It was checkout time. To go that short journey to the front desk was like walking the last mile. I cannot describe it. I knew exactly what Gil had gone through on his last day. It was awful. Fritz, Karl and Bruno gave me a big hug. Then I gave Fritz, Karl and Bruno a big hug. Then we did it all over again and started blubbing as if on cue. This could have gone on forever had not Gretl put a stop to it. I had sent my luggage on ahead with the unit van because Gretl had insisted on driving me to the airport. "Come on, hurry up. Ve can't stay here all day." I noticed she didn't look at me and I certainly couldn't look at her. I didn't have the control. She walked out of the hotel and waited for me in her car. Our good-byes spilled over onto the street, Fritz, Karl and Bruno following me out. I suddenly wanted to take them all with me. Festitic was standing straight as a ramrod holding the car door open for me. Elegant as he was in his morning coat and stripes, I noticed his shirt collar and cuffs were slightly frayed. It gave him a look of faded grandeur and he reminded me a little of the White Knight in Alice Through the Looking Glass. I was about to climb in when he grabbed my arm. His eyes were cast down and he said quite solemnly in those deep, soft accents of his: "You have been a good friend." There was a pause and then: "Vere vill you go now?" "To the south of France," I answered. He gave a little sigh. "Ze south of France," he whispered dreamily, "how vunderful." "When were you last there?" I asked. "It was so long ago. I vas a little boy." In his eyes I caught a glimpse of a little boy's longing to escape. "I'm afraid you will find it terribly changed now," I offered. "It's all become so commercial and built up. Where did you stay when you were there?" There was another pause. "Oh, I don't remember qvite," he murmured, "but it vas very beautiful. Ve vere staying vis King Edvard ze Seventh."
It was as if all the clocks had stopped and we were suspended above the pavement. It was the first time that Festitic had ever referred in any way to his former life. He was still gazing down at his shoes. There was something so absolutely fin de siècle about the old man. For a moment, he looked up but his sad eyes were staring past me into some far-distant time which no one, not even he, could possibly resurrect. I held out my hand.
"Plummer! Hurry up. Get in!" cried an impatient Gretl at the wheel, the blast of a car horn renting the air. "You'll miss your plane." And, with a sudden jolt, we were back in the present.
Published on October 28, 2010