Mrs. T

From The Procrustean Bed Add to these criteria of a physical nature the old preconceived idea of talent. As is known, talent is discovered thus: a boy or a girl, choking with stage fright, before a long table at which a commission are sitting, start declaiming Gens Latina or The Enemies after which the auditioning gentlemen start smoking out talent as physicians at the time of Molière used to find out what ailed the patient by touching the foot of their bed. Thus the forms get populated with numerous students some of whom might stand a chance, given an unforeseen subsequent development, to be able to create art, were they not obliged by their masters to imitate them, in keeping with the teaching method of genius: "Do as I do." I for one thought that Mrs.T. could have evinced great artistic qualities and I would have been very glad to have her act in Venetian Act, for instance. The problem was that on any of the stages there would always be a mistress to force her to play "as she taught her to." If from a human vantage the earnestness of this harsh censorship is understandable – one can very well guess that the mistress cannot conceive of anything superior to her means – on the other hand we risk erasing the very first intentions since as long the mistress exists there is no need to double her with the help of Mrs. T. To say nothing of the fact that a critical spirit, even moderately demanding, would have found the very mistress, the original itself, superfluous. Here too I had come up with the solution of a private theater, run by a brilliant and very understanding young comedian who perceived the show as "lever le rideau" for a comedy played by himself with no other interference. I think that show would have been a very beautiful beginning for the Romanian theater. Not tall and deceivingly thin, pale and with chestnut hair (seeming rusty when light fell on it) and above all extremely emotional, alternating a nervous sprightliness with long melancholy bouts of silence (having, to boot, a brisk involvement, both figuratively and properly speaking, with the arts and with reading) Mrs. T. would have embodied parts of true women with uncommon gusto. Physically, she was perhaps too personal to be beautiful in the usual sense of the word. Her eyeballs were a tad irregular, slightly too close together, too marked, with eyes blue like platinum, sparkling, boisterously alive, and when she fixed her sight on an object it seemed as if she actually created it. Her feminine, delicate chin and its extension, nicely going to the ear…. xxx The thing that had brought the show to my mind was that she fulfilled two of the indications required (in parentheses) by me for the leading lady in Venetian Act and which I deem, next to intelligence and culture, the true criteria that ought to replace the admission contest to theatrical schools. That is she spoke fast, with clever breaks between the sentences of the phrase, not those awkward pauses between syllables that represent what the theatrical world calls "diction' and which seem just clearly mouthed pronunciation for the morons in the hall. Mrs. T. spoke fast, uttering slowly only what was essential, her voice dropping suddenly, extending vowels in a deeply overwhelming manner. Her glance then, vivid like that of a quiet hypnotist, would first express the phrase so that the words "seemingly did nothing but repeat what the eyes had first said," the way I indicated, in a manner which – I was later to realize during the rehearsals with another actress – appeared impossible to understand. In the end Mrs. T. did not accept it though. No so much out of a lack of self-confidence but rather from a sort of disgust implied by the exhibition on stage which made her tell me, after having thought better several times, with a warm exposure of her inner self: " Please, leave me alone in my furniture shop…There is nothing in me to show to the world from up there on stage…"Later on, after long conversations in the afternoon between three and five, in that haven with geometric furniture, lacquered in the style of the Art Deco Company, I often got the feeling that in the denied expression of this woman who, in her spare hours would rather read or "live" peacefully just for herself, as a matter of fact, a compound of experience and beauty, futile in its willed ineffable, was being lost. I then urged her to write things and since I happened to have the connections, I volunteered to facilitate the publication of any of the works she might have produced. She looked at me in amazement, a wave of distrust invading her warm blue eyes. "What you say is impossible…you must be kidding." "Why?" Then opening up in a smile, for she never actually laughed, and anyhow her smile, no matter how merry, would exude the cinders of sadness: "But I cannot write…I wonder if I don't make spelling mistakes…" "Art has nothing to do with orthography…Correct spelling is the bread of Romanian language teachers. It is compulsory only for those who are not writers. Great artists are more profuse in spelling errors than students. Eminescu had a poorer orthography than any of the poets who followed and imitated him…His critical editors adjust his mistakes before printing his works. Any prize-winning student in high school may be a great orthographer." She was toying with the repped upholstery of the cubic armchair. "Be serious, how could I presume to write something?' I felt the need to become categorical."You take the pen in your hand, open up a note-book and start being true to yourself down to the point of becoming confessional…" She pondered for a while and then, as if she could not take in the idea, she rejected it: "I can't…How could I dare? I have no talent." "If I indulged in cheap mots I would say that precisely for this reason…But I tell you in dead earnest: none of the great writers had any talent." "?!" "It's the honest-to-God truth…Let's say Flaubert made