rented house on Linzerstrasse was a good move. He and Klara both agreed that they needed more room, and now they had it. Of course, there were no females in the attic, but he could manage with that. He had nosed out a woman who lived on his route home from the tavern. He had to pay for the privilege by purchasing a small gift from time to time, but then the rent on Linzerstrasse was low. It was a dreary house.
All the while, he fought against falling in love with his wife. She infuriated him. If ants were like bees and had a Queen for whom they labored, then Klara was Queen of the ants, for she commanded his skin to crawl, his crotch to itch, and his heart to toll in his chest—all of this coming from no more than Klara keeping to her half of the divided bed. He had to think of how lovingly she had looked at him on the night of her wedding. She had worn a dark silk dress, rose colored with a white collar—that much white she allowed herself as a bride—and on her white forehead, she had teased some charming curls. At her breast was pinned the one piece or jewelry she possessed, a small green cluster of glass grapes looking real enough to mislead a man into reaching for one. And then there were her eyes—no mistake! He had to fight against falling in
love with a woman who kept the cleanest house in Braunau just for him and for three kids—two of them not even her own!—a woman always as polite to him in public as to an emperor, a woman who never complained about what she had and didn’t have nor nagged him about finances, a woman who still had only one good dress, the one worn at her wedding party, and yet if he had laid a finger on her, she would have bitten it off. He wondered if the difference in their age was what it was about. Better than marrying her, he should have put her in a convent. Yet his skin itched at the thought of how she would not let him near.
Drinking at the tavern, he would look to regain some pride. His dislike of the Church had by now become a conversational grist. At home, he would glean further material from an anticlerical volume he had found in an antique bookshop in Braunau. Indeed, the store owner, Hans Lycidias Koerner, would meet him on many an evening for beer. While the bookseller kept himself at a scholarly level above more mundane discussions by offering no more than a nod of his head from time to time, his wise presence, his shaven chin and shaven upper lip, his full muttonchops, his peephole spectacles, his half-bald head of burgeoning white hair offered a slight but legitimizing resemblance to Arthur Schopenhauer and thus gave support to Herr Koerner’s smallest assent, just enough to carry the other Customs officers around the more bruising turns of Alois’ argument. While they were hardly to be counted as churchgoers—“No good man wants to be neutered,” most were ready to admit—still they were officials. So they could hardly feel at ease when a prestigious institution was mocked, let alone the Holy Roman Church.
Not Alois. He showed no fear in declaring that he had no fear. “If there is a Providence larger than Franz Josef’s power to provide for us, I have not encountered it.”
“Alois, not everything comes up to a man with a printed sign,” said the officer closest to him in rank.
“It is all a mystery. Mystery, mystery, mystery, and the Church keeps the keys, they are our caretakers,^?”
The others laughed uneasily. But Alois was thinking of Klara and how her piety left a hot rock in his stomach. He would grind this rock to powder. “In the Middle Ages,” he said, “do you know? The whores, they were more respectable than the nuns. They even had a Guild. For themselves alone! I have read about a convent in Franconia so stinking bad the Pope had to investigate. Why? Because the Franconia Whores’ Guild complained about the illegal competition they were receiving from the Franconia nuns.”
“Come now,” said two drinkers at once.
“True. It is