The Procrustean Bed

excerpts  I passed dizzily from one room to another… nowadays, cubist furniture is commonly used and has long ceased to make a big impression, but four years ago there were extremely few lodgings that were furnished like that. Maybe a couple of banks had dared to introduce the new style. I for one like it very much and I guess my preference is fully justified… at an official dinner, when I was working at our embassy in Paris, just after the war, people were talking about our age… quite rightly, a French guest said that ours was a great age since it included the World War with all its tragedies and the forces that had manifested themselves. A young writer from the propaganda section of the French Foreign Office claimed, on the contrary, that it was an age of imitation and crass vulgarity. Whether he was right or not, I do not know, but I was still exulting. "And now, Mademoiselle, we must drink a glass of wine to the inauguration of my house." And suddenly, a little bit confused: "but I'll have to pay for it first." She smiled. "Well, if you wish, of course… the bill… is on the desk. Keep it tonight, check it. Tomorrow is St. George's Day[1] anyway. You can come to our store on Friday." "On Friday, sure. However, I'd like you to have a glass of wine with me, please." She agreed, with an uncertain smile on her lips and raising her arms in a puzzled gesture. I was writing a note to send the servant to the club to bring me a menu and a couple of bottles of champagne. She read the note over my shoulder and she interrupted me. "Well then, this is a regular feast…" "It's a simple dinner, the menu of the club…" I protested. She looked at me and smiled capriciously. "You know what? Champagne is common for inaugurations… I prefer, however, a French wine, provided it is not Bordeaux… maybe a red Hermitage or a Château-Neuf-du-Pape. How about it?" I looked at her, surprised at her preferences, so precise and somehow sophisticated. She then asked for the list and barred everything I had ordered and wrote: lean ham or cold chicken, white cheese or Swiss cheese at worst… "Some Roquefort cheese, maybe?" "It's disgusting." I looked at her in surprise, as women are known to prefer intricate tastes and smells. She scribbled in her own, hardly legible handwriting: "a can of apricot compote… preferably Shtirbey, as cookies don't go well with Bourgogne – and she underlined the brand name. All these, including the wine, can still be bought from the AthénéePalace grocery." Now came, of course, the joy of dining in my own apartment, of which people had already started talking in anticipation, as I had announced my intention of moving home. I had only had a rented room in town before, which I used on the occasions I stayed out late. I behaved like a child playing the housekeeper. Even today, when I think of it, I am not sure of how I felt then, but I rather consider that my inviting her to dine with me was not so much motivated by her being a woman, but rather by my desire to share with someone this experience that was entirely new to me… she fitted so well into that room that she had decorated herself, that I somehow felt that if I let her go she would take with her the very soul of the house. I often thought, later, tormented by jealousy, whether she might have been, in a similar way, an integral part of various dwellings for previous beneficiaries. But can we ever really know? There was something else, however, that intrigued me to the utmost… usually, there was hardly a woman that would not give me the feeling that I was wasting my time with her; I mean that I would always have the feeling that instead of being with that particular woman, in that particular place, at that particular time, I could very well be with another one, in another place, in some fashionable area of the city, at her place, somewhere else… I would always get terribly bored, in a stupid, absurd way, always longing for hypothetical, better situations… especially after I possessed them I was in a kind of bored, shameless hurry to get home as soon as I could… On the contrary, this time I could not see what could be more interesting than what I already had; I had the acute feeling that it was there that I should be at that moment and that nowhere else could it be better than there… a feeling that I then explained, however, by my joy of moving into a new house. The meal was delicious, I felt like eating the crumbs, too… she was right, after all… plain food is much tastier… "Isn't it?" she asked me… "It gives you a feeling of cleanliness and health… and not one of mixture and putrefaction." "Don't you go for… intricate combinations?" She was leaning forward, her both elbows resting on the table, and I could see her young round arms dressed in the delicate white of her blouse, her thin, long hands, that seemed to grow out of her soft batiste cuffs, that she kept moving around her cheeks, increasing their femininity. On her right index finger she was wearing a ring with a black onyx