Silent as a grave, grandmother looks past me. Leo holds me a chair in Arctic silence. Taking the line of the least resistance, I slump down.
“Don’t be so desperate, Lolita!” Throwing caution to the winds, Egon whispers into my ear.
“You may feel better if I let you into a secret that I’ve discovered by you and through you. Love is a game with no winners. Whatever move we make proves wrong. When I met you everything seemed possible. I thought I could have it my way if I played for high enough stakes. Then, somehow, all went out of hand and downhill. Let’s drink to the inevitable, Lolita! The real tragedy of love lies in the very absence of drama.”
With a scornful smile, Egon raises his glass and points it at his crippled legs.
“I’m afraid all this excitement is too much for you, Egon! We mustn’t overstrain you. I’m taking you home!” Zita’s forbidding face sneaks between Egon and me.
“I regret we can’t stay until the wedding toast. As you see my poor husband is exhausted. Nevertheless, accept our warmest congratulations.”
Zita snatches Egon’s chair and pushes him towards the exit. Pretending they are part of the setting, the ball-guests look tactfully past them. I watch Zita and Egon fade from my sight, wishing time would reverse and Egon would wait for me around the curb of the street in his champagne coloured Ferrari, take me to his luminous flat and make me high on champagne, joints and his expert courtship, as he used to do before he fell in love.
I swig the champagne down like water and force Leo to freshen my glass. At the wedding announcement I am beyond caring if Milan mixes with the congratulating crowd and accept the best wishes helplessly giggling. After it heavens can fall!
“The child is overexcited. Time to go,” my grandmother solves the awkward situation. Leo’s arm encircles my waist and sets me up on my cotton-woolly legs. Fencing me by their bodies, my nearest and dearest beat a hasty retreat.
“I’m going with Irene!” Grandmother pushes me in Leo’s car and waves my parents good-bye.
“No use reasoning with you now, Irene! Rest your head upon my shoulder and sleep it off. Fortuitously, thanks to his migraine, your grandfather was spared the spectacle of your disgrace. He’s much too refined to bear with anything as gross.”
“Start the car, Leopold! We all need to go to bed to recover after this shock.”
Noticing my shiver, my grandmother covers me with her fur-coat. Not to comfort me: to prevent me from being sick. It would be the last straw if I caught pneumonia! She tucks me in, remembering how ill I was, so extremely unwell that she nearly had to let me have my way with that gigolo!
I shut my eyes and breathe deeply imagining how embarrassing it would be if I got sick upon my grandmother’s shoulder and fouled her precious astrakhan coat!
“Thank you, my dear Leopold, to have put up so courteously with Irene’s lack of manners. I regret deeply that your exceptional event had to be tarnished. Maybe I have spoilt her with too much love, letting her have anything she asked for, and even more! Though I don’t know how I could have helped it. Irenchen was such an exquisite child!” Grandmother moans over her failure and I don’t even try to tell her that she might have failed because her reasons for loving me were false.
“May I help you to take Irene up to her room, Gnadige Frau?” Leo suggests at the door-step.
“That won’t be necessary. Thank you anyhow, Leopold.”
“Then let me wish you both good night,” Leo kisses our hands and I read on his relaxing face how glad he is to get rid of me.
“Good night, grandmother. Forgive me for having caused you such a grief.” Not even hoping for a kiss, I climb up to my room.
I shake my once smashing ball-gown off and fall upon my bed face down not to see the ceiling cruising madly above my head churning my lost love to pulp.