First Love – Its Pains and Joy

tagFirst TimeFirst Love – Its Pains and Joy

This is a Once Upon a Time Story set for most readers in two unfamiliar countries. It is told by an old man whose memory, as well as his belief that it is worth telling, cannot be fully trusted. The story is told in three parts. The first is about desires unfulfilled. If I had started my account with the proverbial BANG to lure you into reading on, it would have become a lie.
I
In my last year with our group of young Socialists, with several of us in our late teens, we organised dancing lessons. I had attended dancing-instructions a year earlier and felt confident that I could show beginners the steps of the then fashionable Tango, Foxtrot, English Waltz, and Rumba. For the traditional Austrian dances, a man and a woman, both party-comrades and good dancers volunteered their assistance. With the Party's meeting room cleared for dancing, a record player and a stack of records organised, our Sunday night sessions became a success. The girls needed not to be told to turn up in their fineries, and the boys, after an initial show of reluctance, proved eager to partner them on the floor.
For me, there came an unwished-for reward. I fell for the first time seriously and, as it proved to be, painfully in love.
Our group averaged, over the years, about twenty members. There was a core of fifteen or so regulars besides some that came for a short time or drifted in and out. Inge was one of the core members. She had joined at the beginning and had always participated in everything our group had done. Although Inge and I knew each other well, we had formed no close attachment.
Not that romances within the group did not happen. For a while, Inge had been noticeably keen on Otto, a tall, good looking guy and one of our champion skiers. His long-time girlfriend in our group, however, fought her off tooth-and-claw. So, after a few tense weeks, Inge gave up on Otto. I, with the others, had watched developments with detached amusement. I was not yet stricken!
It is hard to believe, but at the start of our learning-to-dance sessions, I 'saw' Inge for the first time. For our dancing sessions she, like the other girls, decided to dress for 'going out'. At only seventeen, she knew already what suited her long-legged, well-proportioned figure best. With just a touch of make-up on her not just girlish-pretty face, the girl that I thought I knew had changed into, I thought, a strikingly beautiful young woman.
I hoped that it would not be noticed, but I sought to dance with her much more often than with the other girls. I wanted to hold her in my arms, even if it was only in the way that dancing-etiquette then prescribed. Dancing came easy to Inge; she was light on her feet. She was almost as tall as I, but she moved with sinuous grace while I, nominally the teacher, seemed to lumber. I was smitten, and she knew. She accepted it, sometimes with easy grace, at others with a pronounced show of indifference.
I had recently completed my apprenticeship. Although wages were low, I was living at home and had now some money to spend. During the next six months or so, Inge and I saw much of each other. I felt that we were going steady. We went to the pictures and quite often to our favourite Café, up the valley, some way out of town. A local three-man band provided dance music on Saturday nights, regularly until morning.
I was seriously in love and, therefore, respected what I thought was Inge's hesitancy to go further than the occasional kissing and our fully clothed embracing.
The closest we came to 'sleeping-together' happened twice on weekend-excursions. As in most small mountain-huts at that time, sleeping space was provided on an extended, raised platform along a wall, covered with thickish matting. People bedded down next to each other, wrapped up in sleeping bags and blankets they had brought.
On two occasions, Inge and I, both of us in tracksuits, bedded down close to each other. When the last lamp was extinguished, covered by our blankets, we embraced, and her body cuddled full-length against mine. We kissed; time and time again. Inge did not struggle or resist, but her holding-back and the shyness of my love stopped me from doing more. I wanted to but did not even dare to move my hand to press her closer; much less to slide it under her clothing. When eventually we fell asleep, it took me much, much longer than her.
On what finished up as our last date, Josef had accompanied Inge and me to our Café. He and I were childhood friends. Josef to worked in seasonal hotels as a waiter, summers in holiday- and in ski-resorts in winter. The spring- and autumn-breaks he spent, briefly unemployed, at home.
This year he had returned from a summer on Sark, a Channel Island, flush with money, newly fitted out, brimming with confidence. At this stage in our lives, we really had little in common and should have drifted apart, but Josef unfailingly sought me out whenever he returned home for his breaks.
