by D. Moisdon
From an East Coast private school to the Hamptons.
|1972 : A CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY
Crazy things keep happening to me. Last week, my father said: “What do you want to do for your Christmas holiday ?”
I replied immediately : “I want to spend it with Mother.”
It was not so much a sentimental decision as a way of avoiding the terrible weather we are having this month... and also an excuse for spending the festive season in California. Father muttered : “Oh, all right, then !”
He is a nice man, a Baron, a real one, going way back to some grand Austrian family. When he dies, I shall be a Baroness. What a lark ! Can you imagine ? Baroness Cecilia von Spitzenfeld ; enough of a mouthful to get you introduced absolutely anywhere. I can already hear the background noises :
“Daaaarling, you were SO right not to go to Newport this year. Princess Radirose didn’t show up and it simply wasn’t the same without her.” Or :
“My husband and I decided to rough it up for a couple of weeks in an adorable little village in the Pyrenees but the poor darling became very distressed. One couldn’t find the Wall Street Journal to save one’s life. In the end, we just HAD to cut it short.”
I have trouble picturing myself in a cocktail dress but they say it will come naturally to me as I grow up. Right now, I could not care less about what is in or out. I have been labelled a tomboy for the only reason that I am not fashion conscious, but I do not feel like a tomboy at all. I am not a rebel. I rather enjoy being seventeen years’ old in a top American girls’ boarding school on the East Coast...
Going back to the subject of California, I have my plane ticket and everything, and I am ready to leave. My dorm companions come and kiss me good-bye. Sad, in an odd sort of way. I won’t see them for three weeks. We occasionally fool around. Not that we are what you might call lesbians, you understand. Only... well, it IS nice if a good friend lends you a hand when you feel randy and frustrated, and it IS nice to cuddle up in bed with someone else when you are low and in need of human warmth.
Are these things turning me away from boys ? Not in the least. As soon as I am in a normal environment, everything falls back into place. A girls’ dorm exudes sensuality. This small world becomes THE world and you adapt to it... but when you get back to the big, wide world, you adapt again. Last Summer, for instance, I met a terrific young man called Douglas and, if he had not enlisted in the Air Force, I would be really looking forward to meeting with him again. Had he been around, I would have stayed at my Father’s brownstone house in New York instead of dashing off to California.
Just the same, the very first time I had sex was with another female : my cousin Beatrix, in fact. She is a good ten years older than me. I was twelve at the time and playing in the garden at Mother's Summer house in East-Hampton. As for Beatrix, she was sitting on the terrace, staring at me. The next time I looked up, her legs were half-open and I could see that she had nothing under her tennis skirt. I also noticed in a flash (no pun intended) that she did not have any pubic hair.
I thought the whole thing was terribly funny and started to giggle. She clearly had not expected that sort of reaction for she closed her legs. “Come over here !” she said. First, we talked about trivial things, then she asked me if I ever played with myself, if I had already experienced an orgasm, and so on... I was ill at ease but equally fascinated. Beatrix was persuasive, very kind and incredibly beautiful. We ended up in her bedroom.
A couple of hours later, I had a new outlook on life and wandered dreamily about the place till dinner time when everyone asked me if I was all right. Beatrix, it turned out, was not really a lesbian either but her boarding school past had caught up with her when she saw me prancing about.
All this seems very far away. Why do I keep thinking of Beatrix? She lives in Switzerland now with a friend called Jean-Paul whom nobody in the family has yet managed to meet, though we have seen loads of photographs of him.
They are thinking of getting married. He is Belgian and quite wealthy. My family do not give a damn about the fact that he is Belgian but they think it is terribly important that he should be wealthy.
So, here I am, sitting on my suitcase at the end of the ground-floor corridor. The whole dorm is buzzing with activity. Luggage is being rolled on the floor with thunderstorm-like rumbles ; girls wish each other a nice holiday and shout their good-byes half a dozen times. I wait for my taxi.
At last ! There it is. At that very moment, Esther, a fat girl from Texas, shouts from the other end of the corridor : “Cecilia ! Telephone !”
It would be so easy to pretend that I have already left the school ! After all, a few more seconds and it would have been true. Another girl is already pestering me to let her have my taxi while I answer the ‘phone. I give in and rush back into the dorm.
“Cecilia ?” It’s me.
“Mom ? Where are you ?”
“I’m in L.A… Listen, darling : don’t fly over. I’ll be in New York tomorrow. Did you hear the news ?”
“What news ?”
“You remember Beatrix, don’t you Dear ?”
Think of the Devil ! I feel a bit scared. We all know what it means when someone says : “Do you remember so-and-so ?”
“Of course, I remember Beatrix. What did she do ? Got herself pregnant ?”
