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After the summer of the piano on the cliff, after meeting Lena and the others, Marius had never really come back to us. In the following years, my brother detached himself, his face turned towards something else, farther away. Leaving his organized world of ironed shirts, finding himself surrounded by kids who didn’t know how to hold a bow and faced with Lena who had managed to intrigue him enough for him to want to listen to her, had shaken his polite smile. Our musical summer in Normandy had changed him. Oh, of course, he was still up to his neck in straight lines and mathematics, but I could see there was only one thing he wanted: to leave Paris and get away from us. So, as soon as he had held the gilded diploma before his glazed eyes, he accepted a job in London. And he left. Far from all those he had known previously, to find peace and be able to pour his old self, grain by grain, into a new mould that he alone would create, without really being aware of it. He would keep only one thing from his life before the Orchestra: silence. After he left, I missed him. No doubt he missed me too, from the other side of the Channel. After all, I was the only person to whom he had ever offered affection with no strings attached.
Then, one day, I received a handwritten letter from him. That was a thing that never happened, Marius’ handwriting in my letter-box. He told me he had met a fairy, another fairy with a name like something out of a novel. Elya.

“I thought I saw a fifteen year younger version of you, Esmée.” He had attractive writing, short and lively, a bit awkward. He lined up the words precisely, in a presentation as elegant as all those he had written at uni. Or else it was the obvious magic with which his tale was deeply imbued which made his writing so easily beautiful. I don’t know, I didn’t know that Marius.

He described the smell of the month of May as it invaded London in late spring. He described the unusual evening heat and the pages of books covering the grass in the parks. “London in May is a city of paper, Esmée, you would love it.”
As he left the office, he had noticed that his watch was broken. Then he had seen a white rabbit jostling a little man with a gaunt face and shabby clothes straight out of the nineteenth century, making him knock over a heap of papers covered in macabre sketches. “It was very strange, Esmée. Quite peculiar. And there are no rabbits here. I wonder if I have been dreaming.” A statement, an axiom on the absence of rodents, a conclusion. I was getting my Marius back again, my maths genius of a brother.
He continued, “At exactly the same time, I decided it was too nice to go down into the Underground. So I walked across London. I soon got away from the City.” I smiled. I loved his way of walking, his legs striding and his chin raised like an emperor. You always had the impression he was off to conquer the whole world.
It was further into the letter that the Marius I knew disappeared from the words I was reading.

“I went down a street I didn’t know. It was a very small street, quite narrow, unusual in a city like London. It smelled of fish and mirabelle plums. An old blue Ford Anglia drove past, spluttering. I walked quickly. Then, gradually, without realizing, I quickened my step still more and began to run. I was so full of energy, Esmée! That had never happened to me before. I felt free and happy, brand new, as if I was in a new world, in fact. If you only knew! The sound of my footsteps pounding on the ground, the smell of London and the orange wind blowing on my face, the street vanishing at top speed beneath my feet, tempo prestoPresto!”
I smiled again. Marius might have tried to reject the music amidst which he had grown up, but it had remained deeply embedded within him. I could hear the metronome in my head, presto, 192 beats per minute, perhaps. Tac-tac-tac-tac-tac. And I could see Marius running through that street of plums. Free. Tac-tac-tac-tac-tac!
“I passed under a huge wrought-iron balcony. And the next moment, she was there. A tiny young girl, watching me, her arms crossed and her stomach stuck out in front of her, with an inquisitive expression, round cheeks and tousled blonde curls. I nearly crashed into her. ‘Hey, why are you running?’ she asked me. The light had taken on orange reflections and the fruit smell grew stronger. She seemed to be floating. I was too surprised, too shaken to say anything at all in reply. ‘Why have you stopped running?’ she asked again. I was bewitched by that child. If you only knew.”

I didn’t know. He was using words I had never heard him utter. Seem, surprised, bewitched. What had happened to the Marius of the precise term?

“Seeing that I didn’t say anything, she continued. Her words came tumbling out, as they tend to do in children of that age. ‘My name is Elya. It’s the name of a girl in a book, who is very strong, very intelligent, very beautiful and a bit of a magician.’ I thought of you, Esmée, you, me, and our names from novels. That little girl looked so like you that I could not refuse her anything. Sparkles danced all around her. She pointed her shining finger at a huge cupboard at the end of the street, probably waiting to be collected by the garbage collectors. Next to it, someone had piled up dozens of mangy old fur coats. ‘Come on,’ she cried, ‘we’ll have a race! First one down there wins!’ Then off she ran. It might seem silly, Esmée, I know very well it’s not logical, but... she was floating.”
Marius went along with the game, he ran and, determined to win, he overtook Elya and reached the strange cupboard first. Yet when he looked up, there she was. 
“Against all the laws of physics, she was there, sitting on top of the cupboard. God knows how she had climbed up there. She was swinging her little legs and rolling her hair around her index finger. She laughed, teasingly, and jumped down to the ground without the slightest hesitation. Then she said to me, ‘You see, it’s better not to take the Underground. It stinks, the Tube does. Here, would you like a peach? These are James’ favorite ones.’ I didn’t know who James was but I accepted the peach. ‘How do you know I usually take the Underground?’ I asked her. ‘Oh, that...’ Her face took on a conspiratorial expression. ‘It’s a secret, but, in fact... I am partly a fairy.’ Then she inclined her head, clicked her fingers, and the next second, she had disappeared. The orange light and the smell of mirabelle plums faded away. I was left alone next to the cupboard and the heap of coats.
There were sparkles on my shoes.”

I stopped reading. Marius was telling me about things that did not exist in his world: surprise, the inconceivable and chance. It suited him so well... He had slipped in with his letter a very old copy of Hamlet in English. “I found this in the cupboard. I thought it would be better you having it than for it to end up in a garbage truck.” I opened the book. It was not the text of Hamlet at all. It was something else, something I had never seen, a thousand times better than Hamlet.
“I am coming home, Esmée. I miss you and Lena. I love you.” It was the first time he had said that to me.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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