It had been raining
for some time when the lady accosted me at the Gheorghi Dimitrov
intersection. She asked me about a tram stop, Number 17 toward Lacul
Tei. When she tilted her immense red umbrella, I saw her: Madam
Doctor Alfandari!—the blond of one summer afternoon a millennium
ago, when that star had plunged straight from the studios of
Hollywood into our wretched little kitchen, there, where
everything was cramped and dark and Bukovina in the 1950’s. I was
a star myself back then in my pioneer’s red neckerchief and red
badge, with my red declamations and discourses in red, and I was
really wowing the crowds, up to and including the “Hollywood”
lady, who would return to the her Hollywood—known to mortals
as Bucharest—a few years later. Nor had I had forgotten that
actress’s voice or her words: “I want to meet this boy’s
mother!” Flurried, Mama kept wiping her hands in her oilcloth
Only now the star
of yesteryear was there beside me at the tram stop, Number 17 toward
Lacul Tei. I had confirmed the precious information right away: Yeah,
this is the stop toward Tei.
I saw her before
me: Madam Doctor Alf—aka the mother of my amour-partner
during those first Bucharest student years—now in a younger,
overcoat, as I was tempted to call her superb cape of sandy mohair,
enveloped her tenderly. Beautiful, oh yes, la belle inconue
had, something of a film star’s exotic loveliness. She kept
smiling with a sort of provocative complicity. A strange combination
of Simone Signoret and Marilyn Monroe. I’d grown rooted to the
spot, unable to move my legs. It looked as if I’d been waiting for
tram 17 too.
It was raining. It
wasn’t raining. It seems that it no longer rained. The lady’s
umbrella was closed. She kept dancing it graciously between her
fingers. She shook her helmet of golden hair in a youthful way, and
looked at me again and smiled at me once more. The next instant, she
had taken me by the arm. She was a bit taller than I, and we were
heading away from the tram stop. We had gotten to talking about the
film at the documentary film center on Marx-Engels Boulevard, toward
which we were also heading, for lack of a better target.
The True Face
of Fascism the Soviet documentary was called, and it turned out
we’d both seen it the previous week. Odd, just exactly this
film…not much fun as a subject for a first conversation. Disturbed
as I was by the film, the lady seemed disposed to catch the movie a
second time. Yes. Surely they deserved another look, those subversive
hints at the current situation. So many scenes to be commented on,
Jewish, no? the actress’s voice was heard to remark,
I didn’t like
the question. I preferred the complicity of cineasts. Why would I be
Jewish? I didn’t have the nose or the accent. … Just because I
had accepted the discussion about fascism? The film wasn’t even
only about fascism. Didn’t fascism or communism mean anything to
anyone in this country, not even in such infamous times? Wasn’t
anybody, but anybody, interested—apart from myself and la belle
inconue who‘d accosted me? Had all our fellow citizens really
remained hedonists and astral dreamers given to jokes, and wine and
song and picayune mundanities?
Jewish? What do
I have in common with Jews… I’d be grateful to be left in a
corner to breath, just that I recited at a breath. I carried that
quotation around inside.
The lady gave me a
long look. She didn’t suspect that the words weren’t mine. The
name Kafka wouldn’t have increased their weight. She wasn’t
granting the conversation any role but the one that suited her, I’m
registered my response, she went on heedlessly with the conversation.
—Those are the
two categories, aren’t they? My husband is a merchant. You seem to
come from the other group.
both, I was ready to cry, alien to the true face of socialism! But
you couldn’t deliver yourself of something like that out of the
blue, recklessly, to an inconue.
But yes, I was in
the disadvantageous category. I couldn’t deny it. I had come to a
halt, and I gave the unknown lady a long look too. Smiling, she held
out her hand.
The name seemed
Armenian…Yes. Armenians are good merchants, but I didn’t see the
connection with myself. The first name Alice didn’t divulge
a thing. Blond hair, great, liquid, green eyes—an image from
Hollywood. Cosmopolitan cliché of beauty from anywhere.
fragments of her biography in the following hours of walking, on rain
rinsed streets toward Cavalry Way, near Strada Sihleanu, where I
boarded with Doctor Iacobi, and from there around Liberty Park. She
lived alone. Her husband had crossed the frontier illegally. He was
well set up somewhere abroad. She hoped to get there herself too, as
soon as possible. Until then, she was a suspect and provisory person.