an exception. Perhaps Maupassant too. To whom we should, no doubt, add Anatole France. But in the end, they are not exactly among the greatest." I had managed to somewhat trouble the staunchness of her conviction…She was hesitating, pensively. "A writer who doesn't have a beautiful style, who has nothing?""A beautiful style, lady, runs counter to art…It's like diction in the theater, like calligraphic writing in science."She seemed revolted now.The warm blue of her gaze had turned platinum, staring."What is then a writer?""A writer is a person who expresses in writing with preliminary sincerity what he or she once thought, what happened in his or her life among the persons or even the inanimate objects around. No orthography, no composition, no style and no calligraphy."She smiled arranging her dark blue sweater with bluish geometric areas."Then if I got it right whoever is sincere can be a writer?"Very gravely:"No, but you can."Her eyes sparkled a little ironically and a little coquettishly."Surely, you must have said that to other women…""Yes, to a few..." "Whose nose or shoe you liked?""I saw before a nose or shoe like those … even more beautiful perhaps…Their noses or shoes,- fine, in fact,- I liked all right but as a consequence of the fact that I thought the respective women would have their rich inner selves to express, with a flourish of their sensitivity. Lady, only those who have something to say must write."Her eyes darkened and all her moves froze and then she told me in her deep and overwhelming voice, like a sort of iris opening over everything that was inside. Clearly spoken and sadly:"I have nothing to say." xxx This T was not an initial as it might seem for it had become an actual name and I am not sure whether it should not be written as Te. When I asked her she explained smiling that there were two high school classmates, two girls called Maria Mănescu, cousins in fact, and their colleagues would distinguish them by the initials of their fathers. So the Misses Maria Mănescu stayed Ve and Te even after graduating from high school, and for some intimate friends even after getting married. xxx Anyway, women who mark a man's destiny, true women, who are very rare (the rest are merely females), begin their mystery after having tumbled in a man's bed."Mystery" means that ineffable which makes a pair of stockings taken off and dropped on a chair by a certain woman be just a pair of stockings whereas the same stockings become something entirely different when you are told they belong to a true woman…the tantalizing stockings of Mrs. N or T.No woman can be seen more naked than I saw this Mrs. T. For two years. And yet today it's as if I have never seen her that way. Bent over the past, my imagination is still parched by the nakedness of this woman. I see her clearly for I had looked at her shamelessly, not a single nook of her body being unknown to me, I could describe in detail the least fold. And yet my imagination does not satisfy my curiosity. I have the impression there is something that escapes the most invasive of investigations. I am so tormented that at times, obsessed by her sexuality, I regret I have not a photograph of her tumbled in one of those obscene poses, I would like her despairingly obscene as she offers herself furtively, shunning the police. Yet I feel that even then, with the respective document in front of me, I still wouldn't find what I am looking for as a dry-mouthed person cannot quench his thirst in a dream, no matter how much he drinks his fill. xxx And yet I could meet Mrs. T. only after half a year, in early June. The following day after the cremation of Fred Vasilescu (that had been his desire when still alive) she had left for Vienna. When informed that she had been made his legatee –immediately she was advised sotto voce to make inquiries about the fortune and especially the objects remaining, which she refused – without saying a word, her eyes vacant, she contented herself to hire an attorney. In a couple of hours she made everything ready for her departure leaving her associate and especially her helps to run the store and the workshops.I had dropped by her house several times and I had received vague explanations from the servant, an almost old woman looking like a governess. I had left my address, asking to be contacted as soon as she returned. Indeed, a letter from Mrs. T arrived, telling me when to come and even the hour that was convenient.For two weeks it had been raining without end and the pavement of the city was ceaselessly washed by relatively quiet bouts of water. In the evening, the rain would stop, and the belated twilight would uselessly emanate ivory sparkles; the water pools would spread and invade all the holes in the pavement, while the night heralded to be wet for the vegetation was replete with water after several rainy days.Meeting someone again is awkward because of the start of the conversation…In the car I experienced the stage fright of an actor. You are always afraid that you will not find the right tone, the right move. The first glance is like lottery. You ask yourself whether to mention the dead person, whether you should assume a mournful face or, on the contrary, you are obsessed with not being theatrical.I climbed hesitatingly the narrow concrete steps leading to the second floor of the house in the Filipescu park. She opened the door herself without saying a word, yet smiling at me friendly, with a nervous move that bespoke she had recognized me. After leaving my rain coat in the lobby, tiny like a cell, I passed into a room big as a hall, and arranged in disagreement with the commercial taste of a modern furniture store's owner…A wide divan in a corner, covered with a Kerman carpet, a low table with a flat top in wrought copper, big as a cart wheel. Above there were black, unattractive cases, all around the walls, filled with books…Other matte black cases covered the rest of