18 December 2009

not once but twice

He turned his eyes fully upon her, now a glacial blue; they were impersonal and seemed to gaze beyond her at all women who had dissolved into one, but who might, at any moment again become dissolved into all. This was the gaze Sabina had always encountered in Don Juan, everywhere, it was the gaze she mistrusted. It was the alchemy of desire fixing itself upon the incarnation of all women into Sabina for a moment but as easily by a second process able to alchemize Sabina into many others.
  Her identity as the "unique" Sabina loved by Alan was threatened. Her mistrust of his glance made the blood flow cold within her.
  She examined his face to see if he divined that she was nervous, that every moment of experience brought on this nervousness, almost paralyzing her.
  But instead of a violent gesture he took hold of her finger tips with his smoothly designed hands, as if he were inviting her for an airy waltz, and said, "Your hands are cold."
  He caressed the rest of her arm, kissing the nook between the elbows, the shoulders, and said: "Your body is feverishly hot. Have you had too much sun?"
  To reassure him she said unguardedly: "Stage fright."
  At this he laughed, mockingly, unbelieving, as she had feared he would. (There was only one man who believed she was afraid and at this moment she would have liked to run back to Alan, to run away from this mocking stranger whom she had attempted to deceive by her poise, her expert silences, her inviting eyes. This was too difficult to sustain and she would fail. She was straining, and she was frightened. She did not know how to regain prestige in his eyes, having admitted a weakness which the stranger mockingly disbelieved, and which was not in harmony with her provocative behavior. This mocking laughter she was to hear once more when later he invited her to meet his closest friend, his companion in adventure, his brother Don Juan, as suave, as graceful and confident as himself. They had treated her merrily as one of their own kind, the adventuress, the huntress, the invulnerable woman, and it had offended her!)
  When he saw she did not share his laughter, he became serious, lying at her side, but she was still offended and her heart continued to beat loudly with stage fright.
  "I have to go back," she said, rising and shaking the sand off with vehemence.
  With immediate gallantry he rose, denoting a long habit of submission to women's whims. He rose and dressed himself, swung his leather bag over his shoulder and walked beside her, ironically courteous, impersonal, unaffected.
  After a moment he said: "Would you like to meet me for dinner at the Dragon?"
  "Not for dinner but later, yes. About ten or eleven."
  He again bowed, ironically, and walked with cool eyes beside her. His nonchalance irritated her. He walked with such full assurance that he ultimately always obtained his desire, and she hated this assurance, she envied it.
  When they reached the beach town everyone turned to gaze at them. The Bright Messenger, she thought, from the Black Forest of the fairytales. Breathing deeply, expanding his wide chest, walking very straight, and then this festive smile which made her feel gay and light. She was proud of walking at his side, as if bearing a trophy. As a woman she was proud in her feminine vanity, in her love of conquest, strength and power: she had charmed, won, such a man. She felt heightened in her own eyes, while knowing this sensation was not different from drunkeness, and that it would vanish like the ecstasies of drink, leaving her the next day even more shaky, even weaker at the core, deflated, possessing nothing within herself.
  The core, where she felt a constant unsureness, this structure always near collapse which could so eaisly be shattered by a harsh word, a slight, a criticism, which floundered before obstacles, was haunted by the image of catastrophe, by the same obsessional forebodings which she heard in Ravel's Waltz.
  The waltz leading to catastrophe: swirling in spangled airy skirts, on polished floors, into an abyss, the minor notes simulating lightness, a mock dance, the minor notes always recalling that man's destiny was ruled by ultimate darkness.
  This core of Sabina's was temporarily supported by an artificial beam, the support of vanity's satisfaction when this man so obviously handsome walked by her side, and everyone who saw him envied the woman who had charmed him.
  When they separated he bowed over her hand in a European manner, with mock respect, but his voice was warm when he repeated: "You will come?" When none of his handsomeness, perfection and nonchalance had touched her, this slight hesitation did. Because he was for a moment uncertain, she felt him for a moment as a human being, a little closer to her when not altogether invulnerable.
  She said: "Friends are waiting for me."
  Then a slow to unfold but utterly dazzling smile illumined his face as he stood to his full height and saluted: "Change of the guards at Buckingham Palace!"
  By his tone of irony she knew he did not expect her to be meeting friends but most probably another man, another lover.
  He would not believe that she wanted to return to her room to wash the sand out of her hair, to put oil on over her sunburnt skin, to paint a fresh layer of polish on her nails, to relive every step of their encounter as she lay in the bath, in her habit of wanting to taste the intoxications of experience not once but twice.

Anaïs Nin, A Spy in the House of Love (1982: 24-27)