A Blonde in Love

Fiction
Ewa Mazierska


Photo Credit: seisdeagosto/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

They met in November, at a congress of film archivists in Munich. It was the last place where Renata hoped to see an attractive man; by definition archivists are old and unsexy or, if not completely unsexy, then married. He didn’t fit this pattern as he was good-looking. They immediately noticed each other during lunch, in a large hall, where a hundred or so people wandered awkwardly with plates overflowing with food, looking for a place where they could munch it in peace. He didn’t even keep his plate, but was talking with another plate-less guy, but Renata felt his eyes touching her face and neck, going down as low as her leather boots. Yet, his gaze wasn’t creepy, but rather imbued with amusement, as if he was wondering what she was doing among this crowd of dust-covered midwits. She was wandering semi-aimlessly, until Liina, a colleague from Estonia, caught her and started to argue for a closer cooperation between their small Baltic countries, so that they would have more clout against the larger players in the world of film archives. Renata agreed and normally would be happy to discuss this matter in detail but, on this occasion, she was distracted, anxious not to lose the handsome stranger from her perimeter. This resulted in her constantly changing position, as Liina kept obscuring the view with her plump body. Despite that, Renata realised that the guy was important as the chairman of the federation of the archives approached him, and he imprisoned the handsome stranger for the remainder of the lunch.

During the afternoon session, the mystery of the stranger’s identity was solved. He wasn’t an archivist, but the owner of an IT company, brought along to digitally connect some resources of the archives belonging to the federation, and his name was Andy. He gave a presentation with wit and lightness, which contrasted with the talks given by the archivists. His English was also different to that of other Germans. It wasn’t just that his accent was less pronounced, but it felt as if his voice didn’t belong to a German, but to a different nationality altogether. This was also reflected in his clothes. Superficially, he was dressed for the occasion: jacket, shirt, tie, but there was a personal touch. They were in different shades of green, as if he was looking for a perfect match to his green eyes. The sea of green gave him a slightly melancholic and absent-minded appearance, which was augmented by his tendency to touch his hair. He could be a bit taller, but only because Renata herself was over-average height.

Liina also noticed Andy’s attractiveness, as in the middle of his talk she turned to Renata, saying: ‘Isn’t he cute, Renata? Like from a different planet: the Archive-Free Planet.’ They both giggled and it improved Renata’s mood to realise how intelligent Liina could be. If she was also single and shed her extra kilos, Renata would consider going on holiday with her.

It was only during the evening reception that Renata and Andy had an opportunity to talk, but it wasn’t easy, as he was again surrounded by other people. Still, Renata managed to force her way through this human barricade and approached him, saying that she was impressed by his presentation. He smiled and said:

‘Thank you. And I’m impressed by the colour of your hair. Is it natural blond?’

‘No, I’m dyeing my hair. Does it matter?’

‘No, it doesn’t. It’s still beautiful, like a wheat-covered field on a sunny day.’

Renata wasn’t sure if Andy was joking, but there was no point in asking, especially as there were already more people gathered around him. She let them talk and walked towards the table with food. She put some cold meat and salads on her plate, although she wasn’t hungry. Liina approached her with her plate: ‘I must say that food at the last year’s congress tasted better. These Germans are efficient, but lack imagination. Still, better to make the most of it, as you don’t know if there will be any congress next year.’

‘True’, replied Renata, but she wasn’t in a hurry to eat what was on offer.

When Renata left Liina to join a queue for food, which tripled in size since they started to talk, she noticed that Andy was approaching her:

‘Sorry we didn’t finish talking. I really wanted to ask you if you are not too tired to go to a pub. It’s a sin to be in Bavaria and not to taste a local beer, and I know some good places nearby.’

‘I will be delighted to go, but looks as if you didn’t have a chance to eat anything.’

‘Doesn’t matter. I can order a pizza, if I’m really hungry. Let’s go.’

Renata felt a bit guilty not to take Liina with her, but was sure that her friend would understand and, anyway, Liina preferred food over alcohol.