She was eking out a modest but honorable existence at the one of the
SPICUL bread shops on Bălcescu Boulevard.
I knew the place.
The SPICUL bakery was near the Library of the Romanian-Soviet
Friendship Association, RSFA, where I went daily. Great pastries with
meat and cheese...The clients hadn’t the least suspicion that
library and pastries would both vanish soon.
No, no I hadn’t
seen this superb representative of the former “exploitative class”
at SPICUL’s cash register. Like other exotic pariahs, the lady
talked in an off-hand way about the crummy way she earned her daily
Night overtook us.
We sheltered in an angle of a building or in park bushes by turns.
Long kisses under the umbrella of darkness.
murmured, dizzy with embraces. …I was naming her lips Rachele and
her breasts and her laugh of anonymity. Laughing, she protested at
the sound of the strange name as at a tolerable extravagance of the
student’s. Rachele, Rachele, Frenchwoman, African, Jewish,
redhead…No, no she wasn’t a Frenchwoman, African or a Jew. She
was a Romanian, okay, and she hadn’t heard of my hypothetical
incestuous mother-in-law (Doctor Alfandari) nor of Rachele the
redhead, lover of Doctor Thibault in the Roger Martin du Gard’s
novel, suddenly embodied in her own flesh before me.
With the end of
adolescence, the mixture of literary-erotic reveries hadn’t let up
just like that. Bucharest’s libraries had intensified the dizzy
intoxication. Long, solitary courses in failed pursuit of unknown
women kept ending in the same the same stupid frustrations, lacking
dramatic quality, to say the least. Ela Alfandari (the daughter of
Madam Doctor), who had herself come to Bucharest for her studies, had
served the first years of my novitiate in amorous masturbation.
Rushed, preliminary games, prolonged to the point of
paroxysm—fainting—on the narrow bed in the young lady’s cell
only halted when the poor bachelor’s manhood couldn’t be reigned
in any longer. Then the tigress would withdraw, horrified and
exhausted. The freedom of the anonymous—that’s what the
provincial high school boy had dreamed of when he came to Bucharest.
Wide streets, their damp lanes: the magnetic trail of a comet,
overtaking you on the instant. Long, futile courses in the wake of
some unknown just stepped from a theater or movies or a library or
hairdresser’s. Timid, silent hunts. Thrilled,
frightened, the one who followed would wait for however discreet a
sign of being hunted in his turn. Scent-driven frustration would map
the city against the lyric splendor of hounded seasons. The face of
the instant: the pallor of the worker who undressed, and suddenly
dressed again, respectable, revolted, tamed; the towel with which the
major’s wife carefully wiped her sex on New Year’s Eve when her
soldier was on duty far from home; the folds of the tango singer’s
fur coat—trailing after her: the solitary one awaited the sign of
consent; the huge buck teeth of the flat chested accountant: sickly,
given to hysterical pawing.
At some point, a
Friday afternoon on a street called The Beauty’s, Nr. 20, the
address passed in whispers from one student to another.
One entered though
a courtyard. The door opened onto the service stairs. In front of the
staircase, a little old man with a beard, poorly but decently
dressed, seated on a tripod. 25 Lei. He was there to collect the fee,
deliver the password. A small room on the first landing. A long bed,
flowered spread. Basin with water on a chair. In bed, smiling,
Rabelais’ maid. Wide face, pale, big black eyes. A shock of
bristling hair, pitch black. A sneering smile. Pure routine. The
furnisher of the address wasn’t handing out more than minimal
preliminary information: the “Sluterend” Mom was the wife of
military motorcycle champion who was bulking up his income on the QT.
The woman heaves a
sigh. The client undresses: the coat, the pullover, shoes, shirt,
slacks. The woman pulls her nightgown over her head: naked.
