1st of August
I told Julia and Robert about the meeting in La Garde while we were drinking espresso and chowing down another fruit tart.
“Are you sure that you met her? That it wasn’t just… I don’t know… a dream?” Julia was incredulous. “What was her name?”
I didn’t know her name. In my stupidity, I hadn’t asked the girl neither her name nor her telephone number. I had to see her again but I didn’t have the faintest idea how to find her.
“Forget about it. You don’t have to look for her. It was just…” began Robert but I suddenly interrupted him.
“You don’t understand. It’s not about her.”
“Then, what is it about?”
“It’s about my redemption.”
My friends didn’t believe me. They were convinced I was a victim of some sort of hallucination, which would become the illusion that recurs every day in order to torture me again and again with its impossibility to become realized. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl from La Garde and, since I didn’t know how to bring about another meeting, I decided to wait in the hope that she would find me again.
Julia and I were taken by Robert to Aix en Provence; he maintained that it was high time we started to seriously think about our future and our majors.
“Listen, Charles. When everything calms down, people return to their own business, to their everyday lives,” he told me but I didn’t want to listen to him. “The truth is that we need to individually take care of ourselves.”
His advices were unacceptable to me. It was the time when I clammed up and succumbed to a variety of thoughts. Julia frequently talked about dreams so I started to wonder if we had fallen asleep the moment we had been born, and the act of falling asleep is actually the act of waking up. I kept asking myself awkward questions: did the world really exist or was it just a product of my imagination, which would disappear the moment I withered away? Nevertheless, I still believed that the meeting in La Garde was a real thing despite it being so unreal, and I didn’t listen to the things Robert had to say. There are so many people to meet and become happy with them, but fate throws us into that small world of ours where we find good people; maybe they’re not perfect but that’s the reason we spend our entire lives with them – eventually nobody wants to be alone. I had been writing those sentences down in my notepad, being unable to stop thinking about the girl I had met during the medieval festival. I wrote a lot at that time. After all, I preferred to call it in a slightly different way – I didn’t write, I caught butterflies.
Aix en Provence introduced itself to us as the city of plane trees, fountains, and cafés. In bygone days, Cezanne had been walking along those streets, leading his lonely existence here. He had been a stubborn and troublesome individualist, and additionally such a pedant that he had numbered all his props. As an artist, he had tried to reach the bottom of one of life’s mysteries, find the Atlantis, expressing the image of it with his own unawareness.
Two students, who had apparently remained in the city for the summer, were sitting in the renown Les Deux Garcons, discussing the accomplishments of Cezanne. They had burnt the midnight oil on many occasions in order to finish their paintings – the paintings nobody had ever seen and nobody had ever wanted to see, except a couple of friends. The fire burning in their eyes was a characteristic feature of those who persistently continue their flight despite the opposition of the entire world. “Now, we’re nameless,” said one of them. “But one day, maybe in a century or two, people will recall us, dig us up from the depths of the past, and understand the things we do now.” The other student kept rhythmically nodding his head, simultaneously being lost in thought, traversing the undiscovered lands, taking part in the perennial pursuit of the inexpressible.
Cours Mirabeau was teeming with life; it was full of excitement and in an ubiquitous uproar, interjecting a false note from time to time and fomenting discord, only to return to the pure consonance of the song it sang. A line of cars was encircling Fontaine de la Rotonde and then continuing through Aix de Provence, passing by other overgrown old fountains. Droplets of water sprayed by those fountains reflected the sun, and it seemed as if water turned into the rain of joyful sparks. Plane trees, standing proudly and stately in a row along the street, cast shadows on the wide sidewalks. Tourists kept rushing in different directions; among them, there was a man who had just got off the bicycle that he called Harley, and there was a girl with straight hair wearing headphones, who probably kept loudly complaining all the time about having to hurry somewhere.
On our way to the square near Hotel de Ville, we went past a violinist who seemed to be as lonely as Cezanne must have been in his days.
