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The Maimed

Author: Hermann Ungar

Translator: Mike Mitchell  

The widow was pale and thin when Polzer moved into her house as her lodger
after Karl Fanta had left for the south. The mourning dress hung loosely
about her body. It was in the first months after her husband's death. Her
skin was yellowish, like old paper. Only later did her figure fill out, her
hips broaden.
She was called Klara Porges. Afterwards it seemed to Polzer as if her name
had been the cause of everything. From the very first the name had annoyed
him. The combination appeared both incredibly ridiculous and irritating at
the same time.
Polzer lived alone with Frau Porges. One of the rooms was empty. The chairs
in that room were draped in linen dust-covers. Frau Porges had to do all the
housework herself, for there was no maid. But Polzer cleaned his own shoes.
The widow wanted to take on that chore as well, but he would not let her. He
had always attached great importance to polishing his shoes himself and he
had never come across anyone whose shoes shone like his. To a brief glance
they looked like patent-leather shoes. At home he had had to polish his
father's and his aunt's shoes, but he had not taken great pains with them.
He devoted half an hour every morning to cleaning his shoes. He used several
brushes and cloths of varying fineness one after the other. Frau Porges
expressed the opinion that it was a task unsuited to a man. Polzer, however,
knew how pleasant, how refreshing it was to go out in the morning with
properly polished shoes on your feet. He pointed out that there was nothing
unmanly at all about this occupation, reminding Frau Porges that everywhere
where they had manservants, in hotels or rich people's houses for example,
the task was performed by men.
From the very first the widow surrounded him with care and attention. He let
her deal with everything he found disturbing. That was above all any
out-of-the-ordinary events that might occur. The least departure from
routine filled him with anxiety and consternation. The knowledge that on one
of the next days he would have to go into a shop to buy something made him
uneasy. Immediately he felt as if he had no time for anything else, as if he
had no room for anything else in his whole life. His thoughts constantly
revolved round it, the fear of forgetting tormented him. He worked out the
amount of time necessary and prepared what he would say. Things might crop
up that could not be foreseen. In particular, the price demanded might be
greater than the sum he had with him. Payments, such as the rent, which were
due on specific days, kept him awake for weeks beforehand. He would spend
the nights counting the money. During the day, when his mind was on other
things, or at night while he was asleep, he would suddenly start at the
realisation that at that particular moment he had forgotten about it, and he
reproached himself for being able to forget something he should not. But
Frau Porges was prepared to take his salary at the beginning of every month
and see to everything herself. She gave Polzer a few crowns each week to pay
for his lunch at the office and his tram ticket. Now she even purchased new
articles of clothing for him, so that he did not have to go into the shop,
or even know anything about it.
This all happened despite the fact that Polzer's attitude to Frau Porges
remained distant. He was alarmed by the tender, motherly looks in which she
tried to ensnare him. There was something uncomfortable about them, a desire
to come closer, a closeness. Polzer did not see her very much, only when she
brought his breakfast in the mornings and his supper in the evenings. He
avoided her eyes and refused to get into conversation with her. He lived in
the next room to the widow, he could hear her breathing at night, could hear
her bed creak when she turned over in her sleep. But in all the years, he
had never been together with her in the same room for more than a few
From the very first, the presence of Frau Porges had filled him with
disquiet. Her hair gave off a smell that reminded him vaguely of soap. She
had a parting down the middle, like his aunt. On top of that, whenever he
saw her, he didn't know why, but an image of her naked body immediately
appeared unbidden in his mind. It filled him with a deep sense of shame and
disgust. It was the image of an indefinite, black body. This image became
more and more obsessive, the more her figure filled out.
Since the earliest days of his youth such images had filled him with
revulsion. In the years before he took the room with Frau Porges, Polzer
would not have gone with women if Karl, who did not understand his
revulsion, had not taken him and forced him to have intercourse with them.
Polzer often threw up after he left the brothel where Karl had taken him.
Even as a boy the sight of women had filled him with alarm. He avoided Milka
because he could sense, beneath the loose blouse which drew his eye, the
constantly changing shape of her round breasts. He did not dare look at
Milka's breasts. When Karl told him that the older lads used to go to the
woods to meet Milka, he avoided touching Milka's hands when he was alone in
the shop and had to take a coin from her. Milka's hands filled him with
horror. Milka must have noticed that he kept out of her way and she often
tried to grab him and pull him to her. Once she came across him on the dark
staircase. He pressed himself against the wall in an alcove where the
Saviour hung on a wooden cross. She came up to him and laughed, she could
see that he was afraid. Her hands grasped him. He did not move. She fumbled
with his buttons. He trembled. She took hold of his penis. Milka laughed
when his sperm came and gave him a shove that sent him staggering.
When the shadow of his aunt had appeared in the light of the open doorway,
Franz Polzer already knew how terrible a woman's nakedness was. At the
shadow of his aunt, as at the sight of Frau Porges, he was tormented by the
terrible thought that this naked body was not closed up. That a ghastly slit
yawned on bottomless depths. Like flesh cut open, like the folds of skin
along a gaping wound. He refused to look at the pictures and statues of
naked women in art galleries. He did not want ever to touch the body of a
naked woman. It seemed to him there must be uncleanness there and a
disgusting smell. He only saw Frau Porges during the day, in her clothes. In
spite of that, he was tormented by the image of her fat, naked body.
When Frau Porges came into his room, Polzer kept his eyes on the newspaper
and avoided looking at her. Despite that, he noticed how her figure became
more rounded year by year. Sometimes he could feel her eyes on him. At such
moments he did not dare move. He never understood how it had come to that
first conversation between them. He had thought she scarcely paid any
attention to him either. It happened one evening when she brought him his
supper. Everything started with that evening.


RRP: £6.99

No. of pages: 210

Publication date: 20.06.2002

ISBN numbers:
978 1 903517 10 9
978 1 907650 81 9

World English language in this translation