She gets off the
bed, advances barefoot. Big feet, big nails thickly painted: red.
She spreads her
legs. Without moving, the student scrutinizes, the nails—big and
ugly—the legs, ugly and big. The woman climbs back on the bed
again. The client climbs on top of the woman, ugly and big as she is,
on her slack, sweaty breasts. The big hand, sticky between the
client’s legs. Maternal words. Fingers that try to rouse him.
Roused for an instant, extinguished after a moment, old, neglected.
something else. Far from her master, the merchant, wrapped in her
regal Parma cape, she would finally burn off the weight of the
contorted years. Hidden by day beneath the mask of the SPICUL
cashier, La inconnue would finally take possession of the
nights of the student tempted by philosophical confusions.
We had met at
last! Huddled into each other under the great Parma tent of merino or
mohair or who knows what bewitched covering, we’d arrive at the
appointed time, soon. The lady with the red umbrella seemed as eager
as the neophyte.
We had arrived in
front of the house. She didn’t ask me in. She didn’t let me kiss
her anymore. She took precautions against the neighbors, it seemed.
She lit herself a cigarette. She offered me one of the celebrated
Kents as well. Kents: in those years, the illicit coin of social
favors. We decided to see each other in three days, on Saturday
night. She was inviting me to her house for Saturday night!
will happen anymore. La inconnue won’t disappear, nor will
she change her mind at the last moment. We will have a refuge, a bed,
a dark corridor, any space good for a blaze. This time, the only
problem was for each of us to survive until Saturday night. Saturday,
seven thirty, the Hollywood alcove!
The socialist era
provincial hadn’t had a particularly lucky sexual apprenticeship.
Precocious puberty, accelerated by reading ran smack into the
diversion of Revolution. Was it the frivolity of applause around the
little poseur from the provinces? Loveable girls had crowed round the
celebrity offering, in obscurity, tender lips and tender throat, and
little portions of tender, little breast. That’s it, that’s
enough. Mama’ll beat me black and blue…The darkness of cinema
halls meant Brînduşa or Pusy or Silvia
or, especially Ica, the least attractive, but melancholy and bizarre.
Darkness, whissspers, the search for lingerie and skin: to the elbow,
the armpit, the shoulder and below, lower, dizziness, down, lower,
pains and phallus and pus. In a trance, literate Ica had transfigured
passion. Intercepting the lyric message, my Mater Dolorosa translated
the danger into ghetto code: “This boy is gonna kill us in a few
daughter would soon initiate the intoxication in other dizzy parties.
The shamelessness of unfinished preliminaries. Then, the classic
hospitality of the maid servant. In between soldiers’ nocturnal
halts, Lucreţia willingly sheltered the
young gentleman’s ejaculation…. Smelling neither of jasmine nor
fried onion, her young body was only imbued with soldier scent mixed
gentleman attracted to philosophy not to commerce hesitated to make
short of the shameless smarting in his pants at a doctor’s. There
were no private medical offices anymore. He had no one to whom he
could talk about scandalous secrets. He resigned himself to living
together in fear with the viruses of the damned. The newspapers and
the radio and books and conferences and mass meetings didn’t
address such hidden bourgeois anxieties. “The greater the moral
depravity, the more severe public opinion.” Ever less
revolutionary, reality was confirming the sayings of the
revolutionary, Saint-Juste, who didn’t live long enough to witness
The patient had
healed in the end, however, and on Saturday night Rachele du Gard was
going to restore his faith in his youth.
There in the
dilated belly of the self-same and pregnant day, time passed quickly
and not fast enough. It was a matter of two stops on the Destiny Line
before arriving at the holy day of rest, ordained by the Unseen, who
rested himself on Saturday too.
Quiet twilight, great birds of the air stock still in midheaven.
Pacing back and forth in Liberty Park, the nervous one perpetrated
sparse, small steps without ruffling the passersby. The seconds
passed without haste. Contemplative, pensioners on their benches
placidly watched the timid one’s well-played apathy.
