DIETER, A VIENNESE BOY ON THE GAME, 1932-6
The following story was recounted by the English author Robert “Robin” Cecil Romer Maugham (1916-81), 2nd Viscount Maugham in his autobiography, Search For Nirvana, (London, 1975), which he described as “the story of my own search for happiness.”
Stories from his schooldays involving Greek love, told by Maugham in his earlier autobiography, Escape From the Shadows, are presented elsewhere on this website as Taming Mr. Rudge and Robin Maugham at Eton.
In the summer vacation from Cambridge, in 1936, soon after my twentieth birthday, I went to Salzburg with my sister Honor whom I adored—and still do. Though we both had little money we managed to see Don Giovanni, Orpheo and Tristan and Isolde. Then Willie Maugham’s companion, Gerald Haxton, appeared in a Voisin coupé, and our existence changed abruptly. In his early forties, well-dressed, attractive and slim, very European though he was an American by nationality, Gerald exuded vitality and charm and money. Two years earlier he had tried to seduce me in Vienna; he now tried—without the slightest success—to persuade Honor to sleep with him. Unabashed, Gerald took us both to The Meistersingers. Wagner and schnapps went to his head. After supper, he insisted he had left his camera in Honor’s bedroom and made one last ineffectual attempt to get her to bed. Then he said good night to her affectionately, and swept me off to a Bierstube.
The beer-hall seemed packed with fat middle-aged men in ample Lederhosen and boys in scanty ones. Gerald spoke to a waiter who evidently knew him. We were shown to one of the wooden tables and given mugs of lager.
“You look surprised, duckie,” Gerald said. “Don’t tell me you’ve been here a fortnight and haven’t visited this place?”
“But it’s true,” I replied.
“Gaze around, and just see what you’ve been missing,” Gerald proclaimed with a drunken wave of his hand, as if he were a magician who had produced the whole scene for my benefit. “Let that teach you to travel with an elder sister.”
“But she understands,” I protested.
“She understands only too well,” Gerald laughed. “But I also rather fancy she still disapproves.”
I was silent. I loved my three sisters. Indeed, we were an unusually united family. But I was aware that my sisters hoped that what they considered to be only a slight homosexual streak in my nature would disappear as I grew older. I tried to find something to say; I need not have bothered. Gerald’s eyes were now staring at a boy who was leaning against the bar. I turned to look at the boy. At first glance, he did not appear to be very different from the others who were posed attractively at the bar-counter, waiting to be picked up. He was blonde with pale, corn-coloured hair which flopped over his gentle, slightly fleshy face.
“That’s Dieter,” Gerald told me. “He’s a Viennese. He must be nearly seventeen by now. He’s a good romp—if you’re firm enough with him.”
Gerald raised his hand as he caught Dieter’s attention. He beckoned to him. Obediently, Dieter left the bar, came over to our table, and gave Gerald a curt little bow of his head.
“Servus,” he said, smiling.
“Sit down,” Gerald told him. “Sit down and have a drink with us.” Then he turned to me. “Robin,” he said, “this is Dieter. Dieter—this is Robin.”
It was when I shook hands with Dieter that I noticed his expression. Though he was smiling pleasantly, his eyes did not link with his appearance. His face showed subservience and a keen look of anticipation; his eyes, which were dark yet blue, proclaimed—or so it seemed to me—mistrust and a doubt that amounted almost to fear, yet in their expression there appeared an odd look which I tried to understand: it was the look of someone lost, someone who was yearning. Or had I transferred my own feelings to his gentle, soft, blonde features? Dieter sat down next to Gerald.
“How long have you been here, Dieter?” Gerald asked him, as the waiter produced a tankard of lager for him.
“Zwei Wochen,” Dieter answered. “Two weeks.”
“I only arrived in Salzburg yesterday,” Gerald explained. “Or I’d have been down here sooner.”
As Gerald spoke, he moved his chair close to Dieter. Then he slid his hand under the table. Dieter did not move. He was still smiling. Suddenly he winced.
“Not here,” he said to Gerald. “Später vielleicht.”
“I just wanted to make sure it was as good as ever,” Gerald laughed. “And it will be later—don’t you worry!”
Dieter gave a slight nod of his head. Gerald glanced at me, then turned back to Dieter and spoke in German—which he spoke badly, yet better than I did.
“My friend Robin is all of twenty years old,” he told Dieter. “But he’s shocked because he’s pathetically romantic. He still can’t understand what our lives are all about.”
Suddenly Dieter looked at me. This time I could not mistake the expression. It was one of complete sympathy. Then, abruptly, he turned towards Gerald. But Gerald had seen the look between us. Laughingly he waved his unsteady hand in my face, and leaned close towards me with his back to Dieter.
“Surely you’ve learned by now,” he said. “Am I mistaken? Or do I not remember a previous episode of this kind? When, oh when, will you learn? A boy like Dieter doesn’t want your love or your sympathy or your adoration. All he wants is to be thoroughly fucked and given the sum of money he’s used to—or more, if he’s been particularly amenable—and then to be sent home with the cash for his poor, starving mother. For never doubt it. Dieter has got a starving mother. They all have.”
Gerald swung away from me and faced Dieter.
“Have you got a starving mother?” he asked.
Dieter stared at him. For an instant his face trembled. Then he smiled as pleasantly as usual.
“Yes,” Dieter answered.
“You see!” Gerald cried in triumph. Then, as if to exclude me deliberately from their conversation, he began to talk to Dieter about well-known queers in Vienna. But although Dieter spoke brightly with his delightful smile, I could see that he was growing bored as Gerald’s slurred words began to grow more confused. Gerald turned more frequently towards the bar.