‘Do you live in Munich?’ asked Renata, when they found themselves in a noisy place, smelling of beer and roasted sausage. She didn’t like such establishments, preferring Riga’s cafés, but didn’t say anything, happy that they were finally alone, as much alone as people can be in a public place.

‘No, I live in Stuttgart, but I work with firms all over Germany and abroad, mostly in Austria and Switzerland.’

‘You must be very good at what you do to get such big contracts.’

‘To be honest, this one is the largest. But you are right that we managed to achieve a high position in a relatively short period, me and my friend. That said, you must be the youngest delegate at this congress, and the prettiest. I couldn’t take my eyes from you, when doing my presentation and, at the same time, I was thinking that you were thinking “what a creep”.’

‘I didn’t think this at all. I haven’t even noticed that you paid attention to me,’ replied Renata, shyly.

‘Oh, I did and wondered what such a pretty girl was doing among these withered, disfigured archivists.’

Renata laughed and said: ‘That’s what I think about archivists too, when I travel abroad. In Latvia it’s different, though, because our film archive is relatively new and we are all young; my deputy is not even thirty.’

‘What about you?’

‘I’m thirty-five. How old are you?’

‘I’m forty-five.’

Renata was surprised, learning Andy’s age, thinking that he was forty at most, but didn’t say anything. In the past, when she was with a dating agency, she stipulated no men more than seven years older than her but, ultimately, better to date a George Clooney than a creep her age.

‘You have achieved a lot, given your age,’ said Andy.

‘Yes, but there were sacrifices,’ replied Renata.

‘There has to be, if you want to achieve success. Success is easy only for the people whom we don’t know.’

‘True. You are also successful. What were your sacrifices?’

‘Mainly to do with sport. I was once a professional badminton player and hoped to make a lasting career in the sport, but there is not enough money in badminton, at least not in Germany, and ultimately I wasn’t good enough. I’m still keen on the game and play with my son, when opportunity allows, and do projects for the German badminton association, helping it with my IT skills, but now it’s just a pastime. What about you?’

‘The same, actually. I loved cinema and wanted to be in the movies. I tried to be an actress, but without much success. It was the same for other jobs in the sector, in part because the Latvian film industry is so small. Eventually, I did a PhD in film studies and got this job, which I enjoy, even though it wasn’t what I planned initially.’

‘If the job pays you enough, don’t look back. Just think how to make it to pay better.’

Renata was assessing her schedule. She had only two more nights in Munich before returning to Riga. Would it be enough to go to bed with him? She wasn’t, in fact, desperate, but was worried that, if it didn’t happen, Andy would forget her immediately.

When he brought a second round of beer to the table, Renata felt dizzy. She wasn’t sure whether she should allow herself to get drunk or keep a cool head so that she wouldn’t do anything stupid or disgusting, like throwing up in the hotel lobby. She decided the latter and sipped her beer slowly, whilst Andy was drinking one pint after another. And yet, their conversation wasn’t getting more intimate. The more Andy drunk, the more he delved into things which were of little interest to Renata, such as badminton, tennis and surfing, but she went along. In the end, he apologised to her for being so drunk—this being a result of going through a stressful period. He also thanked her for helping him to relax.

‘Would you like us to meet again?’ he asked Renata, when they were leaving the pub.

‘Sure, we can meet tomorrow. We have a banquet in some palace, but I can leave it earlier or even skip it,’ she replied.

‘That’ll be great. Shall I collect you from your hotel? Let’s say seven p.m.?’

‘Yes. That suits me perfectly.’

Andy gave Renata a friendly hug, which she reciprocated.

Waiting for their date dragged on, even though Liina entertained her with her stories from her marriage to Andreas, a fellow jolly foodie: ‘He said that I need to get pregnant naturally. Otherwise I will have to be stuffed with hormones. Can you imagine how I would look like after such treatment? You are slim, so can have children in vitro.’

The highlight of the day was a message from Andy, enquiring about her favourite cuisine, so that he could book a table in the right restaurant. Renata was less concerned about food and more about the ambience. Would the best atmosphere be in an Indian, Chinese, Italian, Greek or Bavarian restaurant? She hesitated between Italian and Greek and in the end chose Greek, assuming that the possibility of being surrounded there by families with noisy children was the smallest.

