La Chamade (14 page)

Lazy, monotonous days, days so full to be so empty, days so exciting to be so peaceful, her spirit at last moving in a time without limits, without landmarks, without a goal. She recaptured the days of her youth when she systematically shirked her courses at the Sorbonne, she recaptured the sweet smell of illegality that she had lost for so long. For there was no way of measuring the leisure that Charles offered her and the leisure she stole from Antoine. And what better memory can adolescence leave behind it than that of a long and tender lie told to other people, to the future, and often to oneself? To what extent did she lie to herself in running like this before what could only be a catastrophe. Antoine's anger provoked, Antoine's confidence lost, the obligation for them both to admit that she could never lead with him the normal, balanced and relatively easy life that he proposed? She knew very well that the fact of temporarily concealing this predicament did not in the least mean that she was prepared to amend it. There was something terribly resolute in her, but for what end she did not know. In fact, she was resolved to do only that which pleased her, but that is something difficult to acknowledge when one is in love. Every night she found again Antoine's warmth, laughter, body, and not for an instant did she have the feeling that she deceived him. She could no more imagine a life without him than she could imagine a life in an office. And this alternative seemed increasingly arbitrary.

It had grown very cold and, little by little, she relapsed into her sedentary life. She got up at the same time as Antoine, went out to have coffee with him, sometimes accompanied him as far as the publishing house, then returning, officially, to her own rude labours, but in reality, to their room. She undressed, went back to bed and slept until noon. In the afternoon, she read, listened to records, smoked a lot, then at six o'clock, she remade the bed, removed the traces of her presence and went to meet Antoine at the little bar on the Rue de Lille or, sadistically, she went to the bar of the
Pont Royal
, where she waited until eight o'clock before regaining, seemingly exhausted, the Rue de Poitiers. There Antoine awaited her, pitied her, embraced her and she nestled herself into this tenderness, this commiseration, this gentleness, without the least remorse. After all, she was to be pitied for having been obliged to complicate her life in this way for a man so complex. It would have been easy to say: 'I've left
Le Réveil
and to have no longer to go through her pantomime. But since this pantomime reassured Antoine it was as well to continue. There were times when she thought herself to be a saint.

The day that Antoine discovered the truth, she was completely bewildered.

'I telephoned you three times this afternoon,' he said.

He had thrown his raincoat onto the chair, without kissing her, and stood before her, motionless.

'I had to go out for a good two hours. Didn't Marianne tell you?'

'Of course, of course. What time did you leave the office?'

'About an hour ago.'

'Oh?'

There was something about that 'oh' that worried Lucile. She raised her eyes but Antoine did not look at her.

'I had an appointment next door to
Le Réveil
,' he said rapidly.

'I called you up to say I'd drop by for you. You weren't there. So I went there directly at five-thirty. That's that.'

'That's that,' she repeated mechanically.

'They haven't seen you for three weeks. They haven't given you a penny. I...'

He had spoken almost in a whisper until then, but suddenly he raised his voice. He tore off his tie and threw it at her.

'Where did this new tie come from? And these records? Where did you have lunch?'

'Come now,' said Lucile, 'don't shout... You don't really believe that I've been streetwalking ... don't be ridiculous...'

She was so surprised when Antoine slapped her that she did not move for a second, even kept the little reassuring smile that she had affected. Then, she felt the heat on her cheek and absently raised her hand to it. But this childlike gesture redoubled Antoine's fury. He had the slow, painful anger of easy-going people, more painful for the angered than the victim.

'I don't know what you have done. I know that you have lied to me, without stopping, for three weeks. That's all I know.'

There was a silence. Lucile thought of his slap, she wondered with mixed anger and amusement what would be the right thing to do. Antoine's fury always seemed to her as disproportionate to the facts.

'It's Charles,' said Antoine.

She looked at him in astonishment.

'Charles?'

'Yes, Charles. The ties, the records, your sweaters, your life.'

She understood at last. For an instant she wanted to laugh, then she saw Antoine's tormented face, his pallor, and suddenly she was dreadfully afraid of losing him.

