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 (7 page)

BOOK: Accident
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Nobody was there. He had forgotten to turn off the tap. On the glass shelf beneath the mirror, the shaving brush was covered in soap.
What a hurry he was in to get away!
she thought with a shake of her head.
She turned around and spotted on the desk the piece of paper on which a few words were written, first in red pencil and then in blue pencil – he had probably broken the lead in his rush.
When you leave, put the key outside under the mat. The cleaning lady's coming at 11 o'clock.
When you leave ...
He had been so certain that she would leave. And not a word about seeing her again, not a word of friendship ...
She approached the window and glanced down into the street, trembling at not seeing her usual morning view: the familiar image of Bulevardul Dacia, the major's backyard across the road, the pharmacy on the corner, the taxi stand. From their stillness she
knew, as she raised the shutter, almost as if they had spoken to her, that since the night before nothing new had happened in the world.
As though the lens of the spyglass through which she took her first morning glance at the world had changed, she now had her first look at other images, which seemed to have been substituted overnight for the old well-known landscape.
From where, at a distance to which her eyes weren't accustomed, had that small unfamiliar world arisen: the circular square below, the white sign of the corner grocery, the gas station with its two red pumps on the edge of the sidewalk like two immense soda-water bottles, the newspaper stand, the chestnut trees with their slender, frozen branches?
Everything was dizzying, in part because of the white gleam of the snow, but above all by virtue of its surprising newness.
Leaning against the window, Nora realized that something in her life had truly changed.
She thought about how downstairs she would not find the usual porter, who greeted her every morning when she went out to school, nor the letter box, towards which in passing she turned her usual incurious glance. She thought about how she wasn't going to take her usual route, which she followed every day with mechanical steps, to Strada Donici, where she took the number 16 tram in the direction of the school.
So many things were starting differently this morning ...
She looked at her watch. If she hurried, she might still get to the school in time for the third and fourth hours of class, her French classes with Grade Eight and Grade Four-B.
She recalled the passage from Bossuet
that she had planned to dictate to the girls in Grade Eight before letting them out for the holidays.
But, given the predicament in which she found herself, she didn't feel ready to leave. It was out of the question for her to go
out into the street after dressing in a hurry, with her girdle sloppily buttoned, her hair insufficiently brushed: tiny details that no one else would have noticed, but which would have heightened her intimate feeling of disorder. As a teacher, the only condition she forced herself to impose on her pupils was a meticulous, almost maniacal, care in their dress. Out of a sort of female solidarity with the girls who stared at her in the classroom, she demanded that they each have a neatly ironed pinafore and a white collar. She told herself that later they would have broken hearts to hide beneath their well-tailored dresses. She feared moral disorder, which began with a run in a stocking worn with indifference.
Today more than other days, Nora felt the need to control herself with a disciplined severity.
She lifted the receiver and dialled the number of the school. It was still a few minutes before the ten o'clock recess so she didn't risk calling the principal. As it happened, the secretary answered. Nora told her that she might arrive at school late (a migraine, a cousin who was ill ...) and asked her to take care of grades Four-B and Eight and ensure that they were quiet. The secretary, however, reminded her that it was Tuesday, that the Christmas holidays began in two days' time, that it wasn't certain whether she would have any more courses, and that her absence would make the principal furious. She advised her, at the very least, not to miss her last class.
“Yes, you may be right. I'm going to try to arrive for the fourth hour. Tell the Grade Eight girls to work quietly. I'll go to see them during the last recess to give them their assignments for the holidays.”
She hung up the phone and stood there, distracted. She was missing school for the first time since the beginning of the year and this increased her feeling of uneasiness, not so much out of a sense of rectitude as because the loss of old habits troubled her. She looked down at the unfamiliar dressing gown she was wearing. It was blue with small white polka dots, sleeves that were too long for her, ragged lapels, and a small pocket over the left breast. At the same time, she saw the Grade Eight class where she was expected: the girls in their black pinafores seating themselves with
delicate gestures in front of their books, dictionaries and notebooks with red ruler-straight margins, and casting restless glances in the direction of the door through which they awaited the entrance, from one moment to the next, of “Miss French Teacher.”
It seemed to Nora that she herself was waiting fearfully for this apparition, the young teacher who was meant to enter the classroom in that moment, from whom this Nora who had woken up in a strange man's apartment was impossibly distant. What could she have said to her? How could she have explained it to her?
Yesterday at this time ...
Yesterday at this time she was a calm young woman who went to the school every morning, ate lunch every day at a cheap diner on Strada Câmpineanu (amid the uncaring faces of civil servants reading the afternoon papers ...), who in the afternoon taught French classes in a private language school and who came home, carrying in her handbag the food for her supper, or, sometimes, a bundle of essays that she enjoyed reading because she recognized each pupil's handwriting, their laboured sentences and never-changing spelling mistakes.
She felt at home in the apartment on Bulevardul Dacia, in that white sixth-floor room furnished with things she had chosen and bought with the patience of heroic savings. It was true that there was also the money sent by her mother, who was living in Cernăuţi with her second husband, a banker. From time to time her mother sent her listless postcards, or, at Easter or Christmas, small sums of money; but the belongings for which Nora felt more affection were those purchased with her teacher's wages, her overtime, her exam-marking fees. Above all, she liked the shaded lamp beneath which she took refuge in the evenings to read, a lamp with a tall stand like a small indoor version of street lamp, which cast a white circle of light and left the rest of the apartment in protective shadow.
