Victory Street

The dancing tea partyGuţă Mereuţă was indeed waiting, sad, with a proboscidean long nose. He couldn't dance. He had nothing in appearance or in speech that could have attracted a woman. His eyes pushed aside, towards the temples, by the broad root of the olfactory appendage, overdeveloped; in the hall full of laughter, hubbub and agitation, he had been sitting still for two hours, on a chair, near the door, like a morose sexton of this tumultuous mirth. He rejoiced with the most complete and visible candour when Ana Lipan came to sit near him. Elvira Elefterescu coached him before, told him authoritatively that his chosen one, this lady and not another, will make his life happy; and he suddenly started to love her. Compared to the world he came from, a crooked and dusty borough, with the only representatives of the weak and fair sex in the few miserable and burdened wives or daughters of Bulgarians or Tatars, Ana Lipan seemed to him a celestial creature. Having an earth-rooted nature, he had immediately calculated that with such a marriage, besides the protection of Mrs. Minister of Justice, forever ensured, he would have been incorporated into another dynasty of the magistrates. Ana Lipan wasn't only a future wife: she was a career."Have you got tired with dancing, miss?" he asked stupidly, doing up and undoing a button of the coat, as he didn't know what to do with his fingers, rather large and extremely hairy. "Not at all!" Ana Lipan answered in a higher tone, looking at him over her shoulder. "I haven't got tired at all. But I came to invite you to dance, since I saw that you didn't…""I'm sorry, but I can't dance…" declared, humiliated by this infirmity, Guţă Mereuţă, and that very instant he reproved himself with self-disgust: "Not like this, you dunce! You don't reply this to a future fiancé! You should have said: It's the first time, miss, when I am truly sorry for not having taken dance lessons, like any happy mortal in this room."Ascertaining this incurable inferiority in the art of conversation demoralised him completely. He kept quiet, pulling the thread of the button.Ana Lipan watched him on, battering her eyelashes with impertinent coldness. That was the man destined for her by them? By what right did all of them plot to join her life with such a coarse and ridiculous creature? If only he had a different nose and knew where to keep his hands!"Have you been living in Bucharest for long?" she asked him, so as to say something. "Uncle Gică moved me, for two months now. I, after the war, have remained in Cadrilater, until I was sick of it. Do you believe me, miss, that I have never been, till I moved, in Bucharest?"'One can tell!' Ana Lipan was about to answer. But she said something totally different: "The capital is a ground much too propitious for all vanities. It is only in the countryside that the true characters are formed. Man becomes more profound! He has more often the opportunity to confront himself.""Isn't it, miss?" Guţă Mereuţă enlivened shortly, considering himself a true character hatched and over-hatched in the countryside. Then he didn't know what else to answer and became silent again. Ana Lipan looked in the mirror of her handbag and turned the lipstick in its metal box, sealing her lips. Guţă Mereuţă admired her with a faithful shepherd dog look from the Cadrilater sheepfold, where he once ate a formidable cottage cheese, in a judiciary investigation…From the back of the hall, Elvira Elefterescu enveloped them in a protective approval: "An admirable pair! They were made for each other!" And she walked forward turning to another direction among the dancing pairs in the rustling silk gowns, to protect providentially other future joys. The jazz band started more vividly. After two hours of almost uninterrupted folly, it seemed that a new frenzied vigour, a frantic spasm of howling dervishes transmitted from one to another, making the five musicians lose their strength. The drum made the windows quake, the saxophone gushed forth a lament ended in guttural sobbing, the piano spread out sounds between its mother-of pearl teeth; to the hubbub of the instruments was added the roar of the voices and the whistling of the dancers, contaminated by the same epileptic cramps. The powder melted from the cheeks, the mascara flew beneath the eyelashes, widening the skull orbits, the collars were wet, the moist hands left their fingerprints on the silk gowns, and everything was spinning endlessly, dragging under the feet the pie filling and the liquid of the liquor candies. Through this vibrating tumult, the prince Anton Muşat walked impassibly, his hands at the back, like an Arab sultan in a European exhibition. Mirel Alcaz caught up with him. "Before leaving, I'll go to pay my respects to the hostess, mon prince. Too bad you didn't attend the political-economic-financial conclave! It was a scene that one can rarely see.""I'm not concerned with such scenes, my dear Mirel," said Prince Anton taking him by the arm. "You know I never put my foot there. I don't understand anything and I am not interested in any of these intrigues that lack refinement. It's enough that my cousin, Barbu, doesn't miss any opportunity… He was born for this and lives for this. When he happens to take me here in his car, we part at the door and we reunite at the door. I am much more amused by this youthful spectacle.""You were saying