Andy turned up at the reception of her hotel, as agreed. He smelled of a mixture of dates and pomegranates and, under his winter jacket, he had a yellow sweatshirt—all signs that he avoided chain shops and managed to find his own style. The sweatshirt provided a nice contrast to his black jeans and dark hair, in which this time she noticed some silver threads. They took a taxi to reach the Greek restaurant where Andy had booked a table.

‘Sorry for getting drunk yesterday,’ he said when they sat. ‘I was exhausted after a very busy period.’

‘Busy at work or busy at home?’

‘Both. This year I’m working practically without a break and dealing with various family problems.’

‘What are your family problems?’

‘My family is scattered. My father lives in Hamburg, my mother in South Africa, and my ex-wife recently moved from Stuttgart to Berlin. It’s exhausting to try to be in contact with all of them, especially my son. I moved to Stuttgart to be with them and I didn’t expect that they would leave so soon, and for no particular reason.’

‘I’m sorry to hear it. How old is your son?’

‘Ten. Do you have children?’

‘No,’ replied Renata.

‘Husband, ex-husband?’

‘No,’ replied Renata, blushing slightly.

‘So you are pure like a primrose. I hope you will find a man able to appreciate it.’

‘Not in Latvia. Latvian men are either creeps or losers,’ replied Renata.

‘The entire million of them?’ asked Andrew.

‘We don’t even have a million of men left in Latvia. Maybe we had once one million and hundred thousand, but the smartest hundred thousand from the top emigrated and the hundred thousand from the bottom drunk themselves to death.’

‘You know that grass is always greener…’

‘Yes, I know. Grass is always greener outside Latvia.’

‘Do you have siblings?’

‘No.’

‘My parents also have only me and they make sure I don’t forget it, especially my mother.’

‘Why does she live in South Africa?’

‘Because we once lived there. I was born in Cape Town and we moved to Germany when I was nine. But, after that, my parents split and some years later my mother returned to South Africa.’

‘Why did your parents find themselves in South Africa?’

‘I think both were children of the “Nazi on the run”, although only my father admitted it. From my mother’s side, I’m half-German, half-Afrikaner.’

‘How was South Africa?’

‘Nice, warm, but increasingly dangerous. One year before we left, my parents’ friend was kidnapped and killed in a gruesome way. They couldn’t come to terms with this tragedy and decided to move to Germany. Unfortunately, the change proved difficult for them. My father opened a business, but went bankrupt, and they divorced when I was a teenager. What about you? Have you spent all your life in Latvia?’

‘Yes, really in Riga. I spent one semester at Columbia University and I travel a lot for work. My parents divorced, too, and I hardly remember my father, as he died in a car accident when I was seven. I always lived with my mum. I cannot imagine being far away from her.’

As soon as Renata said that, she regretted it. Could be anything more off-putting to a future lover than admitting that one lives like a child despite being over thirty? If a man said that to her, she would dismiss him on the spot. She noticed hesitation in Andy’s eyes and there was a short silence, which made her think that she blew it. If so, better to have it over with: return to the hotel, pack and have a good night’s sleep before catching a flight to Riga tomorrow afternoon.

The waiter brought a pudding: a wet, creamy cake mixed with a large amount of cinnamon and cloves. Renata’s head was spinning from its narcotic aroma, as her sense of smell was overdeveloped. She plunged her spoon in the soft substance and felt as if the warm Mediterranean sea invited her for a swim. She was thinking about Amelie breaking crème brûlée in the famous film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. ‘Think about all these small pleasures and love will come your way, as it came to Amelie,’ said her friend, with whom she watched this scene. Love, however, didn’t come her way by this point; she was only a magnet for misfits and cheats.

Maybe the cinnamon and cloves also affected Andy, as he suddenly asked: ‘Should we grab a bottle of something and go to your, or my, hotel after the supper?’

‘Let’s go to your place,’ replied Renata, thinking about the colleagues who might see Andy leaving her room and think the obvious thing.

‘I will pay half of the bill,’ said Renata.

‘No. I invited you, so I shall pay. Let me pretend to be a gentleman.’

