The Kiss

munchfinal

A young, dark couple kissed handsomely on the Ponte Vecchio. I remarked at their delightfulness. Noticing my comment and the smile that accompanied it, my friend Joseph Garcia looked at me gravely and said, “The kiss can be deceiving, my friend. That couple reminds me of a story I’m going to tell you that I will never forget. Here it is.

‘Little Marie-Anne Bresson moved to Broadstairs from Rouen when she was two-and-a-half years old. Her father’s lucrative trade business required it. Her mother scolded the move but their situation, on the whole, improved. The cooperation of the family returned financial benefits from the company and their fair seaside home was warm and enviable.

‘The family’s English was poor at first but because Marie-Anne’s habits were mostly unformed it was she who became the leading English linguist in the house. By the time she was six her father was asking her, whilst lounging on a deck-chair, bespectacled, beneath a blanket-blue sky on a Sunday morning with a paper in his hand, ‘Marie-Anne, come here to Papa. What is,’ then studying closely the paper through his thick frames, ‘hill-arry-oos’?’

‘‘Hilarious, Papa. Mrs. Benton says it all the time and then laughs like a crazy person. Like this,’ Little Marie-Anne put both hands on her stomach and leaned back, imitating Mrs. Benton, and let out, ‘A-ha-ha-ha-ha! Just like that, Papa. So I think hilarious is funny.’

‘‘Ahh yes, funny. Why not just say funny?’ He smiled back at her.

‘‘People are silly,’ Marie-Anne reflected.

‘Despite Marie-Anne’s ebullient nature, one day when she was eight she came home from school notably jovial. She was running around the house playfully, often stopping to ask her mother odd questions like, ‘Do you like my hair today, Mama?’ and making open-ended declarations like, ‘The air has never been so fresh, Mama!’ Noticing her daughter’s buoyancy Mrs Bresson asked with a laugh, ‘And how was your day Marie-Anne?’

‘‘My day was splendid, Mama. We played the kissing game and I kissed Michael.’

‘‘You did, did you?’ Her mother replied, calculating the appropriateness of the act by age.

‘‘It was only on the cheek, Mama. But I’ll never forget it. I tell you that. His cheeks are so soft! Have you ever had a kiss like that, Mama?’

‘‘Oh, yes, my dear. Your father’s cheeks used to be soft!’

‘‘Ugh, I can’t imagine Papa’s cheeks are soft. Especially with that beard!’

‘‘Would you like to have Michael over for dinner some time?’

‘‘Oh no, Mama! I don’t know him very well.’

‘‘Well, you’ll have to work on that!’ Her mother said softly as she patted Marie-Anne on her dark hair and Marie-Anne ran away to her room to dream of Michael. Marie-Anne’s mother laid the table for dinner and they all sat down and ate.

‘When Marie-Anne was fourteen she had grown into a budding young woman. Her cheeks were not so round, nor her stomach, and her legs were thin and reminded her father of her mother’s. Her cheeks were always flushed and her loveliness was in her simplicity. Kith and kin alike silently remarked that she attained that sort of comeliness that belonged amongst the tall grass and the daisies and the sun.

‘At school she was called ‘little Miss popular’ because of her honest charm, her generosity, and her sporting prowess. Her being captain of all the girls’ teams and her unwillingness to say a bad word about anybody meant that she had many friends. Michael, the very same, was her precise counterpart. He was fair and fine for a boy of fourteen, he was elected Head Boy two years before he was due because of the rogue electorate, a testament to his popularity, and he had a natural aptitude for words and won all the spelling competitions by a landslide. Playing football during their lunch break, when that little white ball flung about the schoolyard to bellows and beats in low winter mists, Michael was always in the thick of things wearing his green jersey and white shorts commanding respect for his skill and finesse.

‘As per school traditions, the most popular boy and most popular girl were pushed, if not naturally swayed, to be a collective item. Marie-Anne, with her dark French hair and dark French eyes, and Michael, the princely sportsman, were only too willing to oblige for the sake of the social status if not for anything else. The social circles of the school all gravitated around the King and Queen and their childhoods were adorned with obsequious servants and scholarly privilege throughout these celestial years, as only a King and Queen could compare.

