Read La Chamade Online

Authors: Francoise Sagan

La Chamade (8 page)

Diane appeared in her blue dressing-gown and for a second studied the back, the rigid neck that she refused to consider hostile. She was tired, she had, exceptionally, drunk a little, she was in a good humour. She wanted Antoine to talk to her, laugh with her, tell her about his childhood without holding anything back. She did not know that he was obsessed by dissimulation, by the moral obligation of their love-making which he incorrectly thought to be the only thing she wanted of him. So when she sat down and slipped her arm through his in a friendly way, he thought: 'yes, yes, just a second,' with a mental caddishness that was most unusual in him. For even in his shabbiest adventures, he had always preserved a certain respect for love, like the minute of silence, before laying his hand on a woman.

'I like that concerto,' said Diane.

'It's very pretty,' agreed Antoine in the polite tone of someone lying on the beach, who has been disturbed to remark on the blue of the Mediterranean.

'The party was quite a success, wasn't it?'

'With all of the fireworks,' he replied, and stretched out on the carpet, his eyes closed.

He seemed immense as he lay there, more solitary than ever. He still heard the sarcastic, unkind intonation of his own voice and hated himself for it. Diane remained motionless, 'handsome, old and painted'. Where had he read that? Pepys' Diary?

'Were you so bored?' she asked.

She stood up, walked about the room, straightened a flower in a vase, ran her hand fondly over a piece of furniture. He watched her through his lashes. She loved these things, she loved these damned things, and he was one of them, the prize piece of her collection, he was a kept young man. Not really kept, of course, but he dined with 'her friends', slept in 'her flat', lived 'her life'. It was easy enough for him to judge Lucile. At least Lucile was a woman.

'Why don't you answer? Were you that bored?'

Her voice. Her questions. Her dressing-gown. Her perfume. He could stand it no longer. He rolled over on his stomach, his face in his arms. She knelt by him.

'Antoine... Antoine...'

There was such desolation, such tenderness in her voice that he turned over. Her eyes were shining a bit too much. Looking away, he drew her to him. Her movement was awkward, frightened, as she lay down by him, as though she were afraid of breaking something or had a touch of rheumatism. And by a lack of love for Diane, he suddenly wanted her.

Charles had left for New York, alone, the trip reduced to four days. Lucile wandered through the hazy blue streets of Paris in the open car. She awaited summer, recognised its approach in every scent, in every shimmer of the Seine. She imagined already the smell of dust, trees and earth that would soon invade the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the night, the tall chestnut trees outlined against the pink sky and all but concealing it; the street lamps always lit too early, their professional pride humbled by changing from valuable guides in winter to summer parasites—squeezed between the lingering nightfall and the dawn already impatient on the horizon. The first evening, she roamed about Saint-Germain-des-Prés, met friends from the university and from later days, who greeted her with shouts as though she was the ghost she soon felt herself to be. After the exchange of a few jokes, a few memories, she realised that their lives were dominated by a profession, money worries, girl friends, and that her own unconcern was more of an annoyance to them than a distraction. One broke through a money barrier as one did through a sound barrier: each word spoken returned a few seconds late, too late, to the speaker.

She declined to dine with them at the old
bistro
on the Rue Cujas; she went home at eight-thirty, a little depressed. An approving Pauline cooked a steak for her in the kitchen, and she lay down on her bed, the window wide open. Night spread rapidly over the carpet, street noises died away and she remembered the morning wind of two months before. Not a settled, languid wind like the present one, but a brash, swift and frisky wind that had forced her to get up, just as this one lulled her to sleep. Between the two, there had been Antoine; and life. She was to dine with him next day. Alone, for the first time. It troubled her. She was more afraid of boring than of being bored. But, on the other hand, life was so kind to her, there was such sweetness in lying on her bed gradually being hemmed in by the shadows, she so much approved of the idea that the world was round and life complicated that it was impossible to imagine anything unfortunate happening to her, for any reason.

