Lying there he thought that his life was over, but was it a portrayal of his true feelings? He had to admit that the years that he and Pauline had together were good. Then did he really feel that his life was over? She had given him more than five good years. Then war came along. Now he was confined to a hospital bed, and he wanted to take his life back.
But it was out of his control. What if he had control, what would he do differently? He didn’t know. But first things first.
He didn’t know what he’d find at home. He was afraid to write. He hoped that Pauline was still there waiting for him. He dictated a letter to a nurse and then had her tear it up. He was simply uncertain about himself, and that was understandable. The nurse was very understandable.
Any letter from Pauline would’ve been a godsend. Was the game over? The game went on. He didn’t know what he expected, but he never expected Vienna to have change as much as it had. In many ways it seemed like it had been neglected for many years and it made Fritz heart’s sink and wonder what he had fought for. During the war the city had become increasingly ungovernable. Now the Social Democrats were in charge, and to him no one seemed happy about it. The waltz had become outdated, since it consisted of turns and change steps, and many of the old buildings needed paint. But the city itself had been left largely untouched. Yet it wasn’t the same.
They still had their old flat, with the same old, heavy furniture in it. He could count on the flat, only now with a live-in nanny it was more crowded than ever before. It had the basics. And beds, chairs, lamps, and tables made him feel at home. Only he had to give up having Pauline around because she was into her social work and her extracurricular activities. And all of it tore him apart. None of it, he thought, would’ve happened had he not gone off to war. He felt sure that if he hadn’t gone he could’ve kept her home. He blamed the war. He however wasn’t given a choice. He’d have to adapt…change…something that seemed impossible to begin with…and gradually from things she said Fritz understood that she had had many lovers and still carried on several affairs.
Within days after returning to Vienna he began wandering around the city. After feeling impotent during the war, he felt shaky, even afraid, and he felt that he had to “prove” himself before he disappointed his wife. Up until then he avoided having sexual contact with her, and it bothered him that she didn’t seem to object. So he wandered around the city looking for a vamp. He told himself that he wasn’t interested in tramps and felt sure that he knew the difference between tramps and vamps. Sometimes he went into cafes, but never in one where he thought that he might run into someone he knew and where he thought he’d be recognized. He was on a mission. He never denied it. Yes, things had changed. Yet, in some ways things hadn’t. He had to admit that he liked looking at women with cropped hair. There were the short skirts to contend with. Corsets were gone. Even proper ladies had abandoned them. Then he thought, “But it’s too much. They’ve gone too far. I’m the man. Though the world has changed, and they’ve proclaimed who they are, they’re risking everything. Our children need their mother. They hardly see her. It isn’t fair.”
Sometimes in the evening he’d look for Pauline in cafes without knowing what he’d do if he were to see her in one with someone. He never went by the Obdachlosenhein to see if she was working like she claimed she was. For a while he tried to recoup what he lost during the war. And the carnage of combat had accustomed him to violence, so there was no telling what he would do. Fritz asked himself, “How long can this continue? What do they expect?”
He asked Pauline, “What’s happened to you? Do you expect me to be happy about this?”
Pauline said, “I have no expectations. You could take possession of me, but I’m not sure you’d want to because I’m not sure what would happen then. Maybe in time you’ll begin to see things differently. Unless you’re willing to… Please don’t hate me.”
“I could kill you. It would be easy for me now…easy for me to reach that point.”
“I’m sorry. I guess we’re both reaching for something.”
“We thought the Turks possibly raped and looted our city. We didn’t know that they never reached the outskirts. What I want to know is if they had captured the city would you have welcomed them with open arms? No, don’t tell me.”
“You’re thinking of the wrong war, Fritz.”
“It’s a waste of time. A waste of time.”