‘Naturally, the pair spent much of this period of their youth together. They would go down to the sands of Broadstairs after school and wander along the shallow edge of the sea, pointing at little rogue breakers, and laughing at the seagulls sitting atop thin blue wavelets as they capered one way and the other. When the sun was receding and the darkness looming and the wind was cold and pushing Marie-Anne’s hair all over, Michael would steal a dark coastal kiss in which the coldness of their lips and cheeks and the salty, dry air made Marie-Anne feverish with electric joy. Michael would walk her home in time for dinner and they would stand around the corner of the next road under the paternal gaze of the streetlight and kiss some more. He would whisper to her, ‘Goodbye Little One,’ and she would say, ‘Goodbye’. They would share a last cool kiss and Marie-Anne would think of all the people in Broadstairs settling down for dinner in the cottage-warmth of their little homes and that nobody was as warm as she was and nobody was sharing as sacred a kiss as she was in that very moment. How lovely were those little kisses! Marie-Anne knew she could forget about all else in the world so long as she had those to warm her at night and to wake her in the mornings.

‘As things happened, life was not so permitting. When little Marie-Anne was fifteen, when she and all others perched on the precipice of the rest of their lives, a turn toward the dark reality was taken. Michael one day, it seemed out of nowhere, gave Marie-Anne nothing but the chilling, whisking air of his wake as he passed her in the schoolyard as one passes any old nobody on the street.

‘The very first night of the very first blow, Marie-Anne ran all the way home strangled by her tears. She tossed herself face first into her pillow and heaved and wept and howled. Every now and again, when she thought her turmoil was ceasing, she would feel the entire moment again. She felt repeatedly the coldness and indifference in his eyes, the emptiness he left her in behind him, the swallowing of her tears that choked in her neck. She would pummel with a fist her pillow as though it were his face a couple of times and begin to weep all over again. When she tired she flung her face into the pillow to kiss it as though it were his face.

‘The severing of the relationship of this celebrity pair was the talk of schoolyard gossip. Marie-Anne, lacking the tact and tenacity that some older women learn, drenched the fire of this sardonic chatter in fuel by resigning from public life. She no longer stood with her entourage by the football games to cheer on the boys, no longer entertained clouds of kids with her charm and wit, nor did she participate in any of her clubs and teams. Instead, she sulked and surrendered into obscurity in the school’s library. She crouched like a kitten, camouflaged with her dark hair in the shadows between the book stands in the back corner where nobody would see her and read Dickens.

‘Michael, for his part, continued to kick that white ball all over the place, only with more grit and less gaiety than he used to. He pushed and shoved his way to the ball and once he had it he had no intention of giving it up. The jeers and sneers at his new playing style never made it into his comprehension. It was as if his senses had been numbed.

‘Perhaps two months later Michael stopped going to school. It took much longer than everybody else for Marie-Anne to notice Michael’s absence. Word spread across the school as quick as nits but Marie-Anne’s abdication left her out of the loop. The news had surprisingly little effect on her. It was the case that, as in many things, one’s solitude often becomes one’s biggest enemy. Her private ruminations fermented and fumed like a witch’s cauldron. She developed a hatred for Michael that she had never known of anything before. Her generally affable personality left her weak against the temptation to hate, never before having been put to such a test. She loathed Michael with the same fear and writhing hatred people raised to hate the devil pertain. When she came to know of Michael’s absence from school it was received with some relief but mostly with a curious idleness that she had not expected.

‘Marie-Anne’s attentions were then diverted. She held on to that abhorrence but the preoccupation of her final exams left her less lifeless than she had been earlier. Her results were, across the board, substandard. Her parents were excusing of the results because they attributed her academic record to a nationwide chauvinism in which French people all over England were treated as second-rate citizens. This proclivity came from a colleague of Marie-Anne’s father whose son dropped out of school and the father blamed ‘the system’. Nonetheless, Marie-Anne lacked the results to pursue further education and her melancholia deprived her of the drive to correct the situation. She resigned to taking a job at the waterfront café where she worked every day from six in the morning till six at night. The morning was her favourite time of the day in one part because when she woke up she hadn’t yet recalled the anchors of her existence and in another part due to the walk along the coast that reminded her of books and paintings she had known that tricked her into living the life of someone else for a short while.