stone, something quite common, which however suited her, emphasizing the whiteness of her skin. "Really, Mademoiselle, won't you tell me which your preferences are?" "I like the light… then the earth… books… fruit… snow… everything that is not fake… that is genuine." And she kept arranging, with her nervous, delicate fingers, either the curls of her hair, though they were not falling over her forehead, or the dress that seemed to give her the feeling that it exposed her in an indecent way. Later, I was less surprised when I realized how terribly complex these simple tastes were after all, though it was precisely for them and for other similar, unexpectedly simple ones, that I had nicknamed her the shepherdess, as she abhorred any so-called refinement and was repelled by any sort of kinkiness (which did not exclude, but rather implied, total exhaustion, frenzy pushed to the limits of madness). The wine had warmed up her cheeks. "Shall we have coffee in the study?" "No, rather in the small hall…" I later asked her to stay overnight. She smiled, looking at me with her blue, slightly galvanized eyes. As she was lounged against the pillows at the end of the sofa, a little bent forwards, a leg stretched out and the other one bent under it, the latter's contour set off by the tight dress, she seemed to be at home and this thought amused me. She kept smiling, her vivid eyes shining in the middle of the white, sometimes greenish dullness of the cornea. "Is this meant as an inauguration of your apartment?" "No, but since you are here… you fit so well in the context… it is as if it was created for you." She smiled again, she rested an elbow on a blue velvet pillow, a square one, the shape and the vivid color of the background making her white, fidgeting arm stand out as a rare decoration. Every now and then she would pull at the skirt of her suit as it uncovered her bent knee. "This is a good reason, indeed," she said as she lay across the sofa, smoking, propped up in her both elbows that she leant against the blue, soft back of the furniture, that seemed to be only made of precious feather pillows. "I have to tell you, however, that the environment is quite different at my place." And she lapsed into a long silence, deep in her thoughts. I felt encouraged and I insisted. "Could you really leave?" "You mean… leave you?" And her violet blue eyes glittered ironically. "No, I mean… leave this sofa." I came closer and I entreated her to stay, I did it, I swear, in a way I had never done it with any woman before. "Do stay." Her extremely mobile mouth had an ironical expression in its ineffable rhombus. "Don't you think that this love of yours tends to become a little marital?" "If you leave… I'll leave too… I'll go to the club, anywhere… I don't know." She puffed at her cigarette, she thought for a while, her eyes met mine, which were earnestly imploring her, and then she seemed to examine the blue parchment paper lampshade that was placed against the dark blue round bowl that supported the lamp. Then she turned to me, stood up and said: "All right, I'll stay… what's the time, anyway? Is it eleven? I'll just go out for half an hour and I'll be back." "What's this supposed to mean?" "I don't know. I just have to, if you want me to stay." "Do you give me your word that you'll be back?" She had put on the tight-fitting jacket of her suit over the blouse-shirt she was wearing and the fox fur round her neck. "I'll be back all right." "Give me your word." "I won't give you my word, since it is possible that once I get out into the street I may no longer feel like coming back; however, I think that I will, after all." The waiting was terrible… the uncertainty… the exciting thought that I was going to see her naked… though she seemed to have a much too thin body… my curiosity of finding out how she was made… underneath her clothes… when she walked naked about the room… what her breasts looked like. I smoked continuously, one cigarette after another. She came back in about forty minutes. When I heard her fumbling at the entrance door, downstairs, I was scared as if I had hallucinations. She was carrying a packet that seemed to be made of cardboard, wrapped in white paper. I thought she had bought some sweets from a confectioner's shop. "What's that?" She took off her fox fur and threw it down, then put her hat on a stool and her black gloves above it. "Let me take this to the bathroom…" and, smiling at me amusedly, she opened it a little, to show me. There was a toothbrush, a bar of soap and a certain object women use for their personal hygiene. "Can I have a glass of wine, please? The fresh air outside has woken me up… I drove about to find an open chemist's with a female assistant behind the counter… it's really silly but I can't ask a man, even a chemist, to sell me such things." "You need that because you are afraid of getting pregnant?" "No, it's not primarily that, as a matter of fact I would like to have a child… the truth is that, even if, in a moment of