Read Accident Online

Authors: Mihail Sebastian

Tags: #Fiction, #Espionage, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Europe; Central, #Jewish, #War & Military, #Romance Languages (Other), #Literary, #Skis and Skiing, #Foreign Language Study

Accident (6 page)

BOOK: Accident
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
He stopped the taxi in front of his building, paid the driver and waited for him to leave. He gave himself a few more minutes of hope. Nothing was yet decided, nothing was lost. As long as he remained there in front of the door, his destiny was frozen in place. It was still possible that Ann was upstairs.
He looked up at his third-floor window, as though mulling this over, and trembled: there was a light in the window.
He counted the floors again, he counted the windows – the second one from the right – and wondered whether he wasn't fooling himself or dreaming. He kept his eyes locked on that eye of light that was awaiting him at the end of this terrible night.
So it's true
So she's really there
He felt his eternal fatigue, as though all the pressure he had been under until now had burst in a single instant. For a moment the absurd impulse to leave, to remain alone, ran through his mind. Ann was upstairs, and this fact brought him an unexpected peace that answered all his questions as in a dream. He shook off thoughts of renunciation and set off madly up the stairs with the sudden, desperate need to see her, to hold her in his arms. Ann! Ann! Ann! Her name rushed ahead of him like a shout.
He found the door open and pushed it with his shoulder. On a hook in the entrance hall hung a cloth coat he didn't recognize.
He stopped in the doorway of his study and took in the room with a single glance. In the study was a young woman with a book open before her. “It's not Ann,” he whispered to himself, feeling dizzy.
Only then did he recognize Nora.
Nora stood up, leaning towards him, seemingly ready to come to his aid.
As though he needed to examine the strange situation more closely, he repeated the question. “You're here, at this time of night?”
She didn't recognize his voice. It was too guttural, too coarse. She didn't recognize anything in his uncertain face.
How he's changed
! Nora thought. Where was the smile that had protected him so well, like a vizor, yesterday evening? Now his features looked devastated. What disaster had overtaken him, what had befallen him in the hours since their parting, to make him arrive here in this lamentable state?
She waved in the direction of the armchair next to the desk. “Don't you want to sit down?”
“Hey, you know you've got guts!” Paul exclaimed. “I find you at my place at four in the morning – and what for? So that you can offer me a seat?”
She didn't reply. She continued to regard him with the same surprised look, trying to decipher what had happened from that devastated face. She remained with her hand extended in the unfinished gesture with which she had offered him the chair.
“Please leave,” he said. He crossed to the other side of the study and gripped her arm. “Please leave now. Don't make me do things I'll be ashamed of tomorrow. Just leave. I'm tired. I have to be alone.”
But as her silence went on and she continued to look at him with the same expression, which asked no questions, he changed
his tone. With an effort at warmth, a voice that he would have liked to be warm and which succeeded only in being muted, he pleaded with her slowly, as if choking: “I know I owe you an explanation. I've behaved sickeningly with you. You have the right to ask questions. I have the obligation to reply. But not now. I beg you, not now. I just can't talk. We'll meet another time, any time you like, tomorrow if you want, but now leave.”
Nora moved away from his side. “All right, I'm leaving. But not right away. I promise you that five minutes from now I won't be here. But listen to me for the next five minutes. With your eyes on the clock.”
With a loyal gesture she loosened the watch from her wrist and set it on the desk between them. She raised her glance to look at him. “I'm afraid you may do something stupid ... That's why I came.”
He kept his eyes fixed on the small watch, following the movement of the second hand around the dial and waiting as if nothing mattered to him but the passing of those five minutes.
“I'm afraid you'll kill yourself.”
“Why?” he asked, with a slight shudder, and without looking up.
“I don't know why. Your gaze that doesn't take anything in. Your crushed smile. Your way of lifting your shoulders. And finally you flee ... since ... you fled. Also, when you leave your apartment you don't even check that you've closed the door. If you only knew what fear you left behind you ...”
She stopped for an instant. She had uttered the final words in a murmur, as though speaking to herself. But she returned immediately to her usual clarity of speech.
“At the beginning I didn't know what was happening. I watched you from my window as you ran away, and everything struck me as ridiculous, like a stupid joke. I think I shouted at you, but I don't remember. Nor do I remember how long I stood there at the window. Above all, I'd like to think that I wasn't hurt. I'm thirty-two years old and I have a few memories. Enough for an event like that not to be a disaster ... But I felt as though your departure was a step towards death. Four years ago a girlfriend of mine committed suicide.
She had your smile. Details like that are a little ridiculous before the event, but they're unbearable afterwards ... I made up my mind to look for you, to find you. I told myself I couldn't leave you alone on a night like this ... I found your address in the telephone book, I came over here almost breathless, and I found the door locked. I decided to go back down to the street and wait downstairs until I saw you return. I don't know where I got the idea to look under the doormat: that's where I put the key in the morning when I go out, so that the cleaning lady can find it when she comes to mop and dust. In that at least we're similar. I opened the door, I entered, I waited for you. I'd made up my mind to wait as long as it took.”
She stopped speaking again and looked at the clock.
“I've still got two minutes. Too little for the rest of what I wanted to say. Even so, I'd like to say one more thing to you. You should know that if I came here, if I committed the lunacy of coming here, it wasn't only for you. It was also a little bit for me.”
