Little Lotte, as he liked to call her, was a robust Norwegian measuring five foot ten in stocking feet, six foot three in her skates. Her grandmother, as you’ll have guessed already, was the great Helka Happensauer, six time world champion in the free skate, personal friend of Hitler, and brilliant though short-lived Hollywood princess, famous for her spectacular musicals on ice. Who doesn’t remember “White Passion,” “Skating to Rio,” and “Helka’s Favorite Christmas”? Lotte’s mother, Ingrid Happensauer, a sweet, disciplined woman, managed to capture a silver medal in the 1964 winter Olympics, more through determination than talent. Lotte, for her part, had grown far too much during infancy in overabundant California to secure a spot on the Olympic team, where the bodies of the rest of the skaters, delicate like marzipan figurines, had brought her to the conclusion that, despite her genetic predisposition for ice skating, the great Happensauer legacy had reached its end with her. Lotte consoled herself with the thought that one day, perhaps, her daughter would return the family name to glory. But Lotte never had a daughter, only a stout boy, and there the dream foundered.
Even while pregnant, Lotte skated whenever she could. Not like an angel but with sufficient ease to impress any spectator except those most expert in winter sports.
Saul Trifero was leaning on the wooden rail that separated the rink from the benches, watching the enchanting figure of Lotte come and go across the ice, while he smiled and moved his hands in signals of respectful approbation. Lotte was blissfully happy and her round face lit up in response to each of Saul’s smiles, such a dashing man she considered him the apogee of elegance.
“Watch this, Saul!”
And Saul watched as Lotte completed a pirouette which, for an endless moment, suspended her entire body in the air. Then Lotte landed on her thin blades and Saul broke into applause.
“Magnificent, Lotte!” he shouted. “Magnificent!”
Then Lotte approached the railing to receive her prize, and Saul obliged with a kiss on the lips.
Little Lotte was radiant. Head over heels in love.
Saul Trifero possessed all the virtues that she had hoped to find in a man, and he, in his quiet way, appeared to have a fancy for her, a particular interest, or who knows, thought Lotte, perhaps even love. The past few days had been so magical that the granddaughter of the great Helka hardly dared want anything for fear that she would break the spell. But, despite this, she dreamed. Lotte, who was generally a sensible woman, accustomed to the size of her shadow over the ice, had let herself go these past days like a coed giddy on champagne. She’s not the same, thought her Norwegian girlfriends. She’s not the same, confirmed her mother. I’m not the same, thought Lotte eventually, just as one always thinks these things about love, with an admixture of boldness and shame.
“I love you!” said Lotte as she skated past the railing.
“I love you,” said Saul as he watched her swan by.
“Kiss me,” said Lotte, completing a triple Squartan with some difficulty.
“I’ll kiss you,” said Saul as soon as she was within reach of his lips.
And so the afternoon passed until, amid these comings and goings, Saul delicately grabbed her sweet hands and whispered in her ear:
Lotte blushed from her skates to the roots of her hair and glided away, her head bowed, as if a shot had hit her square in the chest. When she was at the center of the rink she began to whir around in a diabolical spin and shouted at the sky:
“Yes, I will! Yes, I will! Yes, I will!”
The wedding was just as all weddings ought to be: noisy, excessive, ridiculous. Twelve girls dressed as angels scattered white flowers over the ice. Twelve footmen armed with trumpets accompanied the procession of said angels. Twelve skating champions from Oslo’s Olympic school performed impossible stunts. Twelve dogs pulled twelve sleighs loaded with strawberries. There were twelve of everything. Saul, of whom there was only one, remained silent, so moved and perplexed he could hardly bear it. He said yes when the time came, when it would have been catastrophic not to say anything or to say anything else, and when he said it he felt as if the whole church breathed a sigh of relief at his back.
“He’s odd,” said Lotte’s mother when she found herself overwhelmed by the curiosity of her hoarde of guests, “but he’s a good man.”
And there it ended. On the other hand, if the success of a wedding is measured by the happiness of the bride, there was never a better wedding, nor one more splendid. Six roman legions could have skated across Lotte’s broad smile. The groom, when all is said and done, is far less important, and for the army of relatives, friends and allies attending the nuptials he simply needs to be in his place-at the altar, at the banquet, in the bed. Saul Trifero acquitted all three roles with exquisite elegance. Silent but affable during the ceremony. Animated at the banquet. Brilliant in his brief toast during desert. “The angels have brought her to me and, well, now I know where she’s from,” said Saul looking up, holding the gaze of the guests, who, dazzled by the glare of ornate lamps, looked to their drinks for that final toast, their eyes blurred with tears. In bed, after cognac and the polka, Lotte encountered the sophisticated animal she already knew. Skillful as a pianist with his scales and wild to the point of brutality in his attacks. When morning dawned (they were leaving for Prague no later than twelve noon), there was still room for one or two legions more to cross Lotte’s smile. Saul had discharged his responsibilities admirably. And Lotte, to be fair, had too. Saul, who loved her–no one here has said anything to the contrary–watched his wife tenderly while she spread butter and marmalade on her toast. Saul never ate breakfast, though that’s not important.
“I am the sad butter,” said Saul, “and you, my love, are the marmalade.”
“You’re wrong, dear,” Lotte corrected him. “I’m only the bread, you’re everything else.”
They shouldn’t be judged harshly. Love makes people say these things, and far worse.
Prague, that black Paris, as well as the other Paris, and Rome and Venice and the coast of Sardinia. Almost three perfect months. Embellished with love, champagne, and fornication. Lotte shouted “More!” And Saul gave until there was nothing left. If marriage is a table with four legs, you can forget the other three when the leg that represents sex is sturdy enough. I don’t know if that sounds right. In any case, the table was stable, and during those days it was replete with all manner of delicacies and extravagances. At Saul and Lotte’s dinners, which always took place in honeymoon suites (all twelve in which they stayed), they mixed lobster, caviar, blinis, pasta, wine, dulce de leche, sweat and blood. There simply wasn’t enough time for it all. They raced through the streets like two fugitives pursued by dogs. “Speed it up, gondolier!” “Bring up the luggage later!” “Vite!” “Subito!” “Warcheostska!” They’d often barely manage to make it to their room. Any delay was unacceptable to Lotte. “Let’s get naked, Saul!” And Lotte would unveil her body of a champion before Saul even had a chance to untie his shoelaces. “More!” Lotte always said when she was spent. As if it were a joke, although Saul knew very well that it was not. Day and night were barely discernible by the change in the color of the light that filtered through the wooden blinds; orange by the Roman sun, blue by the moon in Prague. Breakfasts morphed into dinners with their clattering of trays, and the television remained off. “Only us,” said Saul, and a poisonous snake stirred in Lotte’s soul. On the coast of Sardinia they rented a sailboat which was on the verge of sinking at least three times, or so it appeared to Lotte, who tended to think that the strength of her passion could move the world. In the end, if ever two newlyweds screwed beyond the limits of prudence and custom, it was Saul and Lotte. They screwed and they screwed and they screwed again like two beasts fresh out of hell.
Afterwards they returned to Norway with suitcases full of empty rolls of film and unopened tubes of suntan lotion.
“What’s happening to us?” asked Lotte on the SAS flight home.
“There’s no name for it,” responded Saul, without taking his eyes off the clouds through the window.
Sweet Lotte had surely expected some other reply, but she was satisfied. The remainder of the flight was peaceful, save a little light turbulence over the fjords.