Saturday, November 15, 2014

Episode 30 | Closer to the truth

"I agreed with your mother that you were too young to understand some events." Carlo said, gravely. "But now you are an adult, and you can use your discerning and understanding about the reasons why so many things have remained hidden from you. And the lies told to keep them secret... I'm sad that it has to be me telling them to you, my son, but I think Catherine will never find the courage..."

I felt a shiver of anticipation. And when I thought my father was going to start talking, he again retreated into a concentrated silence. I did not realize he was choosing the most skillful way of revealing the facts to me -- I thought he had chickened out.

"Is Armand my father?" I was direct and incisive. Wealthy, cultured, traveled, spoiled, a bit of a dandy, intellectual, even if he were a homosexual... now that I knew better my father's best friend, I could imagine Catherine falling in love for a sophisticated man like him, and not with a pauper peasant like my father.

Carlo laughed happily. I had already realized that Gabriel, the handsome bartender, had been following our conversation from the distance, and he too seemed pleased to see my dad amused.

"Of course not!" he looked at me, surprised. "What an idea! I'm your father, Laurent. And this is not one of those stories of mystery and adventure that you wrote and illustrated in your childhood years..." And reluctantly, because his memories about his son could not extend beyond, Carlo added, "... and early adolescence."

Carlo seemed amused with my guess. His laugh was so youthful and full of joy, and since I liked to make people laugh, I continued. "So... Armand is my mother?" In fact, I was anxious and distressed, and I could behave foolishly when I felt like that, especially in front of my father, whom I had not seen for twenty years.  "I don't know... I was an apparition in this story... why wouldn't I be a freaking aberration, too? Born from the womb of a man with another man... Weren't you on an island with a powerful spell, the Island of Births?"

Carlo looked at me puzzled. Realizing that it wasn't serious, he again burst into laughter.

"Hahaha! I don't think even the natives have envisioned such a miracle, Laurent!" Suddenly, Carlo became serious. "I'm glad you're in such a light mood to approach this story, son..." and he laughed again.

That laughter! It had been twenty years now -- or maybe more, perhaps much more, since Carlo wasn't very happy while we lived in France -- that I hadn't listened to his laughter.

Suddenly, scenes of my childhood came back to me, infused with an impression of tenderness and the feeling of happiness. Precisely that period about which Carlo had talked, when Catherine had gone to France, and it was only the two of us in Punaouilo... I had found out that I had the ability to make my father laugh -- for until then, I had been trying it only with my mother, who was always seriously immersed in her books. And she had looked on me condescendingly, a little sad at my childish jokes, as if saying... How silly my son is. What a waste.

But my father could laugh at my jokes, and suddenly I found myself creating a repertoire to amuse and please him. It was during Catherine's absence that I truly became friends and affectionate with my father, because until then my focus had always been my mother -- seeking to attract her attention, win her approval. 

Interestingly, I remembered the joy I felt during that period, and that Carlo had taught me how to ride a bike and swim, and our mutual fondness -- but I could not remember my illness due to sadness, that he had mentioned. Had I really been that sad, with my mother's absence. Or had it lasted only until she had finally phoned me to say that she was already in France? -- and 'already' meant several weeks, maybe two months even, I think.

"When I got that huge amount of money from Davez..." Carlo recalled, "I could quit working as a house painter and exclusively devote myself to you, while we waited for your mother's return... And I could give you the bike you wanted so badly... You were so happy, and I was even happier!" Carlo was moved. "You never, ever complained about not getting the things you wanted as a child, Laurent. We were almost poor... But then, you had no terms of comparison, I guess, since the natives we befriended were also leading a very simple life... Those were happy days, only the two of us, all the time together..."

"Gentlemen, would you care for dessert now?" The bartender named after an archangel, and with the face of an angel, was again hovering near us. "And I would like to draw your attention to tonight's full moon, another privileged sight of our restaurant... Our best table has been kept for you..." Gabriel poised his invitation with a sexy smile and a touch of irony, since all tables were free. "...with the best view we have. Could I serve you another drink there?"

When I was about to answer "No thank you", Carlo sprung up from his seat saying "Fantastico!", ordering yet another type of wine. And ahead he went, to the table at the corner where the huge windows converted, impressively opening to the wide sky and onto the city, like an invitation to fly. My father chatted spontaneously with Gabriel, and I overhead he was intrigued how such a wonderful restaurant could be totally empty -- and I knew the handsome waiter had rehearsed the right answer to give him.

I followed my father across the restaurant. But my mind was elsewhere, and in another time -- instead of design furniture and exquisite collection of art on display, it were breadfruit trees and messes of iguanas around me. It had wandered back to Punaouilo, to my childhood memories of full moon nights... I recalled how lively they were, and how I'd stand alone in the back of the garden, close to the mountain and at the edge of the tropical groves, listening to the unruly noises of birds and other usually quiet animals, aroused by the full moon. I also remember in other occasions reading under the moonlight, fascinated by its intensity -- and that I could even cast shadows in such nights. Which, to me as a child, had seemed so magical, as if I had gained supernatural powers to turn the nights into darkened days.

