The next day I woke up and felt fine, barely even tired, though my neck was sore. I must have pushed things a bit far. Like every morning, my bed was bathed in sunlight. I opened my curtains, threw off my pyjama top and offered my bare back to the sun. I rested my cheek on my folded arms, and looked at the thick weave of the canvas curtain and, off to one side, a fly on the tiles, cleaning its eyes. The sun was soft and hot, it felt like it was massaging my bones under my skin, taking special care to heat me up again. I decided I would spend the morning like that and not move at all.
The fog around the memories of the evening began to clear. I remembered saying to Anne that I was in love with Salil, and I laughed. When you’re drunk, you can tell the truth and no one believes you. I also remembered Mrs Webb and my moment with her. I was used to her kind of woman. In those surroundings and that age, they were often disgusting due to their lethargy combined with a desire to get out and live. Anne’s calm made me think she was even more worn out and bored than usual. Otherwise it was just how I thought. I couldn’t think of anyone, any of my dad’s girlfriends, who could stand comparing to Anne. To enjoy an evening with these people you had to either be a bit drunk and take pleasure in arguing with them, or try and get intimate with one or other of the partners. For Dad it was more simple: Charles Webb and him were sharks.
– Guess who ate and slept with me this evening? The little ‘Mars’ from that entry to Cannes. I went back to her house and…
My dad shouted and patted him on the back.
– Charles, you dog. She’s almost as hot as Elise.
Just like a couple of students. What made it bearable was the excitement, the fire of enthusiasm which the two of them had. And even, during evenings that felt like they would never end, out on cafe terraces, the sad confessions of Lombard:
– I’ll never love anyone else, Raymond… Do you remember the spring before she left… God, it’s stupid, the life of a man against one woman!
That had a shameless side – humiliating but warm, two men opening up to each other before a table of empty glasses.
Anne’s friends never talked about themselves. It wouldn’t have occurred to them. Or maybe if they talked like that, they would be laughing in shame and humiliation. I was ready to share with Anne the condescending tone that she had for our friends, an amiable and contagious condescension… But I saw myself at thirty, more like our friends than her. Her silence, her indifference and her reserved nature smothered me. On the other hand, in fifteen years, a bit bored, I might lean towards some guy who was seductive, up for it:
– My first lover was called Sal. I was almost eighteen, it was so hot on the riviera…
I had fun imagining the face of the guy. He would have the same wrinkles as my dad. Someone knocked at the door. I hastily put on my pyjama top and shouted – come in! It was a wary Anne, holding a glass:
– I thought you might need some coffee… How are you feeling?
– I’m good, I said. I was only tipsy last night, I think.
– Like every time we go out. She chuckled. I must say you helped me get through it. It was a long evening…
I forgot about the sun, and even the taste of the coffee. When I spoke with Anne, I was completely absorbed, I barely even existed, and yet she always made me question myself, forced me to judge myself. She made me live my intense and difficult moments.
– Ceçile do you find them funny, the Webbs, the Dupuis?
– God, they put me to sleep mostly, but they can be funny.
She joined me in looking down at the progress of the little fly on the tiles. I thought that the fly must be injured. Anne had long and heavy eyelids, and it was easy for her to look condescending.
– Don’t you see how monotonous their conversation is, and… how can I put this… how heavy it is? These stories of contracts, girls, parties… Doesn’t that ever bore you?
– You know, I said, I spent ten years in a catholic school, and these guys have no morals, which is just eternally fascinating.
I didn’t quite have the courage to say that I loved it.
– Ten years, she said… But it’s not a question of reasons, anyway, or of morality. It’s a question of a feeling. Like a sixth sense.
I must not have had it. I felt a clear difference between Anne and me on this point.
– Anne, I said suddenly, do you think I’m intelligent?
She laughed, stunned at the brutal question.
– Of course I do, come on. Why do you ask me that?
– If I was an idiot, you’d say the same thing, I sighed. You often make me feel like you’re talking on another level.
– It’s a question of age, she said. It would be very boring if I didn’t have a bit more self-confidence than you. You might be able to influence me!
She laughed again. I was offended.
– I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.
– It would be a disaster, she said.
She suddenly lost her light tone and looked me in the eyes. I shifted a bit, feeling uneasy. Even today I can’t get used to it when people stare at you when they speak or come up close to you to make sure you’re listening. Bad tactics anyway because whenever it happens all I can think about is how to escape, or back off, saying – yes, yes… I shift from foot to foot or run to the other corner of the room. I get angry cos of their insistence, their forwardness, how they think they deserve my full attention. Thankfully, Anne didn’t think she needed to corner me like that, but she limited herself to looking at me without glancing away, and my light, distracted tone became hard to maintain.
– Do you know how men like Webb end up?
…and my Dad, I added to myself.
– In the gutter! I said, happily.
– They arrive at an age where they’re no longer attractive. No longer have the stamina, you might say. They can’t drink anymore, and they still think about women. Only now they have to pay them. Accept a hundred small compromises to escape their solitude. They’re cheated and unhappy. And it’s then that they choose to become sentimental and demanding… I’ve seen so many men like that become just more or less boulders.
– Poor Webb, I said.
I was a bit disconcerted. So that was the fate that awaited my Dad. It was true. At least the fate which awaited him if Anne hadn’t adopted him.
– You hadn’t thought of that, had you, said Anne, with a small commiserating smile. You don’t really think about the future, am I right? That’s the privilege of youth.
– Please don’t throw my youth back at me. I don’t take advantage of it. I don’t think it gives me the right to any benefits or any excuses either. I don’t think it’s important.
– What do you think is important? Your tranquility? Your independence?
I was afraid of these conversations, especially with Anne.
– Nothing. I barely think at all, as you know.
– You irritate me a bit, you and your Dad. “You never think about anything… You’re good for nothing… you don’t know…” does all this make you happy?
– Nothing makes me happy. I don’t like myself, and I don’t really want to. There are moments when you force me to complicate things, and it makes me almost mad at you.
She began to hum, as if she was thinking; I recognised the song but I can’t remember it anymore.
– What is that song, Anne, it’s annoying me.
– I don’t know.
She smiled again, seeming a bit put out.
– Stay in bed, have a rest, and I’ll go continue my study on the intellect of the family elsewhere.
Obviously, I thought, it was easy for my Dad. I could hear him from here –
– If I don’t do much thinking, it’s because I love you, Anne… he was saying.
Intelligent as she was, that answer must have meant something to her. I stretched myself out with care and plunged back onto my pillow. I reflected a lot, a lot, despite what I had said to Anne. Deep down, she must have been exaggerating; in twenty five years, my Dad would be a loveable guy in his sixties, with white hair, fond of whisky and colourful memories. We’d go out together. I’d be the one telling him about my shenanigans and he’d give me the advice. I realised that I wasn’t placing Anne in this imagined future. I couldn’t, I couldn’t bring myself to put her there. With the apartment in chaos, partly devastated, partly invaded by plants, full of the sound of strange accents and scenes, regularly strewn with luggage, I couldn’t envision the order, the silence, the harmony that Anne carried everywhere like her most precious thing. I was really afraid to bore myself to death, but I definitely feared her less now I loved Sal, really and physically. That had freed me from a lot of fears. But I feared boredom and calmness more than anything. To be calm inside, me and my Dad needed everything around us to be buzzing. And Anne didn’t know how to admit that.