His old safe again, Leo appears at the stroke of seven and gratifies me with his usual offering of white orchid. Nevertheless, he declines my suggestion to go and greet my grandmother and shies away from seeing her under the pretext that he booked a table for half past seven. According to the way he looks at me or, more precisely, how he avoids my eyes, he must feel more than “a little uptight”. I remember my grandmother’s warning not to insist on specific details about the cause of his delay and refrain from asking him if and how he enjoyed the trip. I have little merit not to pry as I am not interested in either his or Zita’s private life. Not to mention that I owe him a lot for how he treated the painful scene at the “Salome”.
The evening passes pleasantly and at ten o’clock I am back at home and in bed. I would sleep soundly were it not for my hair-raisingly dreams for which Leo can’t be blamed. Or can he?
Time flies towards the Medical Ball without any major problems in my studies or my life. I walk around as brittle as if made of glass prone to splinter into thousands shards by the first imprudent gesture. I try never to go too far. I don’t laugh, just smile. I don’t talk, just whisper. I don’t run, just walk. There is one thing that keeps me alive. I listen to Beda’s music every night, hardly drinking, hardly smoking, avoiding any bodily contact. After the “moment of derangement” at the “Salome” making love to him reclined to a remote past. I don’t propose and Beda doesn’t ask. Egon stopped calling me and I don’t mind. He must be mad after his aborted craze for my favours. And then, Zita is back and his life returned to normal. I asked Leo for some sleeping pills. He gave in grudgingly after scrupulous instruction about their side-effects. I couldn’t care less. Compared to the dreams they spare me, my Seconal inducted stupor is pure bliss! Though there is one domain where I bloom. I made it to the top of my class and my father is proud as a peacock. It is rumoured that Milan turned also into a bookworm and won’t perform for Mirak any longer. Seemingly, he found a benefactor who provides for his studies which enables him to assist the dancing master sparingly, for major events only. Would that include the Medical Ball tuition? I wonder racked by contradictory emotions. In the hope and in the dread I prepare myself for an agonisingly exquisite ordeal.
Enthused over the hypothetical confrontation of my sense and sensibility, I struggle like one possessed to stay cool if fated to be held in Milan’s arms again, were it not just for learning some new, elaborate steps. My gown is finished and brought in: a voluptuous chiffon garment caressing my bosom and displaying my long legs through the intricate layers of coral-hued material. This time I’ll be on my own. The ladies are entrusted to the care of their dancing partners only.
On the eve of the first tuition, the sleeping pills lose their battle against my stage-fright and I can’t sleep a wink. I pass D-day shivering in my room until Mary comes in and summons me for my grandmother’s “last call”.
“Come nearer, sweetheart. Do I see dark shadows under your lovely eyes? I hope all is as it should be between you and Leopold? No lovers’ squabble? You’re both still so very innocent and young. Try to be considerate, my little one. Leopold studies for his final exams and it may seem as if he was neglecting you, which is absolutely false! You know it, don’t you, my little one? Leopold is a responsible young man and you, as a future wife of a doctor, must get accustomed not to be the only reason of his life and not to expect to be constantly pampered. I noticed you two don’t see each other as often as you used to do, Irenchen. Believe me, child, it’s just an awkward moment to pass. Though mind, my little one, a woman’s life is built on compromising.
“Now give your grandmother a hug and try to get some beauty-sleep. Men’s eyes are merciless. Don’t ever forget you’re just one among the others!”
I free myself from her embrace and flee the tantalising thrill of the touch of flesh against flesh. Digging my nails into the palms of my hands I crave for Milan’s body biting my lips until they bleed, I put myself under a punishing cold shower. I step out of it icicle- numb, slip into my bathrobe and try to read.
Time got stuck and I am caught inside it like a fly in a block of ice. The book drops down from my inert hand. I get up and reach for a cigarette. How long can I make it last if I take a lengthy pose after each puff? My thawing body throbs like a startled anthill getting back to life. How long will it last until it starts to ask me a favour?
I pace around the room, running from myself, take the remainder of my sleeping pills, wash them down with Beda’s gin, picked up from its hiding place behind my textbooks, and droop onto my bed.