Issue 38, Summer 1966
They are still in bed, windows open to the morning coolness. Her face has no make-up, her skin no shine. She has a cheap look in the morning, young, without resources. I imagine they wake at the same instant, like actors, like the cat in the cafe which opened its eyes to find me staring through the flat glass. Her breath is bad. My images are repeating themselves—there's nothing I can do. They crowd in on me. They come again and again, I cannot struggle free. Besides, there is no place to go, they would follow me into dreams.
“Bonjour,” she says. She kisses his stiffened prick.
“He never smiles,” she says, looking it in the eye.
“Sometimes,” Dean murmurs. Her mouth feels warm. I try to find darkness, a void, but they are too luminous, the white sky behind them, their bodies open and fresh. They are too innocent. They're like my own children, and they illustrate an affection which has little reason to, which in fact does not exist except that she—at the very bottom it is her only real distinction—she knows how to make things come true. Her mouth moves in long, sweet reaches. Dean can feel himself beginning to tumble, to come apart, and I am like a saxophone player in a marching band—in love with a movie queen. Soft-eyed, lost, I am tramping wretchedly back and forth at halftime. My thoughts are flailing. The batons flash in mid-air. The whole stadium is filled. I am marching, turning, marking time while she slowly circles the field in a new convertible. I am a clerk in her father's brokerage. I'm the young waiter who sends bouquets of flowers. I am a foreigner who answers the telephone wondering who can be calling, and it is the police. I cannot understand at first. They have to repeat it several times. There is an instant when my heart turns to lead: an accident. A motorcar...
There is a rise on the road to Sens and then, suddenly, a hundred meters further on, the skid marks, tar-black. The road curves. There is broken glass, motorcycles, people gathered around the wreck. The ugly underside of a car is showing, turned up to the sky. The wheels are motionless. A gendarme in white leather gauntlets is waving drivers past. People bend over to look beneath the wreckage. There is no haste. Everyone moves with deliberation. Only a few children are running on the grass.
“It's a Citroën,” Dean says. A motorbike is crushed beneath it. They pass slowly. Now they can see the feet of someone laid out near the trees. On the pavement are dark runs of blood.
“They're always in accidents,” he says. “I don't understand it.”
“They're very fast,” she tells him.
“Citroëns? They're not so fast.”
“How do you know? You don't even drive.”
“They always pass us,” she says.
I know this road well. It leads to les Settons, the lake where they go to swim. Anne-Marie stands in the shallow water. She has earrings on and a necklace. She bends her knees to immerse herself and then swims like a cat, her neck stiff, her head up. After a moment she stands up again.
“You must teach me,” she says to Dean.
He tries to show her the deadman's float. Breathe out through your mouth, he tells her. No. She doesn't like to wet her hair.
“You have to.”
“Come on,” he tells her. “You can't learn unless you do.”
She shrugs. A little puff of contempt—she doesn't care. Dean stands waist-deep in the water, waiting. She doesn't move. She is sullen as a young thief.
“Take your earrings off,” he says gently.
She removes them.
“Now do what I say. Don't be afraid. Put your face in the water.”
She doesn't move.
“Do you want to learn or don't you?”
“No,” she says.
They put their clothes on behind the car. No one else is around. Near to shore the surface of the water is broken by weeds. The leather seats are hot, and when Dean starts the engine small birds skim out of the grass and out across the lake.
They eat in Montsauche in a little auberge. Sunday. Everything is hushed. Dean sits looking out at the street. It's a silent meal. Afterwards there is nothing to do. He feels as if he is taking care of a child. He is thinking of other things. The day seems long. They drive—Dean takes the top down and they head towards Nevers, the wind curving in, the sun on their backs. He begins to grow sleepy. They pull off the road.
They lie down under the trees. Pines. It's very quiet. The dry cones click in the breeze. The shadow of branches is laid across their faces. Dean closes his eyes. He is almost asleep.
“Phillipe,” he hears her say.
“I would like to make love in the woods sometime.”
“You've never done that?”
“Strange,” he says.
He lies. “Yes.”
“I have never. Is it nice?”
“Yes,” he says. It's the last thing he remembers.
When he wakes, he feels cold. He sits up and rubs his forearms. His skin is creased from the grass. A few dry pieces are stuck to him.
They walk aimlessly, Anne-Marie brushing the back of her skirt a little, down to a stream. There's a small, iron bridge. They stand in the middle of it. Beneath them the water moves slowly. In places, clear as reflection, one can see the bottom. There are fish in the shadows, completely still. The water flows around them.
“Do you see them?” she says.
Dean is dropping pieces of twig. They meet the surface gently, drift away.
“We could catch them,” she says.
The pieces are light. They seem to float down from his fingers.
“Do you like to fish?” she says.
“It's too cruel,” he says.
“They don't feel.”
“How do you know?”
“Oh,” she says, “they don't.”
The fish linger, aligned with the flow. A few drift across the pale flats where the water is clear, pass to a deep menstruum, vanish.
“Why catch them?” Dean says. “They're happy.”
“Until they are eaten by a brochet,” she says.
“Well, that's what I'd be,” he says. “A brochet. Live in the river.
“They would catch you.”
No. He shakes his head.
“Not me,” he says. “No. I'd be a very smart brochet.”
“All right,” she says. “And I will be your brochette.”
The water is moving very slowly. Dean throws a small stone. The surface dissolves. I will be your brochette. It is really a quiet, domestic life they are engaged in. Suddenly he perceives this. The phrase pierces him like wire. She smiles. She begins to grow beautiful once more. It is always mysterious how she can change. By evening, in the Etoile d'Or, he can hardly take his eyes from her. She has fixed her hair and made up her face. She butters a piece of bread for him.
“Ça va?” she asks. She knows.
“Ça va,” he says. He nips at her finger. The oestrus of night comes down over him like a hood. He can feel it descending, changing his flesh. They climb the stairs. She goes first, as always. Her calves flash before him, turning away, rising on the narrow treads. Her key opens the door. Dean's prick begins to stir, and as he doubles the pillow later and she rises on her elbows, his mind is already cut loose and wandering as if he cannot keep himself together. He is thinking of what it will be like without her. He cannot repress it. Like the cough of a sick man, a weakness rises to frighten him, an invisible flaw, and he embraces her with a sudden, dumb intensity. Her back, even the word for it is beautiful, dos, lies beneath him, the back she never sees, the smooth intelligent back upon which, like a table, he has gazed for so many hours. He rears in the darkness to admire it. He had forgotten. Every minute of the day seems to have converged. He wants to slow them, to have this sweet ending last.