The Day of Karl Maria Roloff
The Third Sex Issue 2, article 2 (September 1930)
His mother was trembling in a tizzy. He howled like a palace dog. Next to him, on the ground like a trampled white rose, lay his silk dress, which he had saved for himself from miserably earned overtime pay. Flung by his mother’s feet into the most distant, darkest corner, the shoes lay, petite, small, patent leather high heeled1 shoes with buckles — — — the white of the new women’s stockings gleamed in contrast to his body, which was only clad in a casual shirt. His eyes flowed with tears … This was the end of the nightmare that haunted him for years: an end without a beginning! — And how divine he had imagined everything:
Compelling walzes — — handsome men — — enchanting women — — —
He was altogether terrified. His mother straightened out the dress and laid it down next to him: “There, bring the plunder back; today, right away! We beggar folk have no money for — —!” The rest drowned in an inarticulate gurgle. A flood of tears began to cool her inner infuriation. She ran out.
Karl Maria got up in his nineteen-year-old slimness, his long, white fingers began to organize everything nicely — — — just so, as it was before in the big cardboard box. What would he say when he had to bring everything back? All sorts of excuses rose to the surface — — he couldn’t grasp any of them. Or should he blame his mother? That she brought it up? Surely she knew better about this affair!
He sat down next to the cardboard box and thought. Yeah, why did they throw him out? — — — — — —
When he woke up the next morning, he was in bed; just like always. He put his hands on his temples and pondered. Should he have dreamed that? If he hadn’t been sitting on the edge of the bed and — — — But then his mother came and knocked on the door. As always! He jumped up, washed, dressed, carefully combed the soft, blond hair that fell in soft strands on his forehead.
Then he stepped out: “Good morning!” — — very modestly, almost like a whisper he breathed the greeting. His mother fiddled with the stove. She turned and smiled at him as she did every morning: “good morning, my boy!”
He dared not speak a syllable. His thoughts kept arguing about whether he had dreamed all this, or whether — — — but no, then his mother would, after all — — —
He was a delivery boy in a warehouse. It was quite easy for him to make close friends with girls his age. But it never meant anything special to him. Until Hanna came. And with Hanna his day came: The Day of Karl Maria Roloff! —
When he thinks about it today, he’s surprised that he was able to rely on Hanna back then so quickly. It was all so obvious:
She had a job below in the package room. She handed him the packages for him to deliver. She told him the recipients, usually scrawling the names in huge, barbaric letters on each little parcel. And then, once, when an especially heavy package had to be taken out — yes, that was it — she said, “take five4, I’ll dump this on someone else!”
Since that day they were clearly friends. She made the job comfortable and easy. Every now and then she’d give him a bar of chocolate or something else to munch on. A great sign of their relationship was Hanna’s overwhelmingly secure demeanor towards Karl Maria. If she said: “do that,” he did it; or: “don’t do that,” he left it alone. Yes, sometimes her ideas sounded too silly to him, like: “We’re going to the movies tonight!” — or: “Tomorrow we’re driving out to the Wannsee!” But then maybe it was all right! Or, maybe he should think about it. No, it’s better that the thought had never occurred to him. So he rarely responded to her declarations.
Their time together was really nice. Almost two good years. Until, of course, he got tired of it. On the day that should be his day.
He could never forget the blissful moments when the radiant white of the silks spread before him. It hung like a fairy tale on the delicate scent of the women’s clothes5. From day to day the yearning grew stronger in him to float lightly like a spring butterfly in shimmering silk.
Oh, then he’d be beautiful. He, the delivery boy Karl Maria Roloff, the boy with the fine, feminine features! One time he asked a painter to whom he often brought canvas, “tell me, am I beautiful?”
He looked at him with a smile and said, “no you’re not beautiful. By God, no! You’re ugly because you’re a man. — When you’re a woman — — — then, — yeah, I think, you’d cause quite a stir with your beauty! Maybe you should give it a try. Put on a wig, throw on a plaid — — — you have that beautiful Russian type! But as a man — — like I said: gruesome!”
Countless times the yearning kept coming to run his fingers through the silk and taffeta, to caress the soft velvet.
How he loved the fine fabric, the delicate weave, lace, and rich brocade! He had a secret cult around these things. If he could sit next to a lady, in the tram, if he could secretly grab a fold of her dress — — oh, there’s nothing more beautiful than either this secret feeling of an inner liberation or a gnawing desire!
Then usually he would remain seated, deeply absorbed in himself, and he wouldn’t even notice when the train was going far beyond his destination. Often, he’d only awake when the lady next to him rose from her seat. What if he was allowed to wear women’s clothes? What would Hanna say about his wish? He had to tell her about it; very carefully. Maybe if she would understand, or even help him one day?!
But that was the Day of Karl Maria Roloff:
It was seven. “Wait at the door!” she said. He nodded and went ahead. Outside he leaned tiredly at the iron gate. Yes, today he’d tell her on the way home.
Finally she appeared. “Come, hold my hand!6” she said. He did and shyly looked sideways at her.
“I have something to say to you, Hanna!” he managed to say quietly.
“Plese, I’m listening!”
“You women have it so nice!” he began. She looked at him in wonder. “You can dress however you want: today red, tomorrow green, the next day lilac … and nobody cares. Men, on the other had, have to go around inconspicuously, always in simple, dull colors!”
Hanna shook her head. Where was he going with this?!
“It must be nice to wear women’s clothes just for once!”
“Hm; if it makes you happy — I’d love to lend a couple things of mine!” —
Karl Maria breathed a sigh of relief. Then it occurred to him: “but the wig!”
“We’ll borrow it from a barber for a couple pennies!”
Karl Maria rejoiced loudly: “Really, Hanna, you’re OK with this?”
“Why shouldn’t I be OK? These kind of disguises are everywhere at Carnival!”
Karl Maria stood in front of the mirror and smoothed out the folds of his dress with graceful movements. Hanna looked on, smiling. The black wig really accentuated his Slavic facial features, and the blond eyebrows above the dark blue eyes formed an extremely exotic contrast. Hanna handed him the long gloves: “So now you’re ready for the ball!”
Karl Maria, who up to that moment hadn’t thought of going out that evening, held onto her words: “Yeah, someone could really do it. Anywhere. Maybe at the Palais de Dance!”
She shook her head, “No, dont’ go too far with this nonsense. You know it’s forbidden!”
He smiled: “Well, even so! Nobody sees through me!”
“But your voice!”
He answered in a falsetto: “Please, what about now?”
Hanna stared at him speechless. He looked at her pleadingly: “So are we going?”
Hanna was unwilling. She scolded him for being a fool. He should take everything off immediately.
“So let me just go out in the street a little bit, just this once — into a shop to buy something!” She thought: “Well, all right. But come right back!”
He went. She looked after him through a crack in the door as long as she could. Then she waited …
That evening he didn’t come back. The next morning he wasn’t in the shop, and didn’t come until around noon. He gave no more than a silent shrug of his shoulders in answer to any of her questions. But last night had become his day. — — —