#1 Wolfgang's Revolver
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Right, enough from me. Let’s jump in with both feet into the world of Wolfgang Lettl, the absurdist German painter who served the Nazis in WW2.
His biography can be found here.
#1 Wolfgang’s Revolver
I have returned home from dinner at my friend Agatha’s house on the other side of Augsburg. My wife has long gone to bed, but I stay up drinking wine. I drink for a long time, thinking of something my friend said over dinner.
I never drink quickly. Never am I so desperate for transformation that the effects have more appeal than the flavour. For me, flavour is everything.
Foxes scream on the streets; a humming reaches out from somewhere, perhaps the fridge.
While discussing my latest series of paintings, my friend said to me that life is art. I told her that she was wrong. Art is made to make you feel, but life is not made to make you feel. Life is not even made. Life just is…
I finish the bottle, checking for tart dregs. But no, it’s gone. It’s definitely gone.
Heaving myself out of the chair, I grasp the empty bottle by its neck, toss the cork in the bin, the bottle too, and I seek a new red. I bend down to look at the bottles remaining in the rack, the joints in my knees clicking as I go.
‘57, ‘64, ‘80. That ‘80 is rich. A thousand sour grapes in a cup.
I wince at the thought of it. As my face returns to normal, my eyes open wide, and the imaginary taste of sour grapes leaves my mouth. I see the world anew. The whole room is painted purple. Things jump out at me that I have never seen before.
In the corner, there is a hole in the wall. The grey box cut into the kitchen wall. It is mysterious. It is deep. It seems so familiar to me, and yet I don’t know anything about it. I have never seen it before but, true as the eyes in my head, it is there.
I cross the darkness of my kitchen to look more closely. I can hear myself breathing.
Or is that the hole in the wall?
A revolver rests on the bottom edge. I take it, eye it over in my hands, feel its metal body weighing heavy in my palm. It has been years, maybe forty or more, since I’ve held one of these. Was it in Paris, the last time I held one? When I painted my watercolours on the banks of the Seine? When I was a communications officer in the war?
In the hole, I see the moon. It hangs low, in a fingernail crescent, sending everything aglow.
In the hole, I see a vast sea. It’s cold and wet, and I cannot find anything but myself in the infinite vastness of the sea.
I am submerged. A deepwater hum pressures my ears. I move forward, my feet grating on a solid surface. One foot in front of the other, I find steps. I’m walking, climbing the steps, one then the next. The surface nears and I feel the water rushing off me, off my clothes.
I’m wearing a hat, a very tall, very dark hat. So unlike me. My hat is dry, along with my shirt, my coat, the revolver in my hand. Along with everything.
The steps form one side of a bridge. A short, white bridge at the centre of this endless, still sea. The bridge’s pale arc is reflected in the water and when I lean over the side I see myself too, sternly staring at my needlessly tall hat. The moon watches over me, and the white bridge is luminescent in the face of the moon.
The paper peels away at the corner causing an unnecessary shadow over the moon. That won’t do. That won’t do at all. I thumb it back up against the wall.
Step. Step. Step.
I climb up, my hard shoes shouting at each step. My eyeline reaches the top, over which I can see what remains of the bridge.
Is that another man on the other side, looking over at me? I’m certain I see another man! He’s peeking over the lip just like I am!
I duck immediately, though my stupidly tall hat undoubtedly gives me away.
I look again. Yes! There he is! There’s definitely someone there coming up the other side of the steps!
I look down at the revolver in my hand and there propels a sudden urge within me: do not fear this man. He is the intruder, not you. Face up to him. Show him that you command this place and that he will have to find another. He is no match for you.
I close my eyes, the faint lapping of seawater against the steps behind me the only sound I hear. I breathe deeply and, in a moment, I jump up the final steps onto the flat top of the bridge, and shout: ‘Who goes there?’
Fearfully, however, the man I expect to see cowering away on the steps opposite is, in fact, standing face to face with me.
And I swear he asks me, as I asked: ‘Who goes there?’
He stands tall and proud, and his body language appears to say: I back myself as much as you do yourself. Whatever you bring to battle, I bring the same if not more.
‘Who are you?’ I ask, but my voice reaches out to the dark empty horizon, swings around in a breezeless air, and echoes back at me.
Who are you?
I straighten the hat on my head. My hands shake with fear and contempt for this incredible opponent. What hubris, I think to myself.
‘Duel me!’ I demand, though I have one eye on the farce of it all: why would this man duel me?
The crack forming in the corner of the canvas is widening and breaks across the moon, revealing the plain, grey wall behind it. I do not have time for this. I thumb it back again, this time running over it several times to make sure the paste holds. The paper is of poor quality. I always buy from Frau Gerta’s Kunsthandwerksladen, even though the quality of her materials is so weak.
I look more closely at the man, and he seems to look more closely at me. He looks combative and abrasive. Plain angry. His eyes are wild.
He slowly raises his hand up until it points at me, and I see the chunky revolver in his grip. The dark barrel of the gun aimed directly at me. I follow the trajectory a bullet might take, and look at the soft fabric over my chest, protecting my heart’s tender barricade. His hand shakes and his eyes are deep and dark.
It’s a silly outfit he’s wearing. The dark coat and trousers hanging on his frame beneath a hopelessly tall hat. He looks as though he’s just left the theatre and taken a wrong turn.
Funny. My arm feels heavy, feels numb. As though pins and needles are scattering up from my shoulder to my hand. Right up to where the revolver is. And only now do I realise that my own revolver, the revolver I took from the ledge, is pointed at the man opposite me. And I get this feeling, like deja vu, like I’ve experienced this all before, just not that long ago. So recent indeed, it’s as if I’ve experienced this only seconds ago.
‘It’s me!’ I whisper to myself. ‘It’s me! It’s me!’
He has my eyes, my mouth, my ears, my hands. He wears my hat and holds my gun. And I realise that we have many reasons to duel. We have wronged one another every step of the way. We have slighted one another, duped one another and we have every motive to defeat one another.
The man waves his revolver at me, wipes the sweat from his forehead, his eyes twinkling in the moonlight, and I feel such rage towards him that I pull the trigger, ushering a rippling, echoing roar.
And so does he.
The bullet cuts through my dark long coat, through the threads of the shirt beneath it, punctures my heart, and sends my whole body flying back into the infinite darkness of the sea.
There is a crack spreading across my ceiling. I hear the sound of a bin falling over in the street, a fox misjudging the physics of its feast. A warm, damp sensation spreads across my legs.
‘Der Teufel!’ I mutter to the silence.
It takes me a moment to realise I haven’t pissed myself. It’s only the wine.
Shards of glass are spread across the floor around me. I plant my hands down to stand. Glass cuts my palms.
Groaning, I pull myself up and wipe my hands on my trousers, particles of glass dancing back to the floor.
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