"Yes. He is gorgeous." I agreed with Carlo, though not feeling truly thrilled. "And everybody seems to be very impressed with his beauty." That, to be honest, I feared could be considered a bit vulgar. But maybe it was just his way of dressing -- or showing off. Why exhibit the crack of his round butt, or his pubic hair, as blond as mine, when Gabriel had a golden smile that radiated confidence? Should I fear his appearance at the vernissage? Had I invited the waiter, but instead a porn actor would show up?
Carlo had been blinded by Gabriel's beauty, just like Ted -- he who once alerted me about a guy I had shown up at the museum with, who he knew was into drug dealing. But Carlo, though he wouldn't demonstrate it, was alarmed with my sex life, and how he thought I risked my health. He was still to give me his lecture on my responsibility in going to bed with married or compromised men, on the next couple of days to come, that we would spend together in Vice City.
That visit to my exhibition had left Carlo dazed and fearful, and perhaps feeling guilty or even remorseful. He had more than once asked if I had really had sex with all those guys I had portrayed, willing that at some moment I would say it had been just a fantasy. He was also trying to understand where my suffering and what he reputed as a destructive behavior came from -- and I had to talk him off and around my secret, always trying to make Angelo seem the main reason of my attempted revenge on men.
Neither preachy nor romantic, Carlo was also trying, on the other hand, to talk me into a stable relationship with Gabriel. Without mentioning it, he had seen my confusion, how lost I was in the paths of my heart, and he thought Gabriel would do as a good enough guy to help me settle down a bit. And I guess I wanted to be talked into romance at that point in my life, I have to confess. I also wanted to see Carlo in his fatherly role again, and I wasn't minding what in other times and terms I might have considered an intrusion.
In the past, at those early hours, I would either be searching for breakfast, after having danced the night away or spent it in someone's bed, or be jogging at the beach -- and I thought I might go back to that healthy habit if I was to again spend more time in Vice City, because of Gabriel and my lectures and workshops scheduled at the museum after the opening. And by 'healthy', I mean the jogging.
Walking along the corridors of the museum, calmly making our way to the exit, escorted by Ted -- who couldn't hide his happiness in seeing me in the company of my father, after having heard no screams nor anything that would have indicated a quarrel during the whole time we spent at The Dark Room --, Carlo had invited me to have breakfast with him, at the small guesthouse where he was staying. He had had one of his paintings sold for a million dollars, yet, he had remained very humble, a man of simple habits. After all those years, I wondered if his passion for sports cars had subsided, too. But I had more pertinent questions to ask.
I thought I might reach and touch my father's hand, to bring him back to the taxi. But I still felt a physical barrier between us. It was remarkable that he had hugged Gabriel, whom he had just met, but not me. Instead, I simply cleared the throat.
"Did you try to contact Armand while you were in London?" Or maybe even from France, I thought. Why not? "He never belonged here. He had to go live his own kind of life, which did not include us", Catherine had said about my father's departure. She might be thinking of Armand, and how she had interrupted their love affair. But from what Carlo had told me, she was actually talking about Jaella, the gipsy girl, and her son -- that was Carlo's parallel life, back then. But was there really a Jaella?, I wondered. I had no whatsoever recollections about a gipsy girl in our house.
"No, I didn't, Laurent."
"But do you know where he is living now? I mean, he is still alive, isn't he?" Few years ago, Armand Purlux Drurien had won the Pritzker Prize, that's the only thing I knew about him. I had always admired his work, even without knowing he was my uncle.
"I'm not sure where he is living now... But your mother should know. At least, her lawyers should know it."
"Would you mind," My father wasn't very enthusiastically talking about Armand, and I tried to be tactful, "if I try to contact him, Carlo?"
"These are old wounds in the family, son." Carlo sighed, and looked away through the window. We going past one of the marinas, and noisily encircling one of the approaching boats, seagulls were every now and then dive bombing. "I hope you understand that." Though sitting next to me, his voice seemed to arrive from another dimension. "Give yourself some time and afterthought before you do anything. These wounds have existed prior to your birth. Maybe there is nothing you can do about them. And talk to your mother, first. That's all I ask from you, Laurent. But no, I won't try to prevent you from talking to Armand."
