Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Episode 99 | Nobody's hallway

Catherine had declared the hallway of her apartment 'Nobody's Land' -- like most of the public spaces in Russia. Recalling Paris, and how there had always been fresh flowers adorning a table at the elegant entryway of the building on the Rue de Furstemberg, on her first week in St. Petersburg she had bought a bouquet of champagne roses, that she thought would suit the damask in tones of gold and bronze on the walls. Coming back from lunch, she artfully arranged them -- one among the classical refinements she had learned from Celeste -- on the table standing alone under a dimly lit lamp on the corner. The table was stained and unstable, if still classy and solid, and the lampshade was dusty and charmingly torn -- but her flowers had instantly enlivened the ambient, poising as an antidote to the decaying elegance. When leaving for tea, later in the afternoon, she found they had been stolen already, together with the little crystal vase acquired at the Udelnaya flea market. In the evening, she placed back the dried flowers and the plastic vase she had trashed earlier, wondering if they could have been dear to any of her neighbors.

Just then did she really notice how worn the carpet at the stairs landing was, to later find it had been placed there to hide a horrendously executed repair that had damaged the wooden floor, permanently. Nobody seemed to care about the peeling wallpaper, the stained mirror, the molded ceiling where rain had once leaked, the crannied marble of the doorposts -- all was considered historical, it seemed. Termites had been tenants in that building longer than any other people, she hinted, shrugging to those problems under the privilege of being a foreigner.

Standing in the hallway, Catherine would fantasize that Raskolnikov was just waiting to jump on her from behind one of the five other doors -- not to kill her, though, but to beg to appear in one of her novels. Because she was actually aware that the neighbors were spying on her through their peepholes -- she could see and sometimes even hear them being lifted, and the change of light in the holes as eyes were being pressed to them. Not so much scary, she didn't really care about that intrusion, and always thought that, through their provincial curiosity, they might learn a few lessons from her. At least on how to dress elegantly, and move lightly -- for her neighbors walked around in a rhinoceros stampede that made the crystal chandelier in the hall tremble and tinkle. 

In that hallway, that often smelled to boiled eggs and coarse tobacco, she realized the heated dialogue with Laurent was a scene many of her neighbors were watching from behind their doors. She pictured them in old underwear or pajamas, picking their teeth or noses, unable to understand more than just a few words -- if any of them spoke French, she hadn't come across him or her yet. While she was ready to go to theater herself -- wearing the new Prada black gown she had bought that very morning --, they were enjoying their homely stage with her.

Upon identifying Laurent's name on the mobile's screen, she had asked Vladimir to fetch her stole, though she was comfortable enough. Catherine had been waiting for her son to make contact, for she knew it would be worse to push him when he was in one of his hurtful moods. She also knew she should better no longer avoid talking to him. She picked the call at Laurent's second try, entertaining hope that they wouldn't fight -- but they had seriously argued, and the end of their conversation couldn't have been more melancholic.

"Laurent? Listen to me... Laurent!" It seemed like he had not only hang up, but typically, also disconnected his phone. She had heard a shower being turned on in the back of their conversation, and it was very probable that her son was not alone. Was he, ever?

"Your son is not a child, Katerina." She startled, hearing Vlad's comment immediately after Laurent had hang up. "He is old." Her young lover was at the mirror, grooming himself -- or pretending to, since the light in the hallway was so dim and on the tainted surface, images were barely visible.

"Old? He is older than you, Vlad, but not so much older, I should say..." She giggled.

"Old enough, Katerina, that's what I want to say. You should not treat him like a child. You are justifying his very bad behavior." He was at the mirror trying to look busy and self-important, as if he hadn't been there plainly waiting for her. And showing off his costume, too, because he knew she liked it when he dressed more formally.

"Not that again, Vlad!" She had chosen and bought his new clothes, and they fitted him perfectly. It was much better than the ragged jeans and the stained leather jacket he used to wear trying to look modern and European. Still, wearing formal clothes as if they were a plaster cast, Vladimir's unlikely elegance was, at best, that of a Russian mafioso. 

"There is another case of pederasty in the newspapers today. Another dirty priest." He sounded awfully serious and offended. Maybe it was his way of protesting, when she had fooled him about the coat, and kept him waiting for so long.

