Read Waiting for Sunrise Online

Authors: William Boyd

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Waiting for Sunrise (2 page)

BOOK: Waiting for Sunrise
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He stood up and looked at the pictures on the wall that were etchings of vast ruined buildings – moss-mantled, overgrown with weeds and saplings – all tumbled coping stones, shattered pediments and toppled columns that seemed vaguely familiar. No artist’s name came to him – another hole in his moth-eaten education. He moved to the window that overlooked the small central courtyard of the apartment building. A tree grew there – a sycamore, he saw, at least he could identify some trees – in a square of tramped browning grass, edged by the disused carriage house and looseboxes, and, as he watched, an old, aproned woman appeared from them, effortfully limp-lugging a brimming coal scuttle. He turned away and paced around, carefully folding back with the toe of his shoe the flipped-over corner of the worn Persian rug on the parquet floor.

He heard some voices – unusually urgent, raised – from the receptionist’s ante-room, then the door opened and a young woman came in and shut it behind her with a forceful bang.


Entschuldigung
,’ she said, gracelessly, glancing at him, and sat down on one of the chairs and rummaged vigorously through her handbag before pulling out a small handkerchief and blowing her nose.

Lysander stepped quietly back to the window; he could sense this woman’s unease, her tension, coming off her in waves, as if some dynamo inside her were generating this febrility, this – the German word came to him, pleasingly – this
Angst
.

He turned and their eyes met. She had the most unusual eyes, he saw, the palest hazel. And they were large and wide – the white visibly surrounding the iris – as if she were staring with great intensity or had been shocked in some way. Pretty face, he thought – neat nose, pointed, strong chin. Very olive skin. Foreign? Her hair was pinned up under a wide blood-red beret and she wore a dove-grey velvet jacket over a black skirt. On the jacket lapel was a large red-and-yellow shellac brooch of a crude-looking parrot. Artistic, Lysander thought. Laced ankle-boots, small feet. A very small, petite, young woman, in fact. In a state.

He smiled, turned away and looked at the courtyard. The stout old housekeeper was heading doggedly back to the stables with her empty scuttle. What did she want with all that coal in high summer? Surely –


Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Lysander looked round. ‘I am English, actually,’ he said, warily. ‘How can you tell?’ He felt annoyed that he clearly wore his nationality like a badge.

‘You’ve a copy of the
Graphic
in your pocket,’ she said, pointing at his folded newspaper. ‘Rather gives you away. But, anyway, most of Dr Bensimon’s patients are English so it was an easy guess.’ Her accent was educated, she was obviously English herself, despite her somewhat exotic colouring.

‘You don’t happen to have a cigarette on you, do you?’ she asked. ‘By any faint and lucky chance.’

‘I do, as it happens, but –’ Lysander indicated a printed sign laid on the mantelpiece. ‘
Bitte nicht rauchen
.’

‘Ah. Of course. Would it be all right if I filched one for later?’

Lysander took his cigarette case from his jacket pocket, opened it and offered it to her. She chose one cigarette, said, ‘May I?’ and took another before he could give her permission, slipping them into her handbag.

‘I have to see Dr Bensimon very urgently, you see,’ she said, briskly, in a no-nonsense manner. ‘So I do hope you don’t mind if I barge the queue.’ At this she smiled at him a smile of such innocent brilliance that Lysander almost blinked.

On quick reflection, Lysander thought, he did rather mind, actually, but said, ‘Of course not,’ and smiled back, uncertainly. He turned again to the window pane, touched the knot of his tie and cleared his throat.

‘Do sit down if you want to,’ the young woman said.

‘I’m very happy standing. I find these low armless chairs rather uncomfortable.’

‘Yes, they are, rather, aren’t they?’

Lysander wondered if he should introduce himself but then considered that a doctor’s waiting room was the kind of place where people – strangers – might prefer to preserve their anonymity; it wasn’t as if they were meeting in an art gallery or a theatre foyer, after all.

