Princely Nuptials

Marina, I had a fantastic dream… I'm writing it down for you. I was getting out of bed, naked, just as I was, and left. Outside the house a beautiful orchard extended in all directions. The shadows of the trees, the moonlight, and I – walking the tender grass with my bare feet. The fragrance of fir trees. Silence so deep I could hear my every step. The stars above appeared to be the pointing spear-tips of a mysterious army. Such profusion of flowers! Beds planted with violets, myosotis, and blue lilac. The blue flowers rose skywards, merging into the firmament. The sky itself was swaying in the breeze. I was picking my way among trees, their branches laden with fruit. Every so often I would detect the glow of an enormous apple in the grass, and walked extra carefully, so as not to hit my foot against it. Hawthorn shrubs were dripping blood in my path. I was reaching for their berries and picked them to cool off my feverish brow. A rabbit, tame as a cat, came into view along my path and decided to keep me company on my unorthodox quest. Then a vast population of ants started following in my steps, joined by crickets and small birds. A veritable cortège. Our progress unfolded in silence, so that no one would find out about it. We descended a few stairs, opened a small iron gate, and came face to face with a slumbering house, its windows and doors secured with bars. "That's where Marina lives," I thought to myself. I signaled to my companions to stop their advance. They complied, and we trained our eyes on an open window no sound could be heard through, as if there'd been no one inside. Absolute silence. Nothing but our strained attention as we waited for a sign from the window. I did not know how to announce my presence, I was losing heart. I had overcome so many difficulties only to stumble at the end. It was below my dignity, I sensed, to scale the wall to the window. I was not wanted, it was obvious. I felt ashamed in front of the rabbit, whose looks expressed his own disappointment at my lack of import. I had promised him great joys, and here I was, unable to keep my word. I had lied to him. I had lost all authority in front of my companions. I had to take a decision by all means. That very moment chance smiled upon me: I discovered, hanging out of Marina's window, a rope ladder. Was it herself that had lowered it, or was it hanging there by accident? Was it for me, or for someone else? Suspicion was tormenting my mind, yet, for the sake of the company, I pretended everything had been planned in advance. I stepped without hesitation on the first rung. Then the second, the third. Once again, I was gaining my friends' esteem. I climbed into the moonlight at the top of the ladder. Let me step into the room, then. I've got to get in. I know I'm risking my life… what if I am detected by the guards, who kill whoever comes within reach of the house? Never mind! Mirrors everywhere, multiplying my image. How green my face looks, and how haunted my eyes! I look more like a burglar than like a lover who has pitted himself against the whole world to catch a glimpse of Marina. At the centre of the room, Marina's bed. The moon is shedding all its light on her bed sheets. She's been waiting for me, then… there's a place for me by her side. One large pillow, leaving room for my head. Hush, not yet! Marina's still sleeping… Let me watch her… she does not suspect my presence, I can find out all her secrets. Her brow slightly arched and exquisitely smooth, not a line there. Innocent face. No evil thought could be crossing her mind at this moment. Her long eyelashes overhang her eyes. Her nose tremors imperceptibly with her peaceful breath. Not too far from my lips. I start kissing her from a distance, allowing my lips to slide all over her face, one millimeter above, though, so as not to wake her up. Still, close enough to feel her warmth, her heartbeats, the smooth velvet of her skin. It would be so easy now to steal the kiss I'm hungry for, yet I forbear. Were she to wake up this instant she might even accept me. Or resist me. Or be surprised. What would her reaction be during the very first moment she wakes up to my kiss, before giving her consent, before even understanding what's going on? And what about her ears, at rest on the white pillowcase like two tiny birds, asleep yet quivering? The quilt covers her up to her chin, there's nothing else I know about the features adorning her body, as if they were rare pieces of furniture, draped in dust sheets in order to be protected from the air. And the air is less harmful by far than the consuming intensity of my eyes. Now let me uncover the rest. Marina's neck, transparently slender, the stem of a flower. Her nightgown. So that's what her nightgown looks like… now that's a secret so great, I feel like the proudest of men. I used to rejoice over each and every secret I came to know about Marina, while her greatest secret was still hidden from me. Her nightgown containing the fullness of her, the way I'll never be apt to. Her breasts… one single breast, that is. I can see each of them separately, but not both at the same time, as if confronted by a marine landscape and being unable to watch its entirety, without turning my head ever so slightly. For I can open her nightgown, but not very much, or else I might wake her. And, oh, the place they spring forth – a maze of warm lines. And their hard, rounded shape, and their burning-hot centers. I long to fix my mouth upon them, and press hard, and bite into them. To extract the subtlety of their fragrance. To rest my head between them, to go in a swoon, to cease from thinking any kind of thought. What ought I to do with the embarrassment of riches unfolding before my eyes? Why do I conceive pagan thoughts to corrupt, to defile a creation so harmoniously assembled? Lower still, the nightgown is tightly sheathing her body. My eyes are denied further access. Truly great secrets are taking place in there; no one is entitled to the least inkling of curiosity. I continue as a stranger to Marina's essential mystery. My entrance is consistently discouraged; the merest assumption of ownership is a sacrilege. How could I ever implore of her: "Marina, let me be the only one to possess all of you"? Yet there's a knee left uncovered. Marina's knee. How oft I've been thinking of it… its gently throbbing dome emerging forth, all pink and undefiled. And then the lilies of her feet, her heel, her slightly arching sole. Which one, of all these treasures should I steal? O, how am I to choose? What should I settle for, when splendor overwhelms me? For wouldn't choice entail forsaking all the rest? Where should I guide my lips and hover in position, taking advantage of that