“When are you going back to Vienna?” he asked Dieter.
“Soon,” the boy answered, pushing the floppy blonde hair back from his forehead. “My holiday is finished. I must go back to my work.”
“With a good sum of money for your poor mother,” Gerald said as he lurched round towards me. “Dieter works in a factory,” Gerald explained. “But what he earns for the whole year is less than he makes during his holidays. Isn’t that true, Dieter?”
“Jawohl,” Dieter answered. “What Gerald says is true.”
“Then why don’t you find yourself some rich protector?” Gerald enquired. “There must be plenty of them about.”
“Not now,” Dieter answered. “Since they killed Dollfuss there is no one rich except the Fascists.”
“Fascists in bed can’t be any worse than Communists,” said Gerald.
“Yes,” Dieter replied. “Das ist wahr. But if I go with a Fascist, I can be made to work for the Fascists. And in Austria that can be dangerous for me.”
“See?” Gerald said to me. “Dieter is a realist.”
Dieter stared at him with solemn eyes, while the waiter brought more drinks.
“My mother is ein wenig krank—a little ill. She can only do light laundry to make money,” Dieter said. “My father has left us. I am the only one who can bring in the bread for us to eat.”
“So there you are!” Gerald exclaimed to me. Just like all the rest of them, he’s playing for an extra tip. What’s more, he’ll get it—if he’s good enough to deserve it. And I can tell you from experience—he knows the whole bag of tricks. The trouble is . . .”
But at that moment Gerald stopped. He had raised his head. He was staring at a young boy who had just come in and was standing at the bar. The boy was very young, perhaps fourteen, and he was less obviously dressed as “rent” or “trade” than Dieter. Probably to disguise his age he wore long trousers rather than the short Lederhosen of the other boys at the bar which could reveal as much of their sexual charm as they cared to show. But this boy’s black gaberdine trousers were elegantly cut and contrasted with a fawn silk shirt. He was slender, with a pert little face and large brown eyes.
“Well, I never,” Gerald murmured to Dieter. “That’s little Felix. His old friend Rombach would never let him come out to a bar like this. Felix must have done something really naughty and been turned out.”
Gerald gulped clown his schnapps and beckoned to the amiable waiter. “Tell Felix to come over to our table and join us for a drink,” he said, pointing out Felix to the waiter. “And bring us four beers and four more schnapps.”
“Jawohl,” said the waiter with a sly look and crossed the crowded room towards Felix.
I watched little Felix as the waiter spoke to him. At first he looked glum. Then as the waiter pointed to our table he recognised Gerald, and as if he had put on a different mask, his face was suddenly transformed: he became an eager yet innocent schoolboy, smiling in acquiescence at the master who was about to punish him. Immediately he moved with light steps towards us, and as he walked the gaberdine trousers displayed his trained, sinuous control of his muscles as well as did a stallion’s coat in the Spanische Reitschule.
Gerald rose from the table and kissed him.
“Mein Schatz,” Gerald muttered. “Mein lieber Felix. Are you free? Are you free for me tonight?”
Felix smiled. His teeth were uneven but very white. He took a quick look round the room. Customers were beginning to leave the Bierstube.
“Aber natürlich,” he said. “As you know, I am always free for my Onkel Gerald.”
Gerald finished the schnapps which the waiter had brought him. “Now?” he asked. It might have been a command.
Little Felix glanced at me and then at Dieter. He gave a smirk. “Do you want to leave such good company?” Felix asked coyly.
Gerald stood up. He was drunk. “Why not?” he demanded.
Then he threw a bundle of bank-notes towards me. “Enjoy yourselves, children,” he said. “Pay the bill, Robin. This party has been on me.” Gerald paused, and his bleary eyes looked for an instant at Dieter whose face was once again stiff and solemn. “And one more thing, Robin,” he added. “Give your new boy friend what he’s accustomed to—financially, I mean. He’ll tell you his tariff. The rest I leave to you.”
Unsteadily Gerald moved towards the door. But I noticed that he turned to make sure that little Felix was following him. He need not have worried. Felix, with his trousers now seemingly plastered to his body, was following him, just as Gerald wanted, with a smile on his face and a look of utter subservience.
I was left alone with Dieter.
For a while we drank our lager in silence. Gerald’s remark about paying Dieter his usual tariff had managed to subdue my sexual excitement. For it saddened and revolted me to think that if I were the grossly obese Austrian with warts on his flabby face who was sitting at the next table to us, I could still lie with Dieter’s slender body clasped against mine—provided I paid “the tariff”. I realised that I was perhaps stupidly romantic and prudish. But I was twenty years old; I had formed my own ideals, and I wanted to try to follow them.
“You look traurig,” Dieter said. “Why are you sad?”
I smiled. “I’m not sad,” I said. “But this place is terribly hot and smoky.”
“Shall we go?”
“Let’s have one more drink. I’m not feeling tired. Are you?”
Dieter stared at me. He was frowning with concentration as if he were trying to solve a complicated problem. Then the wrinkles vanished from his forehead and he smiled.
Listen to me,” he said. “I have an idea. We cannot go to my room for a last drink, because I share it with two friends, and the Wirtin will not let me bring back friends. Ausserdem, we cannot go to your hotel because they will not let you take me in at this time of night. But I know a path that leads up the hillside. If we buy a bottle of Kirschwasser when we pay the bill, we can take the bottle with us and drink it and talk and stay there until the dawn breaks if we want to.”
