She feels thoroughly puzzled by Eli’s coyness. He didn’t join her in bed for a little cuddle nor in the bathroom for a bit of splashing and even passed over the customary morning kiss. After all that strain she has invested in coaching him to be an acceptable lover, how can he treat her as lowly? Of course he might have found another girl in her absence; Katia or any of the new recruits might have taken him on. Has she lost her sex-appeal by her uninspired sex with Polland? By the way, what has become of him? Did they ditch him in some gruesome way and laid him to eternal rest in those deep, dark forests around Basel?
She adds some hot water to the suddenly chilly bath. Poor Polland! Yet, had he not asked for it? Why couldn’t he contend himself with his skinny spouse? The very thought of those poor kids, innocent victims of his philandering, makes her sick.
She steps out of the bath, wraps herself up in a towel and opens the window wide to meet the gorgeous day of spring. Even if she has never been a nature buff she has to admit this garden is uniquely lovely, so openly wild after Basel’s meticulous garden plots. -If you wish to be happy one day get married. If you wish to be happy all your life long become a gardener.- She sees the truth of this old Chinese proverb even if neither of these solutions would suit her.
She leans out of the window listening to the rhythmic breathing of the sea. Soaking in its salty coolness, mingled with the scent of the flowering garden, she drops the towel and exposes herself to the sun. Oh God, how she missed it in the rigid continental climate of Basel! Her eyes shut she opens herself to the light. Is it sinful to be that happy in spite of being a protagonist in another man’s tragedy?
“Magda, what are you doing, exposing yourself naked to anybody’s eyes?” Elijah bangs the window shut and draws the curtain tight.
“Have you suddenly become a puritan, Eli? Do I ask people to stare at me? If my nudity offences you avert your eyes. Anyhow, I haven’t got any decent beach wear. Either we’ll go and buy some new stuff or my panties must do. Now I’d like to go to the beach.” Glaring daggers she starts to dress.
“I don’t see any difference between knickers and bikini bottoms; do you? And as for the top, don’t count on me to put it on.”
“OK, Magda, have it as you wish, I surrender.”
“See, Eli, isn’t it better to be buddies than to squabble about a dress code? Before I’ve wasted my time on putting some clothes on tell me whether you are keen on a wee cuddle, or even more.” She nears him with open arms.
“Wait, Magda, something has changed. I am in a relationship, a rather serious one, and I don’t fool around with other girls. So don’t take my abstinence personally, you are a most desirable woman and any man would be happy to make love to you.”
“But Eli, you just proposed to me or have I got the signals crossed?”
He gives here an inscrutable glance.
“My dear girl, since when does the one include the other? There are tons of married couples who never have sex. Got it? Let’s do something more constructive like deciding about our next move: beach or an exploratory walk about Golf Juan which is the name of this godforsaken place. I’ll give you half an hour to get ready, will that be enough?”
“More than enough, Eli.”
She chooses pensively her dress. She has never expected that this boy could have got enough of her. Well, things happen. She can live without him; as a lover he was just so and so and keeping him as a friend will do.
Eli rushes forward to open the garden gate. His peck on the cheek is friendly, no more. Has he really fallen for another girl and shows her off all the tricks she taught him hoping to profit from her labor of love in future?
“How do you like my new dress?” She dares him scarcely able to breathe in a skin tight grass green mini.
“-Dresses should look on you as if you’ve just shed a couple of pounds-, it’s what my mama thinks. You are bursting out of yours.”
“My dear, Eli, I know some guys who find my curves sexy and you used to be one of them.” She rebukes him curtly.
“In case you intend to spoil my appetite and make yourself fat on my lunch, just forget it!”
“This was the last thing on my mind, Magda. I adore seeing you eat with your gorgeous ravenousness just like…” He restrains himself from pursuing this hot subject and returns onto safer grounds.
“The shortest way to food is by the beach but the sand will ruin your fancy sandals.”
“I’ll take them off.”
He leads her down the narrow road amidst the villas, hidden in the flowering gardens, towards the sea.
“The beach restaurants are closed out of season. We have to walk until the port where the eateries are opened all year round. The sand will lacerate your feet, honey. Wouldn’t it be better to ruin the sandals?”
“Don’t worry, Eli. I am used to run barefooted. It makes the legs shapely, see?” She draws her mini high.
He doesn’t seem to be interested in a closer look. ’What a moron! Always trust a stranger. It’s the people you know that let you down! ’She sighs despairingly. She can’t believe that she used to be dead sure that he was head over heels in love with her! It makes her uncertain also about the other things that she took for granted!
“Tell me, Eli, do I know the lucky one? “
He gives her his old frog-prince grin.
“Does it change a thing, Magda? Would you be satisfied if I say it was Katia?”
“Then it is Katia! It can’t be true! She is such a baby; she’ll bore you to death!”
“You see, Magda? Whatever I say, you don’t believe me, and then what good will it do if you know?”
“Have it your way, Eli! You were right, the beach is scratchy, just stones and sharp pebbles. I don’t understand why they put the sand in heaps up by the wall.”
“The sea would grab it during the winter storms. This is an artificial beach and to bring new sand costs a fortune. Look at your poor feet, Magda! Haven’t I told you not to walk barefoot? Put your sandals on! I’ll get you some new slippers, better ones, I promise!”
“To put the sandals on won’t do. My feet are all dirty. If I put the shoes on it will be worse.”
“Sit down, Magda; I’ll clean them up.”
“Oh Eli, how come you’ve got a real handkerchief! Of course, back home in Hungary we used them too as Kleenex was a luxury.”
“Having a real handkerchief is just another of my mama’s whims, her hankies are of silk embroidered with our coats of arms; she’d rather die than disgrace her aristocratic nose with a Kleenex.”
He gives Magda’s feet one last caress and she can’t believe that this boy, who treats her feet so tenderly, has lost all his feelings for her.
“No more hungry?” He asks after a hearty luncheon.
“Now get some rest to be fit for an extensive shopping in Cannes, You are starting a new job tonight. Alex was going to come and put you personally into the picture but he had to stay in Paris. Your new client is an American. You’ll meet him tonight at the night club of the Hotel Martinez. Be mysterious and play it cool. He’ll be in Cannes for a week which is more than enough to put him under your spell. Here is his photo.”
He hands her a snapshot of a carefully dressed middle-aged man with silvery temples, quite attractive in an understated way. He is trim, very probably thanks to a thorough working out with a personal trainer.
“Quite a change to Polland, isn’t he, Magda?”
“It would be naive to ask if he is single, wouldn’t it?”
“Of course he is married, how else: he has four children, two from his first marriage, the other two from his second one with a gorgeous trophy wife, a former Miss Texas. Here is her picture taken at a beauty pageant.”
“Are you out of your mind, Eli? Look at her, look at me! How can I get at him who lives with a Venus descending on him every night? “
“The ’How’ is your job, Magda! Try hard and consider it a challenge! Men are keen on change and most of them are crazy about curves! So play it on your buxom assets and be sure you win.”