"And how does that relate to my son?" Catherine asked, with a sigh. Vlad's reasoning being like quicksand, she knew she was going to be dragged into the darkest ages of prejudice. 

"The priest was an homosexual molesting little boys. You are not going to defend pederasty, Katerina, are you?"

"Of course not!" She hadn't taken her earring off, and after having pressed it against the screen of her mobile phone for so many minutes, she had a headache, making her feel defeated before the combat had even started. "Pederasty is a crime! And those priests are sick, and they need treatment. But do you realize you didn't mention them in your first sentence as homosexuals? The problem here is not their homosexuality, but their pederasty."

"Katerina! Don't try to fool me! They molested little boys, not little girls! They are sick homosexuals." 

She tried to think Vlad's bad French was keeping him from being a more reasonable person, unable to express what he really meant... Or maybe it was actually preventing him from being even worse?

"That is not the problem." She continued. "It's probably because they are claustrophobically closeted, and in a position of social power, that they become abusers. Laurent is gay but he has never abused a boy, because he can live his sexuality openly, in a very healthy and happy manner. Religion, and its hypocritical rigidity, might be much more the problem here, leading to sexual abuse. And of course they abuse little girls, too, if that's their sexual preference. If they could be open about their sexuality, and have partners, those priests might not be abusing boys--"

"Are you talking about openly gay priests?" Vladimir grunted, either emphasizing his opinion, or from having removed one of the many blackhead that dotted his face. "That we should accept gay priests? And that they could have partners? Gay married priests? That's so sick! You must be crazy, Katerina!" He sneered.

"I know. I am crazy. Happily crazy!" They had been shopping that morning, and she had spent a small fortune. Designer clothes in Russia were much more expensive than in Paris, but she wouldn't deprive herself. Buying fashion was also a way to honor Celeste's inheritance, that she was now living on, and instead investing all her royalties and paychecks. "Otherwise, life would be so boring, and I, myself, so tedious! Don't you think so, darling? And you, Vlad? Don't you think you might be gay? You can't stop talking about my son, and specially about the fact that he is gay. Maybe you are falling for my handsome son--"

"You are crazy indeed, woman." He glanced sideways at her from the mirror, where his reflection appeared horribly distorted. "Of course I am not gay! I am a very healthy person! I don't desire little boys. And how can you be so sure about your son? I mean, how do you know he has never abused little boys? It's very common among gays, you see... Maybe you are hiding a criminal, and defending him!" Vlad was left nearly breathless by his impassioned opinions.

"Laurent, a criminal! That's grotesque and obtuse, and so rude of you, Vlad! I shall always defend my son, of course, whenever it's appropriate to defend him." Such an irony, she thought, when currently he keeps accusing me. "And I will always defend him against himself, that is the most important, you see." She murmured the last sentence, wanting to keep it to herself, but not willing to silence it. "And he always seems to need it..." 

"See, Katerina, even you agree with me that you need to defend your son against himself."

"Just like I should defend you from yourself, Vlad..." If only I cared for you like I care for my son, she thought. "I should defend you from your monstrously antiquated prejudices, for instance. Vlad, you are so similar to Laurent, more than you'd like to admit! I know you have been dating older women, almost exclusively. Don't you think you might be seeking your mother in them?" And am I not impersonating your mother right now, she wondered. "Just like Laurent is seeking his father in all the men he dates. The boy he loved most was Italian, like his father... and--" Catherine decide to quit talking about Laurent, realizing she was just giving more ammunition to her lover.

"Then he's been seeking a lot, Katerina!" Vlad grimaced, and his voice was leaking irony. "I read on the internet that in his exhibition are displayed the portraits of 45 of his ex-lovers... Do you think that is normal, Katerina?"

Naturally, she knew that already. Instead of being the least horrified, Catherine thought she should have kept a record of all the lovers Laurent had mentioned to her -- at least as a list for male character's names. She was pretty sure they were a couple of hundred at least, and not just forty five. When everybody thought Laurent was making up and showing off, she actually knew her son was being quite modest and discreet.

