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Authors: William Boyd

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BOOK: Waiting for Sunrise
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BENSIMON: Ah. Incredibly common. You ejaculate too soon.
Ejaculatio praecox
.
 
LYSANDER: No. I don’t ejaculate at all.
 

Lysander strolled down the gentle slope of Berggasse. Dr Freud’s rooms were here, somewhere – perhaps he should have tried for him? What was that French expression? ‘Why speak to the apostles when you can go to God himself?’ But there was the problem of language: Bensimon was English, which was a huge advantage – a boon, even – not to be gainsaid. Lysander recalled the long silence after he had told Bensimon the curious nature of his sexual malfunction.

 

BENSIMON: So – you’re engaged in the sex-act but there is no orgasm.
 
LYSANDER: Precisely.
 
BENSIMON: What happens?
 
LYSANDER: Well, I can go on for a good time but the realization that nothing will happen makes me, eventually, slacken off, as it were.
 
BENSIMON: Detumescence.
 
LYSANDER: Eventually.
 
BENSIMON: I’m going to have to think about this. Most unusual. Anorgasmia – you’re the first I’ve seen. Fascinating.
 
LYSANDER: Anorgasmia?
 
BENSIMON: That’s what’s wrong with you. That’s what your problem’s called.

 

And that was that, except for one further piece of advice. Bensimon asked him if he kept a journal, a diary, or a commonplace book. Lysander said he didn’t. He did write poetry, he said, fairly regularly, some of which had been published in newspapers and magazines, but – he shrugged modestly – he was an amateur poet, he enjoyed trying his hand at verse and made no claims at all for the lines that ensued – and, no, and he didn’t keep a journal.

‘I want you to start writing things down,’ Bensimon had said. ‘Dreams you have, fleeting thoughts, things you see and hear that intrigue you. Anything and everything. Stimulations of every kind – sexual or olfactory, auditory, sensual – anything at all. Bring these notes along to our consultations and read them out to me. Hold nothing back, however shocking, however banal. It’ll give me a direct insight into your personality and nature – into your unconscious mind.’

‘My “id”, you mean.’

‘I see you’ve done your homework, Mr Rief. I’m impressed.’

Bensimon had told him to jot these impressions and observations down as close as possible to the time they occurred and not to alter or edit them in any way. Furthermore, they were not to be written down on scraps of paper. Lysander should purchase a proper notebook – leather-bound, fine paper – and make it a true personal document, something that was contained and enduring, not just a collection of random scribblings.

‘And give it a title,’ Bensimon had suggested. ‘You know – “My Inner Life”, or ‘Personal Reflections’. Formalize the thing, in other words. Your dream diary, your journal of yourself – your
Seelenjournal
– it should be something you’ll treasure and value in the fullness of time. A record of your mind during these coming weeks, conscious and unconscious.’

At least, Lysander thought, crossing the street to the artists’ supplies shop that Bensimon had recommended – the Wiener Kunstmaterialien – at least it would be something concrete, a kind of permanent chronicle of his stay. All this talking – and all the talking he was bound to do – were simply words lost in the air. He was warming to the idea as he pushed through the swing doors into the shop, Bensimon was right, perhaps it would help him after all.

WKM was large and well lit – clusters of electric bulbs hung from the ceiling in modern, aluminium-spoked chandeliers, the gleaming coronas reflected in the shiny tan linoleum floor below them. The smell of turpentine, oil paint, untreated wood and canvas made Lysander feel welcome. He loved these kinds of emporium – alleyways of stacked artistic materials, like a cultural cornucopia, ran here and there: shelves of layered paper types, jars filled with sharp pencils, a small copse of easels, large and small, raked rows of tubes of oil paint laid out in chromatic sequence, fat gleaming bottles of linseed oil and paint thinner, canvas aprons, folding stools, stacked palettes, cobbled tins of watercolours, flat boxes of pastels, their lids open, displaying their bright contents like so many multi-coloured cigarillos. Whenever he came into shops like this he always resolved to take up sketching as a serious hobby, or watercolouring or lino-cutting – anything to give him a chance to buy some of this toothsome equipment.

