The City Of Acacias

Chapter 5. The first and last nightsOne evening they were returning from a concert. It was getting late, but they still lingered on the streets, in spite of the cold, damp weather outside. They wouldn't part with each other after the two beautiful hours they had spent together at the performance. All around them couples rushed home, and Adriana imagined their houses in idyllic pictures, with large armchairs, a warm fireplace and faded cozy lights behind the drapes. Gelu went on talking about things she could barely understand, although she was all ears. Clinging to his arm, her body leaning towards him, she let herself be carried away. They took Campineanu Street, although she lived on the other side of town, on Bratianu Blvd. They entered ChishmigiuPark out of habit. Gelu lived nearby and they had taken this route by day on several occasions before. The black, bare trees outlined themselves against the white light of the street lamps, making their shadows appear stiff on the frozen lake. A passer-by stopped to stare at them in front of Schitu Magureanu exit. They were silent. Adriana watched Gelu's glowing cigarette end in the darkness, as if she had empowered that burning point with drama-like atmosphere. She had never given any thought to her actions during that night: there was no complication in her going over to his place at that late hour in the evening, and spending the night there. She had little insight about what was going to happen there and she hardly intended to wonder about it. She climbed the familiar stairs, turned the light on, and drew near the window to gaze at the sleeping houses covered in snow. Winter stopped at his door. The room was warm, the things in there spoke to her a friendly language, the bubble light was drawing a whitish circle on Gelu's table, surrounded by feeble obscurity. Adriana took off her winter coat. "Tell me if you're sleepy, and I'm out of here." "You're so stupid." "You're right. But I want to stay here with you for a half an hour, by the stove and chat quietly and peacefully. Is it ok with you?" They lit two cigarettes. Some sort of frozen silence filled the room, penetrating from outside. Adriana opened the stove door and the violent flickering of the fire inside embraced the room. The fire turned vivid. Adriana gazed at the flames, as she was used to their dancing; she was the reader of many an image in the embers, just as people read allegories and faces in the clouds. The embers told the stories of powerful horses waving their liquid gold mane, collapses of incandescent set ups, metallic, fluid allegories. The cigarette smoke turned blue in their light. Later, the girl stood up, took a few unsteady steps across the room, stopped by the stove, her back stuck on the wall and coiled her arm around her neck. Her heap rounded nicely under her dress. "Turn the lights off, Gelu." Now the fire was cutting the room in two: it left one side in complete darkness while it cast a vigorous gleam on the other. Adriana crouched in a corner, near the bed. Gelu didn't make any move meanwhile, yet stood quietly, facing the fire blaze, making the serious face that people have in crucial moments of their lives. He knew that things would go on naturally, so he waited. He could hear Adriana behind him undressing slowly and calmly, with long pauses and he was sure she was not giving too much thought to the event, but she was contemplating the weather outside, the fire in the stove, so naturally did she think of the things to come. The girl was rolling down her stockings and this soft, sliding noise filled Gelu with non-sensual beauty. He had heard it many times before, with bimbos or one-night stands or whores. Adriana engaged in a short fight with the linen and after she won the battle, she remained still and calm, staring in the dark, waiting for him. When she felt him by her side, she clung to his body in silence. She searched for his mouth, to recognize him. She was a stranger to this body of his, vigorous, hard, well built, and calm, in control of its reflexes. Hers was frightened and shivering and curled around his like a blind crawling plant. She wished she had stayed like that, clinging to his body in stillness, overwhelmed by its steadiness, impressed with its silent strength, happy with her tiny figure, with her mortal frailty that Gelu's forms inspired. But she felt his eyes burning in the dark and she was scared. The woman inside her commanded Adriana's hand to caress his tensed chest and she kept on petting him with fear, as if trying to impress and subdue him. He took her in his arms several times, covering her with his warm breath. She could hear the throbbing rhythm of his blood. She broke the clenching of their bodies several