Geneviève had done a lot of phoning and the long and the short of it was that they’d need to get to the … er … place … about 14:00.
She made contact with the Russian end and they asked for some hours grace to move hell and high water to find things out. Ludmilla knew whom to contact and the message came back, late afternoon, that the Russian way would be for a normal burial – they deeply distrust cremation and the orthodox religious view is negative as well. However, if it were a choice between the body being buried in a foreign land or the ashes going back to Russia, that would be a 50-50 decision, Hugh’s decision in the end. They could advise no further.
He said he’d give it 24 hours to think.
Then they went to the morgue and Geneviève waited outside in the corridor.
If he thought he was going to be horrified, strangely, he wasn’t. She was covered to the neck and though he wanted to see what they’d done, he thought this was one indignity too many and he wanted to remember her this way. Obviously bereft of life, physical life at least, the soul was somewhere.
The thing was, the soul was not here now, not in the body. The body had served its purpose during her life and now it was just the outer casing remaining, after the resident had moved on.
He still felt it was right to kiss her and did … but lightly. ‘Ksenia, I shall come tomorrow if they’ll let me, if not, then tell me it’s OK just to see you at the funeral, I think we’re doing it right, it would be nice if you’d indicate one way or the other but maybe you can’t.
I know about the 9th and 40th days … and the one year – that will be done. I expect you’ll be around then. Look, I just want to say that it doesn’t matter, who knows what might have happened but it didn’t and if we end up in the same place eventually, well no harm. I know your soul is alive and you’ll be seeing me from time to time. OK love, take care.’
As he began to choke, he left a kiss and went through the doors, breathing heavily, eventually composing himself – she’d always hated emotion, Ksusha.
Geneviève stayed in the room with him this night as well and almost immediately asked him if she could speak. She told him the things which were going to have to be faced and she’d kept the police away from him so far.
‘Do they have a theory?’
‘Marc saw someone slip from the branch of a tree two walls over, the other side of the carpark, close to the road, he could only vaguely describe the man – young, normal, casual clothes. If Marc gives his evidence, then the inquiry will take longer. Which do you want?’
He thought about it, what she would have decided. Nah, it wasn’t going to bring her back to life. It was decided.
The funeral itself was low key, just the people who’d been at the wedding in fact. She was laid to rest in the church grounds, by dispensation and the Russian end saw the necessity for it to be that way, Dilyara would represent them but as she was Muslim, it was a curious situation for her.
The 8th night came and Francine drove him to the chapel, Geneviève sitting in the back. They parked the car in the gravel carpark as far away from the scene as possible, facing the other way, in fact. Hugh, rugged up in a warm jacket plus the Scarf, approached the spot, the point where …
He didn’t know what to do so he knelt down in the darkness, frozen internally for an hour, finding it difficult to breathe. Then he prayed for her on behalf of all the people in Russia with whom she was connected and then he returned to the car.
Francine took him to the gateway on the 9th night and he begged Ksenia not to visit the next night when he was no longer there. He’d come back here on the 39th and 40th night – have you got that? The 39th and 40th night, all right?
About 11:30, he felt she was there but couldn’t be sure – she certainly didn’t manifest herself.
About 11:50, he was certain she called, ‘Hugh.’
Midnight chimed, there was an end to it.
Francine and Jean had been marvellous but there were definite limits to hospitality, not in their book of course but in Geneviève’s and his. Hugh walked with them in Fontainebleau forest next morning and they reached an agreement.
‘I’ll be back for the 39th day.’
‘You must stay here, anywhere else would be … unthinkable.’
At the airport, Geneviève stood very close, there was no doubt whatever what this was about, he thanked her profusely and boarded.
Shadzhara was like coming home. Much time was spent with Viktor and Anya, there were discussions at the university, he’d also need re-registration, today he knew he had to go to Ksenia’s own flat.
When he got there, he went through the rooms and decided to be simply matter of fact, to do what needed doing. He’d put everything into three categories – house type things which could be dealt with here and now, joint things like photographs of the two of them that he would spend hours on at a later stage and then her very personal things, childhood things perhaps, which he’d box up and one day sort through, with delicacy.
