Sometimes Kokoschka tells me I don’t exist. He whispers, you’re a transitionary object, dear doll, an illusionary surface, an overpriced representation of absence, and he groans into the feathery folds in my thighs and throws me to the floor.
I was wrapped in tissue paper the morning they brought me to Kokoschka’s house. I didn’t know who I was, just that Kokoschka had written letters to Hermine Moos – the woman with the needle – telling her how he wanted me stitched, how he required disinfected horsehair, layers of pouches stuffed with down, cottonwool for backside and breasts, real teeth, my skin to be like peach under fingertip.
When he unwrapped me, his tears touched the tissue paper like heartbeats.
I soon learned I was the imitation of Alma Mahler, the schwanzlutscha who pierced his heart and left him. She’s why he’s haemorrhaging internally.
She’s the swine in all the paintings, with the distant look in the The Bride of the Wind, owner of the same belly curve as me. She’s on the canvases he sometimes sleeps with once he’s bent me in two and wedged me under his work bench.
I try to have a distant look, like the real Alma Mahler, but when I get a glimpse of my reflection in a shard of glass, I’m reminded my eyes are painted on. On bad days, I don’t blame him for spitting.
On good days, when he’s frӧlich because Woman in Blue is coming along, he’ll tug me to his chest and promise me the finest lingerie a Frӓulein could dream of. His kiss will be linseed and lust, and after we’ve made love, he’ll position me on the piano stool, where Alma used to sit, where Alma used to play, where Alma-used-to-Alma-used-to, and I swear my stiff fingers will glide.
When he’s frӧlich, he’ll carry me up the opera steps in front of the notable Viennese, and tiny wings will flutter all along my backbone. He’ll slide my eyelids up and down so I can blink love back at him, and for the space of an evening, I’ll know exactly who I am.
But he’ll soon miss bad days.
I’ll be sitting on a ledge in green crêpe de Chine that maid Hulda has dressed me in, and Kokoschka’s friends will be stabbing me with pins. They’ll be scorching my hair with embers, dousing my décolletage in wine and champagne, and Kokoschka will be crashing into walls, sentencing me with those stormy eyes, shouting ein Messer! ein Messer! but the chamber orchestra will be playing too furiously for anyone to aid him, and the wind will ululate through every strand of my hair, blowing my feathers upward, and I will be Alma Mahler – the one who loved him then loved him not – already on the wing.
Kokoschka decapitated his Alma doll at a raucous party in Vienna as a symbolic demonstration Alma Mahler was out of his system.