Free Souls, Chapter 38

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 38

“Yoshiko.” The name popped out of his mouth like a startled mouse from a hole.

For a long second she sat and stared at him. His eyes shifted, ashamed to meet hers. Beethoven’s music, its very nobility an insult, was still playing:

Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?

“Noooooo!!!!” With a cry of agony and rage, clutching her skirts, the elastic of her hose binding her thighs, she hurtled, nearly tripping, over to the turntable.

Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Stern–

Gggccchhhtttt! the needle scraped across the vinyl as she yanked the tone arm off the record. She turned and confronted him in the sudden silence, taking no heed of her half-naked state. “Yoshiko! And I suppose Lise, too?”

Again he was too shocked at her knowledge to make any denial. This time, only a wide-eyed, guilty glance, the merest involuntary nod of the head. Then, he, too, sprang off the bed. Not to approach her to plead excuses or to beg forgiveness or understanding. He blurted out two syllables: “W.C.!” and ran off down the hall to the bathroom.

Sandy wasn’t waiting for him to finish his– business– and return. Before that she had to dress and escape for home. She switched on the light so she could see, but in her haste she still tried to put on the bodice of her sundress with it twisted the wrong way around. She got it straightened, then her thumb caught on one of the straps. Stupidly, she kept pushing at it, trying to get her hand through, before she made herself slow down and do it right. Thank God the dress was well-made and didn’t tear! “Oh, Sandy, wasting time, wasting time!” With fumbling, uncoordinated fingers she jerked at the zipper. It stuck more than once. Oh, Lord help her, why wouldn’t it cooperate? Finally she got it closed. The hooks to her bra she disregarded. Let the discomfort be a punishment to her!

Hurriedly, grabbing at them through skirt and slip, she did an adequate job of pulling her pantyhose back up to her waist. But her shoes! Oh, God, where were her shoes? She was still frantically searching for them when Werner, now wearing a T-shirt with the chinos, returned from the bathroom.

“Zandra, bitte,” he said, holding out his hands in conciliation. “Please, Zandra, listen to me.”

“Why should I listen to you, you– you– liar! You Mephistopheles!”

“Zandra, Liebling– ”

“Don’t you dare ever call me that again,” she said through clenched teeth. “I’m not your little love! You don’t love me. You never loved me at all!”

“Nein, nein, that is not true!” he pleaded. “You must listen to me!”

“It’s you who are not true! Oh, God, I believed you! God help me, I believed you!” It was a sob, which she forcibly cut off. She had to leave now, now, before she lost all control, before he discovered how much she still cared. “What have you done with my shoes?” she demanded, realizing how frantic she sounded but unable to stop herself. “I need my shoes!”

Without a word, he pulled the white sandals out from under the far end of the futon-bed and held them out to her, his finger hooked under the heel straps. As he passed them to her she drew back her hand as if there might be pollution in his touch. The sandals dropped to the floor. He looked with astonishment from her to the shoes and the expression of shock and hurt on his face made her glad.

But gloating would have to wait. Stumbling a little, she pulled on the sandals. “Where is my purse?” she demanded of the room. “Oh, there,” and she snatched it out from behind the remaining beanbag. Without saying goodbye, without even looking at him again, she ran to the door. Oh, if she could only leave this place, perhaps she could escape the agony of what he had said and done, of what he had made her do and say!

Werner was too fast for her. He reached the door first, and barricaded it with his body. “Wohin gehst Du, Zandra?” he asked gently.

“Home!” she shot back at him. How infuriatingly shameful that it came out a shrill cry, a pathetic compound of a shriek and a wail. “Out of here, anywhere but here, away from you!”

“Zandra, how will you get home?” Why did he have to sound so reasonable and caring about it?

“I’ll take the bus, like I always do!”

He looked at his watch. “Liebling– ”

She glared at him.

Entschuldige mich, aber– but it is a habit of mine to call you that; it is how I feel for you– but there is not a bus for another forty-five minutes. It is not safe for you to stand at the stop all that time by yourself.”

“I’ll be all right,” she responded, a little hysterically. “Maybe I’ll walk home. I’ll be perfectly fine, for all you care.”

A flash of pain contorted his face. She knew what he wanted to say, that he did care. Well, he should have thought of that before he deceived her. She moved forward, trying to get to the doorknob and wrest it open in spite of him.

He moved so the handle was behind his back. “Nein, Zandra. You cannot. Your shoes. You have said it before, they hurt you. You cannot walk far in them.” He looked at her feet, and a thrill of shame went through her as she remembered how he had cradled them in his hands and kissed them earlier that evening.

“Well, maybe– ” She had started to say, “Well, maybe I deserve to have my feet torn up, for trusting myself to you!” but she stopped. It was overdramatic, not to say masochistic, and she must not humble herself to him like that. “ –maybe I’m stronger than you think I am!”

“Nein, Zandra,” he said again. “I wish I could make you stay. Then vielleicht I could make you understand– ”

She shook her head violently.

“ –but since I cannot, I will call you a taxi, so you will arrive home in safety. I will pay.”

“I don’t want to take anything from you!”

“Bitte, Zandra. Please. Please allow me this. You are not hardhearted or cruel. Do not punish yourself to punish me. Bitte!”

She gave in. Not in so many words, but by stepping back from the door and turning her back on it, so he could go in the kitchen and make the call without fear of her bolting.

When he returned to the living room, he lifted Side 4 of the Solti Ninth Symphony from the spindle and held it up to the light to gauge the extent of the damage. He sleeved the disk, then did the same with the one bearing Sides 2 and 3.

“It is yours,” he said. “A gift to you. Will you take it?”

“No!” she said, as if he had offered her a bouquet of poison ivy. “You keep it.” Spitefully she added, “I hope I ruined it. You ruined it for me!”

He laid the album down on the stereo cabinet. His arms dropped to his sides as if emptied of all vigor. “Es tut mir leid,” he said sadly. “I am so sorry. I thought you understood me. From the beginning, I thought you knew.”

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