Early November, 2003
The inquiry took place on the 38th day, thank goodness and so the trip dovetailed well. Interestingly, Anya flew in with him.
Le chaplain de l’Eglise Anglicane de Fontainebleau, John Wilkinson, gave his evidence, the police gave theirs and everyone else gave theirs. It was always going to be an open verdict – person or persons unknown. Marc had said nothing, which may or may not have been wrong but it hardly mattered in the context of Ksenia now being at rest.
Anya stayed with Dilyara that night, Hugh went straight to the Lodge and the next day was spent quietly, Francine remained with him all day, as it was not deemed good for him to be alone, Anya spent her time with the baby … oh and with Dilyara too, of course. And Marc.
22:45 on the 39th day saw the car pull into the rear car park of the church one last time.
The months back in Shadzhara were dire. He’d always loved Russia but now that this had happened he was more and more morose, dislocated.
He put on a bit of an act at university because they were neither going to understand nor overly sympathize, lesson after lesson after lesson, plus he was being paid to deliver but when he got home to Ksenia’s flat in the evening, it was cold and dark and the presence of Yulia was always there in the other room.
Anya made it bearable, as did Viktor – when they were available that was and it was fine for the time but there was no permanency here anymore. None in Britain either, nor Australia – this line of thinking had to stop because everyone and his dog knew to which French lady his thoughts had now drifted and not many felt this was a healthy thing, even a dignified thing.
He’d have liked to have been with a Russian woman, he was used to Russian women, but none beat a path to his door, he went alone to Giuseppe, no one came over to his table these days, Liya wasn’t in the city, nor was Dilyara, he didn’t dare try to contact Alisa, even if he could find her.
As was always going to happen, he phoned Geneviève.
‘I’m not the only woman in Paris, Hugo.’
‘Yes you are.’
There was silence at the other end. She then said quickly, ‘Come for three months. I have to go now.’
He heard the fumbled click, looked at the receiver and replaced it.
For their critical meeting, Anya and he chose a strange Eastern restaurant – you climbed a ladder to a mezzanine where standing up was impossible, so you languorously lay, not unlike Eastern potentates, on a series of cushions, and dipped into the food at leisure.
An unworthy thought crossed his mind – would she be a Queen or concubine? It was so intensely close, even after all which had passed between them, that he asked, ‘How can we do this if we don’t feel anything for each other?’
‘But we do, it’s just all the other things which got in the way. There’s no need to deal with anything, just lying here together, it’s an evening out, a fantasy.’
‘So – your thoughts?’
She grinned her grin. ‘You know me. I do have feelings for … someone but I’m not happy with the terms.’
He nodded. ‘I’ll be going to Paris for three months.’
‘Yes you must, but not forever.’
Viktor and he went to Giuseppe for a pizza and then drove back for that famous coffee.
‘It’s not unlike when you came over here, Man. Things were up in the air then and later they weren’t. I don’t want you to leave because good friends are hard to come by but you do have to follow this. You take care.’
On the phone, Geneviève apologized that she couldn’t be at the airport this time round and that’s because she was confused. She was quite open and honest about it.
She needed him safely at the Lodge for a few days, Francine was fine with that. She’d then have to think out many issues in her mind and might then appear, maybe not. Would he forgive her for being so capricious? Would he understand if her answer was not that which he’d hoped for?
Of course he would.
His own flat had gone, Ksenia’s had tenants – an elderly couple – he’d completed his last obligations to the university. Eight months after that event.
The flight was uneventful, the stop in Frankfurt just like any other stop in Frankfurt.
At Orly was Marc, they embraced, went back and saw Dilyara and the baby – cute little thing – chatted about this and that and then he was taken to his rendezvous with Francine, things deposited at the Lodge and he was whisked down to the Anglican Chapel – Francine wanted to get this out of the way first.
In the carpark, nothing had altered, not the trees, not the gravel, nothing. He felt Ksenia was not present this time, he returned to Francine, got in the car and spoke, in faltering French, ‘We haven’t had much to do with one another, Francine and yet you’ve done all these things for us, je vous remercie.’
She gave a self-deprecating Gallic shrug and smiled at him. Then, on an impulse, she took his hand in hers, lifted it and kissed it as a man would have done.
