Illus­tra­tion, cropped, by Jen­ny Kroik

Join Adam Schorin and Paper Brigade​’s edi­tors for the final install­ment of Paper Brigade​’s Short Sto­ry Club this sea­son on April 3rd at 12:30 p.m. ET. Reg­is­ter here!

We were wait­ing in line at the Holo­caust Muse­um on Prinzen­strasse when I real­ized I had to pee. We were there to see the holo­grams: the exhib­it had just opened and Ray­on Fab­u­la said she want­ed to go. I wasn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed, but once a few of the oth­ers got excit­ed, they stuck to me like scabs to a wound. 

It end­ed up being five of us: Ray­on, Butch Acidy, Vul­va Incog­ni­ta, Mau­rice, and me. We were all per­form­ing lat­er that evening and Vul­va, who would be on first and had already paint­ed most of her face, stepped out of line to check her reflec­tion in the emp­ty glass box­es that stood like sen­tinels in the lob­by. These were relics from some six months ago, when the muse­um had invit­ed Jews to sit inside them so vis­i­tors could assail them with ques­tions about being Jew­ish. It’s a shame you missed it, Sam­my,” said Vul­va, dab­bing her lips with a nap­kin. It was so won­der­ful, so impor­tant. You could have been a Jew in a Box.” 

In the months I’d been liv­ing in Berlin, the sub­ject of Jew­ish­ness had popped up like hous­es in the head­lights of a night­time dri­ve. Though I was not what you could call a prac­tic­ing Jew — with the excep­tion of star charts and tarot apps, our world in Berlin was unerr­ing­ly sec­u­lar — every­one want­ed to talk to me about it. Young Ger­mans were often expres­sive­ly apolo­getic, eager to absorb my thoughts on the city’s var­i­ous mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als to mur­dered Jews. They invit­ed me on trips to Sach­sen­hausen and Gleis 17, debat­ed the best mason jar sal­ads at Topog­ra­phy of Ter­ror. They took care to vil­i­fy the far right in my pres­ence, ref­er­enc­ing out­ra­geous tweets, the lat­est news of foiled insur­rec­tions. It’s hor­ri­fy­ing how these patri­ots’ car­ry on,” Ray­on spat out one evening, hands numb on G. The nev­er-end­ing wet dream for Hitler.” She wait­ed for me to weigh in, to solemn­ly agree, which I even­tu­al­ly did. Oth­ers felt oblig­ed to point out how far Ger­many had come in the last eight decades, how it had more than atoned for its sins. How many refugees has the US tak­en in this year?” Gravlax Nuts asked heat­ed­ly in the bath­room. She was wip­ing off her face in the mir­ror while I untucked by the toi­let. I mean seri­ous­ly,” she said. We’re the fuck­ing moral lead­ers of the planet.”

Worst of all were the fetishists, the Star of David – wear­ing non-Jews who felt the path for­ward was through a kind of eth­nospir­i­tu­al imi­ta­tion. They heaped praise on the State of Israel and ful­mi­nat­ed against this or that lat­est expres­sion of Euro­pean anti­semitism, which they saw hap­pen­ing every­where, all the time. They tagged each oth­er in recipes for kugel, falafel, and borscht. In the bath­room queue at Jock­box, shar­ing a cig­a­rette by the KitKat pool, they hint­ed that they had nev­er seen a cir­cum­cised dick before. I want a tat­too in Ara­ma­ic,” whis­pered a young man at a par­ty, clear­ly pri­apic. Some­thing from Kab­bal­ah. Where do you think it would look sexy?” They pep­pered their speech with Yid­dishisms, offered to teach me Ger­man in exchange for Hebrew, a lan­guage I did not speak. 