Mother is in tears. Now, why do I always say such stupid things ?... as if a bad joke could ward off bad news. My mind races over several possibilities : car accident, drug overdose, cancer... Mother blows her nose : “She’s dead !”
She starts crying again ; a little too much I think. After all, Mother, does not know Beatrix all that well. Suddenly, with a husky gurgle, she shouts : “She’s been stabbed... stabbed twenty times or so with a big kitchen knife !”
All of a sudden, my legs feel like wool. I have to sit on the floor, with my back against the wall. “Stabbed ?” I manage to repeat like a dummy before adding : “By whom ?”
I cannot help thinking of Jean-Paul. The Police say that 90% of murdered women die at the hands of their husbands or lovers. Mother sniffles. She is calming down a bit. “A mad man, Cecilia. A wretched fellow who didn’t even know her. He was arrested within minutes, walking in the middle of the road, covered with blood and still holding the knife...”
I swallow painfully. “So, what next ? What do we do now ?”
“You stay right where you are, Dear. I’ll go and fetch you at the school and we’ll push on to East Hampton together. All right ?”
“All right, Mom. See you tomorrow.”
Sensing trouble, a few girls have stopped by, and are looking at me with concern but I can barely put names on their faces. One of them gently takes the receiver out of my hand and places it back on its hook.
Tears roll down my cheeks uncontrollably. Stabbed... in Switzerland ! You expect this sort of thing to happen outside sleazy bars at two in the morning, not in broad daylight in Switzerland ! It is just too absurd for words. A kind hand wipes my face with a paper tissue. I try to smile and say “Thank you” but a huge spasm jerks my whole body and, before I know it, what is left of my breakfast ends up on the floor tiles.
The school is now empty. Outside, a feeble sunshine starts melting the snow. Dirty black leaves are pushed by the wind across the small car park in front of the dorms. I walk slowly through the deserted building. I have been allowed to stick around for one more day. I am completely by myself and do not find it very amusing. I try watching TV. I go out on the campus. The air feels almost warm. End of the cold spell or just an intermission?
Stabbed ! Stabbed at the age of twenty-seven ! A bit of a genius, she was : PhD and author of an obscure booklet on international Law, or something like that. Stabbed by a mad man !
I must stop thinking about it but that’s easier said than done. I go back inside. The empty dorms are quite a strange world : smells of bed sheets, mattresses being aired, spilled perfume... Each bedroom has its own fragrance and its own style : pop star posters, mobiles, a single slipper in the middle of the floor, a comb left on a window-sill and, above all, an abundance of waste-paper baskets crammed full of magazines, cans of Coke, old gym socks and suspicious objects. I can hear cleaning women walking over in a din of clanging buckets and raucous laughter.
Sonia is already sunbathing in Bermuda; Anna skiing in Colorado ; most of them just back with their families... Marine County, Huston, Seattle or in quiet, unassuming towns and villages from North Dakota to Louisiana. They have been hugged by their parents, the dog’s gone wild, they are helping with Christmas decorations and calling all their friends... As for me, all set to fly to Los Angeles, I’m going to end up in East-Hampton.
The next day I am at Kennedy, waiting for Jean-Paul and licking an ice-cream (I never put on weight) while leafing through a Cosmopolitan that I found abandoned on a chair. What the hell am I REALLY doing here ? They were nice to me, and as usual, I fell for it. Damn it ! I’ve only had my driver’s license for two months and they send me all the way from the Hamptons to Kennedy, by myself, in Winter. Technically it is not yet Winter - there are still a few days to go - but it most certainly feels like it. And what sort of car do they give me? A Bentley ! I am so small and the car is so big that it must look as if it is being driven by remote control.
The truth, of course, is that everyone was already so pissed on gin, scotch, vodka and assorted mixes that they could not have gone two miles without being spotted by a cop, especially at this time of year.
There must be close to a hundred guests in our house. There are cars everywhere, including on the neighbors’ lawns. It is colder than it was yesterday and we are bracing ourselves for a fresh snow fall. I do not even know whose car I have got. Mother pushed the keys in my hand while shouting for another dry martini. Beatrix's body will arrive tomorrow.
Here is Jean-Paul, I think, coming out of Arrivals. I ask him if he is who he is and he says that he is. We exchange a few words. He speaks very slowly, with a thick accent. My French is better than his English.
We head for the car. Jean-Paul does not seem too sad; he looks around him with interest. First time he has ever been in the States, he says. It is only six o'clock in the evening but the cloud cover is so thick and so low that it feels like the middle of the night. We take the elevator to level Three of the short-stay car park and worm our way to the Bentley. A sickly, woolly, orange glow surrounds us. If you look out, even the clouds have acquired that color.