The Lodge was not the same place – lovely as ever of course and Francine was sweet but it was not the same place. She knew that, everyone knew why he was here this time, everyone felt the tension and it was her job to report back up the line on his state, what he said – she laughed and admitted that to him. He smiled.
He chose to be in the same bed as Ksusha – in that room – but it was empty now and Ksusha wasn’t here.
Next morning, he looked out of the window and the familiar forest was beckoning, Francine had had to get up to town and now he saw two things on the stool at the foot of the bed – a note and a key. The note was in English: ‘Make yourself comfortable. Food is in the fridge.’
Well, well, perhaps Francine’s tiff with Jean had reached proportions where she’d gone up to town, perhaps she was on duty, perhaps a lot of things. He was ready to make the shift to the Mercure if necessary.
Using the key, he went into the main half and felt uneasy being there, despite the invitation. Making a beeline straight for the fridge, there was another note that he should find the container ‘called Hugh’. He smiled. ‘Called’ Hugh?
The casserole was microwaved and it was the goods all right, things were washed up and it was time to hit the forest. No Geneviève to be seen and he hadn’t expected that – at least, not yet.
The forest was superb, everything so … crisp.
He walked to the boulder he liked so much, the one Ksenia had skirted round and now he stood there, thinking, back against the rock. To phone Genie or not? No, he wouldn’t – that was way too forward, and yet, she might be half-hoping for that little push.
Nothing ventured …
The mobile was on roaming, he looked at her number staring back at him and thought to himself, ‘Does she want a man or a mouse?’
Stepping away from the rock, he pressed ‘call’, there was a second or two pause and then he heard it ringing but not only on his phone – it was also ringing some two hundred metres or so away and he nearly had a heart attack.
She came into view, light on her feet though unmistakably a woman, the full-on thing after Anya and he wondered if he wasn’t biting off more than he could chew here. He knew the Philippe type and he, Hugh, was not one of those, yet here she was, walking towards him and not slowly either.
Mon dieu, Geneviève thought to herself – what am I doing? Why? Why? And in that moment, she knew she was mightily peeved with Philippe, she was ready to cut that knot. Was she using Hugh?
She thought it over and concluded – yes.
And no – this might be the real thing.
There was one second of hesitation and only one second. It surprised and shocked both of them but they just came into each other’s arms as if they’d always done so, the kiss began so naturally, deepened as if they’d long been together and it all now became quite primitive, quite Rousseau.
This was both interesting but also disrespectful to Ksenia, although Ksenia could be raw as well. He saw another France here, this raw side where the sophistication was absent, where the ethnicity was quite apparent and the truth was that it was far more exciting deep in the country with someone from that country.
It was getting out of hand and she pulled away, a lady till the last. ‘Non, non, not here, not out here.’ Her accent went straight through him.
Taking his hand, she led him back hurriedly to the Lodge and turned to him at the gate.
‘Are you alone?’
He stopped dead. First move.
He thought about it for some seconds, thought of Ksenia looking on, hoped she’d understand what he meant when he said, ‘I’m alone.’
‘I have to be honest,’ she replied. ‘I don’t know if I’m alone yet. There are so many things, there is still Philippe you understand and I admit I’m confused. Everything tells me I should just go with you now but something else tells me that he, the Section, all of it, is important too.’
‘You have to sort that out in your head … Genie. You can’t go either that way to him or this way to me without being clear in your mind. Nor can I. If that means I have no chance, then I have no chance – I’ve been there before, I can be there again.’
‘And what then, Hugh? What do you have out there?’ She indicated the Gardener’s Lodge. ‘Shall we?’
They were at the little gate.
‘One moment please, Hugh. Look, if you really came to Paris to make me yours, then you would be patient, you would be serious about this relationship and you’d respect my wishes. Please say you’ll do this, that you’ll let me find my own way to you.’
‘Of course I shall, I can’t expect to just walk in and expect things to happen.’
‘Much has happened already, Hugh, much has. What if it takes me a long time to decide – too long?’
‘Then, as long as something hasn’t happened in the meantime, that’s the way it must be.’