Though I did not want to sleep with Dieter, I was already fond of him. I wanted to find out more about him and more about the life he led. I also liked Kirsch, the liqueur made from wild cherries.
“Right,” I said and beckoned to the waiter.
We paid the bill with the money Gerald had given me, bought the Kirsch and left the tavern. The night was pleasantly warm. There were no clouds in the sky; there was a full moon. Dieter found the path and led the way up the hillside. He was silent, but now and then he would turn round and give me a smile. The sadness I had felt in the tavern had gone. I was glad to be young and strong; I was happy to be with such an attractive companion.
Presently the path led to a gate beyond which lay a field with a hut in the lower corner of it. Dieter opened the gate. “They use that hut to put the sheep in during winter,” he explained. Then Dieter pointed to a flat stretch of grass. “If you like, we can sit there,” he said. “We should be able to get a good view of the city at sunrise.”
Together we sat down. Dieter opened the bottle of Kirsch and handed it to me. Not only his well-made limbs, but his personality and soft smile attracted me.
“You drink first,” he said.
I took a swig. I could feel the liquid burning its way to my stomach. “Wunderschön,” I gasped. “It’s delicious. Wunderbar.”
Dieter grinned as I handed him the bottle.
“Prost,” he murmured and drank. Then he put a hand on my shoulder. “Promise you won’t leave till we have finished the bottle,” he said.
“I promise,” I answered solemnly.
“Where did you learn your German?” Dieter asked.
“I didn’t,” I replied. “As you can hear, it’s sehr schlecht. Rotten. Ich kann garnicht Deutsch.”
“But you speak with the accent of Wien!” Dieter exclaimed.
“That’s because I was staying in Vienna when I learned the little German I know,” I told him.
“When were you in Vienna?”
“Just over two years ago.”
“Think of it!” Dieter cried. “We might have met. In fact, you may have seen me without knowing it. My two beats were the Kärtner Strasse and the main Bahnhof—railway stations are always a good place to get picked up.”
I stared at him. “How old are you, Dieter?” I asked.
“And you were getting picked up at the age of fifteen?”
“Sicher,” he answered. “Warum nicht? I was only thirteen when I was first broken in.”
“How did that happen?”
“It just came about,” Dieter answered. “Perhaps I was lucky. Perhaps I was unlucky. It’s too late to worry about it now.”
“But how did it happen?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because I like you,” I replied. “Because I’m interested in you.” Dieter gazed at me for an instant in silence. With a quick movement he pushed the blonde hair back from his forehead.
“When you’ve only known me for a few hours?” he murmured.
Dieter nodded his head as if in agreement. He took a gulp from the bottle and handed it to me.
“Na also. If you want the truth, here it is,” he said. “Very well. During the school holidays I used to make pocket-money by working as a ball-boy at some tennis courts in the town. I realise now that I was paid very little—but then to me it was a fortune. Almost every afternoon towards five there was an Englishman, perhaps forty years old, who used to come and play tennis with an Austrian of his own age. At that time, all I knew about the Englishman was what I had overheard at the tennis club. I knew that he was unmarried and a businessman. But though the Austrian sometimes gave me a smile, this Englishman never even glanced at me. It was always the Austrian who threw me a tip at the end of the game.”
All the time he was talking, Dieter was watching me.
“One afternoon at five o’clock,” Dieter continued, “I was waiting on the court as usual for the two of them. Soon the Englishman appeared, but not the Austrian. ‘Have you seen Herr Dirksen?’ he called out to me. He spoke almost perfect German.
‘No,’ I answered. At that moment a servant came out from the club-house to announce that Herr Dirksen had telephoned to say he had been delayed at a meeting and regretted that he could not come. ‘Right,’ said the Englishman and began to walk away. Suddenly he stopped and turned round towards me.
“ ‘Come here,’ he said. I moved quickly towards him.
“ ‘You’d better have your tip as usual,’ he said. He put his hand in his pocket and then tossed me a coin.
“Well, I was so surprised he should even think of me—let alone give me a tip—that I missed the catch. The coin fell on the ground. I stooped down to pick it up. When I stood up again, I saw the tip was the largest I’d ever been given.
“ ‘Thank you, sir,’ I said to him. And I really meant it. Then, for the first time—for the very first time, the Englishman really looked at me. He looked at me from my untidy hair down to my broken gym shoes.
“ ‘What’s your name?’ he asked in a cold voice.
“ ‘Dieter,’ I told him.
“ ‘How old are you?’
“ ‘Thirteen,’ I answered.
“When I spoke he scowled as if I’d said something to annoy him. ‘You can’t be only thirteen,’ he exclaimed.
“ ‘Aber wirklich,’ I said. ‘Honestly, sir. I’m thirteen.’
“ ‘Then you’re tall for your age,’ he said.
“I was silent. He was staring at me with such anger in his face that for a moment I was afraid he would strike me. Then I noticed that his gaze was no longer fixed on my face. The shorts I was wearing were too small for me. I had begged for a new pair, but my mother had said that there was no money. She couldn’t afford such useless purchases, she said. It was summer. My skin is very fair, but it goes quite brown in the sun. The Englishman was staring at my thighs which were completely exposed by my small shorts. He turned away, and I thought he was leaving. But his gaze stayed fixed. He couldn’t control his eyes. His expression was now so strained that I was afraid of him. I wanted to run away. I had a feeling that something terrible was about to happen. I longed to go, but I couldn’t move. His hands had begun to tremble. By now I was really frightened. Suddenly he took in a long, deep breath and then let it out. Then he spoke. His voice was very hoarse.
