He walked tired and as if exhausted. He was chilled despite the tropical heat. In his neck he felt fine, sharp pains as if from glowing red-hot needles. Now he would get seriously sick. He felt it coming. And right here: in a strange city…
He went quickly down the street. Back to his apartment. Soon there was a cold sweat on his forehead, an uncomfortable moist heat crept in waves across his body, and the pain in his neck became even stronger and more painful. The fear dug itself deeper and more strongly into his blood, he began to run. Above, in his room he threw himself onto the bed. His heart pounded powerfully. He felt; he heard the smallest veins throbbing and trembling and filling forcefully with blood, as if they wanted to burst.
He sat up carefully on the bed, then slowly tried to get up: that was even worse. He pushed the pillow against the wall, leaned against it, pressed his forehead against the cool wall and listened to the fever. Gradually he became calmer. The blood flowed slowly back into his heart. He coughed freely, without pain.
He waited. Would it come back?
No: his heart beat almost peacefully, only his hands were fevered and he was bathed in sweat. He slowly unbuttoned his clothes and dried his forehead. Only his hands: they burned so hot and so moist.Well yes: This was not the first time. It would certainly pass. Strange that every time he traveled away from his wife, he came down with this fever. If only she could be here: if he could only hold her hands, then everything would be alright. He would certainly be able to go to sleep right away…
Again it began to swell up in him. His body began to tremble all over again, it choked in his throat and his fists spasmed into balls. A sick desire for her hands, a torturous eagerness to press against her body, to lay his face against her breasts: with a light shudder he distinctly felt her hand slipping down and running all over his body. The feeling became so perfectly tangible, that it seemed as if his senses had become independent expressions of this apparition. He could distinguish the finest emotional nuances, which ordinarily could only be sensed through the movement of her actual body. And the desire began to sprout and swell and shoot up wildly. The pain crippled his fingers and tore at his nerves; he cowered in a fetal position, as if he wanted to wrap himself in his own body.
He got up and came to his senses. His heart ran, a racing fear reared up high in him. With growing terror he listened to the throbbing and booming in his body. He felt the blood fill his tissues with angry force and tear them apart. He jumped up, stood standing, silent, frozen. His limbs flew and his teeth chattered in the chill of the fever.
What could he do?
He hoped to God that he would not have to endure another second of this pain, otherwise he was certain he would not survive the night. With trembling impatience he searched around for a match. The idea, that perhaps he might not find one, brought him nearer to collapse. He groped around and breathed out deeply: there they were. He lit the light and stood there motionless for a long time. Now he had to think of something, something good and peaceful, something that could be pushed under his head like a comfortable pillow.
Suddenly he discovered a letter – in the middle of the table under his dirty clothes. That entire day he had not even thought to see whether a letter would be there. There was something strange about all this. He went about entirely as if in a dream. And then he didn’t have the courage to open the letter. What if there was something unpleasant in it! That would certainly destroy his brain. He became angry at that. Ridiculous, that this little fever could bring him down like this. He, he: could not triumph over a little fever? He, he: would triumph over this little fever. He had already survived much worse…
Over his brain lay something like a delicate sheet of ice. It felt cool. He suddenly became uncommonly clear. But it was as if the masses of his brain were repressed, pressed down more deeply, the cool sheet of ice grew to a lump of ice, and the coldness began to hurt: then it moved in long, red-hot streams across his back: he laughed hoarsely.
Well naturally! An entirely common fever… He crumpled up the letter.
An entirely common case of fever… He began to whistle. Then he felt long needle stabs in his breast. Aha: good old acquaintances… Again he laughed out loud: that would certainly not allow him to escape from this apparition, it would take much more torture than that, and much more pain!
He slowly walked around, laughed and whistled. Yes, right: a cigarette! But the smoke made him dizzy. He wasn’t even allowed to smoke: that was a real disgrace. But that really didn’t mean anything, he was just very weak. Naturally: if you didn’t eat, you became weak.
Yes, the letter, the letter… He resolutely tore open the envelope, but the letters danced in front of his eyes; he looked at them for a long time, collected his entire willpower and finally forced himself to read the letter and to understand. He read slowly. The letters were so strangely alive. And it seemed as if he heard her voice, only in a new form.
My dearest, my only man, you – you… Mine!
It’s already a week since you have been away. Will you be staying much longer? I am curious, what do you do for the entire day in the city? Have you visited your mother? Probably not. But you are often together with Agaj aren’t you? It must be very difficult for her, to divide her time between you and your mother. She is such a beautiful girl. I love her almost as much as you and I have often thought about her love for you. She does not love you at all like a sister. I have never seen anything similar among other sisters. Are you together with her very often?
And tomorrow it will be two years, since we were married. Just think, two years! Did you forget the day? I’m certain that tomorrow I will get a long, beautiful letter from you? Or – or? I don’t even dare to hope, perhaps, but perhaps you might come yourself?
No, no, don’t come. I have the feeling that you like it in the city, and that makes me happy. You have been working so terribly hard and now you must have a little change, a little change of air, right?
But if you did come, that would be wonderful. I love you – you!
If you feel like it – do you? Then stay my love, stay, my dearest you!… And know that sometimes I am jealous of Agaj, I am afraid that you love her more than me. But that is ridiculous, isn’t it? You must greet her a thousand times from me and tell her that I love her, that she is my only friend.
Then live well, you, my love. A thousand kisses from your wife.
He began to read the letter again from the beginning.
“She does not love you at all like a sister…”
A strong light penetrated his soul. He saw perfectly Agaj sitting in front of him. Her black silk dress nestled with warm desire around her slender, thin figure. He felt her delicate, tender limbs through the dress.
He let himself sink into the easy chair. She didn’t move away from him. He always saw her close, right there next to him. He undressed her with his eyes; he wallowed in her nakedness; he craved her; his brain began to whirl in a greedy delirium.
“But Agaj is my sister!” he cried out in terror.
Then he suddenly heard her speak. Then he understood everything, what he had not been able to understand for three hours.
“She does not love you at all like a sister…”
Those few words fell deeply into his soul. It was as if a spark of light which had fallen inside, had suddenly grown into a raging fire.
“The last time you went abroad, I believed that I would go crazy.”
At the time he had listened almost indifferently, but now, now he finally understood. He tore open his eyes. He tore them open even wider: the fearful light blinded him. He crawled entirely into himself. A painful spasm of desire ate and sucked at his brain; he didn’t resist: a shudder of greedy lust crawled like poison through every nerve in his body. He startled back.
It was the terrible fever! God, God, what should he do now? He must be on guard; he must look out and be on guard; that it didn’t happen again. His own sister!… But that was ridiculous…
He laughed insanely. He laughed long, until he became afraid of his laughter. Naturally it was the fever. Which he was so powerless against!… He must go back to bed. Yes, lay down for a long time, until his heart was calm again. He undressed and laid the matches close by next to his bed. I will soon need them again, he smiled strangely.
Then he extinguished the lamp. An unbearable heat. The covers pressed down on him like a nightmare: he threw them off. With a jerk, the tension in his brain suddenly left, a happy peace came over him.