"You were a fearless boy!" Carlo had once commented about my childhood. "Not in the sense that you were brave or courageous... You were a peaceful child, with a confidence... a general confidence, in life, I guess... that kids don't seem to have at your age. Because of that, you seemed to face all things fearlessly."

And in fact, I recall having often crossed the garden at night, from our little cottage at the corner of the backyard until the mansion, to deliver Joanna one message or another from Catherine or Carlo. Despite the darkness, making the grass a wide extension of mysteries, and the nightly noises springing from unidentified sources, I walked confidently -- while Joanna herself, who believed in evil spirits hiding in the shadows, was terrified that I should be walking alone in the dark. It was only later, when we moved to France, that like her I would dread the night and the dark places, and become a frightened kid -- but not in Punaouilo.

I realized I was feeling nostalgic... and affectionate. How could it be? I had foreseen myself enraged, calling for justice and atonement during that reunion with my father. 

HOW? and WHY? I was going to ask him, with the resentment I had cultivated for twenty years. Instead, he had taken the word and the direction of our conversation, he had taken me back to his youth, to rough times I'd never imagined had existed in his life -- and to that matter, in our life, the life of the small family he had tried to run... Strangely, I could only remember the wealthy Carlo of the final years in Punaouilo and back in France, when he was already a fairly well know artist, his works being sold in a few galleries around the world. And he bought me plenty of toys, and gave Catherine fancy dresses -- things he had been incapable of doing, back in Punaouilo.

I guess I had also forgotten how friendly and charming Carlo was, despite being shy -- or exactly for that. And how he could subtly change situations and even people's dispositions to his favor -- just like he was now doing it with me.

But that's not true. 

I had not forgotten it, and that was certainly part of my resentment -- why had I been deprived of his warm, affectionate presence for so long?

"After Armand left, I led a life of solitude, discipline and austerity on the Île du Blanchomme. But because they had been merrily self-imposed, it was a life of great peace and happiness, too." Carlo recalled, a discreet smile lighting his face.

"Every morning, I'd wake up before sunrise for my meditation session, and to the apparition that intrigued and comforted me at the same time." Carlo paused briefly, as if to punctuate my previous explosion at the mention of the apparition. He smiled sweetly, when this time I remained silent and attentive. "I still hadn't deciphered it. I was yet to understand the message it brought me, but which I nonetheless perceived to be that of a good future. And thus I grew very fond of the apparition, and that's how it started keeping me company on the Île du Blanchomme."

I worked diligently in the garden, always on the shaded side of the house, to be gentle with the plants and with myself. Gradually, I managed to clean the weeds and the dead plants, and started applying compost to the soil. In response, the seeds finally started germinating and would grow many seedlings. It was a lovely sight, and the myriad of buds seemed to bolster the energy of the island!

 With equal commitment and determination I painted daily, although I hadn't yet found a theme in that lush part of the world -- unlike the old abandoned factory, where the decay and decrepitude all around had fascinated and stimulated me.

I still practiced every day, to soon realize the canvas scrolls that I had brought with me would soon end. At some point, I'd have to leave the island to buy more -- not that I had the faintest idea about where to go. I sensed that when that time came, I should take the boat from the Île and just ride it to its final port, probably the same one where I had embarked with Armand. But at that moment, I did not even want to think about that!

Like formerly in the factory, I felt no desire to go out and face the world. My mind was the only wanderer, and sometimes I thought of my grandfather Tarso. How would he have reacted to the letter I had sent him from Paris, shortly before leaving for the Indian Ocean, saying I did not know exactly where I was heading to, leaving him no address, and saying that it was for an indefinite period? How would those careless lines and vague news about my plunge into the vast, unknown world have struck him, he who lived a rather simple and solitary life of a peasant widower, isolated in the high mountains? 

Now in my heart I apologized to him, for being so cold and uncaring. And I promised myself to start soon writing another letter, that I would somehow send to him, describing my tropical idyll and renewed happiness.

When I thought about Armand, however, I was still saddened. Sure, we had already been separated before. Like when after we graduated, he had left for his tour around Asia. It had been without the promise of reuniting even, and yet I hadn't felt his absence so much. 

But unlike Paris and the factory I had occupied on my own, at the Île du Blanchomme all things made ​​me think of him. I felt like I hadn't absorbed his presence enough -- though he had always been wise and generous during our Parisian years, after the crisis in his family and his experiences in India, he had become ​​far warmer, and more intense, more sincere, more affectionate.

Armand seemed to acquire a new importance in my life, more essential, and deeper... I started wondering if what I was feeling... affection... tenderness... a longing... wasn't it what people called love? I had read novels, I had watched movies and plays, and yet, experiencing it was completely unexpected and new to me.

"And suddenly, being in love with my best friend seemed so natural and welcome..." Carlo sighed.

Listening to my father's words, at that point I thought I knew what he was going to tell me next. 

Our conversation had lasted only a few hours yet, but I already sensed where his narrative was leading us to.

An answer, and an excuse to have abandoned me and my mother -- and they both bear the same name: Armand de Montbelle.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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!

It is a privilege to get to know your thoughts and feelings about the story, so please do share your comments, questions and suggestions, and I will reply.

Thank you for commenting.