Tuesday, September 24, 2013

chapter Eight

to read from the FIRST CHAPTER


This is man's world,
This is a man's world,
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing
Without a woman or a girl

(by the man himself, James Brown)

I heard Catherine get up and use the bathroom, keeping myself hidden in a passage she would hardly have already discovered in the house. I felt guilty at wishing to watch her taking a bath, and I restrained myself from doing so, though aware of certain cracks on the walls. Only when I heard her calling me from the beach -- not my name, for she hadn't even asked it, just "Hey, you! Where are you?" -- did I appear.

'Bonjour...' -- she tried to be polite, although her expression could not hide her disappointment and disdain to see me wearing the same clothes from the previous day, covered with dirt and full of holes, as she again noted with disgust. Had they been stinking too? In contrast to her, who looked so fresh and healthy in her first morning on the island. 

'Bonjour...' -- I tried to imitate the cordiality in her tone, and I think it came out as artificial as her own, while trying to hide my lust upon noticing that she was wearing the same low-cut dress that enhanced her breasts and bared so much of her soft skin and her back... and again, almost instantly, it gave me a hard-on. I was embarrassed with the increasing volume under my worn shorts, troubled in trying to cover the tent with my ragged shirt.

'It's a beautiful morning, isn't it?' -- she seemed completely oblivious of my uncomfortable situation -- 'And that's a lovely garden... Have you been working on it?' -- she gave me an artificial smile -- 'Is breakfast ready yet?' -- she asked, trying a seductive smile -- 'Could I have it served at the table by the swimming pool?' -- I had noticed that her gestures were more contained, but as I had already seen her enraged, it was hard to believe in that pretentious elegance -- 'I thought it would be more enjoyable than at the veranda upstairs...'

The idea of breakfast being served by the swimming pool seemed to me even more ridiculous than her previous night's request for wine -- but this time I did not laugh. Not because I did not want to upset her, but because I understood the implications of that new request.

Despite my clarifications, she seemed to want to keep her attitude of being a guest at a hotel. And that implied I had to behave as her employee.

No matter how humble I had been all my life, I felt humiliated.

'Oh, and it would be perfect if you could provide a sunshade for the table, where I'll be waiting for breakfast, reading...' -- that last sentence she uttered having turned her back on me, already retreating back to the table.

Instead of her sexy bared back, I saw the disdain in the haughty attitude with which she walked away, giving orders without even facing me. I had to restrain not to follow and throw myself on her -- not to kiss her, not to force her to make love to me, but to throw her into the swimming pool, instead of actually punching her, as was my will. Did she know how to swim? We'd see...

And suddenly I realized that the easiest way not to feel lust for that girl was being in her presence. My throbbing hard-on had already gone limp, at her nonchalant request for breakfast. 

And now I was worried at how we would manage with food and water for two on the island. Armand had left enough provisions for me, and I could certainly share them with the girl -- it was my duty to -- but it was sensible to have a conversation on those topics with her. 

Clearly, I was incapable of beating her or pushing her into the pool, even if I was currently willing to drown her -- to touch her in whichever way was unthinkable, not even lay one finger on her skin, just to confirm it was silky soft like I imagined it to be.

I hadn't lost all my mental clarity, even if now my body had another ruler, haha ... I could still observe my anger and all thoughts connected to it, and I chose not to react, rather taking the route of reconciliation -- I simply had to consider her my guest, as she had suggested it herself, in my home if not at the nonexistent guesthouse. And so I was to offer her breakfast, simple as it would be, and along with it give her some guidance on how to live in harmony, among ourselves and with Nature, during the week we would spend together on the Île du Blanchomme.

'What is this?' -- she spat the words, challenging me when, ten minutes later, I put a tray of food in front of her.

'Don't you think it looks like breakfast?' -- I replied wryly, trying not to give in to the anger her disdainful tone had again aroused in me.

'This?' -- she said sarcastically, with disgust indicating the tray as if it contained garbage -- 'How can you serve me things like that? These plastic bags, these packages? Are you the only employee of this hostel? Is there a manager?'

'May I sit?' -- I asked politely, although nothing prevented me from taking place at the table that I had often occupied with Armand.

'Are you kidding?' -- she stared at me, raising her brows -- 'You want to share this ration in two?'

In Buddhism there is the figure of the 'hungry ghost', the 'pretas', beings that undergo more than human suffering, and who are never satisfied. I think your mother could have been one of them, Laurent. Although skinny, petite and sedentary, Catherine had the appetite of an athlete -- and apparently the metabolism of one too, because though eating a lot she was never fattening, but was never satisfied either. And not only relating to food -- as a 'preta', she was never satisfied with anything, no person, no place nor condition, neither quantity nor quality. Nothing. Never.

I confess that I had approached her with the tray from behind, to be able to catch another glimpse of her breasts under the fabric of her dress -- I was behaving like a teenager, ruled by my impulses and desires, like the lustful teenager I had not been in the Apennines.

'No, I have already eaten.' -- I answered with patience -- 'We need to talk about some things... First, repeating what I said yesterday, this is not a hostel here.' -- amazingly, not even the seriousness of the conversation that I wanted to have with her slowed the impulse of my erection at the vision of her bare skin.

'It is noticeable' -- she indicated the tray of food with greater disdain -- 'but that's not what people are saying around these islands... That's not what I heard, anyways.'

'What do you mean?!?' -- I was baffled -- 'People are talking about a guesthouse here? Who?'

'I heard about it from... other travelers...' -- she seemed equally baffled -- 'The hostel... on Armand's island.'

'Do you know Armand?' -- I was even more surprised.

'I've never met him...' -- she blushed, as if she had been indiscreet -- 'I just heard that he was French, owned an island and that he was running a guesthouse...'

I was not so surprised that other travelers were aware of Armand's whereabouts, because he was well-connected in the Colonial government, and he had traveled throughout Asia for nearly a year, having met a good number of people at retreats and resorts... But I was shocked and worried at the news that other travelers could appear on the Île du Blanchomme, having also heard about the guesthouse... I wasn't prepared for that.

For a few minutes I was so lost in my worries that I even forgot the issues I wanted to discuss with Catherine, but I returned to them when my erection again jumped in my shorts and woke me up. 

