Strengthened by my pleasant and innocent afternoon, I sit snugly in the taxi scheming how to release myself from the Opera night. I help my grandmother out of the car, pay the driver and give a start, noticing Egon’s champagne-coloured Ferrari in front of our villa, a detail that escaped my grandmother’s otherwise shrewd eye.
“Herr von Zwettler is waiting for you, Gnadige Frau! I brought him to the drawing room and offered him some tea,” Mary informs us, all wound-up, and my grandmother, looking rather worried, rushes to meet him even before she had time to put her things down. I follow her, eager to see how Egon will tackle the delicate situation.
“My sincere apologies for the intrusion, Gnadige Frau,” Egon bows upon my grandmother’s hand, “I realised how unfair it would be to leave your charming granddaughter to herself after such distressing news. I offer to pay her absent fiancé off and I’ll try my best to stand in for him.” Slighting the presence of “the little one”, Egon approaches my grandmother with a bouquet of long stemmed white roses and a ravishing smile.
“How considerate of you, my dear Egon! You’re my Leopoldine’s very image and courtesy runs in your blood. We planned to take the child to the Opera. With you she can make better use of her youth.”
“Go, sweetheart, and get ready.”
“I presume you’re taking Irenchen out for dinner?”
“That’s my intention, Gnadige Frau. I made a reservation at “La Mediterrannée”. Then we could listen to some music, if you have no objections to it. I wouldn’t like Irenchen feeling lonely.”
“Do, dear Egon. Though, please, don’t let it be too late. Irenchen is overwrought. Her father forces her to study too hard. He would be extremely upset if she failed her exams and ...”
I leave them to take care of my well-being and go to my room to dress to kill and harden for the fight: dinner- yes; love-nest -no; music - yes, but Beda’s! I throw one last glance into the mirror which tells me that I am quite a girl. Is it due to Hugo’s new hair-style or my combative mind? I splash some Schiaparelli perfume behind my ears and on my wrists, - there is no perfect flower without fragrance-, put on my fur-lined white boots, throw my embroidered coat over my shoulders and make headway to play Egon on my terms.
My grandmother sends me off with a kiss and her best wishes for a pleasant evening. Egon escorts me to the Ferrari and starts the car without uttering a sound. His mouth set in a hair-thin line he drives down towards the river and chokes the engine fiercely in front of the most expensive Prague French restaurant “La Mediterrannée” on the river Vltava embankment, a treat for refined adults, off-limits for teen-agers like me, where one must book a week in advance, at least. “One” must. Not Herr von Zwettler!
The maitre d’ ushers us to a most secluded table, relieves us of our coats and passes the wine list on Egon, the menu on both of us.
“We’ll start with a bottle of “Veuve Cliquot”, Charles.
The waiter rushes off and the champagne bucket is brought to our table, the frosty bottle uncorked and the champagne poured out.
“We’ll order later,” Egon waves the waiter off, lifts up his glass to me, gulps the champagne down and motions me to follow his example. I enjoy making his foreseeable tactics out: to let me drink on empty stomach and make me putty in his hands.
His scheme is a wild-goose chase. My stomach is safely stuffed after my splash at Mysak’s and champagne is water for a girl trained on gin.
We empty our glasses in a hostile silence teeming with Egon’s resentment towards me. He fixes the void above my head. His olive-green eyes are pitch-dark. His face is sombre. Silence is on the edge of getting out of hand and become a violent dispute. It makes me so tense I break forth into a hysterical laughter close to the sound of scream. Egon is glaring at me with defiance.
“What has come over you, Irene? Pull yourself together! Is causing a major scandal what you wish?”
His hand slips under the table and cups my knee so hard I stiffen with pain. I stare in shocked disbelief at his face, distracted with loathing.
“Why didn’t you come as I asked you, little tease? Don’t you dare give me that bloody nonsense you had to go shopping with your granny! You’re an ace in cooking up your little tricks when you need to melt away! Especially when it concerns your shifty love-affairs! I saw you sneaking out from your gigolo’s, silky and soft, gorged with sex! Wasn’t I good enough, Lolita? Didn’t I comply with your standards?” He hisses and I am writhing on my chair, trying to get rid of his grinding hand forcing its way into my body.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll tell you a ghastly secret: I fell in love with you!” His mouth, twisted into a grimace of pain, spits at me with despair and a lump of dread is forming in my throat.
“Of course you aren’t! How could you? Having such a glamorous wife! Why me if the most exciting women go down like ninepins on your nod? Could we order now, please? I’m starved.”
“Anything you wish, my darling little Lolita. Am I not your sugar-daddy?” He gives me a crooked smile and, thank God, he needs both his shaking hands to hold the menu steady.
“Will you choose for me, please, Egon?” I ask soothingly, glad for the occasion to give him the upper hand.
“By all means, my lovely.”
He signals the maitre d’.
“Oysters. Half a dozen each, followed by Lobster Thermidor. My usual vintage of Chablis,” he orders, composed and serene, his voice matter-of-fact.
“Let’s bury that unfortunate misunderstanding and start anew, Lolita. Enjoy your food, sweetheart.”
He butters my bread glaring at me meltingly. I squeeze the lemon onto oysters’ translucent flesh and suck them out from their pearly shells, relishing their fragrant sea-flavour. My grandfather taught me oysters don’t suffer, having no centre of pain. So I can feast on them without a guilty feeling. The napkin on my lap has the smooth, creamy touch of expensive linen. I clean my hands on it, throw it on the table and wait for the next treat. With lavish food, my relationship with Egon is undergoing an enormous change. For the better, this time, and life runs like clockwork again. The simple, unromantic gestures, like eating in a first-class restaurant, give full value to one’s life. Why not, I might even try my luck with Egon. -What can’t be cured, must be endured-, is one of my grandmother’s favourite mottoes.
I shoot Egon a radiant smile. Now, when he seems to be sated and pacified, time is ripe to tackle the problem of Beda.
“You suggested some music, Egon. Have you ever been to “The Flaming Heart”? It’s quite near, on the other side of the river at Nerudova Street.”
I watch him crackling the paws of the lobster and putting the juicy morsels into my mouth.
“Would you enjoy a little stroll on Petrin Hill followed by spicy grog at a piano-bar?” I swallow the last bite of the delicious dinner, wipe my lips on the napkin, wash my hands in the bowl with lemon water and give Egon a glad eye.
He watches me with a quizzical smile. Is a walk in the park a bone big enough for him?
“The Flaming Heart”! Well, well! What a meaningful name! Are any other reasons for going there?”
“An excellent pianist! Is that a good enough reason for you? He plays extremely well. Really!” I pass over Egon’s innuendo.
“We’ll see. First things first.” He signals the waiter to bring forth the dessert-trolley. I choose a “Panama Torte”. Egon skips the dessert and orders coffee. It comes steaming-hot with squares of bitter chocolate.
“Thanks, Egon. It was so good!”
“Glad to have been of some use to you, Lolita.”
He signs the check and we set out, keen on adventure, even if not, possibly, the same one for both of us.