"Laurent has a big heart." She hesitated, since she wanted to mention another big organ her son had, just to shock Vladimir. "A big broken heart. And the wounds have made his heart even bigger, by cracking it open... Laurent's heart is constantly bleeding, continuously swelling..." She loved the image of men being swollen by Laurent's big heart, and that when they were ejected off it, or simply dumped, they came out bleeding like him. But it was not the same sort of blood she seemed to find everywhere in Russia, where all stories ended or began with assassination; Laurent's was the tragically romantic blood of a brokenhearted heartbreaker. "Maybe I should break your heart, Vlad." It had just occurred to her. "And you know why? Because it would grow a bit larger, and perhaps more compassionate too, so that more people would fit in it. Unless you are a coward, and decide to protect yourself by shrinking it. But I don't think you are a coward. Nor do I think you love me enough to be heartbroken if we'd split."

From inside one of the apartments, a cat screeched, and from another, an alarm clock had started. She had heard it before, and knew it could go on for hours, if the tenant had left. She also noticed that a few more pieces from the crystal chandelier were missing. Someone was either selling them or taking them to repair their own.

Vlad finally left the mirror, and took two heavy steps in her direction, menacingly. "Of course I'm not a coward, Katerina! And of course I love you! But don't try to break my heart... or I'll break your legs!" His whole body tensed, as he hissed those last words. She saw saliva flying from his mouth, and she backed a little, giving the wrong impression that she feared him.

He must be speaking like his father now, Catherine guessed. He probably would like to be spanking like him, too -- Vladimir had clutched his fist and seemed to make an effort to avoid hitting her. 

But she wasn't afraid. Again, she wondered what kind of abuses Vladimir must have suffered from his father. He had actually started their conversation by mentioning little boys being abused. Looking at Vladimir, for the first time she realized her tormented lover would make a wonderful and practical research field on domestic violence, and Catherine started thinking she should consider that as one of the main themes for her next novel. 

Otherwise, having a young lover was so tedious, Catherine thought. Because she had teased him about being gay and a coward, he would probably be more passionate at love making that evening, as they'd come back from theater and dinner. Just to prove to himself he was a real macho. It was that easy to arouse him. 

And he would also try to be romantic, to prove that he loved her. No flowers nor any presents, since Vlad was always penniless -- and she have to ask herself seriously one day if poor men were a fetish she cultivated, unconsciously. He would probably deliver another poem overflowing with powerfully evocative words, written within a few minutes, at the dozens if he wanted to. Obviously, the poem would be in Russian, and when he'd try to translate it into French  Vlad would be utterly frustrated, and maybe again find some motivation to go back to the University to study French. She surely enjoyed having the young man in her bed, but she'd like to have him again among her students rank, too. Trying to communicate with her would enable him to finally communicate with everyone else in France, Catherine pondered, and she was just trying to act like a bait to the big lazy fish boy.

It was that easy to manipulate men -- a talent that was innate to her as much as it had been refined and perfected with Celeste's practical lessons at home.

"We can go now. I hate being late." On saying those words, Catherine shivered, for they sounded awfully like her mother's.

"Well, it's not my fault if we are late." His outrage made him drool. "And I know, again you will defend and protect your son. Let's go." He snatched her coat from the arm of the single, rickety chair that stood in the hallway, where he had left it hanging. "I'm tired of waiting!"

Watching Vladimir fleeing down the steps, Catherine wondered if he was still feeling embarrassed.

That morning, she had surprised him on her computer, looking at the picture of a naked, well hung man.

"Oh, I'm sorry if I'm intruding!" She giggled at the vision of the beautifully well defined torso and powerful thighs that reminded her of the Riace bronzes -- though, unlike them, the depicted young man boasted an impressive erection.

"It's not what you think!" Her lover had retorted swiftly, openly ashamed, startling at her presence by his side.

"Of course not!" She retorted, amused. She had dated young men before, and a couple of them had declared themselves bisexuals. Vlad wouldn't state anything so contemporary and defiant about himself, but still, she wouldn't be surprised if, like other men his age, he was experimenting with his sexuality. "That's a boner in the picture, that's all. It can be a metaphorical image, I guess! It's not porn, is it?"

"Do you think it's porn, Katerina?" Vladimir inquired, and by his triumphant tone, Catherine knew she had been caught in a trap. "Well... supposedly, this is art!" He twisted his mouth with disgust. "Your son's art, Katerina! How about that?"

And though they had engaged in yet another discussion about Laurent, his sexuality and  his 'degenerate art', in her lover's own terms, Catherine wondered whether the young man's fixation on her son wasn't down to sexual attraction, like her boyfriend so vehemently insisted in denying.