‘When Marie-Anne was twenty-two she had risen to a managing role at the café. Mr. Boyd, the owner, a hoary letch with a taste for younger girls schemed after Marie-Anne passively. One way was by making her acting-manager whilst he romped and rollicked around the establishment doing nothing at all. Whether it was the work, the sea-air, or another thing, something had worn her so that she lacked the effervescent grace of her youth. Her eyes were dark but no longer contrasted finely with the brightness of her overall face, it was all dark. Her wan skin no longer gleamed with her bright blushed cheeks, those very cheeks that were once so charming and elegant now made her look overworked. Nevertheless, she was still recognised, wistfully with a sigh, by and by as the vivacious ‘little Miss popular’ who led the social revolutions of yesteryear.

‘At twenty-five she accepted the first proposition made to her of marriage. The man was neither wealthy nor straitened. He ran an art gallery in a neighbouring town and lived primarily off of a modest but effectual inheritance from his uncle. He was two years older than her, was neither good-looking nor unsightly. He was plain.

‘The couple lived together in the town of Whitstable where the gallery was. Whilst he was working Marie-Anne would befriend the locals and entertain their whims and fancies much as she did in the schoolyard of her youth. She had not an unhappy life in Whitstable. She even met some of her compatriots there who had moved to England from Le Havre, Fécamp, and Dieppe.

‘When she was twenty-nine her husband returned home with some delightful news for her. He had been commissioned by the gallery to go and tour London and to start a foundation for the gallery’s own private collection. They would be going to London together, expenses paid, for a month.

‘They travelled up by train and were welcomed with magnanimity at a hotel just south of St. James’s Park. Marie-Anne had been to London a few times before but only when she was very young when it all passed before her eyes like a dizzying kaleidoscope. It was all so lovely to her. For the first five days they went all over London to the most popular galleries and auction-houses. Her husband bought up several paintings and a sculpture to be sent back to Whitstable for the private collection.

‘On the sixth day, a Friday evening, they were in attendance at a private view in the Somerset House. The artist was an unknown impressionist and his work was found by Marie-Anne to be highly amusing. There were perhaps one hundred and fifty people there and in the centre of it all Marie-Anne flourished as she entertained the curious minds of the artist and his friends. Her husband had disappeared with a member of the staff attaining a receipt of transaction for a painting.

‘The artist regaled them with a story of when he was painting a landscape and it had begun to rain and he had no cover for his easel and canvas.

‘‘All of a sudden the rain came tumbling down and down and down and I was standing under a pine tree hugging my canvas like a fool. Out of nowhere a group of girl scouts came marching out of the woods! They must have seen me standing there, trying to protect my art like a mad man, and they all stopped and laughed at me. Ha, ha! I was so angry that, in the flash of the moment, I forgot about my art and I ran after these girls like a crazy person. In the end I tripped on a log. I got neither the girls nor the painting.’

‘‘So the moral is…?’ Marie-Anne asked laughingly.

‘‘Always bring an umbrella!’ The small crowd bellowed with laughter as did Marie-Anne. She looked beautiful that evening as she had lost all the weight and the turmoil of her disappointing adolescence, of her poor years at the café in Broadstairs, and of her plain marriage. Her dark hair and dark eyes were complimented by the late evening ambience.

‘But in the middle of her hearty laugh she went deathly pale! In the fleeting ripple of an instant a long ingrained form seemed to pass before her eyes and she went as stiff as a statue. The form passed seemingly leagues away but it was the indubitable face of fear itself amongst all the other faces there that night and Marie-Anne, caught with her guard down in unrelenting happiness, began to tremble like a leaf caught in a mountain gust. The slightest presence of mind she retained helped her catch her glass from her own quivering hands but the effect she felt in her legs that seemed to liquefy beneath her body afforded her cause for great panic.

‘She excused herself feebly from her party, much to the bewilderment of the group, and went in search of her husband. She passed through thick clouds of people, feeling disgusted by their indifference to her predicament. She mumbled, ‘Excuse me,’ delicately but before giving anybody a chance to move she had already barged them aside.

‘Lost in the crowd and too short to see above these towering Londoners she shoved and tumbled even more forcibly, determined to escape this waking pain. Just as she was about to give up a firm hand caught her arm and she melted with joy at the knowing touch of her husband’s hand. She turned with a smile only to see the firm, handsome face from her childhood. It was Michael.

‘After years of suffering the consequences of such foolish, capricious behaviour on his part and having finally recovered from the strife and setting her sights on ambitions for the future, she was thrust into the inevitable position of having to face the bane of her youth. That faint wet film was beginning to cover her irises in anticipation of tears.

‘‘Marie-Anne. It’s Michael from school. Do you remember me? I thought I recognised that hair and those eyes. I had to know if it was you.’

