Le Temps Retrouvé
He remembers the days when the same train would crawl its way through the Kent countryside at a quarter of the speed it now achieves. But he cannot concentrate on his book, his mind constantly going back to this simple fact: he is about to meet her, she, who was the love of his life, before the fall. “Before the fall” – the expression comes all made up, as if imposed by a stronger spirit. He’s seen her several times now, but today, today and the following day, are special: just the two of them, not on a mission, not requested, but having time for each other. The last time that happened was when? He cannot remember, but it was also “before the fall”, before he lost his way in the sand, in the violence of war, in the making of what he has now become.
Soon he realises that they are approaching the city. The three hours just sailed past him, lost in his dream. But this is no dream: he’s going to see Melissa, and for the first time he thinks that her humanity is beyond doubt, as much as his, or Sarah’s. Sarah… His wife has been so generous, recognising his need to be with his friend, alone, for more than just a few hours… Images flash back to his feverish imagination: Sarah, Jane and Melissa at their house, he working upstairs, listening to the laughter, the low voices, the sudden silences… He smiles, the fast train is entering the station, a slow grey worm now, in a thunder of turbines.
The station is swarming with summer travellers, tourists and morning commuters, and immersed in the noise and garish displays of merchandising. Ignoring the crowds he walks slowly toward the end of the platform, his canvass camera bag resting on his shoulders. She sees him before he does her, her eyes taking possession of him, irresistible. In one fluid movement she’s in front of him, holding him tight and kissing him full mouth, a tall young woman, red-haired, her sensuality flooding him with memories and unstoppable emotions. “We have two days to ourselves, she says without leaving his lips, can you imagine!”
Overwhelmed he lets her take him by the hand out of the station, they cross the boulevard and, soon, are walking in the direction of the river, enlaced. She is as she was, and a little terror haunts his heart: how can this be? – a question he’s asked himself a thousand times. She turns towards him, holding his face in her strong hands: “Don’t think: I am here, only for you, my life is yours for these two days…” He realises, as he yields to her will, that she’s guiding them expertly though the small streets, aiming for the Marais. When did she learn to navigate this city so well? Reading his thoughts she says: “After you, I mean, after Gabrielle, I came to live here for a few years…” This time it is him who takes the initiative, feeling a new vigour in his body: he takes her in his arms and kisses her, the passion flowing freely, and she responds, as she used to, inviting him with the whole of herself. She decides for him. “I want to walk with you, perhaps across to the other side, the Rive Gauche, but first, we stop at your hotel.”
His hotel is on their way, in a small and quiet street a few steps from the Place des Vosges. He checks in, the young Portuguese woman at the desk smiling at Melissa, knowingly. The two of them and the camera fill the narrow lift to the fourth floor. The room is quiet, in the shade from the street, the bed wide and the white sheets crisp. The tall wall mirror reflects the monochrome image of two youngsters. Julian has surrendered to the dream. Melissa undresses him, as he stands, stunned, in front of her, then she strips in a few casual gestures. For a few minutes she stands by the window, against the sunlight filtering through the thin curtain, at that instant he would chose to die rather than give her up. If paradise exists, it must here, now. As, triumphant, she turns towards Julian, they lock lips, and time regresses to the little town of their childhood, what they failed to do then is now theirs: she never had him then, but now she will.