So -- would Laurent's revenge come that way, she wondered? Hooking her Russian lover across the oceans? The explicit nudity of his paintings were all over the internet now, though she hadn't checked them herself.

But the possibility of Laurent taking revenge on her did not exist. 

Since he couldn't possibly know that, just once, she had stolen a guy from him. It was more like she had borrowed him -- it had been a one night affair, tormented and fiery and redemptive. She hadn't foreseen it, unthinkable as it was that she should compete with her son for the love of men. 

Laurent couldn't possibly know -- he shouldn't know, and she dismissed those memories with a shiver, her heart shattering at the simple thought that he could one day find it out.

this is the conclusion of

First Trasmission | The Heart

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.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Episode 98 | Tardy rebellion

"I'm so happy that you have called, Laurent!" Catherine sounded joyful enough when she finally picked my call. Yet, tension tinged her voice, that echoed around her -- and after so many years of telephonic conversations, I had come to enjoy trying to guess where my mother was. Being a consummate writer, though, Catherine always offered the appropriate settings of her background, and I needn't ask."Though I'm at the hallway of my apartment waiting for Vladimir... He's gone to fetch our coats... It's colder than one might have expected for an Autumn evening..." She had hesitated before adding each sentence, as if waiting for my reaction. I chose to remain silent, trying to picture Catherine in her Russian life. St. Petersburg was a lovely city with hundreds of well preserved Baroque and neoclassical buildings, and I was certain my mother would have found something special for herself, like the historical site where some famous author might have lived. "We're going to the theater soon, and I'm afraid we won't speak for long..." Catherine paused. She must have decided it was enough for a preamble, and directed us toward more meaningful matters, without abandoning safe ground. "Do you need anything, darling? How are your finances?"

I knew that it would come. Over the weeks we had remained silent and distant, my mother should have pondered about the best start for the conversation that would renew our contact, which she knew was going to be bumpy. Even after I had received all that money from Celeste's inheritance, and though my mother had given me the whole sum for which she sold the rural house of my teenage years in France -- she still worried about my finances. At that, despite knowing it actually was a sort of emotional blackmail, I felt my disposition of confronting Catherine weakening. Her concern was a poignant reminder of how she had always financially supported me, throughout my life. 

"It's alright, Catherine. I'm not starving, haha! And I shall never become the 'Hungerkünstler' you fear! You don't have to worry about that at all!" I tried to laugh at our private joke, that Carlo had reminded me about.

"You know I worry about your well being, mon couer. Is there anything else you need?" Catherine was tactfully trying to sense what my call was about, but I have to confess I did not know it either.

During the last weeks, I had allowed Carlo's painful retelling of my own story and origins to sink deep in me. At first, it had stirred powerfully disturbing emotions, and I had been caught in a voracious whirlpool that dragged me down into a new, devastating spiral of resentment and anger, this time directed at my mother, and at her mother. Carlo hadn't victimized himself, but that's exactly what he had been -- a sacrificial lamb in the mean hands of the Mortinnés, and Monsieur de Montbelle's. But after the emotions had stormed through me, exhausting their own energy in depleting my soul, and finally decanted -- or so I thought -- I was led to believe, in contrast, while experimenting a prostration that was not real peace, to be seeing more clearly. My past laid before me in a brand novel, nearly unrecognizable weave, I was left only with the simple wish to understand my mother's reasons in creating that daunting web of lies that had directly and lifelong affected me, keeping me from my father and from having a family.

Sometimes, I wished I hadn't let Carlo speak so freely, sharing even his intimacy with my mother -- while, on the other hand, hiding his most intimate moments with Armand from me. Was it out of fear, out of discretion, caution or may it be secrecy, I felt my father hadn't been thoroughly sincere with me. There were still some things missing -- but then, that was the feeling I had always had, from as far as I could remember in my life. 

It was not just missing my mother when she had left Punaouilo, and then missing Punaouilo, and then missing my father, and then missing Angelo... No, I sensed there was something crucial, at the very beginning of my life that was missing. And Carlo hadn't told me what it was -- and I wasn't very enthusiastic about Catherine's truthfulness either.

