“It looks like father shall be paralysed for life,” Leo remarks loftily as if discussing yesterday’s weather.
We have a great time in one of Mysak’s snug boxes, Leo and I, that charming, perfectly matched couple, thoroughly enjoying their life and the creamy puffs that go with it.
“Poor old sod! Not an enviable situation! Zita will get an upper hand and push him around in a wheelchair like her teddy-bear. Won’t you have another Sacher Torte, dearest? “Leo gives me one of his radiant smiles and signals the waitress to serve me.
“Father asked me to dispose of his bachelor pad in all discretion, unless I’d find a good use for it. Silly bugger! I nearly felt sympathy for him. Zita is floating on cloud nine having Mr. Notorious left to her tender mercies. She’s literally full to bursting with her care and devotion. Were if not for my poor dear grandmother, whose world had collapsed, I’d call that a happy ending: Zita wheeling her one and only cripple into the sunset!” He sniggers and his chuckle, echoing the explosive violence of a splintering iceberg, gives me creeps.
“In case you’ve finished your cake, Irene, I’d propose a move.” He looks at his watch visibly in a hurry. A date? With Bessie, maybe? To make “good use” of Egon’s pad?
“Zita plans to move to Antibes,” he notes casually helping me into my coat.
“Nothing suits a cripple better that the sweet Riviera air, especially given mouth to mouth by a devoted spouse,” Leo grins showing his sharp, reckless teeth.
“Could you spare me a moment now, my dear, pass over to the flat and help me to tidy it up?”
“With pleasure, though no longer than until four.”
“I see,” he says coldly, dodging the issue.
Arching his back like a tiger ready to leap, Leo ushers me into his father’s love nest. With Egon’s physical collapse, a coy boy metamorphosed into a dynamic man endowed with his father’s sexy magnetism. He takes my coat, settles me in the armchair and leaves me to fetch two long-stemmed crystal glasses and a bottle of “Veuve Cliquot” in a frosted silver bucket restored to its proper use. He uncorks the champagne and kneels down at my feet
“Will you marry me, Irene?” He hands me the glass with flourish.
“Don’t answer before listening to my points!” He suppresses the resolute “NO!” forming on my lips.
“Father will be released from the hospital by June and Zita will shift him over to Antibes immediately. At that time I’ll have my diploma in the pocket and thus become a socially acceptable match. It would feel somehow spooky to live alone in that huge villa, don’t you think, my dear?
“Of course, you’ll keep your independence and all that goes with it, the use of father’s love nest included. Won’t it be marvellously handy for both of us? Though let me stress one important issue: to keep up appearances shall be the golden rule of our marital bliss.”
I gasp for breath. How dare he push my future around? Then I cool down and start considering his proposal. I realise the immense advantage of a wedded woman equipped with a considerate husband over a girl dependent on a hard-to-please father. To top it all it will prevent Beda from pestering me with his crazy obsession to have me just for himself! Eventually, he shall content himself with my guest-appearances in New York and lead a regular Bohemian life when alone. Though will that boy be able to see the other side of the picture? That boy can be such an obstinate fool with his mulish determination to make the worst mess of everything! Shall I pull through if he bolts and drops me?
“I’ll Never Be the Same Again,” I start humming the song brimming with the remembrance of “The Flaming Heart”.
Leo watches me with the amused benevolence of an adult tolerant of my childish pranks and doesn’t press me for an answer.
“Well, Leo, you aren’t the first one proposing to me. In fact, Beda had this bright idea before you and topped it with the promise to take me to New York with him.”
“Frankly, my dear, you, as a wife of a boozed-up genius, sharing his sordid digs on the Lower East Side, is a scream ! You’d die without those delightful inessentials you need vitally: a villa in Prague, another at Antibes, devoted servants, not to mention the rest! And Milan? Have you thought about that sweet boy? How cruel and mean would it be to betray him! No, Irene! I won’t let you do this to him! Let’s drink to our marriage and the happy future of all of us!” He raises his glass to me and I see his point. Leo is right. I am my lovers’ keeper and I shall always stand by them!