Issue 8 Pharmacopia Fall 2002
The Deadly Rausch
A leading proponent of Weimar Germany's literary Neue Sachlichkeit, Hans Fallada(1883–1947) made his reputation with the novel Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben [Farmers, Functionaries, and Fireworks] in 1931. The following year, his Kleiner Mann, Was Nun? [Little Man, What Now?] won international acclaim for its depiction of the petit-bourgeoisie caught in the Great Depression, and was made into a Hollywood film in 1934. An alcoholic and a morphine addict, Fallada retreated into "inner emigration" with the rise of Hitler, and was in and out of sanatoria throughout the war.
In the same instant, the city appears before my eyes, roaring there below where I'm alone and abandoned to a desperation without equal. I see the streets in front of me full of people hurrying to destinations, to other people, and me alone, forsaken and absolutely at the end. A sob chokes in my throat, prying my mouth open.
Suddenly my face is flooded with tears. "What shall I do, oh, what shall I do? Help me, Herr Health Councilor, just one injection."
"Calm down, do calm down, we'll discuss all that. There's still hope even now."
My heart is seized by a transport of gratitude, in a few seconds I'll be relieved of this unspeakable agony, I'll receive my injection.
My words tumble forth, now life is effortless again, I will cure myself, this will be the last, the very last injection, then no more. I swear it.
"Can I have it at once, right now? But three per cent solution, Herr Health Councilor, and five cubic centimeters, otherwise it doesn't effect me."
"I'll give you one more injection, but you must voluntarily make the decision to enter an institution."
"But I'll kill myself, Herr Health Councilor."
"You won't kill yourself. No morphinists kill themselves. No, you won't kill yourself, but it is high time for you to go into an institution. Perhaps it's already too late. Are you a man of means?"
"Could you afford to pay for a private sanitarium?"
"Yes, but they won't give me my morphine there."
"Enough at first. They'll slowly wean you from it. You'll be given other medicaments, sleeping medicines. One day you'll breathe a deep sigh, and you'll be free."
I shut my eyelids. I'm defeated. Yes, I'll take the suffering upon myself, I'll break the habit. I nod in assent.
The doctor continues: "You understand that I will not allow myself to be fooled. After I've given you an injection, I'm going to lock you in the waiting room while I get ready to go. I will not let you out of my sight. Do I have your agreement on this?"
I nod again. I'm only thinking now about the injection I'm going to get right away. And now we begin an argument about the potency of the dosage, an argument that lasts for a quarter of an hour, leaving both of us all worked up. In the end the doctor remains the victor.
I receive two cubic centimeters with three per cent solution.
He goes to the cabinet, opens it, prepares the syringe. I follow him, inspect the label on the ampule to make sure that I don't get tricked. Then I sit down in a chair. He jabs the needle in.
And now … I stand up briskly and walk across to the waiting room, where I lie down on a chaise lounge. I hear him lock the door.
That's how it is once again….
Life is beautiful. It is so gentle, an auspicious stream effervesces through my limbs and all my tiny nerves sway in it softly and delicately like aquatic plants in a clear pond. I have seen rose petals—and once again I know how lovely a single little tree on the meadow is. Are those church bells chiming? Ach, life is beautiful and gentle. You, too, sweet maiden, I think of you, whom I lost so long ago. Now my only sweetheart is morphine. She is wicked, she torments me without end, but she rewards me far beyond everything conceivable.
This ladylove is actually within me. She fills my senses with a bright, clear light in whose brilliance I perceive that all is vain, and that I live only to savor this transport.
I want to read the dumbest thing from a doctor's waiting room table. An advertisement will have the fragrance of flowers, and in some inane love story I'll taste the full flavor of fresh bread that my stomach can no longer tolerate. I want to read.
I open a book. Inside there is a flyleaf, a plain, white flyleaf. I do a double-take: upon this white page, a careful doctor has imprinted his name, address and phone number with a rubber stamp. No, Herr Health Councilor, I'm not going to steal your book. I'm just going to tear out this flyleaf and stick it in my pocket. Once it is trimmed with scissors, it will become the sought after prescription form that will bring perhaps a hundred of such transports. For today, I am in safety.
