The Other Side
A Transgender Tale
The Third Sex Issue 1, article 4 (May 1930)
Mrs. Olga looked down through the green hanging plants of the small winter garden down to the wide street. Walking down this street was her husband, Councilor Berndt, accompanied by some colleague.
He walked briskly as he always did, stopped for a moment at his house, and said goodbye to the other person.
She watered the little cacti, which were all planted in white, gold-rimmed pots. They gave Hellmuth so much joy. She then put the watering can back in the corner and returned to the living room, which was glowing in the first sunny afternoon in March.
Just then her husband opened the door, and when he stepped into the light she saw he was quite tired and weary. She held out her fine, pale hand to him, which he kissed, then she went into dining room and sat at the table.
“Did you have a long day, Hellmuth?” she asked, looking searchingly into that narrow, beardless face with an energetically protruding nose, which didn’t quite fit with his feminine mouth and chin. He shook his blonde head.
“I’m OK, dear, work is less busy, but I’m tired again — you know — well, yes — —” He broke off and Olga brushed his hand with a soft, almost motherly tenderness.
“A letter from Rolf is sitting on your writing desk —” she smiled strangely and forlornly, the way one smiles with the joy of a beloved child. Just then a glow flew out of the Councilor’s deeply potted, dark blue eyes, and he sprang up.
“You’ll allow me? But first I have to know —”
For a moment she clasped her hands tightly in her lap and looked at him, that tall, slender man whose wonderful passion that only she, she alone knew and was allowed to know. Perhaps he sensed in his sensitivity, which he usually knew how to hide quite well, that underneath it all she merely tolerated it. Yet there was no closer friendship, no more heartfelt attraction than what Hellmuth Berndt and Olga had with each other.
The maid passed by as she cleaned the room. As soon as she was a distance away, Hellmuth said:
“Just think, tomorrow is Rolf’s birthday — I had definitely forgotten about it — he suspected I would, that dear boy, that’s why he wrote me again, it’ll be a very small party — only his most intimate friends — I’ll take the early train.”
A shadow cast over Olga’s beautiful, stern face. But calmly she said:
“Don’t forget, Consul Feidt’s big party is in two days, my friend. You know we can’t miss — —”
“I’ll be right back, like always, just an evening, a couple hours — I know you’ll let me, right love?” He drew closer to the dark-haired woman and put his arm around her neck. With an almost tender familiarity he pressed his cheek against hers for a moment.
“Enjoy yourself, Hellmi —” she replied softly and kissed him on the high forehead. He then smiled (as someone who rarely smiles) as if he was suddenly bathed in the sun by some coming happiness — — —
The following night, Olga couldn’t sleep. Her fine, watchful soul flew for miles to Rolf’s studio, that precious and luxurious home in which the painter dwelled in his odd desires. — She thought about the annual party Rolf once threw for his friends, which he gave some fantastic name. It was the “Rose of Jericho” that sprang to her memory — despite her strong objection, for her husband’s sake she relented to his request to take part — and for a long time after that, she felt as if she had dreamed a strange dream…
Heavy, colorful curtains dimmed the lights, floral vines from crown to crown, palms, scents and sweet sounds — and people beneath in bizarre and luxurious garb, who swung in rapturous dance with mystical smiles — — —
“What am I doing here?” was her feeling at the time, “what are you to me in this hour?” And her dark eyes followed, in silent sadness, a tall, slender woman who wore her precious, deeply low-cut dress made of silver brocade with elegant grace through the surging throng. She saw a small, coquettish smile on the slender, sleek, lightly powdered face, felt every quiver of the naked, white shoulder and heard with inexplicably fine hearing the flattery paid to the beautiful woman — and her soul was drawn down into a deep pain — but she smiled.
She thought of Buddha, whose bronze image stood in a niche in front of a gold-embroidered curtain and gazed sliently and otherworldly into the vibrant ado. Buddha, whose exotic teaching they both loved so much, she and Hellmuth.
“Are you what you seem? No, — none of this is you — you are something else — something deeper than that which looks can grasp — what eyes can see is not you — it just seems so.”
