We arrive at our rented apartment in Paris, open the door from the street, and walk into a flower bedecked courtyard, feeling as if we’re in a movie set, Before Sunrise, or Before Sunset.
Which starts me thinking about romance (being in Paris an’ all), the over the top variety, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Cyrano de Bergerac, Wuthering Heights, La Boheme, Moulin Rouge, Strait is the Gate, which I read or listen to or watch over and over again.
And this Parisian interlude reminds me of one of my own bits of over the top romance, not in real life, but in narrative form, in Defiant Island.
(I realise I’m about to break my self-imposed weekly 100 word limit, but literature – if that’s what I write – transcends rules, and anyway I made the rule so I can break it.)
The background: Penelope and Patrick are the world wandering, world weary lovers, whose lives repeatedly collide, intertwine, and splinter; whose backgrounds render them unable to live together; whose affections won’t let them live apart.
Excerpt #1 is Patrick’s reflections, as he seeks solace on White Rock Island, on his and Penelope’s latest parting:
What are we now, Penelope? Old friends? Old lovers? Nothing? I don’t think I could bear the latter. I’d like us to be friends, old and special friends, as we used to be. I wish now that old and special friendship had never become love. Could it have been avoided, or were we fixed on an inexorable, inevitable drive to love? If a certain eye contact had been missed, a serendipitous touch unacknowledged, a sudden intrusion of circumstances avoided, could we have avoided love?
When did it start? Was there one moment when we were friends, the next when we loved? Was it a lightning strike tempering friendship into love, or was it a gradual encroachment, a tide of love creeping stealthily over the sands of our long friendship? I don’t know. I think all we can do is look back and say – there, at that moment, I know I loved you then.
That moment in the snow between our houses – I know I loved you then! I knew – we knew – at that moment things would never be the same again in our lives. As we looked at one another then, we knew, no matter what happened thereafter, whether our destinies entwined or diverged, we knew love would always be between us. There was nothing we could do to undo it.
Neither do we know the moment when love dies – lightning strike of contempt or creeping tide of indifference; only that it has died.
We had a ritual, whenever we got out of bed during the night, leaving the other, of touching when we returned – a stroke of the hip, a pat on the arm, something. Did you know that? When we met in Monaco last year, you got out of bed in the night and sat by the window for half an hour. You didn’t realise I was awake, too. When you came back to bed that night, you didn’t touch me, so I didn’t touch you.
Excerpt #2 takes place during perhaps their most bitter estrangement:
He’d seen her on the cover of Chic and Toronto Weekend, and in the pages of Elegance. He’d also seen her – imagined he’d seen her – in Vancouver, Seattle, Boston, Marseilles, Hamburg and Rome. He carried her image so constantly that it was easy for him to imprint it onto any woman bearing the slightest resemblance seen from a distance, even as he told himself it was impossible that it was her.
But it was not impossible. He went to Salzburg, for pleasure, and was sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe near the Mozarteum when he saw her. He looked away, telling himself he was imprinting her image again. He looked back. It was Penelope, walking ostensibly alone, but with her stylists and her agent at a discreet distance alongside and behind her, and a photographer bobbing and weaving in front, shooting pictures from low angles. When Penelope saw Patrick, she faltered. He held his coffee cup still below his mouth. Their eyes met and locked. He saw her teeth bite at her lower lip and was pleased at the secret agitation it revealed. His hand was shaking, spilling coffee. Who would look away first? He bowed his head to his coffee. She swept past him, and the photograph that appeared in Allure – it became well known and established the photographer’s reputation – showed the beautiful, famous face and body ignored by the sullen café occupant too intent on his coffee even to notice, let alone appreciate, such sublime loveliness.