Yesterday, like a fool I traded away the thirty years I had left in my life for a 1959 Volkswagen Beetle. I can hardly believe it. There it stands now in my driveway. It has a faded gold color. There are some small dents on the side and a big dent on the roof, as though someone had fallen on it. Otherwise it’s a pretty good car, worth three or four years. Never thirty.
“Well, it’s all gone,” I said the following evening. We were back at the scene of the crime, the bar of the Hotel Kämp.
“What?” said Yves, his face rising like the sun from behind the beer glass, wiping foam off his mouth. Then he called to the waitress. “Hey now,” he called. “Will you get this chap a beer? You’ll take a beer, won’t you?”
“I’ll have a beer,” I said.
“Here it comes now.”
The beer arrived.
“Well,” I said.
“You look like hell,” said Yves. “Do you feel like hell?”
“I feel like hell,” I said.
“It’s no wonder. What a night that was.”
Yves was in a good mood. I tried to remember if I had seen him with a girl last night.
A memory swam up out of the deep end: Yves with his hands on a brunette, offering to buy her a beer, then drinking her beer.
I felt like leaving. Then I thought, “If I so much as take a step out that door, it’s all over.”
“Well, they took it,” I said instead.
“All and everything. It’s all gone.”
“What was there left to take?”
“I had thirty years left, Yves. Thirty good years.”
“They took them all?”
I hung my head, told him everything. I said:
“This man, he really knows his music. He’s been there for I don’t know how long, just sitting there, calm as hell. We talk about music. He buys me a beer. I buy him a beer. We all drink beer. Then we talk about music some more, and about girls, and about cars. He says he wants to sell me a car. I don’t need a car, I say, and he buys me another beer, and I buy the next round. I have a car, he says. A car, I say. A pretty good car, he says. I say, congratulations. No, no, he says. It’s yours. I’ll sell it to you. At half price. He says, look, I’ll give it to you at half price. I don’t need no damn car, I say. We drink more beer. Then we drink some wine. Then we drink more beer. Here’s to your car, I say. It’s a pretty good car, he says. I say, sell me your car, sell it to me right now. Congratulations, he says, it’s your car.
“What a shit,” said Yves.
“Now I’m done.”
“You certainly are.”
“You think so, too?”
“They’re long gone. Maybe they left the country.”
“I’m done,” I said.
Yves put his face in the glass, emptied it. “What shits,” he said. “Hey, they must be doing it to someone else right now. Isn’t that a thought? What complete shits.”
“Isn’t there anything I can do? Tell me, isn’t there anything?”
“They’re doing it to someone in Brussels, or in Paris. Just imagine. Even as we speak.”
“How long do I have? Do I have a day?”
Over at the next table, someone was laughing at me. He had heard the whole exchange and now he was laughing, silently. There were fresh tears on his face, he was laughing so hard. Then he was telling the others. Listen to this fool, he said. Hey Maria, come and listen to this fool. He’s the biggest fool. Oh, how sad it all is. Now he’s crying. He got himself scammed out of thirty years and now he’s done.
They were right to laugh at me, of course. I couldn’t fault them. I felt like laughing myself. In fact, I think I did, just a little. Then Yves laughed, too, and he produced a beer and I cried a little, then I laughed a little, and it went on like that for some time, all of us laughing at me and crying a little, too.
“Hey now,” said Yves. “Look at that girl. What a fine girl.”
I looked at the girl.
“What,” said Yves. “You don’t think she’s a fine girl?”
“She’s pretty. She’s a pretty girl.”
“You should dance with her.”
“Hey, now. You should go dance with her. Here, I’ll introduce us. Fine lady, will you dance with this man? He’s done, but he’s one hell of a chap.”
“Oh, leave me,” I said.
“Come,” said Yves, patting the chair next to us. “Fine lady, come over. Come here now.”
The girl came over.
“This man,” said Yves.
“Leave me,” I said. I felt very weak. “Just, all of you, leave me.”
“Is it really true that you’re done?” the girl asked. She really was very pretty. I couldn’t look at her.
“It’s true,” said Yves. “Tell her how true it is.”
“It’s true,” I said.
I had never felt so weak. Was that how it started?
The girl sat down next to me. In a minute my head was on her shoulder and she rocked me back and forth to the music. It was some slow dance, some sad Finnish tango. She was so pretty I could have lost my mind over her. We sank down out of our chairs and began to dance. “You know, I’m really done,” I said into her dress. All around me the world began to spin, and I knew that it had begun. I held on tight. Oh Christ, I thought.
“Sh,” the girl said, stroking my hair.
I watched him dance. He let himself fall into her arms, and I thought he was finished right there and then. But he put one foot in front of the other, and he composed himself, and she led him across the dance floor. What a girl she was, all muscle, but still graceful, still womanly. And this full-blooded Amazon led him across the dance floor, him barely hanging on, but she kept him afloat for a while longer. Somehow she kept him afloat. And while he wouldn’t have this day—it was plain to see now that he wouldn’t have the entire day—he would probably still have the rest of this dance. Well, I hate to say it, but he looked like a buffoon. Maybe it was the whole situation, but he really didn’t look good. You could see that he hadn’t danced in a good long time and that he didn’t have it in him to dance well. Maybe he had never danced, I don’t know, but he certainly looked like a buffoon. I turned around to order some beer, and when I turned back the whole thing was already over and the girl came sauntering back, smiling in a sad way and saying, “That guy, he was a friend of yours?”
Mika Seifert is a concert violinist and writer. His short stories have been published in The Southern Review, The Antioch Review, The London Magazine, and several other publications. In 2013, he was appointed concertmaster of the Northeast German Symphony Orchestra.