She looked at him and sighed. ‘This is no affaire I’m contemplating with you but a new beginning. I don’t want empty words of romance, Hugh, I don’t want a man who only wants me for the physical things. I want a man who will be true, who wants to spend his life with me. I shall be loyal to that man and he will never complain that his woman does not treat him well.’
He listened to her speak of ‘his woman’, thrilled to the core. The air though felt distinctly chilly on their faces and both knew they’d have to go in and make the fire.
‘Come, enough words,’ she smiled.
They went through, he made the fire up and lit it, while she went next door for some wine and nibbles. When she returned, he was feeding kindling into the flames, putting on some larger wood and then a log. It would have to look after itself for now.
In terms of the rules of engagement they’d agreed at the door, they couldn’t very well get physical, could they but her whole body language said otherwise and so did his.
They both grinned. She sighed and rapidly removed her clothes, down to her lingerie then jumped into ‘her’ divan bed, the one she’d occupied those nights looking after him.
He followed suit, got in and drew her close, hands over her bare back, her body already moving rhythmically with his before they’d even begun.
What now? He fumbled with the clip of her brassiere, one of those impossible bgrs and it became apparent that he couldn’t unclip it. Now this was a turn-up and she laughed – this was excellent news in fact. She relaxed, slipped the straps off her shoulders, dropped it to her waist, brought the clip to the front and undid it. ‘If I didn’t know better, M. Jensen, I’d say you were a virgin.’
‘I am a virgin. Be gentle with me.’
Now she showed her amazing capacity to switch off. ‘Hugh, I have to warn you – no one gives you any chance, they’re sorry for your loss but they don’t see how you can achieve what you want. And yet I watched you with Ksenia and you treated her as I wish to be treated, I watched her in bed that night and knew she was happy with you.’
He waited for her to say more but she seemed to have finished.
She then said: ‘Well?’
‘Ah, right.’ He moved in, she ever so swiftly relinquished control, he paused briefly and a quizzically raised eyebrow on his part was interpreted correctly. ‘Yes, you need not worry about that.’
‘Ah.’ Natural was the word. Their lips met and it passed through the various stages, one thing really coming through that she was artless beneath that poise, a real enfant sauvage, underlining how much people of vulnerability really do emotionally lay themselves open.
There was no return now, her fever had him frenetic too, which in turn added fuel to hers and he’d moved into a hard rhythm.
They actually paused now, almost in suspended animation, while the import of what they were doing sunk in, then it began a new phase, slower, more powerful and yet quite peaceful.
When they paused for a break, she turned onto her back and with that amazing detachment again, said, ‘If you like, Hugh, Louise will get you introduced at the university – work should not be too hard to find and it will be some actual money for you. The flat I’ve already lined up, friend of mine – that’s if you’d like it and are prepared to pay the nominal rent. It’s in a nice part of the 12ème arrondissement, not far from us all.’
He just looked at her again, at this ability to switch off and then on again. Her mind was an interesting piece of machinery and for a person who ran such a tight Section, someone even her best friends called Mademoiselle, the way she did exactly as he told her now had him puzzled and even a little unsure – it was not exactly his metier to run the whole show.
She certainly wasn’t lazy but she preferred to join in with whatever he began. Occasionally she’d deflect him or adjust and he was quickly learning her as well – in fact it was really quite natural, as if they’d been together for a long time. From what little he’d heard, that man of hers did not appreciate what he had on his hands, the fool.
As their fronts were burning, he turned her over, wrapped his arms around her from behind, he was about to start again but she snuggled her bottom into him, found the most comfortable place, head on the pillow, that beautiful auburn hair everywhere and promptly fell asleep, leaving him marvelling, not altogether sure what had just happened.
Eventually he dropped off himself.
A commotion outside startled him out of his slumber. A car door had slammed and there was movement in the other building, they hadn’t drawn the drapes and she was still deep in sleep, breathing evenly and easily – she must have been very tired from her work. There just wasn’t time to get out of bed and get something on.
Oh faeces, he thought. Suddenly, the outer door from the other building opened, then their door and Francine, obviously preoccupied with something else, bustled in, took one look, muttered, ‘O, merde,’ and went straight back to the other building.