'It's not Charles,' she said very quickly. 'It's Faulkner. No, listen, let me explain. The money came from the pearls. I sold them.'

'You had them yesterday.'

'Those are imitation, you've only to look at them. If you bit them, you ...' It was not the moment to advise Antoine to bite her pearls, she knew very well, or to bring up Faulkner. She was decidedly more adept with a lie than with the truth. Her cheek smarted.

'I couldn't take any more ...'

'After two weeks ...'

'Yes, after two weeks. I went to Doris, the jeweller on the Place Vendôme, sold my pearls, had a copy made, that's all.'

'And what did you do all day long?'

'I took walks, I stayed here; like I did before.'

He stared at her and she was tempted to look away. But it was understood, from the beginning, that in a scene of this kind, to turn one's eyes away was a sign of lying. So she forced herself to stare at Antoine. His yellow eyes had darkened and she thought vaguely that anger was becoming to him, something very unusual.

'Why should I believe you? You've lied to me continually for the last three weeks.'

'Because I have nothing else to confess,' she answered wearily, and she turned away. She pressed her forehead against the window pane, absently watched a cat nonchalantly walking on the pavement, nonchalance unusual in such cold weather. She continued in a calm voice:

'I told you that I wasn't made for ... for anything of that sort. I would die or become ugly. I was unhappy, Antoine. That's all you can blame me for.'

'Why didn't you tell me?'

'You were so pleased that I should work. That I should take an interest in "life". I could at least pretend.'

Antoine stretched out on the bed. He had spent two interminable hours of despair, of jealousy, and his rage had exhausted him. He believed her, he knew that she was telling him the truth. And this truth seemed to be appeasing and, at the same time, of a bitterness without bounds. She was alone, she would always be alone and he wondered for an instant if he would not have preferred her to be unfaithful. He pronounced her name in a distant voice.

'Lucile .. . don't you trust me?'

She was bent over him, the second after, she kissed his cheek, his brow, his eyes, she whispered that she loved him, that she loved only him, that he was crazy and stupid and cruel. He did not stop her, he even smiled faintly, he was perfectly desperate.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

A month went by. Lucile had returned, legitimately, to her den, but now she felt a slight embarrassment when Antoine came home, to reply: 'nothing', always 'nothing', when he asked her what she had done. In fact, he always asked the question mechanically, without acrimony, but he asked it just the same. And sometimes, she saw in his eyes a look of confused sadness, of distrust. He loved her with frenzy, a deliberate fury and afterwards, as he lay on his back, when she leaned over him, it seemed that he looked at her without seeing her, that he saw in her place a boat skimming over the sea, or a cloud carried away by the wind, something moving, in any case, something that was disappearing. But he had never been more in love with her, and he told her so. Then she sank back at his side, she shut her eyes, she was silent. They say that many people forget what it means to speak, but many people forget what can be signified by being silent, the mad, fantastic, extravagant thoughts. Lucile watched, behind closed eyelids, fragments of her childhood pass by, she saw the forgotten faces of certain men, the closest, that of Charles. She suddenly recalled Antoine's tie on Diane's carpet, the shape of the big tree at the
Pré-Catelan.
All these memories, instead of forming the vague, homogenous group that, when she was happy, she gaily called her life, turned into an alarming, disorderly magma now that she was less so. Antoine was right: what was to become of them, where were they, together, heading like this, what would they become? And this bed which had been the most beautiful boat in Paris became a drifting raft, and this so familiar room an abstract setting. He had put the notion of the future into Lucile's head and, in doing so, seemed to have made it something impossible for them to share.

One morning in January, she awoke feeling violently nauseated. Antoine had already left, as he sometimes went now without waking her, as though she were a convalescent. She went into the bathroom and was sick, without being too astonished. The stockings she had been obliged to wash the evening before were drying on the little radiator and it was in seeing them, in realising that there were no others in her drawer, that their room was as tiny as the bathroom, in short, that she could not afford it, that she decided not to keep Antoine's child.

