Konrad's memoirs, ch. 01

I cannot really call this a chronology of my life as it is not detailed enough to deserve that title. Rather, these are memorable moments, plucked out of rich history of a man, who now frail and old, can barely see the scribbles written by a liver spotted hand, trembling in disease that will be the end of me very soon, I fear. My wife Sophia, another cause of distress throughout my long life is kind enough to leave the house almost every afternoon, visiting friends and a few family members who have not moved away, allowing me blissful peace and quiet to save the last few memoirs, which are rapidly escaping my rotting brain, one by one erasing the names from well known faces, which creep inside my head each day.

We are rapidly approaching the twentieth century, preceded by a mass of new inventions, which are to ease our everyday lives. I am too old to enjoy most of them, if any at all. I can only watch from afar, smile in amazement and sometimes in wicked sarcasm, reminisce on ‘good old days’, which inevitably sends my grandchildren and great-grandchildren running away in horror, trying desperately to avoid the old man’s tales, while being polite enough not to laugh in my face.

That is all that I represent now, an old man with a shuffling gait, decaying brain who continuously keeps forgetting the names of the loved ones, confusing the dates and places, telling the stories, which in their own minds are probably pure invention, or at least, minor occurrences blown out of proportion by whatever reason I have left.

But I have not always been a useless and pathetic creature, unable to hold my farts from the public and completely incompetent to care for myself. Good sixty years ago, I was a young man too, quite dashing I must say, although you might think that yet another exaggeration.

I enjoyed life with my childhood friends and later with acquaintances from the University. I too, strolled through the streets of Hamburg with a jolly step, beautiful ladies on my arms, hurrying towards new adventures with anticipation of a fool.

My father finally got tired of unending trouble with fiancés and husbands of the ladies I liked to spend time with. Constant hushed conversations in his study, which inevitably ended in raised voices and fists being pounded against his desk, while he promised he would have a word with me and sort things out have tested his patience one too many times. He had given me an ultimatum. ‘Calm down and get married or move out of Hamburg to one of the numerous country houses our family owned, most of which were in a desperate need of repair, its previous inhabitants being evicted for non-payment. I chose marriage.

I married quite young, I believe, in my early twenties I was hardly more than a child myself and life with Sophia was never easy, although she was a loving mother to our four children. She never understood my great passion for life and everything that it had to offer. She has never found pleasure in arts and literature, which were an inevitable part of my interests, or for that matter anything that I found beautiful or good, earned nothing more than a sniff from her. Sometimes I believed that she defied me out of spite alone, always seeking the negative in everything. These days, having spent good sixty years with her, I simply believe that she has been born a miserable soul and that is how she will die, too.

Our wedding night was an indication of what our married life would be. She barely allowed me to glance at her body, well wrapped in heavy nightclothes, complete with a thick robe and nightcap, making her look more grandmotherly than a blushing bride as I wished her to be. My kisses disgusted her, my prying hands terrified her and after what she thought was a full intercourse, I left her in bed, crying in horror, while I retrieved to my own room to finish in frustration what I could not do with her.

I could count the times we had slept in the same bed over a span of a year on the fingers of one hand. Each time, she would sob inconsolably, no matter how gentle I tried to be, and it is a true miracle that she gave me four children in four years. It seemed that every time we spent the night together as husband and wife, she got pregnant.

I did not distress about it much, though. I never really loved Sophia, although I was proud of her delicate beauty when we first married. As much as I promised my father I would change my ways, I soon changed my mind instead. I was a frequent visitor of the brothel in Hannestrasse, where Madame Frieda, a small and robust, peasant-looking woman from the north was more than happy to please each customer by coupling him with an appropriate girl, who worked for her. Besides, it seemed that being a married man, women perceived me differently and despite still being more than willing to lay down with me, they no longer obsessed over me and my fortune, which I had saved by obliging my father. No man had ever knocked on his door again and demanded that he deals with me.

Soon after marrying Sophia, I started working in my father’s import and export firm, dealing with ship cargos that sailed in and out of the Hamburg harbor. After my father’s death, my best friend Johann became a partner in business. Johann’s wife Herminna was the equivalent of my Sophia and we had much in common. We’d prowl the bars and whorehouses together, always covering up for each other. He was like a brother to me.

Every summer Johann and his family left Hamburg and headed for their summerhouse in the country, something Johann absolutely hated. It was funny to see him trying to find an excuse good enough to weasel him out of two months of absolute hell in peace and quiet as well as isolation with Herminna and his children. Unlike me you see, Johann had no money of his own, he married into it and had to do a lot to please his wife or the money flow would stop. That meant he had to spare at least two months a year for holidays away from his beloved Hamburg and its hedonistic life.

As Johann and his family were leaving this particular summer, I solemnly promised that I would keep a careful watch on his house in Hamburg, which was now deserted of all servants and cooks, undoubtedly grateful for a break from the screaming children and never satisfied Herminna. The only person left was Liselotte, a young country girl whose duties in Johann’s house were to clean, cook, do laundry, look after the children and be a personal maid to Herminna.

