And we’ve gotten to the fifth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL). Sorry about the late post! I got carried away by a friend’s visit to Bucharest 🙂
Please note that I am scheduling the posts from now on for 1 p.m. UTC.
Here are the previous four installments:
#1: “Nice meeting you, Ela” (July 11, 2021)
(And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.)
Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!
#5: “We sometimes need sadness in order to tease away sadness”
Bucharest, present day, eight years later. The first Saturday in August 2001, two weeks after Ela played Chopin for him, Pamfil invited Henriette, her sister Alice, and ten other friends of his to one of his monthly weekend parties. Ela would have joined them too, but she had decided to visit her aged grandfather in the countryside.
The guests started trickling in at nine thirty in the evening, and by the time Anca and Marcel stepped in an hour later,to the vibrato sounds of Peter Green’s guitar, the house was abuzz with chatter.
“I like these melancholic bluesy songs,” Anca said as she closed the front door behind her and rose up on her toes to give Pamfil a double-cheek kiss. “Too bad we’ll never be teenagers again,” she said with a smile as she took off her cardigan and hooked it on the coatrack.
“At twenty-four you should be looking resolutely ahead,” Pamfil said, “and not into the past. There will be enough time for that later on.”
“Said the old wolf,” Anca commented, taking a casual jab at her good friend. She then slapped her forehead with an exaggerated gesture. “Are you, by any chance, thirty-four today?”
“Yes,” Pamfil confirmed, tickled.
Marcel, who stood by listening to their exchange, gave Pamfil a pat on the back and walked into the living room.
“Why didn’t you say something? We could have made it more special!” Anca blurted. She gave Pamfil a hug.
“I like to believe that all my parties are special. That we’re not waiting for birthdays to have a good time,” Pamfil replied with a ready smile.
“I get that,” Anca said, all serious. “But I would have liked to get you a gift.”
“What would you have gotten me?” Pamfil inquired with a wink.
“What would you have wanted?” Anca asked with a smile, tilting her head playfully.
“Hard to say,” Pamfil deflected. “Come inside,” he invited, leading her out of the kitchen.
She walked to his desk and busied herself there with the playlist for a few minutes, until Marcel appeared at her side. “Care to dance?” he asked, extending a hand.
“Always,” she accepted with a smile, grasping his fingers in hers and easing herself into his embrace. They danced two songs together and went on to chat with Clara and Silvia, the pianist and the cellist who had formed the ensemble Trio Anima with Pamfil many years before.
“I love Peter Green too,” Silvia said, drinking from her wine glass, “but to me he always sounds unbearably sad. Whereas someone like Otis Redding puts a spring in my step every time.”
“De gustibus,” Anca said. “We sometimes need sadness in order to tease away sadness.”
Silvia smiled. “Once a poet, always a poet.”
“You almost make it sound like a bad thing,” Anca retorted with a smile.
“It’s probably a question of moderation,” Clara said as she leafed through a book listlessly next to Silvia. “As with everything.”
“Yeah, but when you have a vocation that lives in symbiosis with you,” Silvia put in, “you can be tempted to overfeed it.” She put her wine glass down and stretched her back. “I’ve started to have back problems,” she said.
“From cello playing?” Marcel asked.
“And carrying. But yes, I’m straining some muscles,” Silvia replied.
Clara lifted her eyes from her book. “We’re not getting any younger,” she said, gently rubbing Silvia’s upper back.
“I’ll dance to that,” Silvia responded jocularly. She got up and made her way to a group of guests who were capering to Creedence Clearwater Revival songs.
When Henriette and Alice arrived, about eleven o’clock, the party was in full swing. Almost everybody had had their nightcaps, and most of them had had quite a bit to eat as well.
As Henriette took off her beige corduroy jacket and readjusted her outfit—black pants with a cream dressy shirt, accented by an aventurine, citrine, and smoky quartz pendant—Pamfil darted to his desk to pick the perfect song for a moment he had much anticipated, that of bringing his love for her into the open and forcing her to make the same decision. He decided on a peppy piece, something they could dance more sprightly to despite the weight of the declaration; then he walked back to the living room threshold, where Henriette was taking in the scene distractedly, and gave her a long kiss on the lips.
“I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” he whispered. “Tell the whole world how much I love you.”
Henriette stroked his cheek, amused. “Then why are you whispering?”
Moments later she was in the kitchen, tempted by the profusion of food laid out on the table on large serving platters: boeuf salad, made with beef and boiled veggies, various sandwiches, fish fillets with veggie rice pilaf, eggplant spread, and stuffed eggs. She took out a plate and a glass from a cupboard and helped herself to two baked-tomato sandwiches and some homemade iced tea.
As she sat down to eat, Pamfil made some quick rounds in the living room. When he joined her again, he curled his right arm around her shoulders.
Henriette turned her cheek toward him and smiled.
“Will you strip for us tonight?” Pamfil asked, getting down on his haunches and enveloping her from the side with his upper body.