though, mon prince, that you despised the youth of our times. You found it unstylish. A day or two ago, you came back from here outraged and fuming!" Mirel Alcaz remembered.Prince Anton Muşat looked circularly at the spasm-frantic hall through the single eye glass and smiled:"It outrages me, still I come back. This youth, my dear Mirel, annoys and attracts me at the same time. It annoys me because it is devoid of mystery and of style. It attracts me because I see it passing through life like a shell… I try to understand it. And because I cannot understand it, it fascinates me like any unsolvable problem, which you discard at night and take up again the next day…""Mon prince, others' pastimes, feelings, and pleasures, always seem absurd," Mirel Alcaz pronounced aphoristically. "Not to mention the ambitions and vices.""Possibly…Anyway, women are beautiful today also, just as they were always beautiful. Although, I don't understand them either… In my time, their heart was a melancholic sanatorium. Now, their heart is some noisy jazz. They are cut in the liking of men today, who don't know how to love them anymore. They are simply using them. They don't have time to court them. They grab them brutally and discard them just as brutally… In my time, before the war deluge, a man was often satisfied with as much glory as to seduce a woman, and as to have something to give up for a woman. Now it's just an issue of alcove. Of alcove figuratively speaking, an anachronistic and inappropriate term, in the bachelor rooms where the old-time alcoves are excluded. A detail among others, between two automobile races and a dancing soiree. Watch a little… What strikes you at all these thirty-forty pairs that are spinning here on this acrobatic rhythm?" Mirel Alcaz watched and didn't notice anything. He shrugged his shoulders admitting:"I don't have the slightest observation spirit, mon prince, although my profession demands this first.""You can't notice because you have kept pace with the times, my dear Mirel, and because you are about thirty years younger than I. I have the perspective! I lagged behind and this allows me the perspective… This is what I have remarked and what amazes me…All of them are silent! They are only body close to another body. The pleasure of the conversation has disappeared… All the finesse of this thin bladed duel. They have no idea to share, no sentiment… This hustle and bustle of life doesn't allow conversation any more. Here there is the jazz; in the street, the exhaust of the running car… In fact, what should they say to each other? Their laughter is devoid of irony, their pleasures – elementary. I have a grandson, Barbu's son. An admirable young man, actually. He always teases me when I talk to him about my youth souvenirs and he is all the time amazed at how I could, on such times, make ducks and drakes of three inheritances. He is amazed at how I could live in a time where there where no automobiles, planes, motorboats. For them existence is a sport and the universe – a running track. Their goals are those on the road, literally and figuratively. When they see an automobile ahead of them, they honk, they push you to the right, on the edge of the ditch, and outrun you insolently… But here comes Mrs. Elefterescu! She has still kept the romanticism of the waltz age and of the first tangos.""You are gossiping about my children, prince and you, Mr. Alcaz, with your journalist indiscretion!" Mrs. Elvira Elefterescu threatened them with her forefinger, giving the gesture a childish coquetry intention, in a striking contrast with her massive proportions. "Oh, no, madam!" the prince and the journalist defended themselves with one voice. "On the contrary, we are admiring this extraordinary excitement.""And especially, we are admiring so many lovely women and girls!" Prince Muşat added. "I have no idea where you found so many beautiful women in Bucharest! I'm sure that none remained at home, madam.""You are incorrigible, prince! Take care! Les hommes qui regardent les femmes ne voient pas la vie!""It is an instruction that comes too late for me, madam. At most, my friend Mirel could make use of it."Mrs. Elefterescu gazed at Mirel Alcaz and uttered a thought that had just then turned up under her peroxided wreath of hair:"I see that your friend, Mr. Alcaz, is growing white around the temples, and still hasn't decided to become interested in a woman more seriously. You must marry Mr. Alcaz right away! I will consider your case more closely… I will leave you now, for I can't deprive the children of my presence. Don't forget me with the newspaper, Mr. Alcaz. I will send you a list with all personalities present." She walked away, gliding among the pairs, a head taller than all the dancers, search for her nieces with her eyes. Lola, Lulu and Lili were dancing with the cigarette in the corner of the mouth, with their boyishly trimmed hair and with partners that were not men. "They will be the death of me, these nieces!" Elvira Elefterescu ascertained, full of the same candour as her nephew Guţă Mereuţă. Why don't they want to get married? They are some inexplicable creatures. I will be more energetic some day. I have to! I have a single mission, to impose happiness on the others, because they can't see it and can't make it for themselves."The young man with tar-like hair bowed gristly in front of Ana Lipan. "The last shimmy, miss. May I, sir?"Ana Lipan left the purse in Guţă Mereuţă's lap. She introduced him, authoritatively making his name more aristocratic, ex officio: "Mr. Georges Mereutza! Mr. Scarlat Bosie."Guţă Mereuţă noticed that Ana's dancer wore a thin platinum bracelet on his left wrist.  