It woke Geneviève, she came to quite rapidly, took in the situation, buried her head in her hands for thirty seconds, said to herself, ‘Mon dieu,’ dropped her head back on the pillow, pulled her hands down to her hips in the most exquisite way and stared at the ceiling.
‘All right. Yes. Right. It’s done now. I’m not going to explain anything to her but maybe we shan’t be able to do this at the Lodge next time.’
Then she giggled.
The next thing, Francine came through again, more delicately this time, perched on the end of the bed in her elegant jeans and dark green top, observed his blank look, observed her apprehensive yet noncommittal look, smiled and raised her eyes to the roof.
That smile meant the world to both of them, their first tacit acceptance as … well … as an idea, as a concept.
Francine gazed at Geneviève, nodding. Geneviève gazed back in an almost defiant way. Then they both burst out laughing, Francine finally putting her hands on her lap and looking up at the ceiling again, muttering, ‘Mon dieu, mon dieu, mon dieu,’ with Hugh looking from one to the other.
‘Hmmm,’ she decided. ‘Anyone fancy something to eat? I’m famished. I’ll give you twenty minutes – Mademoiselle, you can use my bathroom, Hugh can use this one.’
Seated round the wooden dining table, sipping on a consomme, Francine put them straight. ‘It’s your business what you do but it does seem better down here than at Mademoiselle’s apartment. I’m very angry with Jean just now – he’s at his mother’s and I’ve just finished swearing at him. Now look, I love company and I especially want it now, I suggest you leave Hugh here and come down each evening.’
Geneviève looked dubious, Francine rested a hand on her forearm and said, ‘Truly, I’d prefer it to be here, it seems right here but it really does not seem right up in Paris, not yet, not so early. Besides, I hate being alone as you know, I detest it and quite frankly, I need you both now. At least until after the weekend. Please stay?’
‘And when Jean comes back?’
‘Then we’ll have bonhomie and a company of four. He’ll be delighted, I know him, we get on each other’s nerves here alone.’
‘Merci, Francine. Just for a few days.’
‘I have to get back now. Le manoir, il est votre manoir, mes petites,’ she chuckled, took care of herself in the nearest bathroom and then, walking back past them to the glass door, touched fingers and thumb and said, ‘Ciao.’
They looked at one another after she’d gone. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘she took that well.’
‘No she didn’t, Hugh, I played right into her hands. In our Section, there are two people dead against me being with Philippe, possibly a third, they think what you think of Philippe but they say nothing because that would drive me closer to him.
The President of this this Contre-Philippe Club is Francine herself.’
‘Oui et aujourd’hui, this has given her the fuel she needs. She needn’t say a word, she’d never say a word, Francine, she’d never look me in the eye and smile, she’d just be there with me and both of us would implicitly know.’
He was concerned. ‘I’m worried the bubble has now burst.’
‘No, that’s just the problem – quite the opposite in fact,’ she reached for his cheek, ‘and down here in the forest, well don’t you think it’s just too divine?’ Then she thought some more. ‘I’ve never made love down here before. It’s nice.’
‘It’s superb, you’re superb, let me pour some wine.’ He did the honours. ‘Who were the other two in that Club you spoke of?’
‘After Francine – Nicolette and maybe Emma. They’re working on Emma.’
‘So, your three most senior people, your most trusted people whom you love too.’
‘Yes Hugh, point taken and they’re right, especially Emma – she’s always right and that’s what I’m fighting. I’m the only one still wanting Philippe.’
‘But that can often be enough, Genie.’
‘Perhaps. I should have asked Francine to take me back up to Paris and I didn’t. When Philippe’s with me, it’s as I wish it, how I see my life going but when he’s away … with one of them sometimes … then I see that the Club is right.’
‘I’d still prefer to be in Philippe’s position than mine – the devoted love of a woman wins every time.’
‘It’s not a competition.’ He didn’t answer, she thawed and put her hand on his shoulder. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Do you want to go for a little walk?’
They dressed warmly, she went through to the kitchen and packed a backpack each, they put the boots on and off they went, through the sparse trees and over to the first ridge. He helped her down the rocks on the far side although she was probably better off doing it herself and on they went, deeper into the forest, down crags, up the other side, over boulders, sometimes jumping from one rock to the other.
