The Affair Schneider

ANTONIA SPIEGEL

Antonia Spiegel has kindly presented us with two chapters of her book: the first and the twelfth. We proudly print these extracts from The Affair Schneider.

1 Why should you be interested in this story? It is not mine it is not yours. Probably you also do not belong to one of those who had known him, who had refused to believe that there could be any truth to this story when it first began as a rumour. You are not one of those who engaged in the gossip and speculations that evolved shortly thereafter, who devoured him with eyes and ears, in order to feed your imagination. Because you have not heard of him before you opened this book – and let us admit: you do not know anything yet – you might just as well close these pages right here and now. Put the book on your bookshelf. Let it rest nicely with the rest of your collection of acquired but unread copies of compiled letters and numbers and pronunciation signs and, eventually, dust. Or maybe the publication you are holding was a present? Are you wondering whether it is one of these presents one should rather not touch, not damage, keep in a drawer that holds all these useless items one is given on occasions and keeps only to pass them on gift-wrapped at another occasion to someone else? If you are one of those, and if you are about to put this book into one of these drawers, I hope for your sake that whoever gave you this copy did not decide to write some dedication on the front page. You should rather check right now.

Are you still reading? Then I must understand your eyes wondering over these letters printed before you – the very same letters I am typing now (how many pages do I still have to write, how long will it take me until I have told this story?) – I take your reading of these lines as an encouragement. An encouragement but also an interrogation! And so I feel it to be my obligation to explain to you why you should read this story.

Were you one of those who knew him, I could tell you that, with this book, you will finally understand – might even sympathise. Everything will be clear – at least if your own intelligence will allow you such levels of understanding, comprehension and tactfulness. But my dear reader, I fear you have never heard of Schneider, of this personal tragedy that came to a final climax less than twelve months ago. So I must justify myself – I must justify my book – differently to you. You should read this story because it is part of you. It is part of your time. I am not claiming everything in this book is correct – is true. I also lay no claim to myself being a perfectly reliable narrator, trustworthy. I am biased. I have desires and fantasies just like you. Some of which I will live out here – I already know. Some things will sound grander, bigger, better, faster – others more terrible and fearsome than they really were. But what is a story without exaggeration? We live in a world in which exaggeration dictates our narratives – even our history. Maybe most of all our history, each one of our personal histories.

And this is exactly why this story interests you: it is a scandal. And you, you live in a world of scandal – your society feeds on scandals: political scandals, financial scandals, Hollywood scandals, royal scandals, corporate intrigues, families with deteriorating fame, a starlet falling from grace, your neighbour’s son was arrested for drunk driving, your cousin’s wife turns out to be a lesbian. But what does this mean? What is a scandal really? How much is the mediated, talked about, speculated, assumed really related to whomever all the talk is dedicated to?
At first, all accusations and speculations around Schneider seemed preposterous – at least this was the word –preposterous. I personally found what I heard neither implausible nor was I surprised. I just did not judge. And, so, I concluded that the general reaction of others, those on more familiar terms with him than I had been in decades, was one inherent to any public indignity: that those closely related either in person, through circumstance or merely by affiliation because of class, lifestyle and taste refuse to accept that one of their circle can traverse down the pass of public disgrace. What they didn’t understand – and possibly still do not understand now – is that he never was one of them.

‘They’ had adored him. They had taken him as a role model, had asked his opinion, tried to simulate who they thought he was. And his disgrace made them feel dirty through association. They felt betrayed because they refused to accept that what they all thought they wanted to be could turn out what he eventually became. It took several weeks – to some extend months, for the case to become clear to those indulging in it. People’s disbelief quickly turned into sickening curiosity. I later found out that the girl was questioned and they had broken entry into what was left of his apartment. But his motivation, no one could explain.

I would argue, all in all, there was nothing really as scandalous about the events in question as many made out to be. Rumours and speculations quickly became the truth amongst gossiping acquaintances and society. But moral condemnation, if we are honest, was not really appropriate. What morale had been violated if we turn away from the myths that were fast to evolve? Instead, his choices and behaviour seemed to have touched a nerve amongst those who talked about him.

I confess I always was an outsider to these realms in which he decided to move about in the end, in which he participated. Yet, it was quite clear to me – especially maybe so because I was an outsider – that his choices became something like a vengeance of a moral that they all defended without adhering to it. Everyone talked about manners and norms and what is appropriate and what is not without knowing what it was: they all held up to each other something like a mirror, while hiding behind a reflection they could never see or grasp; and they still do. And he; he became a caricature of their lives. A pitiful caricature, I have to admit. But we must begin at the very beginning, so that your curiosity can be fully satisfied – leaving no gaps, no questions unanswered. I will try to do my best.

12 The rain had been applauding unceasingly the windowpane since hours, and he could barely see the ocean behind the floating glass. The horizon had melted into the grey sky, which poured its contents into the infinite gallons of water beneath – so much that he was wondering whether it was possible that rain could drench the sea itself; make it wetter than it already was. The seagulls that usually scavenged the shore had disappeared, the dark wood of the pier panels turned into a slick soggy slope, resembling the moist body of a seal. And the melancholy that seemed to resonate like a song from the repetitive sound of the raindrops slowly, but surely, saturated him. He felt vulnerable, tired, longed for solitude instead of loneliness.

