A few days later, my dad received word from one of our friends inviting him to Saint-Raphaël for a drink. He got us in on it straight away, excited to get some distance from this voluntary and basically forced solitude we were living in. So I told Sal and Elsa that we’d be at the Sun Bar at seven and that, if they wanted to come, they’d see us there. Unfortunately Elsa knew the friend in question, which meant she was even keener to come. I guessed there would be complications and tried to dissuade her. What a waste of effort.
– Charles Webb loves me, she said with a childlike simpleness. If he sees me, he’ll definitely push Raymond to come back to me.
Sal didn’t really care about coming to Saint-Raphaël or not. The main thing for him was to be wherever I was. I saw it in his face and I couldn’t help being proud of him.
So in the afternoon, towards six, we set off in the car. Anne took us in hers. I liked her car, it was a big heavy American convertible which was more ‘in your face’ than stylish. I loved it, full of shiny bits, silent inside and far removed from the world, but weak at cornering. On top of that we could all sit in the front and I never felt more friendly with someone than when I was in the car with them. All three of us up front, our elbows drawn in, all submitted to the same pleasure at the speed, and the wind, maybe even one shared death. Anne drove, which symbolised the kind of family we would make. I hadn’t been in her car since that evening at Cannes, which set me daydreaming.
At the Sun Bar we found Charles Webb and his partner. He was a film promoter, and his wife seemed to spend all the money he made with a mad speed on younger guys. He was obsessed with making enough to cover all these costs, he ran relentlessly after any money he saw. This resulted in this worried, hurried side, which was slightly creepy. He’d been Elsa’s lover for a long time, because she wasn’t a particularly greedy woman, and her carefreeness in that sense made him happy.
His wife was nasty. Anne didn’t know her and I saw her beautiful face take on the mistrustful and mocking look which, out in the world, was her resting look. Charles Webb talked a lot, as he always did, all the while looking at Anne questioningly. He was visibly confused at why she was here with the womaniser Raymond and his girl. I felt full of pride at the idea that he would soon know why. My father leant towards him a bit, taking a breath, and declared suddenly –
– I’ve got some news, my friend. Anne and me, we’re getting married on the fifth of october.
He looked at them one after the other, completely dazed. I was delighted. His partner was put out – she’d always fancied my dad a bit.
– Wow, congratulations! shouted Webb finally, his voice ringing out in the bar. What a great idea! Dear you’ve landed yourself with a right lout, you’re both magnificent!… What a lad!… We’ve got to celebrate.
Anne smiled, calm and relaxed. Then suddenly I saw Webb’s face brighten, and I didn’t look away:
– Elsa, my god, is that Elsa Mackenbourg? She hasn’t seen me. Raymond have you seen how hot she is now?
– Isn’t she, said my dad, like a happy new owner.
Then he remembered himself and his face fell.
Anne couldn’t have missed my dad’s tone of voice. She looked away with a rapid movement, towards him, and then me. As she opened her mouth to say something, I leant towards her:
– Anne, you’re so elegant tonight it’s devastating; there’s a guy down there who can’t tear his eyes away from you.
I said it in a confidential tone, just loud enough for my dad to hear it. He turned straight away and looked for the guy in question.
– I don’t like that, he said, and took hold of Anne’s hand.
– My god they’re so cute, said Webb’s partner, ironically. You shouldn’t have disturbed these two lovebirds, it would have been enough to invite young Cécile here.
– ‘The young Cécile’ wouldn’t have come, I said bluntly.
– And why not? Are you in love with a fisherman down there or something?
Like she’d once seen me in conversation with a bus conductor on a bench and had categorised me ever since as a class-traitor, what she would call one anyway.
– Yeah exactly! I said, with a bit of effort to appear happy.
– And do you fish a lot?
The joke was that she thought she was funny. Little by little, anger began to win me over.
– I’m not a prostitute, I said, but I fish, yeah.
There was a silence. Anne’s voice raised up, always well composed:
– Raymond, can you ask for a straw from the waiter? I always need one when it’s pressed oranges.
Charles Webb began to elaborate on one soft drink after another. My dad was trying to hold back his laughter, I could see it in how he was suddenly very interested in his drink. Anne threw me a pleading look. We decided to dine together like people do sometimes who’ve almost fallen out.
I drank a lot during the meal. I had to forget Anne’s worried look when she stared at my dad, her vaguely recognising look when her eyes fell on me. I stared at Webb’s partner with a massive smile whenever she turned a remark my way. That disconcerted her. She quickly became aggressive. Anne signalled me not to respond. She hated making a scene in public and Mrs Webb was well about to make one. As for me, I was used to it, it was something that happened a lot in our world. So I could listen to her speak without it taxing me at all.
After we’d eaten, we went to a club in Saint-Raphaël. A little after we arrived, Salil and Elsa turned up too. Elsa hovered in the doorway, shouting at the cloakroom attendant, and then busied herself in the room, trailed by poor Sal. I thought she was being a bit slutty rather than acting like a lover, but she looked great enough to get away with it.
– Who is that playboy? asked Charles Webb. He’s pretty young.
– It’s love, murmured his partner. Love suits him…
– Don’t be stupid, snapped my dad violently. It’s just a fling, yeah.
I looked at Anne. She considered Elsa calmly, with detachment, as if she was looking at a mannequin to carry her designs, or a young girl. Without any bitterness. I admired her passionately a moment for her absence of pettiness, of jealousy. I didn’t understand anyway what she had to be jealous about. She was a hundred times more beautiful, more fine than Elsa. Since I was drunk, I told her so.
She looked at me oddly.
– I’m more beautiful than Elsa? You think so?
– That’s very nice. But you’ve drunk too much, again. Give me your glass. Aren’t you sad to see Salil down there? Anyway, he seems bored.
– He’s my lover, I said, joyfully.
– You’re completely drunk. Happily, it’s time to go home.
We left Webb and his wife with relief. I called her ‘my dear friend’ with a serious face. My dad took the wheel, as my head rolled about on Anne’s shoulder. I thought about how I preferred her to Webb and to all of the people we saw regularly. She was so much better, more honourable, more intelligent. My dad spoke little. He was definitely absorbed in thinking about Elsa’s arrival.
– Is she asleep? he said to Anne.
– Like a little girl. She’s relatively well behaved. Despite her snapping at that woman earlier.
My dad began to chuckle. Then there was silence. Then I heard my dad’s voice again.
– Anne, I love you. And you only. Do you believe me?
– Don’t say that to me so often, it makes me afraid…
– Give me your hand.
I almost sat up and shouted ‘not on a cliff road!’ But I was drunk, Anne’s perfume, the sea wind in my hair, the small scratch that Sal had given me on my shoulder whilst we fucked, these were reasons enough to be happy and stay quiet. I slept. Whilst all this happened Elsa and unlucky Sal would be having a rough time on the road with the small scooter his mum had given him for his last birthday. I don’t know why, but the idea of that made me cry. This car was so soft, the suspension was so good, basically made for sleeping… I bet Mrs Webb wasn’t sleeping right then. Doubtless at her age I would be paying young men to love me too because love is the most soft and the most living thing, it makes the most sense. And it wouldn’t matter the price. The main thing would be not to become bitter and jealous, like she was of Elsa and Anne. I began to laugh quietly. Anne’s shoulder shifted to let me rest. ‘Sleep now’ she commanded. And I did.