'During the time that you're here, I'll certainly share the food I have with you...' -- and it did not sound any gentle, but inevitable and compulsory -- 'but we may have to... restrain our appetites... I am very frugal, I don't know about you...' -- and before she could reply, I continued, trying to chose my words more skillfully -- 'Since this is not an inn, and I have lots of things to do, I cannot fix meals for you. While preparing them for me, I shall surely add a portion for you...' -- with the corner of her eyes, the girl eyed the breakfast tray with dismay -- 'But I have no fixed schedule... I'm often so busy with the garden that I often forget to eat... and now even more, since I'll start painting the house.' -- I smiled, humbled -- 'Nor can I cook so well... But I'm sure that Armand won't care if we use his spices during the week you'll have to stay here... please use them if you want to cook...' -- as she remained silently upset, I asked -- 'Can you cook?'

'No.' -- she replied briefly and definitively, without facing me. 

I realized she was only hoping I'd finish and leave her to start eating her breakfast alone.

For a spoiled girl like Catherine, who was used to being flattered and never contradicted, just imagine the amount of bad news that I gave her, one after the other -- that she wouldn't be served, that she would have to take care of her own meals and for the first time in her life lay hands on pots and pans, that she would have to restrain her appetite, rationing a food that by itself was very simple and mild... And there was more, and maybe worse, to come.

'Well, we'll manage the food...' -- I shall be angling if I have to, I thought. But there was a more embarrassing subject -- 'And we have to care for the water. We cannot waste it... Depending on how... heavy... you use the toilet, you flush it or not... before the next time you use it again... Or else I'll flush it, the next time I use it, if necessary...' -- it was weird to have this conversation with a stranger, a girl I had just met -- 'Do you understand?' -- she looked at me with a mix of anger and indignation -- 'And the septic pit here on the island is very delicate, so...'

'Do I really need to hear these things?' -- she asked me, horrified.

'Unfortunately, yes...' -- I felt a bit sadistic... having the power, and the pleasure, too... to set the rules -- 'I'll ask you to clean the bathroom after having used it...' -- excepct from the fancy address on her backpack, I had no other idea about Catherine's background, and I was truly demanding from her the unthinkable... I thought she was going to cry, yet I did not stop -- 'And you've slept in the room that belongs to Armand... If you intend to keep using it...' -- I paused, because I thought that was the moment when she'd ask for my permission... but she never did -- 'I ask you to be very careful, please.'

'This is absolutely unnecessary!' -- her pride had been hurt -- 'How could I damage anything?' -- she gave me a bitter smile, implying I was so blind as to mistake her for someone as rude as myself -- 'I thought you were going to dislodge me...'

In that conversation with Catherine I was able to shift our relative positions and forces, or so I imagined, and from her employee I became the host, rude as she liked to repeatedly point out, but at least I was able to impose my rules -- something Armand in his generosity and politeness had never done to me.

 For I did not see myself cleaning toilets, dirty with the girl's vomit, nor washing her dishes, or tidying her bed.

But nothing would be easy or simple with Catherine. I had noticed, laying on the table, the book she was reading -- Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex". No, she wouldn't be facilitating anything.

Next, she averted her eyes, and glancing to the empty horizon, she pretended I was not there any longer, in a clear indication that she wanted me to leave.

Adjusting the shirt to disguise the volume in my shorts, I got up when she ended our unpleasant conversation -- which however had been peaceful -- to rummage through the food tray, looking for something she could eat. And then she remembered:

'Could you at least provide a sunshade for this table?' -- again without facing me, and with a blasé tone in her voice that later I was to discover was not provocative, but her natural way of speaking... and being.

'Unfortunately, we have no sunshade. Do you want me to be holding a palm leaf at your side while you eat?' -- I asked, with good humor, and before she could be unkind, I continued, trying to be nicer -- 'It's still early, but I recommend you to be careful with the sun here on the island... If you wish, I can take the food to the veranda... at this time it is still shaded and cool...' -- I had noticed her skin was already quite reddish.

'No need, then.' -- and when I had walked away, she remembered to say, softly -- 'Merci.'

Some time later, having brought one of the gallons upstairs and having started painting one of the walls -- the one most visible upon arrival on the island, as I wanted Armand to see it right away -- I noticed Catherine climbing the stairs a little too hasty.

I confess that I had expected her to leave the breakfast tray behind at the swimming pool, despite my request for collaboration -- and I had intended to remind her about it, when she glanced in my direction, realizing my presence on the porch, and she seemed to have something to tell me, too... but instead she ran into the bathroom.

Herr Weissmann's house construction was full of strange details -- that the first passage, the one right at the top of the stairs, lead into the bathroom (built disproportionately large to contain the water collecting and treating equipment), which in turn gave way to the master bedroom.

It was her luck, and the girl made ​​it to the toilet just in time to throw up again... There goes breakfast, I could not help thinking, for it seemed like a waste o precious food to me... I continued painting the wall while listening to the girl vomiting, crying and flushing the toilet over and over again, despite my kind request... Should I scream at her?

I heard her using the sink to clean up, and I said to myself I would have to take fewer baths if I did not want us to run out of water... Then there was silence, and I imagined the girl had gone to rest, maybe lie down or sit on the veranda by her room, which at that time of the day would still be cool... 

Interestingly, I noticed how my mind worked like a radar, trying to figure out where in the house the girl was -- and that left me feeling distracted and somewhat astounded at my dedication to that girl's well being.

Remembering my own episodes of food poisoning in the old factory in Paris made me feel compassionate for the girl's suffering, and I decided to check whether she needed anything.

I did not find her resting on Armand's large bed, however, nor occupying any of the comfortable armchairs on the veranda next to his room. I then followed along the corridor until I found her... in my room, kneeling before the bookcase, amid a maze of books lying around her.

'What are you doing?!?' -- I yelled, losing control -- 'Are you looking for something?'

Armand used to be generous with many things, most things, but he was jealous of his books, and he was keen to keep them in an strict order -- I had been very careful about that in Paris, since we shared a library where all books were his --, and in that only bookshelf on the island, he had been keeping his books separate from Herr Weissmann's.

'I'm feeling fine, thank you...' -- she answered the question I meant to ask her, but which I had forgotten upon seeing the bookshelf turned upside down.

