"No trapeze acts!" he would bluster, and in this emblem he would subsume all other parodies of human freedom. "A family of acrobats high in the roof, balancing, swinging, hanging by the hair from their childrens teeth! What a betrayal of humanity, what a mockery of holy Mother Nature!" The image enraged him. Did he imagine his own exhibits might better depict her maternal labors?
Leo Kongee, the "Man with No Nerves," rammed hatpins through his tongue and pounded spikes into his nose. Godina and Apexia, the "Pinhead Sisters," joked with horrified viewers about the angels dancing inside their skulls. Gerda Schlobß, "the Homeliest Woman in the World," flirted with men and teased their female companions about their sexual competence. There was Josef/Josefina, "Man or Woman, Who Is To Say?," and Serpentina, "The Girl with No Bones." Glotzaügiger Otto could pop both his eyes right out of his face. And Steinkopf Bill charged ten groschen for pieces of the rocks broken on his head.
December 17, 1915, brought Amadeus more to celebrate than Beethovens birthday---which is what he was doing in the semidarkness of the four-oclock hour when Anna Marie Schleßwegs crew pulled its wagon into the cluster of wagons now inhabiting a huge empty lot in Viennas Meidling district. The trailer marked "Büro" was lit by lantern light. Anna Marie knocked resolutely.
"Jah. Come in."
"Do you have a moment?" Four of them peeked through the door. "Wed like to show you something."
"I dont need it. I dont need any more. I have enough problems. Basta. Genug. But come in already nevertheless, and close the door. Youre letting out the heat."
"What is that awful noise?" asked one of the men---from well behind.
"Herr Klofac!" scolded Anna Marie, their doughty leader.
"That, my impolitic but honest friend, is what a deaf man hears inside his fortress skull."
Amadeus removed the needle from side three of Beethovens Grosse Fuge. "Its my little birthday celebration. I play it every year."
"To Beethoven, not to me. Did you sing Happy Birthday to him?"
"No. We drove all the way from Prague...." Anna Marie began to explain.
"Without singing Happy Birthday to Beethoven? Did you sing Happy Birthday to him yesterday?"
"I thought today was---"
"Today and yesterday. He has two birthdays. Extraordinary people do extraordinary things. Thats what Zirkus Schwänze der Hoffnung is all about. What have you got to show me?"
"I thought you said you had enough," Klofac pointed out.
"Ill make an exception. I like honest, boorish people."
"My men will bring in the---crate."
And Kramar, Klofac, and Soukup clomped out the door, down three wooden steps into the darkness.
"How old are you, madame?"
"Good. Whats your name?"
"Anna Marie Schleßweg."
"And how old am I?"
"I dont know. Fifty?"
"Fifty is a good guess. Im twenty-two."
Crashing and grumping as the three ex-borders chez Gregor grind the crate against the door frame.
"Easy does it, gentlemen. I just finished paying off this trailer."
"Sorry, Herr Hoffnung. Soukup, tip this way a little. Klofac, lift. Okay, now up...easy. Where shall we put it?"
"Here, Ill move these chairs."
"Watch your fingers."
"There it is. Soukup, open it," directed Frau Schleßweg.
"Not me. You open it."
Amadeus stepped in. "Ill open it. Im used to surprises."
But not like this one. Herr Hoffnung was stunned. Three hundred fifty million years swirled up at him from the bottom of the crate. His roach. His Sosnowiec roach come to call. The Great, secret Joy of his recent, and long-departed youth. He had to grip hard on the edge of the crate.
Reprinted from Insect Dreams by Marc Estrin by permission of BlueHen Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Marc Estrin. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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