Issue 13, Summer 1956
Somehow it wasn’t altogether a surprise when Waldeck Brand and his wife bumped into Carlitta at a theater in New York in 1953. The Brands were six thousand miles away from their home in South Africa, and everywhere they had visited in England and Europe before they came to America they had met Waldeck’s contemporaries from Heidelberg whom he hadn’t seen for twenty years and never had expected to see ever again. It had seemed a miracle to Waldeck that all these people, who had had to leave Germany because they were liberals (like himself), or Jews, or both, not only had survived transplantation but had thrived, and not only had thrived but had managed to do so each in the manner and custom of the country which had given him sanctuary.
Of course, Waldeck Brand did not think it a miracle that he had survived and conformed to a pattern of life lived at the other end of the world to which he had belonged. (Perhaps it is true, after all, that no man can believe in the possibility of his own failure or death.) It seemed quite natural that the gay young man destined primarily for a good time and, secondly, for the inheritance of his wealthy father’s publishing house in Berlin should have become a director of an important group of gold mines in southernmost Africa, a world away from medieval German university towns where he had marched at the head of the student socialist group, and the Swiss Alps where he had skied and shared his log cabin with a different free-thinking girl every winter, and the Kurfürstendamm where he had strolled with his friends, wearing elegant clothes specially ordered from England. Yet to him—and to his South African wife, who had been born and had spent the twenty-seven years of her life in Cape Town, looking out, often and often, over the sea which she had now crossed for the first time—it was a small miracle that his Heidelberg friend, Siggie Bentheim, was to be found at the foreign editor’s desk of a famous right-of-center newspaper in London, and another university friend, Stefan Rosovsky, now become Stefan Raines, was president of a public-utility company in New York and had a finger or two dipped comfortably in oil, too. To Waldeck, Siggie was the leader of a Communist cell, an ugly little chap, best student in the Institut für Sozialwissenschaften, whose tiny hands were dry-skinned and shrunken, as if political fervor had used up his blood like fuel. Stefan was the soulfuleyed Russian boy with the soft voice and the calm delivery of dry wit who tutored in economics and obviously was fitted for nothing but an academic career as an economist.
And to Eileen, Waldeck Brand’s wife, both were people who lived, changeless, young, enviable, in a world that existed only in Waldeck’s three green leather photograph albums. Siggie was the one who sat reading the Arbeiterpolitik, oblivious of the fact that a picture was being taken, in the photograph where a whole dim, underexposed room (Waldeck’s at Heidelberg) was full of students. Eileen had been to a university in South Africa, but she had never seen students like that: such good-looking, happy, bold-eyed boys, such beautiful girls, smoking cigarettes in long holders and stretching out their legs in pointed-toed shoes beneath their short skirts. Someone was playing a guitar in that picture. But Siggie Bentheim (you could notice those hands, around the edges of the pages) read a paper.
Stefan was not in that picture, but in dozens of others. In particular, there was one taken in Budapest. A flashlight picture, taken in a night club. Stefan holds up a glass of champagne, resigned in his dinner suit, dignified in a silly paper cap. New Year’s in Budapest, before Hitler, before the war. Can you imagine it? Eileen was fascinated by those photograph albums and those faces. Since she had met and married Waldeck in 1952, she had spent many hours looking at the albums. When she did so, a great yawning envy opened through her whole body. She was young, and the people pictured in those albums were all, even if they were alive, over forty by now. But that did not matter; that did not count. That world of the photograph albums was not lost only by those who had outgrown it into middle age. It was lost. Gone. It did not belong to a new youth. It was not hers, although she was young. It was no use being young, now, in the forties and fifties. She thought of the green albums as the record of an Atlantis.
