Quite unexpectedly, we were living our honeymoon. Albeit unintentional a honeymoon it was.
Quite unexpectedly, we were living our honeymoon. Albeit unintentional a honeymoon it was.
We'd go every day to the port, considering now the possibility of travelling to France with many stops at various ports to give Catherine the chance to recover, before boarding back on another ship. We had several months at our disposal until we reached France, where Catherine would finally give birth.
I had envisioned that possibility during the first time we went to a beach on the Elder Sisters Islands.
Catherine had kept on ignoring me, even sexually, seeking refuge in her books and writings, while I felt very lonely, without any connection to anything around me -- not even to the future mother of my child.
Although I never mentioned it, I really missed Armand and the Île du Blanchomme, without actually being able to distinguish between the two very well. The Île wouldn't have existed in my life without my friend's invitation, and only at that tropical paradise had he felt safe to open his heart to me, thus transforming himself before my eyes -- and heart. Armand and the Île were inextricably intertwined, but similarly, Armand and the Île had brought me Catherine, and through all of them, my future son... or daughter... -- and that was what brought me back to the present, where I had a family coming in a deadlock situation that I was trying to solve while sun bathing in a tropical paradise.
I don't know exactly how I had that insight. At that time, I used to meditate without assuming the lotus position in order not to irritate Catherine, who had become a bitter enemy of meditation.
There, on the lonely beach while apparently sun bathing, having the crash of waves and seagulls cries as a distant background, I concentrated on my breathing. Since Catherine did not speak to me, didn't even look in my direction, and all around us was only emptiness and silence, I finally was able to again cultivate a bit of calm and clarity. And in that stability and mental space, the solution had emerged.
As she listened while I tried to explain -- and it hadn't been easy to make her leave the pages of a book, Catherine was silent and expressionless for a moment. "Can't you be clearer?" she had demanded. The scheme was actually very simple, and suddenly she surrendered to the idea that would actually solve our problem. The strategy was 'quite reasonable', she pondered, but above all she was fascinated with the possibility of turning her tormented return to France, her via crucis on a ship or a plane, into a world insular tour.
Catherine was delighted with the idea, and more than that, soon she was all excited about it!
"After all, you're not as unresourceful as I had imagined you to be!" Catherine gave in and was quite contented. That was enough for her to end the sex strike she had put me on, and right there on the beach we made love, madly and swiftly, without even getting undressed, to celebrate our new perspectives. As I pressed my body against and into hers, I marveled at her beauty -- and I was intrigued with the fact that she hadn't grown a belly yet. How could she -- or the doctor -- know she was pregnant, when it did not show at all? Being a man, I had no idea how long would it take.
Sometimes I wondered... Could it be that Catherine was faking a pregnancy to hoist me? Just to steal me from Armand?
Happy days followed, when we started making our newly conceived travel plans. The problem was again financial. Several short trips would cost far more than a single long trip, and Catherine was not considering boarding freighters along the way -- no matter how much the sailors had attracted and excited her fantasies, as I was beginning to suspect. In our neighborhood next to the port, I had more than once noticed Catherine's long, languorous looks towards the seamen who excitedly hunted for girls -- and I was aware that, on the Elder Sisters Islands, Catherine was the best looking woman of all by far, at least to my taste. I too was proud of having snatched her as a prize.
We also had to consider -- or I was to consider it -- that stopping at several islands meant more food and lodging expenses. And Catherine, once she had begun dreaming of the journey, could only think of paradisiac islands and luxury resorts.
Finally, she agreed on requesting money from her mother. She could not mention my existence, and the plan was that I would be using Armand's money for my own travel expenses, while all the money that Celeste would send should be used for her travelling.
Yet I feared I wouldn't have enough money for the entire journey, and certainly not to stay at resorts, but I could always work on the vessels we boarded in exchange for my own transportation and food... and why not also at the resorts? As a waiter or cleaning staff, I might be able to get to France accompanying Catherine, and taking care of her. But I decided to hide that scheme from her, assuming she wouldn't be happy to have a servant as her travel companion.
Celeste, or Madame Mortinné to me, was a little surprised with the new plans, and asked many questions in details about them. Catherine had justified the sudden change by means of health problems, claiming that her mother had always known that she got sick on ships -- hadn't it been so since their first sea voyage returning from the holidays in Tunisia? Celeste pondered that Catherine should just get on a plane under tranquilizers and fly straight back to France.
"Don't you think it's better to suffer only a few hours of fear, no matter how tremendous, than many, endless hours of seasickness?" Celeste inquired.