Nifon Street, in
its place: houses aligned as they’d been two or twenty or thirty
days ago. Number 28: same as before. Nothing changed, all things in
their place, a split-second eternity of timeless place and time. Two
stone steps in front of the prismatic building with its single level
above the ground floor. Two doorbells: identical, one under the other
on the solid, black oak door. The names placed above them,
identically. A pointer presses the Alice Aslan button. The clock on
the street corner shows 7:36.
The door opened
right away. Beautiful, although not as young as on the evening of the
first encounter. Everything was prepared, no need to rush. There was
no need to start too quickly or finish too fast—the words went on
saying that, while out of childish urgency, unbridled embraces kept
up a contradiction. There were attempts at conversation, though. Were
those flights through banality to stimulate intimacy and desire?—
those frivolous, insignificant phrases about the doctor she was
consulting, that old fart, who didn’t prevent hand or allusions
from landing where they weren’t supposed to go.
expensive glasses, the clink of a world withdrawn in hiding…The
alcoves of our fortress groaned with the spasms of coupling, whispers
and sighs, gnashings and groanings and the curses of all classes and
ethnicities and ages. Private space having become the only wealth, we
were withdrawing with our selves and inside ourselves. ’Ey, let
me see you, now when you don’t have the informers and lies and
dirt around you any more…quickly, quickly, before the Securitate
guys rush in. Only, no one stormed into Alice Aslan’s pleasant
little flat. Here there existed neither cause nor excuse for
victimization. We were naked and free in the large, clean bed. The
courtesan did her duty. She wasn’t hurrying. She didn’t begin too
quickly, and she had no idea of stopping. Only, letting himself be
served way too well of his partner’s ardor, the guest passed from
excessive impatience to passivity in excess. Were tricks making the
bodies’ kinetics artificial? Or—the other way around—was
artificiality stimulating ardor? The thought set off on it’s own
tangent. The body had collapsed, played out. Duplicity wasn’t doing
much to potentiate pneuma.
In the end, the
object of desire defines itself naturally, as the thinker knew.
Concrete obsessive terms, country-style, precise, used for mare and
sow and bitch and female antilope. The organ, yes, the simple term,
like an order—the organ itself needed to replace verses and
romantic dreams. The philosopher kept thinking about that while
following the efforts Rachel wielded on the face and lips and humid
tongues full of mucous and the secretions of desire. The dilatant was
paying attention to the courtesan’s reflexes, to the lips, hand,
breasts. Elementary spring of cosmic traits: obsessed by the
sustenance of which he never wanted to tire—the student went on
perorating like that in his head. All that stood in for something
more ample, as Rachel was now trying to prove. Imponderability. Yeah.
It wasn’t a negligible word, neither in the epic of eroticism nor
in erotic psychology either. One time it works, the next, not so
well, another time: not at all—even if the provocations seem the
same…and philosophy doesn’t get you over being put off. Neither
does a cigarette although Alice kept smoking a great deal, and in the
end I smoked too, more than I could bear. Drained of all desire, I
left at dawn—burdened with spleen, smoking yet another cigarette
Alice had forced between my lips. Inadequate, drained dry, fed up,
overwhelmed by the efforts and expectations of the beautiful
courtesan, who had remained insatiable and immodest all that long and
over-long night, the beauty from the land of wonders where she held
My partner hadn’t
changed her mind at the last moment, nor did she suddenly vanish into
thin air, nor was she ugly—au contraire. Notwithstanding,
something had screwed up the mechanism of desire. The night’s
energy had grown dilute; its captive: shipwrecked in overly lucid
torpor. The perfect sexual camaraderie, the extreme concentration—and
the extreme naturalness—the ecstasy of coupling, they would all
have to be learned in a longer exercise of intimacy than the first
morning, leaving Madam Aslan’s alcove, I kept remembering the
opening seasons of my Bucharest debut. Fascinating, the city
unclothed itself before the stranger. I couldn’t get enough of
wandering the boulevards, the parks. Vagabond, I went on roving
through restaurants. The mystery of the houses engulfed me in the
obscure hours of the morning. It seemed to me a surprise lurked in
the blink of a second. Fear and peril joined at every step. The
exasperation. The desire for discharge. The hurried, spiced
eroticism of panic, the smell of mating. The little mug of some wage
slave, straying alone at that hour of night, in the tram that was
withdrawing dopily back to the depot, where the hurried coupling
could have happened—barely there, at the depot, in some angle full
of boxes and tools, or even in the deserted tram. The one who slept
wasn’t asleep at all. The passenger lay in wait. The motorman
watched him in the mirror over the dashboard. Everything that was
happening or would happen later or would delay happening resembled
the dementia of the March afternoon, in the third semester of my
student years, during a seminar when I found myself near that slender
girl, Sanda Ionescu, the giddy daughter of some aristocrats who’d
managed to escape. All of a sudden we were pawing each other under
the desk, my hand deep under her skirt, between her moist, silky
thighs, wetter by the minute, her hand inside my increasingly damp
pants. The professor carried on with the demonstration at the board.
