This seventeenth century writer interested him, and he was eagerly reading the selected excepts of poems in the thin blue-covered “essential read” booklet, already covered with his notes, paragraphs and sentences underlined, although his essay was not due for another week. He was sitting at his usual place, at the long library table of dark oak with the dark green leather strip in the middle, in the long reading room. The atmosphere was quiet and studious, the sounds of discrete footsteps absorbed by the thick walls and ancient wooden floor, and the heavy window curtains, the light projected by the individual lamps was soft and friendly: it was his favourite building in the whole town, civilised, not threatening, a place of study and reflection, where he felt himself. He lifted his gaze, and there, in front of him, she was looking at him, the beautiful green eyes resting on his face: she smiled, the beautiful smile of love, and how he loved those lips… – for a fraction of a second he no longer knew where he was, Melissa was there, perhaps for the first time, they usually met only outside, or in one of the little cafés: but he remembered, was he still in the old house where Gabrielle had been showing him her world, sitting on the sofa near the fire, or, here, seemingly, in the ancient reading room, and as he looked at his hands, he saw the young skin, the unblemished look of a pupil’s hands, of a fifteen year-old boy. Time was suspended: he looked up again, and Melissa was gone, the long table and his book, the seventeenth century poet – all gone.
He was standing in the little street, alone, everything was so dark. He looked for the old door: it was not there, anywhere to be seen, there was just a long wall. The sky was black, starless, and a light icy rain was beginning to fall.
He walked back, trying to retrace his steps: the narrow street and the houses looked different, even darker than what he remembered. But how long had he stayed in Gabrielle’s house? He looked at his watch: he couldn’t have been inside more than one hour, perhaps even less… He thought after walking for half an hour he’d taken the wrong direction, and nearly turned back. Then he heard his phone: it was Sarah, she was waiting for him at the tube station and had located him on her phone. His relief was immense… It took him another hour to get there and find his wife, who seemed to enjoy a look around the ethnic shops. She kissed him and took him home. He felt utterly exhausted. It was Christmas Eve.
At home they sat near the tree, silent. Julian had told his wife the whole story, the medieval street, the house, the “film” of Gabrielle’s world, Andromeda, the town, the library. Sarah had listened quietly, and had asked only few questions. They were both eager to leave answers, or more questions, till later. He suddenly felt more cheerful, opened a bottle of Loire wine, and they talked about the next day.