Louis woke up and found out Marine was not lying next to him in bed. He checked his phone – 5:30am. The aurora shone a bright gold on the windows of the detached houses on the green hills. He grew up on the small island of Porquerolles, where the hours were dictated by the iron tolls of Èglise Sainte-Anne. When his parents decided to move to Marseilles, he didn’t have a choice. But he pledged to never forget the bells of Sainte-Anne. Now, Aotearoa New Zealand sounded too silent.

He found her on the red velvet couch in the tiny living room. The blue light of her iPhone highlighted a teardrop flowing down her cheek. The space was filled with darkness.

“I don’t understand”, Marine cried, “I don’t understand!”

“Qu’est que c’est? What happened?”

They had committed not to speak in French while at home, as it was the only way to properly get rid of the hefty European accent. At times, linguistic automatisms erupted uncontrolled. Even more often, the inherited Latin grammar structure made its way inside the English words.

Marine was sitting on the couch, hugging her knees closely; her face was corrugated by torment.

“I just don’t understand how could you have done this to me”, she said, her voice broken in tears.

“Mon amour, what happened?”

It was a hung day, between winter and spring. Where the frost still wets the backyards in the morning and a warm tepid light would heat the afternoon. The fog mounted the rocky hills.

“You are evil, you are a maniac. And the worse is you don’t even display it! Your calmness hinders the psychopath who lives inside you. Es fol! How could you have done this to me? I don’t understand. You were the most important person in my life. How could you have hidden such a thing?”

The room smelled of dried teardrops and despair.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know! There is no more room for lies. You better come out clear immediately.”

The night before, Louis came home late and Marine was already sleeping. She had texted him in the afternoon, saying: “We need to talk”. It wasn’t a promising text message, but he couldn’t leave his meeting. They were on the verge of closing a major project on a tight deadline and he was mentoring his team closely. They finished discussing the last details after midnight and the chitchat ended even later.

In the horseshoe-set conference room, the voices were mingling. Louis was thinking and couldn’t recognise the meaning of the words he was listening to. The message from Marine had driven him away from the presentation. It was just like standing outside, while a hard rain was falling, and trying to catch the sound of a single raindrop. The sounds of the language were mixed and indistinguishable. Louis was able to understand a word every now and then, standing in front of an excessively long table. He couldn’t pay attention to the whimsical and talkative crowd. He looked down, a round glass was on top of a white square napkin.

“Mon chéri … calm down. What are you saying? Come out about what?”

“About your relationship! You fou!”

“What are you talking about?”

She said, “Sincerity requires responsibility. You have to answer. You cannot elude the problem anymore. Don’t you see how much I am suffering?”

Marine was sobbing and her words were broken by her tears.

“Don’t you see?”, she screamed in rage. “You don’t think I know… Yeah, you think I am a fool who can be easily fooled. You think I’m stupid. Je suis folle. That’s it. You don’t think I know you like buxom, fake-tanned women?”

Louis said nothing.

“It was Marie! Am I right?”

“No! What are you saying?”

“Of course it was her. You … unfaithful beast. Incapable of keeping it in your pants. I should have known better. Putting so much trust in you … trusting you with my whole life. Leaving my love in your hands – unchecked.” Marine couldn’t stop scattering her thoughts all over the dark room. “I even know when it happened. At her party, you were gone for so long and while I was looking for you, I bumped into a friend of Marie who was looking for her too. But I didn’t doubt you at the time. I didn’t even have to explain to myself the coincidence. I just didn’t think it was possible. Because … I was trusting you!”

Louis remembered they had been at the party and that he was drunk. Loud music, the sticky dancehall…. He remembered a staircase. A half-naked woman, with gargantuan breasts, opening a thick bathroom door and looking at him. The soft light from the bathroom.

“You! Alas, how good are you in filling your mouth with poetic words about complete honesty and the impossible commitment to monogamy – what did you say? Something like, that the impossible commitment to monogamy is matched, nonetheless, by an unstoppable and insurmountable love; that monogamy is a fantastic chimera, utilised by priests to scare the populace and keep it at bay. Louis, putain! I should have known, I should have known. But it was you, telling me … we can’t foresee the future and the only full commitment we can embrace is the present one.”

His face was as expressionless as a stone. Louis was forcing his memory. He thought the only place that he had ever cheated on Marine was in a dream. “Cheat, such a despicable word!” The word ‘betrayal’ could be more appropriate, the betrayal of an implied agreement. He was trying to glue the drunken memories of that night together. In the background, Marine’s monologue was full-on.

“And you know what is the most incredible thing? You must know, right? C’est incroyable! That same afternoon, we were listening to Marie, telling us her story. How she suffered because of Luke. The amount of drama she went through because of his betrayal. The legal divorce, the separation, the broken and sewn hearth. The innocent kiss with a friend. Innocent – now it sounds to me like a revolting and sickening word. Innocent is a child, not a grown man who has experienced life. You are 35. You know she is my best friend. I told you so many times! How could you have done something like this to me? She was telling us about cheating, mistrust and the absence of sex. She was loyal; he was not. Isn’t it always like this? You perverted animal, going around unable to keep your dick inside your pants.”

“Wait a second, wait a second. Why are you making these accusations?” He couldn’t have picked worse words than the ones he quickly chose.

“You want to know what is the funniest? Funny, I better say tragic… While in Auckland, Marie and Luke were counselling the woman who Luke would then have cheated on Marie with. They were supportive. After all, she had been divorcing – her husband was cheating on her. It will be the same forever. We, women, loving you; you, men, finding new women to love.”

Louis was sure he didn’t betray Marine. He was just ‘missing’ some memories.

A branch fell in the back yard.

She said, “I am pathetic and I have been pathetic for a long time now — and the most remarkable thing is that you are apathetic! You don’t show any emotions. All your answers are deprived of sentiments and feelings. And I am sad. Terribly sad! And suffering. Alone. On the couch. This space is all I own. I don’t have anything else. And you —tu! Fou! You were all I had.”

An ominous silence was crunching her last words and drawing her to a bitter end. Every letter sounded like a shout in the room.

Memories flew in front of Louis like wagons of a bullet train in the countryside: Marine’s distaste, no, better, her hate of earthworms; their love for gourmet food; their private love sessions behind closed doors.

Would this day ever start?

Next week’s short story, at Easter, is by resurrectionist Talia Marshall

Federico Magrin is an Italian-born journalist, essayist and philosopher based in New Plymouth, where he works as a reporter for Stuff.

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