‘Poor Marie-Anne! She was void of words for fear of relieving only a tempestuous cry. Her little lips trembled and she pulled a face that said, ‘Yes, it is me. Yes, I remember!’

‘She studied his face and she was astonished by the degree of youth he had retained. The impression of him, welded into her heart, which stayed with her from that kissing game in the schoolyard in the same way primordial sentiments of the ancient Greeks stay with us all these centuries later made her light-headed. Those soft cheeks! The cheeks that had been with her since the first moment and somehow they still existed on this Earth.

‘‘How are you? How have you been? What are you doing here?’ He asked, the questions drew her back into reality. She remembered then why she feared him, why she had run to her husband when she saw him, why she had detested him for so long.

‘‘I’m here with my husband,’ she said dismissively, as to make a point. It required all the courage she could gather and she was proud of her effort.

‘‘Your husband? Oh, I see. You’re married, congratulations!’ he said.

‘‘Thank you.’

‘‘Goodness,’ he started, ‘you’re still as beautiful as I remember. I hope you don’t mind my saying so.’

‘‘Thank you,’ she replied. Then she looked around anxiously and said to Michael, ‘I have to go, Michael. So good to see you.’

‘‘You do?’ he asked, ‘Where are you going? The evening only just started.’

‘‘I can’t hang around. There are many other exhibitions to visit, you see.’

‘‘That’s a shame,’ Michael lamented honestly. Marie-Anne saw his honesty, it was the same way he used to speak down at the beach of Broadstairs, ‘Listen, how long are you in town for? Can we meet? I would really like to see you.’

‘‘I don’t know,’ little Marie-Anne was drowning there, unknowing of what to say.

‘‘Listen, I understand. I understand everything. I’m staying at the Savoy. I’ll be there from twelve till two tomorrow in the lobby. Come and meet me, we’ll talk, have a coffee, that’s all!’

‘Marie-Anne did not know what to say, she was flustered and feverish and had to get away. She did so without saying a word. Michael watched her walk away. Marie-Anne, to her luck, found her husband rather quickly after that. She told him that she was not feeling well and ought to head back to the hotel. He did not question her for she really did look ill. Her husband, however, was not done at all that evening. It was quite important that he stayed there because some of these paintings, he was sure, would be worth a lot of money down the road. They agreed that she would go back to their hotel alone and he would meet her there later if she was not already asleep.

‘Marie-Anne left Somerset House and, stepping out into the wintry night, she began to cry soft, unknowing, tears. She made it back to the hotel and threw herself down on her bed exactly as she did at fifteen. She punched and kissed and wept into the pillow with all the vigour of the girl half her age once had. She lamented the cruel confusion of the world and supplicated to the darkness asking why she had been chosen to be tortured in this way. She ran the scene through her head many times, the poor girl, asking what his sonorous voice might have meant by, ‘I understand. I understand everything.’ She saw his face and it was the face of the eight year old Michael in the schoolyard, then the face of the fifteen year old on the sands of Broadstairs, and then his face that night, slender and delectable. She was utterly lost. In the welter and the solemnity of the scene she fell into a rich sleep.

‘The following morning Marie-Anne and her husband breakfasted together. She sat quietly buttering bits of bread and taking small, uncertain nibbles from it.

‘‘Are you feeling better this morning?’ asked her husband.

‘’Yes, thank you,’ she said.

‘‘So you’ll come to the show this afternoon?’

‘Marie-Anne looked at him for a moment, as if making up her mind there and then, she looked down at her bread and said, ‘Yes, of course I will.’

‘Minutes passed and Marie-Anne’s husband was telling her about the paintings that he bought the previous night. She watched his lips moving up and down, in and out, watched his moustache twitch and his eyebrows wriggle. She nodded obligingly and silently sighed. Then she said, out of the blue, ‘Actually, dear, I totally forgot. I’ve been invited to lunch with some old school friends this afternoon. You don’t mind do you?’

‘‘Mind? Of course not. It’s good to remain acquaintances with one’s schoolfellows. You never know when they might come to good use.’ Marie-Anne said not a word more. She smiled at him and look down at her bread.

‘‘I will see you later then. What time will you be done?’

‘‘Oh, I shan’t imagine I’d be still lunching at three.’

‘‘Quite right. We’ll reconvene afterwards.’

