Listening to my father, I concluded my mother had achieved what she had intended from the beginning. At the Île du Blanchomme still, she had started turning him into her servant, in all aspects. Even sexually -- and the correct word in this case is 'slave'.
After all I had heard about her that evening, I wondered whether she would have been capable of denouncing Carlo. Hadn't she envisioned that possibility with her 'friend' from the Tax Administration, and set an strategy under course? But why get rid of my father like that, risking sending him to jail?
I did not have a watch, nor did Carlo -- in that matter it was indeed like father, like son. No matter the hour, I was feeling the urge to call Catherine in Russia and confront her about what I had learned. But I let my mobile rest dead in my pocket -- under those circumstances, it might have been the only appropriate way to torture her. How many times she must have tried to call me during that long evening?
"Honey, I don't know if this was such a good idea after all. You might get hurt again..." She had said over the telephone. It wasn't "such a good idea" just because it hadn't been hers, I thought. But I had nevertheless appreciated her concern -- to find out she was worried only about herself, and how Carlo's sincerity might destroy her carefully constructed story line, all based on lies. I was about to find more, and worse.
"I was aware that our fights were affecting you, son."
Catherine and Carlo had never, ever shouted at me, not even to reprimand me. But I recall my parent's screams and shouts at each other coming from their room next to mine, and then the sudden bang of a door, or more than one door -- if Catherine would retreat into the bathroom and Carlo should leave the room, and sometimes they did it concomitantly --, followed by a haunting silence.
And I remember that silence announced the tragedy that was to come, more than the screams. That heavy silence was the harbinger of my father's absence, and my own anxiety attacks.
"I tried to stay away from Catherine," Carlo continued with his recollections, "but she would come into my workshop to discuss the gipsy girl. I guess she had never expected I would cheat on her... and I want to stress I wasn't cheating on her! But she was obsessed with Jaella and her son. Finally, I contacted a lawyer to go through the process of asserting that the boy was not my son. No, Jair is not your brother, Laurent. And I didn't leave home to move in with another family."
"With my escape to England, this process of recognition, or actually the opposite, since that child was not mine, took even longer than expected. With the passing of years the stress between your mother and me eased into indiference, and we fell further apart. When at last the case was closed, she had already found another mate, as you well know..." Carlo stared at me, but I just nodded and made no comment, not even to encourage him to continue. Edoardo was an issue I was never willing to bring up. "And there was no going back to Catherine any more."
"But it is not true that I never called you, Laurent. I called home before crossing to England."
"I want to talk to my son, Catherine! Now!"
"I'm sorry, Carlo." They had fought so many times, but now that Carlo was away, Catherine felt very calm, and relieved. "But Laurent does not want to talk to you."
"I want to hear that from Laurent himself. Now let me talk to him, Catherine! You cannot do that to me..."
"What am I doing to you, Carlo?"
"You cannot keep away me from my own son, Catherine... Please, let me talk to him!"
"Please do not call again today, Carlo! The police is still here. I am trying to convince them to leave before Laurent gets home. I have to go now. Bye!" And Catherine had not only hung up, but disconnected the telephone as well.
I called several times from Davez Drew's house in London, where I stayed for a few months before renting my own apartment and studio in the city. He and his girlfriend at the time, Layla, were very generous and patient with me.
To Davez, it was particularly shocking that I had parted from my 'Sunrise Son'.
"Man, there is a worldwide legion of fans of the Sunrise Son... Should we get them to fix this for you? I mean, they could do a manifestation in front of your house... They could actually bring your son here to you, any moment you say you want it done..." Unfortunately, Davez was doing drugs again, and he was often out of his mind. Kidnapping my own son was not an option.
"Laurent is not home, Carlo." Catherine actually felt sorry for Carlo, and sympathized with him when she thought he was going to start his own personal exile.
"Of course he is! I know he is. He is doing his homework in his room. I know his schedule, Catherine. Better than you do! Please do not lie to--"
"You are offending me, Carlo! I'm not lying." Catherine did not even try to sound indignant, for she was so relieved with Carlo's absence. "Laurent is not home. You used to know his schedule, you're right. But things have changed." She actually tried to show some empathy towards Carlo's suffering. He wasn't a bad man and had been rather useful. She was still trying to figure out how she would manage the household chores without him. "He has asked me whether he could spend more time at the club, and I thought it was a good idea." Catherine was celebrating taking decisions about Laurent without listening to Carlo's opinion, even if in the past she had already often made up her mind before he spoke out. "This empty house seems to sadden him." While Catherine was quite content to have the whole house all to herself, without the two men in it. "So now he goes to the club for lunch even, right after school. Then he has his training, and after it's finished he stays there doing his homework and studying. I believe he is even making new friends."
