thrice great hermes
by stanley lieber
Could he learn to love himself? The question was hardly idle. Werner had plumbed its depths his entire life... The answer was no closer than it had ever been. It not love, then, what? Anger?
Werner’s practice was drifting. In fact he was ready to quit. The stiffness in his back still had not dissipated. His legs always fell asleep. He wasn’t sure it was working at all.
Karl wasn’t much help. Functionally illiterate, openly racist, indescribably ignorant of the world beyond West Berlin, the man clearly didn’t shower every day, or even every week. His guitar playing was an embarrassment to the instrument. When he found out that Werner read comics he began sending peace overtures in the form of full-page tracings out of random issues of The Uncanny X-Men. Karl was Werner’s meditation coach.
Karl would join him at the rock, sitting in the placidly flowing water, watching as his own ankles started to go numb from the cold. Karl would make up some nonsense about medieval paramilitaries from Korea and Werner would use the offset reality as a fulcrum, turning the world upon Karl’s axis of lies. Karl didn’t need to know the real story. Couldn’t, truth be told. (Nothing there for him to know, Werner added).
More was required from Werner than these childhood games. Karl didn’t have a job. His most likely destination was the Air Force. Meanwhile Werner had a mouth to feed. His own. Werner would pay for Karl’s drinks and Karl would serve as a mouthpiece for whatever it was that had pursued Werner from his childhood in the Bronx to his current situation as a freelancer here in Metro Southern Indiana. The arrangement was cruel, but fair.