in bed. On the third floor she was frightened by the cobbler’s apprentice, who suddenly appeared from some maid’s chamber of forbidden pleasures.
Then she unlocked the door to her apartment and was greeted with the ostentatious odors of funeral wreaths, frankincense and laced with the terrible odor of beginning decomposition. She opened one of the bedroom windows and allowed some of the fog filled winter morning air inside along with the first soft sounds of street traffic. Sitting in the large easy chair, in which the deceased had rested, she once more relived the experiences of the past night. No longer protected by the closeness of Eleagabal Kuperus, it all seemed miraculous and terrifying. She thought back on little incidents, which had left behind impressions like those of a gruesome dream. The servant with the head of a wolf, whose stealthy step felt like a lurking danger behind her, the head of the negro, whose skin appeared like violet velvet in the red light, and the mummy with the crumbling yellow bandages and the wrinkled and blackened forehead.
And suddenly the bleak, wasted, monotonous melody was there, whose ceaseless and rising tone was like a murderous fear that could not be tolerated. She became determined to rid herself of it, and tried to think back upon where it came from. The words, the words… She couldn’t understand the words, they must be words in a strange language. Yes, they were Latin words, and now she recognized what it was. These were the words of the Psalm, which the stubby cheeked, pious priest had sung at the coffin of her spouse while he sprinkled the corpse with Holy water. These words were echoed in the Cathedral, this melody was the voice of the empty church, an endless litany of the terrors of the dead, which promised eternal life to the living soul. But no one was certain of it, didn’t know when their ears would suddenly hear this loud and threatening melody, when their mortal body would perish. They never knew when these melancholy words would arise, impress themselves upon the walls, permeate the furniture and clothing, and take over the entire room. When they would mix with the perfume of funeral wreathes and decay, as they proclaimed victory over life and diminished it through the incessant memories of the dead.
The tired arms of the Frau hung over the arms of the chair, in exactly the same posture, as those of her spouse had done. When she noticed this, she shuddered, leaned back and moved into a different position. Then she fell asleep. But outside the life in the streets kept growing louder, more penetrating and increased in the power of its demands.
When the servant rang, Emma was sleeping so heavily that she didn’t immediately wake up. Frau Fodermayr soon began to fear that perhaps the widow had done some harm to herself. Her imagination was filled with some fantasy from one of the illustrated magazines which she had read, filled with fearful family drama and a lot of blood. She finally opened the door. Frau Fodermayr, with a pale face and petrified fingers gripping the door, greeted Frau Emma like a loyal hound. The eyes of the widow were still shut from sleep, and her limbs had grown stiff from the uncomfortable position in the easy chair. But something warm entered into her. The genuine concern of her servant did Emma well. She stirred enough to answer questions about her condition. Then Frau Fodermayr offered the consolation of an old woman, that man can never know, when God will take up the heavy burdens of the dead and protect them. Today Emma found these words in strange agreement with those of Eleagabal Kuperus. Since her visit with him and her heavy sleep, her experience with him seemed much more distant, like a fairy tale or legend. It seemed totally unbelievable and at the same time so full of possibilities, and of wonder that she had really found the courage to bring her burden to him and that she had actually been in his house for one hour.
After that she washed herself, did up her hair, and then stepped out onto the wooden gallery, that went from door to door around the entire courtyard in the center of the massive quadrangle building in which she lived. In this quarter of the city rental houses were built like barracks and this was one of the largest and most beloved. A hundred and twenty renters each had their own apartments. There were all kinds of apartments here, from the studio apartments of the poor to the relatively common comfort of Emma’s apartment with its up scale trappings and comfort.
This building, four square and massive, had been built with the permission of the city, and enclosed in its courtyard was a noisy republic of children. In the summer the courtyard was never empty of drying laundry, hung out on long cords that stretched from one of the stunted little trees to the next. The tree trunks with their rough bark were marked with deep scars from the abrasive ropes. Today, the fog became entangled in the moist, untouched roofs high above and sank down to the plaster of the courtyard in layers, where the children played in the corners with the wet remains of the melting snow.
This house had been her home for such a long time and these people were her neighbors. Her husband, the creator of many beautiful words, had not been able to offer her a better world. But it had always been a home. What would it become in the future? She still hadn’t thought about it, about what would happen to it or to her. A heavy and rising fear climbed through the rubble of her happiness as she sought to dispel the superstitious words of Frau Fodermayr. Emma went into the workroom of her spouse and paced restlessly up and down, taking up a book from out of a broad, well used book shelf and then setting it back in its place without even looking at the title. She was surrounded by ruin and there was not a breath of new life anywhere.
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