Waldeck had never been back to Europe since he came as a refugee to South Africa twenty years before. He had not kept up a regular correspondence with his scattered student friends, though one or two had written, at intervals of four or five years, and so for some, when Waldeck took his wife to Europe and America, he had the address-before-the-last, and for others the vaguest ideas of their whereabouts. Yet he found them all, or they found him. It was astonishing. The letters he wrote to old addresses were forwarded; the friends whom he saw knew where other friends lived, or at least what jobs they were doing, so that they could be traced that way, simply by a telephone call. In London there were dinner parties and plain drinking parties, and there they were—the faces from Atlantis, gathered together in a Strand pub. One of the women was a grandmother; most of the men were no longer married to women Waldeck remembered them marrying, and had shed their old political faiths along with their hair. But all were alive, and living variously, and in them was still the peculiar vigor that showed vividly in those faces, caught in the act of life long ago, in the photograph albums.
Once or twice in London, Waldeck had asked one old friend or another, “What happened to Carlitta? Does anyone know where Carlitta is?” Siggie Bentheim, eating Scotch salmon at Rules’, like any other English journalist who can afford to, couldn’t remember Carlitta. Who was she? Then Waldeck remembered that the year when everyone got to know Carlitta was the year that Siggie spent in Lausanne.
Another old friend remembered her very well. “Carlitta! Not in England, at any rate. Carlitta!”
Someone else caught the name, and called across the table, “Carlitta was in London, oh, before the war. She went to America thirteen or fourteen years ago.”
“Did she ever marry poor old Klaus Schultz? My God, he was mad about that girl!”
“Marry him! No-o-o! Carlitta wouldn’t marry him.”
“Carlitta was a collector of scalps, all right,” said Waldeck, laughing.
“Well, do you wonder?” said the friend.
Eileen knew Carlitta well, in picture and anecdote. Eileen had a favorite among the photographs of her, too, just as she had the one of Stefan in Budapest on New Year’s Eve. The photograph was taken in Austria, on one of Waldeck’s skiing holidays. It was a clear print and the snow was blindingly white. In the middle of the whiteness stood a young girl, laughing away from the camera in the direction of something or someone outside the picture. Her little face, burnished by the sun, shone dark against the snow. There was a highlight on each firm, round cheekbone, accentuated in laughter. She was beautiful in the pictures of groups, too—in boats on the Neckar, in the gardens of the Schloss, in cafés and at student dances; even, once, at Deauville, even in the unbecoming bathing dress of the time. In none of the pictures did she face the camera. If, as in the ski picture, she was smiling, it was at someone in the group, and if she was not, her black pensive eyes, her beautiful little firm-fleshed face with the short chin, stared at the toes of her shoes, or at the smoke of her cigarette, arrested in its climbing arabesque by the click of the camera. The total impression of all these photographs of the young German girl was one of arrogance. She did not participate in the taking of a photograph; she was simply there, a thing of beauty which you could attempt to record if you wished.
One of the anecdotes about the girl was something that had happened on that skiing holiday. Carlitta and Klaus Schultz, Waldeck and one of his girls had gone together to the mountains. (“Oh, the luck of it!” Eileen had said to Waldeck at this point in his story, the first time he related it. “You were eighteen? Nineteen? And you were allowed to go off on your first love affair to the mountains. Can you imagine what would have happened if I had announced to my parents that I was going off on a holiday with a young lover? And in Austria, and skiing...” Poor Eileen, who had gone, every year, on a five-day cruise along the coast to stay at a “family hotel” in Durban, accompanied by her parents and young brother and sister, or had been sent, in the winter vacation, with an uncle and cousins to hear the lions roar outside a dusty camp in the Kruger Park. She did not know which to envy Waldeck, Carlitta, and Klaus most—the sexual freedom or the steep mountain snows.) Anyway, it was on the one really long and arduous climb of that delightful holiday that Carlitta, who for some hours had been less talkative than usual and had fallen back a little, sat down in the snow and refused to move. Waldeck had lagged behind the rest of the party to mend a broken strap on his rucksack, and so it was that he noticed her. When he asked her why she did not hurry on with him to catch up with the other members of the party, she said, perfectly calm, “I want to sit here in the shade and rest. I’ll wait here till you all come back.”
