“Do you remember when we took a month off and camped out along the Rhein?” I asked Franz suddenly. “That summer before the War. We walked from town to town, slept under the stars—”
“I remember.” Franz laughed suddenly. “And you built that raft and tried to float out to the Mäuseturm. You didn’t get two meters from shore when the ties came apart. I dragged you soaking wet up the road, and in Bingen we found a room for the night and drank ourselves stinking.”
“And you met that girl—Alda? And didn’t you carry her picture with you when you were fighting—?”
“Yes, yes.” Franz quickly crossed the floor to shut my door against Catherine’s hearing. “What are you bringing that up for? That’s ancient history.”
“That was the last good summer. Everything changed after that—you and I never had time to ourselves again.” I sat down on the bed while he leaned against the door, furrowing his brow at me. “How did you meet Catherine?” I asked.
He tilted his head. “Well, how do you think I met her? I was staying at Aleron’s hotel. She worked the concierge desk too, of course. Aleron liked me right away, but Catherine was always tossing her head whenever I walked by. I must have started a dozen conversations with her before she consented to let me take her out. And do you know where we ended up?”
Franz groaned, dropping his arms and looking up at the ceiling. “By mistake I took her to see one of the last performances of that Dada nonsense—” He sighed when I smiled at him. “Well, I thought that it was going to be a play, Geoff! Cocteau and Man Ray were involved, and that usually meant that it would be weird, but safe. What did I know?
“I don’t even remember how the fight broke out. Suddenly in the middle of the performance people rushed the stage to attack the actors and everyone got into a scrap, and that damned Robert Desnos held one man so your André Breton could hit him over the head with a cane—onstage, mind you—and all three of them were kicked out by the police. And someone else leaped onstage and got thrown into the orchestra pit, and some lights broke, and—oh, I don’t know, tiles were falling from the ceiling practically, and more hooligans were yelling obscenities at the short film they showed after the play—aptly titled Return to Reason.”
Franz began to laugh despite himself, and I joined in. “That little Hungarian—Tzara? Thank you—Tzara was bouncing around the theatre yelling he wanted to kill Breton, and the place was a shambles and the owner was wringing his hands, and as soon as the lights came back up I got Catherine out of there. Oh, thanks to your Surrealists I managed to make quite an impression on her, all right! She didn’t speak to me again for months! I had a time persuading her I wasn’t some radical. You know, Catherine is really worried about you hanging around with that bunch.”
“Franz, there’s nothing for her to worry about. And I’m not hanging around André Breton’s bunch. I’m hanging around Desnos and Artaud.”
Franz snorted. “She also wants to know why you never accompany us to church.”
“Oh God, Franz!”
“What does that mean? What’s ‘Oh God’ about church all of a sudden?”
He smirked at me when I didn’t have an immediate answer. All I said was, “Father doesn’t go.”
“Yes, so? Father stopped believing in God a long time ago. I wonder what that has to do with you?”
Without answering I turned back to my shelf and pulled out the book by V. Sirin. “For your information,” Franz added, “Father was extremely serious about religion in his youth, too.” Grudgingly he moved aside as I walked to my bed. “Sometimes I can’t help but think that overreligiousness is actually a lack of faith.”
“You’re very perceptive, Franz,” I muttered, sitting down on my bed and opening my book, dismissing him. “You could be right about that.”
“Suddenly you don’t believe in God at all.” Franz nodded knowingly. “Isn’t that how it works? Fanatics make the best atheists, and visa versa.”
I didn’t know what to say then. Franz shook his head at me and turned to go.