That was final, and I understood it from Carlo's tone. He wasn't willing to add anything else to that.
To me, it sounded like he was talking about himself somehow, too. Those 'family wounds' had existed prior to his clumsy participation in the De Montbelle affair. He had not simply gotten entangled, he had actually worsened things when he left Armand for Catherine -- or ultimately, for me. That's what was striking me hardest at the moment. That I had parted my father from his only and true love.
"You are my only and true love, Laurent, haven't you understood it yet?" I would hear Carlo's heartfelt clarification a few years later, but just not yet, not in that taxi, not only a little over twelve hours since we had reconnected, after a twenty years separation.
"Does Armand know about me?" My voice trembled as I asked that. They had hidden my uncle from me, and I expected they would have hidden me from my uncle as well. Otherwise, he would be in the known all those years, yet ignoring me. Pretty much like he had done with my mother, his half-sister, avoiding her after he had learned about her existence. For a moment, I could grasp what Catherine had felt, the humiliation that Armand's silence and indifference distilled.
"I believe so. I should think your mother has done everything to ensure Armand knows about your existence." Though it might not have been my father's intention, he had made it sound like I was a piece of propaganda in a war.
A De Montbelle heir! I didn't care about the princely name -- although, of course, Laurent D'Allegro et de Montbelle sounded awfully nice, regal even! Nor did I care about the fortune I was entitled to, no matter how humongous it might be -- Celeste's inheritance was more than enough for a lifetime, and we hadn't sold a single painting from her exquisite collection. With part of her money, I had built my dream house overlooking the Pacific Ocean -- yes, towards the direction where Punaouilo was -- and I wasn't cogitating living in a palace, not yet. The Château de Montbelle was not in my plans, nor did I feel I should avenge my grandmother, who had never occupied it. What I actually cared about was my recently expanded family, my newly acquired history and ascendancy. I cared about my uncle. But the answers I now longed for would not come from Carlo.
I wondered what Catherine would say about my father's story. Would she deny it? What parts would she try to twist in an unexpected way to serve her own purposes? And what were those purposes? Why lie? Would she come up with new lies? Had she had them in stock, already? Catherine was a writer, and sometimes it seemed to me she was a professional liar, not quite realizing the boundaries between her imaginary world and real life -- since she went about life burdened by the lives of many people inside her head and heart.
She must have been pondering about that for the last thirty three years. I mean, what she would tell me when the truth was revealed? That's probably why Catherine had called me so many times during that afternoon, prior to Carlo's arrival. She could not extensively know what Carlo would tell me, but she had a good hint. And that's why she must have been so anguished as to try to reach me at the Nirvana Lounge during the wee hours.
Carlo and I had again fallen silent, each with his own thoughts.
It was not a heavy, annoying nor tense silence, that enveloped us in the taxi.
I had been exposed to that kind of peaceful quietude before, and I knew that Carlo was concentrating on his breathing, calming his feelings and his thinking. I was aware I should be doing the same, but questions and doubts were restlessly fossicking in my mind, unfinished thoughts colliding and creating more confusion.
From among them, a memory sprung. As a child, I used to be intrigued when my father, at the end of each day, would retreat to the back of the mansion's garden, but on the opposite side of where our little cottage was, and after sitting, retreat even further -- into silence and immobility, into himself. There was no other adult doing that in Punaouilo, and I found it rather curious.
And the more intrigued I was, when Catherine's reactions to those sitting periods of Carlo's were always so strongly negative.
"Go hide yourself, Carlo!" She would shout at my father, without even lifting her eyes from the text she might be reading or writing, as he stepped out onto the garden.
Of course, I had followed him to check where he was going to hide. But he just sit in the open, silent and immovable, day after day, in a place of the garden where everybody could spot him, from the distance even. How could someone hide and yet be seen by everyone?