She had forty thousand francs remaining and she was pregnant. She was at last, after a long combat, caught and cornered by life. By what her fellow passengers on the bus submitted to as such, by what writers described as such: a world where irresponsibility was punished. Antoine loved her and would be ready to play the prospective father according to the way she presented the news. If she told him: 'Something delightful has happened to us,' he would take the expected child as a blessing, that she knew. But she did not have the right. Because this child would take away her freedom definitively, and for that reason, would not make her happy. And too, she knew it, she had disappointed Antoine and had led him to a stage in their love where everything seems as a proof. And he would be ready to take as such this accident which was not one. She loved him too much or not enough, she did not want this baby, she only wanted him, happy, blond, yellow-eyed, free to leave her. It was doubtless her only form of honesty that, deliberately refusing any responsibility, she also refused to burden anyone else with it. This was not the time to have day-dreams of a little Antoine, three years old, running about on a beach. Nor of Antoine severely correcting his son's homework. It was the time to open one's eyes, to compare the size of the room with that of a crib, a nurse's salary with that of Antoine's. It all was incompatible. There were women who could have untangled these problems, she was not one of them. And this was not the time to day-dream about herself, either.

When Antoine came home, she told him of her troubles. He grew slightly pale, then took her in his arms. He talked in a fanciful voice and she felt herself tighten her jaws stupidly.

'Are you sure you don't want it?'

'I only want you,' she said.

She did not discuss the material difficulties, she was afraid of humiliating him. And, caressing her hair, he thought that if she had wanted it, he would have passionately loved a child of hers. Only she was a runaway, that was why he loved her and he could not reproach her for being that. He made a last effort:

'We might try to get married and all that . . . We could move.'

'Where would we go?' she asked. 'And I think that a child ties one down terribly, you know. You would come home to find me fed up, in a bad humour ... it would be ..

'And what, according to you, do other people do?'

'They don't do as we do,' she replied, and moved away.

That was to say: 'They aren't fiercely determined to be happy.' He did not answer. They went out that evening and drank heavily. The next day he asked a friend for an address.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The
interne's
face was straight and ugly, contemptuous. She did not know if it was a contempt for himself or for all the women that he had relieved as best he could during the last two years, for the modest sum of eighty thousand francs. He performed the job at their homes, without anesthetics, and did not return if something went wrong. She had an appointment for the following evening and shivered with fear and hatred at the mere idea of seeing him again. Antoine had borrowed the lacking forty thousand francs, not without difficulty, from his publisher and luckily, had not seen the famous interne who refused, because of a strange morality or by prudence, to meet 'the guys'. Otherwise, there was a Swiss doctor, near Lausanne, but that meant two hundred thousand francs, plus travelling expenses. That was out of the question and she had not even mentioned it to Antoine. It was a smart address. No question of a private hospital, a nurse, and anesthetics for Lucile. She would give herself to that butcher of an
interne
, try to survive and probably drag about for months, in poor health. It was all too stupid, too odious. And she, who had never regretted her foolishness, now thought bitterly of her pearls, sold too soon. She would end up like the heroine of
The Wild Palms
, with a fine case of septicaemia and Antoine would go to jail. She paced about in the room, like an animal, she looked at her face and slim body, pictured herself ugly, ill, whining, forever deprived of the insolently good health that played such a large part in her lust for life, she became furious. At four o'clock she telephoned Antoine, his voice sounded tired, worried, she did not have the courage to speak of her fright. Yet, at that moment, if he had asked her, she might have decided to keep the baby. But she felt him remote, helpless, and she suddenly yearned for some sort of protection. She regretted not having a woman friend with whom she could discuss such strictly feminine complications, whom she might question about these details that until now had horrified her. But she knew no woman and her only friend had probably been Pauline. And in murmuring that name, she automatically thought of Charles. Charles, whom she had wiped out of her memory like an uncomfortable remorse, like a name that could still make Antoine suffer. In a flash, she knew that she was going to ask him for help, that no one could stop her, that he was the only human being capable of doing something to end this nightmare.

Other books

Marlene by C. W. Gortner
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
Charitable Hearts by EJ McCay
Sacrifice Island by Dearborn, Kristin
Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely
Reluctant Storm by P.A. Warren
Forever and Ever by Patricia Gaffney
Stand by Me by Sheila O'Flanagan


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022