the walls. On them you could find all sorts of objects, each reminding of something, most likely. The room would have looked like a study had it not featured in the middle a square dining table, hidden under a very big shawl, used to cover pianos as a rule. Instead, the desk was a sort of miniature, barely taller than half a meter, at which you sat on a chair like a piano stool. An extremely big cupboard stood for the dining room proper. Among the paintings you could find "An Apprentice Smith" by Ressu, a portrait by Marius Bunescu and a "Mountain Bridge" by Sion. After having sat myself in a small black wood armchair, somewhat smoky, she asked me confused why I was turning my eyes around in amazement."It seems so odd and yet so in line with a proverb that you, who are deemed one of the persons to have introduced cubist furniture in our country, well, that you should stick to old furniture… I imagined I would find everything here changed into a genuine studio, that type of modern room that is used as a dinning, working, reception, well, as a good-for-everything room. Except for sleeping room."She was smiling fluidly with that utter, vaguely melancholy commitment of always."It is intended to be a studio if you wish, as it corresponds to your definition of architecture…But the furniture I would never change."I looked at her surprised, digging into the cigarette box she had produced."Never?" Why is that?""I don't know. I would have the impression of having died.""I don't understand at all.""I can't explain…But I could never change anything in this interior which represents my life.""Haven't you been tempted to replace it with that wonderful modern decorations?""I am truly fond of modern furniture" – here she added as if in parentheses – "naturally, if it isn't overcrooked or overburdened, – instead of the old flowery ornamentation, with useless edges and heavy foundations that do not enhance their beauty. But can you change your family even if you find it obsolete? Out of fashion? Perhaps it's a weakness…I ignore whether it is the fear of something unknown and new or rather a rootedness into what was once…I suffer when an old object gets broken, I hesitate a great deal when I have to replace a cheeky or lazy servant terrified that I won't see any more a face that is familiar to me, even if in an unpleasant way."I thought I had to explain the nature of my visit – I had been preoccupied by that all the way down to her place – but she found it natural and I needed no justification. I asked her where she had traveled."You missed Bucharest?"She seemed embarrassed and a little annoyed."Look, I am going to contradict myself right away…I don't like everything that is mine…Even this city, for instance…No…Abroad everything is wide…you can breathe freely. Your glance does not get stuck into, say, houses protruding out into the road. Nothing burdens you…Everything is clean…tall… spacious…And then foreign novelties are total, not like a chip or patch on what was once. I have not for a moment thought of Bucharest…Still, these rooms of mine and my things here I did miss stupidly."I looked at her and I found myself under the obsession of Fred Vasilescu's descriptions. She sat across the divan…Her hair, short-cut and of a strict chestnut color, covered her ears and underlined her forehead, a little too straight, perpendicular on the brows. The lower line of the jaw, from the round chin to the ear, was consummate like a relaxed bow. Her orbits, a little irregular, a little too deep and dark, seemed enlivened by the velvety white of her cornea, and the vivid blue of her irises was now and then shaded by her long lashes. Her mouth, a bit too severe, regular, yet without the conventional purity of a drawing was slightly contracted and mobile. She was wearing a black dress with big buttons on the side, leaving her neck barren, well rooted in the bust, vigorous like the body of a snake when you stare at it. From the profile her neck was even more beautiful as it seemed short at the nape and long and sinuous in the front. The visible twitch of the clearly joined tendons on her chest made it look very young. The round shoulders were curved in, now that she had crossed her hands over her knees devoid of nodes, and her superposed legs going straight down, with graciously arched calves in smoky, neat stocking revealing the sheen of her skin. Her dress fell to the floor, to the edge of the divan, allowing part of the thighs to be seen, as far as the stocking went, though from the place where I sat I could see her skin. And this presumed freedom of the thighs was like her taking root into matter and into the life flowing with its laws and instincts."You intend to leave again?" I found this formula better. I guessed that using a polite plural with this woman would appear too formal."I think so…I am not needed so much here now…The store and the workshops have started to feel the pinch of the competition since all the furniture mills have modernized their production. And this stagnation impinges on everything."I had to touch the matter just like that, with no introduction at all, since the testament had already become common knowledge."You had any difficulty with Fred Vasilescu's family?"Offended, she protested without a single gesture, only her blue eyes going dark, troubled."No…Not in the least…In the very evening of the funeral…"I cut her shot nervously:"You attended the funeral?"Her eye lashes seemed to open …her brows to circumflex…Then she glanced at me with the grateful look of those who in love to those who made sympathetic inquiries about their story. Her voice was now broken as if she was holding back her breath."I did."After remaining for a long while bent upon herself, she resumed in a confessional tone:"I suffered greatly because I could not be with the coffin all the time, or follow closely the procession…I was in a car with small windows, running and waiting for the hearse at