The Black Obelisk

The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque

Book: The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque Read Free Book Online
Authors: Erich Maria Remarque
Tags: Fiction, Literary, General
diligent, and alert woman who knows what's what; but now she suddenly sees Niebuhr as he never was and firmly believes in the picture— that's what's so marvelous about it. Man is not only an eternal swindler but also eternally credulous; he believes in the good, the beautiful, and the perfect even when they are not to be found or only in very rudimentary form—and that is the second reason why I find reading the death notices uplifting and why it makes me an optimist.
    I put the Niebuhr notice with the seven others I have cut out. On Mondays and Tuesdays we always have a few more than usual. That's a result of the week end; a celebration, eating, drinking, quarreling, excitement—and this time the heart, the arteries, or the brain cannot hold out any longer. I put Frau Niebuhr's notice in the pigeonhole for Heinrich Kroll. It's a case for him. He is a straightforward fellow without irony and he has the same conception of the transfiguring effect of death that she has, provided she orders the tombstone from him. It will be easy for him to talk about the dear, unforgettable departed, especially since Niebuhr was a fellow habitué of Blume's Restaurant.
    My work for the day is finished. Georg Kroll has retired into his den beside the office with the new issues of the Berliner Tageblatt and the Elegant World . I could do some more work with colored chalk on the drawing of a war memorial that I have made, but tomorrow is time enough for that. I shut the typewriter and open the window. A phonograph is playing in Lisa's apartment. She appears fully dressed this time, waves a tremendous bouquet of red roses out the window, and throws me a kiss. Georg, I think. What a sly one! I point toward his room. Lisa leans out of the window and shouts across the street in her hoarse voice: "Many thanks for the flowers! You may be vultures but you're cavaliers too!"
    She shows her predatory teeth and trembles with laughter at her joke. Then she gets out a letter. " 'My lady,' she caws. " 'An admirer of your beauty takes the liberty of laying these roses at your feet.' " She catches her breath with a hoot. "And the address! 'To the Circe of Hackenstrasse 5.' What is a Circe?"
    "A woman who turns men into swine."
    Lisa rocks with laughter. The little house seems to rock with her. That's not Georg, I think. He hasn't completely lost his mind. "Who's the letter from?" I ask.
    "Alex Riesenfeld," Lisa croaks. "By courtesy of Kroll and Sons. Riesenfeld!" She is almost choking. "Is that the little runt you were with in the Red Mill?"
    "He is not little and not a runt," I reply. "He's a giant sitting down and very virile. Besides, he's a billionaire!"
    A thoughtful expression crosses Lisa's face. Then she waves and smiles again and disappears. I close the window. Suddenly for no reason I remember Erna. I begin to whistle uncomfort ably and wander across the garden to the shed where Kurt   Bach's studio is.
    He is sitting on the front steps with his guitar. Behind him shimmers a sandstone lion which he has just completed for a war memorial. It is the same old cat, dying of toothache.
    "Kurt," I say, "if you could have a wish instantly fulfilled what would you wish?"
    "A thousand dollars," he replies without reflection, and strikes a resounding chord on his guitar.
    " Pfui Teufel! I thought you were an idealist."
    "I am an idealist. That's why I wish I had a thousand dollars. I don't need to wish idealism for myself. I have that in abundance already. What I need is money."
    There is no possible reply to that. It's perfect logic. "What Would you do with the money?" I ask, still hopeful.
    "I would buy a block of houses and live on the rent."
    "You couldn't live on the rent," I say. "It's too low and you're not allowed to raise it. You couldn't even pay for repairs and you would soon have to sell your houses again."
    "Not the houses I'd buy. I'd keep them until the inflation is over. Then they would earn proper rents again and all I'd have to do is rake

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