“ ‘Dieter,’ he said. ‘Would you like a present of money? A present twenty times as much as the tip I gave you?’
“I did not reply. I remained silent, for I had suddenly understood what it was all about. I had overheard boys talking about it at school, but I didn’t quite know what happened.
“ ‘Answer me,’ the Englishman said. ‘Think of it. Twenty times the amount of the tip I gave you. At least twenty times. You understand what I mean? I can see from your face that you do. So answer me, Dieter. I promise I won’t hurt you.’
“At that moment I realised that he was more frightened than I was. And it was this fact—in addition to the sum of money he was offering—which made up my mind for me.
“ ‘Yes,’ I muttered.
“The Englishman sighed. His hands were now trembling horribly.
“ ‘And you’ll never tell anyone?’ he said hoarsely.
“ ‘No,” I muttered.
“ ‘You swear it?’
“ ‘I swear it.’
“He turned his head nervously to make sure that no one was observing our conversation. But there was no one about.
“ ‘I don’t want anyone to see us leaving in my car. Verstehst Du? So you’ll have to make your own way to my flat. Do you think you can do that?’
“ ‘Natürlich,’ I said. ‘Of course I can.’
“Then he repeated his address several times, and made me repeat it back to him. It wasn’t far away from the tennis club. ‘My flat’s on the top floor,’ he explained to me. ‘So you ring the top bell outside the front door. I’ll come down to let you in. Do you understand? The top bell. I’ll be waiting for you. There’s no concierge to worry about.’
“ ‘I understand,’ I answered.
“ ‘Then I’ll see you in about half an hour’s time,’ he said and walked quickly away from me.
“I found my way to the address easily,” Dieter continued. “I pressed the top bell as instructed, and a few moments later the man opened the door and let me in. Hurriedly he closed the door behind me. He said no word of greeting. In silence he led me up the stairs and showed me into his flat—or, as we’d call it, Wohnung. Carefully he bolted the door behind us. We crossed a small hall and entered a large living-room. Immediately I noticed that the curtains were half-drawn. The room was comfortably furnished with some fabelhaft paintings on the walls and a thick carpet on the floor. He pointed to a sofa. ‘Sit down,’ he said—and those were the first words he had spoken to me since I entered the building. ‘The maid who looks after me always leaves at five in the afternoon, so we’ve got the place to ourselves. We shan’t be disturbed. By the way, would you care for a glass of lemonade?’
“ ‘Please, sir,’ I said.
“He went to the sideboard and poured me a glass, brought it to me, and sat down on the sofa, close beside me. ‘When we’re alone together, you don’t have to call me “sir”,’ he muttered.
“I could see that his hands were now shaking with nerves, and while he’d been waiting for me he must have had several drinks from the decanter on the sideboard because his breath reeked of liquor. He stared at me in silence while I drank my lemonade.
“ ‘Do you live with your parents?’ he asked me after a while.
“ ‘Yes,’ I told him.
“ ‘Do you get on with them?’
“ ‘I get on with my mother,’ I answered truthfully. ‘But not with my father.’
“ ‘Why not?’
“ ‘Because when he drinks he becomes ein Teufel. A devil.’
“ ‘Does he beat you?’
“ ‘Have you any brothers or sisters?’
“ ‘No. I’m the only child.’
“The man was silent. He was breathing heavily. I’d finished my drink, but I was still thirsty. ‘Some more lemonade?’ he asked. I nodded my head. His nervousness had infected me. I found it hard not to shiver. The man leaned across me and put my glass on a side-table. Then he began to stroke my head. I didn’t move. ‘You’ve got a fine mop of hair and it’s a glorious colour,’ he mumbled. His trembling hand now touched my cheek and pressed against it. ‘And very soft skin,’ he said, speaking almost to himself. He drew away from me. ‘Dieter,’ he said in his hoarse voice, ‘you’re sure you’re not going to mind this? Because we can stop at any moment you like, and I’ll still give you a present. Would you like to leave?’ I shook my head. Suddenly he gave a long sigh and bent down and kissed my forehead. ‘Oh Dieter,’ he whispered. ‘You’re wonderfully sweet, and I’m mad for you.’ Then he began to kiss my mouth and my neck. As he kissed me, his hand had begun to stroke my thigh nearest him, running his fingers up and down my skin, then clenching my thigh so hard I winced. ‘I’m sorry,’ he muttered. ‘I must remember how soft your skin is.’ Presently, he began to undo the buttons of my shorts. I did not move. Nor did I try to stop him when his hand slid between my legs. Presently he led me to his bedroom and stripped me naked. Then he took off his own clothes.”
Until that moment Dieter had been gazing at me constantly, as if to assess the effect that his story was having on me. But now he turned away and began to pluck at the blades of grass beside him.
“For a man so strong, he was very gentle,” Dieter continued, staring down at the grass. “He tried not to hurt me. And eventually he managed to get me excited too. When it was all over he held me in his arms. Soon he went to sleep, and so did I. When I awoke, I saw from the clock on his bedside table that it was after eight o’clock. I would get scolded for missing supper. I turned to awake the Englishman, but he was already awake. And for the first time he smiled. ‘When I awoke I couldn’t imagine for a moment what beautiful person could be lying in my arms. Then I remembered.’ He leaned forward and kissed me. ‘Oh Dieter,’ he said, ‘you’ve given me such happiness. Promise me you’ll come here again.’ He looked at me so earnestly that I didn’t like to disappoint him. ‘All right,’ I replied. ‘I promise.’ Again he smiled, and his face now looked quite different. He seemed far younger. ‘Dieter,’ he said, ‘what about some cold food? There’s masses laid out for me.’