I tried to exit these inter­ac­tions as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, or avoid them alto­geth­er. I wished des­per­ate­ly to live in Berlin with as blank a pre­sen­ta­tion I could man­age, with­out the weight of a Gali­cian sur­name, my lack of a fore­skin under­writ­ing each encounter. More than being Amer­i­can, it was this that I hoped to scrape clean from my body, to exfo­li­ate by steel wool and wash down the drain. And yet. And yet — part of me, I knew, felt enti­tled to this place, to as much of it as I want­ed. I believed on some lev­el that I was owed some­thing, that any Jew here had a debt to cash: from the ground, the build­ings, the air. I wore fake tits on streets where, eighty years ear­li­er, Jews had been tossed from their homes, exe­cut­ed en masse. I gummed ket­a­mine in the base­ments of one­time Gestapo hold­ing cells, gave reacharounds to the grand­chil­dren of Luft­waffe pilots. Even as I dodged all things Jew­ish in con­ver­sa­tion, the very fab­ric of the city was awash with them. Though as far as I knew none of my fam­i­ly had ever lived or passed through the city, I felt I had its title and deed, blind per­mis­sion to behave any way I want­ed. I was loud­er, for one thing, on the streets of Berlin than I had ever been in Man­hat­tan. I shout­ed to friends, swore on the phone, shred­ded cig­a­rettes with my heel. I was big­ger and broad­er in my move­ments. On ear­ly-morn­ing walks home, stom­ach gloopy from the diet of mephedrone and Späti beers and maybe vod­ka that had sus­tained me through the night, I some­times threw up on the side­walk — not into the dirt, or a trash bin, but in the mid­dle of a con­crete slab. Because if that wasn’t per­mit­ted me, what was? Who had own­er­ship over these streets if not some­one like me? I want­ed at once to van­ish in the crowd of oth­er expats, oth­er queers, and to stake my moral claim over the city in per­ma­nent ink, for my bile to burn the words in the ground: Sam­my Raubach was here.


The muse­um was housed in a large, squat pre­war build­ing, an Art Deco-cum-Bauhaus thing that took up half a block. The line snaked four or five times across the width of the lob­by before get­ting to secu­ri­ty, where a woman in a fur hat prod­ded vis­i­tors with a met­al rod and two impos­si­bly old men stared at a screen next to the con­vey­or belt. Occa­sion­al­ly, an alarm went off. Butch Acidy pursed her lips, scrunch­ing her mus­tache into a cater­pil­lar. I hope it’s worth it,” she said.

Last night, Ray­on had sent around a video from the museum’s YouTube page pro­mot­ing the holo­grams exhib­it. For the last sev­er­al years, explained a voiceover, an Amer­i­can Jew­ish foun­da­tion had been film­ing Holo­caust sur­vivors answer­ing some two thou­sand ques­tions each. The sur­vivors were cap­tured from near­ly 360 degrees, each sit­ting in a straight-backed red arm­chair in the cen­ter of an orb of cam­eras, lights, and green screen. The video showed sev­er­al of the sur­vivors nod­ding approv­ing­ly at the con­trap­tion around them. Employ­ing a tech­nique devel­oped by a nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry British stage magi­cian, the footage was pro­ject­ed through a plas­tic screen to give the impres­sion of a 3D holo­gram. (Accord­ing to the video, true holo­grams, the kind from Star Wars and Back to the Future, did not yet exist. Who knew?) In muse­ums around the world, vis­i­tors could ask the Holo­caust holo­grams about their expe­ri­ences dur­ing the war: using the same speech-recog­ni­tion soft­ware as our smart­phones, the holo­gram iden­ti­fied key­words in each ques­tion and scanned hours of footage to project the most rel­e­vant clip as an answer — all this described by a woman in a lab coat with the words Holo­caust Sci­ences stitched in blue above the breast pock­et. Until the end of time, future gen­er­a­tions will have access to the sto­ries and wis­dom of these extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­u­als,” the woman told the cam­era. You know how Super­man talks to his father in the Fortress of Soli­tude even though his dad died years ago? This is the Fortress of Solitude.” 

It was an old man, though not as old as I had been pre­pared for, in a green 
but­ton-down, felt vest, and slacks. There was some­thing in how he had been filmed that made every part of him<span class=“nobr”> appear equal­ly in focus in a way that people<span class=“nobr”> in life are not.