Suddenly we are stopped by a gang of yobs on the rampage. I instinctively drop my keys and kick them under a car. In a matter of seconds, my arms are locked behind my back and I can just catch sight of Jean-Paul running away between rows of cars, his suitcases held above his head. I am lost in a black, grey and orange nightmare orchestrated by roars of jet planes. My mind goes blank. I am being searched. Apart from a few dollars and loose change, I have nothing, absolutely nothing ; not even a watch, not even the crappiest bit of costume jewelry. I feel my jeans and panties being pulled down. A finger is thrust into me. I yell. They laugh and disappear as if by magic. I turn round and readjust myself. I think I’m bleeding.
Crying with rage and smarting with pain, I retrieve my keys. Jean-Paul is coming back, escorted by a couple of security guards.
"You!" I yell.
"Don't get mad, Miss." says one of the guards "He did the right thing. If he'd stayed, he would certainly have been robbed and probably beaten up as well."
"We'll take you back to your car and make sure you're OK" says the other one, who adds: "You were lucky!" Lucky! He calls that lucky? I could kill him!
We drive back in silence. Hard to tell if Jean-Paul feels sad, guilty or scared. Probably all three. We arrive at last. I push Jean-Paul in the house. They swoon around him. He bursts into tears. They give him a drink. He downs it. They give him another. I no longer exist : not a "thank you", not a "did you have any trouble finding him ?" nothing...
I telephone my doctor, an old friend of the family. It's ten p.m. He says : "Not now, Cecilia. Come and see me tomorrow". I become hysterical. He gives in. I get back in the Bentley and drive to his house. He prods me, cleans me, squeezes something cold inside me, gives me a sanitary towel and a course of antibiotics, then makes me promise to stay away from alcohol, and drink a lot of mineral water.
The noise in the house is deafening. My head swims. I feel sick. Heavy smell of booze and tobacco smoke. I hardly recognize anybody.
"And just who are you, young lady?" asks a fat old boy with rheumy eyes. He waves a cigar at me and makes me choke.
He roars: "Cecilia ! Gosh ! Last time I saw you, you were only this high. Well, well, well, aren't we pretty nowadays ! I bet there's a boy somewhere who knows a good time when he... ahhhh... when..." He breaks into a wet giggle.
Clutching a litre of Perrier, I crawl upstairs to my bedroom. There are three teenage boys in it, all dead drunk; one on the bed, two on the floor. I rush back to Mother.
"Sorry Dear!" she slurs "The house is full. We put all the youngsters together but you are the only girl. Not to worry : there are too many boys in there for any one of them to try anything funny, ha, ha, ha ! If they do, just come over and tell me. I'll sort them out."
I give up. I am so tired I cannot keep my eyes open. I get back to my room, chuck the bedded boy onto the floor where he lands with barely a grunt and I get under the blankets with all my clothes on.
In the morning, the room smells of vomit. I open the window. It is below zero out there. Everything is covered in snow. As I leave the room and shut the door behind me, I can hear the boys yelling angrily at each other. I go to the loo, change my towel, then down to the kitchen for something to eat.
I bump against Jean-Paul, in his pajamas, roaming the place like a hung-over ghost, an electric shaver in his hand. I drag him to the kitchen and pour him a coffee. We sit with a couple of maids who are having breakfast.
"You know why I was in Belgium when Beatrix was assassinated ?" he asks.
"I was buying her a wedding ring."
He starts sobbing. I feel like saying: "Why ? Don't they have wedding rings in Switzerland ?" but I bite my tongue ; the last thing I want is a long explanation ; so, I eat a croissant and drink my coffee and keep staring at the wall behind him.
It is a beautiful day, cold, crisp and sunny. Snow ploughs hum in the neighborhood. Beatrix's body must be at the funeral chapel by now. Time to get ready...
...but I will not. I will not join the throng of mourners in their latest morbid chic suits; I will not join the unsteady, headachy crowd, wafting of perfumes, after-shaves and boozy burps.
"Mom, can I borrow the Bentley again?" I fantasize.
"Of course, Dear."
I conjure up my fantasy boy-friend: a nice, gentle, intelligent young man who looks just like Douglas. I drive to his house and pick him up.
"Let's fly to Boston, hire a car and push on to Stowe" I say.
"But I don't ski!"
"Nor do I. Let's go anyway and spend a whole week in that rather nice hotel by the mountain pass, you know, the one with a terrific French restaurant."
"Just the two of us? That would be nice!"
He fades away. I am still in the kitchen, with the maids. I envy their dignity. Oh, God, the Christmas vacation has barely started and already I cannot wait to get back to my school !