'Good, I'm glad...' -- and I found it amazing that she talked to me without even looking at me... So typical of Catherine, as we know well, Laurent... something I've never grown accustomed to, and at that time it seemed really unbearable to me -- 'This is my room...'

'I figured that out...' -- she said, with a gesture full of indifference towards the little bed where I slept -- 'Please don't think I'm here for anything in your room...' -- she was inspecting a book, still not facing me -- 'I'm here as if I were attending mass...'

I was curious and looked at the girl intently; however, she did not look back at me.

'Don't think I'm in your room... Pretend I'm... in the church...' -- I saw her smiling, not at me but upon recognizing the title of a book -- 'Since I do not believe in God, this is where I come to pray...' -- Catherine pointed the bookcase, and at once I realized she was using the same expression Armand and I had employed to designate our small library in Paris, "The Church". I was amazed.

As I remained stunned and silent, suddenly confronted with old, cherished memories, and to Catherine it seemed that I had not understood her, she went on.

'What for you is just a bookshelf, to me... it's an altar... And I'm a believer!' -- she picked up one more book, just to tease me -- 'Don't worry. You can rest assured that I know how take care of them better than you do...'

'Excuse me, but you do not have the right to mess with that shelf. These belong to Armand...' -- I replied, and as I recall it, very softly.

I don't think I said anything to enrage her, I certainly did not intend it, but whatever it was, she exploded again.

'You have made ​​it clear that I am not welcome here! Could you at least pretend otherwise!?!' -- she screamed.

'I have never said that...' -- I was defensive.

'No... until now you just said... Bienvenue' -- she was mocking my heavy Italian accente -- 'please make yourself at home... a thousand times! Haven't you?'

I realized that, in fact, I had never properly welcomed her.
'Excuse me. I'm sorry.' -- and I really meant it, once I understood how she felt -- 'You are welcome to the island. I only want to ask you... to request me... before handling things that are not yours...' -- and since I was being defensive, I think it sounded insincere and even a bit harsh.
'Merci, monsieur!' -- she replied, calming herself -- 'S'il vous plait... Can I borrow a book?' -- she exaggerated the courtesy in her request, as if asking me for a huge favor.
I noticed her irony, and tried not to respond to it. It was so unpleasant and tiring to be at odds with that girl at all times, and I could not stop thinking about the hell it would be to spend a week with her, until the return of the boat.

'Of course...' -- I answered -- 'That is not the problem... but taking the books out of the order set by Armand... May I ask you to refrain from...'
'The books were in no order at all!' -- she retorted, categorically -- 'They were a mess!' -- in fact she was right, and I would later find it out from Armand himself that he had had no time to properly place the books in an order, but I did not know then I was being unfair to her -- 'I'm actually doing your boss a favor!'

'Armand is not my boss.' -- I replied immediately.

 Even though I had put myself in that position before him several times, and in my usual humility submitting to Armand would not have bothered me at all... The disdain and indifference with which she treated me, however, seemed so inconsiderate, that I was hurt.

'He isn't?' -- that was the first time she looked at me, still haughtily, and by her next question I then realized she really had not deigned to even look in my direction -- 'You're not a native, are you?' -- she was still doubtful, observing my tanned skin and my ragged clothes in opposition to my facial features that did not bear any resemblanced to the natives -- 'You are...' -- she seemed to hesitate, lost between my peasant ways I could not disguise, especially when I felt embarrassed, and my almost fluent French and its accent, when I tried mimicking Armand -- '...his partner, perhaps?'

'Exactly!' -- I replied, after thinking that maybe that word could well indicate the nature of the close relationship I had had with Armand for all those years, and that had became even more intimate in our final week. I was always thinking of it as "brotherhood", but I could not introduce myself as Armand's brother -- 'Yes, we are partners' -- I smiled. That word seemed good enough, though I could not have know then that Catherine, who had been preparing for her Master in Literature, on her way to teach at the Université Paris-Sorbonne, took words so literally. Perhaps that misunderstanding could have been cleared had I given her time to ask more questions, but I was eager to introduce myself -- 'My name is Carlo D'Allegro.'

'Enchanté!'-- and she finally looked at me for the first time, right into my eyes, and with an interest which greatly differed from the disdain with which hitherto she had treated me, she introduced herself, too -- 'Catherine Mortinné.'

In the afternoon, after having eaten a sandwich, from which I prepared an enhanced version for Catherine, I resumed painting the walls, and when I got tired of it, I worked a little more in the garden, because the plants needed care and attention daily.

The girl did not came down to the beach the rest of that day, and my radar feared she would still be messing with Armand's bookshelf. I also noticed my radar was no longer searching for Armand, like it had constantly done in the previous weeks.

After having painted the walls, I felt like painting the canvas I had started a few days ago, like an antidote. I did not feel particularly inspired, but somehow compelled to paint. Or had I been trying to show off to her?

However, I felt disturbed by the girl's presence on the island, and could not concentrate on painting -- I repeatedly turned my head towards the house because of some noise that had intrigued me... wondering if it would come from the kitchen where she might be trying to cook... or whether she had returned to my room and the bookcase, or would be snooping around Armand's office, where I myself had rarely entered, or... I was used to the immense silence of the Île du Blanchomme, and the noises she kept making were getting to my nerves.

One time I caught sight of her on the veranda, looking in my direction, but I don't think she saw me -- she must have been glancing towards the horizon, where the sun was making its way down, for a few minutes later she came down to the beach.

Although she remained at a distance, my discomfort increased. Should I try to approach her and start a new conversation, since we had reached what seemed a level of polite conviviality -- not so much because I wanted to talk to her, but because it would be my obligation as a gracious host to make her feel at ease, to continuously check if there was anything she needed, and perhaps gently draw her attention to the gorgeous full moon that would be rising on the horizon opposite to the setting sun... Take her to the movies, like Armand had done with me.

   Even though no more than ten meters far from me, she seemed infinitely distant, the more because her natural, elegant figure, was enhanced by the fancy designer dress she kept on wearing. The French Riviera of the roaring twenties would have suited her better for a scenery. 

She made me think of Scott Fitzgerald's romantic heroines -- one of Armand's favourite authors during his teenagers, he had confided, but to me so foreign. Likewise, I regarded Catherine as the sort of girl who would never have approached me in Paris. Nor would I go to her -- not on that beach, not in life.

