Why am I incapable of pleasure? My father was always a model of self-indulgence. Whenever faced with the choice between pleasure and correctness, he never dithered for a second. Not that he took bribes, it was just that he liked taking – whatever life had to offer. He didn't see it in such narrow terms because he abhorred narrowness. He so enjoyed the high society which, as a society reporter, he had to write about, that, like the celebrities, he no longer had a private life, but instead just a private delight in all the possibilities which life offers those who are in the public eye. He took a sincere interest in the privileges of the happy few, that is, he partook of the best champagnes, of the finest cuisine and of the starlets gagging for full stardom.
The first time... It happened in the Easter holidays. I was twelve. Father had taken me with him to Kitzbühel, as he'd been invited to a celebrity wedding there. It was the third evening, the last I was to have with my father for some time. Like the wedding party we were staying at Hotel Tennerhof. Five stars! said Father.
The night sky has more. I just wanted to dissolve and become mere dust in the atmosphere. But I was as heavy as lead. I had got my favourite meal, a Wiener schnitzel, though I wasn't allowed to sit at my father's table in the dining room but was served my five-star schnitzel in a small side room, the so-called Stüberl or mini-parlour. After this I sat in the hotel lounge and read the novel Father had given me for the holidays, Oliver Twist, in an edition illustrated and abridged for young people. Like everything in my childhood, even the novels I received were pared down to size. I looked up continually, felt overwhelmed by the casual way in which gentlemen and ladies moved, expressed their high spirits and sometimes cast curious looks at me: who might that child be, sitting and reading there in the hotel lounge at ten o'clock at night? I was frightened of moving. No false moves! I wanted to go to my father, no, I wanted my father. On at least one of these three evenings, the last, I wanted him to pay some attention to me, I wanted to talk to him as a "grown-up", as he required me to be when he made me sit alone in the Stüberl or in the hotel lounge. I set off in search of him, clasping my book across my chest. I found Father in the hotel bar, which was packed and humming with the noise of festivity. He was standing by the bar, glass in hand, and talking with a woman. He said something and the woman laughed. He was a very good-looking man, better looking than the famous men he wrote about. I summoned up all my courage and went up to him. Dad!
He was irritated.
I've things to do still! he said. Can't you see?
The woman smiled down at me. She had incredibly long eyelashes. I was impressed. I didn't know then that eyelashes could be stuck on. A woman with eyelashes like that is something special, I thought. I felt almost ashamed for having disturbed Father.
You're such a grown-up boy now, he said, you can go off to bed by yourself if you're tired!
The example he gave me, however, was a different one. He was grown-up and never wanted to go to bed by himself.
The woman smiled at me. Not in a maternal way. Why should she? After all she wasn't my mother. I was such a grown-up boy now. I ran off, knowing I'd made my father feel awkward. Because I wasn't as self-assured and clever as he was. Because I had blushed. And was sweating. I ran to my room. Went to bed.
I quarrelled with my father. I admired him even more. I'll never come up to scratch, I thought. That night was the first time that I fumbled and rubbed away at myself at the thought of a woman. I thought of a particular woman, a real one: of her, the woman at my father's side. Her small firm breasts like the bellies of birds that had fallen out of the nest. Her long eyelashes like black butterflies. A grim sort of paradise. And I strangled the serpent.
Translated by David Bryer.