She applied some more lipstick, touched up her eyelids with a black pencil, then brushed the curls from her forehead and performed a sort of pirouette in front of me—a swirl of soft frills and flounces, fluttering ribbons, flashing diamonds and a breath of scent.
“Am I pretty?” said the two streaks of rouge, parted slightly, no further than the streaks would stretch, and the eyelashes, smoothed to sharp points, swept upwards.
I smiled in my astonishment.
“You are pretty,” I said at last, having remembered hearing her ask that same question before, with the same expression, and performing the same sort of pirouette, so we had been in the same situation on another occasion, I thought, because I recalled that she had looked lovely and desirable then. It was strange, however, that I should have remembered it all: the gesture as she brought the lipstick to her lips, and the pencil... But as to what had passed in between then and now—where on earth I had been and where on earth she had been all that time; who she had been and who I had been, and where I had met her—my mind was a complete blank. Quite possibly I had only read about her or seen her in a picture gallery... But no—the flavour and warmth of the dream still lingered on the outskirts of my memory.
By the time I reached the bottom of the staircase the flavour of that dream had overcome my mood: my eyes were burning hot and my temples were throbbing.
She caught me up in the entrance hall.
“Shall we go?” the Coty L’Origan breathed. And for a moment the scent of her powder tickled my face.
In the car, she cuddled against me. By now I had remembered what the dream was about: Down by a little brook, in a field dotted with wild flowers—there were two hands trying to snatch something, and bare legs writhing, some strange, acrid smell and a pair of eyes dilated in alarm. Goat’s horns! Good God, how completely I had forgotten the jubilant delight, the laughing radiance of it all! It was a tribute to grass and trees and air and sunshine that it all came back to me again!
Intoxicated, I stammered something. “It is really you? Why, it’s you, then?”
The fragrance-and-flounces whispered a reply and breathed heavily, seductively, yearningly.
“Mrs. Singer... Did you see her?... It’s not genuine, that diamond... it’s easy for her. . . they made a profit out of it... And it wasn’t her husband that bought it for her... I have it from Kató... the blonde in the voile. . . She’s got a nice figure... but her legs are too fat...”
That was what she replied, and the scent and the flounces floated and fluttered... For a moment, I was taken aback... Nonsense! Probably I hadn’t been listening properly, so I failed to catch what she’d said... Never mind. It’d be all right when we got to my room...
The car swerved sharply, jolted, then slowed. The headlights swept along the bank—that was it, the river. I could smell the scent of wild flowers. On! On!
I carried her upstairs in my arms; panting, my muscles bulging. A door swung shut—I could hear the porter’s shuffling steps recede and die away in the courtyard. Then silence fell... The door locked and the windows shut—and there was I, alone with my prey. She was lying on the couch, quite silent now, her eyes closed.
I turned on the table lamp, then cautiously advanced towards her. That was how I meant to kiss her, softly and cautiously, with my eyes closed. Those two red streaks however confused me: I stepped back to the dressing-table to fetch a piece of chamois leather to wipe them off.
They came off easily. But I found no softness of living skin beneath: there was another layer of cosmetic underneath, not so bright but harder traces of an earlier make-up. Yes, this was the one I recalled I had seen some months previously.
I went and fetched a larger piece of chamois and now set out to scrub the whole face down—the eyes and the exquisite, finely chiselled cheeks. Slowly, the mask of paint gave; I poured spirits of wine over it so it formed a thin film on the surface, and then the whole thing came off. Under it a thinner visage was revealed, but even this was just make-up—yes, indeed I could recognize the artist’s hand.
On the spot I set myself furiously to removing this layer as well. The lamplight vibrated; hardly able to see anything, I was guided by the sensitive feel of my fingers. Another layer of paint came off below the former. I let out a yell and used the entire contents of the bottle. Then I started scratching and rubbing and scraping away, bent on getting to the living flesh. The mask of paint loosened, yielded, ran through my fingers: my hands were wet with coloured slime, and a thick stream of it ran slowly down either side of the couch. Suddenly I felt my hands scrabbling the velvet upholstery of the sofa...
Alarmed, I snatched up the lamp and held it over the couch. Her reclining body was on the couch all right, but her head was nowhere to be seen. It had dissolved, leaving a grimy smudge of paint that was even now being absorbed into the velvet upholstery.
My throat was dry.
“A fat lot I care,” I said, infuriated. “Her face was only a kind of painted sign anyway. It’s her body I need!”
With one jerk I wrenched her silk dress off, intent only upon falling on it with avidity... But I found no petticoat under the silk—It was another dress I now saw... Yes, I recognized it: it was the one she had been wearing as she swept past me, hanging on to that other fellow’s arm... I ripped this one off as well... Now a suit was revealed... She had been given it by the banker. Under the suit was some bright flowered batiste such as young girls wear: her mother had bought it when she wanted to marry her off. I ripped it down the middle—surely I would find her under that! I reached a hand into the tear... and felt something soft and silken. I yanked the stuff out—they were lace-trimmed baby clothes, empty, ribbons hanging loose, the very baby clothes they had wrapped her in when she was born. But she was nowhere to be seen. The couch was littered with crumpled rags.
SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes. Make-Up (Festék), translated by István Farkas, in Grave and Gay: Selections from His Work, selected by István Kerékgyárto, afterword by Károly Szalay, binding and jacket by István Bányai, 2nd ed., (Budapest: Corvina Press, 1973), pp. 27-30.
“Frigyes Karinthy, Humorist and Thinker” by Miklós Vajda
Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English
Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto
Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide
Frigyes Karinthy @ Ĝirafo
Frigyes Karinthy @ 50 watts
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