But there was also a sadness enveloping her like an aura -- and not a romantic aura, but emanating inaccessibility and loneliness.

She wasn't just alone, contemplating the sunset -- she was immersed in solitude, and not a peaceful solitude like mine. I had a shiver at the thought of a predator seeing her, so small and fragile, all pale -- her delicate skin, her blonde thin hair, her amber eyes -- and how this predator would cast on her, certain of the easy prey she was, and rip her with one stroke. 

No wonder she had so many angry outbursts, that made ​​her look fearful.

She walked along the water's edge, occasionally dipping her foot with a slow, melancholic move, and suddenly I was sure that she was crying -- that shudder on her shoulders was nothing else.

What did I know about that girl? What suffering would she bring inside her? A broken heart? A disrupted family? Unrequited love? A rare disease? A childhood trauma? Was she an orphan like me?

I did not dare to approach her, who had walked in the opposite direction where my easel was placed, indicating her disposition to be on her own.

I decided I had to prepare a meal worth of that name for us, and saying goodbye to the Sun even before it had disappeared behind the horizon, I went up to the kitchen.

Someone had told me that "in Art and Cuisine, the measure is everything". The person had been quoting someone else, but I could not see any relation between the kitchen and the atelier, cooking and painting; none, whatsoever. I felt insecure upon mixing the ingredients, and it felt almost agonizing rather than the pleasure I took in mixing colors. Each vegetable or grain, having travelled so far to be on the Île du Blanchomme, seemed too precious to be wasted in my unskilled hands.

I struggled. But knowing the results would be negligible, and since I did not intend to impress the girl with gifts that I did not have, I tried to stick to a simple meal, with a bit of daring in introducing the oriental spices bought by Armand. I wanted to please her, make her feel welcome and accepted, thus erasing my rudeness at her arrival. I had finally understood her horrible situation in being an unwelcome guest -- and I was the one making her feel bad.

When I finally finished it, night had fallen. I had lost track of time with my difficulties in the kitchen. I thought I ought to call her immediately to have dinner, but I desperately needed a shower, to get the smell of the spices off my hands, and the sweat and paint off my body -- and my main intention was to be with her at the table that evening wearing nicer clothes... Just remembering the way she had looked at the holes in my shirt made me blush.

There were two entrances to the bathroom. One was the passage next to the staircase, which was close to the kitchen, and the other through Armand's room, separated by curtains -- and it was an unfortunate accident that I had entered coming from the kitchen and a few moments later, when I had already undressed, Catherine came in by the other passage... The house had been so quiet that I had imagined she was still at the beach, instead of being in her room, reading. She was just in her lingerie and she cried at seeing me dressed just in my underwear.

'Get out! Now!' -- she yelled at me, showing me out of the room with a gesture of someone who was accustomed to have her orders followed -- 'This is my bathroom!'

'This is the only bathroom in the house, if you haven't noticed it yet...' -- I spoke louder than her cry, abandoning my resolution to be the kindest host to my involuntary guest -- 'and I'm going use it now, if you'd allow me.' -- I said, wryly.

'Quel bordel... this hostel is...' -- and she quickly interrupted herself -- 'I know, this isn't a hostel!'-- she commented with disdain -- 'It is the dumbest house I've ever seen! Merde!'

'If you could close the curtains of your room behind you as you leave, please...' -- I ignored her complaints.

'Oh, and I'll be in my room listening to you bathe?' -- she said, indignantly.

'Unless you want to find another place to stay... And no, not only the bath... You will also hear me pee, and fart, and when I start...' -- masturbating and even when I moan and groan and come, I meant to say, but it would be so immensely rude, and as much as this girl could bring out the worst in me, I did not intend to go as far or as low as that... she was looking at me horrified, already -- 'Can you go, now?' -- I asked, in the most cordial tone and opposite to the rudeness of her screams. Triumphantly, I watched her leave.

'The house is all yours, I know...' -- she said, shrugging her shoulders, and when I thought she was going to go on arguing, she finally left the bathroom, closing the curtains angrily behind her.

Who has said that having a penis is like being chained to a madman?

While arguing with Catherine, I could still notice how transparent her lingerie was, allowing me to catch a glimpse of the tips of her pinkish nipples, and the small mount of blonde pubic hair.

And when she turned around to leave, I could see her butt was firm and small, and its soft curves strangely reminded me of Armand's, who had the buttocks of a boy... It seemed like my erection stole all the blood from my heart and, pacifying my wrath and softening my emotions, hardened elsewhere and aroused me to my sensations...

Obligations first, that's what I've learned from my grandfather.

And at that moment, my duty was to relieve my hard-on, so that then I could take a bath... It was like living my teenage years concentrated in a few days, intensely, hour after hour, the successive erections I had to beat off but that would never be beaten, until, finally, at the end I was to lose my virginity...

"I thought you were a pervert, and I was afraid of you... To think I was alone with you on that tiny island!" -- Catherine had confessed, many years later, back in France.

"Why were you spying on me?" -- I had asked.

"I wasn't spying on you... I came back from the kitchen to ask you if I could eat something from those bowls you'd left there... And that weird house with no doors... I caught a glimpse of you in that bathtub, and I just backed..."

"How much did you see, Catherine?" -- it was so weird to think she had been watching me jerk off when I had been actually fantasizing about her -- "How long did you stay there, watching me?"


And since the bathroom was all mine, I decided to take a really long bath and relax in the tepid water. 

I no longer cared that I had prepared dinner, let alone my plans of sitting at the table with that girl... I would still warn her that there was a meal ready in the kitchen, but let her eat whenever and wherever she wanted, as long as she stayed away from me.

At the end of the bath, I shaved. I even trimmed my pubic hair, for it had grown into a wild black bush. With that explosion of sensuality, vanity had come along, something I thought I had never possessed. Suddenly I saw myself trying to judge my own image, trying to remember the features Armand had praised on me, and trying to guess what the girl might like... Guessing I could annoy her with my delay, I was even more careful than necessary with my appearance.

Yet once more, before the mirror, I had to masturbate -- I had submitted my desire for so many years that it had finally rebelled, taking control and hold of me. Sometimes I wondered if it was not some kind of disease...

When I again heard her yell, I was ready, all dressed in clean clothes.

