"Do you think she would have returned to Punaouilo, Carlo?"
The taxi had taken another of the longest detours, just like I had requested the driver to do. But to be honest, none of us paid much attention to the city parading behind the windows. We were equally oblivious to the fancy neighborhoods that had once impressed and seduced me, the university district from my youthful years of struggle and failure, the lugubrious port area where Angelo hunted for sex. Not even the occasional horn or siren, the shouts and music coming from other cars, were capable of dragging us from the recollections in which we were immersed. The city tour was happening inside us, on an island not just very distant over the oceans, but mainly in time, and so foreign to that frantic metropolitan labyrinth.
Carlo and I had never talked about the period when Catherine had returned to France on her own, leaving us both behind in Punaouilo, without any news for a long while.
"I was on a slow ship to France, did you forget it, mon trésor?", Catherine had tried to justify her silence and lack of communication. "And when I got to Paris I was so busy for a while that I might have forgotten... You're not mad at me, are you, mon cher?" It had felt so weird to be talking to my mother over the telephone for the first time, and I'm not sure I quite understood what the distance between Paris and Punaouilo was.
"Maman, where is maman? I want to see mommy..." I remember crying for Catherine, and asking Carlo about her every hour, on the first weeks after she left. And then daily, once or twice, as months went by. "I want to talk to mommy..." was all I whined for, having understood I would not be seeing her any time soon. My frustration would only increase when the lack of calls was justified with how expensive international calls were. Unless it was an emergency, we were never supposed to call my mother at Celeste's apartment -- and I guess we never did. But waiting for days between telephone calls to speak to my mother was similar to torturing me. Or was it weeks? Whatever it was, it was too long for a six years old boy.
As a writer, she'd rather send me letters, that I'd soon learn to carefully answer. I still remember how my joy had vanished at the second letter I got from Catherine -- to find in the same envelope the letter I had sent in response to her first, all scribbled in red, where she pointed my thousand mistakes. "You are writing, Laurent, not speaking. Please!" No matter how much Carlo supervised my writing and helped me on the next ones, it was always disheartening to forcibly find my own letters corrected and revised at each post delivery. Even after I asked for teachers's help, unable to find any orthographic errors, Catherine would still rephrase my sentences. But that was not the worst, nor not receiving any toys, books, nor even clothes from my mother in France. I could cope with the fact that my letters were never good enough -- what terrified me was that, apparently, in the distance it was easier to let her down, to finally lose any affection she had ever shown for me. Unless I became a good writer, it seemed, and during my childhood in Punaouilo still, the first step had been given towards the tortuous ways that would take me to Vice City's School of Journalism.
When, after one year she had been away, I finally realized how saddened Carlo was with helplessly watching me cry, I had started hiding my tears from him, crying on the way to or from school, or alone at the corners of the garden.
I thought I was thus hiding my sadness from him -- except for the fact that, in our little chalet, I started occupying the chair and the desk that had belonged to Catherine. It was unthinkable that I would have used them before, when my mother was there, but in her absence that's where I did my homework and ate my snacks.
"In the beginning, yes... Because I did not understand her intention of again establishing herself in France. Apparently, she had gone to see Gaston, who was already very sick. Completely sclerotic, he wouldn't even acknowledged Catherine, and Celeste had lifted the exile. She had mentioned she might spend a longer while in France, since she had also wanted to promote her first book, released just over a year before, and to supervise the editing of her second novel. But with Gaston's death, Celeste and Catherine decided to again join forces against the only remaining de Montbelle -- Armand. At this point, I guess, she already wanted to definitely live again in France. But she still spoke about her return to Punaouilo over the phone," Carlo smiled sadly, and I wondered whether he still was in love with Catherine, "though maybe just the thought of her journey back to the Pacific Ocean might have scared her..."
"Upon returning to France, Catherine finally discovered who I was..." Carlo murmured. "And I mean 'persona non grata' for Monsiuer de Montbelle, her father. Celeste had taken a few years to find my true identity, because Jonnhy had kindly kept it a secret. But once Clothilde, who was aware of the hatred Gaston cultivated for me, had learned it from her husband, she had immediately turned me in to Celeste."