times, putting off the moment. Adriana was humming an endless string of vowels, like an incantation, and her soft voice sounded childish, begging for one more delay, and another one, and another one… She begged him with her shy caresses, in a clumsy quest for pleasure and deferral. Her wet lips went down the curves of his shoulders, the line of his neck down to the chest. She discovered him with her mouth, with her slim fingers, with her small breasts, and when she felt Gelu's body twitching inside with a wave of energy she could not put a stop to, she backed off in a corner of that huge bed, killing a scream with her hand over the mouth, terrified as the apprentice of the wizard in a fairy tale that forgot the magic formula for calming the crazy waters. Later, the game would start again, the same, uncertain and dangerous, avoiding the end when it was too near, or causing it when it was too far away. Tired by her own game, Adriana gave in to Gelu at the break of dawn. The evening fell down over the two lovers, still in each other's arms in some sort of dizziness, somewhere between fatigue and sleep. Their bodies, now tamed by the long hours of passion remembered the wild moments and locked their warm presence inside an obedient embrace. Adriana laid her head on his chest and hummed the same tune as the evening before. Her lips bore the shadow of an incomplete smile. Gelu split their embrace and crawled out of bed. He needed to go out and take a walk. He also remembered Adriana didn't eat. Half an hour later, he came back with a fresh cold air of February and a bag of oranges. Adriana was still dozing off. He put his cold cheek next to hers. The girl shivered with surprise: she was dismayed by his appearance, fully dressed; his face freshened by the freezing air, smiling down on her. She felt ashamed, naked, surrounded by the messy linen and her scattered clothes… She stuck her face under the eiderdown and came out only at the refreshing smell of one orange that Gelu was peeling for her. She was crazy about oranges and Gelu told her once that she had a perverse passion for those fruits. Watching her peeling an orange, Gelu felt he witnessed some sort of figurative rape. She would slice the thick skin, making it look like petals, separating the white fibers from the core, leaving the bare fruit in the middle, round and unspoiled. "Are you sure you don't like oranges for what they symbolize?" She would reply by slowly sucking the juice from one slice. But that night she did not show her hunger for oranges, as she was eating quietly. "Is everything ok? Do you feel bad about it?" "You're so stupid, Gelu." She felt a bit tired with pleasure and lack of sleep; the warm pillows made her feel weak. She needed to go home and explain her landlady her absence from that night and from the nights to come: she was taking care of a friend who was sick. She asked Gelu to dim the light and she got dressed. When she was ready, her dress made her look like a pure child, even thinner and younger than when she was naked. The cold air in the street woke her up from her drowsiness. When they crossed ChishmigiuPark, she felt like a stranger coming from some place else, thinking that the garden laid unchanged and yet her life had taken a whole new path. When she met the light on the boulevard, she realized something had changed. She perceived the sounds of the street as if through a filter, the lights filtered by the fog. She wasn't familiar to these sensations. She felt reality at Gelu's arm, as all the other things were like in a dream. They took the way back to her house on side streets and strolled for a long time, around the same places, to feel some fatigue in their bodies because those bright lights of the avenue hurt her. They ate at some obscure pub where they entered because the sound of a gramophone invited them in. The people around them shamelessly cast their curiosity on them. One child adventured near their table to have a better look at them. It was obvious they were new comers there; their too fancy clothes told this, their intimate looks and whispers. Adriana was awake now and was showing Gelu her carefree affection: refilling his glass for him, putting one of his lapels in order, caressing his forehead, paying attention to what she herself was saying, unaware of the significance of her own gestures. Gelu liked her attention, but it made him feel awkward at the same time since the people around them were spoiling their intimacy, yet she couldn't care less. They went back by ChishmigiuPark. The strong smell of wet rotten leaves pierced the snow and filled the air. The cold wind was blowing over the lake. Adriana lowered her coat lapel and let her face touched by the sharp coldness of the wind. She felt