I know that this might not be the best moment to bring this up, Dr Seligman, but it just came to my mind that I once dreamt that I was Hitler. I feel embarrassed talking about it even now, but I really was him, overlooking a mass of fanatical followers, I delivered a speech from a balcony. Wearing the uniform with the funny, puffy legs, I could feel the little moustache on my upper lip, and my right hand was flying through the air as I mesmerised everyone with my voice. I don’t remember what exactly I was talking about – I think it had something to do with Mussolini and some absurd dream of expansion – but that doesn’t matter. What is fascism anyway but ideology for its own sake; it carries no message, and in the end the Italians beat us to it. I can’t walk for more than a hundred metres in this city without seeing the words pasta or espresso, and their ghastly flag is hanging from every corner. I never see the word sauerkraut anywhere. It was never feasible for us to hold down an empire for a thousand years with our deplorable cuisine; there are limits to what you can impose on people, and anyone would break free after a second serving of what we call food. It was always our weak point, we never created anything that was meant to be enjoyed without a higher purpose – it is not for nothing that there is no word for pleasure in German; we only know lust and joy. Our throats never get wet enough to suck anyone with devotion because we were all raised on too much dry bread. You know that horrible bread we eat and tell everyone about, like some sort of self-perpetuating myth? I think it’s a punishment from God for all the crimes we have committed, and forthwith nothing as sensual as a baguette or as moist as the blueberry muffins they serve here will ever come out of that country. It’s one of the reasons I had to leave: I no longer wanted to be complicit in the bread lie. But anyway, as I was delivering what we would now have to call a hate speech, I felt that the orgiastic applause coming from beneath me only served as poor compensation for my obvious deformities. I was so painfully aware that I looked nothing like the Aryan ideal I had been going on about for all those years. I mean, I did not have a club foot, but still, not all of the dead Jews in the world, nor even my alleged vegetarianism, would make me eligible for one of those hot Riefenstahl pics. I felt like a fraud. Had no one noticed that I looked like an old potato with plastic hair? I can still feel the sadness I woke up with that day, the sadness of knowing that I would never get to be one of those beautiful blond German boys with their Greek bodies and that skin that turns so wonderfully golden in the sun, the feeling that I would never be what I felt I should have been.
I don’t want to say that I felt sorry for Hitler, and it’s still not acceptable to wipe out an entire civilisation because you feel unhappy in your body and because they represent what you hate about yourself, but it did make me think about his private life. Hitler’s everyday. Have you ever thought about the Führer in his pyjamas, Dr Seligman, waking up with messy hair, stumbling across the room looking for his slippers? I am sure some sad person has written a book about his domestic life, but I much prefer to imagine it myself; books would only find a way to make it dull. I can see the swastika-themed bedsheets and matching pyjamas, everything down to his breakfast bowl. I saw those once in Poland in one of those weird antique shops entirely dedicated to the memorabilia of their tormentors, where they were selling bowls and plates with tiny swastikas at the bottom. It almost felt like some sort of perverted Barbie universe where if you saved long enough, you could buy a whole new life, shiny and matching. I could even imagine little TV spots with a well-oiled Hitler doll on one of those glittering horses, saving a good German woman from the hands of some leering Jew, riding off into the sunset, the race protected and safe. Savvy as they were when it came to the media, I think the Nazis really missed out on a marketing opportunity there, imagine all the fun the little German children could have had with something like a LEGO concentration camp called Freudenstadt – build your own oven, organise your own deportations and don’t forget to conquer enough lebensraum. They could even have gone for an adult line – aside from all the gloves and lampshades made from skin they could have had horse-themed butt plugs made from real enemy hair. But I guess that ship has sailed now. And I don’t mean to offend you Dr Seligman, especially now that you have your head between my legs, but don’t you think that there is something kinky about genocide?