She seemed about to say more. She stopped, hesitated, but finally, with a decisive gesture, she picked up her watch from the table and put it back on her left wrist.
“That's all. Now I'll leave you.”
She approached him, extended her hand, but in that moment she glimpsed last night's flower in the buttonhole of his shirt, that pathetic flower, now faded and shrivelled. She removed it with infinite care, with an endless series of precautions, afraid of breaking its overly long stem, and looked around for a vase. But there was only one, too big for a single flower. “Better a glass,” she said, and went into the bathroom in search of water, but the cold water was like ice and the hot water tap didn't work. (
What a mess this apartment is! How obvious it is that he lives alone!
) She opened a door which gave onto an office, where she found a bottle of drinking water. She returned to the other room, poured the water, then put the flower in the glass. She placed the glass on a small table next to his bed, kneeling and balancing the glass carefully between her palms, as if to infuse the flower's pallor with the warmth of her hands.
She stood up and headed towards the entrance hall.
On the threshold she found Paul, his arms spread wide as though to block her passage. He looked as though he wanted to say something to her but was at a loss and didn't know how.
“Thank you for coming. Now ... If it weren't too late, I'd ask you to stay.”
As if that “too late” referred to the time and not to what had occurred until now, she looked at her watch. “In fact, it is very late. Ten past four. Even so, if you want, we could wait for daybreak together. It won't be long.”
There was a calendar on the desk. She tore off the sheets for days that had passed and read from the coming day's page:
December 19
. Sunrise: 7:41 AM.
“We have two hours and thirty-nine minutes left.” The torn sheets from the days that were over remained in her hand. She offered them to him, smiling. “You see? It's over. It was hard, but it's over.” Then, with unaccustomed gravity: “I don't think you'll ever forget me. I'll always be the woman you met the night you turned thirty.”
They faced each other in semi-darkness. They had turned out all the lights except for the shaded lamp on the desk. He was in the armchair where she, with an authoritarian voice, had ordered him to sit. She was in the corner next to the sofa, where she had piled up some pillows. Between them was the tea table, the hot, white cups like feeble globes of light.
“It's cold in this apartment,” Nora said, and in a few seconds the water boiled and the apartment filled with the smell of tea, lemon, rum – all of which she had found without asking him. She wandered among his belongings with a light, sure hand, as though she was going through them by instinct or from old habit.
Paul was listening to her speaking without paying much attention to what she was saying. She spoke calmly, slowly, without raising her voice, almost monotonously. It was a serious voice, excessively serious, without marked alterations, without liveliness, almost inexpressive. How relaxing it was to listen to her. He felt he had known her for a long time and that nothing was hidden
between them. Not a single mystery. Not a single question to ask. Nothing to find out.
He took her left hand in his and turned it over with the palm facing the light.
“Do you know how to read palms?” Nora asked.
“No, but I like to look at them.”
Hers was a simple hand, with a few regularly curved lines like rivers on a map. Paul looked at it for a while, then closed it like a book he had finished reading.
“Aren't you going to tell me what you've found?”
“There's nothing to find. It's your hand. It suits you. A serious hand. Calm ... And yet ...”
“And yet?”
“Only one thing remains inexplicable: the fact that you came here. It's a little bit of lunacy that I don't know how to interpret.”
She opened her left hand again under the light. “Maybe it's all here. Look closely: maybe somewhere there's the crossing of lines that shows our meeting.”
She spoke these words without even smiling, with making a gesture that would diminish their unexpected seriousness.
“How strange that you say ‘our meeting.' Is this an affair?”
“This meeting.”
“An affair, no. A happening. And a big one. Nothing ever happens to me.”
The hot water was finished. Nora got up from her spot, signalling to him that he was forbidden to move.
He heard her wandering around the apartment. How soothing to hear her footsteps! He heard her breathing. It seemed as though she had always been here. He was grateful to her for being in his home. Her presence blocked his thoughts, held his memories at bay.
And what a good hand she had. He could rest his weary forehead in it.
Her saw her shadow – now larger, now smaller, according to her distance from the lamp – brushing across the objects in the room. The heavy fabric of the dress she was wearing protected her
body like a mantle. Only occasionally, such as when she straightened her shoulders, could he make out her hip or the line of her breasts.
She stopped in front of him with the teapot in her hand, leaning over the table, and with close attention poured the boiling water into the cups. He got to his feet and looked at her for a long time. She tolerated his gaze without surprise. A vague whiff of lavender floated between them.
Paul placed his mouth over her lips, which accepted the kiss serenely and without haste. His right hand was on her left breast. The beating of her heart felt strange, unusual.
The beating struck him as a distant response to his enormous solitude.
NORA WOKE IN THE MORNING surprised not to find Paul beside her. All night her dreams had borne the heaviness of his body, an irritable body, receiving without gratitude caresses that it did not return. She still felt in her left breast the weight of his right hand with its fingers spread. She wouldn't have been surprised, had she pushed aside the covers, to find the marks imprinted on her breast like a tattoo.
The sound of water running in the basin came from the bathroom. She called his name, but didn't receive a reply.
Could he have left?
She jumped out of bed and pulled on a dressing gown that she found on the edge of the bed, shuddering at the chill of the light weave (
He could wear a thicker dressing gown in December
) and went to look.
BOOK: Accident
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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