“ ‘I must go home,’ I told him. ‘I’ll get scolded for being so late as it is.’
“ ‘I tell you what,’ he said, ‘in addition to your present, I’ll give you some extra money for a taxi. You can take the taxi to a few streets away from where you live. That will save you time. Please stay and have some food with me.’
“So I stayed a while longer with him,” Dieter continued. “And over supper—strangely enough, considering the difference of age between us—we became friends. He was no longer at all nervous. Nor was I. And I began to like him—perhaps because he never talked down to me. He treated me as an equal. For instance, he insisted that when we were alone together I should call him by his Christian name—Tony. He told me stories about his life in England, where he’d worked for a big insurance company. He made me eat far more than I’d ever done. He gave me double the money I’d expected, together with careful instructions for hiding it from my parents. His instructions were so expert that I smiled.
“ ‘What are you smiling at, young Dieter?’ he enquired.
“ ‘I’m smiling because your instructions for hiding cash are so expert that I realise I’m not the first boy you’ve taken to bed with you.’
“Suddenly he looked sad. ‘No. You’re not,’ he answered. ‘But there has only been one other.’
“ ‘Here in Wien?’
“ ‘No. In England,’ he replied. ‘But he was several years older than you are. He was seventeen when I first met him. He had red hair, and his name was Alec.’
“ ‘Where is he now?’
“ ‘I don’t know,’ Tony answered. ‘He left me to get married. Alec and his wife decided to go and live in Australia. Perhaps he’s still there.’
“ ‘Have you ever been married?’ I asked.
“Tony smiled. ‘Never,’ he replied. ‘And I don’t suppose I ever will.’ ”
Dieter lay back on the grass and gazed up at the stars. His Lederhosen had rucked up, and I noticed that the skin of his lean thighs was still very brown and very smooth.
“That very evening,” Dieter continued, “Tony and I arranged that if it was safe for me to visit the apartment he’d give me a sign at the end of his game of tennis by casually putting his right hand to the back of his head. For a whole year I used to visit Tony, the Englishman, in his apartment—at least three or four times a week. After a while, I came to look forward to the visits. You see, I’d grown fond of him. Apart from my mother, he was the only person who had ever shown any interest in me. Besides, by now, Tony was in love with me. And I soon found I enjoyed going to bed with him as much as he did going to bed with me. I no longer liked accepting his presents of money. But I needed the cash. Because in the terrible poverty and unemployment that had now spread over Austria, with little businesses going broke and factories closing down, my father was sacked from his job. One morning he left the house without a word to my mother. He never returned. We suspected that he had joined one of the secret Fascist organisations who would take on any tough—so long as he was ruthless. Anyhow, we haven’t seen him since. As I told you, my mother is crippled from arthritis, and she cannot go out to work. Soon we had not enough to eat. So I lifted the floor-board in my room where I had hidden part of the cash Tony had given me and gave her most of it for the household—on the condition that she would never question me about where it came from. I only assured her that I had not stolen it. My mother took the money and said nothing, but I think that even then she must have suspected.
“When I began to give my mother money for the housekeeping every week, she must have known that I hadn’t earned it on the tennis court. But since then I’ve talked with dozens of boys like me. They’ve all told me that their mothers must know for certain that they’re on the game. A mother may be virtually sure that her son goes with men, these boys have told me, but so long as she doesn’t know completely and utterly for certain, she will manage somehow not to be concerned about it.
“For another six months all went well,” Dieter continued. “Tony had started giving me English lessons, and it gave me pleasure to see the pride he took in my progress. Now that my father had left the house, it didn’t matter so much if I came home late. We were both of us happy. Then trouble began. Neither Tony nor his Austrian friend appeared at the tennis club for three days running. I was worried because they used to play tennis almost every day. Tony didn’t have a telephone in the apartment, and I didn’t know his office number. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have wanted to disturb him at his work. I didn’t want to go round to his apartment in case he was entertaining guests and my appearance might give away our secret. I suppose I could have written, but Tony had warned me against putting anything on paper that might be compromising. However, on the sixth day, I decided I must see Tony—whatever the risk. If there were people with him when he opened the door, I’d say I’d come to the wrong address and run off.
“My heart was thumping when I rang the top bell. I waited on the door-step for so long that I was beginning to think he must be out. Then the door opened and Tony appeared. But I could hardly recognise him. His hair was untidy, his face was haggard and mottled; I could see that he’d been drinking heavily.
“ ‘You can’t come in,’ he said hurriedly. ‘Go quickly. I’ll meet you at the Café Hirt. It’s a small café in the third street on the right going towards the Ring. There’s a back room. Wait for me there.’ Then he shut the door.
“I still couldn’t imagine what had gone wrong. Half an hour later Tony appeared in the back room of the café. He was carrying a despatch case which he put under the table as he sat down opposite me. I was drinking lemonade as usual. Tony ordered himself a double brandy.