The other day as I was coming home there was a person under the train, someone who wanted to leave with a bang and stick it to some fellow commuters as a final gesture in our modern warfare of despair. And so I had to walk back through one of those parts of London where people from previous generations live, with real furniture and clean baths, with those bright shops for children that make childhood look like it was a French invention and those front gardens where spring seems to arrive earlier than anywhere else. I especially love those dark magnolia blossoms; they look so elegant, almost purple. Have you seen them, Dr Seligman? No one would ever dream of dumping their rubbish in front of one of those houses – they render even coarse natures delicate – yet my driveway is constantly subject to other people’s violations, and I find anything from rusty freezers to old make-up bags and used toys when I peek through my curtains in the morning. I wonder what it is about me that makes others assume that I will rejoice in their broken objects and I have come very close to making my humiliation public and leaving a note asking them to stop, which is almost as bad as asking for food or a clean pair of knickers. Have you ever tried to make someone respect your basic humanity? I am not asking for anything drastic like dignified sex or real emotions; at least leave something fun for me sometimes, but this feels like I am possessed by some twisted fairy who wants to make sure that no prince will ever get to see my window and that all my dreams will eventually smell of fox piss and resemble the kind of plastic you see in documentaries about how we killed Mother Nature. They become objects of guilt and disgust, and at night I try to fall asleep without a clear vision of my future. That’s why I have long stopped going to those parts of the city I cannot afford; they make me see all my failures through a magnifying glass and remind me of all the things my parents will never forgive. Why had I not just spread my legs at the right moment, taken better care of my body and married one of the men with the dark magnolia trees in their front garden? I could have been one of those women in fancy cafés with not a single thing to worry about. It would have been like living in a chocolate shop, Dr Seligman. I think that’s why rich people always look like someone just fucked them with a bespoke strap-on whilst someone else ironed their fresh bedsheets in the room next door. That’s also why their children are less ugly – because they can actually afford them, because the children know that they have a right to be there. That must be how superiority works. Do you think it was a mistake to come and see you instead, Dr Seligman?
I’m not scared of what we are about to do, though, Dr Seligman. I’m not scared of dying or anything like that. I know that I can trust you, and that death is silent. It’s never the loud things that kill us, the things that make us vomit and scream and cry. Those things are just looking for attention. They are like cats in spring, Dr Seligman – they want to feel our resistance, to wake us up at night and listen to the melody of our curses, but they mean no harm. Death is all that grows inside us, all that will finally burst, leaving its natural circuits and flooding all that needs to breathe. The infections that fester unnoticed, the hearts that break without warning. That’s where all those films and TV programmes with their pornographic violence got it wrong, Dr Seligman: people rarely get killed like that. It’s all within us already, the way we are going to die, there is nothing others can do about it – just as from a certain age all the people we are going to hurt and fuck are already walking the planet. I have always found it a strange thought, that our whole life is basically already here. It’s just our concept of time that forces us into a linear point of view. But that’s why I’m not scared, Dr Seligman; I can feel that’s it’s not my destiny to die under your hands. They are far too gentle to even leave a scar.