dizziness, of confusion, I accept to have sex with a man, as soon as it's over I'm full of disgust with him. I feel I would die if there weren't a bathroom nearby… not even my husband…" "What husband?" "It doesn't really matter that you call me 'Mademoiselle', as people call women conductors on a bus, I used to be married… I am divorced now…" I was silent for a long while… there was something extremely offending in the indifference with which she talked about such matters. "You know, what you are saying is actually kind of unpleasant to a man." "Do you feel offended, personally?' "I do." "I don't know, I suppose I could be different if I really loved a man, but I didn't love even my own husband. In fact he was the first who disgusted me… why are you sad? I can tell you I like you. But I don't like you enough – and her voice was reduced to a whisper – to love you." She lit a cigarette and I did the same… I was entirely calm now and I even felt she was almost a stranger to me. This is how this story began, a story that was later to prove so full of pain. She didn't love me and I didn't love her, I couldn't even say that I desired her, at first I had been just annoyed by the thought that she was going to leave and I don't think, as far as she was concerned, that she really desired me either. The ostensible way in which she tried to drink herself numb with the wine she had asked for left me no illusion about that. We had both decided we were going to have detached, cold sex. I had become so uninterested that, for a moment, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to behave like a man, the more so that my entire eagerness to see her naked had vanished. This was because my suspicion that she was too thin had grown stronger and stronger; and I had come to believe that, for no obvious reason, except maybe that she had come back and that I had caught a glimpse of her delicate but still obvious collar bone. "Have you got some more wine?" I poured her another glass. She sat at the end of the sofa, her arm leaning against the table, her knees raised above the level of her waist, her legs crossed, stretching her stockings to the utmost, as if they were up for presentation. She smoked deep in her thoughts and I was thinking of some pretext to kiss her. She suddenly stood up, full of determination. "I am not staying." I started in astonishment, I could plainly see she had thought of something for too long and I suspected she regretted her decision to stay. "Why?" The thought of her leaving gave me again the feeling that I was going to lose something precious. To my amusement, she started listing her reasons: "I don't have pajamas, not even a night gown… I guess you don't have either. I only bought some bed linen for you and a couple of towels for the bathroom… I thought you were going to send your housemaid to bring your personal stuff from home. She looked so childish and funny to me that I could hardly help bursting into laughter. "Then you go into the bedroom first, you undress and get into the bed. What do you need a gown for under the blanket?" She thought a little, puffed at her cigarette; looking at her hand that was sticking out of her white batiste cuff I repeatedly had the impression that it was very much like the giant pistil of a white lily. "All right, I'll go, but don't come before I call you." I smoked one more cigarette with the tranquility any man feels when he knows a woman is getting ready for him in the adjoining bedroom. The fact that this was a woman that I had not even kissed yet made the circumstances unusually embarrassing and I was almost asking myself, nonplussed, what was going to happen next, and particularly what other unexpected turns were in store for me. I was called by my name and entered the bedroom… her head on the pillow, she had pulled the sheet up to her chin and was holding it tight in her fists from underneath. I was stunned by the sight... Instead of the self assured woman I had talked to a little while ago, what I saw in my bed was the head of a little girl, with big, wet, anxious eyes, looking frightened, her mouth sketching a forceful smile that might suggest both pain and agonizing emotions. I felt deeply moved. My cheeks went red with astonishment. I knelt on the round pillow, large as a wheel, which lay by the low bed. I drew my head closer, looking her in the eyes, letting my look drift in their limpidity, which was mixed, however, with an anxiousness that seemed to implore mercy in a childless and useless way. Her shy mouth sketched the beginning of a would-be smile but could only display a little of the whiteness of her upper teeth. I pressed my lips against it and I felt it a little wet and warm under my kiss. I put my left hand under the nape of her neck while with my right hand I seized her chin and, after opening her lips and gently squeezing them into a perfect match with my own ones, I sipped their entire disquietude and tenderness in a kiss, the sign of the fate to come. But as I was holding