Henriette pushed her plate of food away and turned to him with a smile, silently asking for a kiss, which she received. Then they both got up. “Will you strip me?” Henriette said, raising her arms and shimmying against his body, a wide grin on her lips.
Pamfil looked at her with a glint in his eyes.
“Of course I will,” he said.
“Now.” He reached for her hand and ran with her in tow into the living room, where they collapsed on the bed, laughing.
Silvia and Clara, who were standing by, toppled themselves on them, giving the two lovers a heartfelt hug.
A few minutes later, still reeling from the mirthful surprise of the spontaneous gesture of the other two members of his trio, Pamfil extricated himself from the jumble and walked over to his computer to play their striptease song—an original voice-and-guitar composition he had recorded in sport a long time ago and which somehow, one joke to another, had started a popular sexy dance routine at his parties.
That day it was Henriette’s turn to make an impression. She got off the bed and stepped to the wooden desk chair with a catlike grace that extracted applause and hooting from her audience. Then, her green eyes alight with anticipation, she climbed on the desk on all fours like a panther, rose to her feet, swayed her shoulders sensuously as a smile sneaked across her face, and started miming peeling off her shirt. Pamfil, now high on his desk chair himself, pretended to work at her buttons before he actually undid some to reveal her bra, to the great enjoyment of his guests, who cheered and danced and touched the legs and sandaled feet of Henriette as she tried to delay taking off her shirt.
When the song was over, Vlad, Pamfil’s running partner and friend, put on a pop-rock Romanian ballad from the early nineties—a choice he followed with smug looks around the room to assess the approval of his own taste in music. The change in playlist, however, was registered only insofar as it offered a transition to a batch of slow songs, which guests promptly reacted to with invitations to lovers and friends.
Henriette, still on the desk, tried to decide between doing up her shirt and climbing down into Pamfil’s waiting arms. As Pamfil was beaming at her, she went for one last dashing gesture, putting one foot on the chair he was anchoring and swinging the other in the air and then around him as he pulled her close. Then, after landing on her feet, she kept her arms around his neck a moment longer, stroked the back of his head, and tilted her head up to kiss him.
“You never played that song before,” she said after a while as she danced with Pamfil, her face showing surprise at the party going off script a little. It used to be that they danced to the same old singers and bands every time, the vast majority of them from the sixties and seventies, Pamfil’s argument being that there was much to be discovered from those two decades and enough new material at every party to keep guests from getting bored. That said, he did allow his friends a little freedom—making sure to point out that their choices didn’t bear much scrutiny. This time, however, Vlad’s song was somewhat to his liking.
“It’s not such a bad song for its time,” he said in a mitigating way, a reaction that made Henriette chuckle, for it said so much about Pamfil’s struggle to accept people for who they were, despite his little tyrant ways—despite his strong preferences and his rather rigid notions of the ideal party. The give-and-take he aimed for endeared him to Henriette, used to dealing with a similar combination in Alice, who had become over the years quite a domineering big sister. But now, as she relaxed in Pamfil’s arms, she didn’t think about Alice. She didn’t think about much at all, not even Pamfil’s recent proposition—and Pamfil, too, was lost in their embrace, in the warmth of Henriette’s body and the orangey scent of her skin, as well as the excitement of their pretend stripping together, all of that compelling him to pull her to his chest and cradle the sides of her head and kiss her dark-cherry lips.
As they danced this way in the middle of the room, Anca went to the computer, leaned over Vlad, and played a soulful Otis Redding song.
Pamfil and Henriette, holding each other tight, looked at their friend with twinkling eyes.
“We’re public now, huh?” Henriette said, her arms now wrapped around Pamfil’s hips.
“I guess we are,” Pamfil said in a low voice.
“Only you haven’t asked me if I’m ready to leave Haralambie,” Henriette said, looking into the dark pools of his eyes.
“Why wouldn’t you be?” Pamfil retorted.
“I don’t know, Pamfil . . .” Henriette said.
“What’s holding you back?” Pamfil asked, running both of his hands through the sides of Henriette’s tumbling locks until he threaded his fingers, full of her dark auburn hair, atop her nape.
“The opposite of what’s attracting me to you,” Henriette responded, his gesture giving her shivers of pleasure. “The fact that he doesn’t stir my passions, that he lets me be myself, freely,” she added, a moment later losing her sentence and train of thought to Pamfil’s kiss.
Anca watched them from a corner as she enjoyed a glass of wine. Then the music changed to something with a faster tempo and she went into the kitchen to look for Marcel, who had gone there for some quick snacking. When she reached his side, he started spoon-feeding her boeuf salad.
“I had no idea Henriette was in love with Pamfil,” he said.
“Yeah, she took me in too. Isn’t she still dating Har?”
The lovebirds surprised everyone, in fact, even Alice, who liked to think of herself as observant.
To be continued . . .