TogetherBy Claude SERILLON Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa
I’d prefer “we.” But he doesn’t say it. Ever. It’s unthinkable for him to say we. I’ve known that for 20 years. I’ve known it since I was 20. He’s a dry, stiff man. He’s a sailor. He can go entire days without uttering so much as a word. And that’s how I fell in love. The boys my age talked all the time. They spent hours on the phone. They rattled on for hours. I stayed silent. They called me the mute. But I still came and hung out with them. They said books made me dumb. Sometimes I brought along a novel and sat reading in a corner. In a corner of the bar. Almost every night except Mondays, because that’s when the brasserie was closed. And also because on Mondays I baby-sat my brothers, the little twins. They were 2 years old. My stepfather sold produce at farmer’s markets. He talked all the time and said things like “this better not last or else,” not menacing really, just hard-headed. He sensed that he wouldn’t live long. He came home in the early afternoon, put the crates of unsold fruit and vegetables in the storeroom and went to bed. I passed him. He always smiled at me like a nice man. I can’t remember his first name. In any case, he died in his sleep. My mother found him late one afternoon. She had been worried when she didn’t see him come out of the room.
My mother was still a schoolteacher then. She retired the day she turned 50. My brothers are in college. Or at least that was how it was before my story, before the accident, before I met him. My brothers and my mother haven’t spoken to me since, they turned away at the trial and they never knew about the sailor. They would have thought he was sad and uninteresting. They would have
made fun of me and this worthless man who didn’t have a thing to offer me. I’m not very talkative, you know, I count my words. You’re the one I’ve been searching so long for. A stranger, he exclaimed, his black eyes laughing. He had found me in Paris, on the Métro platform. I looked like what I was. I was teaching history and geography. I gave private lessons to pay the rent while I waited for who knows what, and that way no one knew I had been in prison. I told him right away. He waited a few seconds, then asked how I planned to erase it.
I won’t erase it.
So then let’s live with it.
It was at that moment and because he had said “let’s” that I loved him. You’ll have to be patient. I’m slow.
It’s not true. He molds time with the pretension of a man who believes he can outwit the invisible.
And me, I wait with my certainties. When he decides to go, it’s time to go. No longer out to sea, but always to a place where waves crash onto the edge of the earth. The ocean hasn’t stopped, will never stop, washing up on the shore. I understand what he feels. We are under siege. We resist. That’s how he got me. I didn’t calculate anything. Olivier was born inland, near volcanoes. In Auvergne. He has a big book about volcanoes with terrifying photographs, people turning their heads as they flee, people holding hands, animals with fear in their eyes as lava, very red and thick, oozes only two meters away, and also drawings, diagrams and explanations filling entire pages. The volcanoes are dormant but they can always awaken. I thought he treated me like a child. But no, that’s his way of doubting, to never hold on to a certainty. You don’t know, so either you say nothing or you doubt, you ask the question without expecting an answer, you ask it in order to keep searching. He showed me his secret. In his hand. I thought he had found a treasure. It is in a way, he said. His hands scared me. Too heavy, too big, too clean. The first time he touched me I stifled a cry. His tenderness was unimaginable. It was in February, it was raining, we sought refuge in a car. He started at my neck and then moved to the buttons on my blouse. I kissed his hands before letting myself be taken.
He already had it. It’s a Southern Cross with four stars, like a compass. To find the north? To find everything, all the directions of the world, where it ends and where it is doesn’t, infinitely.
It was made of metal, big enough to cover his palm. This way he said indicating one of the extremities of the cross with a nod of his head that I immediately tried to interpret, this way there is peace, the opposite way is children, and on each side are the dead and the living. Later, after he had returned from an escapade he showed me the cross again and told me that he had been mistaken, that now he knew the truth, that it was not the living, it was loves. He didn’t say love but used the plural. So that he wouldn’t have to explain. I understand that he had come to me by following the direction of the living and that he loved me even more but that it was not yet the moment to admit it.
Time to go! And this way!
We took our bags and I thought we wouldn’t be coming back. I thought that it was thus and that life offered me such strange opportunities. We of course went toward the sea, which I could have sworn we would, but he put his cross back in his pocket. He didn’t want to wear it around his neck like other sailors he knew. It’ll be windy he mumbled as he put on his hat. An American one made of blue canvas. At the bus station he went to buy sandwiches. We laughed when the bus broke down after less than two hours on the road. We had to wait for another bus, we stayed with the other passengers in a gym, we drank coffee and the smokers went outside. There were mostly men but also three young couples who talked all the time. They were Portuguese.
We would go through Lisbon because he had business there. I loved him right away because he never pretended. He took his time, too. No, I’m lying. He went fast with me. He told me that day in the car in the rain that now I would live with him. And that it would be a beautiful life. In Porto he told me to wait for him on the terrace of a café. I did nothing. Just watched cars and people. He would not leave me.
With him I stopped being frightened. Of course as a child I had been afraid of the dark, of being alone, of being lost in the forest. With him such nightmares disappeared from my memory. The boat had already left. I understood that in his mind we would have to take a boat. I didn’t know when or where we would go. He sighed and led me to understand that we were heading back to
France. After that the trip was long. We slept in hotels and bed and breakfasts, in Spain, near Barcelona, then in Sète. In Marseille he again told me to wait a few days. He took out his cross and showed me the setting sun. The next direction is west, I’m sure. And the other points? The children? Children? He swept his hand through his hair, almost taken aback by my question. Maybe he thought I was talking about me and having a child but really I hadn’t thought of it. I had never thought of it. When he returned, he noticed my tan. I went to the Pharo beach.
I swam every day. I walked and then I found something for you. Since we had been together, he had always seemed embarrassed when I gave him a gift. At a market behind the Old Port I had found red espadrilles. I suppose I had sensed we were heading toward the sand and the sea. I got two tickets to Casablanca. He didn’t tell me how he had paid for these tickets or why we were taking an airplane. It was unexpected. And he seemed to be in a hurry. I went to get my bag at the hotel and at the reception desk the young man said good-bye and wished me a good trip. He was probably accustomed to travelers who never stay long in the same city. I had wanted to tell him that the trip I was making with my sailor would be definitive. I often sense what is to come, see it so clearly that I can describe objects and faces. I have no recollection of Casablanca. We left the airport. No wind.
Different sounds, conversations and music played on loud speakers. There was some sort of celebration or a big sporting event I think. It was quite impressive with flags from all the countries in the world flapping. We crossed a parking lot and walked beside some buildings before stopping in the shade and then someone called to him. He was driving an open-bed truck; inside the cab the heat was suffocating. The driver shook my hand and welcomed me into the oven while assuring me that it would be bearable when we drove with the windows open. He was carrying tile in the back. Three or four pallets of tile. Big colored tiles. After about three hours, we stopped and sat on the side of the road while he performed his prayers. Everything went slow and fast at the same time, an empty feeling, as if I sensed once again that the important thing would be at the end of the journey. We exchanged very few words. My sailor leaned toward me and whispered that they had sailed together, that he was a trustworthy guy and that everything had gone fine until now. And that it would be the same upon arriving. He took my hand. And I wanted to kiss him and fall into his arms. A desire for him. And the road stretched ahead for a long time. I dozed off and then we stopped again. I think we made some detours. The load had lightened. The delivery of two pallets had cost us a good two hours but the people who were waiting for us were friendly, we ate and drank tea and beer, they showed us their house, their garden but the two girls kept their distance. The wife was pregnant and smiled all the time. Her husband told me only that it would be a son if God willed it.