During the entire day and throughout the night, the high rises of Vice City stood impossibly tall, posers of menacing challenges to gravity. Haughtily showing off themselves, sculptural domino pieces in the deceiving mirror game of self-infatuation criss-crossed across their glass surfaces, they constituted a narcissistic club of exhibitionists. Just around dawn did they seem to find some sense and purpose, other than their own selfish vanity and pride. Even before the sun had made its way above the horizon, their prismatic nature eagerly sucked the first rays of light to reflect and multiply them, on a myriad of windows, propelling and hastening the impending day.
My father and I solemnly watched as the buildings became gigantic menhirs of fire against the pale blue tissue of the sky, the mightiest presences in sight until the sun made its apparition, vanquishing and fusing everything in a flood of light. And I recalled the Sunrise Son anecdote, while we again crossed the city in the back of a taxi, headed South to where Carlo was lodged.
Of course I knew my father could be lying to me. But perhaps 'know' is the wrong verb here, since I did not know what he could be lying about. Something was still missing, something was yet being hidden from me. I could only sense it, not know it.
And because I had been pushing away the memory of my father from my mind for two decades, now that he was present I was pushing away everything that represented any negativity toward him, from my mind and my heart. Resentment, anger, fear, contempt -- unfortunately, my intuitions as well.
Perplexed, my mind found some solace in the improvised, man-made metropolitan metronome that seemed to dictate the hypnotic rhythm of our ride, as elegant palm trees profiled along avenues for several miles, uniting different neighborhoods. The prettiest among them were Caribbean royal palms, that I had not seen in my honeymoon with Angelo in the Caribbean itself, but much later, at their tallest, at the Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. This recollection -- associated to that of beaches full of outrageously tanned, gorgeous carioca men in sexy speedos -- immediately gave me Wanderlust. Or was I just willing to escape the new configuration presented by my father for my life?
"Will you ever forgive me, Laurent?" He murmured, so low that a car passing by would have smothered his voice. But we were the single vehicle anywhere to be seen, and I heard him perfectly.
Ever? It sounded awfully dramatic, but Carlo was very serious and serene when he pronounced those words, and he really meant it that way.
Had I started forgiving Carlo the moment I had seen him, grown old and a bit saddened, at the Nirvana Lounge? Or had my heart started melting when he told me about his rough start, how he had endured hunger and cold to pursue his career? Or was it his tale of love, gay love, the love he had felt for his best friend, yet to never act it out? Were I with him the moment he had kissed Armand, for the first and the last time? Did my heart break when he had to leave his beloved friend behind -- because Catherine was pregnant of me? Had I been touched by all Carlo had done to try to build our little family? Did I value his suffering, all the humiliation he had gone through to stay by my side, his Sunrise Son? I had certainly been ashamed of my outburst of anger, at his mentions of the apparition... that had turned me into his announced, beloved son.
I wouldn't call him father just like I had stopped calling Catherine mother -- for I felt that some emotional distance between me and my parents was needed so I could grow into an adult myself. Yet, it hadn't helped me regarding them more as individuals, as real persons, and not just as people who gravitated around me, functioning mainly for the maintenance of my well being.
"Are there any pictures from your childhood in the Apennines, Carlo?" I inquired, leaving his question unanswered.
Carlo was taken aghast with my thread of thought, and for a long while he was silent. The taxi driver, despite his bleached hair, was a rather discreet and quiet one, who drove safely and took his time in slowly accelerating when the lights flashed green. It was a bit enervating even, but closer to Carlo's pace, giving him time to ponder his words.
"No." It sounded like he had never thought about that before, himself. "There might be official documents, but I don't think they contain any photos... Not in my birth certificate, not in my school records... No, since we did not have a camera in the mountains."
And that's how I'm never going to see the face of my father when he was a child, I thought.
The little orphaned boy who lived a sober and rather plain life with his strict grandfather. Had he been afraid? Had Tarso often punished or yelled at him? Had my father cried? Did he feel sad, occupying the room and bed that previously had belonged to his deceased father? Had he felt lonely? Or tired and bored from the long work hours? When did he start drawing? How had he discovered his talent? Did he have to hide it from Tarso? What had led him to decide he wanted to leave the family farm to go abroad, venture into the unknown? How had he learned about the École des Beaux-Arts? How did he get the money to send his drawings over to Paris? How he must have awaited in painful expectation, if it were his dream -- or simply desperate, in case it was salvation? Did he believe he would get an answer? And when the answer had arrived, had he already made up his mind about leaving? Did he have a fight with Tarso on that? Again, how did he get to Paris?
