Saturday, November 1, 2014

Episode 03 | I'm here for you

We sat still, rather rigidly, and staring at one another, sank into an awkward silence.

Words don't come easily after a gap of twenty years, worsened by the fact that we had not seen nor even spoken nor written to one another during that period.

Looking through the windows did not help us either -- out there, it was the devastating emptiness and amplitude of ocean and sky that could not be abridged. A stunning view, but quite discouraging in our present situation.

"Can I offer you anything to drink, sir?" The handsome barman, 
beautiful like an angel, behaving like an angel, had approached and broken the silence.

"I'm having red wine, grazie." Carlo replied, glancing with interest at Gabriel. In his tar black uniform with a modernized clerical collar, the barman looked misleadingly monastic. 

"Can I bring you another gin tonic, sir?" He smiled, and his beauty indeed had a surprisingly soothing effect on me.

"No, thank you." Having had just two drinks I sounded groggy already, and both Carlo and Gabriel eyed me with curiosity. "I'll have sparkling water instead."

With a funny flourish, that he had rehearsed for a musketeer movie, Gabriel bowed -- and I couldn't help but check his muscled derriére as he retreated back to the bar. He walked glibly like a top model, his blond ponytail lasciviously swaying in a call to follow him -- and I wondered how he saw me. I knew that I looked much older than thirty three, with my gray hair. How could I not have it, when both my parents were gray haired? Because I was blond like my mother, my hair looked completely white already -- 'emotional white', as I sometimes described it, since it started turning gray shortly after my father left home. It suited my green eyes well, and made an appealing contrast to the tanned skin tone I had inherited from my father. But still, when I met a guy so jovial like Gabriel, who looked even younger than he already was, I had to wonder if I shouldn't start considering dyeing my hair.

"So," I startled at my father's voice, that I hadn't heard in such a long while, coming from so near me, "you drink gin tonic. Just like your mother." Carlo sounded disappointed. Or perhaps surprised. The subtleties of his intonations were no longer familiar to me. "It's a writer's drink, they say."

"And what would be a painter's drink, Carlo?" I lifted an eyebrow, as skeptically high as it would go, but he simply ignored it. 

"I guess it depends on the painter, ha-ha." He laughed briefly, and quickly dismissed the subject. "This is a very nice place, son." Sentence by sentence, it was as if my father was heating up his conversational skills. I was aware of how much he cherished silence, above all things. "The views are stunning. It must be expensive."

"You're my guest, Carlo." But why did I feel compelled to lie? The Nirvana Lounge had been recommended to me by the only friend I still had in town, Dan Charmand, the museum's director. Somehow, I did not want to mention that we were actually both Charmand's guests. "A couple of my paintings have just been bought by well known Art collectors. Let's celebrate!" That, at least, was true, and I was elated with the money and the prestige.

"I'm happy to hear you're having such a brilliant start, Laurent! The art critics are praising your paintings... 'A refreshing punch in the face of the portraying tradition'. Seems like you've knocked down all those guys that are staring at us from the wall, ha-ha!" They were classical male portraits, a fine selection made by Charmand at the request of The Nirvana Lounge's owner. "British lords, aren't they?" Carlo punched the air, as if hitting the gilded noblemen directly, and laughed. I only faked a smile, unable to see what might be so funny. "I'm curious to see your paintings!"

He sounded sincere. I had an invitation for the vernissage in my pocket, just a formality and not as short notice as it might seem -- after much hesitation, a month ago I had phoned my father, for the first time in two decades, to invite him. And he had flown from Italy, where he had been living in our family's ancestral lands in the central Apennines, especially to attend the opening. 

"And I've enjoyed the title of your exhibition so much! 'Portraying Dorian G'. So witty, and very literary. It's only male models, I read. One of the articles mentioned they are all your ex-lovers... How many portraits are there in this show, son?" Carlo giggled.

"Ha-ha! You're funny, Carlo!" Not quite like I remember you, I thought. But I was touched with the fact that he cared enough to read the articles about my show. "So says the legend, that I only portray my ex-lovers..." It came as a surprise that I could be so straightforward about my sexuality with my father. "I don't know who has started this rumor. Probably my marchand, who believes in selling me ahead of my paintings. I have nothing to say about that." We hadn't spoken for more than fifteen minutes, and the subject of my sexuality had already come up on his initiative. "Except that there are forty five paintings in this show."

"Forty five! Wow, that's quite a lot of... models! Ha-ha! So you do have a sense of humour after all." He winked, genuinely amused. "And you already have a marchand. Impressive! It makes me think... how different from my own start! I could never have afforded dining in such a posh restaurant when I started my career."

