This Story Continues since we were interrupted on the 30th June…rather a lot of ‘media men about recently…’ (If you are late to this narrative this is the third episode, the others lie earlier, and may be ordered from the menu, right)
Now Let’s Focus on the Philosopher…
(Remember? We are on a pavement outside a café near Regent Street with the Bride (radiant? No wilting), the Groom (decidedly up-tight) two dachshunds (asleep) and the venerable Philosopher…
He stirs his coffee thoughtfully.
He has all the time in the world. It is the world that interests him. The Groom makes extravagant play with the handle of a briefcase. The Bride strokes a sleeping sealskin Hund, and waits for the revelation she is sure will come… The hovering waitress gestures to another…they know this old codger and he ‘wants watching’.
‘You are an academic I see? The Philosopher watches the Groom, fiddling while his wife is licked with small tongues of mortifying flame.
‘Anything wrong with that?’ says the Groom, certain this conversation will end up his to skin. He is already sharpening a paring knife.
‘Not wrong. But everything in books? You enjoy books?’ The Philosopher seems to consider that perverse. He sips his coffee and spoons out sugar from its depths and licks reflectively.
‘They pass the time…’ The Groom will stay as long as coffee must be drunk but not a moment more. He has prepared the confident escape. The bride looks at her diminished husband thoughtfully. Three days ago he reigned and cut into a tiered cake.
‘Ah time! Time hangs heavy then?’ The Philosopher looks at the Bride with his head to one side, as though she were an uncertain enterprise with… promise?
‘This wife of yours, does she have any place in this oh-so-heavy passing of time? Hmmm? Seems to me she is worth looking at. Ever look at her?’
‘I think I’ve seen her before…’ said the Groom
‘Mein Gott. You said that before too. For you the past is always over, nicht? Caput. Finished. Her ears you also saw before, so also not relevant. I expect once you have heard Brahms he is finished too. How will I find anything you care about? So what are you going to do? I suppose you intend to return to South Africa? You are blind enough to do that too?’
‘Of course. It’s our home.’ It was said with bravura but now the Groom was squirming with the note of a plea in the voice. Nobody had mentioned South Africa. The Bride was tempted to save him but held back. There was a surgical precision in what was happening. This surgeon was not yet spilling blood or tears, just separating connective tissue to expose the palpitating vessels beneath.
‘Ja, your home! What sort of home is one with bars on the windows? My niece lives there. She goes in for books too. Hides behind books like you do. I know about books, sometimes I even write them. Young man, let me show you etwas…’ The Philosopher reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of folded paper. He extracted a small booklet and opened it. ‘Do you know what this is? See. Read it…’ He held it out for perusal.
‘It looks like a post office savings book…’ The groom had grasped at something other than the reproach in those eyes. ‘Just sums of money…’
The Bride was leaning forward to look at the name, written across the top.
‘Quite a lot of money, every month? Gut Ja? You know what for? That is my compensation from the German Government… for the death of all my family, in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, wiped out…all the best… and they were just like you. Not one would listen in nineteen thirty three…none of them believed me…I left, they stayed. So this money is my payment for being right. And for them being deaf and blind. I get even an addition for looted paintings nobody can find…Now I can see it’s a waste of time talking to you so if you don’t mind I will buy your wife a present….Come my dear, give an old man the pleasure of your arm.’ He left a scatter of coins in a saucer.
The Philosopher led the Bride into the aisle of a busy and newly ploughed field. His dogs were followed by the Groom red with shame and lost. Something clean and sharp had penetrated, and although there was no wound, he felt he might be breathing his last. The cheerful others, that wife he no longer knew, entered a small accessory shop in Bond Street.
The Groom, no longer dishy, waited outside for this alchemy to take its course, the erudite tramp who had picked up his wife without ado and borne her away, leaving him like a gutted stag on the hard stones of a city.
‘Silk stockings I think ja? Christian Dior. What colour would you prefer?’
‘Grey? replied the Bride. She realised that protest would be ungracious, since her other half had so churlishly offended.
‘Now, I would like stockings with seams, a stairway to Paradise, but you are a modern girl so I expect you like seamless…such a pity…’
The package was handed to her with an inclination of the Philosopher’s head and a slight courtly bow. He took her arm and led her out where he handed her to her husband.
‘One last thing…’ he addressed the Groom ‘One day you will have cause to remember me. You will lose your wife…perhaps not for awhile, but it is certain…’ He turned to the Bride.
‘Goodbye, my dear. I wish I might have done more’
The Bride kissed him and watched as he strode away. She knew a precious chance had been lost. She waited until he turned the corner before gathering up the boy she had married.
‘Are you interested in his books?’ she asked.
‘What are you talking about?
‘That was Professor Heinz Cassirer. I expect he has written a few…
(Foyles Bookshop had only two volumes. Since he had left Germany as a Jew it was surprising to find one was a translation of the New Testament.)
So there you are. That was when I, the Book, spoke up and planted my irretrievable seed. The Bride never forgot the Professor of Philosophy whose father, Ernst, was an authority on Kant, but who, himself, found other things worthy of attention, like the slow death of love planted where none could grow, and St Paul on the Road to Damascus because clarity was what he valued.
I wonder what that Jew turned Gentile would make of me…his ‘other’ book? He infected my Bride and they spilled much the same story, and she now as old as he was…
Here is his Obituary (found among the virtual papers of a dynasty wiped out by Hitler and scattered to the few who had listened.
9 August 1903-20 February 1979
I will not weep for Heinz at Hampton Court
Where strangers spun their strands of discontent
While he wove dramas from each dull event,
Perceived the truths their breeding would distort,
And took delight in wit or sharp retort.
No tears where train or town or tenement
Produced disasters he could not prevent –
Or where he flouted petty rules for sport.
But when no splintered statements fly my way
And no infuriating jokes contrive
To block the boring mill-race in my head,
He will be missed, for, on that empty day,
The world will seem a little less alive
Because that shrewd, volcanic man is dead.
– Grace Luckin ( with respect and hopefully consent- Found in the Cassirer Family Online Archive.)