In his tiny two-by-two hole in the wall, Boris K. sat with a dignified expression on his face and his legs out in a straddle. He wore two left slippers of diverse colour. As he casually turned to peer in the cracked mirror, he was greatly displeased by the sight of his slicked-back gray hair. He attempted to part it à la Sieg Heil, but could not really pull it off because – he wore a flower in his hair, you see.
At springtime, as the locks of his raven hair started blooming, he left all the women breathless (left-wing ones in particular, as they were especially partial to flowers).
“There is a certain symbolism to them,” they claimed.
Boris K. was a seasoned communist, a ruin left behind by the transition, a redundant loser. Like many others, he looked back on the times when he subscribed to the Labourer newspaper with nostalgia. It used to be a matter of prestige.
Due to his former high-ranking positions as the coffee brewer and sentry for the Trade Union sessions, he retained the habit of sitting, sleeping and eating dressed in a gray business suit. On that cold evening he was waiting for the arrival of his landlady while reading “The Trial”. Remembering the times past and the chanting of the famous “Comrade Fidel, if you so said/we’d go live in a car shed,” Boris K. mused how, everything said and done, he was actually still living according to his beliefs. The very thought was heartwarming. Boris’ “car shed” belonged to none other than the very harpy, the very shrew who announced her intent to arrive at 6 AM on the dot. At that time, with the first rays of sun, she was to materialize in the flat. Boris felt hungry and mildly nauseous. Maybe it was the fear of the landlady, or perhaps an omen of the apocalypse. He felt confused. By the powers of the left wing, Boris K. was no coward!
He approached the old refrigerator, opened the handless door, and saw a drunken lady squeezed into a small glass cage. It was a bottle of vodka, the Russian standard with 40 percent of alcohol. The poster on the wall offered him support and encouragement, or at least so it appeared to Boris K. It seemed to be saying “Bottoms up, Boris! Long live the counterrevolution!”
“Alas… if only I could squeeze myself inside just like you,” Boris thought wistfully. He envisioned his landlady, the morning sun illuminating her like a halo, menacingly brandishing the electricity bill. He huddled against the wall, crying like a baby, his cheek resting against a poster. A thought pierced his aching head, which throbbed as if clenched within a hoop. “But I don’t drink.”
“Now or never,” he spoke out loud. After the first sip, it occurred to him that he should attempt to seduce his aging landlady. He was determined to fight to the bitter end.
“This is how Alexander the Great charged against the Persians with his sword!” he thought, detaching his tear-stained cheek from the poster. “Is the casino Alexander still open?” he asked the wall hopefully, his face beaming.
Feverishly, he contemplated the way to get out of debts. Even without a penny to his name, Boris K. decided to try his luck at the adjacent casino. He took a big gulp of vodka and stumbled. Toppling the chair, he knocked down the suit and the grey socks and grabbed for the closet. He let the bottle drop out of his hand after the second swig. Somewhere in the pile of jumbled clothing Boris spotted a formal suit à la Vienna. He looked at it from all sides. He looked both ways furtively, as if he were not alone in the room, so surprised he was at the appearance of a beautiful, shining suit in such a gloomy environment. He stroked the buttons gently with his fingertips. It was exactly what he needed. Boris K. looked up at the ceiling and muttered “Thanks!”
Delighted, he cast another glance toward the closet and noticed the secret barrier dividing it into two parts. He grabbed the handle and shook it tentatively, but it appeared to be locked. Boris K. stepped back and stood in the middle of the room. The bottle of vodka back in his hand, he raged at the locked compartment.
“You’re hiding some great treasure, I know it!” “
He heard something rattle in one of the suit pockets. His hands shook as he rifled through the pockets, but all he found there was some brass buttons.
“Pure gold,” he soothed himself.
Donning the suit, he decided to use the buttons as gambling tokens. Thrilled with his incredible discovery, Boris K. danced a few bars of the Viennese waltz in front of the cracked mirror, arranging his hair. Out of breath, he fell onto the sofa. He was transported back to the harsh reality by the picture of Fidel Castro winking – or so it seemed to Boris K – straight at him.
“Too much to drink,” Boris concluded. Pulling himself together he threw the cheap buttons into the corner of the room, took one glance at the electricity bill and burst into tears.
The old lady entered just as she promised – illuminated by the first rays of sun. On her dress, tailored back in the forties, she wore an embroidered swastika.