In the square, an accordionist was strolling among the tables in the cafés with a face that disclosed his happiness, playing lively French melodies. He disappeared after a while, yielding a place to a Spaniard wearing glasses and a black shirt, who sat down on the brick wall and opened the case to take out his cosmic-looking instrument, which resembled a spaceship from another world but with a number of concavities, as if someone punched the thing multiple times with a fist. It attracted attention with its rare, ethereal sound. We approached the musician to talk to him in English. The young man looked like a student; he learnt to play the instrument in Barcelona, where – according to him – it was quite popular. It was known as Hang, and it took us for an intergalactic trip. We listened to his music for a while, immersing ourselves in the honey-colored stream of sunshine, and then we walked on. Robert bought a cookie on the way to have a taste of traditional Provencal pastry, but it turned out the pastry shop he stepped into was Tunisian. I laughed at him and for that short moment I managed to forget about the girl from La Garde – I recalled a number of Robert’s adventures. One time, he had almost purchased the book titled “Woman’s Heart” in the hope he would understand the intricacies of love but it turned out the book had been a guide for cardiologists. I reminded him about that story, and then, having mixed with the crowd, the vivid memory of the meeting returned to me.
The St. Sauveur Cathedral rose high into the sky. There was a middle-aged beggar sitting under the high and thick brick wall, seeming completely unaware of the building’s hugeness. His eyes were restless and his mouth was half-open, presenting the crooked teeth; he was similar to the bell-ringer from Notre Dame. He extended his begging hand to everyone who came out of the cathedral. When somebody flipped a coin into the plastic cup, his entire body shivered, and he twisted his face into the shape that supposedly was a smile, then followed the donor with his eyes, moving his lips inaudibly and bidding farewell at least a dozen times. He repeated the identical sequence of moves with each donation. There was something mysterious about him – it seemed as if his body housed more than one soul and it didn’t depict only his personality. We stumbled upon the beggar from St. Sauveur once again while walking back to our car, when we picked the less crowded streets.
We returned to the vineyard. We had more spare time than ever since the time for vintage was coming so the grapes had to ripen on their own. We just observed them and occasionally plucked one small bunch to discover the consecutive stages of the process of becoming succulent. Since the trip to Aix en Provence, we had barely left the place. Those were the moments of rest, and the air was saturated with the singing of the omnipresent cicadas; the days went by unhurriedly, culminating in the view of the moon pouring its light over the Olive Lane.
I got used to living like that. The lunch break at midday, when life in the city came to a temporary standstill, became quite natural to me; I knew where to find particular products in the supermarket; each morning, the salesclerk in the bakery greeted me like an old friend; in the church, I knew which priest had really good sermons despite the fact that it was all Greek to me. Of course, I missed Poland – a letter from my parents was delivered from Toruń to Baptiste’s letter box. It smelled of the remote flowers and field crops. My parents wrote that everything was fine, except that our dog had unluckily sprained its leg, and then my Dad had sprained his arm in a similar fashion. I was a bit worried at first but then I smiled; they had always been inseparable – the dog and its owner.
I was changing, as were Julia and Robert – not only in terms of appearance. Provence had cast a spell on us. The longer we stayed in that fairy land of lavender and wine, the more joyful our lives became. We had opened ourselves and thrown out all the unnecessary elements. Some habits couldn’t be eradicated – I kept losing my pens, forgetting where I had placed them the moment I finished writing; Julia, who used to have her head in the clouds, frequently broke plates; Robert, on the other hand, snored unmercifully, and once he woke up, his head swarmed with silly ideas.
Not far from the vineyard, there was a small castle, actually just a tower, to be exact. In my opinion, someone had built it with the excessive and useless amounts of stone, which could be found in heaps around the place, so that children could play knights and princesses. However, Robert didn’t accept my explanation for the tower’s existence. He went there in the evening and didn’t come back until Julia and I fell asleep. When rays of the sun awoke us in the morning, there was still no sign of Robert in the house. So we went to the castle and found him eating voraciously a bunch of grapes he had just plucked off the tree. He told us he needed to verify something. He spent the remaining nights of the week in the tower, and when he returned to the house on Saturday, he was petrified and pale-faced. He landed heavily on the bed and started to tell us a story about ghosts that haunted the castle. He related that those phantoms would wake him up every night with clockwork precision, and in the evenings he was quite certain he could hear derisive laughter. I calmed him down and asked Julia to take care of him while I decided to visit the castle regularly for a few days. On the first day, I dug up a golf ball; on the second day, I stumbled upon a golf club protruding from the ground; and on the third day, I didn’t go to the castle since I was afraid I would eventually find a dead golf player buried in the ground.