"Can you ask him to phone me when he gets home, Catherine? I want to talk to him, please..." It was almost a supplication.
"I don't think Laurent wants to talk to you, Carlo. But I'll inform him that you have called. And if he wishes to call you, he will. Can we agree on that? I really don't want you to call us any longer, Carlo. Now that you've left us, will you please give us some time... and space? We deserve another chance, Laurent and I, we deserve another life! Please don't ever call again, Carlo. If Laurent wants to talk to you, he will call you, have you understood it?"
That was true enough, I thought. It had actually happened. Catherine had indeed 'informed' me about one of my father's telephone calls -- but in a moment when my anger was so great that I had simply sent Carlo to hell.
After he left, I had been saddened for days. I cried and cried, and I had questioned Catherine on his reasons. So insistently that I had infuriated her. WHY? WHY? We finally had a serious quarrel. And since I had never had a fight with Catherine before, it was a horrible, terrifying experience. When she had walked out of my room, pissed off and slamming the door behind her, I drew my breath as I felt the floor failing to sustain me. My father had left, and now... my mother was abandoning me, too?
In my teenage years, or maybe since I had arrived in France, my mother had grown closer to me. And with Carlo's absence, we would become even closer.
"You are close to being a real person now, Laurent. I mean, your opinions are increasingly interesting, in comparison to those childish jokes of yours." At thirteen years old, that had seemed like a big compliment coming from my ever demanding mother. By then, I had mastered my writing, and though she thought my compositions had no style nor interest, they used to be grammatically flawless. She was then investing in my conversational skills, for I knew I often embarrassed her before her illustrious intellectual guests. I stressed to learn, until my mother and I were able to engage in proper conversations. And though Catherine was still condescending, I gradually felt much closer to her, as I grew older.
Yet, I feared losing her, much more now that I had already lost my father.
Or actually, I feared never conquering her.
Then, only a week or maybe many weeks later, after Carlo had left, I stopped crying.
That's when my sadness turned into anger. And the longer I suppressed and repressed my sadness, the stronger and wilder my anger grew -- and somehow, the stronger and wilder I felt to be, too. Sadness was my natural state, making me soft, vulnerable, fragile. But anger strengthened me. And thus fortified, I felt I could handle the bullies at school much better. Not one of the major and usual bullies, I had slapped this one guy in the ear so hard, to keep him from pinching me, that he had fallen disorientated to the floor. Since then, he was keeping distance from me. That's the point in my life when I started repressing my sadness, identifying it as a weakness. And instead cultivating anger, that I reputed as a good ground to grow my self-confidence.
I recall having tried to destroy the very few paintings from Carlo that existed in our house -- one portrait of Catherine, and two depicting me.
I still remember when Carlo painted Catherine's portrait -- she had been teaching a seminar in Belgium, and Carlo and I had had the best of times together, just the two of us for a month or more. And Carlo had taken to painting naked, since he had read somewhere the anecdote that Renoir told a journalist about sometimes painting with his penis. Don't we say "In Rome, do like the Romans"? Carlo had joked. "I guess when in France, do like the French, haha!" I always wondered if Catherine had ever learned that little detail about her portrait -- though I don't think Carlo had ever actually painted it with his penis.
"Stop it now, Laurent!" My mother walked in on me just as I had started scratching one of the paintings in my bedroom. "That's so childish of you!" Catherine had understood well that I was in an age when being called 'child' was what I dreaded most, being the best way to reprimand me. "Carlo has painted very few portraits in his entire career. Actually, there are only these three, as far as I know! They must have some value. So don't be foolish! Keep them and sell them someday, but do not waste them! Later, you'll probably make good money and still get rid of them. Do you understand me? Don't ever touch those paintings again!"
Another incident stands out from that period. One Sunday, when I had stayed home, since we would not train at the club, I had dragged Carlo's easel and thrown it into the pool. It made a bigger splash than I had expected.
"Laurent, what do you think you're doing?" My mother had heard the noise and come to check from the veranda on the first floor. "That thing does not belong to you... to us." I must have looked at her puzzled, because I wasn't sure she was addressing the easel or the swimming pool. My father had built it, for me. Maybe Catherine had plans of emptying it, and burying it again? Or was she going to forbid me to use it? "Put it back in that stupid atelier. Now!" And after having clarified her marching orders to me, my mother had gone back to her reading and writing.
For days, I let the easel sit at the bottom the pool. My newly discovered rage lend me a strength where I could disobey Catherine, even. When I swam, I tried once to kick it. The easel was standing on the swimming pool's floor, and in that position, it still looked menacingly defiant to me. It was as if I hadn't defeated it. With my kick, I tried to finally knock it down -- but instead, I only hurt my toes.
