That was how he lived with Pauline’s infidelity, though he hated it, and was how he rationalized his own behavior, though it certainty didn’t carry the risks…at least not the risk of scandal like Pauline’s behavior did. The one thing, however, that he was most afraid of were the diseases that she could bring home.
And he wished that he had come home from the war sooner. If he had, he thought, maybe things would’ve been different and maybe he would’ve been part of the change. His wife’s promiscuousness certainly bothered him, just as the promiscuousness of any married woman would’ve, while he didn’t see anything wrong with men being promiscuous. This was the double standard or contradiction Pauline faced every day.
At last they got off by themselves, away from the flat, with the boys at school and he taking an afternoon off from work. Just an afternoon, no more than a few hours was all the time they had. Perhaps because they knew that was all the time they had Fritz and Eva moved quickly from flirtation to intimacy, but for now Fritz wasn’t about to take advantage of his own flat. Never far away were hotels where they could go and where no one cared who they were and where whatever they did was totally accepted. Eva was somewhat fleshier than Pauline, and she acted like creatures of the opposite sex were supposed to act: she pretended to be less intellectual than Fritz, a creature of passion, of desire rather than of the mind and in many ways the opposite of Pauline. They went into the hotel. At that hour the lobby wasn’t very busy, and the hallway they passed through was just as vacant. Her red lips were moist and welcoming, but Fritz didn’t spend much time there. He left foreplay almost immediately and began undressing her before she had a chance to say anything. The way from there was familiar to both of them, what they each did and how they each responded. There was a negative side to this for both of them too. He loved his wife very much, she wanted her boss to respect her, and here they were in bed together, and he felt as if his life was ruined.
The air inside the room was hot and stale. Looking out the window after opening it, he saw men and women walking down the street, and he checked the time on a clock on a lamppost. He thought, “I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I don’t think I can turn back. And I’m not sure I want to. I’m not sure of anything.”
He still took Eva to a hotel whenever he could.
Then he slipped one day and made love to her in his study. Pauline was out with Frederick…that was the story…or was it with Herr Lippert (he never knew for sure)…and remember this was back in 1920 when Frederick and Pauline took frequently hikes together in the Vienna Woods, and she allowed him to take a naked photograph of her. Thus Fritz’s dream was shattered, a dream he maintained while he recuperated in a military hospital far from his native city.
Fritz woke up in the military hospital without knowing how he got there. He was among the wounded that couldn’t immediately go home. His wounds were so horrific that he didn’t want his family to see him.
Later he wouldn’t talk about it, and would only refer to the events as a dream, and in the middle of the dream was a nurse who he swore looked like Pauline. She enchanted him, though he was suffering from what would later be called shell shock. “You’ve gone through hell. It’ll take time. We’ve not seen injuries like yours before. Especially with the changes in fighting. Foolish, really, since no one knew…”
“Am I going to make it?”
“You will, Fritz. It will just take time.”
“You’re telling me the truth, aren’t you?”
“You know I am. There’s no more war for you.”
“I’m not thinking about war. I’m thinking about going home.”
She said, “It’s too soon for you to be thinking about home. Instead you should be thinking about recovering. I’ll come back later.”
When she came back, he said, “This has been a bad day. Big shells started coming over as soon as the sun gave the enemy a target. One burst in our trench and killed the man next to me and knocked me out with a concussion. I knew by the crash we were done for, but I can’t explain the burns I have. I was one of the lucky ones because I didn’t die of dysentery.”