Some other time, I was walking along the Olive Lane when my eyes accidentally wandered up and I noticed a pistol lying on a branch of one of the trees. Filled with terror, I took the gun in my hand and went directly to Baptiste. He took it from me only to put it away in a drawer. He spoke to me in French, and I didn’t understand the smallest bit of what he said. Then, I spoke to him in Polish, which in turn he didn’t understand; I had already forgotten my words. Finally, I said “Grazie” instead “Au revoir”. I didn’t learn anything specific about the pistol, and I never dared mention the finding again. Julia was also successful as a discoverer. One day, while she was cleaning up the garage, she found an old handwritten notebook with recipes. It must have been almost a hundred years old. The recipes had been written with beautiful slanting letters, but despite her excellent comprehension of French, Julia wasn’t able to decipher the notes. Apart from the cookbook, there were numbers of typewritten or handwritten notes with poems and narrative poetry, which had probably belonged to one of Baptiste’s ancestors. We didn’t waste time and immediately headed for his house, where he filled the glasses with pastis mixed with vodka, throwing in a couple of ice cubes, and then started to tell us the story of his vineyard. It was a story of a WWI soldier who had been dispatched to Italy. There, he accidentally overheard officers talking about a chest bulging at the seams with dollars that had been hidden in one of the caves in the hills by an American family, which left Italy and returned to the USA when the war broke out. They had planned to come back once the war concluded but they had never made it to their homeland since the ship had sunk in mysterious circumstances. The soldier, that Baptiste referred to, deserted from the army, worked his way into France, and stashed the chest away. However, he didn’t get the chance to spend any part of the treasure since the army caught him right away and put him before the firing squad. Twenty years after the war, the treasure was discovered by Baptiste’s grandfather who used the money to buy a portion of land, where he planted a variety of grapevine strains: mourvedre, cinsault, and grenache. From that moment on, he produced wine from the Bandol appellation for a living.
“My grandfather wrote poems. He had his head screwed on. Many people thought of him as a weirdo but he’s a very wise man, even today. Anyway… you should know that by now. One time, when we were in the port of Marseille, he took my hand and pointed all those people around us, and the place was always crowded, day and night. “You see, my boy, this is our fate,” he said to me. “Creating plans that will never come true.” Baptiste continued telling us his story.
Over the span of several consecutive days, we heard more such incredible stories from him. In the end, I realized that it was his own mythology, the re-invented past, which contained some grains of truth but every detail was colored to quite a large degree. Nevertheless, I loved his stories, and he could spin a yarn all night long, drawing inspiration from an unknown and probably inexhaustible source. I regret that I had already forgotten most of those stories. I could repay him with only one thing – a story the three of us had written on Montmartre in Paris.
Those days appeared to be usual but they abounded in adventures. I would wake up in the wee small hours of the morning, rubbing my eyes in disbelief and being unable to comprehend how come the things that had happened the other day could ever be possible. Still, it didn’t mean that the memory of the meeting in La Garde had been washed out of my mind. I kept thinking about her but I couldn’t find any way to meet her again or just contact her. I didn’t know the reason for my desire to do so. I didn’t define my feeling as love. Maybe it was an addiction and, similarly to the smoking habit, it could even end up in death. Well, everything brings us closer to death and that’s why it’s necessary to pick the best way possible – at least I thought so at that time. Anyway, I didn’t want to put a label on my feelings since then I would be obliged to specify it and put the frames around it, thus confining it to the walls of the box. I preferred to nurse the feeling and observe it growing like a beautiful rose, which we’re afraid to pick since we very well know it would inescapably bring death to the wilted flower. Still, I was getting tormented more and more by a thought that all that could have really been just a dream. Had I fallen in love with a figure from my own dream? Was that even possible? It was middle of the day when I finally gave up and accepted the fact that the girl didn’t exist and never had existed. Then, I recalled the memory of a great friend of mine, whom I had met on a tram in the Hague. I even thought about writing to her but I quickly concluded that she had become a complete stranger to me over the time and that writing a letter to her would be a foolish thing to do. So I returned to the vineyard and my dreams; I did everything I could to dream as much as possible.