“ ‘I daren’t stay long,’ he said. ‘So I’ll make it as short as I can. A week ago I had a visit from the police. They told me that they had been given information that I’d been entertaining a very young boy in my flat. He’d stay there for several hours, they stated, and he’d been seen going there over a long period of time. I’d been denounced, in fact. And I think I know by whom. It must have been someone in the building—because the police knew the exact time you’d arrive and the exact time when you’d leave. I believe I was denounced by that fat woman with dyed hair in the flat below mine. She’s always complaining about something—I play my radio far too loud or my bath-water leaks into her kitchen. Anyhow the harm has been done. The police asked for your name and address. That gave me some hope—because it meant they couldn’t have got hold of you to question you. I refused to give them any information about you. I told them that I refused to answer any questions whatsoever—except in the presence of my lawyer. I ignored their threats, and presently they left.’
“Tony stared down at the table-cloth. ‘When I told you that you were the second boy I’d loved in my life, it wasn’t a lie,’ he continued. ‘But there was one thing I didn’t tell you because I thought it was better you shouldn’t know. When Alec left me to marry his girl, I was terribly upset. I felt desperately lonely. I began drinking. One night in London I went out drunk and picked up a boy. He was about sixteen and obviously a prostitute, but I didn’t care. I took him back to my flat. But the police were after the boy because he was not only a tart but a thief. He was arrested. He had made a note of my address. The police found this on him. They questioned him about me. He claimed I had got him drunk and seduced him. My flat was searched. They found evidence. I was prosecuted. It was thanks to a good lawyer that I was given only a suspended sentence which meant I didn’t have to go to prison. But the episode was reported in the newspapers. It was to escape the scandal I eventually came to Austria. If the Vienna police find out about the case, then all the denials that you and I could make wouldn’t help us. Besides, I know a bit about police methods in this town. If you don’t talk they’ll beat you up until you do confess. And I’m afraid that somehow they may trace you.’
“Tony took a gulp of his brandy. His hand was shaking. ‘There’s only one solution,’ he said. ‘I must leave the country. If I leave, they won’t worry about you. So I’ve settled my business affairs. I’ve packed. I’m leaving tomorrow. I’ve brought a farewell present for you. I have only one question to ask you. It is this, Dieter. If I found a safe place for us to live together, would you join me?’
“I couldn’t speak. I just nodded my head.
“ ‘Thank you,’ he mumbled. ‘I hoped you’d say that. I’ve got your address. From what you’ve told me, I don’t suppose there’s any danger of your mother opening a letter addressed to you?’
“ ‘No danger,’ I said.
“ ‘Then I’ll write.’
“Tony opened his despatch case and handed me a thick envelope. ‘Put that in your pocket,’ he said, and he couldn’t control the trembling of his voice. ‘By the time you’ve spent it, I hope I’ll be able to send you a railway ticket so you can join me, and we’ll live together for good.’
“Tony gave some money to the old waiter. ‘Stay here for a few minutes after I’ve gone, and then go straight home,’ he told me. ‘I won’t say good-bye. I’ll say auf wiedersehen.’
“Then Tony got up from the table and walked quickly from the room.”
Dieter sat up and clasped his knees with his hands. For a while he was silent.
“At the end of a month there was still no letter from him,” he said. “At the end of two months the money he’d given me had been spent. After a time I gave up all hope.
“It was then that I started my search. I wanted to find another man like Tony—not only because I was short of money, but because I was lonely. I’d never been able to get on well with boys of my own age. Their jokes and conversation bored me. A man as kind and as intelligent as Tony was what I needed. And at last I thought I’d found one. I was strolling down the Kärtner Strasse and had stopped outside a shop that sold leatherware. From the reflection in the window I saw a man standing near to me. He was well-dressed and powerfully built. For a wonderful moment I thought it was Tony. Then, as I turned to look at him, I saw the difference. His face was paler and a little fatter, and perhaps he was a few inches taller. He had noticed my glance. He smiled at me. By then I was fourteen, and, as Tony had remarked, tall for my age. When I smiled back at him, I could see that the man fancied me from the way he was examining me. I felt that in his mind he was stripping me naked. He gave a little laugh.
“ ‘Shall we go and have a coffee somewhere?’ he asked. He spoke with a slight German accent.
“ ‘All right,’ I replied. ‘Ist gut.’
“The German smirked. ‘I think an invitation to coffee is the appropriate opening,’ he said as if he had not heard my answer. ‘I would invite you to my hotel, but at seven o’clock in the evening it might upset their sense of what is correct.’
“I thought quickly. I had heard of a cheap lodging-house where men could take under-age girls or boys.
“ ‘I know of a place,’ I said.
“ ‘With a clean bed, I hope,’ the German answered.
“ ‘Bestimmt,’ I replied. ‘And we can walk there.’
“ ‘Splendid,’ he answered. ‘You walk ahead, and I will follow you. I think we might become close friends.’
“Getting into the place was easier than I had supposed. As soon as we had reached our room, the German locked the door and took me in his arms. ‘How long can you stay?’ he asked. ‘Till midnight if you like,’ I replied.
‘We’ll see,’ he grunted and began taking off his clothes. He was bigger than Tony, but I wasn’t afraid. I stripped quickly and lay down on the bed.
“ ‘Fabelhaft,’ he muttered. ‘Now we can really enjoy ourselves.’ ”
Dieter glanced at me and then turned away.
“He was very rough with me,” Dieter said. “But I hadn’t made love since Tony left. Only by myself. So I was excited, and I let him do what he pleased. We made love several times. Then he got up from the bed and began to dress. He had already paid for the room. He now took out his wallet again and handed me some money.
“ ‘Thanks for the fun,’ he said.
“ ‘When can we meet again?’ I asked.
“He smiled at me. But I could see that it was a smile of contempt. ‘We can’t meet again,’ he announced. ‘I leave for Berlin tomorrow.’ Somehow I felt he was lying.