And Celeste had implied that was the main reason to keep Catherine in exile -- her daughter's damned husband, companion, partner or whatever kind of doom Carlo was to Catherine -- and to Armand.
"Just imagine if Gaston learned that your partner, Catherine, was the man he hated and despised most in the world!" Celeste narrowed her eyes and groaned dramatically, bringing a hand to her forehead, as if she felt a twinge there. She had stressed the new maid to only use eau de roses on her clothes, for anything else gave her headaches, but the foreign girl had been stone deaf. "The man who misconducted his beloved firstborn son! Gaston surely imagined that man to be the companion for Armand's follies in India... But I'm glad he died without knowing that his son was nasty enough to have had this dreaded guy for boyfriend!"
Celeste did not hide her disgust. Despite having many gay men gathering at her soirées at the Rue de Furstemberg, Celeste wouldn't tolerate any open displays of affection between them, in respect to Monsieur de Montbelle's conservative opinions. Though he would hardly join her meetings, and only when it were businessmen and politicians -- even among these, all respectable and married men, she was aware who were the closeted gays, and she appreciated them just as much as the openly gay ones, for they all made marvelous admirers. Straight men might gift her jewelry or clothes, but it wasn't in their nature to compliment her hair nor her perfectly fitting dresses, and that's where gays made the best fan club a woman would ever want. Who better to share make-up hints or artfully fold napkins?
"Congratulations, my child, for having snatched Armand's lover!" Celeste sniggered at her daughter's creative way of hurting the half-brother. "But why make a baby with him? Why tie yourself to such an uneducated pauper? You should have investigated this guy much better before going to bed with him, Catherine... It was tremendously foolish!" She was indignant.
"Celeste! You forget that I was at the end of the world? There was nothing to investigate! I just took what Armand held as his sweetest, most precious... toy. At this point..." It was 1982, Laurent was seven years old, and Catherine wondered, "I imagine he must have learned that his ex-lover is the father to his own nephew, and I rejoice thinking that he suffers from this fact every single day of his existence..."
"You deceived me all these years!" Catherine had quarreled with Carlo over the telephone, screams and accusations being exchanged between Paris and Punaouilo, once she had learned through Celeste how Gaston had hated and despised Carlo.
"How could I know that he hated me so much?" Carlo had helplessly lied to her. And their short conversation was over.
"If Armand never said anything to Carlo," Catherine drew her own conclusions, "...if he hid Gaston's wrath, it was because he really wanted... needed... Yeah, I think Armand indeed loved Carlo!" Catherine dissolved into laughter, again pleased with the taste of renewed vengeance. Armand had once gotten the best share of life, ignoring or trampling his half-sister's existence, but now Catherine rejoiced thinking she had hurt him for the rest of his life. A child, and the only heir to the De Montbelle name and fortune. "Sometimes I like to think he goes to bed and, when he closes his eyes, he starts wondering if Carlo is doing it to me..."
"Oh please, Catherine! Are you actually defending this Carlo guy?" Celeste demonstrated her repulse by taking a longer sip of champagne and remaining silent for a few seconds, that seemed like an eternity to her own loquacity standard. "Do you like him at all? How can you, after all the education and culture and refinement I tried to pass on to you--"
"He is a good man, Celeste." Catherine replied abruptly. "Maybe you will like him, when you get to know him--"
Celeste gave a little shriek to interrupt Catherine. "Oh no! God grant it never happens! Why would I want to meet this obnoxious young man, who caused so much suffering to my dear Nanon?" That was how Celeste was calling Gaston, Monsieur de Montbelle, when he was sclerotic. As if he were a two years old child -- though, in fact, he was less capable than a two years old.
"What a shame." Catherine hesitated, waiting to see whether she could continue, not wanting to attract Celeste's wrath upon herself. "I think you'd like him. He is very docile. And being a peasant, very obedient, too. To be honest, I never met a man as easy to handle as Carlo. He is probably the most tractable, subservient man I ever knew. And I think Laurent inherited it from him... thank God!" Catherine smirked.
"These qualities are excellent for a servant, Catherine!" Celeste commented. "I figured you were talking about your man... I imagine that he... has other talents?" Celeste asked, slyly.