I realized how little -- close to nothing -- I had known about my father. How I had been blind to him as a person, to his suffering, his expectations, his fragility, his dreams, his struggles... But then... had I ever cared to know? It might have been ok when I was a child, but now... I had never even asked the name of his deceased parents.
For the last twenty years I had cultivated resentment, whenever I thought of Carlo. But the image of my father as an orphaned child, who as an adult thought he was not capable of being a good father -- was heartbreaking. Intentionally heart wrenching, perhaps? I had never thought on how he would feel about my silence after his escape. Probably by bitterly keeping my distance I had intended to hurt him, though that intention was never clear to me -- and I actually did hurt him, and the orphaned, hurt child that still lived in him, who had already been hurt.
My silence had led him to retreat back into his own sadness, I now discovered. A place no better than the resentment where I had retreated myself. And we had thus estranged and distanced ourselves.
That I was responsible, if not for our separation, but still, for our remaining apart, was certainly a haunting conclusion for me. I had always thought of myself as the victim... But if I had remained being a victim, it had been my actual choice -- that was Carlo's implicit message to me.
From my father's point of view, as I perceived it for the first time, I might have abandoned him as well. He had to flee, but he had tried to contact me, several times after the unfortunate event -- and the truth is, in my cultivated hostility, I hadn't wanted to talk to him.
I knew my father was an orphan, but I had never quite reflected about that. Had I experienced a fraction of the pain he had felt himself? Could I imagine how it was like, not having any memory of your parents? I had chosen to forget my father -- at least I had tried to --, but Carlo couldn't recall his own father. Not even if he most desperately wanted to. I had made my choice to stay away from my father; Carlo had no choice about his own father. And how all that had affected him in relation to me. How his absent father had been present in Carlo's absence -- or else, in my absence from his life. What a mess. What a painful mess, and an awkward continuity and transmission of suffering over generations.
He had flown overseas from Italy to Vice City, leaving his adored hermitage in the mountains just to be present at my vernissage -- and according to what he had just said, he would have flown in earlier. Anytime I had called? Would he have visited me in Vice City during my University years? Maybe, if he had met Angelo, he would have helped me out of that sick relationship. At least, he would have comforted me at the end of that love affair... Maybe, if I had broken our silence. Maybe -- but I hadn't been aware of the importance and significance of that silence, my stubborn silence aimed at my father, nor what it had meant and how it had affected Carlo.
"He seems to be a good boy, don't you think so, son?" It was my father to break the silence.
Carlo was talking about Gabriel, of course.
Ted, the old guard that was my friend, had finally come upstairs to ask us to leave. He only did it when the museum's cleaning staff had arrived, early in the morning.
"And there is a very fine young man waiting for you outside, Laurent." Ted had winked at me. He had seen me in action before, picking guys at the museum, be it in the exhibition rooms, the cafeteria or even at the library. But never at the restrooms, and that's why he placed me above the majority of the gay crowd -- he wasn't the least homophobic, having a gay nephew himself, but he hated having to ask guys to behave decently, either put their pants up or leave. But he hated equally that straight couples tried to make out in the deserted corners of the museum, and smokers or anyone who broke the museum's rules. According to him, I was his best example of how a fine young person should behave.
"He must be really interested in you, Laurent, to still be up at this early hour..." Carlo murmured, as we descended the stairs towards the sidewalk, where Gabriel had laid himself, striking a rather sexy pose. He knew I was coming down that way, and he must have calculated how I'd find him -- that's how Gabriel was. Seeing him wearing fancy clothes that outlined a body in perfect shape, I felt my lust on the rise again. His tight black and shiny leather shorts were something out of a porn set, and for a moment I wondered if he wasn't in the industry. I wasn't prejudiced against it -- my problem with porn actors was that I wasn't confident enough to believe I could give them real pleasure. But I was willing to give Gabriel a try.
