The next morning, Vic was called to the phone. It was Joan, who said, “If you and Vicki are going to London today, I wondered if I could go up with you and possibly see your sinus lady.”
Vic hadn’t known that Joan had sinus problems, but agreed readily.
It was on the train that she explained, “I haven’t been able to breathe through both sides of my nose at the same time for at least ten years. I’ve been checked now and then without results, but it occurred to me that they might have a different approach over here.”
Vicki replied, “The doctor I see here, Wanda Lesniewska, is much more helpful than the ones back at the Harvard health service.”
“Sounds good. Perhaps we could take both doctors out to dinner tonight.”
Vic replied, “I have the impression that Toni and Wanda usually cook and eat together, but they also go to the little restaurants in the area.”
As he spoke, it seemed to Vic that a pattern was emerging. Swede and Joan seemed to begin by taking people out to dinner to get acquainted. There was no mention of any sort of business, but, on another day, there would be.
When they arrived, it was Toni who had a patient, and Wanda was in the otherwise empty outer office. She was introduced to Joan and said, “Toni’s patient has been in there some time, and it probably won’t be much longer. Won’t you have some tea?”
Since Joan seemed comfortable, and Vicki wasn’t due for more treatment, she and Vic went to get her settled in the bed-sitter Wanda had found for her in her own building. Wanda gave her the key, and they set off on foot.
The place, four underground stops from Hammersmith, was in a pretty Victorian building which had been cut up for apartments. It was larger than Vic’s place at Pusey Street, and had one of the original large arched windows. Vicki was obviously pleased, even by the archaic uncomfortable-looking bed. She then looked at Vic and asked, “Are you going to stay here when you come up for the weekends?”
Vic mumbled a little and replied,
“A brother and sister sort of thing?”
“Perhaps brother and first cousin.”
Vic found himself moving toward his first cousin, and, when she faced him, he kissed her very lightly on the lips. It was very exciting. As he staggered back, she laughed and asked, “How did you ever manage to have so little contact with girls? The Brooklyn guys know all about them.”
“The whole thing has always been pretty scary.”
“Because you imagine it leading to something like your parents’ marriage?”
“That would certainly be a rational explanation, but I’m probably not rational in this area. What about you?”
“In honor of our Polish friends, I’ll put on some tea before answering.”
Having done that, Vicki said, “Any kind of contact feels good with almost anyone, within reason. I discovered that early on, but, of course, I was totally turned off for several years. After that, I was seldom with boys who were very pushy. We did a bit, and then moved on. As now.”
“Yeah. It’s as if you eat your ice cream cone, and then go to the movie.”
“That’s it. And I, for one, was quite conscious of not beginning something that might lead to a marriage anything like that of my parents.”
“Of course, neither of us is at all like our parents.”
“True, but I thought that marriage might have its own independent poison, turning the participants into ugly specimens.”
“Do you still think that?”
“Well, it’s obvious to everyone that honeymoons don’t last very long. What happens then?’
“It’s sometimes suggested that, at points along the downward slope, people rediscover some of the so-called magic. It’s at least logically possible.”
“A downward slope with up-bumps, but with expectations gradually diminishing until death solves the problem.”
“That would seem the most likely outcome. Shall we join the others?”
When they got back to the office, Wanda had a patient with two waiting, but Toni had finished with Joan, and had none waiting. They went to the Daquize, and Joan had the temerity to approach Vlada the cat and actually pat her. Surprisingly, Vlada purred.
Joan was as always, having yet another meal out with different people, and, again, there was the feeling that she could adapt to almost anyone without being much affected herself. Toni was a little more serious, and it turned out that they had been talking politics and history from the Polish point of view. Vicki and Joan got their first taste of the pre-war Polish society when the retired general stopped to chat.
Vic was pretty sure that a Polish gentleman would stand up to be introduced, and, as he did so, he realized that the general was a big man, almost as tall as himself. Moreover, even though he walked stiffly with a cane, he still looked formidable. Toni invited General Koslowski to sit down with them, explaining to the others that he had commanded a Polish division in the liberation of France from the Nazis. The general immediately congratulated Joan for her courage in approaching Vlada the cat, adding that he himself would do no such thing. He didn’t, at first, realize that Joan was American, but seemed particularly interested when so informed. It even occurred to Vic that the general, with his elaborate courtesy, might be looking for a girl friend.
When the conversation turned to the Russians, he said, “There’s really no reason that we should hate them as much as we do. We’re all Slavs, and our languages are closely related. Moreover, there’s hardly any difference between an educated Russian and an educated Pole.”
Toni replied, “But, general, they executed most of our officers!”
“True. I escaped by hiding in a coal car. But that was on Stalin’s orders. I hope none of you mourn his death too deeply.”
This was said with a smile, and Joan asked, “Are his successors so very different?”
“I imagine that they’re a mixed group of fairly ordinary men. Not terribly nice, perhaps, but not so lethal.”
When the general held his glass coffee cup momentarily in the air, it seemed to Vic to suggest the uncertainty of everything everywhere. After the general had left, he said, “That’s one of the most cosmopolitan men I’ve ever met.”
Vicki asked, “Was he also elegant?”
As the others laughed, Vic replied, “I may have gotten hooked on the wrong word.”
Toni nodded and said, “The general actually looks a little rumpled. Anyway, Vic, you hardly care about clothes. It’s a kind of behavior that fascinates you.”
Vicki agreed and added, “For you, clothes and glass cups are just props which sophisticated people often use, but other props would do just as well.”
Joan said, “It seems to me that proper Englishmen use their umbrellas and walking sticks in much the same way.”
Vic asked, “Did Stalin have props that defined him?”
Toni replied, “Stalin wasn’t cosmopolitan. Apart from Molotov, those men were dangerous because they had so little knowledge and understanding of the outside world. They had only suspicion and paranoia.”
“The general doesn’t seem to worry much about the present bunch.”
“He’s an optimist, and a charitable man. In thinking that the Soviet leaders are pretty much like everyone else, he may be too much of a cosmopolitan!”
That seemed to have been what Joan was waiting for. With great emphasis, she said, “There are so many people in America who are exactly like that!”
This apparently took up on something that she and Toni had been discussing before the others joined them. Toni expressed some real hatred for the Soviets before she caught herself, laughed, and apologized to the others.
By the time that they left the Daquise, it was cold and dark. Christmas decorations were on the lampposts, and some bright illuminated displays from the Edwardian era were suspended over the street. In that vein, Toni took them into the sheltered foyer of a closed art gallery and pointed to a lighted painting just inside. It was of a young Edwardian lady standing by the South Kensington tube station at night in the rain with a little umbrella and an irritated expression. Toni said, “That was the naughty glamour of another age.”
Vic thought that the young lady was very pretty, but asked what was naughty. Toni answered, “She wasn’t supposed to be out alone at night standing on a street corner, even if only trying to hail a cab. A male relative was supposed to do that. Her skirts are also short enough to show her ankles, which was verboten at the time.”
“Was she a prostitute?”
“She’s dressed in the very height of expensive fashion, which was probably well beyond the reach of any ordinary prostitute. But she might have been a rich man’s young mistress not being treated very gallantly. Hence the irritated expression.”
Vicki said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to dress up like that and act that way?”
“There are lots of costume parties where people try. But it’s usually rather forced.”
“Yeah, you’d have to be an accomplished actress to really pull it off.”
Vic said, “Those people may have been able to do all sorts of highly suggestive things without getting into serious trouble.”
“Sometimes they did get into serious trouble! It might have taken a
woman longer to get out of her corset and petticoats, but it wasn’t