The words wandering through her mind at that moment went Something like that — and only slowly did she realize their true meaning. And when she understood him, her tender, pure soul had known: “It is your you, the noble and good, that loves everything deep within me — wounds shadows and strangeness, I love everything in you — and because of this I can smile at everything about you!” Since then her girded hands have been raised to draw a curtain in front of his whimsical activities every time he was over there, on the “Other Side,” so that those who were ignorant or wicked could hurt him. ——
But when she sat there in the night and thought of him, she felt as though she had to force herself to be near him in that hour that for a short time released him from the binding of manhood and revived his most secret longing…
“Ah — the gracious woman ——” she heard Rolf’s sonorous organ say with a laugh and she saw how, in his sincere admiration of the elegant lady, whose curly blonde head was crowned with a magnificent tulle hat, kissed the outreached hand adorned in white leather gloves, while some gentlemen in tails earnestly entertained themselves with a young girl in a loose, red dress. —
She knew how it was at Rolf’s “intimate evenings,” one lived, one breathed freely — and thus gained the strength, to keep playing one’s role in existence — nothing other than that.
And no thought of any injustice or infidelity found room in Mrs. Olga’s wide soul.
Everything was left behind him, as soon as he returned, it was blown away and forgotten — perhaps kept as the most sacred in the most secret shrine — and the man, he who proudly and energetically went into his office, his clever mind knew how to create something remarkable. The able, most capable civil servant, who at barely forty was already a councilor, was in no way like that creature “from the Other Side.”
Consul Feidt’s “Great Evening” drew to a close. Every bigwig in the city was invited, it was the official close of the season. Summer was coming soon and everyone would be traveling away for weeks and months.
The stout consul, who, like his guest, Councilor Brendt, whom he always tried to lure out of his residence, had given the champagne in large quantities, sat with him in a cozy corner of the salon and had just told him about his latest adventures.
“Did you travel again the day before yesterday, buddy? Did you experience something fine?” smiled the stout gentleman and winked suggestively.
“How do you know that, Mr. Consul?” asked Berndt, whose dark blue eyes were already showing a dreamy glow.
“Hassenberg saw you board the train, you rake — you see, nothing stays hidden here, my dear — we all know about your occasional mysterious journeys, but where — where? You should come clean to me!” he inquired in a crude familiarity.
Then all the wine lowered Hellmuth’s eyelids and he drew a strange smile around his soft mouth.
As if under obligation, he bowed his head to his counterpart and extended his hand with an almost coquettish gesture as if for a kiss. His voice became low with a dreamy, tender sound and half-consciously he said:
“I was on the Other Side — for one night — always just one delicious night — —” He suddenly jumped up, a hand was lightly around his shoulder and Olga was standing next to him. She seemed to have heard his whisper, for a moment she leaned her pale cheek against his, she said carefully to him:
“You are not over there — you are here, Hellmuth!”
“Yes —” he replied with a heavy sigh of relief and took her hand, “we’re going home!”
He rose to say goodbye to his host. The consul took his cigar bag out of his tailcoat and held it out to Berndt.
“You didn’t smoke at all, my dear little Councilor — here, my extra strong ones — only for connoisseurs — smoke another one to quit!” he said, “and we’ll talk more about it, won’t we?” With her strange, cool smile, Olga looked back at the stout man.
“You would be the first to tear him from my throne, you smug and arrogant prick!” she thought and turned to her husband.
“I’ll allow you this one cigar, my love1 — then I would like to go home, I’m a little tired, as always, the Consul and his Wife have organized such a delightful party,” she said amiably. Flattered, Feidt thanked her while Hellmuth reluctantly set the strong herb on fire and smoked only when it was necessary.
The clouds of smoke curled, billowed, twisted into one another and thus wove a curtain behind which everything melted away, dreams, premonitions, conjectures — and just in front of the consul stood an entirely other world, as always in calm restraint — the solemn one, proper Mr. Councilor. —
Bester, lit. “my best.” ↩