We sent our purs­es and tote bags through the con­vey­or belt. Mau­rice wore a high-end trail-run­ner pack and had to unclip sev­er­al straps before remov­ing it from his steel drum of a tor­so. We entered the exhi­bi­tion hall with our tick­et stubs and were met with a vast white space filled with peo­ple. Holo­grams had been set up on three of the walls — the far side, the left, and the one through which we’d entered — and groups were gath­ered in front of each, ask­ing ques­tions into dan­gling micro­phones. The long right wall of the room held a series of pan­els with text too far away to read. Vis­i­tors milled about the cen­ter of the room, shuf­fling between the groups like bin­go balls. I scanned above their heads, look­ing for a sign for the bath­room, but then Ray­on was grab­bing my arm and pulling me to join the group on the left. 

Our holo­gram was sit­u­at­ed at the crest of a half-moon alcove in the wall, a lit­tle crowd hud­dled before it. It was an old man, though not as old as I had been pre­pared for, in a green but­ton-down, felt vest, and slacks. Glass­es hung from a knot­ted string around his neck. There was some­thing in how he had been filmed that made every part of him appear equal­ly in focus in a way that peo­ple in life are not. This recalled the hyper-real­is­tic sketch­es that some­times spammed me on Face­book, the kind you first mis­take for pho­tographs. His entire fig­ure was limned by a shim­mery half-cen­time­ter, like the cur­dled air above a swel­ter­ing freeway.

How many con­cen­tra­tion camps were you in?” a boy, Amer­i­can, was ask­ing when we arrived. A plac­ard in front of the holo­gram said his name was Simon Aus­felder; he was born in Ham­burg; he lived in Mia­mi; he was eighty-six when the inter­view was recorded. 

I was impris­oned in three of the Nazi Ger­man con­cen­tra­tion camps,” said Simon Aus­felder. I was tak­en first to Sach­sen­hausen, then east to Glei­witz, which was part of the machin­ery of Auschwitz, and final­ly back west to Dachau. I was lib­er­at­ed at Dachau.” He leaned for­ward as he said this, touch­ing the tips of his fin­gers togeth­er like there was a del­i­cate spec­i­men, a butterfly’s wing, between them. His gaze rest­ed a few inch­es above us.

When he fin­ished speak­ing, he flick­ered as he shift­ed back to his rest­ing pose. The pro­mo video had explained that the footage was touched up and light­ly ani­mat­ed, the sur­vivors’ ges­tures aug­ment­ed by CGI, so that dif­fer­ent clips could be seam­less­ly cut togeth­er. But it gave the impres­sion of a car­toon sci­en­tist being elec­tro­cut­ed, the bound­aries of his fig­ure rapid­ly realigning.

What’s the worst thing that hap­pened to you?” This from an Irish­man in an Orlan­do Mag­ic jer­sey. The woman with him punched his arm. 

Simon Aus­felder shud­dered into a hunched pose — the elec­tric­i­ty again — and rubbed his fore­head. The worst thing? It is hard to say what was the worst, when every hour pre­sent­ed so many new atroc­i­ties,” he said. Each day you thought was the worst day you had ever lived, but always the next one was worse. Our only moments of free­dom, of pri­va­cy from the gaze of the guards or the kapos, was in the latrines. We sat over holes in a long bench, like ani­mals. It was dis­gust­ing, but the guards did not watch, so there we could be a lit­tle free.” 

My blad­der pinched my abdomen, made me feel heavy and alert. Just go,” Mau­rice whis­pered. We’ll still be here.”

I was sur­prised that he could tell. It’s fine,” I said. I can wait.” I hunched for­ward, eas­ing the pressure.

Illus­tra­tion by Jen­ny Kroik

An old­er woman with a hard-to-place accent was stand­ing at the mic. She said, Are you real?” 

