Frederick and Pauline carried on in front Herr Lippert. He’d had grown used to it and said nothing. Trying to be provocative, Frederick said, “Our friend here can’t imagine that I haven’t seduced you. It’s so typical. He doesn’t think that we can be just friends.” She responded with a smile, but she may not have heard what was said because her mind was off somewhere else. She didn’t think that she was attractive; at least not as attractive as the men thought, while at the same time she knew that they were attracted to her. She caught Herr Lippert’s gaze and held it. She knew that he thought she was irresistible.
Their food came. They ate leisurely and enjoyed it. They topped it off with a tart.
Frederick said to Herr Lippert, “Eat your heart out.” He knew what his friend was thinking and added, “Now don’t try to deny it. You’re jealous. But I assure you that Pauline and me are simply friends.”
Pauline said in response, “Listen to you two bicker. I like you both so don’t fight. Of course, I’m flattered, and if either one of you had been around during the war, you could’ve gotten whatever you wanted from me. And within a week or two you would’ve been gone and I would’ve forgotten everything. But I’m thankful that you didn’t know me then and that we’re still friends now. Too often it was my fault and there were less fortunate souls in the world. I didn’t know if I still had a husband. I hadn’t yet learned what to do with my time, and I made a mistake…a big mistake. I don’t particularly want to go into it now but… My husband hadn’t come back, and I made a mistake. It was as simple as that. Who am I kidding? And he’s not here now for me to beg for his forgiveness. Not here for me to stroke his hair and say I’m sorry. You thought I was respectable. Yes, yes, respectable. I’ve known my share of bastards, and in the end, those relationships proved as insubstantial and pointless as a game of spades.
Herr Lippert cleared his throat. In a way it was a victory for him. Pauline, turning away from Frederick, and looking away from Herr Lippert, sat very still. All three of them sat without moving for what seemed like a very long time, but it was only a moment or two.
Herr Lippert said, “I don’t believe any of this. Concerning the woman question…”
“Freud says what?”
“I come from the old school, I guess. Not many people think the way I think these days. But there are reasons why women are built the way they are.”
“Perhaps you’re old fashion enough to think that women are inferior?”
“No, no, no. “
“I think we’ve played our part, but do we have to go through this again? I don’t feel guilty. You don’t know how many times that I’ve approached men on my knees. In terms of Herr Freud’s free association, hypothetically speaking, a woman is left with dreams of what might’ve been while she tries to hide her sin beneath her petticoats.”
“But petticoats are…”
“Exactly. That was my dilemma. I don’t think either of you understand. When we quite rightly thought of ourselves as the center of the world, we were suppose to be sexless and knew, like Herr Lippert says, what we were built for. He thinks we’ve forgotten that we were put on earth to bear and raise children. And he’d like to think that we don’t have any brains. So here we are. I don’t have a petticoat to my name. And I think I know what would happen if I didn’t have any brains. You are men, and you wish that I were an evil nymphomaniac. I hate to disappoint you, and, as I see you salivate, it confirms that you’ve been undressing me with your eyes. Both of you have been…undressing me. Then it makes me your nude. Do you want me to lie down? It’s something to think about, isn’t it? You see I know where your minds are and that we live in dark corners. We’ve had fun, and who would deny us our fun, only let’s first make sure that we know what we’re doing. Do you want me to pose for you? I will; of course I will, if you want. I’ll be your nude. But what would it make me? A lady or a tramp? And I would like for you now, before you answer and before you decide, to agree to give up something too.