On the last almost buried boulder on one slope, he lifted her up in his arms, her arms went round his neck and they took seven or eight wooden paces.
‘Heavy, aren’t I?’
By way of answer, he carried her over near a flat, smooth rock and set her down, she immediately saw the lie of it, he removed his jacket and put it behind her head, she attended to his attire, moved hers aside, lay back on the rock and the next fifteen minutes were powerful.
Three figures at the Lodge saw them appear over the last ridge an hour later – Francine, Jean and Emma.
With them now back inside the main building, Emma asked, ‘Weren’t you cold out there?’ to which Geneviève replied, ‘Only when we made love.’ Emma almost spilled her drink.
She asked if she could take M. Jensen for a walk. Hugh looked at Geneviève, she looked up at the ceiling and nodded. Now he was to get the professional once over – the verdict later would be interesting. He rugged up again and so did Emma.
Hugh wasn’t to know how far she was the Section Distant Early Warning or just how sharp she really was. Walking beside him down that now familiar path, towards the big boulders, she spoke in desultory terms for some time but the moment she reached the small clearing, she turned to him and asked what his intentions were.
He decided to be open, told of his first meeting with Geneviève, of the way it had gone, of how serious they were about it, that it was no affaire but something more, of how Francine had sprung them now at the Lodge.
‘We’ve all invested much in this Section, Hugh. I appreciate you allowing me to question you like this but you do understand that we put the Section first and Mademoiselle is the head of that Section. Therefore we are interested in her man.’
‘I know that Francine, Nicolette and maybe you too are against Philippe because of the way he takes her for granted. You’d also be aware of why I came back to Paris, Ksusha was also aware of all this but she was never in any danger that I had eyes for anyone but her.’
‘What if the Section felt you were a danger to it? Would you let Mademoiselle go, in the interests of the Section?’
‘Clever question but I think you can guess the answer – if Genie was so entwined with her Section that she felt I was a menace, then I’d withdraw from her, no question – and immediately too. But if it was only members of the Section telling me I was a menace, I’d talk it out with Genie.’
Emma nodded. ‘Do you love her?’
‘You can see that I do.’
‘I had no right to expect an answer to any of those questions. We’re always suspicious of new people and you’d understand, by the nature of what we do, we have to be very careful.’
‘It should be that way.’ It hadn’t been too great a leap of imagination to see that Emma was quite a prize in herself and when she now moved up to him and said, ‘I like you myself, Hugh,’ the alarm bells rang, he politely stepped back onto the path and asked, ‘Shall we go back?’
He’d played that one too well, she thought – genuine threats were always going to be personable, weren’t they? He seemed fine but she was going to dig deeper.
They walked back to the Lodge.
An early supper had been prepared because Emma had to go back up to Paris, the conversation became animated over this local issue or that, Francine gesticulated, Jean counter-gesticulated, Genie put in her comment and Hugh asked if it was about the local mayor.
It was. Emma asked his opinion, he smiled and took another mouthful of the casserole.
They finished up, Emma said her goodbyes, Geneviève went out to the car with her and they spoke out there for some time.
Under the covers on the made-up divan, he knew the conversation was going to get serious, he let her go first.
‘There’s something wrong in our Section and it might be to do with me. Occasionally, I become … less able to cope and it lasts a few days but I do come out of it.’
‘Well, that’s all right then.’
‘No, it’s not all right. Strange things happen in our Section – you need to know that now, not every man could accept the way we live. Philippe accepts it because he doesn’t care, somehow, I think you might care too much.’
‘Perhaps. May I ask – why does Emma hardly ever appear and the mysterious Nicolette never appears?’
‘Did you want them to?’
‘I think there were other things on our minds, Genie, I was just curious.’
‘Nicolette is the other side of me – when I am here, she is there, when I am there, she is elsewhere, we’re always on the phone. Emma you’ve met – she’s our strategist, our planner, our protector, she has a clockwork brain, Emma does and she’s always on the move.’
Time for him to get set up in Paris at the new apartement, before the city cleared out for summer and the hordes of tourists flocked in, he’d need to go to the university – there were many things to do.
She’d been up in town, had now come down but this time not staying. Francine was not home, he threw his things in the back, she put the car into gear and was soon on the highway, heading north.