There are moments of perfect happiness, remembered sometimes in loneliness and more important than any others, which can save you from despair in a crisis. For you know that you have been happy, alone and without reason. You know that it is possible. And happiness—which seems so closely connected with someone who makes you unhappy, so irrevocably, almost organically dependent on this person—reappears to you as a thing smooth, round, intact, free and in your power (remote, surely, but possible). And this memory is more comforting than that of a happiness shared before, with someone else, for this someone, no longer loving, is seen in error and the happy memory based on nothing.

She was to call for Antoine at six o'clock the next day. They would take Lucile's car and drive to the country for dinner. They would have the whole night to themselves. She fell asleep smiling.

The gravel crunched under the waiters' feet, bats swooped about the terrace lights and at the next table, a congested-looking couple silently devoured an
omelette
flambée.
It was about ten miles from Paris, it had turned rather cool and the proprietress placed a shawl over Lucile's shoulders. The inn was one among a dozen others that offered a more or less sure chance of discretion and fresh air to adulterous or weary Parisians. The wind had ruffled Antoine's hair, he laughed. Lucile told him about her childhood, a happy one.

'My father was a notary. He had a passion for La Fontaine. He used to walk along the banks of the Indre reciting his fables. Later, he wrote some himself, changing the characters, of course. I'm surely one of the only women in France who knows by heart a fable called
The Lamb and the Crow
. You're lucky.'

'I'm very lucky,' said Antoine, 'I know it. Go on.'

'He died when I was twelve, and my brother was stricken with polio. He is still in a wheelchair. My mother was seized with a devouring passion for him, of course. She never leaves him. She's rather forgotten me, I think.'

She paused. When she came to Paris, she managed, not without difficulty, to send some money to her mother every month. For the past two years, Charles had sent it, without ever mentioning the fact.

'My parents hated each other,' said Antoine. 'They refused to divorce only so that I might have a home. I would have infinitely preferred to have two, I assure you.'

He smiled, reached across the table and squeezed Lucile's hand.

'Do you realise? We have the whole evening, the whole night.'

'We'll go slowly back to Paris with the car open. You'll drive very slowly because it's cold. I'll light your cigarettes so you won't have to take your hands off the wheel.'

'We'll go slowly because you want me to. We'll go dancing. Then we'll get into bed and tomorrow morning you'll know at last whether I take tea or coffee and how much sugar.'

'Dancing? We'll run into everyone we know.'

'So what?' asked Antoine dryly. 'You don't imagine that I'm going to spend my life hiding, do you?'

She looked down, without answering.

'You'll have to make a decision,' said Antoine gently. 'But not tonight, don't worry.'

She raised her head, so obviously relieved that he could not help laughing.

'I already know that the slightest delay enchants you. You only live in the present don't you?'

She did not reply. She was perfectly happy with him, perfectly natural, he made her feel like laughing, talking, making love, he gave her everything and it frightened her a little.

She woke up early the next day, and opened her bewildered eyes to the untidy room, and the long arm sprinkled with blond hairs that prevented her from stirring. She shut her eyes immediately, rolled over, smiled. She was next to Antoine, she knew what was meant by the expression 'night of love'. They had gone dancing and had met nobody. Afterward, they had returned to his room and talked, made love, smoked, talked, made love until broad daylight found them in bed, drunk with words and action, in that deep, exhausted peace that follows excesses. They had thought a little of dying that night, in their violence, and sleep had come to them like a marvellous raft on which they had climbed and stretched out before fainting, still holding hands as a last complicity. She looked at Antoine's averted profile, his neck, the stubble on his cheeks, the blue shadows under his eyes and it was inconceivable to her that she could have ever awakened with anyone else. She was glad to find him so dreamy and nonchalant in the daytime, so violent and precise at night. As though love roused in him a carefree pagan whose one inexorable law was pleasure.

He moved his head, opened his eyes and gave her the babyish, half-hesitant, half-surprised glance that men have in the morning. He recognised her and smiled. His head, warm and heavy with sleep weighed on Lucile's shoulder, she looked amusedly at his big feet sticking out of the tangle of sheets at the other end of the bed. He sighed and muttered something plaintively.