“ ‘But you said you wanted us to be close friends,’ I blurted out.
“He laughed. ‘And haven’t we been close?’ he demanded. ‘We could hardly have been any closer. And now I’ve given you the appropriate present, aren’t we friends?’
“Perhaps there must have been bitterness in my voice, for suddenly he looked at me with open dislike. ‘I can’t speak for other men,’ he said. ‘But so far as I am concerned I believe in the Chinese proverb. No man bathes in the same river twice. But I’ve adapted it to boys. And so far as I’m concerned no man should go up the same arse twice. Gute Nacht.’ And with that, he left the room.”
Dieter took out a crumpled packet of cigarettes from his pocket, lit two, and handed me one.
“You’d have thought I’d have given up after that. But I didn’t. I still was determined to find another Tony. Besides, I needed the cash. But I never found a man who was interested in me as a person. They just wanted to lie with me, have me for one or two nights—and that was the end of it. Gradually I became more or less resigned to the treatment I’d get. Soon I came to expect it. If they were especially brutal or unpleasant—and you can have no idea how vicious and brutal and dirty men can be in their tastes— I’d object. Otherwise I’d let them do as they pleased.
“My mother’s illness was worse, and she was sent to hospital. I was worried. I went to see her whenever I could. But her illness had this advantage. I now had the house to myself. So at night when the neighbours were asleep I could bring back a client. I’d grown careless in my choice by now. Any man of any age— provided he looked as if he’d got money to spare—could pick me up for the night. But every morning when I’d open the letter-box I’d hope to find a letter from Tony. But I never did. In fact, I’ve never heard from him. Perhaps he had an accident. Perhaps in despair he picked up another boy prostitute in London and was arrested. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. So I just carried on with whoring.
“However, as you’re aware, in the heat of summer men like our friend Gerald don’t go to Vienna. The opera is closed, and there’s nothing to do, so they come to places like Salzburg. By this time I’d left school and found work in a radio factory. At least it gave me a rest from endless patrols up and down the streets. So in the summer holidays I become a Wandervogel—a ‘bird of passage’, I suppose you could call it. And my wanderings generally take me to Salzburg.”
Dieter swung round and looked at me.
“Are you shocked?” he asked.
“Heavens, no,” I said. “I expect I’d have done the same if I’d been in your place and had got your looks.”
“But you have got my looks.”
I laughed. “What nonsense!” I said.
“What’s more, you always did have.”
I stared at him. “What on earth makes you say so?”
Dieter gave me a mysterious look and smiled.
“Tell me, Dieter. How can you possibly tell? And it’s not true anyhow.”
“I know about you,” Dieter announced.
“Can’t you guess? From Gerald."
“But you only met Gerald tonight.”
“Correct,” Dieter said. “But how do you think he knew my name? Can’t you see? I met Gerald in Salzburg two years ago. That first night before he took me off to a lodging-house of a kind, we had several drinks together. As usual, Gerald was drunk, and he began telling me his secrets.”
Dieter took a gulp of kirsch and handed me the bottle. “Can’t you remember what happened two years ago?” he asked.
“No,” I answered.
“But you must remember. You’ve just told me you were staying in Vienna. It was in Vienna you first met Gerald. Nicht wahr? He fell for you. And a few weeks later he sent you a railway ticket to Venice so you could both meet there. True or not?”
“True,” I replied.
“In Venice, Gerald tried to have you,” Dieter continued. “But you told him you could only go to bed with boys of your own age. Nicht wahr? So a few days later Gerald drove you back to Vienna, and left you there. From Vienna Gerald came to Salzburg. It was that very night I first met him.”
I gaped at Dieter. “Gerald told you?” I exclaimed.
“Remember Gerald had by then become very drunk,” Dieter said. “And I think he was still a bit in love with you. He couldn’t stop talking about you. He even showed me a photograph of you. You’d been swimming, and you were naked. As soon as I saw the photo I was excited by it. I found it very attractive. I wanted to keep it. But Gerald wouldn’t let me.”
Dieter was silent, and I began to wonder. Why had he wanted to keep the photograph? Why had he told me the story of his life in such detail? Was it possible? Could Dieter possibly be attracted to me? Perhaps. . . . But at that instant Dieter spoke, and for the first time the tone of his voice was bitter.
“You probably just pity me,” he said. “And there’s reason enough for pity. You’ve never done as I have. You wouldn’t even go to bed with Gerald. But I’ve been to bed with anyone who wanted me—old men who needed special fondling to get a hard on, men who wanted dirty sex as a change from their wives, and boys who just bursting for a fuck. And at the end of the whole performance, it just meant nothing to them—no more than their nightly piss before turning in. I loathe the lot of them. Sometimes I dream that I’ll win a lottery and become rich. And then, I’d never let anyone touch my body again. Never.”
Dieter put a hand on my shoulder. “I shouldn’t have told you all that,” he muttered. “Ich bin besoffen. I’m drunk.”
I took out of my pocket the money that Gerald had left behind—together with all the money of my own I was carrying. I gave it to Dieter.
“Thanks,” he said. Then he examined the notes and looked up at me suspiciously. “There’s more here than Gerald left behind,” he announced.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
Dieter’s eyes peered at my face. Then he grinned. “You’re lying,” he laughed. “Take some of it back. I won’t take your money.”
“Yes, you will,” I said and tried to put the money in his pocket. But he was too quick for me. His hand grasped my wrist, but I was three years older than Dieter. Though I was laughing I managed to pull away his wrist. Then we began to wrestle. But he too was laughing and I managed to press the money into his shirt pocket. But while we had wrestled I had felt the softness of his body, and the strength of him. We lay back exhausted on the grass.