I am in entirely good spirits. I make a slight motion with my hand, then immediately let it drop again into a normal, comfortable position, and in my hand the surging of the toxin that had been momentarily imperceptible in the motion now betrays the nearness of my ladylove. The effect of the injection has not yet subsided.
And later, … later I'll have the prescription.
Then I hear the doctor's footsteps. Don't I have to go into an institution? My mistress smiles, she knows that nothing will hold me, no one can constrain me. I am alone in the world, I have no obligations, all is vain, only pleasure matters, my ladylove alone I cannot betray.
The doctor comes, opens the door. I take my legs from the chaise lounge and position them slowly and carefully, so as not to startle the toxin in me with a sudden movement.
"Is it time, Herr Health Councilor?" I ask and smile.
"Yes, now we can go for a ride."
"But just one more injection, Herr Health Councilor. We're sure to be driving for an hour, and I can't hold out that long."
"You are quite sated, my dear sir."
"But the effect is already subsiding. And you can be sure I'll kick up a row about it when we're alone. With an injection in my body, I'll follow you like a lamb."
"If it really must be…"
He leads the way into his room. I follow him triumphantly. Ach, he doesn't know me. He doesn't know that the prospect of an injection would persuade me to go anywhere he wanted me to.
I receive one more injection, and then we actually leave. I descend the stairs very carefully. I feel the tingling in my body and the lovely, surreptitious, fleeting warmth. Thousands of thoughts are in me, for my brain is strong and free.
Look, the doctor's opening the car door for me. I climb into the car first, and as the engine turns over and he adjusts his sitting position and fidgets with the convertible top, I open the other door and spring out confidently—for my body is young and dexterous—and immerse myself into the crowd, vanishing into it.
And I never see this doctor again.
› › ›
I knew that I'd only dare walk a few steps if I didn't want the vigorous movement of my legs to scare the morphine away. I looked at the clock. It was shortly before twelve. No doubt it was better to travel to Pschorr now, where I wanted to meet Wolf. But it was clear to me at once that this was not to happen. Then again, perhaps he had come earlier, had noticed that I'd gotten some stuff, and then adieu to every prospect of getting his support.
Did I have to meet him at all? Didn't I have in my pocket a prescription form that promised me countless glorious injections? If I let Wolf know of the existence of this slip of paper, I have to give up half of this pleasure.
I sit on the comfortable sofa of a wine tavern. A cooler of Rhine wine is standing in front of me. I have filled the first glass to the brim, lift it to my mouth, and take a deep breath of the wine's bouquet. Then I glance furtively at the bartender, notice that I haven't been observed, and empty the glass into the cooler. The alcohol would react hostilely to the morphine in my stomach, detrimental to its effect.
My sole thought is to luxuriate in this effect to the very end. And yet I have to keep ordering something to be able to sit here savoring it.
I pour myself another glass and order pen and ink. I pull the flyleaf out of my pocket and trim it into the shape of a proper prescription form with a penknife. It doesn't quite please me, it seems too wide. I trim away another strip, and now it's decidedly too narrow. A conspicuous shape for something on which nothing is permitted to be conspicuous.
I begin to get angry. I pick up the paper, place it face down on the table in front of me and look at it closely again. "Too narrow," I murmur. "Definitely too narrow," and my anger intensifies. I take the trimmed paper strips and line them up next to the form, trying to press them close together, examining it anew, and discovering that the prescription had previously been just the right size after all.
I curse my impulsiveness. Why didn't I wait until I was with Wolf? What do I know about prescriptions? He's the expert at it. In spite of this, I grab the pen and begin to write.
The wineglass bothers me, and I push it away. It still bothers me. No, I can't write this way. I grab the glass hastily, it falls, and the wine spills out over the prescription. The blue tint from the rubber-stamp flows out over the page, and with it run out all my hopes.
Discouraged, desperate, I lean back. And then I suddenly detect: the effect of the morphine has elapsed. My body is already trembling. And having been abandoned by my sweetheart, naturally I haven't even completed one prescription.
I stand up, pay the bill and walk to our meeting point.
How sated Wolf is, how fully sated he is! There he is, lying completely relaxed, he barely raises his eyelids and dreams and dreams. I envy him his dreams, I envy him every minute he's able to wile away in the arms of his beloved, while I am suffering unspeakably.