'Will you take the bathroom forever?' -- she shouted angrily, and only then did I open the curtains to her room -- 'Since we have this single bathroom in the house, I wish you had more consideration for me and would shorten your... bath.' -- she was ironic.

'Naturally.' -- I answered, condescendingly -- 'Today I got carried away with... the water... more than I normally do. Are you hungry?' -- I asked cheerfully. I was feeling relieved yet full of energy, and in my tranquility I felt I could easily tame her anger.

'No. I have already eaten.' -- she replied sullenly.

'You mean the afternoon sandwich? That was just a snack...' -- I smiled, happily anticipating the nice surprise I held for her -- 'I made dinner. It's in the kitchen when you want to eat... And if you want to eat it now...' -- for a moment I went back to my plan of dining at the table with her. For a moment.

'Yes, I have seen it. I went to the kitchen while waiting... for your bath... to finish... And I have already eaten.' -- entirely oblivious to my surprise and disappointment, she continued -- 'May I ask you to pay more attention to the salt, next time? Nevertheless, I'm grateful for that meal.' -- she gave me her condescending smile -- 'Now could you please leave?'

 Not only had Catherine not noticed my clothes... they were surely as ragged as the others, but at least they had been clean... She hadn't noticed my attempted kindness in cooking for her, so full of concern and effort, to try to please her, to make her feel welcome. 

All I did was small and humble, and went unnoticed for her. And it would be exactly like that anyway, for all the years to follow.

I felt I was losing control of my life. Half a minute before I had been excited, full of energy, and before that I had taken in to an insane pleasure -- and now I felt hollow and discouraged.

I was kind of glad that she had taken my hunger away, I thought, when I got to the kitchen.

Catherine must have thought I had already eaten, like in the afternoon when I had left her a sandwich, having taken mine downstairs to the garden. And from dinner there were only a few remains, so little that it wouldn't be enough for the mice, crumbs that I had no desire to eat, not the least, when I heard she was vomiting again.

And finally I understood. An insight sprang up in my mind, seeming to come from the empty bowl before me. And it was very clear. If Catherine's image and memory could arouse and excite me so much, her presence was the greatest turn off.

She was the sickness and the remedy, the enslaver and the liberator, all at once. 

And I, what was I in all this?

Another insight would take longer to occur -- actually, it came too late, and because of its lack and delay I got into trouble.

Well, it took me too long to understand that as much as I loved Catherine's body, I did not love her.

On the other hand, I truly loved Armand, but failed to love his body.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

chapter Seven, continued

to read from the FIRST CHAPTER


'You remember the shipwreck in Punaouilo, don't you Laurent?'

I was surprised at that new diversion from Carlo. After twenty years, I had forgotten his digressive way of talking and even thinking, somewhat oriental, full of subtleties, continually surprising, often leaving me dazzled and breathless.

And a bit annoyed, in my teens... or maybe pretty much -- but then, after he had left, and at my father's painful absence, I'd consider it an unimportant detail, and it actually had become part of the longing I felt for him.

'Of course!' -- I answered expectantly, and waited, patiently.

What about my mother in this, I thought? Because the shipwreck was a program for just the two of us, my father and I -- never had we been there with Catherine. Carlo had just started talking about her, her arrival on the Île du Blanchomme, a story that had always been hidden from me, and suddenly he threw at me a memory that excluded her in all... Was it a tactic to make me empathize with him? All those recollections about the lovely moments we had spent together while Catherine had been gone...

'I thought so...' -- Carlo continued, smiling -- 'You had a fascination for that sea ruin... The first time you saw it... you were three... or four years old? We were returning from somewhere, in the evening... And going along Passage Beach you suddenly shouted from the back seat of my bike... Daddy, a 'monter'! And we stopped so that you could take a good look at the monster...'

It took you a while to understand what a shipwreck should be. And when you finally did, you seemed so sad! You asked why didn't anyone like the boat, and why it had been abandoned... You wondered who lived there, in the middle of the sea... When I said no one, you replied... "Not even the fish nor the birds like this boat?" And that seemed to make you immensely sad ... "When I'm rich, you said once, I'll fix this boat to live on it..."

I told you what I knew about that boat of Asian origin, and its sinking that had had such tragic consequences for Punaouilo in the past... It seems that the entire crew had been ill for many weeks, and they may have been even a little demented... What this disease was, no one ever found it out... It is said that Passage Beach, in the past, with riptides, effectively disappeared and gave passage to the boats... And so they had tried it that night, rather unskilfully, and ran aground.

The crew members that had not yet died from the disease, jumped into the water and swam to shore, where they were aided by the natives of Punaouilo, while other natives on canoes headed for the boat to rescue the rest of the crew... Apparently, there had been no one else alive aboard, and I think that even when faced with the dead bodies on the ship, the natives did not understand that they were threatened by a serious and highly contagious disease... The natives had no knowledge of foreign diseases, and how deadly they were... They even brought to land the groceries and useful objects that they could rescue... And so the population of the island was also infected, the disease spreading more rapidly and more fatal among the natives...

Maybe, Laurent, I was not very skilled in telling you such a story of disaster and death in the night time, and on the site of the tragedy... You were only four years old, what did you make out of it? I felt goose bumps myself thinking about the sad consequences of that accident... The few natives to survive were those who had left the island without taking anything that was not their canoes... no food, no objects, not even clothes... Everything was contaminated, and Punaouilo ended up deserted, a cemetery in the open for many decades, having become taboo... Until the European settlers arrived and occupied it, promoting the return of the natives, at least one generation later...

The next day you wanted to return to the site, and upon seeing clearly that it was a boat broken in two, you said it was silly to have called it a 'monter'... And you asked me to take you there so many times since, during the day, night, afternoon, was it early or late... We were there in all seasons and all years in a row from that first time... I could not so well understand your fascination, and how it aroused your imagination, but we'd always go there, whenever you asked me.

Do you remember that many times we would just stand there, in silence, watching the wreck? You trembled with excitement at every wave pounding against the old hull, making ​​the whole ship creak, or every time a bird landed on the old and still upright mast, seeming that it would be tore apart at last... By then, the wood of the boat had already become like rock, virtually indestructible, and yet you seemed to fear for its fate...

