Living In Sin

excerpt All his anxiety, that apoplectic fit, was proof he did not know Clara. That was precisely the state of their relationship at the time. In order to know and understand and accept her manner of thinking, the style of her infinitesimal psychic reactions – allowing that such a possibility existed and was not an illusion – he needed a lot of time still. The woman was aware of his fallacious judgment, but deemed it useless to tell it bluntly to him, waiting (was she herself mistaken?) for things to get sorted out and sifted gradually. She was in no hurry.By nature she never hurried in her mind either (otherwise, in everyday life she evinced a certain diligence, a practical and simple manner of solving things, an obvious ability of not getting bogged down in trifles). Nor had she panicked now because of his overextended delay. As if she had felt, without actually saying it, that nothing serious had happened. Who knows what ordinary hitch… Otherwise her gut would have warned her!When her relationship with Paul had settled into a groove, her being reached a sort of interior poise, which she appreciated as the principal merit of this romance. Therefore, as soon as she stepped in Hermina's house – only when it was for amorous purposes and not for domestic chores – a state of peace and psychic comfort would envelop her. As if she crossed a threshold into another world, and everything that had worked until that moment no longer held good. Anyway, she felt all her muscles relax. Yet, that didn't seem enough to her. She voluptuously tried to enhance by any means, in any way, that state of completeness in her being, to sink into serenity, to unwind until her brain or sensitive centers stopped perceiving, as they ordinarily do, the least nerve ending as a point of possible alert.Of course, there were objective conditions that made such a retreat into oneself likely. First, the isolation of the entire building, its façade, a little withdrawn from the street where it was situated, which, anyway, was nearly deserted. Second, the garden, neither big nor well manicured, with nearly collapsed surrounding fences that relegated any noisy vicinity. The thick walls, the interior ones as well, the considerable amount of furniture and carpets also muffled the usual rumor of human presence, giving the whole ensemble of interior movements an aspect of silent movie. All the doors were left – and stayed constantly – ajar, neither squeaking nor getting jammed. To this added not only the desolation specific for a dwelling that had for years accommodated just a single person – Hermina – but also the imprint of this lonely tenant. A space where no children had ever played, where no party had been thrown, or visits had been paid. Because of the sickly indolence of the landlady, everything remained immobile, stuck, never subject to cleaning and rearranging operations to which other lonely women overzealously proceed. Hermina herself, even when she was home, (and now she appeared to have found a semi-permanent shelter at Barnova as in the sanatorium she felt protected) did not budge most of the time, and when she rose from the sheets she sallied forth instantly embarking on her long and bizarre expeditions.Now, more than ever, the peace was secured by the illicit nature of their tryst, by the rigid moves and the tiptoeing, by the discreet turning on of taps and wardrobe doors, infantile precautions to which love resorts, as a rule, out of preconceived ideas or superstition. The curtains and the hangings were always drawn so that there could be no glimpse inside, no discovery of forgotten tokens of love making, obviously even when Clara and Paul were not present – most of the time that was.The whole apartment represented not only an exclusive nest of love, since it no longer served other purpose, but also an ample and unique alcove as long as – it was one of Clara's erotic initiatives, with an overwhelming effect on her lover's senses, accursed imagination, and psychic necessities – any corner of the house, from the window sills to the closets, as well as every single object of the interior decoration, from the furniture to the rugs and curtains, could, directly or indirectly, participate in their voluptuous games.The moment she noiselessly locked the door on the inside, Clara's body and mind already undertook the plunge into the territory of relaxation. Before taking off her coat or jacket she first went to the bathroom, elegant and imposing (once, in normal times, it had been a great pride and joy of Hermina's), with its white-tiled floor and walls – which featured little angels in relief, according to the fashion of the crazy years – a huge, king-size tub decorated with enigmatic nobility insignia, pipes and taps in gilded bronze, bidet and toilet to accommodate a deluxe odalisque, then cabinets, drawers and even atlas-upholstered stools. You had to light a fire under the boiler made of thick brass sheet, just as imposing as the whole room, with a sculpted pig-iron pediment featuring the same cherubs, only golden-skinned this time, in contrast to the milky-white ones in fragile ceramic material. Slim dry twigs, arranged like a miniature pyre over a solid spirits cube, would instantly light up inside the stove, crackling cheerfully and emanating trails of sparkles; through the wide opened door, they would immediately start to give, like a little fireplace, hot whiffs of pleasant smelling air that went around Clara's face like a crown of rays. She lingered on her knees, longing to be spoiled, at the feet of the household god, smiling transfixed with pleasure. The water in the boiler was by now murmuring. Soon, the aroma of the fire (an old domestic-erotic symbol) reached new territories in the cold uninhabited house, penetrating at will through the never-shut doors.Next came another ritual. That of tea, actually a herb infusion, another source – originating in the opposite end of the apartment, in the kitchen, much smaller than the bathroom and strictly functional – of domestic warmth, of refreshment, a way to mellow the stale pungent atmosphere, and