You’re after my breasts, you devil!

After a time I began to long for the afternoons when my mother’s friends would come and take my head between their warm, soft hands and tell me what dark eyes I had: it was a dizzying joy to have them touch me or to touch them. I tried to imitate the martyrs’ courage by jumping up to them when they arrived and greeting them with a kiss or a hug. Most of them looked surprised or bewildered on such occasions. “Heavens, Erzsi, you have a nervous jumpy boy!” they would say to my mother. A few of them suspected me, especially when I managed to have my hands fall on their breasts – for some reason this was more exciting than just touching their arms. However, these incidents always ended in laughter: I don’t remember them being very intent on anything for very long. I loved them all, but I used to wait most eagerly for Aunt Alice. She was a slightly plump, big-breasted blonde, with an absolutely fantastic perfume and a round, beautiful face. She used to pick me up and look into my eyes with mock anger and some coquettishness, I believe, admonishing me in a stern-soft voice: “You’re after my breasts, you devil!”

Aunt Alice was the only one who gave me my due as a personage of grave importance. Having become the first Hungarian Pope and suffered a martyr’s death in my imagination, I already viewed myself as a great saint, temporarily stranded in childhood. And though Aunt Alice attributed to me a different kind of greatness when she called me a devil, I felt that deep down we meant the same thing.

To free my mother from my company now and then, her friends used to take me for long walks or to the occasional movie. It was only Aunt Alice, however, who broke the news of our going by asking me for a date. “My handsome beau,” she would say with happy anticipation, “will you take me to the theatre?” I remember particularly one day when I was going out with her in my first pair of long trousers. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in the late spring or early fall – sometime before the United States entered the war, for we were going to see The Wizard of Oz . I had got my adult suit a few days before and was anxious to show it off to Aunt Alice, who was sure to appreciate it. When she finally arrived, in the midst of her perfume and powder, she got so involved in explaining to my mother why she was late, that she didn’t notice my new trousers. However, as we were about to leave, she gave forth a throaty “Aaaaahh!” and stepped back to gobble me up with her eyes. I held out my arm for her and as she took it she said: “ I’ve got the handsomest escort today.” We were walking toward the door, arm in arm, a happy couple, when suddenly I heard my mother’s voice:

“András, did you remember to pee?”

I left the apartment with Aunt Alice, swearing to myself never to return. Even my blonde companion’s soothing remarks sounded outrageously condescending, and as we walked down the stairs I wondered how I could re-establish the old equilibrium of our relationship. Just before we stepped out into the street, I pinched her bottom. She pretended not to notice, but blushed deeply. I decided then to marry Aunt Alice when I grew up, for she understood me.

However, I don’t want to dramatize my boyhood by turning it into the story of my passion for that glorious lady. I was happiest with the Francisan fathers and at my mother’s weekly gatherings, when I saw all her friends together and could watch and listen to them chatting about fashion, the war, relatives, marriages and things I didn’t understand. The vast and silent cathedral and our living-room filled with all these cheerful, loud women, with the smell of their perfumes, with the light of their eyes – these are the strongest and most vivid images of my childhood.

I wonder, what kind of life would I have had if it hadn’t been for my mother’s tea-and-cookie parties? Perhaps it’s because of them that I’ve never thought of women as my enemies, as territories I have to conquer, but always as allies and friends – which I believe is the reason why they were friendly to me in turn. I’ve never met those she-devils modern fiction is so full of: they must be too busy with those men who look upon women as fortresses they have to attack and trample underfoot.

Still on the subject of friendliness toward all – and toward women in particular – I can’t help concluding that my utterly complete happiness at my mother’s weekly tea-and-cookie parties indicated an early and marked enthusiasm for the opposite sex. It’s obvious that this enthusiasm had a great deal to do with my later luck with women. And although I hope this memoir will be instructive, I have to confess that it won’t help you to make women more attracted to you than you are to them. If deep down you hate them, if you dream of humiliating them, if you enjoy ordering them around, then you are likely to be paid back in kind. They will want and love you just as much as you want and love them – and praise be to their generosity.

Stephen Vizinczey, In Praise of Older Women

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