A Calvados in the Lounge

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“Tomorrow is Sunday, the weekend is almost over already,” thought Claudine.
Pierre, her husband, was asleep in the next room, she could hear him snoring. Pierre’s children were also asleep, tucked into their beds. She went to watch them sleeping.
She liked the calm of the night and walked about in the shadows of the house, like a prowler paying a nocturnal visit. She smoked one last cigarette, then another and then just one more before going to bed, so she told herself. Sitting on the floor of the living-room, she listened to the silence of the night, a train in the distance. She lit another cigarette.

“Tomorrow’s Sunday,” she said to herself again.
Tomorrow they would go, like they did every Sunday, to have lunch with her new parents-in-law. Roast beef, potatoes, apple pie, then a calvados in the lounge to wash it all down. It was already two years since she had remarried. Two years of roast beef, potatoes, apple pie and calvados. Kilos of meat, potatoes, and apple pies and litres of calvados. She had finally found stability with Pierre. A colleague in the office who had also had a stormy first marriage and a difficult divorce. In his case it was an unfaithful wife, in hers a violent husband. Their hurt had united them and they had hoped for a peaceful life together. Yes, it really was a successful remarriage, a couple with no problems and, as a bonus, two boys to bring up since their mother had left to go on the road with a circus artiste. Two boys whom she loved, she who had not had any children, and who returned her love generously. No, she was not unhappy.
Tomorrow morning she would have to go, as she did every Sunday, to buy a bunch of roses for Mom-in-law; that was what she had asked to be called. Mom-in-law who would have put on her pearl necklace and her cameo. Mom-in-law who would take her into the kitchen on the pretext of doing the washing-up and ask her if she was thinking yet of giving her a new grandchild. “Thirty-eight is still young; that was the age at which I had Pierre.”

The silence of the night, one last cigarette, a glass of wine to help find the courage to face that Sunday with its roast beef, its potatoes, its apple pie and its calvados in the lounge. That Sunday of the pearl necklace and the cameo.

Upstairs, the boys were sleeping. Pierre was no longer snoring. The night, ever more beautiful and profound, cast its spell over Claudine. She wanted to breathe the night air, and went out, turning up the collar of her jacket. Despite the daytime sun, the nights were cool, spring had hardly begun. She breathed in the smoke of her cigarette with pleasure, the mixture of nicotine and cold air burned her lungs. To get out of the cold for a bit and still enjoy gazing into the night sky, she got into her car, parked outside the house. The keys were in the ignition as they usually were, which always greatly annoyed Pierre. She started the car without thinking, told herself she would wake Pierre and the children, so drove very slowly out of the drive. Once in the deserted street, she kept going and drove wherever the night took her.
One street followed another, avenues, squares and boulevards. Prostitutes down by the quay-side, a police car doing its rounds, a few passers-by, some of them staggering.
At the start of the highway, Claudine paid the toll fee and kept driving. Miles went by, she passed few cars. It was warm in the car, the pearl necklace and the cameo no longer existed. A coffee and a cigarette at a service station. She found the lights aggressive, left, and got back into her cocoon that was protecting her and keeping her at a distance from that Sunday lunch. Just another hour and she would be at the coast.
She took in great breaths of salty air. She took off her shoes and the feel of the cold sand sent a delicious trembling through her body. She undressed, and slipped softly into the dark water. She was cold, laughed and flung back her head into the water. She held her breath and could hear nothing. As she kept still in that icy water, a few fish came to tickle her thighs.

Euphoric and shivering, she returned to the beach. The roast beef, potatoes, apple pie and calvados in the lounge were far away, drowned in the sea.
Inside the car it was still warm, and she sank into her seat with sensual pleasure. The sun was just rising when she woke up. She lit her first cigarette of the day and set off. The highway, the toll booth, the miles clocked up. When she turned off, she looked for a florist and bought a bunch of roses.

Pierre was finishing his bowl of coffee and the boys were still asleep.
“Ready already?” he asked Claudine, “I didn’t hear you get up.”
“Yes,” she heard herself reply, “I went to buy some flowers, you were so sound asleep. I’ll go up and wake the boys, we mustn’t be late, the roast beef won’t wait!”

As she began to laugh, a few grains of sand fell out of her hair.

Translated by Wendy Cross

116

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