There was no shade. The party intended to sleep in a rest hut up the mountain, and would not pass that way again till next day. At first Waldeck laughed; Carlitta was famous for her gaiety and caprice. Then he saw that in addition to being perfectly calm, Carlitta was also perfectly serious. She was not joking, but suffering from some kind of peculiar hysteria. He begged and begged her to get up, but she would not. “I am going to rest in the shade” was all she would answer. The rest of the party was out of sight and he began to feel nervous. There was only one thing he could try. He went up kindly to the beautiful little girl and struck her sharply, twice, in the face. The small head swung violently this way, then that. Carlitta got up, dusted the snow from her trousers, and said to Waldeck, “For God’s sake, what are we waiting for? The others must be miles ahead.”
“And when Klaus heard what had happened,” Waldeck’s story always ended, “he could scarcely keep himself from crying, he was so angry that he had not been the one to revive Carlitta, and Carlitta saw his nose pinken and swell slightly with the effort of keeping back the tears, and she noted how very much he must be in love with her and how easy it would be to torment him.”
Wretched Klaus! He was the blond boy with the square jaw who always frowned and smiled directly into the camera. Eileen had a theory that young people didn’t even fall in love like that any more. That, too, had gone down under the waves.
Waldeck and his young wife arrived in New York on a Tuesday. Stefan Raines came to take them out to dinner 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 civilized 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 what ever became of Carlitta? Did you ever see Carlitta? Peter told me, in London, that she had come to live in America.”
“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.”
“That’s it. That’s it.” Waldeck spoke around the cigar he held between his teeth, trying to draw up a light.
“We adored her,” said Stefan, shaking his head slowly at the wonder of it.
“So you too, Stefan, you too?” said Eileen with a laugh.
“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.”
“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... Well, we should move along from here now, you know. Sure there isn’t anywhere you’d like to go before bedtime?”
The girl from South Africa remembered that one of the things she’d always wanted to do if ever she came to New York was to hear a really fat Negro woman singing torch songs, so Stefan took them to a place where the air-conditioning apparatus kept the fog of smoke and perfume and liquor fumes moving around the tables while an enormous yellow blubber of a woman accompanied her own voice, quakingly with her flesh and thunderously on the piano.
It was only two nights later that Eileen came out of the ladies’ room to join her husband in a theater foyer during the interval and found him embracing a woman in a brown coat. As Waldeck held the woman away from him, by her shoulders, as if to take a good look at her after he had kissed her, Eileen saw a small face with a wide grin and really enormous eyes. As Eileen approached she noticed a tall, sandy-haired man standing by indulgently. When she reached the three, Waldeck turned to her with the pent-up, excited air he always had when he had secretly bought her a present, and he held out his hand to draw her into the company. In the moment before he spoke, Eileen felt a stir of recognition at the sight of the woman’s hair, smooth brown hair in which here and there a gray filament of a coarser texture showed, refusing to conform to the classic style, center-parted and drawn back in a bun, in which the hair was worn.
“Do you know who this is?” said Waldeck almost weakly. “It’s Carlitta.”
