We didn’t meet again until dinner that evening, both being so anxious about that sudden confrontation. I really wasn’t hungry, and he wasn’t either. We needed Anne to come back. I couldn’t stand to think of the face she’d had on before she left, or her grief and how it was my fault. I’d forgotten my patient schemes and careful planning. I felt completely uncentered, dog without a lead and collar, and I saw the same feeling in my dad’s face.
– Do you think, he said, that she’s abandoned us… will she be back?
– She must have gone back to Paris, I said.
– Paris… said my dad, like he was dreaming.
– I’m not sure we’ll see her again.
He looked at me, distraught, and took my hand from across the table:
– You must be really mad at me. I don’t know what happened… Going back to the woods with Elsa, she… Anyway I kissed her and that moment was obviously when Anne arrived…
I wasn’t listening. My dad and Elsa, like characters tangled together in the shadow of the pines, seemed so tasteless and without substance, like a crappy TV drama, I could barely imagine it. The only vibrant thing, and cruelly vibrant, from that day, was Anne’s face, her last face, betrayed and scarred with pain. I took a cigarette from my dad’s pack and lit it. Another thing Anne wouldn’t have put up with – smoking during a meal. I smiled at my dad:
– I understand completely: it wasn’t your fault… A moment of madness, that’s what it was. But we need Anne to forgive us. Forgive you, really.
– What do we do? he said.
He looked terrible, and I felt sorry for him, and then felt sorry for myself too. Why had Anne abandoned us like that, made us suffer for such a little thing, in the end? Didn’t she have a duty to us?
– We’ll both write messages for her, together, now, I said, and ask her to forgive us.
– Okay, that’s a great idea, said my dad enthusiastically.
He held onto it, for any idea of how to exit this lethargy full of remorse that we’d been roasting in for three hours.
Without finishing our food, we pushed our chairs together and he got his phone out of his bag. We sat next to each other, looking at each other, almost smiling – it felt like if we could do this together, we might just get her back. A bat began to trace careful curves in the air outside the window. My dad leaned over his phone, and began to type. And I did too.
I can’t remember the messages we wrote to Anne that evening, overflowing with compliments and apologies, without feeling like they were some kind of cruel, unbearable joke. Both of us lit by our screens, like two awkward and hard-working students, in silence, working towards an impossible assignment – to get Anne back. We wrote two masterpieces of the genre, full of good excuses, full of care and repentance. When we were done, I was more or less persuaded that Anne wouldn’t be able to resist, and our reconciliation would be quick. I could imagine the scene of forgiveness, full of shame, but comic… It would be in Paris, in our apartment, Anne would come through the door and…
Then Dad’s phone rang. It was ten o’clock. I looked up at him, surprised, then full of hope – it must be Anne, calling to pardon us, tell us she was coming back. My dad answered, lifted the phone to his ear, and said ‘Hello?’ in a hesitant voice.
Then he said: ‘Yes, yes… Where? Yes…’ in a barely audible voice. I stood up. I felt fear crash over me like a cold wave. I watched my dad as he put his hand to his face, in a stilted movement. Finally, he hung up, and looked at me.
– She’s been in an accident. On the Estérel road. It took them a while to find this number. They called her work and someone told them to call me.
He spoke like a robot, in one tone, and I didn’t dare to interrupt.
– The accident was at the most dangerous corner. There are a lot of accidents there, apparently. The car fell fifty metres. It would have been a miracle if she’d survived.
The rest of that evening I remember like a nightmare. The road looming out of the dark under the headlamps, my dad’s stony face. The door of the hospital… My dad didn’t want me to see her. I was sitting in the waiting room, on a bench, looking at the back-lit plastic print of Venice. My head was empty. A nurse told me that it was the sixth accident at that spot since the start of summer. Dad didn’t come back.
I think that, by her death, Anne proved herself better than us once again. If we’d killed ourselves, assuming we had the courage, my dad and me, it would have been with a bullet to the head, leaving an explanatory note destined to disturb the sleep of anyone responsible, forever. But Anne had given us this incredible gift, of leaving us the possibility of thinking it was an accident – a dangerous place, her unwieldy car. This gift that we were quick to accept. Because we were weak. And anyway if I speak of suicide today, it seems pretty unrealistic to me. How could she have killed herself for people like my dad and me, beings who don’t need anyone else, living or dead? With my dad, anyway, I never spoke of anything but ‘the accident’.
The following day we got back to the villa at about three in the afternoon. Elsa and Sal waited for us there, sat on the doorstep. They stood up for us like two bland and forgotten people, neither of them had known Anne, or loved her. They were there, with their little love stories, the double lure of their beauty, and their discomfort. Sal stepped toward me and put his hand on my arm. I looked at him. I’d never loved him. I’d found him good, and attractive – I had the pleasure he’d given me. But I’d never needed him.
I was going to leave, quit this house, this boy, and this summer. Dad was with me. He held my arm too, and took me into the house.
Inside we found Anne’s jacket, her flowers, her room, her perfume. My dad closed the shutters, took a bottle of wine from the fridge, and found two glasses. It was the only remedy, in our situation. The chairs were still bunched close where we’d left them, writing the messages. I opened my phone and looked at mine, the status still grey, meaning unread. Dad came toward me with a full glass, looked at my screen, hesitated as if he was going to read it, then pulled down the menu to check the time. That was in bad taste, but symbolic. I took my glass in my hands and drank it in one go. The room was in half-darkness, and I watched my dad, silhouetted by the window. The sea beat itself against the beach.