Lawyer Kraykowski’s Dancer
I was on my way to see the operetta “The Gypsy Princess” for the thirty-fourth time—and, since it was late, I bypassed the line and went straight to the lady at the ticket window: “My dear madam, please just quickly give me my usual, in the balcony”—when suddenly someone took hold of me from behind, and coldly—yes, coldly—dragged me away from the window and pushed me back to my proper place, i.e.
the end of the line.
My heart began pounding, I was short of breath—is it not a murderous thing when a person is suddenly taken by the collar in a public spot?—but I looked around: He was a tall, vigorous, fragrant individual with a short, trimmed mustache.
He was conversing with two fashionably dressed ladies and one gentleman, and checking the tickets he had just bought.
They all looked at me—and I had to say something.
“Was it you who did me the honor?”
I asked in a tone that might
have been ironic, perhaps even sinister, but since I suddenly came over weak, I said it too quietly.
he asked, leaning toward me.
“Was it you who did me the honor?”
I repeated, but once again too quietly.
“Yes, I did you the honor.
Back there—at the end.
We need order!
This is Europe!”
And, turning to the ladies, he remarked: “We must teach, teach indefatigably; otherwise we shall never cease to be a nation of Zulus.”
Forty pairs of eyes and all kinds of faces—my heart was beating, my voice dried up, and I turned toward the exit—at the last moment (I bless it, that moment)—something shifted within me and I came back.
I stood in line, bought my ticket, and just made it for the first bars of the overture; but this time I did not become engrossed in the show.
While the Gypsy Princess was singing and tapping her castanets, twisting at the waist and panting, and the young elegants with their wing collars and top hats were parading before her raised arm—I was staring at a blond, brilliantined head just visible in the front of the orchestra, and repeating to myself: “Aha, so that’s how it is!”
After the first act I went downstairs, leaned lightly on the orchestra rail, and waited a short while.
All at once I bowed.
He didn’t respond.
And so I gave one more bow—then I gazed up at the boxes a little, and again—I bowed when the appropriate moment came.
I went back upstairs trembling; I was exhausted.
Leaving the theater, I stopped on the sidewalk.
He soon appeared—he was bidding farewell to one of the ladies and her
husband: “Goodbye, my dear friends; then we must—if you please!—ten o’clock tomorrow at the Polonia; good evening.”
After which he helped the second lady into a taxicab and was about to get in himself when I walked up.
“I’m sorry to impose, but would you be so kind as to drop me off?
I do like a good ride.”
“Please stop bothering me!”
“Perhaps you would back me up, sir,” I said calmly to the driver.
I felt an uncommon calm within me.
“I do like...”—but the automobile was already moving off.
Though I don’t have much money, barely enough for the most basic necessities, I jumped into the next cab and gave the order to follow them.
“Excuse me,” I said to the doorman of the brown, four-story apartment building, “that was Engineer Dziubiński who came in a moment ago, was it not?”
“Oh no, sir,” he replied, “that was Lawyer Kraykowski and his wife.”
I went back home.
That night I couldn’t get to sleep—dozens of times I went over the whole incident in the theater, and my bows, and the lawyer’s departure—I tossed and turned in a state of alertness and increased activeness that wouldn’t allow me to sleep, and that at the same time, thanks to a repeated spinning about in the same place, became a sort of second, waking sleep.
The very next morning I sent a magnificent bouquet of roses to Lawyer Kraykowski’s address.
Opposite the building where he lived there was a small milk bar with a verandah; I sat there the whole morning and finally spotted him around three, in a stylish gray suit, with a walking cane.
Ah, ah—he was walking along and whistling and occasionally waving his cane, waving his cane ...
I immediately paid
the check and followed him—and, admiring the slightly sinuous motion of his back, I reveled in the fact that he knew nothing of it, that this was my own, inside.
He trailed behind him the scent of eau de toilette; he was fresh—it seemed impossible to draw close to him in any manner.
But for that too a way was found!
I decided: If he turns left, you’ll buy that book, London’s
that you’ve wanted for such a long time; if he turns right, you’ll never have it, never, even if someone were to give it to you for free you won’t read a single page!
It’ll be wasted!
Oh, I could have stared for hours at the place where his hair ended in an even line and his pale neck began.
He turned left.
In other circumstances I would have run to the bookstore at once, but this time I continued to follow him—only now with a feeling of unutterable gratitude.
The sight of a flower seller gave me a new idea—certainly I could, right away, immediately—it lay within my power—to arrange an ovation for him, a discreet homage, something he might not even notice.
But what did it matter that he wouldn’t notice!
That was even more beautiful—to worship in secret.
I bought a posy, overtook him—and as soon as I came within the orbit of his gaze a regular, indifferent step became an impossibility for me—and I unobtrusively tossed a couple of timid violets beneath his feet.
And in this way I had found myself in a most curious situation: I was walking on without knowing whether he was behind me, or whether he had turned onto a side street, or had entered a gateway; and I didn’t have the strength to look around—I wouldn’t have looked around whatever had depended on it, even if everything had depended on it—and when I finally got the
better of myself, pretended my hat was blowing off, and looked back—he was no longer behind me.
Till the evening I lived only with the thought of the Polonia.
I entered the glittering room right behind them and took a seat at the next table.
I had a presentiment that this was going to cost me dearly, but when it came down to it (I thought) it was all the same to me and perhaps—perhaps I wouldn’t live longer than a year, and so I had no need to spare myself.
They noticed me at once; the ladies were even indelicate enough to start whispering, whereas he—he did not disappoint my expectations.