her chin in my right hand, drawing her face and lips to my mouth, the elbow of that very right arm crushed a small and flexible fruit of her chest through the linen of the bed sheet, which sent a shiver through my entire body. I snatched the sheet with all her frightened resistance and I threw it in the middle of the room to deprive her of her cover. I discovered then a woman's body, such as I had never seen before, nor have I seen since. As she was lying on her back, her small breasts, seen from above, were hardly distinguishable; a softer area was however visible, on top of which the small button rested, as on a vague cushion, surrounded by a small, wine-red coin. When you looked at her body from one side, however, the indefinite contour of the breast waved softly towards the armpit in a soft turn, to be continued in a new roundness, that of the shoulder blade, underneath, which invited your hand under it… All these warm curves of the body made you forget the impression that she gave, when dressed, that she was too thin. The breastbone was obvious and you could see the roundness of her lowest ribs shaping her chest laterally. Below, her belly contracted as a snake body. You could see her slender muscles, tightening around the waist, waving under the skin and giving a sensation of robustness and compactness. You could follow a line starting from her throat, and going down, deepening into a valley between her breasts and widening sideways with the contour of the last ribs, including the gentle, tiny eye of the navel lying on the soft pillow of her belly, and then sinking into the peace of the silky triangle that had the color of maize tassel. You could guess the pelvic bones, whose gentle contour could be traced under the skin at the lower end of her soft belly, praising the warm feminineness of her hips. Underneath, however, the perfect roundness of her buttocks, their apple-like firmness, were continued by the curve of her slender loins; this made it possible for you to slip your hand under her body without needing to lift her maidenly waist too much; that gently caressed the palm and fingers of your hand spread under it in support. What fascinated me most were her legs that did not begin as with so many women, just under the buttocks, but much higher, down from the hips, long, round, robust, hardly narrowing at the knees. Inside, two gentle, long, oblique lines, tainted with bluish, slightly transparent, interlacing veins, traced the contour of her groin, clearly separating her round, firm thighs and her small soft belly, a contrast made even more obvious by the difference in density between the two areas. Under the pressure of my lips I could feel the windings of this flower-like body, brisk even when motionless. There was something unbelievable in all this, a puzzlement increased, I guess, by the unexpected turn, the surprise of finding her body so different from what I had expected it to be, as I had thought she was too thin and bony. As if trying to see again what kind of eyes were endowed with such a body, I drew my face closer to hers. She turned her head away, with a wounded smile on her lips, while her wet, blue, intense eyes, which looked almost dark because of their widened pupils, seemed to look for help in the void. Her body was burning, as I had never felt a woman's body burning before… I forcefully tried to look her in the eyes, to take hold of her glance, but she turned it away even more. As she did that, her body twisted a little and her leg that was just under my body bent a little, its long thigh uncovering the round, inner side of the other thigh, underneath, revealing its softness, its hidden curves, a promising berth. This glimpse stunned me, obscuring my sight and my mind. It was as if a mirror-like reflection had blinded the former… and a thunderbolt burnt the latter. I seized with an abrupt gesture the Holland sheet, the surface of which felt like hardened snow and threw it over her, over her head, like a shroud, to prevent her from seeing me undress. Then, driven mad by the tantalizing image of that tortuous inner thigh that was still burning my mind, I crucified her shoulders with my fists, while I stubbornly and forcefully fixed my look on her eyes, on the curve of her slightly parted lips, trying to guess in their tremor the foreshadowing of the wondrous outcome, the final, climactic convulsion of her agonizing, tormented body. She stayed so long in the bathroom that I had time to smoke three, even four cigarettes. I was seized by a feeling of peace, of fullness, something that I had never experienced in my whole life before… it was an even joy, a tranquil one, something above everything I had known or experienced, towards everything that was to come, to the end of the world… if I slightly moved an arm or bent a leg, if I simply took a puff at my cigarette, this deep feeling of happiness became even more powerful, more obvious, as the sensation of uninterrupted voluptuousness becomes more powerful, more obvious