One evening, Henry visited the vineyard, called us, and invited to us to his beautifully restored Citroen 2CV. We got in without a moment of hesitation. The radio was rumbling with a lively melody. He was in an extraordinary mood so he began to chuck jokes around, laughing out loud. He turned the ignition key, the engine coughed and died. It started at the second attempt; Henry set off but he didn’t want to reveal the destination of our trip, only repeating all the time that we would never forget that evening since we were going to have so much fun.
In La Madrague, he parked the car in front of one of the houses that had been built on top of the hills densely covered by trees; on evenings, when their windows were lit, they resembled gigantic fires or caves through which the internal golden glare of the hill was coming out into the dark night. The house was a real oasis of light, spreading it over the entire neighborhood along with loud music that had a powerful hypnotic rhythm. There was quite a large bunch of partygoers inside, most of whom we didn’t know. Henry seemed a bit baffled as well.
“There wasn’t supposed to be so many of them. It turns out we have more than a hundred,” he said, slightly terrified. Still, it took him about a second or two to accept that fact; I could tell it form the look of his face. “Quite a crowd, isn’t it?” He opened the gate and led us through the small garden into the house. “Call me first thing in the morning to let me know you’re alive,” he added with a mischievous smile.
Champagne was gushing in spurts. We forced our way through the dense crowd while people were raising toasts in the corridor, in the kitchen, and on the stairs. Somebody handed us glasses, and we came into the living room in the hope we would find some place for us. In the room, somebody was breakdancing with others clapping to the rhythm. In the dark garden behind the window, I noticed a large number of glowing cigarette ends. We stopped by the wall; we didn’t know what to do. Henry vanished in the crowd, wishing us fun. The number of guests kept increasing – there was even an entire basketball team, and some shady characters who slipped inside through the windows. Some of them stole garden chairs that would be later repurchased by the host for a pack of cigarettes. After an hour, he drove everyone out, closed the door, and turned the music down, being afraid that the neighbors would call the gendarmerie, but the party didn’t stop.
Robert disappeared in the colorful crowd. I was left alone so I sat down on the couch in the living room. I didn’t like talking to anyone, but a Dutchman, who introduced himself as a travelling waiter, started to describe his country in English.
“That’s how it is in the Netherlands.” He tasted the champagne to fully smell its bouquet. “You just say what you think. It’s fair. You tell someone that you don’t like something about that person, then you tell something nice, and everything’s fine in the end.”
I freed myself from him the moment Julia returned from the dance floor. I grew uneasy when I saw her face while she was approaching me. Not a quarter ago, she was full of life, and now she seemed totally depressed. I was almost certain I could notice traces of tears on her cheeks. She had always suffered from terrible mood swings, and sometimes I just didn’t know what to think about it.
“Let’s go, Charles,” she said in a shrill and faltering voice, looking straight into my eyes. Then, she pulled my sleeve. “We really need to go.”
We came out of the house and sat down on the stairs made of stone.
“Great party, isn’t it?” She tried to smile but she only shed a few tears. She sniveled.
“Is everything fine?” I asked, being concerned. She leant her head against my shoulder.
“It’s fine… everything’s just fine… only that… life is tough!”
“Why do you think so?”
“Everything’s pointless. Can you understand it, Charles? You’re smart so maybe you can.
I don’t mean anything, you don’t mean anything. Who are we, anyway? Who cares about us? All we do, all our efforts go down the drain. I’d rather be dead than live like that. Life is pointless.”
“It’s a good life, Julia. We can’t waste it,” I said but my words sounded awkward like somebody else had just spoken for me.
“That positive thinking of yours… What chances do we have? There’s no place for us in this world. There’s no future for us. I dream about singing but it… but my dream… it will never come true. And Robert? He studied so hard only to lose his job as a doctor. You want to be a writer, don’t you? But nobody cares about what you write! Nobody gives a damn about it!” she shouted. A couple of Frenchmen turned around but I waved my hand to tell them everything was fine.