"Well?" And he's already reading the failure of my efforts from my sunken and miserable demeanor. He wastes no words: "Hundred," he says. "A hundred cubic centimeters. Over there. Be careful, don't take too much, alright? That will suffice for today."
"Fine." And he falls back into his dream. Taking the precious stoppered flask, I walk to the bathroom. I fill my five cubic centimeter syringe to the top, and now I'm already happy. I lean back…
And … and … a soft jingling sound gives me a start. Next to my arm lies the overturned flask, it's contents spilling onto the floor. "Wolf," I think, "Wolf. He'll strike me dead when he learns about it after all these travails."
But I'm already pursing my lips, defiant, indifferent. Who is Wolf? Companion of many orgies, advisor, advisee, and yet in the end indifferent, as indifferent as everything is.
I hold the flask up to the light: two, three cubic centimeters are still left in it. I extract it into my syringe. This portion, too, I displace for myself, and my blood surges up simmering, lightning flash after flash bursts in my brain, wild rhythms pound my eardrums.
Wild, wide world! Where every man is alone and each may sink his fangs into another's flesh. How exquisitely sybaritic. Oh, the adventures that are waiting for me next, the quiet streets where one can maraud girls, the courtyard gates to pharmacies I'll break into, the bank messengers I'll rob.
I am omnipresent, I am all things, I alone am world and God. I create and I forget, and it all passes. Oh, you, my singing blood. Surge deeper inside me, my mistress, enrapture me wilder yet.
And I fill the flask with pure water and hand it to Wolf, smiling and full of gratitude. He holds it to the light and says: "Three? No, five."
I merely reply: "Yes, five."
And we sit across from each other and dream, and he becomes restless and says: "I want to give myself another shot," and he goes away.
Then I fetch my hat and slip out, climb into a car, and know myself to be far away from his rage.
I then got the insane idea to try a little of it with cocaine. Morphine is a quiet, gentle kind of joy, white and florid. She makes her lads happy. But cocaine is a raw, impetuous animal. It torments the body, the world becomes wild, distorted, despicable.
I managed it. I procured some ‘benzol' from a waiter. I made myself the solution and shot three syringe-fulls into my body one right after the next in rapid succession. Images sail past me, bodies tumble over one another, tiny alphabetic letters I read suddenly turn over onto their bellies and I realize they're animals swarming endlessly over the page, reversing position, producing peculiar word shapes, and I attempt to capture their sense, copying them down with my hand.
But then I discover that I'm talking with my landlady. I want to tell her that I don't need any dinner, and in my brain I produce the sentence: "No, I don't eat in the evening," and with dull amazement I hear how my mouth says: "Yes, today I will murder Wolf yet."
I dash down the stairs, shove a man aside, and reclaim the open air.
I search for Wolf's apartment, no, chase senselessly through the city, this way and that, injecting myself on and on, becoming even wilder. Blood is flowing out of many perforation points onto my shirt and cuffs, over my hand.
Madness towers over and engulfs me as I giggle silently to myself every time I hatch some new plan, to set this heinous town with its senseless pharmacies ablaze, to let it go up in flames like a wisp of straw.
And suddenly I'm standing in a pharmacy screaming like an animal. I hurl from me the people who are trying to hold me, shattering a glass pane, and then suddenly someone administers morphine, good, clear, white, florid morphine.
O you, my sweet girlfriend, now I'm gentle again. I feel how the cocaine flees away from her, suspended just for a time from the uppermost point of my stomach—and is then chased away.
A couple of policemen lay their hands on my shoulders: "Alright now, come with us." And I follow behind them, walking with very small and measured steps so as not to frighten away my girlfriend, and I am blissful, and I know that I'm alone with her, and that nothing else matters.
Translated from the German by Scott J. Thompson
Cabinet wishes to thank Scott J. Thompson for his help in this issue of Cabinet.
Hans Fallada (1883–1947) was a leading proponent of Weimar Germany’s literary Neue Sachlichkeit. Among his books are Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben [Farmers, Functionaries, and Fireworks] (1931) and Kleiner Mann, Was Nun? [Little Man, What Now?] (1934).
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© 2002 Cabinet Magazine