After my breakfast and her lunch–and her surprisingly huge chocolate dessert with tons of whipped cream which she only ate to surprise me–I asked what she wanted to see, but her only reply was that she trusted me to show her a good time wherever I wanted to go. Obviously that called for a witty reply, something about going back to the hotel room, but instead I remembered her love of art and quickly led her through the Albertina, the Art History museum, and the Academy of Fine Arts, where a painting by one of my favorite artists, Bosch, reposed. She always kidded me about Bosch, claiming he was a fad that teenagers outgrew.
“Then why did my very serious Humanities teacher always look so animated when she talked about him? If only you could have seen her usual hatchet face. . .”
Remembering the instructors at her finishing school, she quickly cut me off.
We ended up at the Shatzkammer, the imperial treasury, at the main palace, where she oohed and aahed as usual at the crown jewels, but soon after she told me she was suddenly tired of dark buildings and wanted to be outside for a while. The subway system here was so efficient it deposited us about ten minutes later outside the Prater, where Terry instantly craned her neck to gawk at the top of the big wheel, shading her eyes.
“You actually rode in that?” She sounded amused. “Did it cure your fear of heights?”
“No, I was otherwise engaged, far too busy to look out.”
“Then don’t tell me about it. Right now I’d only get jealous.”
I had no intention of telling her, of course, so instead I said we’d leave the giant wheel for last. I led her immediately to the shooting arcade, it being a bit of a tradition with us. “Your shooting’s improved,” I murmured in surprise as she grinned in triumph. “Of course, there’s still something you’re doing wrong. . .” I put my arms around her to show her, which of course made her grin, especially at the way the man in charge of the arcade was smirking too. No doubt feeling quite unlike herself, she turned her head and gave me a quick kiss, really smirking now at my surprised face, then turned back to the target. Just for that I gave her a little bit of a goose, causing her to squawk and jolting the rifle upward so that she shot a teddy bear right in the eye.
The arcade man was too busy laughing to tell us we’d have to pay for damages, as well as happy that the shot hadn’t come his way.
“And that was my last shot, too,” she grumbled, then laughed and kissed me again.
“My turn, then.” Quickly I aimed for the smallest moving target available and calmly brought the tiny thing down, then moved on to the next most difficult, and so forth, until I had nine.
I missed the tenth.
Stunned at the development, I straightened up, afraid to face the look of disappointment on Terry’s face. Instead, she seemed solicitous and quickly hugged me to tell me it was just fine with her. Then the arcade man, getting into the spirit of things, graciously allowed me a makeup shot.
I didn’t miss that one, and Terry cheered wildly as the man expanded his arms, signifying we could have anything in the store. Before Terry could verbalize a choice, I pointed at the one she had shot. “You owe it to him.”
Terry looked at the arcade manager. “What do I owe him?”
“Not him. . . the bear.”
She looked down at the stuffed animal with the missing eye, then smiled and hugged it to her. I laughed, put an arm around her shoulders, and led her toward the Reisenrad.
Unable to help myself, I motioned her attention toward the fountain in front of the giant wheel, where there was a statue of a small child pissing out the water that filled the fountain. She blushed as usual, then said out of the side of her mouth, “You would notice something like that.”
There was never much of a line during the day to board the giant wheel, so it wasn’t much of a wait. She was silent as the car moved up into the air, looking all around the city of Vienna. “Is that UN City?” she asked once, pointing into the distance, but for the most part she was quiet, holding my hand to let me know she appreciated my joining her despite my fear of heights.
Finally she asked me about the movies where the wheel had appeared.
“I know you don’t like the Bond movies, so I’ll skip that. I’ll tell you about the Third Man.” Quickly I recounted the story of an American going to post-war Vienna to visit his friend, only to find the man had died in an accident and was about to be buried. As usual, Terry listened attentively, giving me all her attention while continuing to stare at the sights of the city.
“At the funeral, he meets a few people. One is a policeman who says his friend was dirty, and another is the friend’s girl. Now he wants to clear the man’s name, and the girl tells him a few things that makes him think the death wasn’t an accident.”
I could see her grinning, picturing herself in the role of the girl devoted to her lover, even in death.
“Not so fast,” I murmured, “because the guy ain’t dead. He faked it so he could continue with his black market dealings.”
“What did he sell?” she asked quietly, wanting to get everything straight.
“What?” She turned to look at me for the first time since we’d gone up.
“It’s right after World War II. The city is devastated. There’s no food or medicine. This guy has it, but he’ll only give it to those who can afford it. A lot of kids die that he could’ve saved if he wasn’t so greedy.”