‘Marie-Anne waited nervously in their room all morning, looking out of the window at the people in the street. People, as blurs and shadows, wandered by one way and the other. Eventually the time came to leave and she went over to the Savoy. She told herself that she was only going to find out what happened to him, why he avoided her, why he left school. After all, she was a married woman, not unhappily so as I have already told you, and she would be proudly so in Michael’s company.

‘As she entered the lobby, Michael saw her straight away. He stood up and looked at her. She stood still and looked at him. He was taller than she remembered. Handsomer too. He wore a long navy trench-coat and a suit and his black hair was combed over one side, sharply, like a blackbird’s wing. She felt it a long walk across the black and white chequered chess board of a floor and she felt as though every step was a step that cannot be undone much like a real game of chess.

‘When she was finally standing in front of him he smiled at her and said, ‘Hello Marie-Anne.’ She returned the greeting, no physical contact was made and they sat down.

‘Neither person knew how to begin. Naturally, Michael took the lead.

‘‘How have you come to be in London?’

‘‘My husband is a very successful art curator,’ she said deceitfully. ‘We are building a private collection.’

‘‘How interesting…,’ he remarked.

‘‘How about yourself?’ She asked politely. She looked around her, racked with guilt, beginning to think that the whole thing might have been a ruse and her husband would emerge from any corner and declare her a cheater and a slut.

‘‘I work in the City, a client of mine is staying here,’ he said, trying, and failing, not to sound pretentious.

‘‘Uh huh.’ she mumbled.

‘‘Listen…,’ he said, as if to broach some personal topic. Before he was given the opportunity to extend his sentence, however, Marie-Anne sharply asked, ‘Why did you leave school?’

‘Michael started as if he had been gravely accused of something, looked at her vexed. ‘You mean to say you didn’t know…, don’t know?’

‘‘Of course not, nobody knew,’ she declared impatiently.

‘‘What? Somebody must’ve known. Broadstairs is a small town. People know everything.’

‘‘Apparently not.’

‘‘Well…, my father died,’ he said.

‘‘What?’ She replied, ‘That was why you left?’

‘‘My mother did not want to stay there. We moved in with my Aunt and Uncle for a while.’

‘‘Oh,’ she said. Marie-Anne thought herself a damned fool. She almost felt like laughing. Years of torment and hatred piled on this poor boy’s soul because he grieved his father’s death. She felt like hugging him and kissing him and apologising for all the years of hatred. Of course, however, he knew nothing of that. And her memory of their great kiss turned bitter by the years of manipulation and sour thoughts! ‘And me? That’s why you stopped talking to me?’

‘‘Not just you, dear. Everyone. God, I was in quite a state. I became aggressive, I became my own worst enemy. I kept all my feelings in me and let it out through sport. I was removed from the football team and from all the other teams. I suppose, looking back, maybe I needed you more than I knew and instead I pushed you away. I am sorry for that.’

‘‘Goodness, don’t be!’ She let out almost uncontrollably. How sorry she felt for the little boy of fifteen.

‘After this conversation they began to enjoy each other’s company more. They talked of old times like old friends. She recalled rosily the reddish walks on the beaches of Broadstairs, the way he called her Little One at parting, and so on. They laughed together and lamented together and recalled the life stories of old friends and teachers. Only as Marie-Anne thought she had completed the end of the beginning of the conversation did she glance at her watch and exclaim, ‘Gracious Michael. It’s half past three! I have to go. I am sorry.’

‘‘Oh, yes, I suppose you are right. I really ought to do some work today! How long are you here for?’

‘‘Three more weeks,’ she returned.

‘‘Can I see you again?’

‘‘Yes.’

‘‘Would you like to go for dinner? I would like to meet your husband.’

‘‘Oh, yes,’ she said. She thought of her husband’s schedule and knowing that he had to go to a show the following Friday, suggested that day.

‘‘Oh, next Friday is perfect,’ he replied.

‘‘And will your wife be coming?’ Marie-Anne asked curiously.

‘‘My wife? What are you talking about? I am not married.’

‘‘Oh, my mistake,’ she said apologetically.

‘‘I’ll meet you at your hotel at half past seven,’ he suggested.

‘‘Make it half past eight,’ she returned with a sweet smile, ‘My stomach is never ready for food till a little later.’

‘‘Very well.’