“The Brazilian tarantula. Such an elegant little animal,” she explained to the curious butcher’s wife in passing. She wore lace gloves, dirty fingernails showing through. Smoothing down her oily hair, she swiped a dainty finger over one of her eyebrows, tattooed according to the latest fashion. Following the unfortunately drawn arch, she cast an Ilse-Koch-like look to Boris K. A cynical smile spilled across her elderly, clenched lips.
“Cash on the table,” she pulled out a stopwatch from her undershirt, “in 60… 59… 58…” As she counted down, it appeared, the last seconds of Boris K’s short life, the age spots on her cheeks broke through the layers of golden foundation and bright lipstick on her cheekbones.
“Do sit down, old Fräulein,” stammered Boris K, pointing to the sofa as full of holes as a Swiss cheese and stinking of cigarettes. The old woman threw him a contemptuous look. Boris K. realized his mistake. “Meine Frau,.. I… I… Frau, bitte,” he stammered, hypnotized by the embroidered swastika flanked by a flashy heart-shaped medallion. Finally, he murmured “Just let me run to the casino. I forgot my wallet next to the roulette here.”
“The casino, you say?” The old woman swiped the corners of her widely open mouth using a forefinger and a thumb.
“I swear by… this poster on the wall, Fräulein Suzy!”
She studied him like one would an insect and, with a sudden twist, cast a look filled with loathing at the poster of Fidel Castro. Stalin was her true love, but it was a fact she carefully concealed.
“Too bad he is an infidel,” she said as the light pushed its way through the dirty windows, illuminating her head like a halo. Her voice rang with the austerity typical of elderly women of reckless youth, who remembered their days of decadence just a touch too wistfully. Once easy, now a puritan, she had changed the dirty skin of her body and threw it on the altar of martyrdom, akin to a snake.
Boris K. repented his actions. He felt like taking off his nonexistent à la Vienna hat.
The old woman turned, eyes bulging, and approached him at a menacing pace. With the stance of an SS officer, her long nose touching the chest Boris K, Frau sniffed him, noticed the empty a bottle of vodka and contemptuously waved her hand. Settling into the sofa, she closed her eyes in the manner of a yogi. It lasted a whole of fifteen minutes, with Boris K. perspiring, dabbing the sweat from his brow and occasionally massaging her feet, until she cried
“Genug! Stop!” Her wide open eyes startled Boris K and he immediately stood to attention. “At ease!” Boris K. threw the left shoe off his right foot, hips swaying. “I forgive you, just as my Fritz would have done,” she murmured wistfully, remembering her old love – a high ranking SS officer, carried off by the maelstrom of war. Boris K. burst into tears of happiness. “But, under ein condition! ,” she roared in a thunderous voice. Boris K. was all ears. “I will write off your debt if you can squeeze yourself into this bottle.” The Frau pointed at the vodka bottle. “Verständlich? Understand?” the implacable Frau screeched.
Boris K. glanced at the bottle, then at his soft, pink hand (he was an artist, and it is well known that they do absolutely nothing under the sun). He wanted to protest, to say that one could not treat the oppressed classes so. Squeezing people into bottles like that? Not even Mengele would have thought of that, he thought – but said nothing. Somehow he managed to bend his back; he crumpled, growing smaller, lowering his proud fists, his skillful fingers curled and his head hung low. Thus his entire body distorted.
Boris K. kept diminishing before the terrible powers of the frau, finally growing small enough to squeeze his tiny hand into the vodka bottle, followed by his shoulder, chest and spine – the latter proved easy enough to squeeze into the bottle – and finally his feet, which by that point had completely refused to obey him. Thus Boris K. successfully completed his task under the Frau’s contended smile. Only Boris’ two large, terrified eyes remained visible.
The giant frau stood up, took the vodka bottle and headed for the locked compartment – the strictly guarded secret of all secrets. For years she was suspected of hiding, if not jewelry, then at least Fritz’s letters there. She reached into her pocket for the gilded key and opened the plywood compartment. Frau looked with pride upon the arranged bottles of numerous manufacturers – English and French, but mostly German. One bottle contained Sir Gawain, her former tenant, the second Herr Hans, and the third, Jean-Paul. From the fourth, the Obergruppenführer Fritz (the former supreme commander of the Waffen-SS) smiled at his lover, the Frau, who blew him a tender kiss. Each of the bottles contained a tenant hopefully peering through the stained glass of his prison, every one of them grateful to his landlady for being so very generous as to write off his debt.
Imaginarium, Igor Morski 1960