He turned an aisle corner to find a small library of cartridge paper pads and notebooks. He browsed a while and picked up one with hundreds of pages, like a dictionary. No, no – too daunting, something more modest was required that could be realistically filled. He selected a pliable black leather-covered notebook, fine paper, unlined, 150 leaves. He liked its weight in his hand and it would fit in a coat pocket, like a guidebook – a guidebook to his psyche. Perfect. A title came into his head: ‘
Autobiographical Investigations
by Lysander Rief’ . . . Now, that sounded exactly what Bensimon –

‘We meet again.’

Lysander turned to see Miss Bull standing there. A friendly, smiling Miss Bull.

‘You’re buying your notebook, aren’t you?’ she said knowingly. ‘Bensimon should have a commission in here.’

‘Are you doing the same?’

‘No. I gave mine up after a couple of weeks. Trouble is I’m not really verbal, you see. I visualize – see things in images, not words. I’d rather draw than write.’ She held up what she was purchasing – a small cluster of dull oddly shaped knives, some tapered sharply, some with triangular ends, like miniature trowels.

‘You can’t draw with those,’ Lysander said.

‘I sculpt,’ she explained. ‘I’m just ordering more clay and plaster. WKM’s the best place in town.’

‘A sculptress – how interesting.’

‘No. A sculpt
or
.’

Lysander inclined his head, apologetically. ‘Of course.’

Miss Bull stepped closer and lowered her voice.

‘I’d really like to apologize for my behaviour earlier this morning –’

‘Couldn’t matter less –’

‘I was a bit . . . overwrought. I’d run out of my medicine, don’t you see. That’s why I had to get to Dr Bensimon – for my medicine.’

‘Right. Dr Bensimon dispenses medicines as well?’

‘Well, no. Sort of. But he gave me an injection. And more supplies.’ She patted her handbag. ‘It’s marvellous stuff – you should try it if you’re ever a bit low.’

She certainly seemed different as a result of Dr Bensimon’s medicine, Lysander thought, looking at her, much more assured and self-confident. Somehow more in command of every –

‘You’ve a most interesting face,’ Miss Bull said.

‘Thank you.’

‘I’d love to sculpt you.’

‘Well, I’m a bit –’

‘No hurry.’ She rummaged in her bag and came up with her card. Lysander read it: ‘Miss Esther Bull, artist and sculptor. Lessons provided.’ There was an address in Bayswater, in London.

‘Bit out of date,’ she said. ‘I’ve been in Vienna for two years, now – my telephone number’s on the back. We’ve just got a telephone installed.’ She looked at him challengingly. Lysander hadn’t missed the second person plural. ‘I live with Udo Hoff,’ she said.

‘Udo Hoff?’

‘The painter.’

‘Ah. Yes, that does – yes. Udo Hoff.’

‘Have you a telephone? Are you in an hotel?’

‘No to both. I’m renting rooms. I’ve no idea how long I’ll be staying.’

‘You must come to the studio. Write your address down. I’ll send you an invitation to one of our parties.’

She handed him a scrap of paper from her bag and Lysander wrote down his address. A little reluctantly, he had to admit, as he wanted to be alone in Vienna: to resolve his problem – his anorgasmia, now it had a name – himself, alone. He didn’t really require or desire any kind of social life. He handed the scrap back.

‘Lysander Rief,’ she read. ‘Have I heard of you?’

‘I doubt it.’

‘And I’m Hettie, by the way,’ she said, ‘Hettie Bull,’ thrusting her hand out. Lysander shook it. She had a very firm grip.