"Your mother thinks I'm hiding because she believes I'm trying to escape reality when I do meditation." Of course, my next question was what meditation was, and what was it for? "To calm my mind and my heart." And I had to ask what the mind and the heart were. "They are the rooms of the house where your thoughts live, and where your feelings live..." Our questions and answers sessions on the topic went on and on, until we were called for dinner by Joanna.
"Won't you die, dad? Won't you become stupid?"
I was concerned when my father said he was trying to silence the thoughts in his mind.
"One might become livelier, Laurent. And more intelligent, with a clearer and sharper mind, by meditating."
I'll never forget how he had demonstrated it. First, he requested me to thoroughly paint and draw and scribble a single leaf of blank paper. Then, when the paper was full, he instructed me to add a new drawing that had to be more beautiful than anything else that already existed on that piece of paper. Obviously, there was no space left, and when I tried to draw on top of everything else, it became blurred, unclear, dirty. "Now, if you erase one corner, you'll find that space... And the more empty space you make, the more room you have for new things to come up... In your mind and your heart, equally."
I did not try meditation until many years later, and I'm not sure I actually recalled the insights Carlo had shared with me when I was a child.
After having learned of Laura's existence, I was very desperate at the last months of my relationship with Angelo, fearing the end was near -- and someone had suggested I tried meditation. I don't remember who it was, but I do remember my first retreat of total silence, and how after a few hours I had been annoyed by my own mental voice, continuously commenting and complaining and endlessly chatting in my mind -- and how I had told myself, quite unwise and impolitely, to shut up.
Nothing ever helped me to overcome my grief and that feeling of being hollow like meditation did -- and the realization that I was actually empty, too, my mind just like a blank screen were many projections came and went by, thoughts, perceptions, feelings -- sadness being just one of them, and just as impermanent and unstable like all others. Feelings of inadequacy and rejection, suicidal thoughts, the urge of revenge -- everything came and went, as I watched my mind like a vaster blank screen that nothing could never quite fill. And suffering lost its power to take hold of me.
Over the years, I quit meditation. Because it made me feel detached, parting me from the young and wild crowd of my own age, who was into partying, drinking, dancing and having sex. As much as it brought me peace and put me in contact with the timeless present, meditation had made me feel displaced, old, and out of my own time -- and I don't know why I pictured dwelling in timeless peace a bad thing to come upon me.
For meditation was very effective in lessening not only my suffering -- it also was decreasing my lust. But instead of persisting in that path of mental liberation, I had joyfully and carelessly chosen to join the lively and loud gay crowd for ten years. Blame it on my youth?
But in the back seat of that taxi, by my father's side, in touch with his peaceful silence, contrasting the turmoil in my own mind and heart, I again felt like getting in touch with that aspect of myself I had pushed aside.
Mostly because I perceived meditation as something ultimately linking me to Armand, and consequently to my De Montbelle blood. A noble transmission -- coming through Carlo -- I had never dreamt of. I actually wanted to ask whether my uncle, that surprising wonderful new presence in my life, had remained being my father's only master on the so called spiritual path.
And an idea, that would become my mission in the years to come, bloomed in my heart -- I wanted to locate and visit the Île du Blanchomme, the island of my conception, where I had been first of all an apparition during my father's meditation sessions at sunrise. Would he help me locate it?
I guess we were both tired and weary from such a long conversation, to be willing to still carry it on. It had been unexpectedly peaceful, and neither Carlo nor I wanted to dig any deeper than that, for the moment, because we were treading on mined terrain. Both he and I knew Catherine would have to be summoned upon stage. There were too many things I had to take in, and I'd probably need to be on my own to start that digestive process. But by having accepted my father's invitation for breakfast, a step had been taken into the future, into a new common future, that's how I felt it now, moving farther away from the shattered past. There was no need for calculations -- we hadn't had a breakfast together for twenty years.
It was simply a meal, but also a confirmation that our relationship had been reestablished, without the need for words, nor any formal treaty -- that was the soothing sentiment that filled me, as I followed Carlo up the stairs to the dining hall of his hotel. More like a guesthouse, really, with a very homely feeling to it, fading family photographs in peeling enamel frames and lots of artcraft and other handmade stuff as decoration, that made an odd collection and ode to kitsch.