“You know you’re the only person I’ve ever told about Tony,” Dieter said suddenly. “So I might as well explain the rest. I don’t want a lover to go to bed with. I want a friend. If I found a friend, I’m sure the rest would follow. I’m certain of it. But I’m lonely. You can have no idea how lonely I feel.”
Dieter took a sip of the kirsch.
“When Gerald talked about you,” Dieter continued, “he said that deep down you were a lonely person. Perhaps that’s why I’ve thought about you so much. Perhaps that’s why I always hoped to meet you—because I felt sure we could be friends.”
Dieter rolled over and pressed his face into the grass.
“Do you think I’m ganz verrückt?” he asked. “Quite mad?”
“Then listen to me, Robin,” Dieter said. “I promise you I’m not saying this because I’m drunk. Come with me to Vienna. Come and live in my little Wohnung. I’d do my best to make you comfortable. I’m certain we’d be happy together. You would be the only person I’d go with, I promise it. We could live so wonderfully together. I’d do all the house-work. I’m used to it. And while I was working at the factory, you could find a job—translating or giving English lessons. Please, Robin. Come to Vienna with me.”
I looked at this boy lying beside me. He was the most attractive person I had ever seen, and there was a sweetness and gentleness about him I have found hard to describe—together with an almost heart-breaking wistfulness. Lying next to me was my nirvana. In all of my life I would probably never have a chance like this again. I could love Dieter; I loved him already. To live with him would be to attain nirvana. Even if the bliss was only transitory it would have been worthwhile. My spirit rose with the exaltation of the existence I contemplated.
Then came the misty clouds of my conscience and of my eternal guilt. If I left with this lovely boy I would always be fretted by worries when I thought of my mother and my sisters who would be concerned about me. I would fail to get a degree; I would not pass my law exams. I would be living in an alien country without any qualifications, and already war seemed inevitable. Moreover, I had the sense to understand that if I left with Dieter for even a fortnight of happiness in Vienna—which in my elated drunken condition I was sure I could do by making excuses to my sister Honor and by borrowing money from Gerald if he had not yet left to join Willie in Bad Gastein—it would only make things worse. For to leave Dieter after only two weeks would cause both of us more unhappiness than the pleasure we had gained.
Gently I tried to explain this to Dieter. I could see his eyes give a little flinch of pain with each argument I produced. When I had finished he was silent. Suddenly he shivered. “It’s cold,” he said. “Let’s go into the hut.”
The stars were now pale in the sky. Dawn was approaching. For a while we watched the golden light spread over the domes and spires of the city.
“You’ve given me more money than Gerald,” Dieter said. “Let’s go into the hut. I wouldn’t mind making love to you. I’m sure I wouldn’t. In fact, I’m certain. And then . . . then perhaps you’d change your mind about coming with me to Vienna.”
I began to wonder if the hut was not a place he had used to take some of his clients when he needed money.
“Listen, Dieter,” I said quietly. “You see from my eyes that I feel the same about you as you say that you feel about me. But we’ve drunk too much. I understand all you’ve told me about having to go to bed with anyone who will pay you. I’ve given you money. But I don’t want to take advantage of the fact. Let’s wait. Let’s meet at the Bierstube this evening. Then we can try to make some plan. And if you still want to, maybe we can take a room somewhere.”
Dieter gaped at me.
“But I thought you knew,” he blurted out. “I thought I’d told you. I have to catch the first train. I have to report to my factory.”
Dieter was shaking with nerves. It was as if he had withdrawn from a deep dream to find himself in a waking nightmare of reality. He clutched at my wrist and looked at my watch.
“It’s late,” he said. “We must go straight to the station.”
“What about your clothes?”
“Clothes!” he cried. “But I’m a Landstreicher. I’ve got no clothes here. If my shirt gets dirty I wash it—or some man buys me a new one. Come. We must go.”
Dieter scrambled to his feet and pulled me up. Together we hurried down the hill.
As we approached the Bahnhof he turned to me. “I have my ticket,” he said. “Come on to the platform. But don’t watch the train leaving the station. Das bringt Unglück. It brings bad luck.”
The train was already waiting. It was crowded. Dieter held my shoulders, leaned forward, and kissed my lips. There were tears in his dark blue eyes.
“Ach Robin, mein Schatz, my dear Robin,” he said in a choked voice, “if only you’d understood why I climbed the hill with you to the hut.”
The train gave a jolt as if preparing to move. Dieter sprang on to the steps of the carriage. At that moment, despite my drunkenness, I remembered.
“I haven’t got your address,” I cried.
“But Gerald gave me yours,” Dieter said.
He had let his floppy corn-coloured hair fall over his forehead— perhaps on purpose—so that it veiled his eyes.
“Dieter,” I said, “promise me that you’ll write to me.”
“Yes, Robin. Mein Lieber. Yes, I’ll write.”
I could see that his cheeks were now wet with tears.
“Perhaps one day you’ll understand,” he said. Then he began to sob. Abruptly he turned and disappeared into the overcrowded carriage.
* * *
He never wrote to me—or if he did, the letter never reached me. I never heard of Dieter or saw him again.
But I did understand. Even before I had walked up the hill and gone into the hut where, in a corner, I found an old blanket—and a soiled towel. I had understood it already.
I understand it now all the more. In fact, with each month and year that I live, I understand that perhaps I had irretrievably lost a chance of finding the nirvana I sought.