weak again as they returned home and she was fighting with herself to stay awake for the passionate embraces to come. How many days had passed? She never counted them. In the beginning, the wildness of their relationship was too strong for her, cut any connection that she could have with the world outside, deprived her of the remotest sense of time. She indulged in their passion as if in a deep sleep. Her reality was twofold; one part was made of hours that she had no memories of. Sometimes, she could vaguely perceive her own body like the soft flesh of a snail. The rest of her reality was faded. Even the regular changing of day into night talked to her in an original mystery that she might have admired if she had been able to. Her body found out new moves, a certain way of bending, of growing, of arching from head to heels, of fainting; she was an animal that had found its reflexes. She would spend her life between two or three smiles, between two or three frowns for years on end. She had only her tiny face to express all her passions and dreams and expectations when she actually could have done all that with her entire body, diverse, mysterious, concealing many screams. She finally discovered herself, awakened from the depths of her own existence, and the entire range of gestures, smiles and colors turned poor, artificial, compared to the moves of her body. What smile of hers could have ever descended the way the round line of her breasts did towards her white, shadowy belly? What tear of her many tears was ever heavier than her thigh leaning on the pillows, tired, waiting… She sometimes fell silent. Naked on the bed, her still arms lingering along her body, her eyes wide open, her nostrils calm. She looked like a piece of décor, just like an indoor palm tree. Or she would haunt the room, dragging a shirt or a piece of pajamas, a memory from some wasted past bashfulness. Or she would draw near the stove, naked, and sit on a small chair to stare at the flames. Shades of red and violet light flickered on her arms. She startled because Gelu's eyes pinned her down. She didn't want him free of her, watching her as an object outside of him, admiring her, making comparisons. She felt some betrayal in this way of loving. She longed for an embrace that preserved only the happiness of flesh. She felt as though the great discovery she had made those days was that nude people possess the beauty of animals that want one another with fierce passion. Why should she care about Gelu's nuances, about his being intelligent or stupid, about his adoration? She had him there, naked, strong in her weak arms, caressing his bony legs and resting her head on his flat abs. She wanted him drowning in the sea of their passion; the water gurgling in his ears, eyed shut, instinctual, desperate, unconscious body movements. Yet, when the light of a gloomy winter morning hit their windows, Gelu stared at the light and Adriana felt the day stealing the passion of the night, and her arms keeping Gelu prisoner. He was not her lover anymore. Yet she would have never accepted to terminate the flux of passion and go back to a calm life, with moments of stillness and moments of love, unfairly torn between virtue and lust. She knew those were her crazy moments. She wanted to live them so badly. She had never thought about it too much, she never hesitated. And she had no wish to go back or to take care, to find a way. Her lover had to stay with her to the end. One morning, she looked at Gelu in the feeble dawn light and she saw herself in his eyes. She noticed they were both tired and pale for want of sleep. How many days had passed? "We both turned ugly, Gelu." When he came back home that night, Gelu didn't find her there. One of her nightgowns was hanging on the back of one chair, forgotten in the haste. "I'm going back to D… Don't write to me." In The City of Acacias (1935), Mihail Sebastian (pseudonym of Iosef Hechter, 1907-1945) unveiled the delicate sexuality of teenagers in his native city of Braila (far from idyllic – on the contrary, with a Gidian tang of anomaly), while in Women (1933), located in France, where he resided in 1930-1931 to prepare his law doctorate, he sketched typologies that he would develop in subsequent works, exploring various ways of erotic satisfaction, from Platonic to adulterous to virginal, marking "an age and a conception in which 'body' difference is more important than ever, alcove scenes are still evasive, though suggestive, and the illusion of mutual love deconstructed to the point of annihilation – still, a long way to Bukowski's outbreak of "organs, clinical madness and addiction to the maestro's poetry – or hard drugs." (Simona Sora)

by Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945)