Could the piece that I felt was missing in my life have been the family I had secretly belonged to? Extending to centuries of history and tradition, I was now aware that I carried the De Montbelle blood. To try to understand what that meant, I had done some research -- and though I found no references to the judicial battle between Celeste and Armand for Gaston's inheritance, I did learn that my uncle had been able to keep the Château De Montbelle, opening its magnificent art collection to visitation, but only for students, teachers and scholars. And he was currently converting it into an Art School.

I decided to try that approach with Catherine. The De Montbelles now interested me as much as they had always been my mother's main fixation.

"Catherine, did you know Armand had already found a new partner when you dumped Carlo?" I had also done some research specifically on my uncle, and though he was very discreet about his personal life, I did find out he had had a partner for nearly twenty years, recently deceased, to whom he had dedicated his Pritzker Prize.

I could not be sure about the dates, but when Carlo had fled France to seek refuge in England, Armand was already living in Morocco with his partner for some years. From the story my father had told me, it seemed like he no longer had value for Catherine when her half brother had found a new love, seemingly having overcome grieving for Carlo -- and she might have liberated my father once she was sure Armand had no longer any romantic interest in him. To my eyes, her perfect revenge on Armand had been plain cruelty towards Carlo.

"Why go into that, darling? Why mess up with the past?" Catherine moaned and sighed. "Yes, I knew it." She replied, calmly, trying to avert the quicksand of the past. "There were lawyers being paid to inform us, your grandmother and me, about his life and all his moves, and whatever mattered to the issues we were discussing at court. But it has nothing to do with Carlo leaving home. It's hard for a child to understand that, but... Carlo and I... our relationship was over."

"Did you denounce him to the Tax Authorities?" I tried to sound curious, but it actually sounded rather accusing.

"Did he say that?" Catherine gasped.

"He didn't. That's why I'm asking you."

"That's so rude of you, Laurent. Accusing me. To dare think I could ever do something like that against Carlo!" She paused. "I did ask him to leave. Several times. I was concerned our fights were affecting you..." The walls of that silent and isolated country home seemed to boost our relationship's death-rattles, Catherine had written once. When I read that excerpt from one of her best-sellers, I realized how she must have hated our house, specially during Carlo's final months in it. "But I never forced him to leave, like the circumstances he forged for himself did." She seemed to reflect. "I never threw him out. On the contrary, I let him stay, though it was over for us. And Carlo only left home when his own irresponsibility led him to."

"But you did hide from me that he would have returned if I asked him to!" From all of the facts Catherine had concealed from me, that was what had brought the heaviest damage. The lies about Punaouilo, about my De Montbelle relatives -- nothing was worse than her hiding Carlo's pleading from me. It had led to the wrong conclusions for both him and me, and into further hurting and parting. Though we both wanted to reunite right after the separation, for two decades we had believed the opposite, and it altered the course of my whole emotional life. Once, a guy I had dumped said I had a 'crippled personality', and I had thought he couldn't have nailed it any better -- my personal story perfectly justified it.

"But why, Laurent? Why... what would he have returned for? We needed another chance, my darling! You agreed on that, don't you recall it?"

"Let's say I was led to agree, Catherine. But you... you got your new chance!" I snorted, like whenever I talked about Edoardo, Catherine's last and longest love. "I didn't get anything." 

My voice had raised since the start of our conversation, and after having stretched midst the white linen like in a nest of clouds, Gabriel emerged out of bed, a male version of Botticelli's Venus, his hair grown almost as long as hers. He sat on top of the kitchen balcony like a Greek god would have occupied his throne on the Olympus, adopting a posture that seemed careless but I knew was rather self-conscious. He was naked, his glorious muscles relaxed from a good night of sleep after an intense session of love making, and I could not help but marvel at his majestic beauty -- even though he was chewing rather noisily on a toast with peanut butter.

"Of course you did, Laurent!" Catherine retorted. "You met Angelo!" I received her words like a punch. "It changed your life!"

For the worse, I thought, but instead I said, "It changed your life even more, Catherine!" Edoardo was Angelo's intractable father, and it had been so awkward and even a bit wicked when Catherine had fallen for the father of my first boyfriend. Our household had turned out impracticable, due to the fact that he was conservative to the point of being homophobic, and couldn't accept my relationship with his son.

"Do you think so? You wouldn't be in Vice City and have an exhibition at its most important museum if it weren't for him, have you reflected about that?" Catherine paused, allowing me time to think. But I could only think that Gabriel looked outrageously sexy with peanut butter oozing down his ripped abdomen. Like in a trance, he simply observed it leave an oily trail as it opened a wet path on the bump of his muscles. "What are you trying to tell me, Laurent?"

