Last night, before falling asleep, she had realized winter was almost over. “No more cold,” she thought, stretching out between the sheets. As if from a limpid world, the clear sounds of the night reached her, restored to their original purity. The ticking of the clock, almost imperceptible during the day, filled the room with a nervous throb, causing her to imagine a clock in a land of giants. The steps on the pavement seemed to her like those of an assassin, or a madman escaped from an asylum, and her heart and pulse beat faster. The sound of a woodworm gnawing was surely the announcement of some imminent danger: perhaps the insistent pounding was a friendly ghost endeavoring to keep her awake and vigilant. With, not fear, but a sense of dread, she moved closer to Jaume and snuggled up to him. She felt protected, her mind free of thought.
The moonlight, blending with the glow of the street lamp, reached the foot of the bed, and every now and then a gust of fresh air, full of night perfume, brushed her face. She savored the caress and compared its freshness to the freshness of other spring breezes. The flowers will come, she thought, and blue days with long, pink sunsets and warm waves of sun and pale dresses. Overcrowded trains will carry people whose eyes will shine with the excitement of the big holidays. All the things that accompany fair weather will appear, to be taken away in the autumn by a strong wind and three heavy rainstorms.
She lay there awake in the middle of the night finding pleasure in the thought of leaving winter behind. She raised her arm and shook her hand: the metal jangle made her smile. She stretched voluptuously. The bracelet shone in the light of the arc lamp and the moon. It had been hers since that afternoon, and she watched it shining against her skin, as if it were part of her. She made it jangle again. She wanted three of them. All the same. Three chains to be worn together.
“Can’t you sleep?”
“I will in a moment.”
If he could know how much she loved him! For everything. Because he was so good, because he knew how to hold her tenderly as if he were afraid of breaking her, with more love in his heart than in his eyes, and she was one to know if there were love in his eyes. Because he lived only for her, the same way she had lived for her cat when she was little: anxiously. She had suffered because she was afraid her cat suffered. With troubled eyes she would anxiously look for her mother: “He finished the milk; he’s still hungry . . . His neck’s caught in the ball of yarn; he’s going to choke . . . He’s playing with the fringe on the curtain and when he hears someone he stops and pretends he doesn’t notice, but he’s so scared his heart’s pounding . . . ”
She felt like kissing him, not letting him sleep, pestering him until in the end he would want the kisses as much as she did. But the night was high, the air sweet, and the bracelet shiny . . . Little by little she lost consciousness and fell asleep. *
But now that it was morning, she was miserable. From the bathroom came the sound of running water. It was pouring into the sink. She recognized the unmistakable clink of his razor being placed on the glass shelf, then the bottle of cologne. Every unambiguous sound conveyed the precision of his actions.
She was uncomfortable lying facedown, her elbows propped on the bed, hands pressed against her cheeks. She was counting the arrondissements in a Paris guidebook. One, two, three . . . The sound of the water distracted her and she lost count. She could only find nineteen. Where did she go wrong? She started with Ile Saint-Louis and started around. Four, five, six . . . The tender colors calmed her anger. The blues, pinks, purples, the splashes of green from the parks, all of them reminded her of the end of summer when every tree turned gold or copper. On other days, the stream of water from the next room brought a rush? of summer happiness, evoking memories of wide rivers reflecting low-flying birds, of white coves with seaweed on the sand; but today the sound filled her with melancholy.
Of course, it was ridiculous to worry about a morning without kisses, and she deliberately chose the word “worry” to avoid a harsher one that would give rise to waves and waves of resentment. But she had always loved the first morning kisses… They tasted of sleep, as if discarded sleep returned through his lips and reached her closed eyes that wanted to sleep again. Those playful kisses were worth everything. One, two, three, four, five . . . Ile Saint-Louis, Châtelet, Rue Montyon . . . seventeen, eighteen . . .
Now the shower. It was as if she could see him under it, as the drizzle began, his eyes shut, groping for the towel he had left on the rim of the bathtub. When he found it, he would hold out his arm so it wouldn’t get wet; then he would wait five minutes. Peculiar habits. Like eating candy while taking a bath: your body soaking, your mouth full of sweetness.
It’s over, she thought. Love is ending. And this is how it ends, quietly. The more she imagined him calmly under the shower, the angrier she became. She would leave him. She could see herself packing her bags. And the details were so real, her imagination evoked them so vividly, that she could almost feel in her fingertips the folded, soft, silky clothes that with regret she placed in the suitcase that was now too small for all her things. Oh, yes, she would leave. She could see herself at the door. She would leave at daybreak. She would go down the stairs without making any noise, almost on tiptoe.
But he would hear her. He wouldn’t have been woken by her light step, but rather by a mysterious feeling of loneliness. In a frenzy he would rush down the stairs after her and take her by the arm as she reached the first floor. The conversation would be brief, the silences more eloquent than the words.
“I’m leaving you,” she would say in a low voice.
“What are you saying?” he would ask in amazement.