He hadn't even slept -- but still, he looked gorgeous. He wore a tank top that was transparent black, and one could learn how to count on his ripped abdomen. He seemed very self-conscious of his beauty, while I was aware that my suit was all wrinkled -- but even so, it remained being Armani's top quality, leaving me reassured. I just feared I might be stinking, too, for I still felt sweat streaming down my body, despite outdoors being much nicer than it had been inside.
Gabriel had left the Nirvana Lounge to take a shower at home, eaten something heavily energetic and full of protein, and being just on his way to a rave, he wanted me to come along with him.
"No, it's OK if you don't want to come." He tried to hide his disappointment when I had refused his invitation to join him for the party. Or perhaps he had acted out a small disappointment he did not actually feel, but that he thought might be sincere to show as part of his interest in me. It was hard to say when Gabriel was acting or being sincere, especially because he was not a very good actor.
But he had come to the museum -- and he knew our destination since he had called the taxi for us -- not only to invite me for the party. He had a message to deliver.
The phone at Nirvana Lounge had started ringing after Carlo and I had left. Gabriel wouldn't usually have picked it up, since he was on his way out already, but he feared we had left something behind and answered it.
It was Catherine, calling from Russia.
"I think she is very worried... but also mad at you, Laurent." He was whispering, and I was not quite sure if he wanted to be discreet, or if he simply wanted to draw us closer, so that our bodies were again touching. He wasn't inadvertently brushing his thigh against mine, and succeeding in his intent to arouse me. "I did not understand her English very well, and I don't think she understood mine either." Gabriel had laughed, and I had shivered at his warm breath up my ears. Despite the fact that I was exhausted, and Carlo stood only a few steps apart, I felt it difficult to continue avoiding planting a wet kiss on Gabriel's full lips. He had made the rave sound inviting, but a threaten at the same time, that he could maybe find someone else to have fun with. He certainly would, I sensed, and why shouldn't he? "From what I understood, she's been trying to reach you on your mobile all through the night. But seems like you've kept it off. Then she gave me your number," Gabriel had a quite charming wink, and he looked happy as if he had already discovered a secret about me, "and I tried to call you... It is off indeed, isn't it?" He reached and touched the cell phone, that was outlined in the pocket of my pants, and for a moment I thought he was going for another volume that was distinctly swelling.
It was so annoying that Catherine had tried to reach me at the Lounge. Her silence could sometimes last for weeks, without her phoning nor texting me in a no news starvation policy that I had almost grown used to. But all of a sudden, when she felt like she needed to talk to me, nothing would stop her from actually finding me, buggering my friends, calling consulates and embassies and airlines until she finally reached me wherever I was in the world. I hated that -- how it was done at her neurotic convenience infuriated me.
I was nevertheless touched with Gabriel's effort to let me know about my mother. And thinking about it now, I guess he was, above all, trying to be nice to her. While changing clothes at his place, he had already Googled her that morning, and had been very impressed with her international fame. For the next two years, I was to endure his fawning interest in my mother and her literature. Though Gabriel was that new sort of actor who relied mostly on his looks and did not have much culture in general nor ever tried to improve it, like he instead cultivated his biceps, the pectorals and ripped abs. He hated reading, but he would turn Catherine Mortinné's novels into a sort of homework.
"Lau," I hated how he had nicknamed me, "don't you think I could play Giorgos?" Gabriel had questioned me one day, in the first weeks of our torrid affair, mentioning a character from one of Catherine's bestsellers.
I have to confess I had never read my mother's books. Not that I hadn't tried. I had begun a few of them, that I saw lying around our house in France. But I could immediately recognize the stories among those being told in my everyday life -- actually, being experimented on me -- and they did not seem to hold interest for me any longer, once they had been written. "Guess what has happened to this friend of mine!", Catherine would start a conversation with me. But there was no friend, she was just trying on me a new character, a line or a fictional event she was working on. It had been just a trick to attract my interest, but in time I started feeling it was actually a lie, and a way of using me, just too often. I was always the first to have to listen to her newly invented plots. And that's how I had gradually lost interest in her books and stories. Though, obviously, I never declared it openly, for I still feared losing her.