It had been his choice to decide on a location for the conference. And now, Brighton was lulling him into apathy instead of bathing him in sunshine, spume, and salt. His only relief was the knowledge that the rain, with all its clammy side-effects, was kept out of his world for the moment, separated from his body by the turquoise coloured rusty roof of this hotel room in which he sat, lost somewhere amidst the plain of memories, resonating sleep and gloom.

Half an hour had passed since he had decided to rise from his bed and had taken a seat in one of the small armchairs framing the bay window. It was early – very early – but he began to get impatient with himself already. He was undecided whether to order coffee up to his room or to venture himself downstairs into the dining hall. Breakfast was the meal he enjoyed the least, even though mornings had become his favourite time of day. With age, sleep had increasingly decided to make itself a resisting muse, and he would wake up at hours that he used to go to bed at in his youth. The seclusion yet novelty each such early hour brought, had cast a spell on him, and maybe it was this purity of mornings which made him despise the ingestion of food: as if beverages and pastries were the first step towards spoiling and dirtying another potentially flawless, innocent day.

With the knowledge that another serving of unanticipated scrambled eggs and tasteless melon slices were coming his way, he knew today was already lost. Pondering gloomily in his chair, he felt cheated by a sudden onset of misery. He would be fifty-three this year. Fifty-three! He remembered what a wise author had said: that it is a misfortune to never be loved, but that there is misery in not loving. This writer had written these words approximately half a century earlier, and very shortly thereafter, he had died in a motorcycle accident, an unfinished manuscript with him at the time. Schneider imagined the tragic scene: the dead man’s face with blood trickling out of his ears and nose, the neck and head strangely twisted due to the broken spine. The goggles probably sitting crooked on his nose, his hat having come off during the crash. The motorcycle would lie several yards away, thrown by the force of the crash, and everywhere, pages of handwritten sentences, verses in black-brown ink, sailing through the air, dancing through the wind, burying slowly but surely the artist and the scene of death, whilst carrying the writer’s word one last time into the world: into the branches of trees, the leaves of bushes, the meadows and country roads, mixing their white with the orange brown colours of a grey autumn day. Whether it was actually autumn when the writer died, he did not know. But this was how Schneider had always imagined it. And he came to wonder what had motivated the man to write these words about love. Had he been miserable, or misfortunate, or both? Maybe he had been lucky enough to love and having been loved. But who knew the answer to such a question but the writer himself, who could no longer tell.

People had loved Schneider ample and passionately. He had caused many grief, had rejected plenty of admirers. Sometimes, he thought his present loneliness was his punishment for his ruthless play with people’s emotions. But he never meant to be brutal, or cruel. He could not help that others left him cold. When he was younger, his lack of partner had rarely affected him, and instead, he enjoyed his freedom and unaccountability, which allowed him to drown himself in affairs and new excitements at every corner that he turned. There was the occasional girlfriend – alone to circumvent the strenuous business of having to seduce women in order to satisfy sexual desires. Moreover, a woman, particularly a very beautiful woman, could bestow a man with prestige no amount of money or intellect ever could.

He had learned this lesson already as a boy. Back then, his attention had been brought to this telling spectacle whenever he watched his mother and father in company: in casual situations or when she glittered in glamorous robes, floating within a light, inescapable, and luring sea of perfumes and powder, his mother’s aura enthralled all. And his father was bathed in that light of hers.

She was the only woman he had ever truly loved. Loved in this manner that combines adoration and affection and emotional comfort and security. His mother had been an example of everything he had ever held dear and aspired: grace, beauty, intellect, cultivated seduction and frivolous enjoyment; a pinch of excess, of candid emotional ruthlessness. Sometimes, he dwelled in memories that made him despise her for her unintended manoeuvre to linger within his shell as a sculpture of flawless femininity. His path had never crossed that of a woman who could have lived up to the standards his mother had branded into his conscience. But did this make him miserable? Was his life a misery?

He rose from his chair in order to go into the bathroom and undress to take his shower, hoping he would melt into the ocean, which was pierced by rain in the same way he was about to feel water puncture his own body. His reflection in the mirror frightened him. A man with grey hair and ashen stubble on chin and jaw line looked into his eyes, examined his softened flesh and pellucid skin, raised his arm above his head behind his neck to investigate the muscles stretching visibly from his collarbone over his chest. He was no old man, yet. The hair framing his sex clung to the dark-brown colour it had always been, defying the future, secretly serving as testimony to his untold desires, memories, and potency. His arms still bore some definition. But his legs – these limbs of the male body that always tell the age – were thinning around the calves and betrayed any attempt to hide the years by validating the truth through thickening veins across the shins. Schneider forced a complicit smile, as if to encourage this friend he had watched for over fifty years. The friend smiled back.

He would return to London tonight. A nightmare awaited him: a dinner at his colleague’s that was impossible to cancel. Since over eighteen months, this man had tried to win back his favour after an embarrassing event between the two. The miscalculation on the other’s part had allowed Schneider to reject all advances for a good year. But now, his negations were slowly but surely loosing credibility. There was nothing to be done but to declare defeat. Take up imposed courtesy once more, as he had done before

  • About

    Antonia Spiegel has studied Sociology at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge and Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s Education. She is working in the art market and is finishing her first novel, “The Affair Schneider”.


    Her entry 'The Affair Schneider' appears in Bedeutung Magazine Issue 1/ Nature & Culture, available here for purchase.