'I don't remember that...' -- I was intrigued. My father seemed to have more impressions of those visits than myself, perhaps because he was an adult then, and able to watch me while still observing the landscape, while I had been concentrated solely on the wreck, and probably lost in my own imagination -- '...but I think it was on that beach that you taught me how to swim...'

'Exactly!' -- Carlo beamed at my remark.

And suddenly I understood my father's present situation... he should also have had his expectations regarding our reunion, and like me his heart should be swollen and aching with painful hopes, fearing how much I had forgotten about him, or how much I liked him yet. It was like a dance of re-mating... and each shared memory was a victory... for him, for me, for us! 

And that seemed to be what Carlo was really interested in, and not exactly the story he was telling me.

'I had never seen you afraid of anything, like you were upon learning how to swim, Laurent.' -- at that, Carlo had smiled softly, and I think he had also had in mind how, overcoming my fear, I'd later become a juvenile swimming champion, in France, since he had still been present for my fisrt victories -- 'At first I thought you were more afraid of entering the ocean near the ghostly boat than of the sea itself... You asked me several times if dead people were still living there... But it was not fear, it was curiosity that inspired you, and then it was with the promise that we would visit the boat that I could make you get past the shallow water...'

'Come, my son. Trust me. I will not let go of your hand...'

'Come, my dear. Come with your father, Laurent.'

'I think Catherine instilled that fear in me...' -- I shared with Carlo. 

My mother had never liked the sea. She hated it -- that was the verb she used, and I assume that being a writer she weighed exactly what she said and how she said it. Treacherous, dirty, dangerous -- those were the adjectives she used for the sea. She attended the public library every day, but she never went to the beach, and hated getting dirty from the sand and the salty water, and she easily got burned from the Sun... Having spent part of her life on an island in the Pacific Ocean had not changed that -- it only made ​​her thoroughly unhappy.

But not me. For those had been the best years of my life, my childhood in Punaouilo!

And after we left it, I adopted the pools in France only because I missed the sea so much! And if I came to win several major championships, and was being touted as a likely Olympian, it was because one day I had trusted Carlo and learned to swim from him... though not much better than a crab, which was all that he could teach me.

But I don't want to be unfair -- he could swim no better than a crab, but most important is that in the water he made me feel safe and was able to share his joy and sense of freedom with me.

It was on Passage Beach, next to my father, and through his arms, that all my joys and aquatic glories began... and also... that... which would take me forever away from the swimming pools.

'I remember the night we went up on the boat...' -- I shared with Carlo, filled with sweet memories.

'When... we went up on the boat?' -- Carlo looked at me puzzled -- 'You mean... when we climbed up on that boat? We never did that, Laurent! You often requested that we'd do it, but I never allowed it. Your mother had  accused me often enough of being inconsequential, for having wanted to raise you in freedom... But I was never irresponsible. We never went up on that boat. The wood had become stone and was extremely sharp. And our weight would probably have made the boat collapse...'

'But I remember that night so well, Carlo!' -- I was disappointed that my father had forgotten about one of my most cherished childhood memories -- 'I even wanted to climb the mast, which, in fact, you did strictly forbid...'

'Of course I forbid it, and not only that!' -- Carlo retorted, vehemently -- 'You are mistaken, Laurent. We never really approached the boat... There was always the danger of the mast breaking and falling upon us. And the weight of a single bird could do it... and they seemed to know that, because they never built their nests on that mast... Even the winds and the storms could have broken it, any time... No, Laurent, we never got any closer than ten meters of distance from that boat.'

'Carlo... Don't you remember it? It was the night of the shark...' 

"Daddy, a shark..." -- I shrieked, and my voice had sounded raggedy and more acute than normally, just like a little girl's.

"I've seen him already, Laurent..." -- Carlo had answered quietly, almost in a whisper, as if neutralizing my cry -- "It's only a baby shark. He will not do anything to us. But even so, we'll get out of here, because he might be accompanied..."

"You swim ahead, Laurent. I'll be following you. Calmly, my son. I'll keep an eye on the shark. Now go."

'Don't you recall that night, Carlo? You said it yourself... that we had invaded the shark's habitat space as we approached the boat... I got really scared but you tranquilized me... and brought us safely to the beach... You were my hero!' -- I said softly, feeling fond of my father and fond of my memory.

'That actually happened, Laurent. We did encounter a blacktip reef shark near the shipwreck once, and probably because we had invaded his space he had to come check on us... But we had not gone up on the boat... That has never happened.' -- Carlo smiled condescendingly -- 'And it was daylight, when we found that shark... It was no baby, I can now tell you... I lied because I wanted to calm you... With more than a meter, it was already an adult shark, and I think we were in real danger there... It was our best kept secret, especially from Catherine, wasn't it?'

I was in dismay, deeply uncomfortable and hurt with Carlo's insistence in dismissing my version of that encounter. My main childhood adventure, my most exciting memory...

I remembered having gone up on the shipwreck, or at least swimming among its remains... and more than once! How could this never have happened? Surely, I had never have gone there on my own -- I had always been accompanied by Carlo. So how could his recollections be so different from mine? And worse, his memories... were destroying mine. 

My childhood in Punaouilo seemed so far away in time and distance, so pure and naive and happy that it was almost improbable... and now Carlo was pushing it even farther away. Should I trust him?

'We've been so many times to that wreck, but we never got to swim there during the night, even though that was perhaps your most frequent request as you grew older... But I never gave in. Sorry, Laurent...' -- Carlo sighed -- 'Such was your fascination for that shipwreck that I started wondering if it did not hold a message for me...' -- Carlo smiled from deep inside his sadness, softly -- 'Actually, everything and whatever came from you with intensity... I tended to interpret it like a message... You yourself a long, slow message, lovingly unfolding into my life.'

'Your usual silence at Passage Beach, so unusually deep and consistent coming from a child, intrigued me, and got me wondering. I myself had had this fascination for decadence and decrepitude as the theme of my Parisian paintings, but that shipwreck... I began to ponder if it had anything to do with my own life... And it was as if the wreck... it had been endlessly happening before my eyes... still happening.'

'For my own life was a wreck in slow motion... My paintings that no one wanted, how much they were irrelevant to the world, and how gradually it became irrelevant to me as well, as I took on the role of the wall painter... which I had so insistently tried to avoid during my time in Paris, rather starving than submitting... But with a family to support, there was no choice... My inner life became sad and poor, although I won a few bucks, although I had you... It still felt meaningless.'