‘Francine wants you permanently at the Lodge, a sort of caretaker, but that can’t be – your work is in Paris, you need to settle in and then we’ll have some days or nights at the Lodge. You do understand I can’t be with you the whole time now – one reason is security, the other is … me.’
‘And of course – Philippe.’
She slowed the car a little. ‘That’s so but please don’t keep on about it, that’s what the Club does and it does not help their cause.’
She relaxed and quickly flashed him a smile, grinding into third gear. He watched while she did that – she never cursed, never tried to cover up, just made a few attempts to get into third but when it did go in, the engine was too lumpy, yet she insisted on driving in third until the car started behaving itself which, on the slight incline now, it soon did.
It was an endearing trait and she had many of those.
The flat was not unlike hers in layout – many of them were similar in the area, not as leafy as her avenue but nice enough and for that rental – amazing. He saw it coming together, saw the work ahead at the university, saw that even if it didn’t work with Genie, he’d be happy enough with the life here – it had a good feel to it all.
She brought out coffee and unwrapped some sweetmeats she’d stopped by and bought, they had a most civilized coffee time.
The hour following was far less civilized.
‘I have to go.’ It was said with very little conviction, she washed and dressed, he was well aware she’d now pass from his life into another’s, he had to accept that for now.
‘It’s more difficult in Paris,’ he said unnecessarily.
‘Yes, I don’t like this.’ There, she’d come out with it. ‘It puts me on edge, Hugh. I’m not the type who can go from lover to lover, I become in tune with someone and I like to build from there. I can’t just go to you, then leave and go … there, I really don’t know what to do about it.’
‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Why? What for? You’re on a mission as you know, as we all know, I’m actually a major supporter of that mission, so those are empty words. Don’t say them because they’re torture for both of us. And tonight, do you think I’ll not be aware you’re alone here? I should never have let you come … but then I’d never have forgiven myself if you hadn’t … especially if I’d been the one who’d prevented you.’
It was 17:40, Geneviève long gone, the buzzer went and he asked, in his broken French, who it was.
It was Louise and she had a package. He opened and let her in, she expected the standard embrace, briskly efficient to conceal the fact of her being there, she went to the kitchenette, took food from the package and placed it on the table, nodded to the fridge for his permission, opened it and put in the perishables, noted that someone – Genie most like – had half stocked it already, ignored that and came back through.
The only way to deal with this was to suggest they go for a wander, something not usually on Louise’s agenda but today she saw the necessity – she knew of a patisserie/cafe in the local precinct not far away, the new one they’d just opened. There were late opening boutiques and a wineshop.
It was 21:47 when they got back and as they went up the steps, a little the worse for wear, they heard a car door open and close behind them on the street a couple of cars further down from the apartment and twenty seconds later, there was Geneviève.
To his shock, Louise gave her a peck on the cheek, said, ‘Merci, Hugh, ciao,’ skipped down the steps, got into her car and departed.
‘Well – are we going in or not?’ asked Geneviève.
It was 23:24 by the bedside clock when she referred to it. ‘I realize Louise helped you get that job. Did she just turn up or did you call her?’
‘She turned up.’
‘And would she have stayed the night?’
‘I took her out to circumvent that awkwardness.’
‘And yet here you both were, in a less able condition to resist, coming back to the flat.’
She paused an eloquent length of time and added, ‘Paris is impossible for us to meet in. Nikki is covering for me tonight and as I say, I must go there later, just to keep faith with Philippe but I am being unfaithful, aren’t I?’
‘Not if I’m your intended, then it’s just a case of deciding.’
She knew any reply would place her in a position she couldn’t defend but equally, he knew not to set her at war with herself. ‘Why don’t I go to the Lodge for awhile?’
She was dismayed because that was the admission that they’d just been spinning wheels, with no prospect of resolution on the horizon. Besides, his work was up here and she needed to get to him quickly if need be.
The months had just slipped by.
Eight hours a week at the university was not arduous, and yet it kept life and limb together, supplemented by private clients, of whom there were more than enough to add up to a tidy income – enough for him at any rate.
He’d found a lucrative channel in having some of his stories translated and there was a certain French market for those, he also did some studio voice work – so all in all, not a bad arrangement … plus he was in Paris.
