Thursday, November 27, 2014

Episode 45 | Held hostage

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For a few minutes I cherished that idea, thinking I would share it with Catherine. My suggestion was that she'd stay on the Elder Sisters Islands -- a mighty marvel of civilization if compared to the undisturbed palsy of the Île du Blanchomme. From where she could easily board a ship to return to France whenever she wanted, back to her beloved studies at one of the most prestigious Universities in the world, and to her rich girl's spoiled life. Or then, if she wanted to stay, agree that we cool off our relationship, returning to its previous state of cordial coexistence. In such condition we would decently welcome Armand -- like the involuntary guest and host she and I had been at the start. 

I finally realized there was at least one thing that was greater than my lust -- my cowardice. The fear of hurting Armand, deeply and irreversibly... losing him. But then... for how long hadn't I thought of him? While making love to Catherine in his bed? While showering in his house? While cooking and eating from his food? I realized how I had exiled him from my heart and mind after having started my affair with Catherine. It could not continue that way. A love affair, a sex idyll, whatever it was I had with that girl -- it had to end.

I was so engrossed in my selfish stream of thoughts that I missed Catherine standing right behind me, paralyzed. But once my eyes fell on her, obviously in a state of shock and devastated, I immediately lost the courage to desert her.

"I am sick." She said, in a low, somewhat disembodied voice. "Or I have been... You were right, food poisoning..." As she sat on the steps, I realized her body was shaking. The night had fallen, and it was much cooler than the usual temperature on the Île. I hadn't thought of bringing warmer clothes to us. I hadn't thought we'd stay until so late, and now I worried about the next boat... On which I would return all on my own or not? With a shrug, I dismissed those concerns and tried to concentrate on Catherine, whose voice was barely audible. "And the heatstroke. You had it right, too. And they say you took good care of me..." She tried to smile. "And of my skin..."

"Grazie, Dio! Did they give you some medicine?" I asked, sincerely relieved. I realized the doctor to whom I had spoken that morning was observing us from the reception area, and I felt like a child being observed.

"But... there is something else..." She gulped. "Something terrible..." And before I could ask, she added quickly "I'm pregnant."

"You are..." I felt my heart stop for a few seconds and then madly accelerate -- "...pregnant!" Catherine had been speaking so low that her voice seemed to come from another world. Another world, indeed, it turned to be.

"I'm in the first weeks." She murmured. "It's still time to interrupt it..." 

"What are you talking about?" I was dumbfounded with Catherine's announcement, and scared with the perspectives it brought. But her own reaction to it was the worst. "How could you do it? We cannot do it, Catherine, we cannot do that!" I cried in desperation. 

"What do you mean, we?" I guess I had again chosen the wrong words. Her voice rose, and she was enraged. "What are you talking about, we? This is my body, and I do with it as I wish!"

"I will not let you do that Catherine!" I gently took her arm to direct her to the deck chairs to continue our conversation. But she resisted, and when I insisted I must have twisted her arm, or made her fell like I was forcing her. Intimidating, even. And just like when we first met at the Île, she pushed me away.

"Let me go! You are hurting me!" She whined. Harming her was absolutely not my intention, and I immediately backed up. "You have no right... This is a tragedy! This is my tragedy!" Though speaking louder than normal, she was talking to herself. "What's going to become of my life?! This ruins everything!!" She screamed. "I can't have a baby! I'm too young to have a baby! I don't want this baby!"

I raised my hand to again lead her by the arm, but just dropped it. The girl seemed so very mignon in her desolation, again resembling a hapless prey. And standing tall against her, aware that I could easily dominate, grab and drag her as I wished, I felt like a brute. "Please, Catherine..." I begged. One of the nurses had come out to check what Catherine's screams were about. "I think we are disturbing the other patients..."

She gave me a look of consternation, as if saying Who cares?, and suddenly Catherine ran, fleeing the hospital's grounds.

For a moment I was motionless, still taken aghast at the news of her pregnancy, above all surprised with Catherine's reaction to it, and finally, stupefied with her sudden escape. It took me a while to decide to run after her.

Being weakened, and not knowing really where to go, she did not reach far, and I soon caught her, at the square in front of the hospital.

I could not -- or would not -- understand Catherine's reasons for being so miserable and mad with her pregnancy.

I was just surprised. It was my first couple relationship, and naive, inexperienced as I was, in no moment at all, while we made love several times a day, I thought I was repeatedly depositing my seed in her -- even though sometimes it was so abundant that it came out seeping between her thighs, and I'd then lick it and... I felt so proud. Not of any nasty features in bed -- but at the prospect of continuing the lineage of D'Allegros. Though far away from my original land, I immediately felt connected to my ancestors. And I thought of Tarso, my grandfather, who would probably be delighted with the news. I wanted to phone him right away in the Apennines, but of course we did not have a telephone in our stone house, nor at any other property nearby. The stars of a tropical night, on a faraway island to which I held no connection at all, shared my pride and stood bright over me.

There were all these details that I could not have told Laurent, ever, and not during our reunion at the Nirvana Lounge. I hadn't flown all the way from Italy to reunite with him after twenty years to break his heart -- though I could hardly imagine it not being shattered to pieces at some point of that night. 

 I completely omit our visit to the hospital in the Elder Sisters Islands. Nor did I want him to be aware of his mother's initial rejection to being pregnant -- because at that moment there was actually no Laurent. Catherine was considering aborting a faceless, nameless and almost formless baby, as she perceived it. 

