It’s funny how destiny enjoys choosing faces that are unworthy or average as its avatars. That summer it chose Elsa’s. A really beautiful face, if you like, and so attractive. She also had an incredible laugh, expressive and complete. You have to be a bit dull to have a laugh like that.
I quickly recognised the effect it had on my dad. I made her use it as much as she could, when we surprised them with Sal. I said – don’t say anything when you hear me and my dad coming; just laugh. And when my dad heard it I watched fury cross his face. The role of scriptwriter was endlessly absorbing. I never missed my chance – when we saw Sal and Elsa together, demonstrating their made up relationship, which was perfectly believable, me and my dad fenced in together, the blood would leave my face as well as his. We were tempted and desired so much to possess them, with a desire worse than pain. Sal, Salil leaning over Elsa… This image ruined my heart – I’d developed it with Sal and Elsa without understanding its power. The words were easy and pliable, but when I saw the shape of Sal’s face, his soft brown neck inclined over Elsa’s offered gaze, I would have given anything for it to stop. I forgot that it was me who’d asked them to do it.
Apart from these happenings, and my busying myself with daily life, there was the confidence, and gentleness, and – it’s difficult to use this word – the happiness of Anne. Closer to happiness than I’d ever really seen her, given over to us, us egoists, but so distant from our violent desires and my low little plans. I’d counted on it. Her indifference and pride cut her off instinctively from any tricks that might have attached my dad more securely to her and basically any tricks other than being beautiful, intelligent and affectionate. I softened more and more towards her. Softening is such a nice feeling, sweeping us away like the strings in an orchestral soundtrack. You can’t blame me for it.
One beautiful morning the maid came excitedly to deliver a message from Elsa (Come quick, it’s happening!) It gave me a sudden feeling of catastrophe – I hate endings. I found her on the beach. She looked triumphant –
– I’ve just seen your dad, an hour ago.
– What did he say?
– He said he totally regrets what happened, that he behaved like a dickhead. Isn’t that the truth…
I pretty much had to agree.
– Then he complimented me like only he knows how to do… You know the slightly detached tone, the soft voice, as if he’s suffering to do it…
I tore her from that pleasurable memory –
– What’s going to happen now?
– Well, nothing!… well, actually yes he invited me to have a drink with him in the village, to show that he wasn’t bitter, and to prove that I was full of ideas, I was progressive, yeah?
I smiled at the idea of my dad’s thinking about progressiveness and redheads.
– Why are you laughing? Should I go along?
I almost said that it wasn’t up to me. Then I remembered that she held me responsible for the success of her schemes. Right or wrong, that irritated me.
I felt hunted –
– I don’t know, Elsa, that’s up to you. Don’t always ask me what you need to do, you might make someone think it was me that pushed you to…
– But it is you, she said. It is down to you. Don’t you see?
Her admiring tone made me suddenly afraid.
– Go if you like, but don’t talk to me about it anymore, have some pity.
– But… but we need to get him away from that woman… Ceçile!
I was running away. Let my dad do whatever the fuck he wanted. Let Anne untangle herself from the mess. Anyway, I had a meeting with Sal. I felt like only sex or love or whatever would save me from this draining fear that I felt.
Sal took me in his arms without a word and carried me. Close to him everything became easy, charged with violence, with pleasure. Some time afterwards, stretched out with him, against his deep body, soaked in sweat, myself completely spent, like someone shipwrecked and lost, I told him that I hated myself. I told him it smiling, because I thought it without any sense of pain, with a kind of easy resignation. He didn’t take me seriously.
– That doesn’t matter. I love you so much that you’ll just have to share my view. I love, I love you so much.
The rhythm of his phrase stayed with me throughout lunch. ‘I love, I love you so much.’ That’s why, despite trying, I can’t remember much of that meal. Anne had on a dress, mauve, like the shadows under her eyes. Dad laughed, apparently relaxed – everything was going his way. He announced during dessert that he had things to do in the village that afternoon. I smiled inside. I was tired, fatalist. I only wanted to do one thing: I wanted to swim.
At four I went down to the beach. I found my dad on the terrace, as he was leaving. I said nothing to him. I didn’t even tell him to be careful.
The water was light and warm. Anne didn’t come, she had to occupy herself with her designs, drawing in the bedroom while my dad was fucking Elsa. At the end of two hours, when the sun was no longer warming me, I climbed to the terrace, sat in a lounger, found my phone, and started browsing.
It was then that Anne appeared, coming from the forest. She was running and struggling clumsily, bent over. I had the subtle impression that she was an old woman and was about to fall over, which felt wrong to think. I remained frozen while she disappeared behind the house, towards the garage. Then suddenly I understood and took off running to catch her.
She was already in the car and starting the engine. I arrived at a run and hammered on the car door.
– Anne, Anne don’t go! It’s a mistake, it’s my fault, I’ll explain…
She wasn’t listening. She undid the handbrake.
– Anne, we need you!
She sat back, and broke down in tears. And it was then that I understood that I had been attacking a living and breathing human, and not just a thing. She had once been a little girl, a bit of an introvert, then a teenager, and then a woman. She was forty and alone, she’d loved a man and had hoped to be with him, ten years, twenty years maybe. And I… That face, that face, I made it happen. I was horrified. I battered the door with all my strength.
– You don’t need anyone, she murmured. Neither of you.
The engine roared. I was desperate. She couldn’t leave like this.
– Forgive me! Please!
– Forgive you for what?
Tears rolled endlessly down her cheeks. She didn’t seem to notice, her face was still:
– My poor little girl!…
She held a hand on my cheek for a moment, and then left. I saw the car disappear around the corner of the house. I was lost. I had no idea where I was. Everything had happened so quickly. And that face… that face…
I heard some steps behind me – it was my dad. He’d taken the time to remove Elsa’s lipstick from his lips, and brush the pine needles from his shirt. I turned around and threw myself against him.
– You bastard! You bastard!
I began to sob.
– What’s happened? Has Anne… Ceçile, tell me, Ceçile…