The Strangling Hand
by Karl Hans Strobl
translated by Joe E. Bandel
Copyright Joe E. Bandel
The Strangling Hand Ch 1 pg 21–24
The mailman, who brought a single letter, looked at Frau Emma without attempting to say anything. What could he do other than share empty words of sympathy over the death of her husband? But hidden within the large envelope was a business card and a formal letter from a publisher, who had tried in vain to make an offer while her husband was living, and who was now once more inquiring after the estate of the dead. He had carefully prepared a contract to organize and publish the collected works of her husband. The widow was assured that she would receive enough in royalties to suffice for her needs.
Her joy at this unexpected development remained, but much stronger was the bitterness that this triumph came so late. Frau Emma decided to ask some friend of her husband for counsel, but she discarded every name that she called up, until she was only left with one, who had never known him while he was alive, yet had become a strong advocate now that he was dead, and in whom she had complete trust, Eleagabal Kuperus.
She was beginning to paint the particulars of her future, when Frau Fodermayr announced the arrival of a gentleman who wished to speak with her.
“Gracious Frau,” began the little, beardless man, who followed immediately behind the servant, as if he wanted to make a refusal impossible. “I already tried to search you out yesterday, but you were not at home, and that’s why I repeated my visit today. I am a press reporter.” He called out the name of a large magazine- “I’ve come to inquire about the sensational estate of your deceased husband. We would like to publish an article in the evening paper.”
Frau Emma stood silent and pale, and didn’t find it necessary at all to invite the questioner to sit. She sensed his forceful shamelessness, his words , which came from out of a large, nervous and smiling mouth, felt like blows. She felt how his own uncomfortableness, his hasty greed after sensational stories, endangered her own delicate balance. She was determined to throw this annoying fellow out, but would welcome the entry of anyone else that would spare her this difficulty.
In the meantime the journalist continued to press her with inquiries and his questions probed an open wound. Why had the deceased ordered that his head be preserved? How would the head be preserved? Had she already made arrangements to have it done? Did this strange desire of her husband originate from some disgusting reason or other form of weakness? Would she consider allowing a plaster cast to be made of the head?
Frau Emma looked solidly into the gray eyes of this short little man with the engaging smile who was leaning upon her husband’s writing table and everything else disappeared. She tried to meet his gaze with an unrelenting stare from across the room and force him to leave. It was like looking into a funnel, in which an ugly, confused life twisted.
The power, which this stranger served, arranged itself into a crowd of images before her, the bleak sound of stamping machines coming from out of subterranean rooms. This was where all the events of the times were painted into stories. All of the big stories were cut out from the forest of thoughts by the screaming saws of merciless midgets. The type sprang up like goblins, as black metal letters mixed together to chatter words of beauty, and staggered back down to form entire rows of sentences, which warped and arranged themselves to once more unite to form thoughts. Dirty hands with stubby fingers were visible between whirling wheels which grabbed after the fidgety letters and held them with a solid pressure to make them rigid, while endless rolls of paper were fed into them and disappeared. No stopping or pause interrupted the swarm of unending productivity. The columns of letters marched like armies of workers, one behind the other, ceaselessly spilling out from the surrounding machines, which pressed against the paper, imprinting the white masses with their own metallic lives.
The crazy hubbub became even more chaotic. Searching hands carefully folded the papers, grabbing at the tender and majestic words, tearing away the sense of the remote and giving it back to the crowd, driving the life out of the living, which was now confined on the paper as black on white. The machine spewed pressed sheets from out of its broad mouth, which piled into two mountains, two great pillars piling up, each containing thousands of repetitions of the same stock phrases and little reports, the same gossip and politically correct thoughts, the same murders and other unsolved crimes which threatened to choke the entire world. A crane reached down from above, whose iron claw clamped onto the bales and lifted them from out of the confused tunnel while the machines stamped on, and scarcely released from their iron framework, the letters were newly pressed into service like black spirits of the earth which a mighty sorcerer had made into slaves.
Her husband’s hatred of the industrious and busy body world of the newspaper burned in Frau Emma, who knew enough not to value or think of this interview as some kind of treasure. She suddenly turned away from the confused journalist in the middle of his questions and went into her bedroom, while she waved him away with a few jerking hand movements, like those she had so often seen her husband make.
In the easy chair she reflected over it, how it was that she had taken on the habits of her departed husband, like a shell that had been left behind and awaited a new core. Was it really true, as she had so often fantasized in the evening hours, that the deeds and actions of a person, all his words and little daily habits, remained behind after death, in a type of astral body, which remained behind and continued its life? It was invisible, like thoughts, woven from the astral substance of the soul, bodiless, yet with the finest nerves and tangible like magnetic lines of force or moonbeams, which remained in this world even after the crude form of the physical body had already gone away.
In the next room she heard the coughing of the journalist, who appeared determined to besiege her, until she gave in to his questions. But then in astonishment she heard words between him and another man’s voice. His words were soft and engaging. The other’s voice was muffled, yet hard and commanding at the same time. Just then a noisy truck rumbled past and rattled the front windows, so that the words were choked in the noise. But it seemed to Emma, as if the forceful commands of the other was forcing her beleaguer out of the room and after the truck had passed, the work room lay wrapped in silence.
Frau Emma stood up and walked over to the door. A strange man sat in front of her husband’s writing desk. He had one leg crossed over the other, with hands folded around one knee, and was observing the tip of his shoe as if there were nothing more interesting in this room than the round, immaculate top of his polished, shiny boot. The elegance of the English dandy, which extended from the difficult knot of his necktie down to the heavily creased suit, lay like a mask over his face. She knew that a far more dangerous opponent was sitting there, than the one which had just left.
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