Perspiring, we continued taking notes with our free hands. Sexuality:
intensified by natural catastrophes, earthquakes, floods, volcanic
eruptions, dictatorships. Was it exasperated and potentiated under
the nose of tyrannical overseers? Could I have been neutralized by
the security emanating from the comfortable studio of Madam Rachele
I didn’t look
for her again in the week that followed. Alice gave me a call after
some ten days. Uninspired, I answered grumbling, bored..
several months, regrets overwhelmed me, the longing to make up for
the error came too late. She wasn’t answering such useless, foolish
calls anymore, nor was she working at the SPICUL store where I kept
trying to pick up her trail.
Panicked, in the
weeks and months that followed, I began to look for her everywhere
and nowhere. And the next year, too, and after that, everywhere,
nowhere, in the addressless unknown.
In Belgrade, in
’83, in the Fanar coffee house, her gaze lost in the silvery rim of
the cup. When she rose, suddenly, the blaze of her red hair…she
looked at me as if I must have been the client she waited for. It was
the last day of a conference in which I had participated. My
Bucharest colleagues isolated me from the beginning, for traditional
reasons or maybe out of impatience to arrange purchases on a large
scale: furniture, televisions, refrigerators, for which they had
established connections. Afternoons, I kept wandering aimlessly
around an ugly city that seemed a luminous oasis—frenetic,
electrified by appetites and intoxications—compared with the dark
and phantoms that continuously terrorized the “Little Paris” of
Bucharest. Then I would get back to the hotel early and watch on
television all those things you couldn’t see in back home. On the
night before leaving, though, I had stayed on the streets till late.
Around midnight I entered the Fanar. Alice had dyed her hair red. Now
she looked like the Jewish Rachele, returned from Africa, in the
novel by Martin du Gard. I sat down in front of her. She smiled at
me, without recognition. She had forgotten Romanian. She only
recalled stray words. I didn’t know Serbian. Before leaving
together, we understood each other via brief appeals to Russian, and
we would have understood each other without words
I saw her again
after several years, grown younger, in a bus from West Berlin. I
climbed down, agitated, following the silhouette that was moving away
toward Check Point Charlie, the boarder with the East. I reached her,
panting. I asked how I might get to the Einstein Café. With a
nervous gesture, she shook her narrow, fragile shoulders—surprised.
Her scarf uncoiled like an orange snake. Smiling, well-disposed, she
accompanied me for several paces. Then, after several more, she took
me by the arm, as in the old days.
At the Pompidou
Center in Paris, she handed me a real surprise. She was standing
there, tall and straight, in the courtyard where three teams of
acrobats and clowns competed for the audience’s favor. A superb
autumn afternoon, soft and sunny. She was looking up toward the
escalator I was riding down. When I reached the ground floor, I
headed directly toward the slim, statuesque blond who went on leaning
against a wall, waiting. I asked her how the exhibit seemed to her.
She seemed taken aback. She hadn’t seen the exhibition, perhaps,
although the artist was a conational, and she should have taken note
of it. Did her confusion have another cause, maybe? She no longer
knew any Romanian at all. I took up the question again in French.