Josef and I had shared a sexually quite promiscuous childhood. This early, supposed ruination had not produced uniform results. Josef and I had become, in our approach to sex and girls, almost opposites. I, while I found it easy to establish contact and freely talk with strangers, was shy with girls in becoming intimate. Josef was the opposite.
In going out together, Josef often left it to me to make the first move on girls that he fancied. Unlike I, in asking a girl for a dance, he could not bear being refused. With that first hurdle cleared by me as his wing-man, Josef switched quickly with the newly met girls into, what I thought, was physically intrusive behaviour. He stood close, sat close, found opportunities for the purely accidental touch. In dancing, he would embrace girls as tightly as the steps allowed, and his hands would wander. Josef's approach was to quickly invade a girl's private space and to assume, thereby, a level of natural intimacy. I was surprised how often his, in my eyes, so invasive behaviour was crowned by success.
On this November Saturday night, Josef came with Inge and me to our Café. Inge and Josef had never met. I had told him that I had a girlfriend and, I am sure, the way I spoke about Inge left no doubt how I felt about her.
We had a good night. Josef was in high spirit talking about his experiences on the Channel Islands and in France. As always after a season, he was temporarily affluent. So, he plied us with French wine and rounds of Cognac and Cointreau with our coffees. Josef showed off his sophistication and, no doubt must have impressed Inge.
We also danced, and Josef danced quite often with her, holding her as was his wont, too close. When the music stopped at about four in the morning, tired but merry, we were on our way to catch an early morning bus.
The bus-shelter was the usual roofed, three-walled structure with a bench. Inge and I had walked holding hands. On reaching the shelter, she pulled away and threw herself on the seat. Laughing and almost shouting, she said: – "God! I think I am drunk!"
Josef immediately sat down next to Inge and embraced her. Neither he nor she looked at me. Josef stood up briefly, unbuttoned his new camelhair-coat, drew one arm out of the sleeve. Then he sat down close to Inge and wrapped half his coat tightly around her. He muttered something like: – "Pretty girls have to be kept warm."
I just stood and watched. I saw that Josef's hand had slipped under Inge's arm. He was cupping her breast.
I turned and walked a few steps away, looking up the road where the bus was supposed to come. No lights were in sight. When I turned to face them to say something, they were tightly locked together. Inge had turned towards him. She looked smiling down on his hand, which slowly, under her skirt, moved up her thigh. They were silent. I was no longer there for them.
Although there was anger welling up, I most feared that I would start to cry. In blind confusion, I began to walk away, not looking back, the three kilometres towards home. They did not all out for me to stop. On the dark road, a third of the way from home, I was passed by the bus. I did not look up at its lighted windows.
This was how my first falling-in-love ended. It was not because Josef behaved as he always did with freshly met girls, nor was it because I thought Inge violated by his touch. It was because Inge could have stopped Josef's advances with a word, a shrugging off. Even a belated getting up and walking away with me would have done. But she chose to make me watch. I believed she deliberately wanted to shame and hurt me. It was her choice. To remember it would have permanently festered.
The little, if anything, I had been to Inge ended that cold morning. We continued to see each other in our group but barely spoke with each other. I even tried not to look at her. In the coming winter, I no longer took part in the group's skiing adventures. I so avoided the intimate togetherness of evenings and nights in the huts. I hurt.
Josef refrained from seeing me again on this break, and I did not want to see him. A few weeks later, he left for the winter-season in Kitzbuehel.
II
In January of that year, I turned twenty; without a girlfriend and still a virgin. However, with the carnival coming to town there was always hope. In our city, over the four weeks that straddled January/February, quite spectacular masked balls were held in some of the largest hotels. These were predominantly attended by us locals, and for one carnival's night, these luxury domes catered for us natives and not strangers. Besides serving meals, snacks and drink, there were often as many as four different bands playing in the function rooms of the hotel: a Glen Miller type band in the ball-room, a brass-band in the beer-cellar, and smaller ensembles in the terrace-café and salon.
