A68 hansWritten by Lytton Bell. Lytton is a first-time Jewrotica writer.

PG-13Hans was in his early sixties when I met him in 1992. I was twenty at the time, a student at a small liberal arts college in the tiny Pennsylvania town where we both lived. We met in a painting class at a local art gallery. I was a dabbler with tons of enthusiasm and very little skill or experience. Hans was already an established painter who’d sold his work for thousands of dollars across Europe. His paintings were gorgeous and extreme. Though they were abstract, they seemed to tell a story filled with fierce emotions. The violent splashes of bright color were tinged with a powerful anguish that touched me in a way I could not understand.

Though he looked like an “old man” to me at first glance, I also couldn’t help noticing his undeniable sex appeal. He was long and lean, with a gray beard and dark, piercing eyes. A cigarette hung perpetually from his pink lips, which looked soft and plump. He met your gaze in a penetrating way that made a person feel really seen – often uncomfortably so. He was quiet and laid back, but with a pent-up intensity that hovered around him like a force field. I felt flustered and did not know how to act around him, so I did the first thing that came naturally. I flirted.

The other two people in the class, the instructor and a bored housewife – both middle aged women – found the whole thing very amusing. Hans seemed perplexed – almost alarmed. Yet he never lost his gentle and serene composure.

One day I thought I might have gone too far. Hans was wearing an ornate leather belt on his paint-stained jeans, which clung to his thighs and ass in a very flattering way. As I complimented the craftsmanship of the item, I ran my hand over the buckle. Hans sucked in a breath. “Come outside with me while I smoke a cigarette,” he whispered in his husky Austrian accent. I did.

Once we were outside, he lit the cigarette and took a long drag, leaning back against the brick wall facing the alley. “Are you just flirting, or do you want something from me?” he asked, blunt as can be. I couldn’t fathom what he meant. “Like what?” I ventured. With that, he tossed the cigarette down and ground it under his heel. Before I understood what was happening, he had backed me up against the wall and his hot tongue was invading my mouth. He was a skilled kisser, and every time his tongue rolled over mine I got a flutter in my tummy and a wet surge of arousal down my inner thighs. My nipples tingled, straining against the fabric of my shirt.

I wasn’t a virgin, but my experiences with sex up to that point had been extremely limited and very, very bad. My ex-boyfriend, the overweight tuba player for the high school band, had been a quick, clumsy and selfish lover. Not even reading D.H. Lawrence novels in the woods behind the gym had prepared me for Hans. Nothing could have.

After class, Hans took me to his apartment – a small studio, with a wall full of windows, over a little bakery. He had virtually no furniture. The floor was covered with canvases, tubes of oil paint and brimming ashtrays. He took his time making love to me but barely spoke a word. At one point, I noticed he was crying. At first I was frightened, but then I decided they must be joyful tears. I can’t remember the exact moment when I spotted the faint numbers tattooed vertically along the inside of his wrist. All the blood drained out of my face. I’d had to interview Holocaust survivors for a school project some years earlier, so I knew precisely what it meant. Hans immediately saw my distress.

“It wasn’t as bad for me as it was for others. I don’t even think about it anymore,” he tried to reassure me. I kissed him with an extra surge of passion now. Growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood on the nice side of town, I’d never had to deal with deprivation or oppression of any kind. I couldn’t even imagine it. Yet here he was, years after the fact, boldly making art, embracing life. I would have expected him to be bitter, or traumatized, but he never was. The one thing he did not ever want to do, though, was talk about it.

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