Simon Aus­felder smiled and spread his arms wide. I am a real per­son!” he announced, and a hand­ful of tourists beside me clapped. This meant, of course, that the lab­coat peo­ple had thought to pre­pare the sur­vivors for this ques­tion: one of the two thou­sand they had asked was, sim­ply, Are you real? In the pro­mo video, we had also seen sur­vivors answer the ques­tions What did you have for break­fast? and What is your favorite tele­vi­sion show? Simon Aus­felder seemed calm and in con­trol — his gen­tle, bob­bing smile held the atten­tion of the crowd. It was the same poise Ray­on brought to the stage, that I hoped one day to project as well: light and wel­com­ing, con­fi­dent but innocuous. 

I tried to mir­ror his smile, but on my lips it felt gim­micky, cheap, like I had drawn it in clown paint. The faces around me, now that the applause had set­tled, were solemn and expec­tant — I buried my under­whelm­ing smile, lest they think I was hav­ing fun. 

Both my mother’s par­ents were sur­vivors. When I was lit­tle, my grand­moth­er came a few times to our school to share her sto­ry. My class­mates, most­ly Jew­ish, a few with sur­vivor rel­a­tives of their own, faced for­ward, spar­ing her a mod­icum of atten­tion. Even at that age, I knew her sto­ry so well that it seemed part of my sto­ry, like any of the car­toons I watched mil­lions of times with my broth­er, encod­ed so deep in my mem­o­ry that I could not be entire­ly sure that it wasn’t I who had chased a lit­tle brown mouse with axes and explo­sives, not I who had pulled the sword from the stone. Sto­ries repeat­ed to the cadences of fic­tion, the foun­da­tion­al myths of my child­hood. This pro­pri­etary slip­page — I perked up if she added a new detail or sub­sti­tut­ed a loca­tion, as though some clus­ter in my brain want­ed to cry out: But that’s not how I remem­ber it! At the parts I knew would get the biggest reac­tion — her brother’s swift ill­ness in the gulag, the mass dehy­dra­tion and death in the train cars — I stud­ied the faces of my peers, decid­ing if they expressed enough alarm, enough hor­ror. It was good when one girl burst into tears. When it was time to ask her ques­tions, the class turned to me, as if I couldn’t ask her when­ev­er I want­ed, as if they could only reach her through me. Only occa­sion­al­ly did they actu­al­ly pose a ques­tion, most often if her life made her hap­py now. 

My grand­fa­ther, on the oth­er hand, I had bare­ly known. Though he died only recent­ly, he had run off with the babysit­ter some fifty years ago, leav­ing my grand­moth­er to raise two kids and cast­ing him­self for­ev­er in estranged mys­tery. Though she rarely had night­mares about the Nazis or Siberia, at least by the time of my child­hood, she often awoke curs­ing his name. Soon after he died, my moth­er received in the mail a DVD stamped with the name of one of the main sur­vivor tes­ti­mo­ny archives in the US. When she popped it in, all we could see was a menu page, with blocky Wor­dArt text bounc­ing around the frame: Joe Janusz” Wexler’s Sto­ry of Sur­vival. We tried click­ing Play, Chap­ters, Back, but noth­ing worked. Only when we hit Eject, right before the disc slid out, did an image pin­wheel into exis­tence, a low-res­o­lu­tion pho­to of my grand­fa­ther in a win­ter coat stand­ing on a bridge some­where, prob­a­bly in Europe.

I knew my grandmother’s sto­ry so well that it seemed part of my sto­ry, like any of the car­toons I watched mil­lions of times with my brother.

A young woman in front of us asked some­thing in Ger­man and, though it was Simon Ausfelder’s native lan­guage, the holo­gram did not react. The guy with her — there were, I noticed, a fair amount of cou­ples in the crowd — took the mic instead and said, What do you think about Ger­many today?” 

Simon Aus­felder scratched his brow. Though I am cer­tain there have been a great many pro­gress­es in the Ger­man coun­try,” he said, I know I will nev­er return. It is a place, a soci­ety, that betrayed me too deeply for any hope of reconciliation.” 