Eileen was entitled to a second or two in which to be taken aback, to be speechless in the face of coincidence. In that moment, however, the coincidence did not even occur to her; she simply took in, in an intense perception outside of time, the woman before her—the brown coat open to show the collar of some nondescript silk caught together with a little brooch around the prominent tendons of the thin, creased neck; the flat, taut chest; the dowdy shoes with brown, punched-leather bows coming too high on the instep of what might have been elegant feet. And the head. Oh, that was the head she had seen before, all right; that was the head that, hair so sleek it looked like a satin turban, inclined with a mixture of coquetry, invitation, amusement, and disdain toward a ridiculously long cigarette holder. That hair was brown, after all, and not the Spanish black of the photographs and imagination. And the face. Well, there is a stage in a woman’s life when her face gets too thin or too fat. This face had reached that stage and become too thin. It was a prettily enough shaped face, with a drab, faded skin, as if it was exposed to but no longer joyously took color from the sun. Toward the back of the jawline, near the ears, the skin sagged sallowly. Under the rather thick, attractive brows the twin caves of the eyes were finely puckered and mauvish. In this faded, fading face (it was like an old painting of which you are conscious that it is being faded away by the very light by which you are enabled to look at it) the eyes had lost nothing; they shone on, greedily and tremendous, just as they had always been, in the snow, reflecting the Neckar, watching the smoke unfurl to the music of the guitar. They were round eyes with scarely any white to them, like the beautiful eyes of Negro children, and the lashes, lower as well as upper, were black and thick. Their assertion in that face was rather awful.
The woman who Waldeck said was Carlitta took Eileen’s hand. “Isn’t it fantastic? We’re only up from Ohio this morning,” she said, smiling broadly. Her teeth were small, childishly square and still good. On her neglected face the lipstick was obviously a last-minute adornment.
“And this is Edgar,” Waldeck was saying, “Edgar Hicks. Carlitta’s husband.”
The tall, sandy-haired man shook Eileen’s hand with as much flourish as a stage comedian. “Glad to know you,” he said. Eileen saw that he wore sexagonal rimless glasses and a clip across his tie spelled in pinkish synthetic gold “E.J.H.”.
“Carlitta Hicks.” Waldeck put out a hand and squeezed Carlitta’s elbow. “I can’t believe it.”
“Sure is extraordinary,” said Mr. Hicks. “Carlitta here and I haven’t been up to New York for more than three years.”
“Ach, no, darling,” said Carlitta, frowning and smiling quickly. She used her face so much, no wonder she had worn it out. “Four at least. You remember, that last time was at Christmas.” She added to Waldeck, “Once in a blue moon is enough for me. Our life...” She half-lifted a worn hand, gave a little sudden intake of breath through her fine nostrils, as if to suggest that their life, whatever it was, was such that the pleasures of New York or anywhere else offered no rival enticement. She had still a slight German accent to soften the American pronunciation of her speech.
Everyone was incoherent. Waldeck kept saying excitedly, “I haven’t been out of South Africa since I arrived there twenty years ago. I’m in New York two days and I find Carlitta!”
There was time only to exchange the names of hotels and to promise to telephone tomorrow. Then the theater bell interrupted. As they parted, Waldeck called back, “Keep Sunday lunch free. Stefan’s coming. We’ll all be together...”
Carlitta’s mouth pursed; her eyes opened wide in a pantomime “Lovely” across the crowd.
“And yet I’m not really entirely surprised,” Waldeck whispered to his wife in the darkening theater. “It’s been happening to us in one way or another all the time. What do you think of the husband? What about Mr. Edgar Hicks from Ohio?” he added with a nudge.
In the dark, as the curtain rose, Eileen followed it with her eyes for a moment and then said, “I shouldn’t have known her. I don’t think I should ever have known her.”
“But Carlitta hasn’t changed at all!” said Waldeck.
Waldeck was on the telephone, talking to Stefan, immediately after breakfast next morning. Passing to and fro between the bedroom and the bathroom, Eileen could see him, his body hitched up onto the corner of the small desk, smiling excitedly at what must have been Stefan’s quiet incredulity. “But I tell you he actually is some sort of farmer in Ohio. Yes. Well, that’s what I wanted to know. I can’t really say-very tall and fairish and thin. Very American... Well, you know what I mean-a certain type of American, then. Slow, drawling way of speaking. Shakes your hand a long time. A week-end farmer, really. He’s got some job with a firm that makes agricultural implements, in the nearby town. She said she runs pigs and chickens. Can you believe it? So is it all right about Sunday? I can imagine you are... Ach, the same old Carlitta.”