"I don't know what I'm trying to say, Catherine." Gabriel had lifted a sly gaze at me, as if inviting me to lick the peanut butter from his body, and I lost my train of thought. At that moment, I just felt nauseated at the possibility fanned by Catherine that Angelo was somehow responsible for my glorious night at one of the most prestigious Art museums in the world. I had tried to forget that I'd met Dan Charmand through him. Unfortunately, Catherine was right; yet, I did not want to bring my ex-boyfriend into the conversation. She was clearly using him to avert us from what really mattered. "I don't know. But there is something missing and something very wrong in this story. And I'm asking you, Catherine... What is it?"

"Aren't you again in good terms with Carlo?" Catherine asked instead. "Haven't you 'reconnected', like you've put it yourself? Why can't we bury the past and leave it behind, mon cher? What could be so wrong in your life that you have to still try to change it?" It was typical of Catherine to answer with questions -- I had read in an interview how it was essential to her creative process. 

"I'm not a damn character from one of your novels, and I'm tired of being a puppet on your strings, Catherine. That's what!" Sometimes, and more often in my teenage years when I had shared the same house with her, I had the impression of being an experiment my mother was conducing. "You've let me down just too often, Catherine." I realized I was no longer mad at her, but just sad, and immensely disappointed. I let out a heavy sigh, realizing I was ready to let her go. "Right now. Why did you have to go to Russia instead of coming to my vernissage?" It had probably been the most important night of my life, and Catherine had never even tried to come. "Is it because Carlo was here?"

"Of course not! I wouldn't mind seeing Carlo. I might have even enjoyed it, after all these years..." I heard my mother startle -- she had seen Vladimir standing in a dark corner of the hallway, glancing at her with curiosity. "I guess I have to go, darling..."

I simply ignored her excuse to drop our conversation. I couldn't have known her boyfriend was there, clearly demonstrating his impatience, specially since she was talking to me, her 'bad son'. 

"Then why, Catherine?" I spur on. "Carlo left his hermitage in the mountains and flew all the way to--"

"Careful there!" Since my teenage years, I hadn't heard my mother talking to me in such a menacing tone. "Don't you dare compare me to him!" Suddenly she sounded exasperated, and I wasn't aware she was angry with Vladimir too, who was paying attention to our conversation. When Catherine walked away from him across the hall, I could distinguish the sound of her high heels on the hard wood floor, and how it suddenly muffled when she stepped onto a rug."Carlo is no longer with you in Vice City, is he? He has returned to his retreat in the mountains, hasn't he?" She was talking faster, and I thought she was losing her temper -- when, in fact, she was trying to make it harder for Vlad to understand. He had finally decided to improve his French, sensing the end of his relationship with Catherine might come anytime. "As soon as he could, wasn't it? If Carlo can isolate himself, then why can't I have my own appointments, and still be in contact with you? Don't be unfair, Laurent! It's not because you've reconnected to your father... and I'm happy about that... that you can so easily forgive him. And for things he told you, start blaming me! He's been absent all those years, while I've never abandoned you--"

"Never?" I sneered. " But of course you have, Catherine!" My voice trembled, and I felt the little boy in me wanting, needing to cry. "Have you forgotten Punaouilo, and how you left us... how you left me behind?"

"Mon Dieu, Laurent!" She let out a cry as if she was falling in a hole -- the dark hole of old sorrows that I insisted to cling to. "Those were the circumstances at the time! I was heartbroken because I couldn't bring you with me. But we had no money then, and I had to accept Celeste's conditions! You know that perfectly well. Or should I have tried to smuggle you? But I worked diligently on promoting my first novel and getting the second one published, all the time thinking of you as the main reason why I should succeed. And once things went smoothly for me, and I started making good money to establish myself in France, and when I found a decent house--"

Her earring kept banging against the mobile -- something that had too often annoyed me in our conversations. Other times, I had asked her to take them off, but now it seemed a very small nuisance, in contrast to all that was being discussed. I grew impatient, sensing my mother was subtly diverting from the questions I confronted her with -- and again, I veered the conversation.