My mother never said another word about it -- until, one day, I came back from my long days at the school and the club, to find the easel was gone from the pool -- and from the house.
Nowhere to be seen. Without the easel, and his sports car parked in front of our house, it seemed like Carlo had barely existed in our lives. He had always been discreet, shy and economic, owning few possessions -- even in the atelier, his sacred space in the house, to where he would often retreat to let Catherine enjoy her guests. A few Art books, that like his remaining clothes, Catherine gave or threw away -- a sure indication, to me, that my father would not return. She trashed his oil paints and brushes along with the pasta left in the kitchen, and let his Mediterranean herbs dry in the vases, until she got rid of them, too. I just observed and never commented her demeanor, guessing she was finding her own ways of revolting against his abandonment. And I never tried to rescue anything, because in my own rage I had wished to erase all of Carlo's traces from our lives, too. Catherine was fast, and before the first hints of melancholic hope and longing for my father sprung in my heart, he had been expunged from our rural home.
Midst those measures, rather precise and coldly executed, within a couple of weeks, Catherine had refurbished the atelier and turned it into her home office, vacating the room right behind the fireplace which had constituted her writing bunker all along.
And in time, just like all Carlo's traces disappeared from our home and lives, my rage subsided and vanished. Resentment replaced it.
And that's what I had cultivated for the last twenty years, along with the firm determination to forget my father, and to live a life where he wouldn't be missed, nor make any difference.
But my present need for atonement told me I hadn't succeeded in leaving Carlo behind, nor out of my heart. WHY, I would every now and then ask, when some events were too heavy to bear alone, and I had wished my father was by my side. WHY?
What Carlo was now telling me is that he would have tried to come back, had I called him.
But I had not known about that condition imposed by Catherine. The harder life seemed, and the more problems I had, the lonelier I felt, since Carlo was no longer there to advise and guide me. Therefore, the more I resented him. Until he had become an annoying memory that I forcefully pushed away whenever it sprang in my mind.
Two years later after Carlo's departure -- and it's funny that what I called 'departure', Carlo had called 'escape' --, Angelo had entered my life. To rule it, and to become l'homme de ma vie, the man of my life, taking the chore that my father had left vacant.
Surprisingly at ease with both his masculinity and femininity for a teenager, with his determination and assertiveness, Angelo had grabbed and dragged me at his own will and convenience. And I didn't feel I was being manipulated. I had so happily, eagerly obliged to let him take care of me -- clinging to him even when he had dumped me already, addicted to his body as much as to his fierceness, that I had always lacked, in taking decisions.
Suddenly, I woke up from my recollections at Carlo's voice echoing in The Dark Room. He had himself just emerged from one of his long silences. We had taken one of the black benches at the far end of the room, opposite to the entrance towards where my father had just twisted his body. Giving his back to me, what was he trying to hide?
"It was not just that you would not speak to me on the phone, Laurent..." He chocked, his voice caught, and though I could only see his back, I realized his whole body had started to shake. "You never, ever called me back. And I understood it as a sign that you felt the same as your mother... that I was making your life small and miserable, and that like her you wanted to forget me..." I tried to face my father, as rare were the occasions in my life I had watched him surrendering to his own emotions. He was a bit embarrassed, and so was I -- with my voyeuristic curiosity. Carlo simply went on. "You were willing to have 'time and space' to grow into a new life, like Catherine had said. You know," Tears had welled in his eyes, "sometimes I think I could never have been a good father... because I never had one myself. And... I have survived the loss of my father... and mother... since I had no other chance but to survive it." It was disconcerting to see an old man holding back his tears, ashamed to cry. "And I thought you'd survive my loss too, Laurent." It was perceptible the effort Carlo was making not to collapse, physical and emotionally. He sat rigidly, attempting to keep his posture straight, and his emotions under control. His meditative practice was in use at that very moment, I guessed. "In fact, your silence made me think you actually wanted to survive my loss... to live without me," He gulped, "as if I were actually dead. Just like my father had been for me..."
I gasped. I might have wished my father was dead, in my teenager anger, but I had never meant it. All I ever wished was that he had never left.
"I've been listening to your silence, Laurent. Since the day I left home. For twenty years now." The way he said it, sounded like he had been counting each day. "And I left it not because I wanted, I hope you now understand it... And if I never returned, it was because you didn't seem to want it. I was so sure you wanted nothing more from me... until a few months ago, when you called inviting me for your vernissage. I was so happy, my son!"
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.