They took a taxi to Andy’s hotel. Renata was thinking that her stay in Munich was like that in Frantic by Polanski: she was in a famous city, but hasn’t seen any of it. But she didn’t regret it: cities could be visited any time, if one had money, whilst meeting somebody like Andy was one chance in a million. Moreover, in late autumn, she didn’t have any desire to spend time outdoors.

Andy stayed in a small hotel, probably cheaper than hers, but more stylish, with old wooden furniture filling the foyer and an old wardrobe in Andy’s room. It didn’t have air conditioning, only old-style windows with curtains. Andy informed Renata that neither windows nor a curtain on one window in his rooms worked properly, which meant that the room was cold and people could see them from outside. But neither of them cared.

He took the bottle of wine he bought in the Greek restaurant and opened it, without asking Renata if she wanted to drink. She had enough of alcohol, but had no courage to refuse him. They drank one glass each and then Andy said: ‘It’s so cold here. Shall we go to bed? That is the best place to be this time of the year.’

Renata laughed, as he sounded so natural and almost childish. He scored ten out of ten for the best invitation to lovemaking.

‘Can I go to the bathroom first?’ she asked.

‘Of course,’ replied Andy.

When she returned, Andy put a condom on his penis. Renata knew that it was a sign of his responsibility, a way to protect them from any unpleasant disease or pregnancy. Yet, she couldn’t help but feel sadness seeing this deflated, pathetic balloon, being given such a prominent role in their intimate encounter—a mediator and arbiter in deciding what was acceptable. She covered her and Andy’s bodies with the quilt, in part to shield them from the cold and in part because she wanted to detach herself from the spectacle in which they engaged their lower parts. They made love almost without making sound, as if trying to keep their fast romance secret not only from other people, but also from each other. Yet, Renata felt that Andy enjoyed it, as proved by the fact that they made love twice, the second time in the morning. Shortly after that Andy said: ‘Everything is so impeccable about you. Your hair is so perfectly blond, your teeth are so white and straight, your eyes have this wonderful, date-like shape, and your body has no blemishes.’

Renata smiled internally, thinking about all the money she spent on braces and teeth veneers, hairdressers and tattooing her eyes, not to mention a gym subscription. Her mother told her that such investment would never buy her true love, only the passing interest of shallow men, yet she replied true love almost always begins with physical attraction. This was even the case with her parents, although admittedly, it was a passing attraction on her father’s part.

‘What do you call this shade of blond?’ asked Andy.

‘Stone blond,’ replied Renata.

‘It is my favourite. I must remember this name when looking for dates online. Just joking,’ he added, kissing her neck.

They had breakfast in Andy’s hotel.

‘You don’t mind if I don’t take you back to your hotel? I have to catch my train in an hour,’ he said.

‘Yes, that’s absolutely fine,’ replied Renata. ‘I’m in a bit of a hurry myself, as I must pack and go to the airport.’

‘I hope you will have a good journey.’

‘I’m sure it will be fine.’

They went together to the foyer, waiting for a taxi. Renata was hoping that Andy would propose they meet again, but he was just looking anxiously at his mobile. Clearly, he was in a hurry now.

‘Would you like to meet again?’ she asked, feeling that, if she didn’t, the moment would pass. ‘I might be in Germany early next year, as there’s another conference for archivists in Dusseldorf.’

‘It will be nice if our schedules coincide again,’ he said. ‘Write or phone me when you are back in Germany.’

Back in the hotel, Renata met with Liina, with whom she was flying back to Riga. Liina didn’t ask Renata where she had been the previous night, as she knew. Instead, she asked: ‘Was he as good-looking without clothes as in them?’

Renata laughed.

‘Yes, he looked good and we had a great time.’

She didn’t want to say more, as she didn’t want to jinx anything. Therefore, at the airport, they talked about the conference and a need to organise a similar one for the Baltic countries. Maybe it would be an opportunity to invite Andy?

‘I will be happy to be in charge of it,’ said Liina.

