Hearts Scarred Over

excerpt Sunday finally came. The rain had stopped falling. The patients were all taken out to get some fresh air. They were all sitting side by side in their wheelchairs under a narrow canopy made of sullied cloth that was once yellow but had now been washed out by the rain. Just in front you could see the haunting, gloomy building of the sanatorium. The entire garden was made up of a small portion of dry lawn and a couple of withered rose bushes. It was a humble, sad garden, enclosed between walls just like a dying animal in a fold. Emanuel had wrapped two blankets tightly around himself in order to keep the cold air from getting under his cast. A biting, moist breeze, impregnated with a strong odor of putrid algae, blew in from the ocean.He was waiting impatiently for Solange even though he knew she would not come in the morning.He lit up a cigarette and puffed away calmly and the smoke rose in a blue swirl, broken by the wind. A quiet, inert and absent-minded Emanuel watched the smoke rise.His whole terrifying night of torture and pain had miraculously evaporated into the ample air of an autumn morning.He had washed himself with cold water in his room and this made him feel refreshed, as if he had put on new skin on his cheeks and hands. He also rubbed the soaking sponge absurdly and uselessly over his cast tunic, for strictly moral satisfaction. Then he put on his shirt correctly just as he would on a properly washed body. The inside of the cast had dried off almost completely.Emanuel remained in the garden, isolated from the other patients, until dinnertime. In the afternoon, he locked himself in his room bristling with excitement. The sanatorium was engulfed in the empty boredom of a Sunday afternoon. From time to time, you could hear the grinding, fading echo of a gramophone record coming from one of the rooms, but the silence fell ever heavier and ever more hypnotizing. He would listen to even the faintest noise coming from the corridor. Could it be Solange this time? Misleading steps were closing in, but suddenly they turned into the indifferent steps of a stranger just like in a prestidigitation act, where one object is quickly substituted by another. He waited in vain until late in the evening.Solange did not come that day, and she did not come the following day either. Exasperated, he sent her a note through an ambulance man. However, this did not have any effect on her either. Humiliated, Emanuel was now grinding a controlled, yet quite violent, reaction against her. He no longer wanted to wait for her. Now he never wanted to see her again and this wish was just as lucid and persistent as the other one. One after the other, hours and days passed from his "wait not to see her again". He knew that chance would bring them face to face again and he was approximating the time during which this meeting would not take place. One evening towards the end of the week, Solange knocked unexpectedly at the door. What will she say to me? What trivial and absurd excuse will she make up? Emanuel wondered. Solange came in. She was out of breath and her cheeks were burning. Did she run away? She came in such a hurry? How comical! Emanuel thought. Since she had received the note, she had had all the time in the world to come slowly… Solange was holding the note open in her hand. She was wearing a simple overcoat."Are you upset because I didn't answer your note right away?" she asked when she saw him pouting.Emanuel did not answer."I came straight from the train station. I only stayed at the boarding house for a moment to read the note you sent me. You see, the very day I left here, my boss had some important business to handle in Paris and he took me along… I've been going crazy typing contracts and agreements for the past five days. A factory from around here is merging with some other factories. You cannot begin to imagine how many figures and paragraphs there are in the bellies of some manufacturers…"She talked fast in order to reassure Emanuel, and she could see his face light up. "They gave me two hours off on Sunday. That was it. I bought a sandwich and went into a movie theatre to have some fun, rest and quench my hunger in that same, short time interval."All the harsh indifference Emanuel had prepared for her, like an explosive charge, during the past few days, suddenly evaporated. He wished he could immediately take her hands and kiss them; tell her he loved her just to make that dull moment in the beginning of any love affair pass.Solange took off her overcoat.Emanuel gazed upon her. She was tall, simple in front of him, and he gently shuddered in her amazing, total, inexpressible presence that was suddenly contained by this room that had been so lonely up until that moment. She sat on the bed, beside him, just as she had done a few days ago. It was a dizzying sensation of reality after a long wait…During the trip, her dress had become impregnated with the acid odor of a train compartment, but, through the transparence of this smell, Emanuel once again found the familiar lavender perfume.He finally asked her if she did not want to have something to eat. She asked for tea and an orange.He watched in lucid reverie as she ate her orange. Every gesture completed the ample plenitude of their reunion. She had cut the fruit in four, and she bit into the red, juicy texture of the orange