Kokoschka And Toads

“When one opens a door there’s something on the far side that was not there before. I had a premonition that it would be irrevocable when, from a crate filled with wood-shavings or curly paper, she unpacked the death mask of her late husband. Even when they were drawing up the ground plan of our future house some had thought the choice of site a dubious one, for there was an underground spring there in which the foundations would some day be awash. But with much labour and expense the water was diverted. There was another disagreeable impression I will not pass over. It was like this. When we went to look at the house, which was just being finished – the beribboned tree already set on the rooftop by the master carpenter – there, in the future bathroom, where the spring had been piped and made to provide our water-supply, there was an aquarium such as people use for ornamental fish. It was full of hideous creatures swirling around in clusters. This was the visiting card of someone I loathed, a candidate for the lady’s favours, a zoologist who had made a name for himself with experiments in cross-breeding. Presumably he had caught these toads here in order to take them to Vienna and use them for his experiments in the Institute in the Prater. A few days earlier he had committed suicide – this I learnt subsequently. So this was his bequest to us. As quickly as I could I emptied the tub full of batrachians into the swampy field that had come into existence all round the house since the previous winter. What I should have liked best would have been to spare her the sight of these fat-bellied creatures, for she was pregnant. Instead she had to watch and see how each of the yellowish, disgusting toads of the larger sort, the females, carried one of the smaller, greenish males to the water on her back. In coupling with the females the males had fastened on to their sides with their sucker-feet. It was early spring.”

From A Sea Ringed With Visions by Oskar Kokoschka (1962) Though he does not name her, “she” is Alma Mahler – the actual woman as opposed to the later rag doll.

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