The often five-hundred plus guests, many in elaborate disguises, could circulate at will through the generous expanse of a Grand hotel. It gave these balls the free ambience of a street carnival without the inconveniences of the latter. People of all ages attended. I had gone to my first such ball, at sixteen, with my father. We met each other a few times during the night in passing. He always stopped to ask whether I had run out of money! He knew what a young man required to have a good time.
This year I went to the Miners' Ball. As I could not think of a suitable mask, I just turned up nicely combed and darkly suited. I had circulated already a bit and danced with a few women that I knew when a female mask grabbed my arm and asked me to dance with her. At masked balls, Masks, males and females, had the right to ask anybody for a dance and, according to custom, could not be refused.
Not that I wanted to refuse her invitation. She wore only an eye-mask. I could see that she was pretty and quite young. Also, her regional Dirndl dress advantageously highlighted a nicely shaped figure. She was a brunette and quite short, not more than about 1.60. I had already found out that many small girls liked tall men. Despite our difference in height, we moved and danced well together. I liked how she wanted to be held close. We were interested enough in each other to spend, with an occasional drifting apart and then finding each other again, most of the night together. We kissed a few times, and her mouth tasted sweet and slightly eager. I asked her if she wanted to go to the pictures the next evening.
Sitting in the dark cinema, only half-watching the film, our hands soon found each other, and she warmly snuggled against me. After the pictures, in a nearby Café over coffee and cakes, I learned that Erna came from Tirol. Looking closely at her friendly face, I realised that she was a few years older than I. She worked as live-in domestic help for the elderly owners of one of the large hotels that had closed for the winter.
Late that Sunday evening, I accompanied her to the hotel. She unlocked a side door and pulled me into a small hallway. She drew the door closed but did not turn on the light. It was freezing cold. We pressed against each other in the dark and searched for each other's lips.
With Erna, I experienced something new. She did not disguise what she wanted. She liberated me, from the moment she chose me at the ball, from my inhibiting shyness. There, in the ice-cellar-like dark, we revealed all in the urgency, growing frenzy of our kissing. We moaned out, unashamed, our sexual greed while clawing at each other,
frustrated by the hindrance of six layers of winter clothing. We wanted to touch each other's skin and feel the bodily heat. I buried my face into her neck. My nose dug in under the cloth, and I could draw in the warm smell welling up from her body. Inexperienced as I was, my want recognised and drank in her need. For both of us, it was torture hard to bear. Eventually, Erna tore herself free. She almost pushed me out the door with a half-angry: –
"O my god. This is bad. You better go!"
We saw each other on every one of the following five evenings. It was early February, roads and paths covered in snow, the nights' many degrees below freezing. We could, of course, and did meet over coffee and cake in the warmth of a Café and we met like lovers of long-standing. Late in the evening, we again ended up, in shared frustration, in Erna's stairwell. We were victims of climate and the times. And we had neither the shelter of a car nor the refuge of a motel. Neither could boys or girls from decent families bring lovers home for the night. Respectable employers did not allow their live-in staff any dalliances on site.
At the end of our first week together, we again went to the pictures. After, in the warmth of the Café, Erna suddenly stopped talking about the film we had seen. She reached across the table, took both of my hands and, looking down on them, said quietly: –
"Let's go back a bit later tonight. My bosses will be asleep; you can come to my room."
She looked up at me with a smile and, I thought, she even blushed a little. The extra hour of waiting passed minute by minute. Both of us watched the clock on the Café's wall and then, getting caught doing so, grinned at each other only half-embarrassed.
When we entered the dark stairwell, Erna took my hand and step by careful step guided me up the stairs. Still in the dark, she unlocked a door and led me through another long dark space to another one. Erna opened it, we stepped in, and she released my hand. Still in the dark, I leaned against the door. Then there was light: a small lamp on a bedside commode had been switched on, and there stood Erna with a broad, happy smile.
We had, she must have thought, made it. Her eyes held me firmly as I stood as fixed against the door. She started to walk towards me in small, almost dance-like swaying steps. Whispering my name, she pulled down my face and kissed me, her tongue pressing into and swirling in my mouth. Then, commanding me to stay, she moved towards the bed.
