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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Decorum. By John von Daler

                       "Do you love me?" The words etched themselves into the stale air of the tiny, dark, bedroom. He thought he could see them.

                Where are my socks, thought the Austrian officer. He caught sight of his eagle-topped headpiece across the room on the corner of a chair by her dressing table. The beak was pointing at the door.
                She turned sideways under the eiderdown. Her curly, blond hair, which had been piled extravagantly in the direction of the stars throughout the evening, now hung beside her left cheek. A few clips had worked their way out of the tangles in her hair and now dangled freely in the air. The blue that used to decorate her eyelids had worked its way down to her Slavic cheekbones.
                She looks like she has camouflaged herself, he thought. Like a wild Indian on the prowl.
                She pulled herself up to a sitting position, letting the eiderdown slide down. Let him see the goods, she thought. Let him see what he is losing.
                She had heard him talking in his sleep. His mouth had drooped while his combed and pomaded hair had frizzled into small, stiff, jagged strands. Saliva had dribbled onto the sheet. He had mumbled something about another man's body. Actually, listening to his dream had excited her far more than his perfunctory lovemaking.
                Now she looks as dumb as she is, he thought and turned away from her to study the floor around him. My socks, he thought, a kingdom for my socks.
                You would never have guessed that he was a high-ranking officer, she thought. Not when he sleeps. Then he is like a street urchan selling dirty favors.
                "Do you love me, my darling," she repeated as she stretched her arms upwards and outwards in a victorious V and loosened the rest of the eiderdown.
                "I love you as greatly, my dear, as the overture to La Bohème is long," he answered. Then he pounced on his socks and sitting on the edge of the bed pulled them quickly onto his feet. He stood up stockinged and naked; he strode over to the chair where he had hung his hat to find the rest of his clothes.
                She lay back down on the bed and pretended to fall asleep. He dressed carefully in front of her mirror, combing his hair in place with a comb from her dressing table. You cannot be too careful Sunday morning with all those generals and their families on the way to mass. You must look neat, conventional and clean. Everything in order.
                As he slipped out the door, locking it quietly behind him, she turned over onto her stomach in the bed and started to hum that terse, troubling Puccini theme with its halfsteps in a row, "Da dum, dum, dumm!" into her pillow. It seemed to her to be the most fascinating little line of music she had ever heard: over as quickly as the wink of an eye and on to new things. But then, Puccini promised his listeners nothing that he could not live up to.

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