"Of course he has!" Catherine decided to tease her mother. "In fact," she made a circumference with her fingers to indicate how thick Carlo was, realizing she couldn't quite close them if she wanted to pay justice to his erection, "sometimes I think I should respect Armand... If only because he had to be very manly to take Carlo up his--"
"Oh mon Dieu! Please, child! Spare me these hideous details!" Celeste screamed, scowling with disgust, while Catherine laughed. Celeste didn't care about a man's size, since it was his seed to carry the gold. "So... you are determined to bring the boy to France... together with that rude pauper, I understand."
"Of course I'll bring Laurent home! You know..." Catherine tried to sound jokingly, but it was her wounded heart that lead her to her resentful remark. "I don't think I could spend six years away from my own son..." That was the amount of time that Catherine's exile in Punaouilo, imposed by her own mother, had lasted. And it had only been interrupted due to Gaston's irreversible disease.
"If that was so, Catherine, why did it take you two years since you have arrived in France to decide to bring your son over?" Celeste ironized, "If you miss the kid so much..."
"Time flies, doesn't it, Celeste?" Catherine had tried to dismiss her mother's accusations, seeing she would not arouse guilt in Celeste's heart. "But not two full years have passed by, yet! And now they are already packing to come!"
"They? Did you say it in plural? They?" Celeste snorted, exasperated. "I have already said that I will pay only for the boy's ticket!" She carefully picked a loose thread from a cushion, taking control of her rage and she rolled it into a tiny ball.
"Do not worry. Carlo seems to have received some money for those dreary paintings of him, and even a commission for new ones... I still don't quite understand how it suddenly changed for him, but..." In fact, Catherine had not paid much attention nor shown interest in the episode of Davez Drew's stay in Punaouilo, for she had never heard of the rock star before, nor how it had changed Carlo's luck. "He will pay for his own ticket. And you don't want a seven year old boy to travel all alone by ship to France, do you, Celeste?" Unfortunately, Laurent would spend his eightieth birthday on the ship, but at least, Catherine considered it good that he would be on his way to civilization already.
"Well, if the kid needs a travel companion, then I guess... Je suis d'accord. But don't tell me you're not also interested in getting your sex toy back! And please, Catherine, I'm not going to host this guy here in Paris! Even if--"
"You still don't quite get it, do you Celeste?" Catherine bravely interrupted her mother. "Laurent is the sole heir of the De Montbelle family! That's why I want to go to court for the posthumous recognition of paternity... on behalf of my son! It's no longer about me, Celeste! I want to see Armand legally accepting Laurent in the De Montbelle family, knowing that he is the son of his former boyfriend!" Catherine chuckled. "I'll give Armand the gift of a lovely nephew... and upon looking at his only relative, he will forever see the lover whom he lost... Do you understand it now, Celeste? Father and son together, in this case, become my most powerful blow, the strongest revenge spell I could cast on that... fag."
"If this is good or bad, we shall see..." Celeste replied, hesitantly. "I have to talk to my lawyers again. Your case cannot hinder Gaston's inheritance process. And that little pederast is not making it any easier for us!"
Celeste had decided to contest Monsieur de Montbelle's will, claiming that she had often helped Gaston to contact politicians, business and industry magnates whom she knew, and those maneuvers had benefited his businesses immensely. Despite having obtained large amounts of money and several properties from Gaston when he was still alive, Celeste was not satisfied yet -- and perhaps she never would be, since Monsieur de Montbelle hadn't ever married her.
"Anyway, I do not want this guy here at my home!" With her usual assertiveness, Celeste was peremptory in proclaiming Carlo's final sentence.
Catherine had received her Parisian death sentence, as well. Celeste no longer wanted her daughter living with her, and Catherine was trying to get mentally prepared to again abandon Paris, the quiet and exclusive Rue de Furstemberg and her beloved 6e arrondessiment. Celeste had bought her a rural property in Southern France, a rather modern house, perfectly comfortable and as good as anything so far from Paris could be, if anything away from Paris could be of any good. Catherine would have to leave soon, to prepare the house to receive Laurent and Carlo.
"And please give me some time before I meet the boy..." Celeste gulped and grimaced, as if she had sucked on lemon. " I'm not ready yet to be a grandmother!"
Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.