‘The following Friday arrived. Marie-Anne’s husband left at seven thirty to be at his show for eight. At eight thirty, she walked down to the lobby of her hotel and found Michael waiting for her there. To be sure, she did not deceive her husband on the matter with any intention of making a cuckold of him. Rather, she felt transported by Michael’s company back to the frivolous, lofty, moments of her youth. She wanted to live that without worries or consequences, without cares. She felt that she deserved that after her long days at the café and her daily hours of suffering.

‘They went to dinner.

‘‘It’s a shame your husband could not join us,’ remarked Michael.

‘‘Yes, unfortunately business called on him. That happens a lot as we are here only under special circumstances.’

‘‘I would like to meet him some day.’

‘‘Perhaps later he will join us,’ she said.

‘The dinner passed before her eyes like those sweet memories of their teen years. As she ate, she felt as though she might have been walking on the sands at Broadstairs with him, walking hand in hand, laughing and kissing. She was so weak for a memory. And when he walked her back to her hotel and she invited him up to meet her husband, even his gracious acceptance made her smile and tremble with glee.

‘As they entered the room Michael noticed that nobody was there. Marie-Anne knew nobody was there for it was not even eleven and her husband never returned before twelve.

‘‘What a shame! He must still be on his business call,’ she said.

‘‘That is a shame,’ Michael concurred.

‘Marie-Anne walked over to the window and looked out onto the half-dark of the streets only timidly lit by silvery street lights like the street lights she used to be kissed under. She thought of that kiss they used to share, like a special pact, a toothsome bond, that nobody but them could know. It was that kiss, she thought, more than anything else, that made Michael hold such a weight in her heart. It was that kiss, she concluded, that she wanted more than anything else on Earth.

‘She turned around to Michael and stepped toward him with intent. With a feeling of discomfort at the quiet Michael whispered, ‘I suppose I better be off. It is getting, a little bit, sort of, late.’

‘Marie-Anne, for her part, did not listen to his words. She took one step at a time toward him, growing more and more intent on her actions. What a kiss it would be! Years and years apart to collide once more in that dark, amorphous kiss. What poetic, ethereal beauty would carry her from there! How could she not now when her appetite was so taunted. And nobody would know a thing! She threw her dark hair over her shoulders in one swift movement and set her dark eyes, as dark as the shadows of the room only lit by the moon and the street, on him and flung her sopping wet lips onto his! Long gone, fleeting moments from her youth, the schoolyard and the smell of the dinner in the kitchen when she told her mother of her first kiss and the sea-air and the wavelets and the seagulls and the white of the footballs and the Little Ones, they all melted around her brain and her heart. Her fingers and nails clawed at his head with animal zeal. And then she felt him kissing back. She felt herself traversing the wet stepping stones to the unknown wonder on the other bank of the river! Life is beautiful! Life and Love are beautiful!

‘Michael sank his arms around her waist and she pulled him, or he pulled her, up into the curtains beside the window. The couple, with their dark interlocking hair and dark eyes fell into the deep shadows untouched by the slantwise moon-gaze. There they melted into the darkness. Michael, astonished by his counterpart’s actions, recalled their status as King and Queen of the school and how they’d be King and Queen again and thought how rich and romantic it would be to consummate their long lost love there together in the shadows.

‘As their lips intertwined at one angle and another he let his hands climb up her nimble spine to relieve her from her dress. In the clamour he began to tug at the zip at her back and, god willing, it relented and succumbed to his wish!

‘Marie-Anne knew nothing of this action because she was drunk and dumb in the moment of the kiss. When she felt a sharp, icy cold hand clasp at her back she was so overcome with shock and pure horror that she gave the most dissident squeal. The kiss! It was all for the kiss! She had no forethought for the consequences of the kiss! In her youth no forethought was necessary. In her youth she did not think twice! But like everything else in her youth, the kiss did not have consequences then. In youth a kiss was free! Adults are prone to consequences and that, we can be sure, is their greatest weakness.

‘Her eruption gave Michael a grave start. He jumped back away from her and thought that he had caused her harm. Marie-Anne trembled violently and screamed for him to get out. Michael, ashen-faced, erected himself from the floor and straightened himself up. He mumbled a few words of apology that were fermented with confusion, the last of which were probably ‘Little One’. He quickly opened the door and was gone.

‘Marie-Anne was left half-naked in the dark with her tears.’

The Ponte Vecchio was far in the past now. The sun had long ago reclined beneath the fluted Florentine rooftops and Joseph Garcia and I were hungry. We walked all the way to the Piazza Santa Spirito and stopped there for dinner.