He heard a slight noise and looked over his shoulder. The woman had stood up and had gone to one of the etchings of ruins (what was that artist’s name?) and was using its glass as a mirror, tucking fallen strands of hair back under her beret and pulling down small wispy curls in front of her ears. Lysander noticed how her short velvet jacket revealed the full swell of her hips and buttocks under the black skirt. Her ankle-boots had three-inch heels yet she was still very small in stature –

‘What’re you looking at?’ she said abruptly, meeting his gaze in the reflection of the etching’s glass.

‘I was admiring your bootees,’ Lysander improvised quickly and smoothly. ‘Did you buy them here in Vienna? –’

She never answered, as the door to Dr Bensimon’s consulting room opened at that moment and two men stepped out, talking and chuckling to each other. Lysander knew at once which one was Dr Bensimon, an older man in his forties, quite bald with a brown trimmed beard flecked with grey. Everything about the other man – to Lysander’s eyes – shouted ‘soldier’. A navy double-breasted suit, a banded tie below a stiff collar, narrow cuffed trousers above shoes so polished they might have been patent. Tall, ascetically lean with a small neat dark moustache.

But the young woman was immediately in a kind of frenzy, interrupting them, calling Dr Bensimon’s name, apologizing and at the same time insisting on seeing him, absolutely essential, an emergency. The military man stepped back, leaned back, as Dr Bensimon – glancing at Lysander – swept the yammering woman into his room, Lysander hearing him say in a stern low voice as he did so, ‘This must never happen again, Miss Bull,’ before the door to his consulting room shut behind them.

‘Good god,’ said the military type, dryly. He was English as well. ‘What’s going on there?’

‘She seemed very agitated, I have to say,’ Lysander said. ‘Cadged two cigarettes off me.’

‘What’s the world coming to?’ the man said, lifting his bowler off its wooden hook. He held it in his hands and looked candidly at Lysander.

‘Have we met before?’ he said.

‘No. I don’t think so.’

‘You seem oddly familiar, somehow.’

‘I must look like someone you know.’

‘Must be that.’ He held out his hand. ‘I’m Alwyn Munro.’

‘Lysander Rief.’

‘Now that does ring a bell.’ He shrugged, cocked his head, narrowed his eyes as if searching his memory and then smiled as he gave up and moved to the door. ‘Don’t feed her any more cigarettes, if I were you. She looks a bit dangerous to me.’

He left and Lysander resumed his scrutiny of the small drab courtyard outside. He extracted every possible detail from the view – the basket-weave pattern of the paving stones, the dog-toothed moulding on the arch above the stable door, a damp streak on the brickwork under a dripping tap. He kept his mind occupied. A few minutes later the young woman appeared from Dr Bensimon’s room, evidently much calmer, more composed. She picked up her handbag.

‘Thank you for letting me barge ahead, ’ she said breezily. ‘And for the ciggies. You’re very kind.’

‘Not at all.’

She said goodbye and sauntered out, her long skirt swinging. She glanced back at him as she closed the door behind her and Lysander caught a final glimpse of those strange, light brown, hazel eyes. Like a lion’s eyes, he thought. But she was called Miss Bull.

 

 

3. The African Bas-Relief

 

Lysander sat in Dr Bensimon’s consulting room, looking around him as the doctor wrote down his personal details in a ledger. The room was spacious, with three windows along one wall, simply furnished and almost entirely done in shades of white. White painted walls, white woollen curtains, a white rug on the blond parquet and a beaten silver-metalled primitive-looking bas-relief hung above the fireplace. In one corner was Dr Bensimon’s mahogany desk, backed by floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted bookshelves. On one side of the fireplace was a soft high-backed armchair, loose-covered in coarse cream linen and on the other a divan under a thick, woollen fringed blanket and two embroidered pillows. Both were facing away from the desk and Lysander, who had chosen the armchair, found he had to crane his neck round uncomfortably if he wanted to see the doctor. The room was very quiet – double windows – and Lysander could hear no sound of the city streets beyond – no clatter of electric trams, no carriages or wagons clopping by, no automobiles – it was ideally calm.