She nodded her understanding and went back to staring out the windows. I grinned as I continued. “When they finally meet, it’s right here, in the Prater, and they come up in the wheel to talk in private. The dealer, whose name is Harry Lime, tells his old friend that he could shoot him up here, dump his body out, and tell everyone he fell out.” She was about to protest, but I cut her off. “Nobody could have survived a fall like that, so they wouldn’t even bother checking for any other cause of death.” She nodded again. “So when his friend isn’t scared by this warning, Lime tells him they can make a lot of money together with the scam. When the friend refuses, Lime uses what is now one of the classic lines from any movie.”
Terry turned to look at me again, not wanting to miss my facial expressions, no doubt expecting me to mimic the actor perfectly.
“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo daVinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did it produce? The cuckoo clock!”
She chuckled and closed her eyes, tilting her head backward, the way she always did when she enjoyed a good joke. Something made me put my hand on her hip; she sighed in response.
“You’ll have to show me this movie when we get back,” she murmured, then begged me to go on.
“Well, Lime tries to run for it in the sewers–and don’t ask me to take you down there!-and all the cops are chasing him, so he figures he’ll go back up. He tries to push a manhole up, but there’s a car parked on it, so he loses time. Still running and wounded, he meets up with his old friend, who ends up shooting and killing him for all the kids he’s ever killed.”
“Sounds like you,” she murmured, meaning it as a compliment. “So who were the actors?”
“Joseph Cotton was the friend.” She nodded, being a fan of old movies. I took a deep breath before saying, “Orson Welles was Lime.”
“What?” she yelped. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
“Because I knew you’d picture him as the old fat guy he was at the end, and that wouldn’t have done justice to the character.”
She saw my point, but still felt it incumbent upon herself to mutter, “I saw Citizen Kane, you know. And why the hell is it called the Third Man?”
“You’ll have to watch the movie to figure that one out,” I tried smoothly, to cover up the fact that I’d forgotten, or had never known it. “But I know you already like the music.”
“I do?” She sounded nonplussed, which I always liked. “You’ve heard me sing it?”
“Nope, It’s instrumental. Remember that zither music that you said reminded you of Zorba, but you knew it wasn’t?”
“That was it? The one that you think is annoying because it repeats itself every ten seconds, and then grows on you?”
“I am definitely going to have to see this movie,” she sighed exactly as the car touched down.
After that she begged me to take her on the roller coaster, but I absolutely refused, something about wanting to keep the contents of my stomach exactly where they were. Seeing I was being inflexible on this point–and she damn well knew I got sick on those things, so she was playing me–she insisted on some others. I was enthusiastic about the bumper cars, and she immediately saw why as she watched me maneuver our car through all the traffic without being hit. Once we were about to be sandwiched, but my timing was impeccable as I waited for them to get close and then floored it, getting out of the way and letting the two crash together as she laughed gleefully.
After that I suggested the Ausgang–the haunted house–but she said she was too tired to continue, which surprised me; she’d shown so much energy all day I thought she’d never stop.
On the subway ride back to the hotel, she asked about other movies with the Reisenrad, and it took me the entire ride to describe Before Sunrise, which left its sequels Before Sunset and Before Midnight for another day. After saying she wanted to see those too, because it sounded like the complete opposite of Third Man, she murmured, “If Reise means trip, why is this thing called the Reisenrad?”
The last thing I wanted to do in some faraway exotic city was sleep in the afternoon, but there was still so much I wanted to show her, so I had to let her recharge, figuring it was the jet lag. . . though if it was, the last thing she should be doing was sleeping in the afternoon. Still, a few hours later she was refreshed and showing an interest in seeing more of the city, so I got us in a taxi and had him wait for us right where the forest began. “I know the Danube is no longer blue, but at least there’s still some Vienna Woods. Just don’t ask me to waltz here by the road.”
“The infamous Vienna Woods,” she sighed, getting into the mood quickly, placing her head on my shoulder as we walked. “Tell me a story.”
Knowing her well, I’d prepared for this. “Once Beethoven was walking through the woods and got lost. Finally the cops found him, and when he said he was Beethoven, he was arrested for impersonating a famous person.”
“No way!” she squealed delightedly, as she always did; it served in lieu of applause.
After a bunch more sightseeing and a Mozart concert that night, we had time for one quick trip before heading off to the airport the next morning. Terry chose to be taken to the imperial apartments of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth, where she was particularly entranced by the exercise gear used by the beautiful empress, whom everyone said had looked just like her. She was not expecting, however, to see the dress the Empress had been wearing when she’d been stabbed to death on the shores of Lake Geneva. Suddenly she seemed a bit faint and asked me to get her out of there, which was fine because it was time to get to the airport anyway.
But not wanting her to leave the city on a sour note, I made sure to walk her through all the beautiful and priceless antiques, until something really caught her eye: a bed. . . no ordinary bed this, but a magnificent example of what a bed could aspire to be. Its canopy was attached to the lofty ceiling and cascaded down almost forty feet to end in a cloud of spun gold around the bedhead.
“Like it?” I murmured into her ear, and she could only nod dumbly. The flight home was going to be so much fun, I thought. . .