AUGUST 24, Le Chateau, Saint Laurent-le-Minier:
We wake beneath crisp linen, sheltered from the heat by 500-year-old stone walls. Our room’s ceiling is at least 20 feet high.
I lie on my back, sheets at my nose. My eyes migrate from one corner of the ceiling to the next. You stretch and yawn, and I pull you to me.
Me, reviewing yesterday, knowing that everything has changed: How are you?
You, reflecting, squeezing me as you murmur: Good.
I go to the window and push open the shutters. Sun floods the room, heats my chest. The white noise of water enters.
You, from across the room: I’ve said some unkind things about rich people, but this place is making me have second thoughts.
Me, turning to look at you, but sun-blinded, only seeing darkness: Why is that?
You: Not sure.
Me, rubbing my eyes, bringing you into focus: You want to know the key difference?
Me, returning to you: Here, we’re dealing with old wealth.
You: Har har.
I flop down next to you and nuzzle at your neck. Your hand lies delicately on my belly. I look to your face. You stare at the ceiling.
You, turning your gaze to me: You know, for the first time, I feel like I am in a room with the appropriate proportions for my appetites.
Me: Yeah? So what does that mean?
You, bringing a hand up and slapping me hard on the ass: It means I’m hungry!
Wrestling, you pull me over, entangle me in the sheets. I let you pin me, admire your body just above and the ceiling floating far overhead.
There is a knock at the door which does little for the ambiance. You release me. I rise, cover myself and go to answer.
Manservant: Mr. V. wishes to speak with you. At your convenience. I will wait in the hall.
Me: One moment.
Me, turning back to you, wrestling into pants and shirt: Hold that emotion. I promise I’ll be right back.
The manservant leads me down the hall and out to a balcony. Mr. V., back turned, stands before the water wheel.
Mr. V., hearing my approach across the gravel, turns to me, enthusiastic: Hello, then!
Me, ill-at-ease: Hello.
Mr. V. taking my hand: So did you finish the book?
Me, puzzled: The book?
Mr. V.: Yes, ‘Against the Grain.’
Me, reviewing the last three weeks, our meeting in The Netherlands: Yes. It took a fall, but I did read it all the way to the end.
Mr. V., with far too much passion: I thought you would! And I understand you did not come alone.
Mr. V., pausing, taking my hand again, leaning in and whispering: Did you do like the book? Did you bring your own Salome?
Me, bending Des Esseintes fictions into my own, driven to the truth: Yes.
Mr. V., arms in the air, a snort: Then, bring her here! I must see her.
Me, returning to the room, finding you seated on the windowsill: Mr. V. wants to see Salome.
You: Can we trust him?
Me, not knowing the answer: I think it is the only choice.
I carry her out and unroll her before Mr. V. He studies the painting. I watch his eyes, listen to the wheel creak in its perpetual circle.
Mr. V.: Beautiful. Worth millions, they say.
Mr. V., rising up: But you were not listening. I want to see your Salome!
Me, understanding: Let me see if she’s dressed.
I return to you, the poster tube under my arm.
Me, motioning toward the tube: A little confusion. Wrong Salome. Mr. V. wants to meet you.