Life Times

Life Times by Nadine Gordimer Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Life Times by Nadine Gordimer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nadine Gordimer
that very first night. Eileen, who had never seen him before in her life, was even more overjoyed than Waldeck to find that he had not changed. As soon as they came out of the elevator and saw him standing in the hotel lobby with a muffler hanging down untied on the lapels of his dark coat, they knew he had not changed. He wore the presidency of the public utility company, the wealth and the Fifth Avenue apartment just as he had worn the paper cap in the Budapest night club on New Year’s Eve long ago. Stefan’s American wife was not able to accompany them that night, so the three dined alone at the Pierre. After dinner Stefan wanted to know if he should drive them to Times Square and along Broadway or anywhere else they’d read about, but they told him that he was the only sight they wanted to see so soon after their arrival. They talked for two hours over dinner, Stefan asking and Waldeck answering eager questions about the old Heidelberg friends whom Waldeck and Eileen had seen in London. Stefan went to London sometimes, and he had seen one or two, but many whom he hadn’t been able to find for years seemed to have appeared out of their hiding places for Waldeck. In fact, there were several old Berlin and Heidelberg friends living in New York whom Stefan had seen once, or not at all, but who, on the Brands’ first day in New York, had already telephoned their hotel. ‘We love Waldeck. Better than we love each other,’ said Stefan to his friend’s wife, his black eyes looking quietly out over the room, the corners of his mouth indenting in his serious smile that took a long time to open out, brightening his eyes as it did until they shone like the dark water beneath a lamplight on a Venetian canal where Eileen had stood with her husband a few weeks before.
    Eileen seemed to feel her blood warm in the palms of her hands, as if some balm had been poured over them. No man in South Africa could say a thing like that! The right thing, the thing from the heart. You had to have the assurance of Europe, of an old world of civilised human relationships behind you before you could say, simply and truthfully, a thing like that.
    It was the moment for the mood of the conversation to take a turn. Waldeck said curiously, suddenly remembering, ‘And whatever became of Carlitta? Did you ever see Carlitta? Peter told me, in London, that she had come to live in America.’
    â€˜Now that’s interesting that you should ask,’ said Stefan. ‘I’ve wondered about her, too. I saw her once, twelve – more – thirteen years back. When first she arrived in America. She was staying quite near the hotel where you’re living now. I took her out to lunch – not very sumptuous; I was rather poor at the time – and I never saw her again. She was beautiful. You remember? She was always beautiful—’ he crinkled his eyes to dark slits, as if to narrow down the aperture of memory upon her – ‘even in a bad restaurant in New York, she was – well, the word my son would use is the best for her – she was terrific. Minute and terrific.’
    â€˜That’s it. That’s it.’ Waldeck spoke around the cigar he held between his teeth, trying to draw up a light.
    â€˜We adored her,’ said Stefan, shaking his head slowly at the wonder of it.
    â€˜So you too, Stefan, you too?’ said Eileen with a laugh.
    â€˜Oh, none of us was in love with Carlitta. Only Klaus, and he was too stupid. He doesn’t count. We only adored. We knew it was useless to fall in love with her. Neither she nor we believed any one of us was good enough for her.’
    â€˜So you don’t think she’s in New York?’ asked Waldeck.
    Stefan shook his head. ‘I did hear, from someone who knew her sister, that she had married an American and gone to live in Ohio.’ He stopped and chuckled congestedly. ‘Carlitta in Ohio. I don’t believe it . . .

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