Without success. I tried the few English words I knew. She answered
right away, smiling gladly. Pointing toward the adjacent street, she
proposed we drink a coffee or a cognac at the LE MASQUE bar. I opted
for coffee. I only drank stiff drinks in the evening, and I didn’t
have the money for that kind of tab. She understood. She knew that
those fortunate enough to have passports from the East were short of
cash, and she hurried to make it clear, I was her guest. We kept
quiet, both of us, for a while. She felt obliged to tell me that she
lived in Amsterdam, that she worked as an assistant-secretary for a
—Ah, that old
doctor. The old fart…
—What, what did
She was looking at
me stupefied. She frowned, and again I saw the furrow that appeared
whenever Alice knit her brow. Blue eyes, smooth, pale cheeks, long,
thin hands…Yes. The tall, slender Dutch woman had Alice’s voice,
so much huskier now, the result of tobacco.
—What? I tried
in German. It’s nothing, foolishness.
Deutsch. That was making the dialogue easier although it didn’t
look as though she enjoyed the invader’s language.
—I suppose the
doctor is courting the assistant.
—Not that I’ve
noticed. We have a cordial relationship. Strictly business.
husband …I understand.
married. That is to say, I was. To an oriental.
of course…I’d forgotten. Oriental, really? Oriental?
—I hope you’re
not racist like people from Eastern Europe?
—No, not at all.
Just curious. Armenian?
former karate champion, now a trainer. We’ve been separated for
three years, but we see each other from time to time.
In the evening, I
changed metros three times and wandered around until I found the
apartment building on Folie Mericourt.
like in the design magazines. The Dutch woman’s friend—an
interior designer, as the room’s decoration made clear—had gone
on vacation. We were alone. I’d brought one of the Stolychnaya
bottles with which I had filled my suitcase for Bucharest, to have
something to sell and give as gifts.
be going to a restaurant, the woman from Amsterdam hadn’t prepared
a thing to eat. In the end, we remained in the great cube of colored
crystal, Kirsten on the black sofa, the East-European on the red one
facing her. We drank. We talked.
it. Tomorrow, tomorrow we’ll do everything.
I didn’t want
delays. I didn’t have time to put things off.
impatience, perpetually, as she went on saying. She felt haste as an
aggression against her, like an invasion of filth. She was living in
Amsterdam with a younger man who was grateful to her for having
taught him to make love slowly, methodically, without hurry.
I gave a start of
recognition. That proverb that somehow linked haste withdebased…
instructed him. He’s gotten to be an expert in calmness and the
gradations of fucking.
I startled again.
The terms were so similar, and the secretary from Amsterdam kept
watching me, attentive to the effect of her language. Then she cast
off her dress with a kind of disdain, bored with the formality we’d
been carrying out. Naked, on the rubber mattress, on the
parquet…nothing worked out too well. It wasn’t going to function
without calm and gradations.
—Do you have a
She had risen. She
was on the sofa. Long, white, with one leg on the backrest of the
couch to let her sex be seen.
—Sister? Me? I
don’t have any sister.
—Aha … a
mother then? You got a mother?
mother? What exactly do you mean?
my mother? Good, close, complicate…The relationship with my mother
smiling anymore. Only a whopping Romanian curse could have put a stop
to her chatter. Obsessed by the stranger’s obscure center—which
must have been something like his heart of darkness—she had grown
excessively serious. She was giving me this fixed look. She didn’t
seem displeased with the failure, but she didn’t seem disposed to
chalk it up to haste and lack of gradations either. Haste and lack of
gradations belong to the world of well-hidden secrets.
the old fart, is he a psychiatrist?
didn’t shock her. Her smile had turned cunning and wry; her face:
Not in the least. He’s a surgeon.
We fell silent. It
lasted till she picked up the inquiry.
—In a rush to
liquidate the act, isn’t that so? It lacks love, maybe? That
childish word…The need for love, is that it? Or guilt, some hidden
guilt…So you want to liquidate the fuck quickly, is that it?
around. She bent toward the vodka bottle on the floor. She was no
longer young, but her body was well-maintained, elastic and smooth.
Only a drop of vodka remained. She wet her long white pointer and
sucked it gradually.