 

 

5. The River of Sex

 

‘Why am I troubled by this encounter with HB? Why am I also vaguely excited by it? She’s not “my type” at all, yet I already feel somehow drawn into her life, willy-nilly, her orbit. Why? What if we’d met at a concert or a house party? We wouldn’t have thought anything of each other, I’m sure. But because we met in the waiting room at Dr Bensimon’s we know something secret about each other, already. Does this explain it? The wounded, the incomplete, the unbalanced, the malfunctioning, the ill seek each other out: like attracted to like. She won’t leave me alone, I know. But I don’t want to go to Udo Hoff’s studio, whoever he is. I came to Vienna to avoid social contact and told hardly anyone where I was going, just saying “abroad” to people who pressed for details. Mother knows, Blanche knows, Greville knows, of course, and a handful of essential others. I want to treat Vienna as a kind of beautiful sanatorium full of perfect strangers – as if I had consumption and had simply disappeared until the cure was effected. I don’t think Blanche would like HB, somehow. Not at all.’

 

There was a barely audible knock at his door – more of a scratch than a knock. Lysander put his pen down and closed his notebook, his
Autobiographical Investigations
, putting it in a drawer of his desk.

‘Come in, Herr Barth,’ Lysander said.

Herr Barth tiptoed in and shut the door as softly as he could. For a man of significant bulk he tried to move unobtrusively and with as much discretion as possible.


Nein, Herr Rief
. Not “Come in”.
Herein
.’


Verzeihung
,’ Lysander apologized, drawing up an extra chair to the desk.

Herr Barth was a music teacher who came, moreover, from a long line of music teachers. His father had seen Paganini play in 1836 and, when his first son was duly born some years later, had called him Nikolas in honour of the event. As a young man Herr Barth had taken the identification to heart and wore his hair long and grew his cheek whiskers in the Paganini style, a homage he had never abandoned. Even now, approaching his seventies, he merely dyed his long grey hair and his whiskers black and still wore old-fashioned high collars and long coats with silver buttons. His instrument was not the violin, however, but the double bass – which he had played in the orchestra of the Lustspiel-Theater in Vienna for many years before he took up the family profession of music teacher. He kept his old double bass in its cracked leather case propped against the wall at the bottom of his bed in his small room at the end of the corridor, the smallest of the three rooms that were rented out in the Pension Kriwanek. He claimed to be able to teach any instrument that ‘could be carried or held in the hand’ to a level of competence – whether strings, woodwind or brass. Lysander was not aware of any pupils seeking out this offer but had happily accepted Herr Barth’s diffident suggestion, made a day after he had moved into the pension, that he help Lysander improve his German – for the sum of five crowns an hour.

Herr Barth sat down slowly, flicked away the strands of hair resting on his collar with both hands and smiled, wagging an admonitory finger.

‘Only German, Herr Rief. Only this way will you advance in our wonderful and beautiful language.’

‘I’d like to practise numbers today,’ Lysander replied – in German.

‘Ah, numbers, numbers – the great trap.’

They duly practised numbers for an hour – counting, dates, prices, change, adding, subtracting – until Lysander’s head was a reeling Babel of figures and the dinner bell rang. Herr Barth only paid for board and breakfast so he excused himself and Lysander crossed the corridor to the panelled dining room where Frau Kriwanek herself was waiting for him.

Frau K, as her three lodgers referred to her, was a woman of rigid piety and decorum. Widowed in her forties, she wore traditional Austrian clothes – moss-green dirndl dresses, in the main, with embroidered blouses and aprons, and broad buckled pumps – and projected a demeanour of excruciating politesse that was really only endurable for the length of a meal, Lysander had quickly realized. Her world admitted and contained only people, events and opinions that were either ‘nice’ or ‘pleasant’ (
nett
or
angenehm
). These were her favourite adjectives, deployed at every opportunity. The cheese was nice; the weather pleasant. The Crown Prince’s young wife seemed a nice person; the new post office had a pleasant aspect. And so on.

BOOK: Waiting for Sunrise
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