The audi­ence respond­ed with know­ing nods, as if a spir­it from some oth­er world had passed over us, tilt­ing our heads. Some­one behind me whis­pered, in Eng­lish, Who does he think paid for this exhib­it? Whose tax dol­lars are at work here?”

I turned to see who had spo­ken, but was bumped back by a pair of Scan­di­na­vians haul­ing mam­moth back­packs. Entschuldigung, entschuldigung,” they tit­tered, and the crowd part­ed around them, the faces all pre­oc­cu­pied with the intru­sion and there­fore the same, the speak­er van­ish­ing in plain sight among them. More press­ing­ly, the dull knock of the back­packs, which would any­way have been minor­ly dis­com­fort­ing with my blad­der dis­tend­ed as it was, sent a long spasm of pain through my groin and abdomen due to the fact that, though I would not be on stage till late in the evening, I was already tucked and my testes, stowed high on either side of my mons, and pil­low­ing the sur­face of the skin into a soft val­ley, took the full force of the blow. As the ini­tial hurt sub­sided, coil­ing to a sick­ly thrum, I was awak­ened as well to the itchy tug of tape across my butt to my low­er back. I had not yet told the oth­ers, nor did I plan to, but I had recent­ly begun tuck­ing hours before tak­ing the stage and even on some days when I did not per­form at all. This, I feel bound to say, was not out of any yon­ic aspi­ra­tion or female fan­ta­sy — I was stead­fast in my gen­der, my male­ness. In fact, if it had been some trans exper­i­men­ta­tion, I would have had no prob­lem shar­ing it with the oth­er queens. But this tuck­ing felt clos­er to some­thing I often caught myself doing: harp­ing over gad­gets and tech­niques, hoard­ing the para­pher­na­lia of a new pas­time. I had been per­form­ing drag only a few months. Though I told myself I was mere­ly accli­ma­tiz­ing my inguinal canals to the process of stuff­ing my testes inside them — a sen­sa­tion that echoed the odd, low ache of a crest­ing roller­coast­er — I knew it was born instead of the same flash-pan obses­sive­ness I had brought to dozens of dis­card­ed ado­les­cent hob­bies, becom­ing rapid­ly well-versed in the jar­gon of jazz gui­tar, fenc­ing, astron­o­my, skate­board­ing, sewing, and so on, the amps and épées and tele­scope and all else my par­ents had glad­ly bought me now gath­er­ing dust in the clos­et of my child­hood bed­room, or else donat­ed to some anony­mous pre­teen who might actu­al­ly make use of what for me had long ago become trash. It made plain my des­per­a­tion: a lev­el of goo­gly-eyed enthu­si­asm that auto­mat­i­cal­ly rel­e­gat­ed me to the realm of out­sider, fan, poser. 

Vul­va approached the mic, cough­ing into her elbow. The peo­ple near­est her turned and gazed. At near­ly sev­en feet, bald, and Black, Vul­va was used to draw­ing stares in a Ger­man crowd, espe­cial­ly with her face light­ly con­toured, her eyes framed in a smoky blue wave. It is so spe­cial to meet you,” she said. I stepped from foot to foot, hop­ing to tamp down the last­ing pain.

The holo­gram nod­ded gen­tly, its eyes fol­low­ing some­thing off cam­era, per­haps a fly in the record­ing studio. 

Vul­va pressed her palms togeth­er below her chin, a dopey namaste. What would you most like peo­ple to remem­ber about your story?”

Simon Aus­felder made a ges­ture like pop­ping his lips — or like he was air-kiss­ing away excess lip­stick, as Vul­va had just done in the lob­by. He said, What I would like my sto­ry, the lega­cy of my sto­ry, to be is real­ly quite simple.” 