It's incredible, your eyes are an even paler yellow in the morning,' she said. 'They look like beer.'

'How very poetical you are,' he replied.

He sat up quickly, caught Lucile's face and turned it to the light.

'Yours are almost blue.'

'No, they're grey. Greyish-green.'

'Braggart.'

They sat in bed, face to face, naked. He still held her face in his hand, a searching expression, and they both smiled. His shoulders were very broad and bony, she freed herself and laid her cheek against his body. She listened to his heart beating wildly, as wildly as her own.

'Your heart is thumping,' she said. 'Are you tired?'

'No,' he answered, 'it's beating
la chamade.'

'What is a
chamade
, exactly?'

'You'll have to look it up in the dictionary,' he said. 'I haven't time to explain now.'

And he stretched lazily across the bed. It was broad daylight.

At noon, Antoine telephoned his office, explained that he was feverish but would be there in the afternoon.

'I know it's a schoolboy's excuse, but I don't want to be kicked out. No question of that, it's what's called my daily bread.'

'Do you earn much money?' asked Lucile idly.

'Very little,' he replied in the same tone. 'Do you think that it's important?'

'No, I think that money is convenient, that's all.'

'Convenient to the point of being important?'

She looked at him in surprise.

'Why all of these questions?'

'Because I intend to live with you, therefore to support you...'

'Excuse me,' interrupted Lucile very quickly, 'but I can earn my own living. I worked a year at
L'
Appel,
a paper that no longer exists. It was interesting, except that everybody was horribly serious and preachy and ...'

Antoine reached out, gagged her.

'You understood me exactly. I want to live with you, or never see you again. I live here, and I make very little money and cannot, in any way, support you on your present scale. Do you hear me?'

'But what about Charles?' asked Lucile feebly.

'It's Charles or I,' he said. 'Charles is returning home tomorrow, isn't he? Tomorrow night, you come here for good, or we shall see no more of each other. There.'

He got up and went to the bathroom. Lucile bit her nails, she tried unsuccessfully to think. She stretched and shut her eyes. It was bound to happen, she knew it would happen, men were so horribly tiresome. By the day after tomorrow, she would have to make a decision and, of all the words in the language, that was one she hated most.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Orly was flooded with cold sunshine that reflected on the windows and the silvery back of the planes, the puddles of water on the landing strip forming thousands of brilliant grey flashes. Charles' flight was two hours late and Lucile wandered nervously about the main hall. If anything happened to Charles she could not bear it, it would be her fault, she had refused to leave with him and, what was more, she had been unfaithful. And the sad, determined face she wore two hours earlier, a face intended to warn Charles, before she even spoke, that something was wrong, had become anxious and tender. That was the face he saw as he left the customs, and his warm comforting smile brought tears to Lucile's eyes. He came up to her, kissed her fondly, held her tightly for a moment and Lucile saw a young woman give her a hard, jealous look. She always forgot that Charles was handsome, because his tenderness for her was so exclusive. He loved her for what she was, never asked for explanations, demanded nothing and she felt a gust of resentment for Antoine. It was easy to talk of choice, of severing relations as if you could live for two years with a human being without becoming attached to him. She took Charles' hand and kept it. She felt an obligation to defend him, forgetting that this meant defending him against herself.

'I was very bored without you,' said Charles. He smiled, tipped the porter, pointed out his bags to the chauffeur with his usual ease. She had not remembered how natural and simple things became with Charles. He opened the door of the car for her, walked to the other side, sat down by her, took her hands almost timidly and said 'home, please' joyfully, like a man really delighted to be back. She felt trapped.

'Why did you miss me, what can you still find to miss?'

Her voice was despairing, but Charles smiled, as though she were being coy.

'Everything, and you know it.'

'I don't deserve it,' she said.

'The idea of merit, you know, in matters of sentiment... I've brought you a very pretty gift from New York.'

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