Slim, stylish, from a certain angle even alluring, Egon stands up to kiss my hand. A most acceptable lover if he hadn’t a problem. A big problem! HIS LOVE FOR ME!
“How do you do, Irene?” He fixes me with an intense, manic stare. “Here’s a little present for you and a request,” he passes on to me a box wrapped in white tissue paper. The touch of his hand sends shivers down my spine.
“Could you, would you, do us the honour of coming next Tuesday to celebrate Leopold’s birthday with us?”
“Thanks for the present and the invitation. As much as I’d love to come, I can’t. It’s exams’ week and...”
“Irene! Of course you can come!” My grandmother looks daggers at me.
“Poor child, she’s so scared of her father that her studies have become her only universe.” My grandmother gives Egon an apologetic smile and I know that my days are numbered. Egon is ready to pay the ultimate price for his love. How very Shakespearean, poisoning one’s wife at a family banquet!
I open the box and pass it over. Then I start stuffing myself with the glazed chestnuts for crumbs of comfort. The glazing lacerates my gums and tongue. The insipid sweetness makes me sick. What if the chestnuts were poisoned? Isn’t killing me another way to solve the problem? Do I mind? Definitely not! The vision of Milan as the father of Bessie’s baby is hell! I can let her share his body. Not his love! And, the way he is, he will definitely love his own little baby! Am I up to meeting him tonight at the tuition? To behave like a lady and not betray the fact I know? And can’t accept! Damn Mary with her dirty secrets!
I gulp down the syrupy tea and cloying cakes, trying to stave off my hunger for Milan, do my best to be polite and follow the conversation instead of talking to shadows. If Mary tells the truth, somebody else will become Milan’s babe!
“Irene! Herr von Zwettler is leaving!” Grandmother’s shrill voice whips me up from my chair.
“We count on your presence, Gnadige Frau!” Egon says firmly and I am too down to care about the mad shine in his eyes.
“We’ll be honoured, dear Egon. Give our love to your charming wife.”
“Irene, accompany our guest.”
As luck would have it, Mary is snooping in the hall, holding Egon’s hat and coat ready. I signal her to stay with us which spares me some awkward moments and leave before Egon had time to kiss my hand.