THE Carpathians have always been the rocky-breasted wet nurse of sombre and terrible fantasy. Dracula came out of these parts in which, as the peasants whisper, crossing themselves: ‘The dead ride hard.’ Hungary, and Austria, have always been breeding grounds for vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, together with their bedevilments and bewitchings.
Psychoanalysis started in these parts. There are hundreds of professional psychologists (witch-doctors) from most other countries in the world who have studied under Freud, Jung, Adler, Groddeck, and the rest. Most of them go away with unblinking conviction: a species of owl stuffed with conjecture curdled into dogma. It is interesting, by the way, to observe that most of these fumblers in the dark are in a state of permanent nervous breakdown – an occupational disease you get when you try to take someone else’s soul to pieces and clean it and reassemble it. No man in the world ever emptied his heart and mind in an analyst’s office or anywhere else – only madmen try, who do not know what they are talking about; their candour is fantasy.
Anglo-Saxons ought to leave psychology to take care of itself. They break their hearts trying to make an exact science of what – considering the infinite permutations and combinations of the human mind – can never crystallise out of mere philosophy. In the end, it all boils down to repetitive case-histories, reports, and other rubbish – sex in statistical tedium, with the spicy bits veiled in the obscurity of a dead language.
So, in effect, said that shrewd little mental specialist whom I will call Dr Almuna, when I met him in a select scientific group at a cocktail party. He runs the Almuna Clinic – a polite, expensive kind of looney bin not far from Chicago – and specialises in dope fiends and alcoholics.
Almuna is good company. This cheerful man who has kept clean because he has learned how to wash his hands in any kind of water – this Almuna, a kindly cynic, believes everything and nothing. There is nothing didactic about Dr Almuna: he admits that the more he knows he knows, the less he knows he knows.
Once, in the course of a conversation he said to me, in reply to a certain question: ‘know the lobes of a brain, and have followed the convolutions of many brains, and the patterns of behaviour of many men and women. And still I cannot pretend to understand. I try, believe me! But every human brain is a separate labyrinth. He would be a lucky man who, in a lifetime, got to the heart of anybody’s brain. No, no; quite simply, I do not try to explain. I treat, and endeavour to understand. The other way lies theory. Hence, fanaticism; and so delusion …’
On the occasion to which I have referred, when earnest professional men made a group and discussed cases, Dr Almuna was there, cocking his head like a parrot; one eye shut; avidly attentive. Some practitioner whose name I forget was talking of a case of ‘sympathetic pains’. He had investigated and thoroughly authenticated the case of a girl who, at three o’clock in the morning of 7 January 1944 uttered a piercing shriek and cried: ‘I’m shot!’ She pointed to a spot under the collarbone. There, mysteriously, had appeared a small blue dot, exquisitely painful to the touch. It transpired that exactly at that moment her brother, who was serving overseas, had been struck by a bullet in that very place.
Dr Almuna nodded, and said: ‘Oh, indeed, yes. Such cases are not without precedent, Doctor. But I think I can tell of an even more extraordinary instance of physical sympathy between two brothers …’
Smiling over his cigar, he went on:
These two brothers, let us call them John and William, they came to me at my clinic in Vienna, in the spring of 1924, before Mr Hitler made it imperative that I leave for foreign parts – even Chicago!
John came with his brother William. It was a plain case, open and shut, of dipsomania. Aha, but not so plain! Because there was such a sympathy between these brothers, William and John, that the weakness of the one affected the other.
William drank at least two bottles of brandy every day. John was a teetotaller – the very odour of alcohol was revolting to him. William smoked fifteen strong cigars a day. John detested the smell of tobacco smoke – it made him sick.
Yet account for this, if you like, gentlemen – William, the drunkard, and the smoker, was a harmless kind of fellow, while his brother John, the total abstainer, the non-smoker, showed every symptom of chronic alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver, and a certain fluttering of the heart that comes of nicotine poisoning!
