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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 3 chapter 11)

2006-08-22 20:21

  11

  All Franz's friends knew about Marie-Claude; they all knew about the girl with the oversized glasses. But no one knew about Sabina. Franz was wrong when he thought his wife had told her friends about her. Sabina was a beautiful woman, and Marie-Claude did not want people going about comparing their faces.

  Because Franz was so afraid of being found out, he had never asked for any of Sabina's paintings or drawings or even a snapshot of her. As a result, she disappeared from his life without a trace. There was not a scrap of tangible evidence to show that he had spent the most wonderful year of his life with her.

  Which only increased his desire to remain faithful to her.

  Sometimes when they were alone in his flat together, the girl would lift her eyes from a book, throw him an inquiring glance, and say, What are you thinking about?

  Sitting in his armchair, staring up at the ceiling, Franz always found some plausible response, but in fact he was thinking of Sabina.

  Whenever he published an article in a scholarly journal, the girl was the first to read it and discuss it with him. But all he could think of was what Sabina would have said about it. Everything he did, he did for Sabina, the way Sabina would have liked to see it done.

  It was a perfectly innocent form of infidelity and one eminently suited to Franz, who would never have done his bespectacled student-mistress any harm. He nourished the cult of Sabina more as religion than as love.

  Indeed, according to the theology of that religion it was Sabina who had sent him the girl. Between his earthly love and his unearthly love, therefore, there was perfect peace. And if unearthly love must (for theological reasons) contain a strong dose of the inexplicable and incomprehensible (we have only to recall the dictionary of misunderstood words and the long lexicon of misunderstandings!), his earthly love rested on true understanding.

  The student-mistress was much younger than Sabina, and the musical composition of her life had scarcely been outlined; she was grateful to Franz for the motifs he gave her to insert. Franz's Grand March was now her creed as well. Music was now her Dionysian intoxication. They often went dancing together. They lived in truth, and nothing they did was secret. They sought out the company of friends, colleagues, students, and strangers, and enjoyed sitting, drinking, and chatting with them. They took frequent excursions to the Alps. Franz would bend over, the girl hopped onto his back, and off he ran through the meadows, declaiming at the top of his voice a long German poem his mother had taught him as a child. The girl laughed with glee, admiring his legs, shoulders, and lungs as she clasped his neck.

  The only thing she could not quite fathom was the curious sympathy he had for the countries occupied by the Russian empire. On the anniversary of the invasion, they attended a memorial meeting organized by a Czech group in Geneva.

  The room was nearly empty. The speaker had artificially waved gray hair. He read out a long speech that bored even the few enthusiasts who had come to hear it. His French was grammatically correct but heavily accented. From time to time, to stress a point, he would raise his index finger, as if threatening the audience.

  The girl with the glasses could barely suppress her yawns, while Franz smiled blissfully at her side. The longer he looked at the pleasing gray-haired man with the admirable index finger, the more he saw him as a secret messenger, an angelic intermediary between him and his goddess. He closed his eyes and dreamed. He closed his eyes as he had closed them on Sabina's body in fifteen European hotels and one in America.

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