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    AC Benus
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The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 7. Katherine Mansfield "Leves Amores"

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Leves Amores

 

I can never forget the Thistle hotel. I can never forget that strange winter night.

I had asked her to dine with me, and then go to the Opera. My room was opposite hers. She said she would come but – could I lace up her evening bodice, it was hooks at the back. Very well.

It was still daylight when I knocked at the door and entered. In her petticoat bodice and a full silk petticoat she was washing, sponging her face and neck. She said she was finished, and I might sit on the bed and wait for her. So I looked round at the dreary room. The one filthy window faced the street. She could see the choked, dust-grimed window of a wash-house opposite. For furniture the room contained a low bed, draped with revolting, yellow, vine-patterned curtains, a chair, a wardrobe with a piece of cracked mirror attached, a washstand. But the wallpaper hurt me physically. It hung in tattered strips from the wall. In its less discoloured and faded patches I could trace the pattern of roses – buds and flowers – and the frieze was a conventional design of birds, of what genus God alone knows.

And this was where she lived. I watched her curiously. She was pulling on long, thin stockings and saying ‘damn’ when she could not find her suspenders. And I felt within me a certainty that nothing beautiful could ever happen in that room, and for her I felt contempt, a little tolerance, a very little pity.

A dull grey light hovered over everything; it seemed to accentuate the thin tawdriness of her clothes, the squalor of her life, she, too, looked dull and grey and tired. And I sat on the bed, and thought: ‘Come, this Old Age. I have forgotten passion, I have been left behind in the beautiful golden procession of youth. Now I am seeing life in the dressing-room of the theatre.’

So we dined somewhere and went to the Opera. It was late, when we came out into the crowded night street, late and cold. She gathered up her long skirts. Silently we walked back to the Thistle Hotel, down the white pathway fringed with beautiful golden lilies, up the amethyst-shadowed staircase.

Was Youth dead? . . . Was Youth dead?

She told me as we walked along the corridor to her room that she was glad the night had come. I did not ask why. I was glad, too. It seemed a secret between us. So I went with her into her room to undo those troublesome hooks. She lit a candle on an enamel bracket. The light filled the room with darkness. Like a sleepy child she slipped out of her frock and then, suddenly, turned to me and flung her arms round my neck. Every bird upon the bulging frieze broke into song. Every rose upon the tattered paper budded and formed into blossom. Yes, even the green vine upon the bed curtains wreathed itself into strange chaplets and garlands, twined round us in a leafy embrace, held us with a thousand clinging tendrils.

And Youth was not dead.

—Katherine Mansfield[i]

private letter of 1908

 

 

 


[i] “Katherine to Vere” Katherine Mansfield to Vere Bartrick-Baker The Love of Friends (New York 1997), ps. 237-238. This E.M. Forster-esque story was enclosed in a personal letter and not published until after the author’s death. https://archive.org/details/loveoffriends00cons/page/237/mode/2up

 

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Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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How wonderful that this piece finally saw the light of real love from readers who can recognize it as a gem; how good of you to include it in your collection for us. 

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8 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

How wonderful that this piece finally saw the light of real love from readers who can recognize it as a gem; how good of you to include it in your collection for us. 

Thanks, my friend. The Love of Friends is particularly rich in first-hand material from women to women :)  

Edited by AC Benus
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