I had expect­ed most of the ques­tions asked of the holo­gram to be obvi­ous and banal, as so far they had been, but that Vulva’s should also be so dull was irk­some. Not that I was sur­prised — I had sat blank-faced in the stream of many of her solil­o­quies on post­war mem­o­ry in Ger­many, dia­tribes that for all their orig­i­nal­i­ty could be summed up as Nazis = bad—but I hat­ed to be includ­ed in her coterie, to be seen by the oth­er vis­i­tors as with her as she lobbed the most basic of basic ques­tions at the screen. But what did I know? Maybe this was exact­ly what the real Simon Aus­felder most wished to be asked. 

There is a time for remem­ber­ing and a time for for­get­ting,” the holo­gram was say­ing, and it is impor­tant always to know which is which.”

In her sto­ries, my grand­moth­er tend­ed toward hyper­bole. Her moth­er was the kind­est, the best; her dead broth­er an angel from above. Num­bers were always in the mil­lions, cat­a­stro­phes always like you would not believe.” The only vil­lains in her sto­ries were anti­semites, the Nazis, the Sovi­ets, and her var­i­ous hus­bands. And they were Old Tes­ta­ment vil­lains, the stuff of fire and sul­fur, the wrath of God. There were no com­plex char­ac­ters, no shades of moral­i­ty. In the final years of her life, her speech was marked as well by unlike­ly sim­i­les. The wind howled like a greedy ogre; I had cheek­bones that could kill the pres­i­dent. And she became cru­el, often shout­ing at my moth­er that she was vile, that every­thing from her hair to her shoes wasn’t worth an ounce of dust. One after­noon, as I scram­bled eggs for her lunch, she lapsed into a long silence, which she broke only to say, apro­pos of noth­ing, that I dis­gust­ed her.

I want­ed jus­tice,” Simon Aus­felder said. Tears welled in his eyes, glim­mer­ing with super­nat­ur­al clar­i­ty. But this is the best I can do.” 

This was met with vig­or­ous applause.

Vul­va blushed, pleased to have asked the ques­tion that had elicit­ed the answer that had elicit­ed such a reac­tion from the crowd. 

Ray­on beamed beside her; Mau­rice pecked her shoul­der. Noth­ing so much as the grace of oth­ers can shame you for your own ungen­er­ous thoughts. Still, I want­ed to say to the crowd: Why, exact­ly, are you clapping?

I was, as well, keen­ly aware of the fact that at any moment I could leave all this behind: drag, Berlin, my friends here.

Vul­va was the one I least want­ed to know about my off-day tuck­ing. When she start­ed per­form­ing a few years ago, she still lived her life off­stage as Daniel. Only in recent months had Daniel ceased to exist: even out of make­up, out of cos­tume, she intro­duced her­self as Vul­va Incog­ni­ta. Nev­er before had I met some­one who had cre­at­ed a char­ac­ter out of thin air, devel­oped her for years, and then sim­ply become her. It seemed like a dif­fer­ent kind of tran­si­tion — she had made the make-believe real, the per­for­mance the thing itself. My heart grew weary when I imag­ined her walk­ing home alone after shows, how vul­ner­a­ble she was. She waxed lyri­cal about the suf­fer­ing his­to­ry had dealt me — not even me, nor my par­ents, but my grand­par­ents — and I wor­ried about her in the present, the future. What vio­lence could befall her at any unguard­ed moment. Are you going to start Pay­Pal­ing me?” she said once, when I brought up the issue of her safe­ty. The bipoc trans tax?” I pic­tured her face bashed in, her lengthy fig­ure pool­ing blood, police swarm­ing an S‑Bahn plat­form. I was, as well, keen­ly aware of the fact that at any moment I could leave all this behind: drag, Berlin, my friends here. In less than a week, if I want­ed to, I could pack up my flat, move home, back to school, pick up my life where I had left it — my for­mer life, in its entire­ty, still emi­nent­ly avail­able to me. For the oth­ers, and I sus­pect­ed espe­cial­ly for Vul­va, Berlin was by no means a vaca­tion, not real­i­ty put on hold. 