And it’s not like I have never been in love, Dr Seligman. I know that you can’t see me very well, but I don’t want you to think that I am one of those people without feelings or empathy. It’s just that falling in love has never been easy; it was never the predictable exercise it is for most people because my love never corresponded to my reality. Because no love ever survived the image I had of it. Because K didn’t know how to handle his words. And so I stayed alone for most of it – so alone, in fact, that I almost did something stupid the other day, something that would have made me look even more ridiculous, and all because I suddenly remembered my broken heart and thought that writing that letter would make fate regret some of its decisions. It is one of my many deformities that I always think of fate as some dramatic fat person on a chaise longue, stroking a pathetic pet, waiting for their whims to be humoured. And I always think that there is a way to get to them, to influence their decisions by wearing a special earring or not getting on the obvious train. Or, by thinking of an extra-special way to commit suicide. It’s just my way of denying that nobody hears my thoughts and that most of my life has taken place in a dark void. I know that it makes no difference whether I get up with my right or my left leg, that there is no higher mechanism at work and that I might as well chop off a leg or rub nerve acid on my toothbrush. The person on the chaise longue wouldn’t bat an eyelid and would send me on my unremarkable path anyway; they wouldn’t even remember my name. Sometimes I can hear them offering grapes to their pathetic pet and I regret that I was born with this ugly human skin. Just imagine being someone’s pet, Dr Seligman; the kind of unconditional love you would inspire. They would do anything for you – they’d leave the radiator on for you in winter even though they can’t afford it, and when you’d be sick on their favourite pair of shoes, they would clean it up with a smile. And then, one day, when you couldn’t take it anymore, you could run into traffic and get run over in front of their eyes and break their miserable little hearts. But at least that way you wouldn’t leave anything behind, except maybe a collar and a few cherished blankets, nothing that couldn’t be buried with you somewhere at the back of the garden. There would be no inheritance, nothing that your descendants would need to manage except for their empty nights and those walks that no longer served a purpose. They wouldn’t be in my situation, or that of my family, Dr Seligman. Now that my grandfather is dead, we are left to grapple with the will of an old man who was a stranger to us, and when I saw my mother at the funeral last week, I could tell how upset she was, not just because of the state I was in.
And yet I almost wrote that letter to Mr Shimada. I know that you can get addicted to sex toys, that if you treat yourself to too many of those free orgasms, you go numb and real interactions become meaningless. But I always wanted a pen pal, Dr Seligman; I used to reply to those ads as a child, but no one ever got back to me. Those little German children must have sensed that something wasn’t right with me even back then, or maybe they just thought I was a paedophile in disguise. Anyway, I really wanted to correspond with Mr Shimada about his robots, or, to be honest, I wanted to ask him if he would produce one for me. I had seen him on TV talking about the little sex machines he had designed and created, and he seemed so excited about his vision. Like a modern saviour, Jesus with a walking dildo. I know that these robots are designed to fulfil the sexual needs of men, because men are naturally entitled to having their needs fulfilled, but how difficult can it be to build one with an electronic cock instead? You probably think that would be horribly sad, Dr Seligman – I can almost feel you frowning down there – but he would only need to remodel it a bit, take off the breasts, close one of its holes, and I don’t really care too much about the face. Don’t you think it would be best if we all had our own individual robots to fuck? Imagine if we were all satisfied and did not have to explain our desires anymore. But then they would probably come up with some stupid reason why male robots are dangerous or why they are not needed because people without cocks can always find someone around the corner. How the people without cocks need to be controlled for the people with cocks not to feel intimidated, because somehow it is a bad thing when men feel intimidated. But my wish is not political, Dr Seligman; I have long stopped caring about the universal violence affecting my body. I am just tired, and the idea of being able to focus on my desire alone seems like a long-lost dream. To be able to turn my companion off when I have no emotions left.
In the end I didn’t have the courage, because I was worried that Mr Shimada would think I was a freak. I know that he probably receives a lot of weird mail, but the idea of being judged by someone who builds fuckable mannequins at the other end of the world was quite upsetting. And I have never been to Japan and don’t even know what the right formalities would be. And if I had tried to explain all my circumstances, how I intended to use my robot, it would have been a very long letter, and he might have been bored to death and never finished it. Or maybe my circumstances are as banal as anyone else’s; they must have broken hearts in Japan, don’t you think? Thinking about it now, Dr Seligman, I am sure that Mr Shimada would understand, and maybe once this is all over I will write to him. I mean, why else would you fuck a piece of plastic if it wasn’t to keep your heart safe? I am sure he will come around and build me my little talking cock. Have you ever been intimate with an object, Dr Seligman? I was always worried about inserting something that runs on electricity into my body, about electrocuting myself down there and being found in the most unfortunate position. Just think of the headlines: single woman with two cats killed by faulty vibrator. What could be more tragic? Are you aware of any such cases? I mean, I know that there are guarantees and that Japan is not China and that they produce everything to a very high standard, but in the past I never dared. Or, to be honest, and since this is a medical examination and this information might be relevant, I never got beyond inserting a banana into my vagina. One of those bananas with a very thick skin and those edges that almost look like pulsating veins. I hate to think of it now, but at the time it had turned me on, and it seemed very low risk. The result was disappointing though. Things got very dry, and after a while I grew tired of my own movements. It was before I knew that you can apply lube to almost anything and finally understood why people are sometimes admitted to hospital with half their living room up their ass. I think that’s what loneliness does to people, Dr Seligman; they forget how to articulate their desires.