There was a point of view which maintained that this was not an untoward life, that he ate well and drank well, that his circle was increasing and he could even have been happy.
Naturally he wasn’t, nor was she.
Geneviève’s inability to resolve things and have a normal, happy life had had the effect of turning the Section savagely against Philippe, to the point where, if she even mentioned his name, the women would go silent until she moved onto the next topic. Now when she mentioned Hugh, they were beginning to do the same thing.
She knew every last bit of it and still she could not, would not cut the ties with Philippe – the worse he got towards her, the less attentive he was and the more time he spent away from home, the more fervently she held on. The more time she spent with Hugh, the less able she was to cut those ties – a curious thing, much commented on.
One evening in his flat, the frustration bubbled over and he said that which should have never been said – that she seemed to want to keep running both men in parallel, she dissolved into tears, hurriedly dressed and left.
She was back next evening and he resolved he could not put her through that again. It was galling and now she was weeping after they’d made love. This really could not go on and he needed to make a major decision himself.
He had no doubt he could find someone in a large city like that, if he upped his game sartorially perhaps but the whole game plan had been her, he was in the flat she’d organized, his presence in the city was due to her. That would be a dog’s act to go with someone else … and certainly not Louise. Emma crossed his mind and then left it the other side.
He didn’t want to make her an ultimatum because she could not deal with those, they just paralysed her. No, he’d have to shock her and the only way was to depart. But that meant relinquishing his flat and departing Paris and to go where? Certainly not Russia again after this time. Back to Britain and all that again? That was defeat after what he’d been able to have. Maybe in later years, not now.
Did he himself have the guts to do that? He wasn’t at all sure he did and those nights and stolen half-days in bed with her did not help his resolve.
Almost nine months from that first assignation with Geneviève, a delegation comprising Emma, Francine and one called Melanie whom he hadn’t met before, arrived at the Lodge to see Hugh who’d been invited down there for the weekend.
Meanwhile, Nicolette had been charged with talking some sense into Geneviève in Paris.
They put their case and he patiently explained that it wasn’t only Mademoiselle’s feelings involved but that Philippe was also the funding conduit, the means by which they stayed afloat. They told him she’d tried to find alternative sources of funding but they’d dried up each time.
They asked him to wait just a while longer until something broke their way.
The biggest problem with the impasse was that Geneviève had easily come to terms with the dilemma and could live with it. She never gave ultimatums, never became distressed unless he or they tried to broach the topic and everyone knew it couldn’t go on like that with any of them – surely she saw the unhappiness in the Section, especially as those times she went away were never explained, she just reappeared, seemingly away with the fairies.
She’d also shown signs in recent days of having to go away again, Emma had warned him.
She returned, strangely distant as always and as always, gradually returned to normal and warmed to him again. News came through from Emma, via Francine, that Philippe was going away on business in late May – that would be a golden opportunity for him to take her away for a trip.
She hadn’t wanted to be too far from Paris and anyway, she could combine business with pleasure in Prague – there were contacts to be established in that city. It also doubled as her cover story in her mind.
Prague was a whir, she fell into him as completely as she ever had, avoiding any discussion of The Topic, a repertoire of theatrics at the ready, he was convinced now that she actually wanted it this way, these two lovers – catering for either side of her. Nice arrangement.
When they got back, so many issues faced her, plus Philippe soon returned and Hugh didn’t even see her for two weeks – phone calls at odd hours the only concession, phone calls distraught, apologetic, insisting that there’d be time soon.
This was no relationship and yet he couldn’t break away from her, from the Lodge visits, from the bourgeois life, from his own work. If he broke with her, the Lodge was gone, this part of Paris was gone, including the nearby lake – where would he go – Pigalle?
It began to dawn on him that he was not carving his own way, probably had not since the days of Anya. The feeling slowly settled on him that he had to become a man again, to strike out boldly.
And utterly alone.
Geneviève herself hated his new quietness now. True he warmed up once they got going but every time she’d arrive, he was quiet, smiling a smile but reserved. And as she’d leave, he’d not be effusive, just wish her bonne chance.
Should she just cut the knot? She couldn’t. She recoiled from that.