"It's like I said." I saw myself gesticulating more than usual, already mirroring the Italian man in front of me, and I smiled. If my mother would only see this. Catherine hated whenever I gesticulated, and had strained me not to. But fifteen minutes was all it took to surrender to the Italian blood in me. "Don't worry Carlo, you're my guest..." Charmand's actually, I thought, but Dan was not a very endearing person in the art world, and I was not sure about his relations with Carlo. "And my father, too, so that's why I've chosen the best restaurant in town! Don't think I'm trying to simply show off nor impress you!" Though yes, to be honest I was feeling rather insecure.

"I'm not saying you are! But I'm nevertheless impressed, even if just with that shiny suit of yours... and the muscles underneath it... Ha-ha! And those shoulders, wow!" He halted, before reticently adding, "Do you still swim, Laure--?"

"No!" How did that come off? Too brisk? Did my voice tremble? My hands had certainly started shaking, again, at the mention of that part of my past that I strived hardest to forget. I had tensed. My wide swimmer shoulders, that were one of the distinctive features of my body and a major turn on for many guys, had instantly started aching. The irony being -- I hadn't swam that long to develop shoulders that resembled a stretched mountainous landscape. They had broadened by default, even after I forever quit the swim team. Just to daily remind me, before the mirror, of that which I wished had never happened to me. 

When my father had left, I was rocketing towards becoming the junior state champion, which I actually did achieve. Carlo had brought me to the swim team, and I feared he would inquire about my reasons to drop, when everybody said I was destined to be an Olympian. Expectant, I had the carefully rehearsed lie at the tip of my tongue. But he simply moved on, in his own train of thought.

"I'm happy to hear you calling me father." Again, he paused, as if waiting for any reaction on my part. But I had sworn to myself not to show my feelings for him. "It's just that this place, so elegant... so 'raffinée' as your mother would say... couldn't be any more diverse from my own situation when I started my career, struggling to make it as a painter."

Carlo dove back into silence, and I sank back into my seat, glancing over at the barman who, busy as he was with our drinks, did not miss me checking him. Between the two sets of new clothes I had bought in the morning, I was glad to have chosen Armani for that evening, leaving Miyake for my vernissage, on the next. A white oversize blazer worn with shorts was more daring a statement, while the might of Italian class seemed more appropriate for facing my Italian father. My ex-boyfriend Angelo had labeled Armani's fashion as 'tedious', and I only worsened things by wearing it down to my socks and underwear. I wouldn't risk making my own combinations, either, and preferred to stick to those shown on catalogs. A structured gray blazer with velvety black lapels, the matching black tie on a shiny white shirt, and gray tuxedo pants -- gray was the color that reassured me, making me feel impeccably elegant. I guessed Gabriel thought so, too, because he didn't avert his eyes when I stared at him. Or was it because I looked funny, wearing the same color combination of the curtains, carpet and chairs in the Lounge?

Carlo tilted his head, and I sensed he was willing to tell me something. Yet, he paused for another moment, reflecting. His eyes were vague for a whole minute or so, drawn by the white vortex of light that merged sky and sea outside, until he again focused them on me. 

I was still au fait with my father's long silences, and I just waited.

"How much time do we have, Laurent?" He had murmured his question, as if fearing my answer. He was indeed a shy man.

"I'm all yours tonight, Carlo. I'm here for you." I replied reassuringly, echoing my Zen master.

"Okay, then. It's time you learn more about your father." And anticipating the questions I had kept in my heart for twenty years, he added "Maybe it will help you to understand and forgive me. At least, you'll have that opportunity, tonight."


  1. "Looking through the windows did not help us either -- out there, it was the devastating emptiness and amplitude of ocean and sky that could not be abridged. A stunning view, but quite discouraging in our present situation." I want to learn how to do this too!!! Sometimes I think my stories stand flat because they don't have this kind of descriptive narrative that I love. It gives a lot of depth to the characters and ultimately the story.
    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I'm back to read more! I already like Laurent. He is very vulnerable and I expect him to grow. Also because I'm an artist like him. ;)

    1. It comes as a surprise that you enjoy the sentence that you quote above -- because it's the type of passage I usually suppress before uploading the episodes. It is me sounding pretentious -- and there was a time when my writing used to sound all like that. But you appreciation does lend me a new perspective. I'd guess your stories don't stand flat by your comments!

      Thank you for being back to read, and for commenting.

      I'm glad you like Laurent. I indeed try to make him very vulnerable, full of flaws, doubts, struggles, and this need to be at peace with a puzzling past that hurts him so much still. He will certainly grow and evolve, but only after he emerges at 'the other margin', to use a Buddhist term Laurent will bring into the book himself -- or at the other end of a path full thorns, where stones will be thrown at him at each steps.

      He has just started going down that path.

      Laurent is a visual artist like you and his father, and his mother is another one, a writer. There will be a musician, a chef, a communicator, an architect and several other characters with creative professions along the story. I hope you'll enjoy them.


This novel currently being published online gives us, reader and writer, the chance to connect -- you can hear my voice at each update, and I would love to hear it back from you!

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