The Baroness was a charming creature. The Baron had taken her from a family of high principles and had no reason to mistrust her, despite the fact that the tooth of time had already gnawed into him quite deeply . . . And yet a disquieting element of grace and charm lay dormant within her, which could easily complicate the practical application of the Baron’simponderabilia (since the Baron was a bit of a stickler). One day, after a period of conjugal life graced with the quiet bliss of marital duty, the Baroness came running to her husband and threw her arms around his neck. “I think I ought to tell you this. Henryk has fallen in love with me . . . Yesterday he declared himself to me, so quickly and suddenly that I had no time to stop him.”
“And are you in love with him, too?” he asked.
“No, I don’t love him, because I have pledged my love to you,” she replied.
“Very well then,” he said. “If you are in love with him but do not love him because it is your duty to love me, then my esteem for you doubles and I love you twice as much. And the young chap’s suffering is a well-deserved punishment for his weakness of character—losing his heart to a married woman! Principles, my dear! Should he ever make another declaration of love, tell him that you also have a declaration to make—but of principles. A man of unshakable principles can walk through life with his head held high.”
But soon after, the Baron received some dreadful news. Henryk had no pluck in him whatsoever. Spurned by the Baroness, the young man took to drinking and carousing, then he became melancholic, nothing interested him anymore, the world lost its charm, and he seemed to be at death’s door. According to widespread rumor, his imminent demise was due to unrequited love. “Fine doings, these!” said the Baron to his wife. “Here we are eating canapés while he can’t get anything down . . . Do you realize? . . . Because the image of you is preying on his mind. I wonder what he sees in you. I’ve been living with you for all these years and I’ve never had any feelings for you that could be called violent. In any case, this is a serious business and I am surprised to see you looking so well, knowing that wretch is suffering because of you.”
A week later he was in an even fouler mood. “Well, bravo!” he sneered. “You should be proud of yourself! Your charms have proved most effective—Henryk has one foot in the grave.”
“What can I do about it?” she replied with tears in her eyes. “I never led him on, I have no reason to reproach myself.”
“Good grief! You are the cause of his hopeless state, your arabesques, your curves and features are the germs eating away at him.”
“What can I do? He’s gone mad. Do you know what he suggested the day he declared his love? Divorce!”
“What? Divorce? You’re not a strumpet yet, are you? Yes, of course, you’ll get your divorce, but you know when?—when I die, when I breathe my last, while still professing the same unshakable principles.”
“And what if he dies?”
“Dies!” exclaimed the Baron furiously. “That’s blackmail, for which I refuse to break my vow to keep you until my dying day!”
To read the rest of this piece, purchase the issue.
Luc Sante, Robert Caro, Jensen Beach, Chris Bachelder, Witold Gombrowicz, Benjamin Hale, Dana Johnson, Craig Morgan Teicher, Anne-Laure Zevi, John Ashbery, Mary Jo Bang, Erica Ehrenberg, Amit Majmudar, J. D. McClatchy, Morgan Parker, Mary Ruefle, Frederick Seidel, James Tate, Cynthia Zarin.
John Ashbery, Sitting at the Table
John Ashbery, This Once
John Ashbery, Hillbilly Airs and Dances
Mary Jo Bang, Self-Portrait in the Bathroom Mirror
Mary Jo Bang, Admission
Mary Jo Bang, An Anatomical Study
Erica Ehrenberg, Pause at the Edge of the Country
Amit Majmudar, Nostalgia
J. D. McClatchy, Sunflowerws in October
J. D. McClatchy, My After-Dinner Drink
Mary Ruefle, The Woman Who Couldn’t Describe A Thing If She Could
Frederick Seidel, Paris
James Tate, Untitled
Cynthia Zarin, Japanese Poems