The Ventriloquists

Posted on February 25, 2009


By Adam Siegel

“Sigmundstrasse. Stunde Null.”

“There was a tradition called ‘Stunde Null’ and I was prepared to hand it over.”

Where the twentieth century truly began, I was beginning to understand, was arbitrary and local, or, rather, localized.

“What I wanted to come off the page was the same thing that came out of the speakers: desperation and joy.”


“The hardest thing.”

“They emptied it out, and I could bury it, or not.”

“They emptied it out, and it worried me. It worried me the way an animal gets worried.”

“See them looking around all nasty. Guys coming over all the time.”


“What I had was the laboratory, and I did not know that I possessed the keys to the laboratory.”

I was determined not to pretend that there was a surface impulse that I might fight.

It never entered into it.

I said, “Really, it never entered into it.”


“I was sick, and getting sicker.”

“The point was to produce it as if in a dream, to doctor it, and to retreat from it at the same time. It worked until it began to ache, and then it ceased to have that sort of purpose. I was trying to remember what I had told them about it.”

“Saying it, but not meaning it.”

“Stunde Null.”

It would make me think I was doing better, although I was not. I was calling it a career. “Career? I have no career.”

“Not yet serious enough.”

It was not yet my subject. It was only my metiér. I had not thought about the consequence.


I only knew myself to be the one who was heedless.


“Generosity, and what it meant to me. I did not think that there was room in that life for someone like me. Warm hands on my abdomen, at last – at last.”

“Looking in the mirror, remembering some Allee. The warm hands on the abdomen, and behind, at the base of the spine.”

“I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, in the hotel. It all had my name on it. Judengasse. Judenberg.”

“Something so pure, so transparent. The air above the great hotels along the Chaussee yellow and faded, like dried flowers.”

“Yellow and pale, like something left to be done over later.”

“Offering? Öpferung.”

“I had remembered this, even during an age when others were – felt – compelled to forget this.”

It was done in the spirit of what we all used to call forgiveness.


I called it “forgiveness,” but I was out shopping. I was working on the play. It was called “Bucket & Straw.”

I had called them, the repertory – my cast – down; I had called them all around. “Let’s finish it,” someone said.

“‘The Chaussee,’ they finished it.”

“I was interested in the names that they would create for me. I had been buried – this animal, this beast – inside a box.”

“Du Bestie,” they said. “You’re such a beastie.”

“I offered up my old notes. I offered up my old set.”

“Like the one who set you free.”

“The whole set.”

“Like the ones with whom you slept.”

“No more staying up all night.”

“Trying to remove the myth from it – what was that called, the mythectomy?”

“Someone walks down the street – the Chaussee – and you trip him!”

“Alone in the hotel, up in the hotel, at night.”

“She was out. Seven weeks.”

“The roadside. Die Landstrasse. Per Anhalten. The thumb. Daumen. To the Siedlerhof.”

“Sieben Wochen. Die Hände am Bauch.”


It was tracking the contours of something else – I had handed over the controls so long before. They told me what I was doing with it. I knew what I was doing with it. I was calling it “dreamy and feckless.”

“Where did this exist?”

“Where it was – so important to me.”

“This plague.”

“Verräter der Pest.”

“Stunde Null.”


“My pants too tight. The discomfort. Unbequem.”

“The theft down there.”

“Adonis. Sitting on a brocade chair. I had my knees pressed together. I had my drink balanced on my lap. The presence of the understudy behind me. Stunde Null.”


Adam Siegel lives in California; he’s a librarian at the University of California, Davis. Recent publications in elimae, seventy two words, XCP and Streetnotes. His translations of Russian literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky can be read in Dalkey Archive‘s Context journal.

Posted in: Fiction