I think it’s about to start snowing, Dr Seligman. Those clouds look like they are about to burst, and I could feel that wintry air as I was walking here earlier. You know that moment in the late afternoon when a special kind of grey seems to have become part of the atmosphere, when it’s about to swallow the light and it’s impossible to distinguish what you see from what you feel? When it’s cold enough to see the warmth leaving people’s bodies? But on other days you must have such a nice view from up here. Do you ever go and sit in that park outside your window, Dr Seligman? When I still had a job, I used to go and sit in the park near work during my lunch breaks, the kind of pretty park the Germans would have vandalised but that the Brits treat like a sacred space, with real flowers and well-meaning dogs. But now I don’t really go anymore. I fear that people might notice what’s going on with me, and sitting there in my current state I would feel like a fraud. The other reason I stopped going to the park was that having to regularly listen to other people’s conversations made my organs bleed. Nothing else makes you realise with such brutality how banal life really is. As long as you only talk to yourself, you can gloss over some of the details, but when I am exposed to the mindless chatter of others I’m immediately possessed by a very strong urge to kill myself, as I can no longer ignore the fact that we are nothing but a dying star drifting in an endless void, not deserving any of the sunlight that keeps us alive. If it were up to me, the sun couldn’t explode soon enough and put an end to all this raging stupidity. I even contemplated going mute altogether. You might find that hard to imagine, Dr Seligman, but I just didn’t want to be part of the oral pollution anymore. Back when I still used to sit in the park, I always wished for these mindless people to be shat on by pigeons, for them to be marked and stained for the offence they had committed, for not realising that their so-called personalities are nothing but layers of replaceable crap. It’s also the only way I could see myself becoming a pigeon lady, imagining all the bread and seeds I’d be feeding my little birds transformed into ugly yellow-brown shit that would land on people’s heads, coats, and food. The shit would stop them from producing anymore of their dribble, to find, however brief, a moment of silence when all you can hear is their despair and the pigeons’ satisfied cooing. Such are my dreams, Dr Seligman, and if you really think about it, it’s these small acts of revenge that make all the difference, and slowly but surely the pigeons are destroying the façades of our most loved cities with their endless rain of shit.
Just think of Notre Dame’s gargoyles or those lovely buildings in Venice melting under this natural acid shower, and close-by you will find a little pigeon lady, smiling at yet another victory. Imagine if the Nazis had known. Apparently they did try to train bees, though I don’t know for what purpose; maybe to make them sniff out Jews and sting them to death. But then if Hollywood hasn’t picked up on it yet it’s probably not true. How else would they have resisted a film with the title Hitler’s Beekeepers when they have already used up most of the possible Hitler-and titles? Personally, I am still waiting for Hitler’s Nail Clippers and The True Story behind Hitler’s Haircut. I am sure, though, that they had carrier pigeons for their stupid coded messages, but I am also sure that they were not aware of the destructive power of bird shit. Superior as always, the Swiss know. I once read somewhere that the city of Zurich hired a man to go through the city and shoot pigeons in daylight. I wonder if that includes the pigeon ladies as sources of unrestrained female agency, officially unfuckable like witches and nuns and therefore too free; do you think the Swiss are capable of such hygiene?
Photograph © Tory Brown
Katharina Volckmer’s The Appointment is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.