Could she leave so much tenderness? He would look at her with tremendous sadness: so many words, so many Paris streets, so many days drawing to a close at a time when they were just beginning to dream of their love. She wasn’t counting now. She was looking at the map. In front of every important building he had told her: “I love you.” He had said “I love you” while crossing the street, seated at an outdoor café, under every tree in the Tuileries. He would write “I love you” on a scrap of paper, roll it up and secretly slip it in her hand when she least expected it. He would write “I love you” on a little piece of wood that he tore off a matchbox or on the foggy window of a bus. That’s how he would say “I love you”: joyfully, not expecting anything in return, as if happiness was simply being able to say “I love you.” Here, where her eyes now rested, at the tip of Ile Saint-Louis—the water and sky so blue, tenderly blue the horizon and the river—here he had also said “I love you.” She could see Place de la Concorde on a rainy evening. Lights were reflected on the glistening pavement, and beneath each lamp was born a river of light. She could see an umbrella approaching, as if she were looking down from a roof. At the end of each rib of the tiny umbrella—between the ribs, too—there stood a drop of water. Paris: roofs, chimneys, ribbons of fog, deep streets, bridges over still water. The bad weather had kept inside all the women who knit in parks near their blond children and had left the lovers outside—together with the roses and tulips in gardens. It had left the two of them under the umbrella with their newly exchanged “I love you”s and their tremendous nostalgia for love.
While still on the landing of the first floor, she would tell him: “If we don’t love each other anymore, why do you want me to stay?” She would make a point of using the plural, not because it was true, but so he would see that her decision was irrevocable and be forced to understand that there was no other solution. On the street she would encounter rain. Not the rain of lovers, but the rain of those made sad by life’s repeated bitterness, the rain that brings mud and cold, dirty rain that makes the poor complain because it ruins their clothes and shoes and causes children with wet feet to catch cold on their way to school. She would board the train mechanically. A train with dirty windows, with thousands of drops of water trickling down the side. Then there would be the sound of wheels and the shrill whistle. The End.
A new life would begin. She would have to attack it without regret, with great willpower, saying: “Today life begins, behind me there is nothing.” How would her sister receive her? And her brother-in-law?
She would find Gogol: fat, ungainly, dirty, his hair white, his lifeless eyes marked with red spots. Her brother-in-law had christened him at the time of his passion for Russian literature, a passion that was replaced by crossword puzzles. He had found him crouching on the side of the road like a pile of rubbish. Feeling sorry for him, he put him in his Ford and didn’t realize he was blind until after he’d had him at home for a while. Marta had complained. A blind dog: what good was that? But it would have been too sad to throw him out… He walked slowly, head down, bumping into furniture. He would lie in the corner or the middle of the room, and if someone approached he would raise his head as if looking at the sky. They kept him, but it was depressing.
“Bon dia, Teresa,” her sister would say when she saw her, “always the same, never letting us know you’re coming. Pere, it’s Teresa, put aside your crossword puzzle and come here.” Then the rejoicing would begin. She would feel a terrible loneliness. The house on the outskirts of town would seem sordid to her: the covered entrance had no glass—not that the glass had broken, but rather it had never been put in. The walls were full of drawings Pere had made during his leisure time, abominable, surrealistic drawings that made her dizzy.
“What a surprise, sister-in-law!” Twenty years of bureaucracy hadn’t taken away the liveliness from his voice, or the freshness of his laughter, but his eyes were sad and greedy. It was the look of someone suffocating, with no voice left to cry for help. *
Her eyes welled up. She could no longer see the tender colors on the map.
Not a sound came from the bathroom. He must be putting on his tie; he must be combing his hair. Soon he would be coming out. Quick, quick, she thought. If only the clock could be turned back, back to a previous moment. Back to the little house last year by the sea. The sky, water, palm trees, the fiery red of the sun reflected at sunset on the glass of the balcony. Blooming jasmine gripping the balcony. And the clouds, the waves, the wind that furiously blew the windows closed… It was all in her heart.
A burst of tears and sighs shook the bed. She cried in despair as if a river of tears were forcing itself out through her eyes. The more she tried to restrain herself, the sharper the pain. “What’s the matter, Teresa?” He was by her side, surprised and hesitant. Oh, if the crying could only be stopped, controlled. But his voice brought on another flood of tears. He sat on the bed, very close to her, put his arm around her and kissed her hair. He didn’t know what to say, nor did he understand. She had him once more. She had him by her side, even with all there was on the map, and more. Much more than could possibly be conveyed: the smell of water was the rain on the umbrella, on the still, frightened river; it was the iridescent drops on the tips of leaves, hidden drops on rose leaves. The roses didn’t drink them, those iridescent, secret drops. They guarded them jealously, as she did the kisses.
Could she tell him the truth? Now that she had him beside her, his face full of anguish as he leaned toward her, giving himself fully to her, the drama that had arisen in half an hour melted like snow in fire. “Can’t you tell me what’s the matter?” He gently brushed the hair away from her wrists and kissed her. She couldn’t say a word but felt at peace. He threw the map on the floor and hugged her as he would a child. He truly loved her, she thought, and would never have been able to think the absurd things she sometimes did. They had come so far together. They were one in the midst of so many people.
And the girl full of anger who wanted to catch the train, who wanted to flee, to slip down the stairs unexpectedly without being seen, began to dissolve. She was carried away like witches by the smoke. She went up an imaginary chimney and was swept away by the wind, and slowly picked apart until nothing was left. What remained, all curled up, was a girl without troubles, without agitation, a girl unaware that she was tyrannically imprisoned within four walls and a ceiling of tenderness.