Arizona-Bar"I know a good wine, in a place where there is good service!" Leon Mătăsaru announced, late, when they got in Academy Boulevard. "Tonight I need to remember. Then to forget. Are you coming?""If, of course, my face…" Ion Ozun accepted with modesty, happy to find himself together with one of the idols of his adolescence."Forget the face. Once will not become a habit. You must know that I can't stand our family: writers, painters, journalists, actors… I spend my nights with poor, obscure office workers, that don't know a thing about literature and about our spites. This doesn't prevent them from being very nice men. On the contrary. They have nothing to argue about with me. They don't throw their glasses at me if I don't know about whatever esthetic controversies; and their cheerfulness is not corrupted by any brotherly grin. But tonight I need to remember about the others, who remained up there, so as to forget afterwards, for a while… Let's go! I tell you that the wine is good and that I am well waited on… I will sing you a song that I sang with them… Our song…"So they went and wandered during the night in the place where there was good wine and where Leon Mătăsaru was well waited on; then in other and other places, with not so good drink and where they were served not so well.This came to be of no importance for either Leon Mătăsaru or Ion Ozun. They were in turns, happy, sad and merry; they shed tears and they kissed. They sang and they noticed then that the tables started to move away and to strangely draw nearer: which seemed nevertheless very normal and pleasant.Then late in the night, after everywhere the shutters were closed, a cabman – the weirdest cabman in the capital, with a criss-cross way of driving and with the ability of passing directly through walls and light poles – drove them home to "Arizona-bar."A waiter in red waistcoat and with the cap perched on one side of the head helped them get down. They absolutely needed it.Then he opened the door for them, maybe because they wanted to enter through the window. But Leon Mătăsaru couldn't be convinced until Ion Ozun, furious, threatened him because he was compromising him."Would you hit me, Ozun?" Leon Mătăsaru wondered full of sorrow. "Would you beat me?""Certainly! Are you entering through the door or do I hit you?" strongly asserted Ion Ozun, who, the way he was then, wouldn't have felt any remorse if he had thrashed the idol of his adolescence as he would have done with a nobody from his neighborhood."Well then, here, I'll enter through the door!" Leon Mătăsaru renounced generously. I'm not stubborn like you!"He entered slanting. And he came to the conclusion that providence existed, since the only unoccupied table was right near the door, sparing him the risks of an adventurous voyage up to the opposite end.He knocked on wood and he bent rapidly after the fist, to catch it back, because it seemed to him that the fist had a blamable tendency to escape, freed from the wrist.He knocked and he ordered globally."Wine! Champagne! Whiskey! Anything; everything!..."The waiter, more skeptical in evaluating the consumption capacity of his clients, brought for now only an icing bucket with champagne.The bar was white, lacquered, geometrical; only polished wood and nickelled metal.But the atmosphere was stifling. The ventilator, whizzing, didn't stop absorbing the compact smoke in spirals. The opalescent light bulbs lit like in the bottom of a mine. A Russian quartet, in a black cassock, was singing The Boatmen on Volga, and Ion Ozun, at the sight of the faces bent under the wave of sadness, felt a compelling urge to sob, to sigh, to cry, crushed by the sorrow and the bitterness of the boatmen on Volga. He refrained with a last effort gathered from the depths of consciousness, at the thought that in the room were so many friends and even more acquaintances. He had the same strength when the jazz played a Hawaiian with modulations of ancestral sorrow, even though it seemed unbearable for him to remember that Teofil Steriu had never lived this moment and that he couldn't live it from then on either. Through iridescences that made everything tremble in luminous stripes of rainbow, he saw that Leon Mătăsaru, on his own, indulged in a strange occupation, much to the amusement of the neighbors from the other tables. He had caught a shabby dog, who got in through the feet of the ones that entered or got out. He stuffed it with a nurse's patience pouring on its throat champagne with a teaspoon. Then he took it up by the skin on the back of its neck and he christened it with a gurgling of champagne on its head, giving it the name of the only theater reviewer that soiled his play so that it wasn't worth a dime.Ion Ozun didn't wonder at all. He even found that very natural. Enthusiastic, he poured two glasses, one after another, on his own throat, not that of the shabby dog, and immediately afterwards he evaporated in an unreal and celestial world, without the laws of gravity and with no dimensions.He didn't care about the ones who watched him and knew him. However, they were many… 1929

by Cezar Petrescu (1892-1961)