Lysander looked at the silver bas-relief. Fantastic African figures, half-man, half-animal, with extravagant headdresses, pricked out with traceries of small holes punched through the soft metal. It was strange and very beautiful – and doubtless freighted with all manner of pertinent symbolism, Lysander thought.

‘Mr L.U. Rief,’ Bensimon said. In the quiet room Lysander could hear the scratch of his fountain pen. His voice was lightly accented, somewhere from the north of England, Lysander guessed, Yorkshire or Lancashire, but honed down so that placing the location was impossible. He was good at accents, Lysander flattered himself – he’d unlock it in a minute or so.

‘What do the initials stand for?’

‘Lysander Ulrich Rief.’

‘Marvellous name.’

Manchester, Lysander thought – that flat ‘A’.

‘Rief – is that Scottish?’

‘Old English. It means “thorough”, some say. And I’ve also been told it’s Anglo-Saxon dialect for ‘wolf’. All very confusing.’

‘A thorough wolf. Wolfishly thorough. What about the “Ulrich”? Are you part German?’

‘My mother is Austrian.’

‘From Vienna?’

‘Linz, actually. Originally.’

‘Date of birth?’

‘Mine?’

‘Your mother’s age is hardly relevant, I would venture.’

‘Sorry. Seventh of March 1886.’

Lysander turned again in the chair. Bensimon was leaning back in his seat, at ease, smiling, fingers laced behind his shining pate.

‘Best not to bother turning round all the time. Just think of me as a disembodied voice.’

 

 

4. Wiener Kunstmaterialien

 

Lysander walked downstairs from Bensimon’s apartment, slowly, his mind full of thoughts, some pleasurable, some dissatisfying, some troubling. The meeting had been brief, lasting only some fifteen minutes. Bensimon had written down his personal details, had discussed payment methods (bi-monthly invoicing and cash settlement) and then finally had asked him if he would like to discuss the nature of his ‘problem’.

Lysander paused in the street outside and lit a cigarette, wondering if this process he had embarked on would really help or if he would have been better going to Lourdes, say? Or to have taken up some quack’s remedy? Or become a vegetarian and wear Jaeger underwear like George Bernard Shaw? He frowned, uncertain suddenly – not a good mood to be in, not encouraging. It was his closest friend Greville Varley who had suggested psychoanalysis to him – Greville being the only other person aware of his problem (and only vaguely so, at that) – and Lysander had followed up the idea like a zealot, he now realized, cancelling all his future plans, withdrawing his savings, moving to Vienna, seeking out the right doctor. Had he been foolishly impetuous or was it merely a sign of his desperation? . . .

Turn left at Berggasse, Bensimon had said, then walk all the way down to the little square, to the junction of all the roads at the bottom. The shop is right in front of you – WKM – can’t miss it. Lysander set off, his mind still full of the crucial moment.

 

BENSIMON: So, what seems to be the nature of the problem?
 
LYSANDER: It’s . . . It’s a sexual problem.
 
BENSIMON: Yes. It usually is. At root.
 
LYSANDER: When I engage in lustful activity . . . That’s to say, during amatory congress –
 
BENSIMON: Please don’t search for euphemisms, Mr Rief. Plain speaking – it’s the only way. Be as blunt and as coarse as you like. Use the language of the street – nothing can offend me.
 
LYSANDER: Right. When I’m fucking, I can’t do it.
 
BENSIMON: You can’t get an erection?
 
LYSANDER: I have no problem with an erection. On the contrary – all very satisfactory there. My problem is to do with . . . with emission.
 
BOOK: Waiting for Sunrise
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Great Rift by Edward W. Robertson
Unlocking the Sky by Seth Shulman
Beyond belief by Roy Johansen
The Last Airship by Christopher Cartwright
Sins of the Past by Elizabeth Power
The Queen of Water by Laura Resau