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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 1 chapter 7)

2006-08-22 19:13

  7

  In the middle of the night she started moaning in her sleep. Tomas woke her up, but when she saw his face she said, with hatred in her voice, Get away from me! Get away from me! Then she told him her dream: The two of them and Sabina had been in a big room together. There was a bed in the middle of the room. It was like a platform in the theater. Tomas ordered her to stand in the corner while he made love to Sabina. The sight of it caused Tereza intolerable suffering. Hoping to alleviate the pain in her heart by pains of the flesh, she jabbed needles under her fingernails. It hurt so much, she said, squeezing her hands into fists as if they actually were wounded.

  He pressed her to him, and she gradually (trembling violently for a long time) fell asleep in his arms.

  Thinking about the dream the next day, he remembered something. He opened a desk drawer and took out a packet of letters Sabina had written to him. He was not long in finding the following passage: I want to make love to you in my studio. It will be like a stage surrounded by people. The audience won't be allowed up close, but they won't be able to take their eyes off us……

  The worst of it was that the letter was dated. It was quite recent, written long after Tereza had moved in with Tomas.

  So you've been rummaging in my letters!

  She did not deny it. Throw me out, then!

  But he did not throw her out. He could picture her pressed against the wall of Sabina's studio jabbing needles up under her nails. He took her fingers between his hands and stroked them, brought them to his lips and kissed them, as if they still had drops of blood on them.

  But from that time on, everything seemed to conspire against him. Not a day went by without her learning something about his secret life.

  At first he denied it all. Then, when the evidence became too blatant, he argued that his polygamous way of life did not in the least run counter to his love for her. He was inconsistent: first he disavowed his infidelities, then he tried to justify them.

  Once he was saying good-bye after making a date with a woman on the phone, when from the next room came a strange sound like the chattering of teeth.By chance she had come home without his realizing it. She was pouring something from a medicine bottle down her throat, and her hand shook so badly the glass bottle clicked against her teeth.

  He pounced on her as if trying to save her from drowning. The bottle fell to the floor, spotting the carpet with valerian drops. She put up a good fight, and he had to keep her in a straitjacket-like hold for a quarter of an hour before he could calm her.

  He knew he was in an unjustifiable situation, based as it was on complete inequality.

  One evening, before she discovered his correspondence with Sabina, they had gone to a bar with some friends to celebrate Tereza's new job. She had been promoted at the weekly from darkroom technician to staff photographer. Because he had never been much for dancing, one of his younger colleagues took over. They made a splendid couple on the dance floor, and Tomas found her more beautiful than ever. He looked on in amazement at the split-second precision and deference with which Tereza anticipated her partner's will. The dance seemed to him a declaration that her devotion, her ardent desire to satisfy his every whim, was not necessarily bound to his person, that if she hadn't met Tomas, she would have been ready to respond to the call of any other man she might have met instead. He had no difficulty imagining Tereza and his young colleague as lovers. And the ease with which he arrived at this fiction wounded him. He realized that Tereza's body was perfectly thinkable coupled with any male body, and the thought put him in a foul mood. Not until late that night, at home, did he admit to her he was jealous.

  This absurd jealousy, grounded as it was in mere hypotheses, proved that he considered her fidelity an unconditional postulate of their relationship. How then could he begrudge her her jealousy of his very real mistresses?

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