—Or are books to
blame?...Or socialist politics? You haven’t had time and you
haven’t been allowed to try sexual nonsense? Well, but prohibition
increases interest, no? Interest leads to experiment, and experiences
lead to experience, no?
I no longer
answered. For my part, I looked at her fixedly too, not the least
curious to discover the interrogator’s obscure center.
We both smoked in
silence from her packet of Dunhills. Naked and indifferent, we slept
side by side on the mattress. I slipped outside at dawn, exhausted,
wrung out, like after a drunk—with bitter herbs. I wandered a long
time in the cold air, on the streets of the capital of love, toward
the quartier where doctor Thibault used to meet Rachele in a
city estranged from itself.
I didn’t call
Kirsten back the next day as I’d promised. I felt badly. I wrote to
her afterwards from Bucharest, from Jerusalem. Before leaving for the
I dropped her a few lines from New York on an illustration of Van
Gogh minus an ear, then from the Hotel Simplicissimus, letting her
know that I would stay a week in Holland and that I’d be able to
make it to Amsterdam. No reply.
I never would have
imagined that she would pounce just like that, all of a sudden in the
elevator of the apartment house where I was living. Years had passed.
I was coming down from the 34th floor. The door opened on
16. Nobody there. Then this slender blond with short hair darted in,
a minuscule white dog in her arms. I hadn’t seen her until that
moment. There are 52 floors and around 1000 apartments in our
building on the Upper West Side. There’s no way to know everyone.
cold, Alma had a thing for daily gymnastic exercises, not to mention
the smell of Micro, the puffy, hysterical, mangey little mut. That
little dog somehow balanced out the young lawyer’s ambitions and
frustrations, which she called self-esteem in a cutting,
implacable voice—a kind of test that separated the living from the
dead, the men from the boys.
I wasn’t having
difficulties with English anymore, but I was hardly up on erotic
slang. Alma was exuberant, perfectly functional in bed, and she
offered the added advantage that I could easily slip into her boudoir
several times a month without anyone’s knowing, for an hour or two,
or even three. It bugged me, the way she went on delivering herself
of bouts of juridical and ethical rhetoric, but I kept coming back to
the hideout on the 16th floor on a regular basis. To the
burial I didn’t go, however, although all the residents
participated. No one would have suspected any special relationship
with the deceased. The accident had simply ripped to shreds the long,
elastic body of the mother and her darling’s miniscule corpse. The
image obsessed me. I didn’t need funeral ceremonies. At the burial
I would have been able to meet Alta,
Alma’s twin sister, about whom the delighted neighbors never quit
A year had barely
gone by when Alta pounced in the lift. She had a bicycle in place of
a little dog, and there was a book of Henry Miller’s tied to the
handlebar. She had been a ballerina. She had a gracious and jesting
way of directing sexual operations.
—Let me begin. That’s it, between the lips. It’s getting bigger.
It’ll get big. Hold off, hold off or I’ll bite you. Look, it’s
getting bigger. Hold off as long as you can.
Her voice had
grown clear. All traces of hoarseness had disappeared. Alta hadn’t
smoked for more than ten years.
Don’t let go. Hold it. Hand here, in the burrow, at the boiling
point. Now, now come in. Slowly, powerfully, the way I told you.
Slowly, slowly and strong.
come up with pretext of a migraine for not going with the family to
the mountains for the weekend—I slept a whole night at Alta’s.
I’d wanted this extravagance for a long time. She continually
summoned me to take the risk. She was going to get married soon. She
was attached to the idea of our spending a night together.
exaltation. Morbid, tardy ecstasy of one’s ultimate nights near the
delicate, vigorous body of yesteryear.
Youthful. An expiation. Trail of luminous, blue smoke. Tramline 17.
Rachele was climbing down cheerfully in her long, red cloak with
little Micro in her arms. Excited, we embraced. The waves of venomous
mohair stupefied me—that funeral cloak. I kept fighting back tears.
My nostrils had filled with sweet poisons as of old—the aroma of
the nocturnal aphrodisiac, the wound, the ferocious instant, the
fatal drug of old age.