Severed from Beda, my heart throbs with loss. Is he still in Prague? A hollow question. He walked out on me. Period.
My gown, the utmost of Hanna Vodolska’s skill and daring, is at the ready for the Medical Ball. A dream of a gown, defying the humble calling of “clothing”. Of course, unrestricted by a budget, Hanna Vodolska’s talent could spread its wings. Who needs to know the vertiginous sum she spent on the shimmering sequins upon the rustling layers of the lush creamy taffeta? There isn’t a thing my grandmother would refuse me, except to give up her illusions.
My life flows like a placid river outlining a rocky island in its heart. Bumping into each other on social occasions, Leo and I exchange small talk and polite smiles. I sneeze at Bessie’s winks and hints. Why should I be bothered whether Leo is immersed in his studies or in whatever else? Milada informed me, “for my own good only”, that Bessie was seen in a certain champagne-coloured Ferrari speeding away thigh-to-thigh with my fiancé. Shocked by my lack of response, she shrank back from my cynical unconcern.
Trying to live as before, were it not for a part of me missing, I discharge the marriage from my mind. It would have been completely forgotten had not my mother invited me to Mysak’s to discuss it over coffee with Schlagobers and assorted pastry. We spent quite an enjoyable afternoon on a cake-to-cake talk savouring the passing hour’s flavour. Even if not hooked on sweet things like my mother, I know how to enjoy them occasionally.
Shortly after, I am summoned to my father’s study, a call expected not just in dread but in hope that he will rule “that nonsense” out and take my future in his hands.
The room is dark. The heavy velvet curtains smother the last rays of the fading sun. Resembling a silhouette from a Chinese shadow theatre, my father’s face wears a hung-up, mask-like expression. I blink my eyes when his signet ring flames up compelling me upon a chair.
“So, you intend to marry, young lady,” he puffs at his cigarette rather nervous and at odds with himself, as if forced into a shameful, shifty act. He pours the rest of his cognac out and lights another Camel from the butt.
“I haven’t the slightest intention of getting in your way and depriving you of your right on a free choice. Though I wonder: could you ever consider that sissy without your grandmother’s influence? Are your tender feelings for Mr. Zika dead? Of course I’m aware that he did not keep his promise to prove himself worthy of you. When he failed to report the results of his studies, I felt entitled to inform myself at the Faculty of Engineering. Regrettably I found out he hasn’t enrolled for this term. Even if the matter was thus closed for me, I didn’t expect that you would cut off with him for the same reason. I was willing to discuss the problem with both of you to find a solution acceptable to all of us.
“Much to my surprise, the other day Mr. Mulstein came to take leave from me before his departure for the States. His father is, and rightly so, proud of him. A scholarship at the “Julliard’s Academy of Music” is a fine achievement! I thought you were good friends and, why not, hoped your relationship would grow into something more, eventually. In case you’d wish to pursue your studies abroad I’ll do my best to make it easy for you, Irene.”
Shall I accept? Lose Milan forever and make do with Beda only? Why am I not able to love the same man body and soul? I watch my father’s glass with longing, licking my lips. What would he say if I told him that his “Mr. Perfect” hooked me not just on his music but also on cigarettes and gin? Do I care for Beda to the extent of stepping into the shady alley, which my life with him will be?
“I’m waiting for your answer, young lady! Shall I open you a personal account in New York? No need to be afraid of your grandmother, Irene. I’ll take care of her.”
I swallow the eager “Yes” budding on my tongue. I feel neither strong nor foolish enough to renounce on a safe, homey life and accept Beda as my lot.
“You see, Daddy, I think I should marry Leo. After all, it isn’t such a bad idea. We like each other a lot. If I remain single, Milan won’t stop hoping that I’ll marry him someday. Nothing is bitterer than a hopeless hope, don’t you agree, Daddy? You’ve seen it for yourself that Milan is unfit for studies and dancing is the only thing he knows. You don’t see me marrying a dancing master, do you, Daddy? Becoming Leo’s wife will cut short Milan’s illusions and make him content with what he can get. Especially if I prove to him that my marriage with Leo doesn’t change a thing in my love for him.
“On the other hand, if I follow Beda to New York, either Milan will go with me, thus cutting himself off earning his life honestly at Mirak’s and becoming Mirak’s successor, one day, or he will stay behind, which will break his heart.
“My move to New York would become fatal for Beda, too. An artist must remain free. I don’t wish to become a burden. Every time I visit him in New York it will be a feast for both of us and ...”
My father stares at me stonily as if he wished I had never been born.
“Spare me the other details, I beg you, Irene! I’ll tell your mother that your grandmother can suit herself and proceed with her plans. Do excuse me now.”
He bows his head on his papers, so desperately disgusted by me that I forsake my wild hopes of being understood and edge away.