Artur and Guillaume (part 3)
He starts to arrange it so he, Guillaume and Vivienne, this being the young beauty’s name, are reading the same book at the same time. In this way, he being a kind of undercover intermediary, these books come to form the basis of their conversations.
He doesn't tell Guillaume that he is seeing Vivienne but sometimes he catches Guillaume looking at him. He doesn't understand why. He does not know that the fact that he is in love is written all over his face. Nor that it is obvious that this love is reciprocated.
Another year passes. Walks have led to caresses, caresses to kisses and, Vivienne being a modern young lady, they have even spent some strenuous nights together. Now there is to be a wedding!
As he obviously can't bring his bride back to his current lodgings, their love making up to then has taken place in hotels, rented cottages and once, thrillingly, in the back seat of a taxi, Artur rents a house in an upmarket district to be their marital home. He loves it, Vivienne loves it. They christen the rooms one by one.
His life has taken on a happiness he never would have expected. His only worry is Guillaume. He feels some guilt now that he leaves him so much alone and is only halfheartedly consoled by his oft repeated statement to himself that as he is there every day except Sunday, managing the gun shop, then that is quite enough. He knows it is not. Now he has found love he understands for the first time what it is like to live without it.
One evening Guillaume asks for a typewriter and a ream of paper.
“Enough rehearsals,” he says, or rather, he writes, “now it is time to flex my wings and attempt to fly myself.”
He is going to write a novel.
Sometimes Artur likes to sit and watch. He finds the clack of the typewriter keys relaxing. Closing his eyes he can easily imagine himself in Guillaume’s position. The tortured artist! How easy his life is. How, on some levels, he wishes he had such a life. But of course he does not, not really, because he has Vivienne.
One day, and he doesn't understand why he hasn't done this before, he picks up the growing pile of pages and begins to read. At first he is startled and then he is shocked. Guillaume has changed the names and the location but clearly he is writing his own story.
“It is a tragedy this,” says Artur, the tears pouring from his eyes. “But it has a logic to it. And what is one man’s happiness when weighed against another’s? You have made a sacrifice so I can live in contentment. Who knows that such balances are more commonplace than we know?”
One day, coming towards the end of his story, Guillaume writes how the trapped man escapes. He waits behind the door and uses the heavy metal typewriter as a bludgeon. The gaoler’s brains seeping out of his head are described in a particularly gory detail. That night Artur asks Vivienne, his most adored wife, if she loves him with all her heart.
“It was like finding the impossible,” she says without hesitation, as if she had already thought of her answer and was just waiting for the question to be asked. “One time I believed I would never love again but then you came along and in sweeping me off my feet you swept away my past. I love you. With all my heart I love you. You have both a fine mind and a fine soul. What more could I want?”
The following morning Artur takes Guillaume’s completed manuscript to France’s top publisher. He waits in the office until he is seen. He says that he himself is the author.
“I am self taught,” he says, “life has been my university. Like Maupassant.”
He waits only a week for a response. The publisher is in raptures, the manuscript is taken on for a startling advance, a sum unheard of for a first time author, and three months later the book comes out. It is both a commercial and critical success. Everyone on the subway seems to be reading it, it is translated into many languages and even becomes a quite gory stage production for which, night after night, the audience queues around the block. But no one loves it more than Vivienne. She is his biggest fan.
“And I have some news for you too,” she says on the night he is awarded France’s top literary prize, a dazzling smile stuck upon her face, “I am pregnant. And I am telling you now, before I become so huge that I am quite unable to move, I want to travel. We never did have a honeymoon. You always had some excuse or other. This time I won't take no for an answer. I have booked us on a transatlantic crossing. We are going to see the Statue of Liberty, we are going to climb to the top of the Empire State Building. We are going to America, the land of the brave, home of the free.”
For several nights Artur frets. He can't sleep. He doesn't know what to do. Finally it comes to him. It is a phrase from his own book, the one that Guillaume wrote.
’We can't choose our destiny. It is destiny that chooses us.’
So be it. Fate has brought him this far, it can take him just a little bit further. America!
It is only when his bags are packed, that he has said goodbye to all his friends and family that he tells Guillaume he is going away. He says he will leave enough food and he will be back before he knows it. He tells him not to worry. Guillaume thinks for some time and then he writes on the pad that is always at his side. He passes the note to Artur.
“I’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”
It is the very first time Artur has been away from Guillaume for any amount of time since the day they met and although he enjoys Broadway, the Statue of Liberty and Carnegie Hall, he can't wait to return home. He finds that he is thinking of Guillaume all the time. He realises that without him he is nothing and for this he owes him a huge debt. He makes the decision that he would let him go if only he could but this, of course, is impossible.
As soon as he gets back he invents some pretext to Vivienne and heads directly to the gun shop.
"I got you this," he says, proudly holding out a quill pen once used by Nathaniel Hawthorne that he has obtained with no small difficulty as a gift for Guillaume.
So pleased is he with his present that at first he doesn't realise what is different about the room. Then as the secret door slides shut behind him, startling him with its distinctive click, he realises what it is. It is empty. It is lacking its prisoner. There is no Guillaume.
He hammers on the door and walls, screaming at the top of his lungs, until, finally exhausted, he gives up and goes and sits on the bed. It is as he sits that he feels something crinkle under his buttocks. It is a piece of Guillaume’s notepaper. Holding it towards the light he reads, ’Got you. Tomorrow I come for your tongue. The day after that will be your eyes. The day after that will be your balls and penis. Trust me, I am vengeance personified.’
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