I do not suppose that any doctor has had the good luck to have such a case on his hands. There was William, breathing brandy and puffing cigar smoke like a steam engine, in the pink of condition; blissfully semicomatose; happy. And there was John, with a strawberry nose, a face like a strawberry soufflé, eyes like poached egs in pools of blood, fingers playing mysterious arpeggios all over the place – a clear case of alcoholic polyneurotic psychosis – but John had never touched a drop.
It was John who did most of the talking – the one with the strawberry nose. He said: ‘Dr Almuna, for God’s sake, stop him! He’s killing me. He’s killing himself, and he’s killing me.’
William said: ‘Pay no attention, Doc. John’s the man of nerves. Me, I take things easy.’
At this John cried: ‘Nerves! Damn you, William, you’ve torn mine to shreds!’
William said, quite placidly: ‘Give me some brandy, Doctor.’
And then you would have been amazed to see the play of expression on the face of John, the plaintive one. He folded his hands and gripped them tight to stop the tremor; and I have never seen a more remarkable combination of desire and revulsion in a human countenance.
‘Don’t!’ he said; and then: ‘… Well, Doctor, if you think it’s okay …’
Alas, that I should say it – to an inquiring mind, however well-disposed, all men are guinea-pigs. Besides, it might be argued, who was John to say what the suave and comfortable William might, or might not, have? Experimentally, if you like, I gave William three ounces of brandy in a measured glass. It went down like a thimbleful, and he smiled at me – a smile that was pleasant to see.
And believe me or believe me not, his brother John began to retch and hiccup and blink at me with eyes out of focus, while William, having lit a strong cigar, folded his hands on his stomach and puffed smoke!
Sympathy, what? Wow, but with a vengeance!
At last, after a fit of deep coughing, and something like nausea, brother John said: ‘You see, Doctor? Do you see? This is what I have to put up with. William won’t let me work. Do you appreciate that? He won’t let me work!’
Both John and William were evidently men of substance. They had arrived in a custom-built Mercedes-Benz, were tailored by Stolz, and carried expensive jewellery. It is true that William was covered with cigar-ash, and that his platinum watch had stopped in the afternoon of the previous day; but it was impossible not to detect a certain air of financial independence.
John, the strawberry-faced, the tremulous one, he was neat as a pin, prim, dapper. I wish I knew the laundress who got up his linen. He wore a watch-chain of gold and platinum and, on the little finger of his left hand, a gold ring set with a large diamond. There was about two carats of diamond, also, stuck in his black satin tie….
How shall I describe to you this weird mixture of dandyism and unkemptness in John? It was as if someone had disturbed him in the middle of a careful toilet. His clothes were beautifully cut and carefully pressed. You might have seen your face in the mirrors of his shoes. But his hair needed trimming – it came up to the neck in little feathers – and his finger-nails were not very tidy. William was flagrantly, cheerfully – I may even say atavistically – dirty, so as to be an offence to the eye and to the nostrils. Still, he too wore well-cut clothes and jewellery: not diamonds; emeralds. Only rich men can afford to be so elegant or so slovenly.
So I asked: ‘Work, Mr John? Come now, what do you mean by “work”?’
William, rosy and contented, was smiling and nodding in a half-sleep – the picture of health and well-being. And his brother John, who had not touched a drop, was in a state of that feverish animation which comes before the sodden sleep that leads to the black hangover.
He said: ‘Oh, I don’t need to work – I mean, not in point of economy. Mother left us enough, and much more than enough. Don’t you worry about your fee, Doctor——’
‘You leave Mother out of this,’ said William. ‘Little rat. Always picking on Mother, poor old girl. Give us another bit of brandy, Doctor: this is a bore.’
Before I could stop him, William got hold of the bottle and swallowed a quarter of a pint. He was very strong in the hands, and I had to exert myself to take the bottle away from him. After I had locked it up, it was – believe me! – it was poor John who said, in a halting voice: ‘I think I am going to be sick.’ What time William, blissfully chewing the nauseous stump of a dead cigar, was humming ‘O Doña Clara’, or some such trash.
