“Can you spare me a moment?” I get hold of Bessie who tries her best to get out of school before me.
“Well, no, sorry. I have to meet someone for lunch.”
“How about after?”
“I’m afraid it won’t be possible. Can’t it wait?”
“No! It won’t take long. Leo is waiting for you, right? I’m sure he won’t blame you if you tell him you’re late because of me. He can’t refuse me that favour.” I say mercilessly and notice that even a girl like Bessie can blush eventually.
“Okay, Irene. A bit of suspense does a man more good than harm. Those silly buggers need to be brought into line, occasionally and, believe me or not, they like it. Let’s go to the loo for a smoke.”
I follow Bessie ready for anything, even blackmail, if it were the only way she would let me to get in touch with Milan. She lights a cigarette and starts puffing at it gluttonously. A can clearly see Leo’s disgusted pout when they engage in kissing. Or am I wrong? Men are strange creatures, he may even enjoy it.
“Spill the beans,” Bessie says, feeling uncomfortable in my presence.
“I need to see Milan. Can you fix it up?”
She stares at me nonplussed: “YOU want ME to ask Milan to see you?”
“Look, Bessie, no need going into details. You’re in a hurry and it would take too long. Are you willing to do it, yes or no?” I ask menacingly and she realises I am all but joking.
“No need to be mad at ME! I sure haven’t got a finger in your mess. When and where?”
“Anytime. Anywhere. As soon as possible.”
“I’ll try my best. Though, as far as I know Milan, that boy is more stubborn than a mule and I’m in doubt if I am the right person to know how to handle him.”
“You’re his dancing partner, aren’t you? Besides, he used to have a soft spot for you.”
“No kidding! As if you didn’t know he used me to get at you, you Holy Willie! Anyhow, I’ll let you know the result tomorrow.”
“Tonight! Give me a ring after the dancing class.”
“No way, tomorrow!” She slips out without further ado.
I wait a bit not to bump into the two turtledoves and move off homewards ruminating over the quirks of fate. What a scream to be dependent on Bessie! How heartbreaking to beg for Milan’s love!
“Liebchen, you’ve got a message!” Mary catches me by the door and shoves me into the kitchen, out of earshot. I fling my arms round her neck: “You’re a dear!”
In my heart of hearts I was sure that Milan could never ditch me!
“You missed Beda by a second, Liebchen. He asked you’ll call him back the very second you get home. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken his message. You’re as good as married and fooling around with that punk is definitely not right. Besides, your grandmother would kill me if she knew!”
“She won’t! Could you set up my lunch, please? Just a bite, I’m not very hungry.”
Disappointed, though a little relieved that it’s Beda who was destined to be “the man I love”, I go to my room to make the call. Beda takes it at the first ring and his “Hi, girl!” carries me way away back to my delightful past when I used to be the ruler of my unholy trinity and the choice of the lucky one was my only problem.
“I’d be much obliged if Milady spared me a few minutes of her precious time. Fix the time and place and I’ll be there.”
“Right now, shame that “The Flaming Heart” isn’t yet open yet.”
“No problem. I can get the key.”
“So long then. Thanks for calling.”
“Thank YOU! Can’t wait seeing you!”
I swallow my lunch and dash for a cab, blessed with the divine sensation of being short of time again, and living at full speed, running from one man to the next. I have nearly forgotten its flavour in those dreary last times when I rubbed along in a drab barren limbo where every season was an off-season for a girl biding her time in an empty “Hotel of the Lonely Hearts”. I wish I had time to ask the cabbie to drive by the Petrin Park to see the blooming trees, kiss their smooth fragrant petals and fall in love. This time definitely and unconditionally with Beda!
My heart beats madly when I get out in front of “The Flaming Heart”. The declaration of love on the tip of my tongue, I tear the door open and sink into the smoky dimness of the bar. Hunched over the keyboard, Beda is playing me back. I fling my arms around his neck and press my lips against his cold mouth, imbibing the familiar smell of gin and cigarettes.
“Play “Laura” for me! Play it again, Beda!” I plead, longing for it so fiercely that I shall explode if he renounces on making thus love to me, in his own fantastic way as entirely and totally as Milan used to do.
I don’t remember when the lights went on, the piano bar filled up with a spellbound crowd and Beda went public on his love for me. I don’t remember how and when he brought me to his room, put me to bed and took me into his arms.
I open my eyes into his unblinking stare.
“Good morning, Laura. Good morning, my love. I have a little present for you. I hope it is a welcome gift.”
I take the envelope he hands me and tear it open: a flight ticket for New York, first class- no doubt to lighten my decision- for the 21st of June, the very day of my wedding! I sink upon the cushions, clutching the poisoned gift in my rigid hand, stabbed through my heart by Beda’s perfidy. So this is the reason he called me back and used “Laura” to get on me!
“Are you all right, girl?” He reaches after the bottle under his bed and pours out a glassful of gin. Sporting his all-knowing grin, he watches me shrewdly.
“One would say New York isn’t your cup of gin! And I, the silly fool, thought “this time we made it nearly to the skies”! Well, life is built on lost illusions! I’ll have to read my tattered copy of “Paradise Lost” to the end and then discard it in my own way.” He brings the bottle to his lips and starts sucking on it.
“Don’t, Beda, please! No need to drink yourself legless! I’ll think about it. Honestly!”
“Don’t let me disturb you,” he reaches after the cigarette forgetting about letting me share it with him.
I creep out of his bed and get dressed. I call Leo from the first phone box and ask him to corroborate my story that we spent the night together in case somebody finds out I was missing. He assures me most charmingly of his backing. Maybe he has a guilty conscience because of Bessie. If I were him I wouldn’t care less.