fateful spell before Marina wakes up and – perhaps – decides to send me off? Above her lips, her breasts, her knees… her shoulders… or her eyes… now lover, now her brother – in succession… I dare not do it, though. Marina awes me. What if she sends me off? Whereas if I give her the impression I'm perfectly reasonable, she will simply not muster the energy to keep me at too great a distance. I walk around the bed time and again to watch my loved one from all sorts of angles. The witching hour strikes, terror overcomes me. I've no one in the world – between me and Marina, fast asleep, the chasm yawns bottomless. Away I must, and empty-handed, too. Out in the open I shall find myself just as unworthy as I was at first. Yet, wait a moment… no. Close to the window I espy her slippers. Her tiny slippers, high heeled and low cut, woven of silver thread. A conqueror, at last. I can abduct one of Marina's slippers, itself a keeper of Marina's secrets. I have emerged, exultant, at my rope ladder's end, a slipper held triumphantly aloft. The rabbit, the crickets and the birds had been waiting for me all that time, standing stock still in wild anticipation. On seeing my delight, they all went for a moment in a stupor. And then they vanished all among the shadows, as if I'd ceased from being. All on my own. To be precise, I've one companion left, I hold on to for all I'm worth – the slipper. Is it here that my love's foot starts? Now let me try to reconstruct its shape. Here's where the little toe nests, its neighbor next to it, and all the others, in their appointed spaces. Still warm and sensitive. Her every train of thought has its reflex right here. Could I possibly calculate how much she misses me? And in how much of a hurry she is when she's coming to meet me? Let me, rather, imagine how the slipper behaves as she takes each decision. This way, the slipper is running to me. This way, it keeps still, for bad tidings have just been announced. This way, Marina doesn't care for me. This way, she accepts me, but her usual way – not wholeheartedly, for she's still making separate plans. And this way, the slipper is cast off, forgotten, mocked, as if Marina had just dropped it in haste, eager to step with her bare foot next to her lover's own foot. The moon's shedding light on my playthings. Trees witness the scene without comment. "Kent!" Someone's been calling my name in the night. Marina it was, she's appeared at the window. "Marina!" "Who is the one that thus bescreen'd in night has come to spy the secrets of my soul? How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore? The orchard walls are high and hard to climb. This place is fraught with death for such as you, if any of my kinsmen find thee here." "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls; for stony limits cannot hold love out. Therefore thy kinsmen are no let to me." "If they do see thee, they will murder thee…" "Alack, there lies more peril in thine eyes than twenty of their swords: look thou but sweet, and I am proof against their enmity." "I would not for the world they saw thee here." "I have night's cloak to hide me from their sight; and but thou love me, let them find me here: my life were better ended by their hate, than death prorogued, wanting of thy love." "Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face, else would a maiden blush depaint my cheek for that which thou hast heard me speak to-night. But farewell compliment! Doest thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'Ay', and I will take thy word: yet if thou swear'st thou mayst prove false. If thou doest love, pronounce it faithfully. My lunacy is such that one word will suffice." "Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear, that tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops." "O, swear not by the moon, th'inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb. Swear not at all, I'll trust you nonetheless. Sweet, good night! This budding love, by summer's ripening breath, may prove a beauteous flower when next we meet. Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest come to thy heart as that within my breast!" "O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?" "What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" "Th'exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine." "I gave thee mine before thou didst request it: and yet I would it were to give again." "Marina, why don't you come down to me?" "I am ashamed – I'm naked." "Shall I make so bold as to reveal to you the thoughts within my heart, trusting you won't think ill of what I tell you? What good is clothing when your love attires you? Don't you find garments a vain ornament? How laughable the clothes, by the same token, that cover a dead body as it's lowered into the cold, cold dust for evermore. It's you alone I want, the whole of you, you with your mouth, your breasts, you with your knees, with every tremor of your flesh that sends me spinning. And your warm velvet womb, yet undefiled, nevertheless enclosing in itself the future passions and the coming children. Come down to me, and tread upon the grass, the grass untouched that shares your very essence. You are the only one who's missing from this feast made ready for the middle of the night. Consent to be all mine. Let's fix the date, Marina, for our marriage. Let the whole world be witness to our vows to be together both in life and death. The world of trees, that is, the world of birds, the world of flowers. The people guarding you are wont to keep account of all your joys, and make them so much harder to attain. Descend one rung, and one rung more to me. Into the open space not in a chamber, for we need ample space for the eternity of our emotions to unfold. Let me attire you in your wedding dress. Out of the moonbeams I shall weave your veil, and a most goodly gown in which to take my loved one to the altar. Arm in arm for each step we'll be taking to the end of the road still ahead. The birds are our guests, they'll be singing the hymns for our wedding. The blue lilac adorns with its fragrance and color the entire horizon, all the way to the sky. The moon itself is hanging in your hair. The fir trees keep pace with our cortège. They seem to be carrying tapers, burning bright for the feast of all feasts, and their flames are the stars…" Obsessed with death, as the very titles of many of his works show, Anton Holban (1902-1937) embraced André Gide's plain, "nude" style in quest of "tragic experiences". It took him five long years in solitude to finish A Death That Proves Nothing (1931) – the death of a woman whose haughty, selfish, and misogynous lover (the auctorial voice) will not give up his freedom.

by Anton Holban (1902-1937)