‘That will be great,’ replied Renata absent-mindedly, when looking nervously at her phone, waiting for any message from Andy. There was nothing. Instead, only her mother asked what to prepare for supper. This made her angry, frustrated by the thought that all the people around her were concerned solely with trivial matters, although she knew that she should be grateful that her mother always looked after her so well.

‘What do you think about the dress I wore yesterday?’ asked Liina.

‘Do you want an honest answer?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘I don’t think it suited you. You need clothes which don’t accentuate your round figure, but hide it; it’s better not to show one’s waist, if it’s wider than one’s thighs.’

Renata regretted what she said as soon as she said it, knowing it was callous and not a true reflection of her attitude to Liina, but the state of her nerves.

Luckily, Liina wasn’t offended. Instead, she replied: ‘That’s what I thought too, but Andreas bought it for my birthday and insisted that I took it to the congress. It cost 300 Euros; my most expensive dress.’

‘It would have been better if he’d just given you the money.’

Luckily, there was a short message from Andy when she landed in Riga and boarded a bus from the airport to her apartment, asking her whether she had a good journey. It improved Renata’s mood immensely and she replied as soon as she reached home. Her mother kissed her and, after they finished their supper, told her that one of their three cats was unwell. Renata should have noticed it herself, but she lost interest in their cats a long time ago. They were also a source of conflict between Renata and her mother. Her mother didn’t want them to buy cats as there were plenty of cats in shelters, looking for a home, and they’d be resilient to illnesses and more intelligent, because mongrels are smarter than pedigree cats. Renata, however, couldn’t resist getting them, seeing them so perfectly white and cute, more like animals from Disney films than real animals. Yet, her mother was right: they were beautiful, but sickly, stupid and they failed to fill the hole in her life: they weren’t surrogate children for her; more like mechanical toys constantly malfunctioning. Her mother didn’t like them either; they were an everyday reminder that her daughter ignored her advice, falling for the wrong things: beautiful on the outside, but ugly or empty inside. Renata, however, disagreed, as she didn’t believe in inner beauty, if they were ugly outside. Outside was what mattered; it was the real mystery, as Oscar Wilde noted. Focusing on the surface didn’t guarantee to find a beautiful interior, but prevented one from ending up with an ugly toad, wrongly assuming that, under his skin, one finds a prince.

Renata needed to take the sick one to the vet. The problem was a kidney failure. He needed special food and to be kept away from the other two cats. Renata’s mother didn’t say anything, but her expression said it all: ‘Too beautiful to be healthy, as I told you.’

There were no further messages from Andy for a week. When she wrote to him, he replied briefly that he was busy with his company and the family situation. His son was sick and his ex had to work so he had to travel to Berlin to look after his son. She replied that her cat was also sick and, some time later, enquired about the boy. He’d recovered by this point, Andy replied, but without asking about the state of health of her cat. Admittedly, a child is more important than a cat, so Renata didn’t bear a grudge.

Their next contact was two weeks before Christmas. This was enough time to have made arrangements to meet for the New Year, but it turned out that Andy was busy, spending Christmas with his son and ex-wife, and New Year with his mother in South Africa. It was mid-January when he returned and he had many things to catch up. ‘My life is complicated’ was a sentence which he wrote to Renata at least three times.

Eventually time came to book a trip to a conference in Dusseldorf. Renata wrote to Andy, telling him she could come earlier or stay longer in Germany and visit him in Stuttgart. He informed her that he had many trips in February, but in fact it was possible to meet just for one day, after Renata’s conference. So, things worked out fine, thought Renata.

He met her at the platform, taking her suitcase and handing her a bunch of roses.

‘I tried to find flowers matching the colour of your hair—stone roses, but I’m not sure if I succeeded. It seems to me that your hair is lighter.’

‘It doesn’t matter, it is nice that you remembered. These days men rarely give women flowers.’

‘Maybe because they give them something more enduring. Unfortunately, I specialise in ephemeral things. At least this is what my ex always accused me of.’

‘I don’t think people one has split from are the best judges of one’s character,’ replied Renata.