Butch Acidy, now up, said, Excuse me,” and the holo­gram turned its head, quick­ly, in the wrong direc­tion. Scat­tered laughs. Butch asked about dai­ly life in the camps and Simon Aus­felder told a few sto­ries. His voice had turned thin and breathy; the crowd had to lean for­ward to hear him. Lat­er that night, on stage, Butch would stab her­self through a bal­loon heart, hid­den in her bra, and smear her entire body with the red sham­poo that would burst forth. I tried not to asso­ciate the whis­pers behind me with the sound of a run­ning tap, a laden stream. 

We had to dig trench­es in the sand,” Simon Aus­felder said. Every night, even after we had fin­ished our oth­er work. In the cold, it was like your hands were made of porridge.”

A beefy guy stepped up to the mic, inter­rupt­ing. Wait, sand? Why was there sand?”

The holo­gram stut­tered, shift­ing posi­tions, until Simon Aus­felder was lean­ing for­ward, a hoarse chuck­le rolling from his lips. I’m sor­ry,” he said. I don’t under­stand the question.”

We had learned from a pam­phlet in the lob­by that one of the even­tu­al goals of the holo­grams project was for them to be able to hold actu­al con­ver­sa­tions. This would entail the AI craft­ing dia­logue on the sur­vivors’ behalf, flesh­ing out speech the record­ed tes­ti­mo­ny did not include and mak­ing moments like this one impos­si­ble. It was impor­tant, the pam­phlet said, that the inter­ac­tions with the sur­vivors feel nat­ur­al; the invent­ed video would be true, of course, to the individual’s inten­tions and the raw facts of his or her life.” This part of the pro­gram had yet to be imple­ment­ed, though the researchers were con­fi­dent it was only a few years away.

When no one spoke, Simon Aus­felder once again recom­bob­u­lat­ed — a cross­fade and his hands were on his knees. He said, Does any­one have a ques­tion for me?”


By now, I real­ly had to pee. With my penis wrapped and con­tort­ed as it was, the urge to piss was unlike any I had felt before, flit­ting out across my groin and hips, search­ing for a place to land. It was as if my body was expe­ri­enc­ing it for the first time, repli­cat­ing the sen­sa­tion from hearsay, like the goofy and lop­sided medieval etch­ings of lions, Franken­stein­ian amal­gams based on dis­tant accounts. The tips of my fin­gers were warm; the back of my neck pricked like it was right beneath a fan. What did I real­ly know of my grandmother’s life, oth­er than what she had told me? What had I actu­al­ly seen?

Sam­my, Sam­my.” Ray­on waved over the heads between us. Do you want to ask something?” 

No,” I said. 

Come on,” said Vul­va. It’s fun.” 

The crowd shep­herd­ed me to the mic. Mau­rice squeezed my hand. The holo­gram nod­ded polite­ly, wait­ing. I tried to think of some­thing to say that would mark me as spe­cial, unique from the gener­ic askers of gener­ic ques­tions who had already approached the mic. Some­one touched as well by the same forces that had ripped Simon Aus­felder from his home, sent him through these hor­rors, and deposit­ed him, at last, on the sun-baked beach­es of Mia­mi. What I want­ed to know, I sup­pose, was if the real Simon Aus­felder had met his holo­gram or watched it tell his sto­ries. Would he have been com­fort­ed by the ren­der­ing—What a love­ly gleam in the eyes! What pres­ence!—or would he have been bur­dened to know that this would be his voice on Earth, his translu­cent avatar for the rest of time? I won­dered what he would make of this horde of Ger­mans and tourists, less than three hun­dred kilo­me­ters from his place of birth, gush­ing over his like­ness. How would he have react­ed watch­ing him­self say, I don’t understand”? 

I said, Why did you want to par­tic­i­pate in this project?”

The holo­gram scratched its head, shimmered. 

What I would like my sto­ry, the lega­cy of my sto­ry,” it said again.

Some peo­ple laughed. A few booed. A boy film­ing the inter­ac­tion on his phone said, We already heard this one!” He must have spo­ken close enough to the mic because, mid-word, the holo­gram glitched back into its neu­tral posi­tion, the last syl­la­ble cut in half by that invit­ing smile. 