But Catherine had become obsessed with the idea of a journey full of stops at different ports -- or perhaps imagining that with such a long journey she would have more chances of losing the baby... because I still feared she was thinking about that -- and with her talent for words she tried to convince and to pass her excitement on to her mother. By the end of their conversation, Celeste had agreed on seeing how she could help.
Those crazy plans brought us an unprecedented complicity, and at times we actually seemed like a couple on honeymoon. I felt truly cheerful and content during several conversations with Catherine, and it finally felt like she was my wife, that I could take care of her in my own way. And that together we would take care of our baby, and we would build a happy family.
But at other times, it was enough to look at Catherine to understand she wasn't actually satisfied with her new status, and that ultimately I could not make her happy, not ever.
"This is a wonderful evening, don't you think so?" I tried to cheer her up.
I was pleased with the prospects of our trip, joyful with the prospects of our family, and also happy with my present, waiting for the next ship that would soon take us towards our future.
It had been one beautiful starry night, and not too hot nor humid, on the Elder Sisters Islands. We were having dinner in the restaurant at the quiet back of our hotel, next to the rose garden that had been cultivated aiming to neutralize the awful smell of oil and dead fish coming from the port. Since there were no ships parked in the harbor, the island was lazily silent. There were no boisterous sailors with whom I would have to compete for Catherine's attention, and I relaxed. We were the only customers in the restaurant and the cook herself, a funny fat woman who smelled to a mixture of spices and sweat, had been waiting on us.
"What is it nice about it?" Catherine replied in disbelief.
I had dropped my worries and was feeling generous. On that evening in particular, I had even ordered a bottle of champagne, for the first time in my life.
"Don't you think that champagne makes everything special?" I asked naively, inviting her to celebrate -- whatever.
"You don't actually know the difference between champagne and sparkling wine, do you?" Catherine asked me, sighing. More than disappointed, she was disheartened with my lack of sophistication and refinement.
I then realized that we didn't share the same notions for life, nor values, and that my 'wonderful' was rather simplistic, humble and narrow-minded in comparison to the wonders of her universe.
My poor sparkling wine in a tropical night could never have competed with the Veuve Cliquot that her handsome and rich dates would have offered Catherine at the best restaurants in Paris. Her memories of those glamorous moments were plenty and still fresh, gleaming like the myriad of crystal chandeliers she had dined under, to let her actually appreciate the candle at our table in that insular restaurant. It was as romantic as it was practical -- emitting a feeble light over our simple yet tasty meal, the candle liberated an acrid smell to keep the insects away.
I could not get a sense of how much Catherine was abdicating at that point of her life, except for the tremendous unhappiness that she sometimes revealed. Her academic career, the vibrant Parisian life, her smooth transit among so many wealthy boys, all handsome, and others less so, but certainly more interesting and stimulating, both intellectually and sexually, than me.
As much as I was the trophy she had snatched from her brother, I wasn't after all a very valuable trophy.
At last, when Catherine talked again to Celeste, we learned about our first destination -- Punaouilo. Yet another island which I had never heard of. But Catherine was all excited about it, because it was an island for the rich and famous, very exclusive and fancy. We would be staying at the home of one of Celeste's friends, who was also a famous actress. "A grand house, a proper colonial mansion! They often host famous people!" Catherine had declared, gleefully. There, her mother would send more money through her husband's friend, who used to travel between Punaouilo and France several times a year.
It seemed wonderful to us -- Catherine was enthusiastic about heading to an island visited by the international jet-set, and I did not have to worry about our hosting and food, at least for that first leg of the trip.
She agreed to lie about me -- once we got to Punaouilo, I would be presented as someone whom she had met on the ship, and as her tropical date I would also stay as a guest with her mother's friend. I would also use a false name, something that sounded fancier and nobler than Carlo D'Allegro -- fortunately enough, that suggestion came from Catherine herself, and it would also solve my problem on the ships owned by Monsieur de Montbelle's friends. All seemed to fit perfectly well.
"But we have to buy new clothes for you! That's a must!" Catherine had stated. "You cannot pretend to be my date if you keep on using these rags." I was about to reply that I was actually wearing nearly to new clothes that had been given to me by Armand, but I new I'd better shut up. "We're going downtown tomorrow, to see if we can find something at least acceptable to buy in these savage lands."
Finally, we found a ship headed to an island near Punaouilo, and from there a smaller vessel that would take us to our final destination.
We just forgot to check it on the map. Unless Celeste had confused the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal, she was sending us in the wrong direction.
Punaouilo was further into the Pacific, towards French Polynesia and South America, and even farther from Europe than we were, already.
But we only were to find we were headed the opposite direction of France after we had already boarded.
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.