also the viscera of this woman with primordial desires and appetites incrusted in her sign. She sipped a first cup in a hurry, another with innocence, because it was only after a long prolonged bath – the tub could be filled – that she took a mixture of tisane with splurges of excellent Jamaica rum which, once imbibed by her anyhow steaming body, acted almost as an aphrodisiac: one that did not induce violent excitement, but merely opened the pores of the epidermis and enlarged the brain cells, wrapping nerve endings in oily bandages.Immersed in water to her heart's content, since at home on Stephen the Great Street, the process of ablution had a military briskness about it – hence Clara's envy for the bathroom of the old Fotiade and the visits paid to Hermina's to this purpose alone – she sort of started to forget (actually detach herself from) all bodily constraints and moral imperatives. It was not just complete relaxation but also her whole body's embarking upon a path out of the real world (or better said a full consonance, otherwise impossible in the conditions of daily life, with the profound, only thus barely revealed truth of inner reality); a path similar to day-dreaming, with mind fully awake, which the alcohol-laced tea and especially the good music heard on the radio – carefully hidden in one of the old woman's shabby hat boxes, in its turn ensconced in a chest, since Jewish persons no longer had the right to use receivers –, gradually turned complete, and consummation reached when she cuddled in the arms of her lover. Naturally, the idea never took perfect shape, remaining simply a hazy project, which the subconscious strove to fulfill in quite fragile harmony with exterior elements absolutely independent of her will. The water in which she had submerged herself to her neck seemed too hot to her, and the steam, engendered by the cold, immobile air had thickened, standing still despite the several widely opened doors. She put out her hand, turned on the cold-water tap, releasing a strong jet that struck her like an underground current. She gave a start under the forceful impact. She felt good.Wrapped in a velvety robe, with the cup next to her, with – it so happened – a Spanish dance coming to her ears as a barely perceptible suggestion that brought, though, clandestineness categorically and salutary to her mind, she lay long in "her" armchair with outlandish springs, looking through her lashes at the thread of light stealing from under the borders of the old shawl in which she had enveloped the lamp on the nightstand. And when she felt that her body had cooled, close to the rising temperature of the brass sheet of the bathroom boiler, she suddenly rose on her feet casting the robe away and went to undulate her now rosy body in the parallel mirrors mounted on the inside of the wardrobe wide-open doors. That was the final point – a frontier mark – in the development of this ritual. She would then blink bashfully-shamelessly, with half-shut eyes, admiring her wiggling like an odalisque in a harem, with that slightly nymphomaniac thrill no beautiful woman can relegate. After which she would try on, serenely, the old woman's several felt, brocade, Chinese silk or gauze robes, their skirts sweeping the floors.She drew close to the nightstand and consulted the face of the watch laid under the lamp. It was time to hear Paul stopping on the threshold at the entrance door. No other signal was necessary. Turning to close the wardrobe doors – to prevent an impression of carelessness and also because she could not bear mirrors in a house bathed in darkness as accidental reflections put her in a state of agitation – and bending to smooth some towels, she discovered, against the back of the wardrobe, a longish stand she had not noticed before on which about twenty ribbons and belts hang; the latter were worn out and anyway useless, without interest for her; but the ribbons, most of them wide, intrigued her.She pulled them all out and went to sit on the edge of the bed, lighting the shaded lamp and starting to study them. What on earth had they served for? Suddenly, no longer keen on solving the enigma, the idea dawned on her to try them on like scarves, not for her hair but to go around her forehead and to be tied somewhere on the nape, as she had seen in a photograph of Greta Garbo's. It would be funny, she thought, to see whether any suited her chestnut hair and very light brown eyes.From the very first attempt she livened up. The network of fine wrinkles marking her temples in particular vanished, and her hair thus contoured acquired a triumphant, crowned look. She abandoned herself to this captivating activity not only for the eye, but also for the soul, and deep down in her mind she wondered whether it could be charming and useful to welcome her lover decked so unexpectedly; would he smile or frown?She did not even notice how long Paul had gone beyond the due hour. In a relationship like theirs it was difficult anyway to be on time, and she had got used to not minding delays (to say nothing that she would often wake up with him arriving earlier than planned). Moreover, alcohol also eased her detachment from time and tamed her protesting penchant. When she heard him on the threshold she felt guilty, actually became flustered because she had not yet made up her mind about the bandanna. She rushed to open the door and when, as usual, she turned the key with infinite care and put her arms around him, she failed to observe Nahmanson's terrible state triggered by his delay and his meeting with Alex. She felt amazed, even saddened, that he had failed to react in any way when he saw and touched the bright shining mauve ribbon that, in her opinion, utterly changed her looks."Forgive me, I imagine you worried terribly but I just couldn't get away sooner. I stumbled exactly upon the least convenient person," he said in his husky voice, panting and trying to wipe the sweat off his neck with the back of his hand.Clara did not understand him too well but she did not ask for explanations. She opened widely the tails of her gown and drew