"Did you know Celeste was paying the art dealer in Punaouilo to burn Carlo's paintings?" My heart shrank and I had to bite my tongue as I so carelessly revealed what Carlo had kept in secrecy for two decades.

"What?!" Catherine shrieked. "Where did you hear that?!" She gasped. 

And immediately, Catherine must have known it must have been true! As she heard my explanations, and the reason why Carlo had hidden it from her, my mother intuited how a disaster starting in a previous generation of our family was still reverberating on our lives. "Mon cher--" She started saying, but I wouldn't let her go on.

"You have lied to me, Catherine! About too many things. Too important things. I'm sorry, mother" I knew using the word 'mother', that I rarely pronounced, added effect to my statement, "but I'm tired of your intrigues and your lies." 

In fact, I was more tired of begging for her approval, her recognition -- and they hadn't come, neither for the stories I had written, trying to pair with her, nor for my paintings, about which she couldn't care less -- all through my life. And why did I have to feel sorry once I was finally giving up on her estranged love?

"Darling child, you have to understand that your grandmother lied to me, too! I am trying to untie her knots, that are strangling your life... and mine as well! What I'm doing here in Russia is for both of us, but--" 

Suddenly, I glanced over at Gabriel, about whom I had completely forgotten for the last ten minutes or so that I had been talking to my mother.

He had moved around the room, waiting for me to go into the shower. The peanut butter had oozed until the silky bush of his pubic hair, when he gave up counting on my lips to clean him up. Instead of pleasing my partner, I had drowned in the murky waters of my old sorrows. And I then realized the phantasmagoria my life had become -- Gabriel was there, but hidden behind a thick veil, since I was more concerned with ghosts from the past. 

Gaston and Celeste were dead. I had never met my grandfather, and I hadn't really known my grandmother, though I had visited her once in Paris. Armand I hadn't yet met, and it would take me still a couple of years to. I hadn't seen Carlo for twenty years, and even now that we had reconnected, I couldn't be sure when I was going too see him again. I would probably have to climb the Apennines for another reunion. And Angelo -- other than the occasional advertisement or photo in gossip magazines, I hadn't seen him for ten years now. Yet, they all materialized and rose like a wall between me and my present, between me and my new boyfriend. 

It was dangerously melancholic, and it was a terrible waste of life, I finally realized it.

"This is between only you and me, Catherine. Don't try to bring my grandmother into this..." I sighed, emotionally exhausted, feeling the last threads of the bonds that tied me to Catherine breaking loose. "I'm tired of all this mess." I had been trying to understand it, to explain it to myself, but more and more I was convinced that I should meet my uncle Armand to rescue that part of my family's story. "I really have to go now, Catherine." Gabriel was already in the shower, turning the water on, whistling a rhumba and starting a sexy and funny dance to his own tune. No matter what, and I had left him waiting for so long, he never seemed to abdicate from his good humor. "Bye, mother."

I hadn't seen my mother -- well, just over the internet -- for many years, already. She had never visited me either, in Vice City nor at Samsara Heights, and I hadn't been so willing to travel to France. I hadn't returned for Celeste's funeral, but I did go back when Catherine decided to sell our rural house, once she started occupying the apartment on the Rue de Furstemberg. At first, I had said I didn't care about anything in the house, and that she could sell or dump whatever she wanted. But then I changed my mind and flew to France, where we spent two weeks emptying the house together. I rescued from oblivion some childhood drawings, the long-play collection from my teenage years, and our living room furniture that was vintage fifties. But that last live meeting had been nearly six years ago, already.

And as things turned out, because I had promised myself to never return to Russia -- unless, of course, I was offered an exhibition at Moscow's Museum of Modern Art -- I would meet my mother again only in four more years -- and during that whole time I would speak briefly to her on festive occasions only, disciplined and stubbornly keeping my distance and a forced formality with her, after one more disastrous call that was yet to happen. 

It had taken decades, and I was aware I was no longer a teenager, but at last I was rebelling against her tyranny, and that of the entire Mortinné legacy. It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would -- it wasn't actually hard to take the leap of faith into a life without Catherine. It was a life devoid of a core, but with time I'd settle to the feeling that being motherless or having Catherine as a mother were almost the same -- the first option being much less troubled.

Would I have acted more compassionately, towards her and myself -- would I have forgiven her, had I known my life could end in a fraction of seconds on a dark night in Iceland?