“I don’t want to listen to you! You don’t understand anything.” She buried her face in her hands and started to mutter so that none of her words were comprehensible. “You think that… that everything is so certain! But what if you’re suddenly taken ill? Let me tell you something… I suffer from a disease. A serious one. I’ll be confined to a wheelchair in a few months.”
I moved back from her and slightly raised my head. I felt a shiver running down my spine. She was delirious, she must have been. It just couldn’t be true.
“What are saying? You…” I groaned.
“I’m telling you the truth. It’s a serious illness. It’s possible that in a year I won’t be here,” she said in a cool and indifferent voice, as if she was just solving equations. I couldn’t bare the words I heard.
I was petrified but I still didn’t let go the thought that Julia might be talking gibberish. I hoped it was one of her ways of torturing herself; from time to time, she liked to invent troubles that would never really reach her. Yes, I was sure she had made up all of that. She must have.
“Is it because of the troubles… those you had before the summer?” I asked in the hope that I could be helpful in some way.
“I’ve suffered a lot, Charles. I was let down by some people. I had the wool pulled over my eyes.”
“You’re my best friend.” It was plain truth since I couldn’t imagine the world without her.
I told her that but she only sighed, as if my words were actually hurtful to her.
“I have to die. I can’t go on like that…”
I gave her an honest hug.
“What about the summer we spent together? Isn’t it beautiful?”
“I don’t believe you.”
I wasn’t able to convince her in any way; I just didn’t know what to say to her. I was helpless in the face of her mood swings, and the only thing I could do was to remain in the hope that she would be fine the next day, that she would wake up cheerful as usual.
The change I wouldn’t expect to see until the next morning took place a few minutes later. Robert popped up unexpectedly, waving his hand to us. Julia got up, wiped her face from the tears, ran to him merrily, and flung herself into his arms. Robert could easily notice she had been crying but he would never believe me if I had told him what had just happened.
They went together to the garden, and I remained on the stairs. As I was observing the stars, gentle waves washing the beach started to rock me to sleep. People were still partying inside the house but I didn’t belong there. It was close to midnight, and all I wanted was to go to bed and fall asleep for as long as possible.
I saw her opening the gate gently and walking to me on tiptoe. She hadn’t changed at all – she had the same charming smile, fair hair, and an olive branch behind her ear. She put her finger to her lips, as if we were the only confidants of some secret. She sat down next to me, and I was unable to utter a single word.
“Sweet dreams,” she said, and then I realized it was her way of saying hello or hi. I remained silent and kept observing the motion of her lips. “We won’t meet here anymore. Listen to me. Once you get back home, I will call you and introduce myself as Laura. We’ll meet once you’re back home. Just don’t miss the call.” She smiled innocently, and I thought that I would be the happiest man on the planet even if I had been born only to be there, to see that single smile. “Remember that you won’t know me, and I won’t know you. See you soon,” she said, and I wanted to get up and at least say goodbye to her but all I could do was to observe her walking to the gate, opening it, and disappearing in the darkness of the night. “Do you believe in miracles?” she asked me. I never saw her again.
I had the impression that I had already experienced that moment, that actually I had lived through it on multiple occasions. I realized it must have been a dream. I woke up on the stairs leading to the house, rubbing my fatigued eyes. Henry approached me and asked “Ca va?”; I answered “Oui, ca va”, and he went away. I still remained on the stairs. So it was true. I had fallen in love with a figure from my dream. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, I recalled the details of that night in La Garde – I had walked out of the church and sat down on a bench to get some rest, where I had fallen asleep. When I had woken up, I had gone to find Julia and Robert, being certain that my dream had not been a dream. The history just repeated itself. Unbelievable.
The next day, I woke up in my bed around noon. My head was bursting with images that I had to immediately translate into stories. Otherwise, it would be too late. With an empty stomach, to Robert’s surprise, I took out my typewriter, put several sheets of paper on the tray, retreated into my thought for a while to fully embrace the world of my characters, and started to clatter away at the buttons. A bell signaling the end of line kept ringing regularly. I didn’t stop writing, not even for a second. Although I didn’t believe in the existence of Laura anymore, the story I produced, despite its initial bitterness, proved that I still believed in love.
To be continued
The whole novel can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/A-Twist-Fate-Mikolaj-Wyrzykowski-ebook/dp/B00W63AV26?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0