The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
She raised her book until it was almost vertical, flaunting the cover at him as he sat opposite. He must see that it was in the same language as his newspaper. Please let him get the message – speak to me, speak to me in English – take me from my loneliness!
Germany is the worst country in the world to be lonely. Everybody is so convivial, at least among each other, clanking their beer mugs in the station bar, raising choruses on the decks of the riverboats. This endless hot summer makes them worse, driving them outdoors in hordes to drink, shout, sing and undress.
Cologne had been bad enough but Sunday on the river would be worse. The crowded rain was taking her to Coblenz where she planned to take a steamer up the Rhine. She imagined the steep banks blue with fruitful vineyards shimmering in the haze as they soared up to the ruined castles on the skyline, while on the river the holidaymakers basked on their pleasure boats, bosomy girls and strong-thighed young men soaking up the sun and admiring each other’s perfection.
She wondered if the man sitting opposite had strong brown thighs to match his strong brown forearms. Did they have the same downy fair hair?
Behave, Yvonne! You’re going crazy. Remember you’re a frumpish little schoolteacher who lives with her mother in Richmond, Virginia, and the next best thing to a virgin yourself, for all that you’re pushing thirty. You can’t even go on vacation without giving an excuse that you’re going to Europe to improve your German.
But the Rhineland is so romantic they shouldn’t allow a girl in without a lover. You should have gone somewhere sexless, like Minneapolis.
‘Are you here on holiday?’
His voice took her by surprise. The book had fallen to her lap while her mind cruised the Rhine.
‘Oh! Oh yeah, well kinda.’
In her confusion she forgot to hide her gravelly Southern drawl. His English was as clipped and precise as an Oxford lawn. He sounded British, but then Continentals spoke English with a British accent and his speech was perhaps too precise to be his mother tongue.
‘I majored in German at college’, she explained, trying to copy his accent, ‘and I’m revisiting where I stayed as a sophomore, to see if it’s changed and to brush up my German.’
‘Just the person I need to meet’, he replied. ‘I can’t speak German and I need help to find a riverboat at Coblenz and buy a ticket. Are you going to Coblenz?’
‘I’m not very good’, she demurred. ‘I’m sure you can manage without me.’
Don’t be a fool. Of course he can manage without you but he wants you to manage for him. Go for it.
‘Actually I am going to Coblenz’, she added hastily, ‘and I’m taking a boat up the Rhine. We could go together.’
They travelled three stages on the first riverboat and spent two hours at a small tourist spot, lunching by the pier and then climbing the hill to the castle. He stood on the battlements, gazing at the sapphire-bright river with the breeze ruffling his hair, like a Viking, thought Yvonne.
There was nobody else among the ruins and she ached for him to jump down and crush her against him. Yet he remained ever the gentleman.
Not that I’m a girl to arouse carnal urges. What was he thinking as he watched me fetch the Cokes on the boat? Was he comparing my small breasts and over-broad hips with those other glorious golden female bodies on the deck? But at least I walked down the deck with two Cokes – even plain, over-dressed Yvonne had her man.
They took a boat on to Bacharach, a little Mediaeval town named after the god of wine. This was where she had stayed as a student and she wanted to show it to Robert, as he called himself. He agreed to forego the last part of his journey to Mainz and to travel back to Cologne that night from Bacharach, explaining that he had a meeting in Cologne in the morning.
They found her a room for the night above a weinstube, an attic with two single beds in opposite corners. Yvonne laughingly commented on the landlady’s surprise when Yvonne registered only for herself, but Robert did not seem tempted to change his plans.
Dinner was at a restaurant remembered from student days; several courses and two carafes of wine. Robert said little about himself, except that he was English and worked for the UN in Geneva. This sounded like a fantasy job and she was sure he could speak German, for understood signs and notices and entschuldigen-ed his way through crowds as naturally as a native.
His reticence gave her more time to talk about herself. She told him about the assessment interview with the school principal at the end of term. ‘He said I was an over-achiever’, she said, almost crying at the memory. ‘What did he mean?’
‘He meant that he had underestimated you and he was trying to make it seem your fault.’
‘You think so?’
‘Of course, Yvonne. He meant there is much more to you than people like him can understand.’
She talked and he listened. It was wonderful and it used up the time; he might yet miss his train.
The station was deserted. The next train to Cologne left at 6.60 a.m.
‘Never mind, Robert, there are two beds in my room.’
It seemed as if he would be content to take the second bed. Yvonne decided too defer bedtime.
‘We’ll never sleep with that music downstairs. Let’s join the party.’
Downstairs Lt Elmer Hoskins was holding his farewell party before returning stateside. He called to the new arrivals and ordered another bottle of special reserve, Robert took her hand and led her over and seemed to forget to release it and they shared the wine and the laughter.
‘Shall we dance?’ he asked.
On the tiny dance floor he put his arms gently around her and all she could do was to cling to him urgently. He responded with a tight hug.
‘I think it’s time we left’, he said.
He guided her to bed and unbuttoned her blouse, discovering that she wore nothing underneath.
‘I’m sorry I’m not very big, Robert’, she whispered.
‘But I don’t have very big hands.’
She had thought men were incapable of further sex immediately after a climax. That was how it hasd been with John, yet Robert went on until she was as spent as a rag doll. At lst he gave a great shudder and collapsed, pinning her beneath him.
She lay helpless in a glow of power. She had carried this strong, gentle, controlled man to the point that all that mattered in his life was to make love to her. Now he was a spent husk, everything vital in him poured into her.
‘You don’t thing I lured you up here, do you Robert?’
‘Yvonne, I wasn’t opposite you on the train by accident. I followed you from the platform.’
‘You looked so serene and graceful in that chaos, I had to speak to you. You were so engrossed in your book, it took me half an hour to get a chance. But it was your voice that did it for me, deep and sexy like in ‘Gone With the Wind’. Listening to you is like floating in magnolia blossom.
They made love as dawn touched the windows and then he got up to catch his train.
‘Can’t you come back after your meeting’, she begged. ‘You could ring and cancel your appointments until Thursday and we could go to Heidelberg. You’d love Heidelberg.’
‘Afraid not. They need me in Geneva.’
While he washed she scribbled her name and address in Richmond and for good measure the name of her hotel in Heidelberg on a folded tissue and slipped it into the pocket of his shirt, still lying on the floor. Maybe . . .
He came back, dressed, kissed her, collected his bag and left.
There were two policemen waiting at the Reception at the hotel in Heidelberg.
‘This is totally ridiculous! Just because you found my address in some guy’s pocket. So it is my handwriting, but I know nothing about him. I am an American citizen, I have Rights. How was I to know the guy was a terrorist!’
I knew I should have gone to Minneappolis.