Nor did I want to brag about having convinced Catherine to keep the baby, because it was not what happened.

Although Catherine had never mentioned the Île du Blanchomme to Laurent when telling him about his birth, she enjoyed using the anecdote that he had interrupted her vacations with his premature birth in a remote part of the world, implying that he had also interrupted -- most important of all -- her academic career. And maybe that's why he asked me that night at the Nirvana Lounge:

"I know that I was not a planned baby... It was an accident, of course..." Laurent tried to smile, but it was clear that having been generated by chance was one of his sorrowful burdens in life. "Were I, at least, a wanted baby? I mean..."

"You were an announced baby, Laurent!" I interrupted him immediately. "It's true there was no family planning, but you have been blessed even before your birth! 'The Sunrise Son', remember?"

"Yeah, I know..." He was not convinced. "But what about Catherine? I have so often heard her anecdote... I took holidays from the university and never returned... Instead of a nice suntan, I was given a premature son at the end of the world!" -- Laurent imitated his mother's blasé intonation. "She was always reinforcing that I was prematurely born... Not just a couple of months ahead, but years ahead in her life... She always made ​​fun of it, but I never heard her sincere feelings about it..."

"She was... worried." What else could I have told my son? It was heart-wrenching, telling a lie about something so foundational in his life, but the truth was too cruel. Much worse than the legend of the Birth Island that could turn him into a doomed baby. Or was it the doom not being born, never again, not even after having been conceived? "Largely, I think, because of me..." I was ready to take the blame, and avert his attention. "I was so... immature, inexperienced... and she must have thought... How can this goofy man be a father and head of a household?"

Partially, it was so true.

"Can we go to a hotel?" She requested, still sobbing, on the street in front of the hospital, that was almost deserted at that time of the night.

"A hotel?" I mumbled. Suddenly I realized I had not thought about our lodging. I had intended to spend as little time as possible on the Islands, and I had wanted to check the schedule for the next boat right there on our arrival... but with Catherine's sickness, I had forgotten about all my plans.

"We are going to a hotel, aren't we?" Catherine groaned in disbelief, and she almost fainted when she saw the surprise on my face. "A pension, an auberge, whatever..." When I remained powerlessly silent, she finally realized how much at loss she was in my company.

I had brought enough money for the groceries -- Armand's money -- but at no time I had thought about our lodging... I was an inexperienced traveler, and if I were alone in such a situation, I would not mind sleeping rough, right on the streets. Like I already had, upon my arrival on those same Islands.

But with Catherine, especially the condition she was in, it was impossible.

She turned away from me and headed to a bench at the edge of the square, where she lay crying.

I did not know what to do -- I was scared and worried. Whatever pride I had experienced moments ago, it had been overtaken by a devastating panic. I felt lost.

Despite knowing of Catherine's enthusiasm and dedication to her academic career, I was slow in understanding how threatened she must have felt, thinking of all the things she saw herself losing with that pregnancy. And I knew nothing about her dysfunctional family situation, that would lead her to hide that pregnancy, if she could not get rid of it.

"Let's go back to the hospital!" It was the only sensible idea that occurred to me. "You'll get hospitalized the next few days as I purchase the groceries and find out when the next boat leaves..."

"Are you crazy?" she cried, "I did not come here to be hospitalized! And I will not go back..." She must have seen desperation stamped all over my face, when I thought she refused to go back to our Île, and she clarified, "to that shitty hospital."

"It's getting cold, Catherine..." A damp wind had began to blow, just the same as I remembered on my first night in the Islands, when I had slept on a table at the port. I had endured it, but the poor girl absolutely wouldn't. "Aren't you hungry? Thirsty? I'm almost sure they would feed us, if I'd talk to someone there..." What other way could I provide her with her needs? If we'd spend the money for the groceries on lodging and a meal, how could we go back to the Île? I had been so improvident. 

And so things took their way. Catherine was physically weak and too mentally shaken to oppose to my idea -- the only possible solution to our precariousness. She must have felt humiliated, but still she allowed me to guide her back to the hospital. Once the nurses understood our situation, they immediately took her inside.

There was no place for me; however, they let me sleep on the porch, and even lent me a blanket.

During those days I went all over the Elder Sisters Islands in search of good food, and the cheapest too, to maximize the money, while Catherine was hospitalized -- "held hostage" as she would put it. And with the healing passing of time, she decided to keep the baby. 

That's what I believed for many years, until Catherine confessed that it was the woman doctor with whom I had spoken at the entrance to the hospital, and who had examined her, after having tried to lecture her, finally threatened to report Catherine to the police if she tried an abortion. 

That's how and why Laurent survived -- how could I have told him this?

While we waited for the next boat, I ate, slept and showered in the hospital, thanks to the kindness of the medical staff. But I was forbidden to visit Catherine -- on her own orders.

My beard grew and, as I hadn't brought clothes to change, by the end of those days I had that appearance of a homeless person that had so worried Armand at my arrival, on those same Islands. 

I confess that I didn't even want to think about him -- whenever I noticed my mind racing towards my best friend, I'd start singing a song or doing anything else to distract and occupy me, mentally. But thinking solely of Catherine, whom I thought now depended on me, yet was rejecting me -- and, truth be said, she remained a mystery and a stranger to me -- and the baby -- the prospect of being a father suddenly seemed threatening -- none of those things was soothing or calming me. It felt like my previous life was a maze I had finally emerged from -- to find myself before another even greater maze.

I started wondering if the Elder Sisters held something against me. 

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