And upon my soul, gentlemen, John joined in, in spite of himself, making what is politely called ‘harmony’:
O Doña Clara,
Ich hab’ dich tanzen gesehn,
Und deine Schoenheit
Hat mich toll gemacht …
Then John stopped, and began to cry.
He said: ‘That’s all he knows, you see? You see what he is? A pig, a vulgar beast. My tastes are purely classical. I adore Bach, I love Mozart, I worship Beethoven. William won’t let me play them. He breaks my records. I can’t stop him. He’s stronger in the hands than I am – exercised them more. Day and night he likes to bang hot jazz out of the piano; and he won’t let me think, he won’t let me work – Doctor, he’s killing me! What am I to do?’
William lit another green cigar and said: ‘Ah, cut it out, will you? … Why, Doc, the other day this one ordered in a record by a guy called Stravinsky, or something.’ He chuckled. ‘It said on the label, Unbreakable.But I bust it over his head; didn’t I, Johnny? Me, I like something with a bit of life in it … rhythm. You know?’
John sobbed. ‘My hobby is painting miniatures on ivory. William won’t let me. He mixes up my paints——’
‘Can’t stand the smell of ’em,’ said William.
‘– Jogs my arm and, if I protest, he hits me. When I want to play music, he wants to go to sleep. Oh, but if Iwant to sleep and he wants to make a noise, try and stop him!’
‘Let’s have a little more brandy,’ said William.
But I said to him, solemnly: ‘The stuff is deadly poison to you, Mr William. I strongly urge that you spend about three months in my sanatorium.’
‘I won’t go,’ he said. ‘Nothing the matter with me. I’m okay.’
‘Make him go, make him go!’ his brother screamed. ‘Oh, William, William, for God’s sake – for my sake – go to the sanatorium!’
‘I’m okay,’ said William, cheerfully. ‘You’re the one that needs the sanatorium. I’m not going. I’d rather stay at home and enjoy myself. A short life and a merry one. Ha?’
And the extraordinary fact of the matter was, William was, as he said, okay – liver impalpable, kidneys sound, heart in excellent condition – he, who drank two quarts of brandy every day of his life! A tongue like a baby’s, eyes like stars, steady as a rock. It was John who showed the stigmata of the alcoholic and the cigar-fiend – he who had never tasted liquor or tobacco.
How do you like that for sympathy?
John whispered brokenly: ‘I might have tried to bear it all; only last week this sot proposed marriage to our housekeeper! Marriage! To our housekeeper! I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it!’
William said: ‘Why not? Nice woman. Johnny hates her, Doc, but she understands me. Past her prime, maybe, but comfortable to be with. Shares my tastes. Likes cheerful music. Don’t say no to a highball. Cooks the way I like it – plenty of pepper, rich stuff with a lot of spice. This Johnny-boy, here, all he can take is milk and boiled weakfish. Yes, so help me, I’m going to marry Clara…. Sure you can’t let me have another little bit of brandy, Doc? An itsy-boo?’
I said: ‘No. For the last time, are you sure that you won’t come to my sanatorium?’
‘Sure as you’re sitting there,’ said William, while John sobbed helplessly on the sofa.
So, to conclude: The brothers John and William went out to where their great limousine was waiting in the dusk, and drove away.
Shortly afterwards, John died in delirium of cirrhosis, nephritis, dropsy, and ‘the whole works’ – as you put it. His brother William died soon after, and they were buried together in the Sacred Heart cemetery.
The good Dr Almuna rubbed his hands and chuckled.
A listening psychiatrist said: ‘Most extraordinary,’ and began an explanation that promised to be interminable.
But Dr Almuna cut him short. He said: ‘The explanation, my dear Doctor, is an exceedingly simple one. Perhaps I failed to mention that John and William were Siamese twins, and had only one liver between them. And poor John had the thin end of it, which cirrhosed in advance of William’s.’
He added: ‘Intriguing, what? Perhaps the only case on record of a man drinking his teetotal brother to death.’