him, all dressed up as he was, close to her naked body, cool and perfumed. She remarked, in a not very pleasant contact, how tension flew out, and the man's body, at first nearly rigid, seemed suddenly to lose substance. But perhaps it was the effect of her embrace!"What do you think about this bandanna, isn't it cute?""I was afraid you'd get frightened and leave! I'm terribly glad you didn't get angry! It's so good to be in your arms!""I asked you about the bandanna!" she repeated with feigned coquetry, as his declaration had confused her, making her melt with happiness."Yes, yes, it's beautiful!" Paul hurried to assure her automatically.They sat on two chairs near the huge oval table in the middle of the drawing room. Not as they usually did, Paul in the armchair – Clara's favorite – and she in his lap. She looked him straight in the eye from under the bandanna that completely changed her countenance, making her seem younger and, at the same time, giving her an old-fashioned air. But Paul did not answer this magnetism. She felt his rough palms caressing her knees and thighs, advancing higher, ever hotter, as the skin became thinner and more sensitive. Trembling, she did not dare move, and thus respond in any way to his so rapidly bred desire, meeting or enhancing it. She just gave a start when his palms cupped her sex, first delicately, then ever more energetically, like in a vice. She liked it though. And when he sensed this participation he started feeling muscle after muscle, parting her pubic hairs with his fingers until Clara flinched back when the man began to probe the extremely firm, and nearly independent, contours of these so intimate round shapes never before touched in this way.She seemed to perceive such a mixture of gratitude, (not so much for allowing this hard-to-bear aggression but above all because – and she sensed this in step with Paul's normalizing breath that was now turning rhythmical again – she had continued to wait for him beyond the socially acceptable delay), weakness close to exhaustion, and also vibrating energy, daring and manly. So much so that she thought that his "clinging" to the matrix of life sculpted in her body represented the apex of their communication, not merely physical. Emotion, excitement, and desire overwhelmed her. She leaned back until her nape, still slightly humid after the bath, came to rest on the walnut-veneered tabletop. His hands climbed vibrating to her breasts, his constant target, caressing them all round with infinite tenderness, barely touching her nipples. Clara felt the need to stand up, to push the chair away and thus bring the body of the man, now hurriedly disrobing, close to her. At first, she assisted this rapid divestment of clothing, then began to wait, motionless, for him to get it over with. She clutched his sex in her left palm, always her left, with such soft skin and long fingers heavy with rings, leading it to the place felt before, sliding it quite energetically inside her body. This was an oft-repeated move, ever since their initial rendezvous, a permanent characteristic of the erotic layout of their relationship that, from the very first, had given to this movement a maternal-playful connotation, a sensation of childish camaraderie and protection.There seemed to be no more advancing this way. Paul caught her hips and made the woman rest against the rounded edge of the table but this did not help much. Slowly, the angle between her back and the table started to decrease gradually making a full sexual contact possible with yet unsuspected consistency. They felt uneasy and, at the same time, immensely attracted. She stuck her back against the table – there was no going back – and raised her soles from the floor, parted her thighs as much as she could and finally lifted her legs high up, their bright whiteness, unseen before, dazzling him. Tense as she was, she noticed that his eyelids slid over the color-drained irises, that he almost reeled, abandoning his vertical position with the discovery of a boundless voluptuousness, pressing his bosom against hers on the tall furniture that began to vibrate under a weight for which it had not been designed, its joints squeaking. Clara hurried to get up, thrusting her sharp nails into the man's chest.For a few moments they remained standing, confused, as if painfully unsatisfied; then she caught his hand and pulled him after her like a little brother (it was clear to her that once started so unorthodoxly their embrace had to be continued and finalized in a similar manner so that it could imprint forever their sensorial memory). She took him to the bathroom, the hottest room of the house, still steaming. She bent down, a hand on the edge of the tub, put out the other hand, and clutched his sex (until Paul's body touched her parted buttocks, and, cushioning, as possible under the circumstances, the frenetic shock they both received, glided it into the silky sheaths of her intimacy. Thus resumed the sensation was amplified by her slight wriggling until she heard – it was now her turn to be exhausted – Paul painfully gnashing his teeth in fulfillment, which came as an unparalleled superposition, often dreamed of, with her interior moaning. One more time she said to herself and to him that they were made for each other, and that for the sake of such a match, unique in a lifetime, all moral commandments ought to be forgone, be it for one moment, as if divinity itself uttered a word of doubt and uncertainty at the laws imposed on humankind. After a series of novels published in Romania during the Ceauşescu dictatorship, Virgil Duda (b. 1939) emigrated to Israel, but continued to write in Romanian. Living in Sin (Cartea romaneasca 1996) refers to the "cobweb of adulterous relations" from a tenement house in the city of Jassy, during the infamous summer of the 1941 pogrom against the Jews. "Just like almost anything seemed permitted to the tenants of the Stephen the Great St. house in eluding morals, now in the center of Jassy everything was permitted in the persecution of Jews." (Daniel Cristea-Enache)

by Virgil Duda (b. 1939)