(continuing the "all nighter" conversation between Cassie and her lovers P. and S.)
"Sorry, I didn't mean to be patronizing." His apology brought my mind back to the present. I immediately felt sorry I'd said anything, his eyes looked so wounded I wanted to laugh. He's so thin-skinned, I try all the time to temper the abrasive ways I learned on the streets of South Philly.
"It's all right, poor baby!" I stuck out my tongue.
"What did de Man do during the war?" S. blurted this out of nowhere. He was standing up, pouring a glass of Scotch. "When he was born?"
"I think it was 1919 or 1920, why?" P. looked annoyed at the question or the late/early hour.
"And he's Belgian, cor-rect? That would've made him about 21 when my countrymen took that detour through the Low Countries on their way to Paris."
"I've seen the photo of them goose-stepping along the Champs-Elysées beside the Arc de Triomphe"
"Yes, it was the hot weather and marching that gave them a thirst for some Stella, Belgium's middling rival to good German beer. A reasonable justification for violating the Belgian's neutrality, don't you agree?" His laugh was both mocking and angry in one.
"I've never asked him 'what did you do in the war, daddy,' and he's never offered. I can't imagine him doing anything bad, he's too kind."
"Odd. There's a rumor in Europe he has a past in need of hiding. My father poked around a little when I mentioned I was taking his course. The details are fairly sketchy, something about the Nazis."
"I would imagine dealing with Nazis in occupied Belgium was pretty common. It makes absolutely no difference to me," P. bristled. "De Man's one of the fairest and most-decent men I've met here. Besides, if you want anti-Semitism, my first week in grad school, a Sterling Fucking Professor Emeritus of Romance Languages complained in a class how they were admitting too many 'New York Jews'. No hidden meaning there."
"Hmmm. Interesting. We Germans understand better than most that overt anti-Semitism is the tool of the thug. Subtlety produces more lasting results."
It was getting really late now and my mind started wandering uncontrollably. I looked at the two men sparring instead of focusing on what they said. P. long and muscular, S. only a few inches taller than me. My husband's still-powerful legs seemed like they started in the living room and ended out in the kitchen. The two of them have few physical similarities— S. is handsome, not in the rugged, overtly masculine way with P., nor pretty, either, like the fashion magazine models I've read are mostly gay— finely-formed would be a better description, with a dash of the unexpected in his features, as if one of his ancestors dallied with a Gypsy. There's a softness to his looks that's disturbing on a level I still can't pinpoint— he isn't androgynous, isn't effeminate, it's an almost baby-faced sweetness contrasting with that rakish demeanor. I believed it when he told me women want to cuddle or mother him, including his whores. You think of Germans as blue-eyed blond beasts; he's dark, with full, sensuous lips like a woman, lips that always look pursed as if they're ready to kiss or be kissed; above is a crisp, chiseled nose and above it, hooded brown eyes that smolder or glaze over in easy succession, depending on his mood and things around him, all the while hiding behind old-fashioned gold wire-rimmed glasses that make him look serious, smart, and lovably unstylish all at once. What a contrast with the affected casualness of most Yalies. His skin is pale, even translucent ("I hate daylight," he would counter if I praised the sun); I wondered at one point if his organs and beating heart would show beneath his skin.
Actually that was the first time I had ever imagined him without clothes. Really.
There's a photo in a book in P.'s study about a famous German poet from the First World War, and he's dressed up as an Uhlan, one of the elite palace guards. The more I thought about it, the easier I could imagine S. in the plumed helmet and gold-embossed get-up of a Prussian aristocrat clicking his heels "Jawohl, zu Befehl, gnädige Dame." And I did, later on, imagine him— fantasize about him— in that way— and others.
I drifted out of my reverie and noticed my watch read 4:36 in the morning. P. noticed the time, and said, "Ah, fuck it, we're always looking for 'meaning.' It's another shortcoming in our desires. Like believing that possessing the object of our desires— another person— will fill the void in us that's fundamental to our very being."
P. snapped me back to the present with the same discomfort as if he'd popped the elastic strap on my bra! We'd sailed far beyond the relatively tame channels of lit crit, and I felt lonely and lost.
"We are born alone, we will die alone…" S. mouthed the words so quietly I almost couldn't hear them.
"And no one we sleep with in between can fill that emptiness," I added. "And now for a pregnant pause," I laughed.
"Better a pregnant pause than pregnant," S. riposted.
The joking didn't prevent a shudder from running down my back. I cried out and the other two stared at me, S. sitting up and apologizing, thinking he'd hurt my legs or something.
"No, I shivered, that's all. The heat must've been turned down too far." Of course it wasn't the temperature making me tremble. "Anyone ready for some coffee?"
I wouldn't sleep now, I'd go into work feeling like shit and not being sorry one bit. The excitement of the night swirled around me in a mist of images, words, sentences and feelings. S. rambled on a bit longer, then crashed on the living room floor in mid-sentence, telling us how he wanted to adapt Deconstruction to post-World War I diplomacy. It's a good thing he shut up, or I might've fallen asleep on my feet. P. and I laughed at him, then made out on the couch like horny teenagers.
"You like him, don't you?" P. asked me in mid-kiss.
"He's fun," was all I answered, pressing my lips to his and keeping him too busy to ask anything further.
"I love you, Cassie," he mumbled between my hard kisses.
Nothing much happened after that; he was far too exhausted to really make love, and I didn't feel like taking the time for my vibrator. I curled up on his chest and dozed off.