so deeply that small white strings from the skin were caught in her teeth. "Forgive me for devouring this orange like a savage," she apologized.For the last couple of minutes Emanuel had felt overwhelmed by the weight of the cast. This started the moment a thought had crossed his mind: Solange could be his lover.But Solange's pure ease tortured him in the same measure that the weight of the corset hurt his body. He was looking for a few simple, direct words to tell her, but all his mental sentences quickly became discolored in her elementary presence. For a while, they carried on a friendly conversation.Solange told him about little incidents that had taken place on her trip and depicted her boss as a businessperson "whose primitive destination had oscillated for a long time between the temptation of becoming either a butcher or a flayer."Emanuel was tortured by thought of taking her hand. Will she resist? Will she pull her hand away? Solange's hand lay indifferent on the metal frame of the bed.He was especially paralyzed by his accurate imagination: he could see their affair long after it had been consummated; he was searching for the exact gestures of love and these had not yet existed between them…Then, suddenly, all his thoughts were foolishly anchored in his incapability of grabbing her hand: in the paralysis of the simplest and most immediate gesture. He finally managed to stretch his arm with a supreme effort, but his gesture was so fast and brutal that it scared Solange, and she stopped talking.He was now squeezing her hand hard between his bony fingers, with his eyes closed as if experiencing magnetism.Solange looked at him puzzled. But when Emanuel pulled her towards him, she understood and willingly descended upon his mouth, without struggling or protesting. Her lips gently quivered. The perfumed scent of her hair burned Emanuel just like the fascinating surprise of her kiss, just like the clear warmth of her naked arm."I know very well what I'm doing," she murmured. "That's why I came."She put his arms around him and her warm cheek against his.Then something terrible happened. In these last moments, Emanuel had once again forgotten that he was in a cast. Now that Solange had his arms around him, the weight of the cast had become unbearable. Solange was holding a stone bust in her arms. Emanuel was caressing her shoulders in vain. The cast set a barrier of indifference between them and yielded a new, impersonal and terribly tough sort of organicity. He could almost cry in anger. The uneasiness of the cast corset made his blood run faster and enticed his desire. He greedily caressed her arms and then her thighs. Suddenly he felt the fabric of her dress, then her pantyhose, then the smoothness of her skin.He stretched out his hand and managed to turn off the light. In the darkness, everything precipitated into a more impetuous desire. But, this desire was reduced to him helplessly floundering in a wheel chair while gnashing his teeth.All of a sudden, as Emanuel slipped his hand under her dress and felt her warm body, then the ineffable and hot angle formed by her thighs squeezed together, Solange whispered:"This will hurt you!"Emanuel was startled inside and his terrible dizziness was rekindled with even more exaltation and lust. The words she whispered burned him like a hotter, more corrosive liquid in his blood. He kept repeating: "This will hurt you." "This" meaning what he wanted, what tortured and tormented him so badly at that moment.He was now touching her secret femininity and his anguish became almost furious. He tried in vain to slip onto the bed; the cast immobilized him in his wheelchair. Solange fell with her head by his side like a lifeless dummy, on the body cocooned in cast corset. Now even more than before, the cast hampered the natural, free movements.Emanuel was naked and he could only convulsively penetrate the space between her thighs where the warmth of the skin could for an instant become deceptive…one moment during which his exaltation grew immense and calmed down in supreme exhaustion. This was a normal, live act, which had been reduced to an embarrassing simulacrum. It made Emanuel feel humiliated and ashamed.He turned on the light in disgust. Bitter and tiring despair hummed in his head like an inexhaustible mechanism, which he couldn't turn off.Solange caressed his forehead and, feeling all his sadness, once again put her cheek against his."Please don't be sad… Rather than sitting next to you in bed, I'd like to be your dog, and to sleep on your doorstep. This is the kind of devotion that I feel capable of…"Emanuel felt that a free and essential part of his life had disappeared, maybe forever. In its place there came calm and painful sorrow like a new interior light, pregnant with sadness. Max Blecher (1909-1938) died very young from Pott's disease. His vivid, physiological description of sufferance in a sanatorium, in Hearts Scarred Over (1937), reminds of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, but the demarcation line between reality and hallucination is often dissolved, and the moribund hero is left burning with lust in a Kafkaesque world. The themes and techniques of Occurrences in Current Unreality (1936) may be linked to other Jewish writers' "diary novels", either preceding (H. Bonciu) or following him (Virgil Duda).

by M. Blecher (1909-1938)