He didn’t pay me the slightest attention; he devoted himself to the ladies, leaning toward them, then looked about, scrutinizing the other women there.
He spoke slowly, with relish, looking through the menu:
“Hors d’oeuvre, caviar ...
pineapple for dessert—black coffee, Pommard, Chablis, brandy and liqueurs.”
“Caviar—mayonnaise—poularde—pineapple for dessert—black coffee, Pommard, Chablis, brandy and liqueurs.”
It took a long time.
The lawyer ate a great amount, especially of the poularde—I had to force myself—I truly thought that I wouldn’t be able to manage, and I watched anxiously to see if he would have another helping.
He kept taking more and he ate with gusto, in big bites, he ate mercilessly, washing it down with wine, until in the end it became a veritable torment for me.
I don’t think I shall ever be able to look at another poularde or that I shall ever
be able to swallow mayonnaise again, unless—unless we go to a restaurant again together one day; that would be a different matter entirely, in such a case I know for sure that I’ll hold out.
He also drank volumes of wine, till my head started to spin.
The mirror reflected his figure!
How magnificently he leaned forward!
How ably and skillfully he made himself a cocktail!
How elegantly he joked, a toothpick between his teeth!
He had a concealed bald spot on the crown of his head, pampered hands with a signet ring on one finger, and a deep baritone voice that was soft and caressing.
The lawyer’s wife was nothing remarkable, she was, it might be said, unworthy; whereas the doctor’s wife!
I noticed at once that when he addressed the doctor’s wife his voice took on a softer and more rounded tone.
The doctor’s wife seemed made for him, narrow, serpentine, refined, indolent, a kitten with a marvelous womanly capriciousness.
And in his mouth the word “talons” for fingernails sounded perfect; it was obvious that he liked it, that he knew how.
Talons, dame, binge, swell, wolf, toper —“Ha ha, you’re quite the toper, my dear doctor!”
And—“if you please,” that “if you please” so emphatic and compelling, so cultured yet authoritative, like a three-word chronicle of all possible triumphs.
And his nails were rosy, one in particular, on his little finger.
It was around two when I finally returned home and threw myself on the bed in my clothing.
I was sated, filled to bursting, overwhelmed; I had the hiccups, my head was ringing, and the delicate dishes had upset my stomach.
It had been an orgy!
An orgy and a delight, a carousal!
“A night in a restaurant,” I whispered, “a nighttime carousal!
Because of him—and for him!”
From that time on, every day I would sit on the verandah of the milk bar, waiting for the lawyer, and would follow him when he appeared.
Another person might not have been able to devote six or seven hours to waiting.
But I had time to spare.
Sickness, epilepsy, was my only occupation, and furthermore it was an occupation for special occasions only, one on the margins of the string of days; aside from that I had no responsibilities, and my time was free.
Unlike other people, I was not distracted by relatives, friends and acquaintances, women, or dancing; other than one dance—St.
Vitus’—I knew no dances and no women.
My modest income sufficed for my needs; besides, there were indications that my debilitated organism would not last long—then why should I scrimp and save?
From morning to evening the day was free, unoccupied, like an endless holiday; there were unlimited amounts of time; I was a sultan and the hours were my houris.
Oh, come at last, death!
The lawyer was something of a gourmand, and it’s hard to convey how beautiful it was: On his way home from the courthouse he would always stop off at a confectioner’s, where he would consume two napoleons—I would watch surreptitiously through the display window as, standing at the buffet, he would put them in his mouth, careful not to spill cream on himself, and then delicately lick his fingers orwipe them with a paper napkin.
For a long time I thought about this, then in the end—one day I entered the confectioner’s.
“Do you know Lawyer Kraykowski, miss?
He always has two napoleons here.
Then I’d like to pay for his napoleons for one month in advance.
When he comes in, please don’t accept any
money from him, but just smile and say: ‘It’s already taken care of.’
It’s nothing; you see, miss, I lost a bet, that’s all.”
The next day he came as usual, ate, and wished to pay—his money was refused—he became irritated and threw the money in the charity box.
What did it matter to me?
An empty formality—he could give as much as he wanted to the homeless children, it wouldn’t alter the fact that he ate my two napoleons.
But I’m not going to describe everything here; besides, it is possible to describe everything?
It was an ocean—from morning to evening, and often in the night too.
It was wild, for instance, when we once sat opposite one another, eye to eye, in the tram; and sweet, when I was able to perform some service for him—and sometimes funny too.
Funny, sweet, and wild?—yes, there’s nothing so difficult and delicate, so sacred even, as human individuality; nothing can equal the rapacity of secret connections that arise, faint and purposeless, between strangers, only to bind imperceptibly with a terrible chain.
Imagine the lawyer coming out of a public lavatory, reaching for fifteen groszy, and being told that it had already been paid.
What does he feel at such a moment?
Imagine that at every step he comes across indications of a cult, he meets homage and service all around, loyalty and an iron sense of duty, remembrance.
But the doctor’s wife!
I was fearfully tormented by her behavior.
Did his advances not move her?
Did the toothpick and the cocktail in the Polonia make no impression on her whatsoever?
She evidently did not accept them—once, I observed, he left her apartment furious, his necktie awry ...
What kind of woman was she!
What could be done, how could she be prevailed upon, how could she be convinced, so that she should fully comprehend at once, so that
she should thoroughly understand, just as I understood, that she should feel it?
After hesitating for a long time, I decided that the best thing would be an anonymous letter.