Five Lives


An exercise in the style of Walker Percy

"No, I didn't know about George. He always seemed such a solid character, someone you could place any bet on. I don't mean an entirely honest, sincere person, but one who would never budge from the limits he set for himself. What do you think, Jessi?" 
The man turned to a striking woman. Less beautiful than striking, since her face showed too much somber strength.

She made a deprecating mouth. 
"Oh come on, Richard, don't be so condescending. After all, this is just about a friend of yours who croaked a few days ago. It's not something you have to impress the world with." 
She described an impatient semicircle with her cigarette. 
"You really are a pompous ape. And I am not very benevolent, or, shall we say, tolerant, tonight." 
She walked off. 
Richard gave the other man a weak smile and a tilt of his head.

She walked straight into me. I had been watching her and the two men. This wasn't the first time I had seen her and Richard; I had seen them on occasion in different places, and something about them, mostly about her, had roused my curiosity. I wouldn't have minded meeting her, but I'm usually very bad at causing that kind of thing and had never tried therefore. 
"What are you doing here, looking things over," she said in more of a statement than a question. 
"Looking things over." 
"Is that all you have to say?" 
When she said all, I noticed a slight British accent for the first time. 
I was relieved of an answer since she continued, "Not much of a talker, are you? What's your name?" 
"Werner Traun." 
"Not German, are you?" She stuck out an aggressive lower lip as she said that. 
"I take it I'm not supposed to be anything," I said. 
"Why is that?" 
"Because all of your questions seem to question my essence."
"I don't follow. Try somebody else." 
She turned away. Too bad, I thought, this conversation had potential. 
But then she looked back and straight into my eyes. 
"Is that your line?" 
"Is what my line?" 
"You know what!" The cigarette described the same impatient semicircle. "Putting things on an above-cloud level." 
"I don't remember having said a single difficult word," I defended myself, smiling. 
"So you are German," she stated matter-of-factly, "or from somewhere in that part of the world." 
"Czech. I take it you've got something against the race." 
"Are you an advocate or lawyer or something like that? And don't give me yes and no again." 
"Well, I'm going to get a drink." 
She wandered off with apparent boredom.

I went over to Lenny's circle of young people. Lenny was a pretty girl, a relative of mine, and also something besides at the moment. Her young people were young for me, which is why I usually stayed away. I put my hands in the back pockets of her jeans and whispered "Let's go" in her ear. She leaned back against me. 

I liked her a lot. She was like a freshly peeled egg, sometimes soft-boilt, sometimes hard-boilt; I didn't mind either state. It had something to do with the fact that she was a relative, the daughter of people I'd known ever since I can remember, somebody I'd known forever. 

I'd watched her go through different states, and none of them had displeased me. She was a clean egg, that was the proper way to put it, I decided.

She leaned back further and put her mouth to my ear. "Okay," she whispered back. 
I noticed a casual but still conscious look from Jessi from across the room. She was pouring wine into a plastic cup.

I like being treated like an aristocrat. Lenny mostly treated me like one. That treatment could be respectful - I knew she respected a lot of the things I had done - or teasing; she also considered me a fossil. Perhaps I was a fossil in some ways other than my age compared to hers.

We drove home in the white early sixties Cadillac convertible that was the reason of our relationship. By chance, we had both been to a party at a plantation outside New Orleans after not having seen each other in perhaps two years. She wore dark blue corduroys and a white cotton blouse. She looked endearingly soft. 

I offered her a ride home. When she saw the car, she burst out laughing. She couldn't believe, she said, that she was going to actually ride in one of those I don't know whats
"Cadillacs!" I said, picking up a magnolia flower from the white leather seat and sticking it in her hair. "Don't you know that white Cadillac convertibles, magnolias, plantation parties and so on go together?" 
I kissed her on the mouth then. It was intended as a welcome kiss, but it turned into something quite different as soon as I'd looked into her eyes: they were wide awake, aware and soft.

Without asking, I took her to my place, and we went to bed in my bed. I lent her one of my long shirts as a nightshirt. We weren't thinking of making love, but talked some and then slept in each other's arms.

I was first to wake up in the morning, but she opened her eyes when she felt me stir. She looked around, then nodded in obvious approval. 
"What?" I said.
"I'm glad," she said, "I'm glad there are no obvious signs of man here. No short, black socks, no masculine aftershave lotions." 
"I keep those in the bathroom cabinet." 
"The socks, too?" 
"Yes, the short black ones."

She sat up. "In a way I knew, even in the dark."

Draft dates from 1984, revised 2019. Johannes Beilharz 2019.

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