each crossroad…The thought of him lying there, covered, was crushing, tantalizing me…I think that if he had been buried and not cremated I wouldn't have gone home to leave him alone, defenseless, paralyzed, in a crypt."She was speaking very slowly. The wet darkness outside crept through the widely opened windows. The dress became vaguely delineated in the shadows while her face shone pale in the penumbra. Her hands and the small silk reflexes of her stockings could also be guessed."It's better this way…He went up in smoke…After all, he liked to fly so much.""When did his folks find out about the testament?"She did not reply immediately and I actually felt her thinking."Seemingly, after returning from the cemetery because in the evening his mother and sister came to my place in deep mourning. The servant didn't want to let anyone in.. She said I was ill…I was lying face down on the divan, crying what I could not cry in the street. They insisted to come in and when they saw me grief-stricken they started to weep too. And then, with an infinite regret: If only he had loved me a little!""You think he didn't love you?""He didn't love me…He had walked out of me two years before…He was avoiding me…Humiliating me…""And still, the testament?…Naturally his personal fortune wasn't that big. Anyway, from the whole world to detach someone…from the whole to pick a certain being…""The fortune he left is considerable: a place, a car, race horses, a big tract of land in the vicinity of the city which he had bought I don't know why…But this proves nothing…He was too kind…he felt remorse, he knew that I loved him. At times, I too sensed that in his feelings for me there was something more than kindness or the gratitude of a man who was loved beyond compare…I tried to persuade myself of that and I bumped against an iron bar…At times insulted and mauled by him. Eventually, I gave up."I kept quiet for a long time, realizing how little she suspected of the contents of the note-books I had brought over, rolled up…Anticipating, I was tempted to imagine her anxiety and stupefaction when she would read them. I would give her the original, naturally. After a while she switched on the lamp and a strong light brought the obsolete studio out of the dark and the woman away from the path of non-existence.She turned from the door and sat down in a low armchair. She stood with her legs crossed, her waist a little askew as she propped her head in the palm of her bent right arm. Under the black dress from the hip to the knee her tense thigh could be perceived very well. Although the dress was somewhat longer than the short ones in fashion it barely covered her knees now that she sat down.Her legs in smoky stockings were long and of a very special form. They were neither thick nor thin or rounded like pins. They were strong and, seen from different angles, their edges seemed to melt, not for a moment in a specific shape. At the small and uncertain ankle, the contour could be a vague delicate trapeze to be held between your thumb and index, and as you went higher up, the trapeze became wider, with more roundish forms. As if in its firm form, from the middle down, the sculptor had carved with a chisel a wider plane on the outside, a shorter one on the inside of the calf, and a third one shorter and narrower at the back. Only in the front there was a line than ran all along from the knee to the point of the shoe, as the longer bar of a T. I could even say that the tall, warm calf was offered in a muscle cornet, vaguely rectangular, slightly twisted, gently parallelepipedic, widened finely at the top. It gave a robust and agile impression like the leg of a wild beast. At the end where its sole curved into the shelter of the shoe, two big uncertain veins which you did not see starting from the ankle, bespoke a thoroughbred.She invited me to take another cigarette, which I did, pensively. I remembered onerously the words of her lover and the persistent mention that she was always hot. She smiled at me with that rhombus that he identified once to frame her melancholy mouth.Not only her indifference and body but also her sisterly gentleness, her glance and attention, the way she offered me cigarettes, down to her sadness and her kindness, everything in that woman was sexual. "A woman loved by all men."I didn't know why now I felt like using the polite plural and thus unburdening my soul as testing to see how deep the water was by throwing in a stone."Lady, you know that lately I was a friend of Fred Vasilescu's. As far as I gathered – as we often talked – I think he loved you a lot…an awful lot."She shrugged her shoulders in disbelief."You know he ever…? You think so?""For me the thing is certain…""It cannot be true…At times I too thought he loved me…There were gestures that seemed to betray – that is the correct word – a hidden passionate love.""And how do you explain that he avoided you?""You don't know what ideas I had. The way my mind kept on tormenting me. I ignore what that could have been.""?!""Sometimes I was tantalized by the stupid, appalling suspicion that a car or plane accident, or some sort of wound could have denied him ever being a man."I found it hard to ask her: "Tell me please what would you have done then." Yet I realized that lacking in solemnity and familiarity that woman was psychologically lithe like a thinking panther."You continued to love him then?" I smiled at her.She replied without the least hesitation:"Yes. I confess I have often thought about it…Well, I would have still loved him even then…Anyway…If he had looked at other women admiringly I would have suffered. My love was like that and also it was something else, impossible to understand."Besides instincts, the human soul is made of a function that engenders illusions which you cannot tell when they become self-suggestions and therefore all sincerity must be suspected only with good measure.

by Camil Petrescu (1894-1957)