It was almost time for him to take the stage and he sat in his expansive dressing room staring grimly into the lightbulb-ringed mirror as his staff fretted around him, plucking at his clothes, touching up his makeup and spraying him with a myriad of tonics from blue cut glass vials. For the past two hours they had endlessly flitted about him, like birds, only dissipating temporarily when his temper flared, which was often. The roar from the mass of humanity outside had been increasing steadily all day and his glass of water was skipping erratically on the surface of the dresser through the vibrations.
“All of them here to see me,” he murmured, standing up and turning sideways to examine his profile. “Only me.”
“Of course, only you,” said an anonymous wide-eyed girl, innocently, loitering in the background.
“Do I know you?” he snapped, turning and facing the girl, imperiously. “No, I don’t know you. I don’t know you at all and you’re in my dressing room. Now get out!!! OUT!!!”
“Calm down,” cooed his chief stylist as the girl gasped and fled. “She is one of my assistants. Take it easy. You need to save all that energy for your performance.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” he shouted red-faced. “Are you the one who has to go out there? No! I am the one who has to go out there so who are you to tell me to calm down?! Get out! All of you! Get out of here!” he ordered, breathing heavily and collapsing back into the chair in front of the mirror. “Call for my doctor,” he said weakly. “I don’t feel well. Not well at all.”
He glared at his dismayed staff as they quietly filed from the dressing room and, once they had all gone, his body felt leaden as he stood up again to straighten his costume. A thunderous wave of renewed cheering erupted, shaking the walls, as it had just been announced that he would be coming on in ten minutes. He wiped daintily at the sweaty sheen that had broken out on his forehead and at the base of his neck. Intense relief washed over him when the portly frame of his personal physician, Theodore, finally appeared at the back of the dressing room in the corner of the mirror.
“Ah, Ted, there you are! Thank God!”
“How are you?” asked the doctor, deep concern etched across his face. “They told me you are unwell.”
“Those… those buffoons!” he screeched as a fat purple vein forked out across his temple from the corner of his eye. “You know, I just wanted two simple things to eat earlier: one bowl of vegetable soup and one Toblerone chocolate bar. Is that really a lot to ask? Well, guess what? There were bits of beef in the soup. Beef! The entire world knows I’m vegetarian! Except my own staff!!! Same with the chocolate: everyone on the planet knows I will only eat dark chocolate. What do they bring me?!” he cried, clenching his hands in front of his face, shaking in fury. “Milk chocolate, of course! Idiots! All of them! I hate them!”
“Alright,” said the doctor gently over another clamorous wave of frenzied cheering. “You need to relax. You’re on in a minute.”
“Do you have any idea how many there are?” he asked, his voice suddenly thick with anxiety.
“I don’t know,” said the doctor, quietly. “They haven’t stopped pouring onto the field for the past 12 hours. I’ve honestly never seen such a crowd.”
“I feel so lethargic, Ted,” he whined shrilly. “I just can’t shake this awful grogginess. I think I must have stomach cancer.”
“Nonsense,” said the doctor, dismissively. “I’ll give you a shot of Vitamultin.”
“Well, I guess,” he said apprehensively as the doctor produced a syringe from his pocket and emptied the flaked contents of a small, gold-foiled packet onto the dresser. “I don’t trust that stuff, though. Are you sure it’s just concentrated vitamins?”
“Has it ever made you feel high?”
“Do you feel addicted to it?”
“Does it get you on your feet again?”
“Alright, alright!” he snapped. “Get on with it, then!”
“I’ve been feeling a bit melancholy this afternoon, Ted,” he said, as he earnestly watched the shot being prepared.
“Oh, why is that?”
“I was in love once, you know. I mean, really in love back when I was just a shy, unpopular boy. Her name was Stefanie. She was kind of a distinguished-looking girl, tall and slim. For four long years I yearned for her but she barely knew I existed. Still, when my mother died, she came up to me in the hall at school and said ‘I’m sorry for your loss’. Even though those were the only words she ever spoke to me, I still take comfort in them to this day.”
“Why didn’t you ever talk to her, man!” exclaimed the doctor in disbelief.
“I told you,” he said irritably. “I was too shy. I only ever saw her at school and she wasn’t even in my year. Outside of school, I only saw her a couple of times but she was with her family going to the synagogue.”
“I used to fantasize about kidnapping her and the two of us committing suicide together…” he said, his voice trailing off. “I swear, I would trade it all in – all this fame, glory, adoration – all of it, just to go back in time and take her away with me…”
The doctor peered at him through wire-rimmed glasses, his fat eyelids blinking rapidly, not sure what to say. “Well,” he said, finally, “thankfully, for the rest of us, that was not your destiny. Now, come on, roll up your sleeve. That’s it. Just a little pinprick. That’ll keep you going through the show.”
The effect was almost immediate. He straightened up rigidly in his chair and the slackness in his face tightened around his jaw line. His eyes cleared, as cloud vapor evaporates under the morning sun, becoming steely and wolfish. He glared at himself defiantly in the mirror and straightened his costume a final time.
“You look magnificent,” said the doctor in quite genuine awe.
“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it, Ted,” he said clapping his hand firmly on the doctor’s shoulder, a hard smile on his face, “that just 10 years ago I was a penniless convict?”
“It’s show time!!!” shouted an aide bursting through the door.
A pack of burly bodyguards shielded him as he picked his way across the catwalk towards the stage. Even through his earplugs, the hysterical screams of adulation were deafening. Forests of tangled arms groped out through an endless sea of heads trying to touch him, if only for a second. As he waved, they waved in unison for as far as the eye could see. With each step towards the stage, he became more and more exhilarated. He had slavishly rehearsed his performance for sleepless hours on end.
He was ready.
Stepping up to the microphone at last, he cleared his throat and shouted: “A gigantic, tremendous task we know it!!!”
- It was May Day 1933 as Adolph Hitler addressed an estimated 2 million people at Berlin’s Tempelhof Field, three months after being appointed chancellor of Germany.