I was pushed aside so some­one could ask the next ques­tion. I was sur­prised to feel embar­rassed. Ray­on whis­pered, Do you want to try again?”

I squeezed back through the crowd to find the bath­room, a sign for which I now saw was post­ed at the far end of the room, in the cor­ner past the pan­els of text. My balls ached along with my blad­der: pressed near each oth­er, the aches felt in one moment dis­tinct and in the next joined togeth­er, a new sen­sa­tion, the synaps­es fir­ing in cramped con­fu­sion. I took wide cow­boy steps, my chin hang­ing ahead of my feet.

Final­ly — the bath­room. A few men bumped into me on their way out, but still there were more wait­ing inside, all the stalls occu­pied. The voic­es of the head­scarf-wear­ing holo­gram and the crowd came through the door as a pleas­ant rum­ble, like we were under­wa­ter. I tried to focus on the light in the cen­ter of the ceil­ing, count­ing down from ten again and again, until at last there was a spot for me. In the stall, I shucked off my pants and under­wear and reached around to rip off the tape from my low­er back. Though scrunched with sweat, the tape did not budge. On stage, I usu­al­ly used med­ical tape for tuck­ing, and though my shaft and scro­tum were sheathed in a few of those gauzy strips, I had learned from expe­ri­ence that it would not hold for more than half a day in the sum­mer heat. So late­ly, for the secur­ing strips that chevroned my ass, I had turned to a thick black tape designed for plug­ging holes in the hulls of boats. I usu­al­ly soaked it off in the bath, or else was able to dig my fin­ger­nails in and slow­ly, care­ful­ly peel it off, gaug­ing my progress in the mir­ror. But, for what­ev­er rea­son, now I could not. My penis would have to stay tucked. 

I posi­tioned myself above the bowl, my ass hov­er­ing over the cen­ter. I did not even know if I could piss with my gen­i­tals in their cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion. I pic­tured a bent straw, a snagged hose: pres­sure, buildup, trag­ic explo­sion. I took hold of both sides of the seat and, with a final, hero­ic umph, hoist­ed my feet so that my boots, now so heavy, pressed against the nar­row frame on either side of the door and my chest table-topped flat and hor­i­zon­tal. Tilt­ing wild­ly back, my head land­ed against the tank and I glimpsed, through the high win­dow run­ning the length of the wall, a nar­row shock of blue sky. Was the real Simon Aus­felder still alive?

A few sec­onds of focused effort and then a halt­ing, per­ilous stream, whose only con­fir­ma­tion of accu­ra­cy was the soft pit-pit­tle that echoed up the sides of the stall. How did I appear from above — boxed in, con­tort­ed? The pain less­ened with each spurt of urine. I thought of the oth­ers wait­ing for me out­side, the con­ver­sa­tion they would be hav­ing about how mov­ing the whole expe­ri­ence had been. Or maybe they had wan­dered over to the oth­er holo­grams. Some hours from now, we would all be on stage togeth­er, belt­ing out I Say a Lit­tle Prayer” for our clos­ing num­ber. The stream grew steady, more assured, my blad­der heav­ing itself out. I was pathet­ic. My palms were already slick with sweat, but my fin­gers clamped the seat tight, and I breathed in great gasps of air. The ceil­ing, I saw, was dec­o­rat­ed in small tiles, a mosa­ic maybe, dull flash­es of blue and red that at one point had sure­ly been bril­liant. I wait­ed for a pat­tern to emerge, or for what­ev­er larg­er image they depict­ed to con­dense into some­thing clear and appar­ent, but the tiles were all cracked and coat­ed in decades of dust and grime, so they remained as they were, ancient and unknown. 

Adam Schorin is a writer based in War­saw. His short fic­tion and non­fic­tion have been pub­lished in ZYZZY­VA and The For­ward, among oth­ers. He is writ­ing and pro­duc­ing a doc­u­men­tary direct­ed by Michel Fran­co, to be released next year.