Only on Thursday evenings did she sometimes go to the Philharmonic orchestra, especially when a famous soloist was playing, or when there was a lot of Beethoven on the program. From her girlhood memories in a family in which at that time children were taught to play the piano, she preserved an optimistic respect for long symphonies in three or five movements. She
bought herself a ticket in advance, waiting at Feder's music store for the ticket office to open in case the tickets in the third-level stalls, the only ones she dared to buy, somehow sold out – not without wondering twice which expenses she would have to cut from the week's budget in order to cover the money she spent on the concert. And then there were evenings when Grig came with her. They were less and less frequent in recent times, without what was known as a “breakup” (a word which frightened Nora, like all words which allowed for no return) having intervened between them.
He waited for her without impatience, he received her visits, some of them after long absences, without surprise; but between them there were too many shared habits and a sensual accord too long established for her unexpected returns not to please him.
“You're like a married lover; you're doomed to be a wife,” Grig joked at times, knowing that there was no risk of her taking him seriously. The question had been decided for good between them in the early days of their liaison. One day, cautiously and remarkably vaguely, he asked her if she would like to be a spouse. Nora, looking him in the eyes, gave him the only reply he expected, a simple and irrevocable, “No, never.”
Yet in the mornings when, going out to school, she left him sleeping, she was happy that, glancing back at him from the doorway, she could tell herself:
Well, I'm not an old maid
. This was the only fate that scared her in her life as a single woman. Otherwise days, evenings, nights passed calmly and unchangingly among familiar things. Only occasionally, looking out her sixth-floor window, crying serenely and then hastily wiping away these unexpected tears, did she reprimand herself as she would have reprimanded a pupil:
What's going on, Nora? Aren't you ashamed?
She told herself that some day something would happen to change all this and set her off on the road to a new life. She didn't know what it would be: a letter, a meeting, some piece of news; but for the time being she was happy to be able to postpone this change for as long as possible and put off these expectations for an uncertain future. She continued her life among familiar things that made her feel protected.
A new life! The word had a certain magic.
But, if in order to attain that new life it had been necessary only to say a word or extend her hand, it was possible that she would not have done it.
“And yet here I am,” she said to herself. Here in the apartment of a man she didn't know.
The clothes he had been wearing yesterday evening were tossed over a chair, while alongside them, laid out with an exaggerated sense of order, were her things: dress, girdle, shoes. The green tie had fallen onto the carpet. Nora recognized it. It was the only thing she did recognize. Otherwise everything was strange: the desk, the books, the paintings, the small objects, all flung together in a disorder that breathed haste and indifference. Nora stared at them and wondered about them all.
She knew so little about the man who, taking off after a night of love, had left behind him seventeen words written on a scrap of paper! And she herself, she realized, had remained a stranger to him. She felt in her being so many words that had not been spoken, so many resistances that had not yielded ...
On his desk was a lawyer's agenda, a piece of cardboard on which telephone numbers were written and a photograph of a young girl. Nora looked at her for a while. She was blonde and wore a black long-sleeved pullover with an initial high up on the left side like a tiny pocket: an oblique, printed
PAUL HAD TRIED MANY TIMES TO REMEMBER the circumstances in which he had met Anna. He would have liked to be able to relive the exact moment in which someone had put them face to face, asking them, as one usually does: “What? You don't know each other?” But his memory had not retained this moment, and it was possible that events had not occurred in this way. Anna was lost in the multitude of hazy faces that he had met “on the street,” “in a train,” “in Sinaia,”
vague formulas that covered with a mist of uncertainty the initial handshake, the first exchange of words.
Later, he had learned from a word uttered at random that one day they had vacationed together, very close to each other, without yet knowing one another.
“Six years ago, when we were in Satu-Lung ...”
“Six years ago? Are you sure?”
“Yes. In 1926. In August.”
Paul suddenly saw again his whole vacation at Cernatu, those four weeks of solitude spent in the small town in the Braşov region, the street corner where, without any transition, Satu-Lung began and where, as though crossing a border, he passed the invisible line between the communities. He saw again the group of young women and men who came down the hill in the morning towards Satu-Lung, disorderly, rowdy, a little threatening, with that feeling of being in a strange town in which nobody knew them and nothing compromised them: they ate pretzels in the middle of the street, shouted at the top of their lungs, raced from one sidewalk to the other, threw stones at the trees at the edge of
the road – those charming Cernatu apple trees, with their trunks whitewashed halfway up their height and their luscious green leaves.
Every day their passage along the “promenade,” a wooden bridge laid over the sidewalk, erupted in these noises. Scandalized Saxon women
appeared at their windows, intimidated children halted in front of their doors, young women from good families “of the region,” who were reading or studying on the park benches, barely dared to lift their heads in the direction of this bunch of lunatics, dishevelled barefoot girls, boys without coats or ties ...
The hostility between the civilian population of Cernatu and the group from Satu-Lung was open to the point where Paul, when he went out for his evening walk, if he turned left alongside the city hall, had the feeling of stepping into a conflict zone or an enemy territory. The group had the custom of a tennis hour. Their tennis court became famous in the whole region, as far away as Dârste or Noua. White poles, lime rectangles drawn on the earth, the net stretched taut across the centre, the white fence that surrounded the whole court – they had made it all, bringing some of the pieces from Braşov
and improvising others on the spot, to the secret vanity of Satu-Lung, and to the smouldering envy of Cernatu. Paul liked to stop there, in front of the wire fence, and watch the flurry of rackets, the regular knocking of the ball, the white dresses of the female players. One evening a ball lofted too high went over the fence and came to a stop next to him. He picked it up in order to hand it to the young woman player who had come to look for it.
BOOK: Accident
4.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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