I spent the afternoon with Henri. Again the same vertigo, as though walking an exposed ridge and not knowing which side to fall on, a wild commotion in my chest. On the rue des Saints-Peres I teeter along the sidewalk. Whatever choice I make will be the wrong one anyway, and the options terrify me. Shall I jump feet first into the abyss? Shall I launch myself into the wide tomorrow with all the little caskets stacked up in me? Not surprising that I should feel such a tumult inside, a continuous uproar that addles my sleep and churns my stomach. I can bear it no longer. Even breathing hurts. The air, or is it just our love, is heavy beyond belief for the month of March in Paris.
Henri burrows into himself to get away from me, while I can find no avenue of flight. Nor am I certain of wanting to escape. How helpless I feel, how humiliated, to love a man who has renounced everything, who forbids himself the slightest emotion, and who takes refuge in his pain! Less than a year has passed, and already the mystery that bound us together has come undone. Henri barricades himself against me. His ardor has given way to fear. Or else he has grown weary. Worse yet, perhaps he was never sincere. Did I trample on what was once sacred to me for the sake of a lie? (A lie I am responsible for, one I consented to, and whose accomplice I am.) This is the question, finally, my haunting fear. Can I doubt our moments together, question the magnificence of a gesture or of a moment of abandon, the permanence of a vow? I can. If Henri should leave me now, he would negate our whole love. I am prisoner to a man who no longer gives me anything, who has made my desire into a tomb. Night has come. Time for it to be over. I've lost faith in us. At each new laceration, my resistance grows less, and dejection gains on me. Yet still I hold on, though to what I'm not sure, and without knowing how, to this time stolen from death, to this man through whom I've known a love unlike any other — devastating, irreversible. It has cost me my home, my husband. How can I go back now?
In Henri's arms, my pleasure becomes painful. A way of condemning my bliss, no doubt, or expiating it. Also of regretting its briefness. Naked and disconcerted moments ago, hidden behind my hair, hunched over my body's shame, I concentrated on the silence behind me of the man to whom I'd wholly given myself, feeling his absence. The minutes that had gone before, the stripping, the saliva, the grasping, the fusing, the grace, that dazzling time when we cannot be other than ourselves already belonged to us no longer. The horror of the real assailed us once again.
"I've reached the end," I breathed.
In the bachelor's rooms where I join Henri at the cost of a thousand evasions and deceptions that chafe at my skin, there is always a moment when I feel the urge to run away, to escape, by noble means or base, from this scabby love. By what mystery am I here, playing with the abyss and defeat, exposed to the blows of a man whose entrance into my life destroyed my quiet peace? I don't understand. What bent of mine, previously unknown, draws me back despite myself between the sheets of this lover with a missing eye, this man spent before his time, whose sad flabby body, reddened with excess, can offer me only a disappointing embrace? What remorseful impulse? It is certainly not the flesh, unstable, alien, that sacrifices me implacably to Henri, but rather the search for a rapture and ravishment that only he has ever awakened in me. Or an irresistible desire to fall. But I don't let myself, I multiply my efforts to pull myself from the void, search feverishly for a branch to cling to, haul myself up onto the stable ground above, where fire crackles and children laugh. I know I must quickly disentangle myself from the lianas Henri has deftly wrapped around my neck, from his hands that mark me, hands like a vise, a harness, from his bronze, his divine fingers. I must. A question of life and death. But can I do it? And do I want to be delivered? For this feeling that bruises me will never again be mine to experience! Frantic, possessed, I am as afraid of the pain as of its cessation, its memory. One doesn't reach such heights of pleasure twice. To break off, what a horrid sound that has.
After crying for three days, terrified by the awful silence of life without him, I fly once again to my assignation with Henri, all the fractures in my being exposed by this great and tragic love — starving, thirsting, intensely alive.
For a year it has been this way.
From The Last Rendezvous by Anne Plantagenet, Translated from the French by Willard Wood. Reprinted by permission of Other Press, New York, NY.