''But then Drew came into my life, and the money followed, and my motivation to paint came back as I grew accustomed to being seen and recognized, my work appreciated and desired... And seeing that boat decaying before my eyes I realized that the wreck in slow motion... which I could observe in all the sordid and sad details... was my relationship with Catherine, itself another wreck... and our little family, which never came to be...'

'That never came to be, Carlo?' -- it seemed too cruel -- 'What do you mean by that?'

'Your mother and I have never been in accordance with the education that we wanted to give you, Laurent. She felt I was giddy and overly benevolent, and I thought she was carelessly unattentive and too rigid towards you. Nor had we ever shared the same values ​​and goals in life... In fact, we could not have been more different from each other... How often did we do things as a family, the three of us together? Do you remember any important occasions, Laurent?'

'A birthday party in Puanouilo, perhaps?' -- it had been the last time I had seen my mother in Punaouilo. -- 'The last one before Catherine left to France, I think...' -- I replied wryly. I felt bad, because Carlo had contradicted and was now daring me.

'That's it! And that's all...' -- Carlo smiled sadly -- 'That's what I'm talking about...' -- and next he fell into a heavy silence. He looked so tired and wasted. Much, much older than Catherine, though they were both fifty eight years old.

'In the vast silence, I could hear Catherine vomiting in the bathroom. And also crying, angrily, and I think even cursing... She kept flushing the toilet, repeatedly, and I thought I should have warned her about how it was crucial to save water on the island...' -- and suddenly I realized that Carlo had returned to the Île du Blanchomme, to the evening of Catherine's arrival -- 'I waited for everything to become again silent, and as she did not return to the beach, I went upstairs to look for her in the house.'

I found her sitting at one of the tables that Armand had placed on the veranda, around a small lounge which he called the Music Room, where he kept his guitar and the stereo. It was the only room in the house that actually resembled a hostel, with the four tables creating a small eating environment, a bit like a charming Parisian bistro -- and it was there that the girl had sat. She should have found the matches, because she had lit a candle, and under that gentle light, for the first time I thought she looked beautiful in her fancy dress, which bared her back.

I brought her some juice I had prepared that afternoon, thinking she might like to drink something to get rid of the vomit's taste in her mouth -- I didn't mention that to her, of course -- and as an apology for my previous rudeness.

'Merci.' -- she said when I handed her the glass with juice. Inadvertently I glanced at her generous décolleté dress, and I caught a glimpse of her breasts under the loose fabric, but luckily she seemed oblivious to my indiscretion -- 'I hate boats!' -- and then she was telling me how  sick she had been since coming to the islands, having to use boats to get around, and I realized that she too was trying to apologize for her bad mood -- 'I have once been on a cruise ship, and I also felt sick, but these tiny little boats here... They are dreadful! And worst of all was travelling to this island!'

I tried to tell her the probable reason for the sea being rougher around the Île du Blanchomme were the dangerous currents encircling it, but she did not seem to want to listen to it, and just cut me off.

'Juice?' -- she grimaced, having drunk half a glass until finally having realized what she was drinking -- 'Don't you have anything stronger?' -- and she clarified it as I looked at her blankly -- 'Are you sure that you understand French? Have you ever been to France?' -- but she did not want to hear my answer -- 'Don't you have wine? Or anything alcoholic? I need to recharge my energies...'

I laughed. Not at the request properly, and of course not at the fact that she was feeling weak, but at the absurdity of thinking that there could be wine on a tiny island lost in the Indian Ocean.

'Sure!' -- I told her wryly --  'I'll bring you our wine list...' -- I added, very unskillfully.

I saw she took me seriously for she was happy, and only understood it was a joke when I did not leave her side. I laughed again.

She was immediately offended, and again I saw her mood worsen.

She was mad at me as she jumped from the chair, her anger exploding. 

The girl had a delicate constitution and looked fragile, her figure so slim and petite -- her arms were so thin that it looked like they could break with that emotional burst. In contrast to her round breasts, that I found myself watching, and which were not too full but so well made ​​as those from a Greek classical statue. In her outbursts, her frailty transformed into recklessness. 

It was her way of imposing herself, I thought.

'How rude you are!' -- she cried, full of scorn -- 'If you intend to host civilized beings, how can you not have wine? What kind of hole is this hostel? My God, how long will I have to wait to get out of here?'

'Maybe a week...' -- I replied calmly, without stepping into her ​​anger -- '...at least!' -- and I confess I felt a certain pleasure in torturing her with that disheartening information -- 'I'm not sure how often the boat comes around the island, but I think it never takes more than ten days for it to return...'

'How come you don't know? Don't you live here?' -- she moaned -- 'Ten days? You must be kidding! I need to wait that long for that damn boat? At this hole... with you?' -- she emphasized the 'you', making it clear that my company was worse than the uncivilized island and the dreadful boat -- 'Where are the other guests? Is there anyone more educated here that I can talk to?'

'No guests! I've said it before... this is not a hostel...'

I said it gently, but it was as if I had punched the girl, who seemed to fall over her own body, moaning, and walked towards the couch at the Music Room, where she collapsed.

'Can I help you? Do you want more juice?' -- I did not know what to do, I did not know what to say, I did not know how to behave in such a situation, but I guessed I should try -- 'Haven't you been overexposed to the sun on the beach, this afternoon?' -- I had noticed her skin was so pale and delicate, and it seemed to me to be overly pinkish, as if she had been assaulted by an army of sun rays -- 'It could be a heatstroke, and drinking water probably helps...'

'No!' -- she moaned, and gestured me to back away from her -- 'I want to be alone!'-- she fidgeted on the couch, restlessly -- 'Is the ground of the island moving?'

'No, of course not...' -- her ideas were so ridiculous, but I tried not to laugh, and instead empathize with her suffering -- 'You could still be feeling the rocking of the boat...'

'Damned boats...' -- she whispered, and it seemed to me that in a couple more minutes she fell deeply asleep. 

I went to the kitchen to wash the dishes of the day, and I had to smile as I saw the lipstick mark on the girl's glass. Did I place my own lips on it, before washing the glass? I don't remember if I did it that first night already, but I certainly did it afterwards...

