"Beatrice!" I abruptly said. "Is it really impossible for you to love me?"
"Let's not speak about that."
"Everything would be different if only you loved me."
"Well, at least I haven't hated you for a long time now."
"But you don't love me." … "Am I such a monster?"
She did not answer.
I sat down at her feet. "Anyhow, we seem to have reached a certain understanding. I understand you and I think you understand me."
"Yes, I think so." She lightly touched my hair with the tips of her fingers.
"Well, what do I lack then? Whatever it was that made you love Antonio, don't you find any of it in me?"
She withdrew her hand. "No."
"He was handsome, generous, courageous and proud. Don't I have any of those virtues?"
"You seem to have them…"
"Seem? An I an imposter?"
"It's not your fault," she said. "Now I understand that it's not your fault and I don't hate you any more."
"Would you mind explaining that?"
"What's the use?"
"I want to know," I insisted.
"When Antonio dove into a lake, when he led an attack, I admired him because he was risking his life. But you, can you ever do anything courageous? I loved his generosity, and it's true that you give freely of yourself and your possessions with no thought of your wealth, your time, your pains. But you have so many millions of lives to live that you never really sacrifice anything. And I loved his pride. He was a man like any other man, but contrary to most of them, he chose to be himself. I think there's something beautiful about that. You … you're an exceptional being, and you know it. That doesn't move me."
She spoke in a clear voice, without hate and without pity, and through her words I suddenly heard a voice from the past, a voice long forgotten, which was saying in anguish, "Don't drink!"
"Then no matter what I do, no matter what I am, I'm worth nothing in your eyes because I'm immortal?"
"Yes, I suppose that about sums it up." She put her hand on my arm. "Listen to that woman singing. Would her song be so moving if she didn't have to die?"
I suddenly got up and took Beatrice in my arms. "But I'm here, I'm alive! I love you and I'm suffering. For the rest of eternity, I'll never meet you again; I'll meet others, thousands, millions of others, but none of them will be you."
"Raymond." There was pity now in her voice and a trace of tenderness.
"Try o love me," I pleaded. "Try."
I held her tightly against me and felt her body grow limp in my arms. I crushed my mouth against her lips, her breasts quivered against my chest, her hands fell loosely to her sides.
"No," she muttered. "No."
"I love you. I love you as a mortal man loves a woman."
"No!" She was trembling. She broke away and murmured, "Please, forgive me."
"Forgive you? Why?" I asked, astonished.
"Your body frightens me. It's of another kind."
"It's made of flesh like your own."
"That's not what I mean." Tears came to her eyes. "Don't you understand? I can't bear being caressed by hands that will never rot. It makes me ashamed."
"Say rather it horrifies you."
"It's the same thing," she said.
I looked at my hands, my accursed hands. And I understood.
"It's you who must forgive me. I've lived two hundred years and I never really understood until now." I was silent for a moment and then said, "Beatrice, you're free. If you want to leave here, leave. And if you ever love someone again, love him without regrets."
There was a long silence. "You're free," I repeated.
"Free?" she said.
—Simone de Beauvoir, All Men Are Mortal, p. 133