mysterious woman in library


By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 25 Apr 2023



A park in Paris

These two months were our honeymoon, the happiest days of our relationship. One night Sanita matched me glass for glass at dinner. This was unusual for her, (usually drinking one glass of wine to my six). She told me it had something to do with a full moon. On the way back to the hostel, on a totally deserted and quiet street around midnight, she stumbled and fell, her wallet somehow issuing from her purse and landing on the cobblestones some ten feet ahead. As she retrieved it, she saw it had split open, revealing a secret pocket with a few pictures and papers very important to her, which she thought she’d lost forever many years before. This discovery surprised her but didn’t sink in at the time. It only spooked her.

A few moments later, as we proceeded to walk home again, my one arm almost holding her up, she insisted she needed more wine. It was past midnight and everything was closed on that street. We were just a few doors from the hostel when she saw a bottle of wine in a display window. She wanted me to smash the glass to get it. We were the only people on the street. But I was sober enough to restrain her and drag her up to our bedroom where we made wildly intense love. I always believe that this was the night Willie was conceived. It was early November and had to be close to that time, as the pregnancy showed. But perhaps I’m just being as superstitious as her ‘full moon’ theory. Still, it was an extremely unusual night.

All these descriptions aren’t from any journal, as I kept none during that trip. Stranger still, though Sanita took her camera along, she only snapped two pictures in three months, one of the Eiffel tower and another of the gardens of Buffon. But she was enraptured with me these months, as I with her, well past the point of picture taking. Her tag-along friend meant little to either of us, whether we hooked up or not on any particular day. That’s why we never asked her where she was staying or cared. The same with my English friend Ted. If we met, we hung out at bars a few hours, if not, we didn’t care. My vivid memories might be explained by this heightened emotional state of love I was feeling for Sanita and also the great relief from escaping the last two years full of danger and stress, now forever behind me. I was so in love with her I never once had a sexual thought about ‘blondie’. And here’s another vivid scene, so strange, so uncanny, I remember it in every detail.

It repeated itself three times. I was in the Pompidou library many mornings sitting at a long table reading French lit. while Sanita was in class. I ‘d pick out some fairly easy prose as my French was still rusty. The first time it was some short stories of Maupassant. As I’m leisurely reading away the most beautiful young woman sits down at the table right across from me with a very large tome, almost struggling to carry and open it, she’s so slight and thin. She’s dark-haired and absolutely gorgeous.

The book was the new Oxford Latin dictionary, just recently published. She has a notebook and pen and is copying out words and writing notes. I guessed that she must be translating parts into French. Now my Latin was always my strong point and I had the most prurient curiosity to ask her what she’s doing, introduce myself and my rich, Berkeley education in Latin and if I could be of any assistance to her. She was only three feet away, facing me. I could almost do this in a whisper. But then I think of Sanita and how inappropriate this would be. If I weren’t in that state of deep love, I would have been all over this beauty in a second, describing my expertise and proving it, leaning over her shoulder, breathing down her neck, helping her with detailed explanations of any word she might point to. But I put the thought aside and continued reading, only glancing now and then at her face and hands and arms, drinking in their perfection.

The strangest thing though is that a few days later, sitting at another table nearby, this time reading “Les Vices du Capitaine” by Francois Coppée (how can I remember such details so perfectly?), she comes again and sits down right opposite me with the same dictionary and notebooks. This passes credulity. Again the biting temptation is there. Is fate toying with me? A whole hour passes with her that close again. And again I read bits and sentences but keep looking at her bent over in study, trying to see what she’s writing but its upside down and I can’t. Once again, I picture Sanita and do nothing, snapping my book closed and leaving before she does.

This happens a week later one more time, always around the hour of eleven. There are twenty long tables in the huge room and the chance we both pick the same three times is astronomically improbable. This time she doesn’t sit right across from me but on my side a few chairs down. I forget what book I had in hand that day. I was too busy imagining some demon at work torturing me with temptation.

At points I was ready to give in and go to her with the explanation that this was all too incredible a coincidence to ignore. I’d bought a copy of that dictionary when in first came out, when I could ill afford it on my workman’s wages, in a bookshop on Bancroft avenue one summer afternoon, right across from campus. This was in 1983. John Seebach was with me and I carried that heavy book fifteen blocks to my garage on Woolsey. I remember switching it from one arm to the other and both hurting before I got it home. That’s how much I wanted it and loved it. And I spent hours leafing through it like I do all dictionaries.

She might have been my perfect soul mate, with the exact same passions and interests as me, perhaps my mirror image as a woman, and placed in front of me again and again by some angel in heaven. But again I froze and scurried away to Sanita for lunch together. And as soon as I was with her, I was happy again and all those soulmate thoughts were put away. What a noble, faithful lover I was, resisting such unbelievable temptation. Only when Sanita and I were at odds, many years later, did these memories return, like cutting dreams, or nightmares, in all their technicolor vividness and wild, maddening possibilities of eternal joy.

Then again, how often does sexual passion for a beautiful mate and the shared passion for translating dictionaries go hand in hand down the aisle.

She was probably being paid money to translate parts of the book into French, as they had no such complete a Latin dictionary. And she might have even detested the task, except for the money. This is my cynical side, the little red devil standing on my left shoulder. On the right is my angel, whispering in my ear that she loved Latin as much as I and that this was a pure labor of love.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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