Half an hour later they were in his apartment. There was something American Psycho about it. It was bright, spacious and clean, no doubt a result of employing a cleaner, but also betraying a natural preponderance to order. Renata didn’t mind it; in fact, she appreciated it, being orderly herself. In the past, if a guy lived in a filthy house, she wouldn’t have a second date, irrespective of his other qualities. What worried her, however, was a sense that with this perfection streak it would be difficult to satisfy him. She needed to keep her hair stone blond and be patient.

Andy cooked for them a meal: a stew made of meat and vegetables. There was also a chocolate pudding, but this came from a bakery.

‘Thank you for your effort. I didn’t expect it,’ she said.

‘If you come from so far away, at least I owe you some food,’ he replied.

‘I also brought you something.’ Renata took from her bag a yellow scarf and a set of DVDs. ‘These are masterpieces of Latvian cinema, as masterly as a country like Latvia can produce.’

‘I’m sure every nation produced some masterpieces. Just some are better marketed to the world. Countries which trampled on others, as Germany did for centuries, managed to impose their cultural standards on other countries and nations, so that everybody thinks they are universal, like Bach or Beethoven music.’

Renata looked at Andy in awe. From their first meeting she thought he was smart, but such statement was much more than she ever expected from an IT specialist.

‘How did your romantic life look before?’ asked Renata in the morning, when they had breakfast.

‘Before what?’ he asked.

‘Before I came?’ she said.

‘I didn’t have much sex life lately. I was too busy travelling and growing my business. When I had time, I used Tinder.’

‘Did it work for you?’

‘Yes, men don’t need much to be satisfied. Most men, anyway. Occasionally, I also had sex with my ex-wife.’

‘How come?’

‘Simply. She is single and available. It’s also a way to appease her, as she still resents me for leaving her. Sex is sex; if it’s good, it’s good, but there is no need to make of it more that it is. She understands and accepts it. What about you?’

‘I would like sex to be more than sex, but I accept when it’s just that.’

‘Good.’

‘Now, it’s your turn to visit me in Latvia,’ said Renata, when Andy acknowledged her farewell at the railway station.

‘I will try, maybe this summer.’

‘You must come. We will go to the coast. We have some wonderful resorts near Riga. They are probably more German than anything you can find in Germany these days.’

They were exchanging e-mails and text messages for the next three months, in which Andy talked mostly about his business and Renata about her work in the archive. It was mid-May when Andy sent the e-mail: ‘I decided not to come to Riga this summer. I enjoyed time spent with you, but unfortunately I’m not in a position to have a serious relationship, especially one which is long distance. I hope you will find a man who will appreciate your stone blond hair as much as I did, but give you all love and security you deserve.’

Renata cried reading this e-mail and kept re-reading it and crying, but eventually she stopped and said: ‘He was just a jerk. A jerk and a Nazi.’

Near the end of summer, Renata received an e-mail from Liina, asking about Andy’s visit. She replied that the visit was great and that they’d spent several days in Riga. Andy was enchanted by the Art Nouveau quarter and Riga’s restaurants and cafés. They went to Jurmala on the coast for the rest of his stay, booking into Renata’s favourite hotel.

‘Did he buy you anything?’ asked Liina.

‘Yes, he bought me a silver bracelet and a ring with an amber. He said that the yellow stone suits my hair.’

‘Send me a photo of the ring,’ replied Liina.

Renata attached to her reply a picture of an old ring, which she bought in Sopot in Poland but didn’t wear, as she’d grown out of rings.

‘Andy has great taste, unlike my husband,’ replied Liina. ‘The last time he bought me a ring it looked like something from a 1970s Russian film: gold, crude and with a purple stone the size of half of my finger. But looking the way I look, what should I expect?’

pencil

Ewa Mazierska is historian of film and popular music, who writes short stories in her spare time. She published over thirty of them in The Longshot Island, The Adelaide Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Literally Stories, Ragazine, BlazeVox, Red Fez, Away, The Bangalore Review, Shark Reef and Mystery Tribune, among others. In 2019 she published her first collection of short stories, Neighbours and Tourists (New York, Adelaide Books). Ewa is a Pushcart nominee and her stories were shortlisted in several competitions. She was born in Poland, but lives in Lancashire, UK. Email: EHMazierska[at]uclan.ac.uk

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