Summary: Two young men. Paris. An encounter.
August 28th 1844, Paris
"Then you are married?"
The question lingers. It seems to linger far too long. He wishes that it does not sound to the other man's ears as hollow as it does to his own.
He should be on his way away from the continent, both away from his father and toward him. To the gritty town of Northern England, where one will have only smoke to breathe, rather than air. The expectation alone is almost enough to make this city of light smell like fresh flowers in the stead of the stench of rotting vegetables that he knows is there.
He does not quite wish that he hadn't come. Not yet. He knew that after meeting with his family he simply had to see again this man, this man that had spellbound him from the brief sole encounter that they had shared before.
"For a year soon. Few are the wiser for it."
Despite this expression of trust - and he knows that he should take it as one - there is a twinge of upset that he tries to squelch down. There had been no mention of the fact in the man's letters, and he had felt that they had reached a level of comfort in their exchange that was quite extraordinary. Perhaps it was something that he had constructed only in his mind, but he did not will it so. To have found someone who understood him perfectly, whom he could relate to seamlessly and whose thinking he could only admire for its brilliance was something that he was quite simply not willing to let go. If it should be an illusion, then let it last a little longer.
"I suppose that congratulations are in order," he says, trying to sound sincere. "And who is this lucky woman?"
He is barely conscious of it, but he likes watching this man. To watch him think, to wonder what kind of processes are going on behind that elegantly crinkling forehead is preferable to any thought he could have himself. For the open and unreserved study of the gestures of this man, it takes him a while to realize that what the gestures spell - the rhythmic turn of his hand, the revolutions of his still empty pipe - is nervousness.
"A childhood friend," he says. The slightly younger man cannot tell whether the evasiveness of the answer is only imagined. "Jenny."
He cannot, in his mind, measure the proper length of pauses.
"Jenny von Westphalen."
The statement of the obvious is a statement of his mouth. What fills his mind is objections, on the forefront of which seems to be a string that he knows to be of nothings, But you're too young, you're too brilliant to be tied down.
The man is two years his senior, and his own father has been begging him to find a wife to settle down with for ages, ages. He knows he won't.
And he knows it's selfish to ask this man to think the same.
But some part of him, he realizes, had been hoping against hope.
There is a subtle put-outness to his tone, the aversion of his gaze. The younger man understands where it is coming from, even though he had not meant it in such a way. He could hardly afford to judge the man, on his way as he was to his father's factory, to lord over his father's workers. He can only lift his hands in surrender.
Even if he could, he would not wish to upset this man.
But in truth, where his thoughts dwell is a place even more base, and he can only be glad that the other man cannot know it. That the slight slight is over the imagined.
For he can only hate it. He can only hate the thought of it. To know that his companion is of Jewish heritage is to know that he is circumcised, and that is to know more about his concealed anatomy than that of most people; waistcoatless, shirtless. And so it is that he can in guillotine-sharpness draw from some buried depths the image of his making love. To his wife, to the young shape of a woman that needs no features. Supple bodies, entangled limbs, the heaviness of breaths.
He hates it instantly. Viscerally. Utterly.
And he is thankful, ever so thankful, that this brilliant, astonishing man in whom he had discovered a perfectly matching piece to the once-empty place in his soul will never know.
The other man will never know, because he will never speak it.
"Come, let's just talk about the book. I'm quite excited about these plans we devised."
Yes. The man is right, of course. It did not do to merely talk about the world, or try to explain it. The striving was always to change it.
Perhaps he would yet find the courage for it. Some other day.