-Absence is to love what wind is to fire. It puts out the small one and kindles the great one.-
How right La Rochefoucauld is! After having been lost, our love has gained a stellar splendour.
“Wait, Irene!” My grandmother clips my wings spreading to fly.
“Have you thought yet about Leopold’s birthday present? If not we’ll see to it together right away.”
“Of course I have, grandmother. Don’t worry.”
“What is it, sweetheart?”
“I can’t tell you. It’s a secret!” I answer slyly.
“Well, Irenchen, you can surely confide in ME!”
“Don’t insist, grandmother, please! Secret is the essential part of my present. Otherwise there’s no sense to it.”
“I don’t like it, Irene! I hope it isn’t a guilty secret!” Grandmother comments, blushing to the roots of her hair as if in panic I may offer Leo my maidenhood as a very special birthday present. Caught in my own trap, I try my best to meddle through.
“If you really must know it’s a poem. A LOVE poem! You wouldn’t even think of reading it, would you?”
“Of course not, Irenchen! Love is a strictly private matter. Do you know, my little one, that your dear grandfather also wrote a love poem for me once? I keep it under lock and key with all his letters he sent me before we were married. My sweetheart, I’m so happy you took after him! Come and give me a kiss!”
She hugs me so lovingly that I swear to myself not to deceive her and will actually write Leo a poem the very first moment I shall find time for it.
“I’ll go and buy an elegant sheet of paper. A piece of parchment would do. I’ll write the poem on it in calligraphy and ask Mirka to paint a garland around it.”
“What a lovely idea, Irenchen! I’m very proud of you.”
I leave my grandmother happy with her delusions and hurry to my daily snooze until six when I shall hand Milan around to Bessie and myself to Beda who is biding his time at “The Flaming Heart” to share in our merry-go-round.
When I stop at home for a bite, I pick up my notebook and a pencil just in case Beda would inspire me to write Leo’s birthday poem. I envisage it as a universal product of a multi-love, ignited by Milan, enkindled by Beda and offered to Leo. A perfect artefact with multi-sources fused into a multi-use.
Walking on air, I enter the piano bar. Beda greets me with a rapturous “Laura” and a devoted glance. Even if he guesses why I look so contented, he also knows he plays an important part in it. I need him. Therefore he is.
“Miss!” Mrs. Novakova calls me to come nearer.
“That agent is here again! I reckon we’ll lose Beda one of these days. That’s life,” Mrs. Novakova pours us both a generous drink.
“I don’t like seeing him in that weird city, though! All those murders and drugs one hears so much about make me pretty jumpy. Even from a distance I’m scared stiff to imagine Beda in the midst of it! And alone! Don’t take me wrong, Miss. I’d never suspect this sweet boy could be debauched. Beda is so level-headed! Well, he has a drop too much occasionally, but which artist hasn’t, right? That boy dotes on you, Miss! Believe an experienced woman, that boy will make you happy! Keep up with him for your own sake, Miss!” Mrs. Novakova urges me pleadingly refilling our glasses.
“I don’t think I can go with him immediately. I have to graduate first; then I’ll see. I may consider continuing my studies at the Columbia in case Beda stays in New York that long. Don’t you think we’re both too young to such a commitment?”
As if suspecting we were hatching up his future, Beda breaks into a frantic be-bop. I nod to him reassuringly, finish my drink and move on to take my usual place by his side.
“I’ve got you under my skin,” Beda strikes up ostentatiously and I get the message. I have no other choice but to follow him wherever he goes or let him take more than the pound of my flesh away with him.
Out of the corner of my eye I peer at Goldwin who has planted himself at our table. Tonight, he sports a double-crested black blazer, designer jumper and black trousers. He reminds me of a model from a mail-order catalogue that is catering for pimps. He nurses a whisky in his perfectly manicured hands, displaying a signet ring from a University he never attended. He catches my glance, throws his head back and sneers at me through his shifted lids: who is the one that has more to offer?
Beda removes his fingers from the keyboard, bows imperceptibly, takes my hand and leads me through the cheering crowd. Goldwin stays sitting and I don’t take the hand he holds me out.
“It was great, Beda! What a shame you can’t make up your mind! Don’t expect me to wait for you forever, though! Nobody is that good!”
Feeling I can’t stand Goldwin’s impertinence any longer, I get up to leave. Beda stares at me in agony: “Must you really go, Laura?”
I wish I could go with you! I’ll get you a taxi, at least.”
Goldwin sizes me up with a grin: that chick must be damn sure of herself to let him gain the whip hand over her beau!
“Shall I see you tomorrow, Laura?” Beda asks anxiously, setting me into the cab.
“What a question! Do you think I could manage without you?” I kiss Beda fondly and give him a cheerful wave.