when new, brief touches occur after the climax. When, opening the hidden door of the bathroom, she came back into the room, her body shone with new splendor. She looked tall now, so that her breasts, entirely lifted now, as a pair of floating water lilies, could give you the impression of being supported by the breastbone, had you not had the feeling that they were also pulled up towards the shoulders by her long muscles, hidden under the skin. Seen from behind, the contour of her plump legs started from her midriff and continued down the thin waist along the curves of her bottom, further down to the knees and from there, nervously shaping her calves, it descended to her ankles, the sinews of which were quite obvious, and to her small heels. She looked a little stunned by the light, which she tried to put out, but having turned to find the switch and realizing the bed was nearer she ran in a fright towards me. For a brief moment, when she twisted again, looking for the lamp switch, I caught a new glimpse of her and realized that the lively, slightly slanting contour of her entire body, from head to toe, if examined from aside, zigzagged sweetly down her round butt. We didn't speak for a long while and it was I who broke the silence with a question accompanied by a startled and excited smile. "Listen," I said, and I looked again, in amazement, into her blue and shy eyes, "why have you given yourself to me?" She stared at me, too, for a long while and said nothing, there was a tender tranquility in her look that moved me. I moved towards her over the fold in the sheet that separated our bodies. I felt her body, hot as a bird's, through the linen. I smiled, puzzled. "It seems so strange to me that you have given yourself to me. Tell me, do you love me?" "I don't." "Why then?" Once again she enveloped me in a glance, looking up, her pupils rising towards the eyelids. Her lips spread in a melancholy smile and I must say, though I have often spoken about it, that it was then that I first noticed that vague rhombus which so beautifully formed at the corners of her mouth when she smiled sadly. "I don't know… I really can't explain. I guess I was touched by your gesture of giving me the key… it was as if I melted completely inside." "!?" "I live in such an evil, heartless world." Her voice seemed to be weeping. She bit her lower lip. "!?" "A cupid world, torn by base suspicions… your somehow crazy gesture… so wholehearted… it touched a deep chord inside me… I felt I had to respond by giving you the best inside me…" I took her warm hand and stroked her hair. She smiled at me, childishly. "What you had done was very nice and there are so few beautiful things… it is a pity not to react to them." She slightly shrugged her shoulders and turned her head again, as if she was trying to explain her gesture: "You asked me to do that." And she laid her cheek slowly on the arm that was bent under her head, with an expression of satisfaction and sadness at the same time. I realize, painfully, (it's as if I felt a screw turning in my brain) that I will have, at all costs, to take these letters, as they must never be used as an aphrodisiac by anybody in the future. I wonder if, in order to win Emilia's confidence, I won't have to sleep with her again (to use this euphemism and barbarism). The very thought of it discourages me… I could never have Emilia twice. Once, I can usually cope with it, since coming from a long journey, and being dizzy and obsessed with her image, I am not usually shaken into awareness by her first embrace, however pathetic it is… I only wake up to reality towards the end. A second time becomes then impossible as all her shortcomings come to my mind, and there is nothing that can balance the feeling of disgust I experience at the mere thought of them. What surprises me however is the realization that it is not the body of Emilia that discourages me from possessing her once more, but her head. Somehow, her body is not deprived of beauty. As she is lying on her back now, her arms under her head, one of her legs bent a little and the other one, which is closer to me, fully stretched, I cannot say she is ugly. Nowhere does the flesh sag, as she is a young woman. Her breasts have become softer but they have not lost their well-defined line. They have only become wider at the bottom… her belly doesn't descend abruptly, when the ribs end, as her breastbone is wide, but stretches between the ribs and the short, hardly visible articulations of her thighs, as a round quince-like pot that becomes narrower on the sides. The little, closed eye of the navel is underlined by a slight fold across her body that looks like an opening up parenthesis, and vanishes gradually towards the hips. What is particularly expressive about her is the small fleshy triangular cushion above the few curls of fair silk of her womanhood. At that precise spot she still has the fresh beauty of a fat blonde… I am sure that down there she is, in her own way, more beautiful than Mrs. T.