When I returned to the Music Room, she was sound asleep. Against my will, against my education, I again glanced at her breasts... and more intently this time, since I knew I wasn't being observed. From the way her body was twisted, I could see the edge of one of her nipples appearing under the fabric -- and I almost felt vertigo from the overwhelming wave of desire that invaded and dominated me. I had to run away from the room, confused, not to act brutally against the asleep, helpless girl.

What was that?!? Lust burst in me more violently than anything else I had ever felt, like nothing before... If I had stayed a moment longer beside that couch, watching the sleeping girl, I could not have stopped my hand from touching her... and not only her breasts... and next I could have thrown myself on top of her, and maybe ...

Maybe... I would had been conceived! -- I could not help but think.

I was a little embarrassed from the way Carlo was telling me his story, including such intimate confessions, but at the same time I was fascinated with the possibility to acknowledge my own conception... I guess many children have that curiosity about the occasion of their conception, and as a teenager I had asked Catherine about it, and shamelessly she had told me a story I now discovered had been thoroughly made up -- and I was about to discover the truth.

'There haven't been many women in my life...' -- Carlo pondered -- 'From my mother I remember very little, and when I moved in with my grandfather, he was already a widower. I think I took from him a certain asceticism, and my celibacy never bothered me. In my teenage years in the Apennines there was nothing sexually exciting -- the animals having intercourse and procreating, yes, but that did not arouse any desire in me, to try it myself. Moreover, sometimes we had some guys helping on the farm, but until Armand's heartfelt confession I had never thought of having sex with another man.'

Parisian women astounded me, and I dismissed them thinking they were meant for guys like Armand. To my eyes they were voluptuous, sophisticated, intellectual, all full of attitudes and style -- even the waitresses and shop assistants seemed like untouchable queens to me. I could blush when I recalled them, especially at the Cinematéque, engaging in long, passionate kisses with their boyfriends. And I never considered having one for me -- I had to struggle to survive in Paris, make good use of my time to get the best training possible, and somehow try to establish myself in the city.

I thought I'd take a cold shower to calm myself, but that was not what happened at the bathroom, and for the first time since coming to the island, I jerked off. Not even the smell of her vomit still lingering in the bathroom turned me off. I stroked myself feeling a guilty pleasure all the time -- for I was finally wasting the sexual energy I had been accumulating and transforming into vital and spiritual energy, like I had studied in that book about Indian philosophies... and I felt even more guilty for being so aware of the girl's presence in the house... and in my mind... and the fact that she was the reason why I was wildly touching myself like that... and when I came, I was thinking of her nipple and how it would have tasted in my mouth...

I had not known how to deal with women, and neither did I know how to deal with my own lust.

I had learned from the masters of India that lust was the chief enslaver of human beings -- and since I had never really felt it before, I had considered myself naturally free of it, to be the one remarkable exception to all beings. 

Until that evening on the Île du Blanchomme.

It was a tremendous explosion, or as if the walls of a huge dam had collapsed  -- and I could no longer contain the force of the waters of my desire. Neither wanted I.

'I went to sleep, and after having fidgeted in my bed for a few minutes, again I masturbated...' -- Carlo suddenly looked at me, as if returning from the Île du Blanchomme -- 'Am I embarrassing you, my son? You know, I was in my early twenties, and a virgin... Now that I am older this seems so far away... almost a curiosity... and so unlikely to have happened... That strong lust... I was guiltily masturbating in my room, separated only by a tiny wall from the girl sleeping on the couch... That girl was not yet your mother, Laurent... And as I jerked off I was thinking of Armand, too, and equally feeling guilty, and confused...'

I was as tormented as I had been the previous night, but it was a different kind of suffering -- instead of nightmares, I was fully awake and aroused by desire, lust, which I did not seem to want to get rid of... In my mind I could understand how enslavening it was, but those bodily sensations were so good and nice, so intensely pleasurable... And I gave in, again I gave in to it and masturbated until I exploded and was left drained...

I eventually fell asleep, exhausted.

I woke up a few hours later, before dawn, again with a hard-on -- and needing to go to the bathroom to pee.

Since Armand had been gone, instead of using the corridor, I had taken to crossing his room, which was next to mine, to get to the bathroom, adjoining his.

I stopped halfway.

The girl must have woken up in the middle of the night, and having left the Music Room and wandered through the house without my noticing it -- but had she seen me, lying naked and hard on my bed? --, she had found Armand's bedroom and taken hold of his big, comfortable bed.

For a moment I was just confused and baffled. But next I was furious with her, for she had occupied my friend's bed with such ease, something that I had been unable to do even in his absence. I almost kicked her out of that room, such was my indignation at her disrespecting the bed where I had experienced so many emotions and special feelings with Armand. Of course, to her it had been just an available bed in the hostel, not a love nest...

 But I did not wake her up in my rage, only because my demanding hard-on humiliated me... and I cautiously turned back, returning to my room.

But once back there, though separated by a single wall, my fury and indignation quickly vanished to give in to lust -- and while servicing my raging hard-on and watching dawn breaking, I fantasized about both Armand and Catherine, and was now inside him, then I was in her, and in my thoughts I could not distinguish whom I was with, riding that bed that now united and mingled their bodies into one genderless body, confusing them in my mind.

I saluted dawn with another big spurt in several ropes that I aimed at my body, so that I didn't have to clean the room afterwards, and all covered with cum I went down to the beach to bathe in the sea, so as to cleanse myself and to calm down.

For another day in a row I did not meditate in the morning. I did try to sit, but the problem was no longer just calming my mind... since my thoughts kept going back to the girl, my body was no longer like a safe and stable mountain to which I'd bring back my wandering mind. The solid mountain had turned into a blazing volcano.

 So I just sat there feeling the breeze on my naked body, watching the sun rise, and then I swam as much as I could, against the currents, trying to tire myself and pacify my desire. 

I felt I was losing it... but what was it? My freedom, probably. My privacy, surely. My peace of mind, of course. It was like losing myself, as painful and pleasurable as it could be!

the story of the shipwreck in Punaouilo was loosely based on the masterpiece  "Shipwrecks" by Akira Yoshimura, a book I adore, one of the best I have ever read, and it is mentioned here as my inspiration for that interlude in this chapter, as well as a reading suggestion. 

see more at my Notebook