Liselotte, or Lottie as the children lovingly called her was barely out of childhood herself. She was an eighteen-year old girl from the south of Germany, who like so many country youths had to leave home to earn living and hopefully send some extra money to her family, which was struggling with harsh life, high taxes and an absurdly large number of children.

Lottie had always struck me as a bit slow; not stupid by any means; just very careful and considerate of her own actions, taking more time to think about each task that she was presented with than it had taken to actually perform it. She was short and plump, with long, blond, always braided hair. Her cheeks shone with continuous redness of health, as if she had just stepped in from the freezing cold. She had big, sky blue eyes and soft, full lips, which sometimes puckered in puzzlement, as if tempting a kiss. She did not possess classic beauty, but did have an air of charm about her. Many a times I started asking Johann about Lottie, never quite finishing the question. If Johann was friendlier with his maid than he should have been, I did not want to know.

She was left in the house to keep it tidy, accept mail and packages and generally keep an eye on everything, making sure that Johann’s family and the rest of the servants returned to a clean and orderly home at the end of the summer. Among many conquests, to this day, Lottie remains my favorite.

I was offered free reign of Johann’s study for the period of time when he was absent, which I accepted gladly, as my own home resembled a zoo rather than a place where one might be able to concentrate on ever increasingly demanding work that our mutual business delivered.

For about a week after Johann left Hamburg I actually did make an effort to work in my own house, but eventually things started getting out of hand and I could not find the time nor energy to deal with screaming children, nagging wife and a pile of paperwork, which seemed to duplicate itself daily. To make matters worse, Sophia had decided that at this particular time she would see to the fall clothing for the children and at any given time our house was full of seamstresses and tailors, children scurrying about, trying to avoid them and hiding in closets or under my desk, with Sophia stomping around, demanding that children stop being silly at this very moment!

It was on a warm Saturday morning that I finally decided to make good on Johann’s offer and head to his house. I actually looked forward to a little peace and quiet, which would, if nothing else, offer me a few hours of blissful napping on the ottoman in his study without rude interruptions that were constant occurrences in my own home.

I paused at the front door of Johann’s house and announced myself by the use of a heavy gargoyle knocker. I felt silly doing this, as normally I would simply enter. The thought that I might startle Lottie made me reconsider and act a gentleman. After I had knocked three or four times and nobody had come to open the door, I let myself in, carefully peering from side to side, wondering if Lottie was in the house at all. I walked through the big hallway, poked my head in the lounge, the dining area, even the kitchen but there was no sign of anybody.

I shrugged and headed towards Johann’s study. As I was passing the library, which was preceding my destination, I heard muffled conversation and giggles made by two different voices, one of which I recognized as Lottie’s. The heavy, wooden library door was closed, which struck me as odd. Why would anybody want to keep the doors closed in an empty house?

I paused and pressed the side of my face against the door, carefully listening to the commotion beyond. I heard giggles mixed with smacking sounds. I hesitated for a moment, considering on what I should do. Obviously, Lottie had someone in there, perhaps a boyfriend. Should I interfere? The realization that this was my friend’s home and Lottie was only a servant, who would not be allowed such liberties gave me the courage to open the door.

My eyes took in the scene before the couple managed to stop doing what I had been listening to only moments ago. Lottie’s companion was sitting in a high chair, Lottie in his lap with her arm around his shoulders, the other hand gently caressing his cheek. Her skirts were hiked up to where I could freely see her knees and white meaty thighs, all the way to her underclothes. The man’s hand was thrust up between her legs, most of it veiled from my view by her garments.

When they realized an intruder was present in the room, they both jumped off the chair, Lottie almost falling over in haste to hide her actions. Her pink cheeks have now turned deep red. I was amused, almost to the point of bursting into a roar of laughter, but managed to keep a strict expression on my face.

I noticed that who I thought was a man was really just a boy, probably younger than Lottie herself. He was a skinny chap in ragged clothes and even from the distance I noted that he smelled of horse manure. No doubt a stable boy at one of the well-to-do neighboring houses. Unlike Lottie, his face had lost all of its color; he was white as a sheet and for a moment I was afraid that he would pass out.

“What is all this?” I asked at the same time as Lottie yelled in panic: “Herr Konrad!” Now it looked as if she was the one closer to unconsciousness.

“What is all this, Lottie?” I repeated patiently, though it was obvious that neither of them was in a state to give me a coherent answer.

“Who are you?” I turned to the boy and his eyes flew wide open in fear.

“This is my…. ah…” tried Lottie. She turned towards him for help, which was obviously not coming. “This is my boyfriend,” she uttered finally. The young man simply nodded.

“Does he have a name?” I asked, aware that my lips were stretching into a smile even though I was doing my best to try and hide it.

“Sebastian!” answered both at the same time.

“Well, Sebastian…” I began, but didn’t know what else to say. This was not my house after all, even if I did feel responsibility of keeping it in order.

“Is Herminna aware that Sebastian here is spending an afternoon in her house, when no doubt, you both should be going on about your business?” Lottie bit on her lower lip and shook her head.

“Johann?” I asked again and noticed that Lottie’s eyes were welling up with ...

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