The love of blue should not eclipse
the love of green – of mossy tiles
of algae bloom and ancient trees –
but then – culture does not feel pain
The sky should remain blue, and far,
so we needn’t worry to breathe,
its empire dissolved, its currents
tamed – culture does not feel pain
Whelks and shells of oysters bubble
on the beach and drown, and white flocks
of turrets spoil the darkling coast
and yet – culture does not feel pain
Cinema screens in a bleak world
play empty films to empty rooms,
sound whispered arguments about
light swords – culture does not feel pain
The stadiums of the still world
are filled with the crowds of the past
and sportsmen fight against hunger
because – culture does not feel pain
The boats upon the sea that leave
bodies scattered, should now be raised
cenotaphii to float above
white cliffs – culture does not feel pain
A few days later, my dad received word from one of our friends inviting him down 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.
The next morning, I took my dad on a walk down the road. We were upbeat and talked a lot, but not about anything in particular. On the way back to the villa I suggested we go through the pine wood. It was exactly half ten, I made sure. My dad was walking ahead of me because the path was narrow and full of brambles, and he was pushing them back as we went so I wouldn’t scratch my legs. When I saw him stop, I knew he’d seen them. I came up behind him. Salil and Elsa were sleeping, laid out on the pine needles, looking rugged and happy – I mean I told them to do that, but when I saw them I felt devastated. Elsa’s love for my dad, Sal’s love for me, could that have stopped them? They were equally beautiful, equally young, and so close to each other… I glanced at my dad, he was looking at them intensely, without moving, and he was strangely pale. I held his arm:
– Let’s not wake them, let’s go.
I can only think of
your blue bathing suit
over the brown sands
with their holes and emulsions
I can only think of
your legs lit by crystal shallows –
of the bruise by your knee
and the flat beach you gazed at
I can only think of
you at different intensities
as if a shell sound lodged in my mind
and the waves of you repeat
I can only think of
you, and your sunburnt lower back
you shouted, it was so sunburnt
I almost evaporated
When I try to think of
you come swimming back
diving through a wave
The quicksand and sea of mud
and the sea itself, running
with cold skies as long and deep.
Trees step out from cobbled banks
and the train’s rumble stirring
the café in the pale house –
I cannot escape from this
barbaric lyric’s enclave –
with the way that the world goes on
why can I still find this peace?
Maybe I should have chosen
to be the gull, the shaggy
dog in the rail underpass
whose soft songs betray no-one.
The moment with the cigarettes wasn’t without consequences. Like some people who think a lot before acting, who are very sure of themselves, Anne wouldn’t tolerate being disobeyed or dishonoured. By being gentle, by releasing her tough hands from my face, she was going against that side of herself. She’d guessed that something was happening, and she would have made me confess to whatever it was, but at the last moment she gave in to pity or indifference. Because she had just as much trouble taking care of me, training me even, as she did accepting my weaknesses. The only thing that pushed her into this role as my tutor, my teacher, was a feeling of duty – that by marrying my dad, she was taking responsibility for me as well. I would have liked it if the constant disapproval, if I can call it that, could have improved to just annoyance. I would have liked it if I could have felt that she was just over-sensitive, because then it would have faded as she got used to me. But it’s much easier to get used to someone’s behaviour if you don’t feel like it’s up to you to sort them out. In six months she would have been tired of me, but in an affectionate way, and that was exactly what I wanted. But it wasn’t going to happen, because she felt responsible for me, and in a way she was, because I was still easily mouldable. That and stubborn.
Other than his surprise, my father gave nothing else away. The cleaner explained to him that Elsa had picked up her suitcases and left straight away. I don’t know why she didn’t mention Elsa and me meeting. She was a woman from the countryside, and very sweet. She must have known more or less exactly what was going on, especially since she’d changed all the rooms around. I felt suddenly very thankful for her.
The next day, as I was walking down to Sal’s house, I felt a lot less sure of my thoughts. To celebrate that feeling of all the tension being over, I’d drunk a lot at dinner – I ended up pretty drunk. I explained to my dad how I was going to study literature, visit professors and that I would end up famous and boring. He would need to use all his advertising techniques and probably some kind of scandal to set off my career. We were in hysterics, talking over our crazy ideas. Anne laughed too, less loudly – she was indulging us. From time to time she stopped laughing, when my ideas became overblown and nothing to do with literature. But my dad was so obviously enjoying himself having a laugh with me that she said nothing. Eventually they put me to bed, tucking me in. I thanked them too many times, and asked what I would do without them. My dad really didn’t know, and Anne seemed to have some pretty brutal ideas on the subject, but as I was begging her to tell me, as she leaned over, I fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I threw up a lot. Waking up that morning taught me just how crappy waking up can be. It was worse than I’d ever had before. My thoughts fuzzy, my heart beating too fast, I headed towards the pine woods without noticing the sea at all, or even the probably overexcited seagulls.
Two days passed. I was treading water, tiring myself out. I couldn’t free myself, I was obsessed – Anne was going to trash our existence. I didn’t go looking for Salil, because he reassured me and gave me happiness and I didn’t want that. I just collapsed into questioning myself with impossible questions, remembering the before time, fearing the days that were to come. It was so hot – my room was shadowed, my shutters closed, but that wasn’t enough to drain away the heaviness, the stickiness in the air. It was unbearable. I stayed on my bed, head thrown back, eyes on the ceiling, barely moving and if I did, only to find a bit of cold sheet. I didn’t really sleep, I put the old digital radio on at the foot of the bed, found a synthwave channel, where they were playing their slow records, almost melody free, just a kind of beautiful rhythm. I smoked a lot. It was decadent, and I liked it. But all this playing around couldn’t distract me. I was still sad and disoriented.
Intermission Montage Soundtrack – Sal sailing around the coast trying to catch a glimpse of her, partying with his friends, thinking about being with another girl who he knows, then turning away at her memory. Her lying on her bed losing her mind. The sun, the sun everywhere.
The clearness of my memories from that point on surprises me a lot. I was much more conscious of others, of myself. I paid attention. Before that I was always pretty spontaneous in a selfish way – it was a luxury that came naturally to me, but those few days were problematic enough that I had to start thinking more, had to observe myself live. I went through the incredible pain of thinking my life through, and still didn’t end up any more relaxed about my situation. My feelings, I thought, my feelings about Anne are stupid and simple, and then the need to separate her from my dad is intense. But why judge myself, in the end? I didn’t have to do anything. I was just me. I was free to experience whatever happened. For the first time in my life, this ‘me’, my ‘self’, seemed split in two, and the existence of this two-facedness was a big surprise. I found excuses, whispered them to myself, feeling sincere, only to have this other ‘me’ exploding my own arguments, crying to me that I was fooling myself, even if they looked true at first glance. But wasn’t it really this other ‘me’ that was lying? Wasn’t the obvious response really the worst mistake? Sat in my room I debated for hours whether the fear and anger that Anne made me feel was justified, or whether I was basically a selfish little girl, spoiled, and just lucky to have had some false independence.