Facing me, with one finger on her lips demanding my silent attention, Erna began to undress. Slowly, never looking away, she undressed, putting each piece of shed clothing neatly on a chair. Finally, swaying sexily in her tiny panties and bra I was invited to come close. She pressed herself shivering against me. Fully clothed in my winter gear as I was, it was a promising tease of things to come. As I bend down to kiss her, Erna's tongue found my ear. She whispered that it was my turn now and that she'd be waiting. With a wriggle of hips, she turned and slipped under the covers in her high, old-fashioned bed.
I undressed; she watched doona pulled up to her eyes. The room was icy cold. Quickly naked, I hurried to join her in bed.
What followed was not what both of us expected and so eagerly wanted. What stopped us was a combination of natural but perverse circumstances. In Australia today, few people know what beds were like before the innerspring-mattress became the only way to bed down.
Erna's bed was the bulky type that furnished the luxury hotels of the late nineteenth century. It consisted, on my retrospective count, of thirteen different pieces that could be disassembled for transport or storage. While large and appearing solid, even the best ones creaked under restless sleepers. They became alarmingly noisy under lovers because the contraption was held together by only four joints. These loosened over time.
As stated, I was naked. The room was bitterly cold, and I hurried too much in jumping into bed to join Erna under her doona. Before I got my head on the pillow, we had crushed through the bed's sides to the floor. Two of the four slats on which the heavy steel-frame under the mattresses rested had slipped. Erna and I were trapped with our feet in the air and heads on the ground. The foot-end of frame and mattress rested still on the slats while the head-end had crashed to the ground. We managed to clamber out.
The loud crash woke Erna's boss. A streak of light appeared under the door, and a sleepily hoarse voice asked what was wrong and whether she was OK. Erna, standing there in panties and bra, with a remarkably steady voice, told him not to worry: she had crashed into the chair in the dark and was not hurt. We heard him mumble something, followed by his slipper-shuffle and the closing of a door. Erna hurried to the door and turned the key. In the excitement of our arriving, we had left the door unlocked. Her boss could have just walked in.
The job that faced us was to restore our bed. As a cabinet-maker, I knew, of course, what needed to be done. I tried, however, to improvise and do it quickly. Both Erna and I were still naked. What had happened had not yet discouraged either her or me. I desperately wanted her in my arms and in the restored bed. I thought I could lift the iron frame by reaching under it and then, by Erna holding it up, slide the slats in position. Naked as I was, I lay down on the cold, bare parquetry floor and reached in to lift …
At this point, in remembering and telling what occurred, I have often been tempted to invent an ending different from what did happen. The fictional version would have been that I lifted the frame, after some hard heaving, to be safely in place. Then I would relate in triumph how Erna and I, shivering with cold, slipped under the covers to embrace. Not stopped by this ridiculous accident, we quickly warmed-up for a night of hot sexual abandon.
What really happened lacked the sensuous heat of my favoured scenario. Lying on my back as close to the side of the wrecked bed as I could go, I reached under it and tried to lift the frame. I could not move it. As one end had fallen, the structure had slightly twisted and was now firmly wedged. However hard I tried, and I did for about ten minutes or more, it would not shift.
I got up from the floor. It felt as if the sweat had frozen on my skin. I reached for Erna's clothing on the chair and handed it to her. Both of us got dressed, I as quickly as my shaking allowed. Once we were dressed, Erna and I disassembled the wrecked bed. We threw the sheets, pillows and the three parts of the mattress on the floor. With some effort, we pried loose the heavy metal frame and lifted it on the now properly placed slats. Then we remade the bed again: first the three parts of the mattress, then sheets, pillows, doona. All this happened in furtive silence. Erna's employers were not to be woken again.
With the bed restored, I briefly hesitated, looked at Erna; she smiled a little, regretfully. I sat down to put on my boots. I had hurt my hand, and my fingers were frozen numb. I could not tie my laces. Erna knelt down and did it for me. When we stood up, she took my hand. As in our coming, I was led through the dark hallway; then down the stairs to the entrance. In the doorway, in the dark, Erna hugged me and pressed her face against my chest. Then she turned, and the door closed behind her. I can't remember us saying a single word.

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