It's Andy Conway Week at Outsideleft and we're kicking it all off with..., Well, let's let Andy tell it his way...
The Most Girlful Beauty in Town is a chapter from Train Can't Bring Me Home, a postmodern campus novel that deals with the affair between Dylan, a washed up American lecturer with a Tom Waits fixation, and Erzsi, his vivacious teenage Hungarian student.
The Most Girlful Beauty in Town
This is Erzsébet. Say it. Erzsi. Airshe. But not the ssh of a whisper, more the zzh that is in pleasure, and in treasure, and also in measure. The hiss of air and water. This is Erzsi. Watch her. She showers while he watches. Tired, leaning back against the tiles, one foot on the bath rim, eyes closed. He sits on her clothes, back against the tiles, watching her. Her summerbrown skin, puppyplump hips, the breast buds and their light chocolate nipples. Young life. A girl's body. Oh fuck, this is disgusting, when you look at the whole thing objectively it's all about an old man fucking a little girl, I should be deported for this, they should send me right back on the first plane to America. This could cause an international incident: seducing little girls at the school gates. I have to get away from this, this is all too scary, this is really playing with plutonium, this could get me frowned upon by the academic establishment, it really could.
But then again, who is the seducer? We'll be standing close together in the kitchen, her kitchen, she eating a yoghurt with a spoon, and she'll say in my ear, right into my ear, through a wickedly wide smile: Did you know this is the seducing room?
No, no. Stay outside. No excuses. Let's look at Dylan, this wreck of a man who used to be a professor, this wreck of a professor who used to be a man. Given a Fulbright to get him out of his university at home and off to an interesting east European university for a semester. The reason? Unreliability, drunkenness, failure to show up for lectures, notable lack of interest in the day to day workings of his faculty: in short, a lecturer behaving like a student. Given a chance to stitch himself back together. Four months away from it all, including his wife, also a member of the said faculty but far more reliable, who will no doubt soon find herself in a position to sack her husband, if it all goes on like this: her meteoric rise and his very slow, very painful fall. He's been given a chance to dry out. But they've sent him to a country of chain-smoking hard drinkers with an abnormally high suicide rate and a tendency for self-pity (just listen to that national anthem). It's also a country that happens to contain the most beautiful, beguiling women in the whole of Europe, outside Paris of course, with the difference that Parisian women aren't interested in anybody, whilst Hungarian women don't see much point in being mysteriously aloof; they've learnt how to keep their mystery even with no clothes on. So, understandably, Dylan is not only blowing his chance, he's blowing it Chernobyl style. The radiation will register back home, six thousand miles away, before the end of the semester. Their geigercounters are buzzing even now. He didn't stand a chance. He really didn't. Let's not judge him too hard. This is Dylan. Pretty much. This is me.
This is me sitting in the rocking chair in Erzsi's apartment (fully-clothed this time) with an old photo album on my lap. I've just watched her from the balcony, sailing away from the yellow house on her bicycle, wearing shades, windblown hair, a summer dress. Free. She gulped down a bottle of soda before she left and giggled and said: Petrol.
Erzsi smiles a lot, she smiles so much, but she cries too. She wants more contact in public. She's had enough of being the 'secret lover.' Why shouldn't he hold her hand as they walk down the street, like Lloyd does with Gréta? (Because he's married, Erzsi.) Why shouldn't he kiss her in public the way Lloyd does Gréta (because he's married, Erzsi), or let her sit on his knee on the tram the way Lloyd lets Gréta? (Because he's married, Erzsi.) Why should they pretend, when everyone knows? (Because he's married, Erzsi.)
She sees the difference: in her apartment he's smiling and can't leave her body alone, always putting his hands up her skirt and pulling at her knickers, or unbuttoning her blouse and taking her breasts in his hands and sucking at her hard chocolate nipples (because he's married?); once they've left her apartment he walks out of arm's reach from her and never smiles and seems like he's as far from her as any other lecturer at the university. In fact, he's further. If everyone does suspect they're having an affair, it's because Dylan is so friendly with everyone except Erzsébet. She sees the difference, and it hurts.
She showed him photos. Her as a college girl, her as a schoolgirl, her as a little girl, her as a baby. A horror show. Made him feel like a, feel like a. She laughed over her old photos while he (child molester, that's it!) sat there working out that he was at university when she was in kindergarten. And the newer photos weren't any easier. College girl, party girl. She always surrounded by young friends, some of them male. He's getting jealous, looking at these photos. Is he after the teen love he's never had? Is he that crazy? A dirty old man fucking a young girl. This is Dylan. This is me.
She has the usual cuddly toys found in every woman's bedroom. There's nothing wrong in it. How could any woman let these things go; things that had soaked up so much of her emotions? But still, one moment she's showing me her toys, the next she's whispering fuckwords in my ear.
And this is Erzsi standing in the seducing room wearing a t-shirt with a print of two zebras across her breasts, and she's saying: Did you know that if you kiss me here they start to dance?
And one of the zebras needs to be kissed on its eye and the other needs to be kissed on the back of its neck.
And this is Dylan and Erzsi walking back to the Café one night, down the dirt track, and seeing a falling star, and she's telling him to wish on it, and he's thinking for a moment before they walk on.
Let her survive when I'm gone.
And this is Erzsi buying cinnamon ice cream from the Don Giovanni ice cream hut at the top of the street, and rushing back to lick it up with her American boyfriend.
And this is Lloyd joking one evening, as he hugs her, about that distinctive smell that Erzsi has, which Dylan has noticed, and which Lloyd says is a baby-smell. Lloyd hugs Erzsi a lot. There's a lot of hugging going on among this little group that's formed around Erzsi's apartment. There's these Hungarian students and there's these English students, and then there's Dylan, an American lecturer. Where does he fit in here? He doesn't really. Yet they all seem to think he does.
And this is Dylan making out with Erzsi. The professor and his student, licking each other's mouths sometimes, but other times colder. This is me kissing her. Cul-de-sac kisses. Short, leading nowhere.
Train Can't Bring Me Home is © Andy Conway.
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