AUGUST 25, Le Chateau:
Mr. V. told us, “go anywhere unlocked.” We were free to explore. “And,” he added, “everything is unlocked.”
We strolled along the retaining wall to its end and looked out at a semi-circular waterfall that lay further up the river.
Behind us, the water wheel beat its laconic tempo.
“Want to look around inside?” you asked.
We walked up through the LeNotre garden. The topiary stood at waist level, and you hummed while skimming your hand along its top.
We pushed through French doors into the ballroom. It was cavernous and bare save for a swing with a pink settee hanging at its center.
I ran for the swing, and taking its two lines, twisted myself clockwise into a knot. “Come push me!”
But you had turned back toward the garden and were lost in the thunderheads building on the skyline.
“I’m waiting,” I said, lifting my feet. The ropes twisted back toward equilibrium and whipped me around in dizzying circles.
When I came to rest, you were down on one knee before me. You grasped both my ankles and asked, “Ready?”
I nodded and you pulled me back toward you, then up in an arc over your head. A moment of weightless joy ambushed by gravity.
You remained stationary as I receded from you, pumping my legs to gather momentum. “Wheeeeeee!”
You stood in the line of my trajectory, dodging at the last moment. “You don’t need me,” you called, “you can do it on your own.”
“But,” I said, craning my neck to keep you in sight, “it’s no fun alone.”
The manservant arrived, utterly breaking the mood. His timing remained impeccably poor.
“Mr. V. wishes to see you,” he stated dryly.
I descended, and we followed him to the kitchen. Mr. V. was stooped before an open oven, fishing out a platter with a mitt.
A pair of cooks kneaded dough at a long work table. Mr. V. motioned for us to sit on stools at the far end.
He placed porcelain dishes before us and offered each of us a desert spoon.
Inside each bowl sat a single caramelized fig, dissected lengthwise into two equal halves, its flesh and seeds steaming and exposed.
Leaning on the edge of the table, he stated candidly, “I wanted to share this taste of summer with you, before it disappears.”
I brought the edge of my spoon against the fig and effortless separated a segment from the whole. I paused, then brought it to my mouth.
The taste was lush, explosive, tender. The fig melted across my tongue, overwhelming everything else.
You seemed equally transported. “Rode vloed,” you stated, mouth half-full.
Mr. V. glanced at you quizzically then spoke, “Today, I need to clarify a few items. Despite your guilt, you remain safe here.”
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “this safety is but a fragile by-product of my wealth and isolation. Tomorrow morning, company will arrive.”
Looking to me, “Salome,” he stated, “it is your head that everyone craves—every paper and magazine. My guests will be no different.”
“Right now, you are more luminous, more recognizable than the painting you have stolen. You must change.”
Then Mr. V. turned to you, and declared flatly, “I will keep the car.”
You glanced at me. We both remained silent. I was rubbing my spoon’s handle, wishing I had a knife to excise every word Mr. V. had uttered.
“She is too iconic, too dangerous for you. At some later date,” he continued, “when the world has moved on, you may take her back.”
“And, after all,” he chuckled, “you already travel with two women who are unique in this world. Best not to be greedy.”
We returned to the room, and sat together on the windowsill. I wrapped my legs around your waist while you dangled your feet out the window.
The sun was at its zenith, bleaching the landscape. We sat there entwined in silence.
“Can you do something for me?” I asked, bring my nose then my lips to your cheek. “Can you cut my hair?”
You drew my head away with both your hands and looked at me, held me with your eyes. “Let me get the knife,” you whispered.
I slid a leg aside, and let you jump down to rummage through your bag. Hearing the blade snap in place, I looked back at you.
You were sitting on the edge of the bed, rolling the knife across your palm. “Undress,” you murmured.
I disrobed, turning slowly for you, allowing the layers to fall away until I was naked. Suddenly shy, I crouched and turned my head.
You came next to me and asked: “How do you want it?”
“Like a boy.”
The blade was too dull and pulled at my hair. Without my speaking a word, you knew and returned to your bag for scissors.
When you were done, you brought my hands to my scalp. Then you lifted me off the ground and brought me to the bed.
We lay there, kissing tenderly. When you came inside me, tears ran down my cheeks onto the pillow.
For once, the manservant let us be.