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April Catherine and Paul: Part Two

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‘Anything to eat?’ said the girl feigning nonchalance. Anything to eat? April looked at the menu. ‘Do you do sandwiches?’ the girl asked. Ham and cheese? April said, ‘I’ll just have tea.’ The girl said, ‘Oh …’ ‘It’s fine. Two teas and a ham and cheese sandwich, thank you,’ said April. She locked her hands […]

‘Anything to eat?’ said the girl feigning nonchalance.

Anything to eat? April looked at the menu.

‘Do you do sandwiches?’ the girl asked. Ham and cheese?

April said, ‘I’ll just have tea.’

The girl said, ‘Oh …’

‘It’s fine. Two teas and a ham and cheese sandwich, thank you,’ said April. She locked her hands and leant on her elbows. ‘You were with him weren’t you. When it happened?’

‘Yes.’

‘I mean there’s no point pretending.’

‘I’m not,’ the girl said.

‘You went up with him.’

‘I often went with him.’

‘I want you to explain something to me Ms Clavand,’ said April.

‘Ms Clavand?’

‘Should I call you something else?’

‘No not at all,’ the girl said.

‘I want you to explain to me, because I’m anxious to understand.’

‘If I can.’

‘It’s this,’ said April. ‘How could you just go and leave him?’

The teas arrived. The girl seemed to stir the question into her cup.

‘I will ask you something,’ the girl said. ‘Do you think that of all the things I could have done, leaving him was the easiest.’

‘Explain to me what I should have believed.’

‘You know the answer to that better than I do.’

‘I think you misunderstand my reasons for … finding you,’ said April. ‘I just want to know what happened.’

‘You know what happened,’ the girl said. ‘He had a heart attack.’

‘Yes but I would like to know the exact circumstances.’

‘He had a heart attack,’ said the girl. ‘He was in very much pain. They called for the ambulance.’

‘Who called?’

‘I phoned down. The hotel called.’

‘And you?’ said April.

‘I waited with him.’

‘How did he seem?’

‘He was in pain. Lying down. What does it matter?’

‘It matters to me,’ said April. ‘One day you may understand. My husband is dead. How do you think it make me feel to know that if people had behaved differently he might be alive.’

‘I have deceived you,’ said the girl.

‘That’s hardly the point.’

‘Sorry I mean disappointed. Because I did not run away. So he was discovered by someone else. Is that what you were hoping?’

‘I was hoping nothing,’ said April.

‘I am not what you think, what you want to think.’

‘I’ll pay for these,’ said April, and held the door open for the girl.

‘Goodbye then,’ said the girl.

April smiled with what may have been misconstrued as sympathy and walked away. There was one thing she failed to ask of the girl. How did Paul’s car end up at the hospital?

That evening April sat with her head on the timber kitchen bench and longed for pain. She bent and stretched her body for some stab of relief in the void. She walked around the garden under a cloudless sky snipping away dead heads. She wanted to fall, to feel bruises. She wanted no company. No comfort. She wanted pain. She connected her phone to the TV and flicked through photos.

Paul and Tom smiling from the boat. Joe with she and Paul at Christmas. Paul delivering a speech at her 50th birthday party.

‘We were happy,’ she said. ‘We were.’

*

The girl had left her car at home but chose a rainy and sullen day to walk home from work. She left the office and pulled the collar of her black coat across her neck. April drove slowly, watching the girl move in quick steps struggling with an umbrella as she set foot up George St. After a few blocks and when the girl had reached the Victorian terraces April pulled in.

‘Ms Clavand, Ms Clavand.’

April leant across the driver’s side and the window hummed down. The girl bent down. ‘Not another book?’

April said, ‘Please get in, I want to apologise.’

‘There is no need I understand.’

‘Do you live nearby?’

‘Just a little way up here,’ the girl said pointing.’ Would you like to come in?’

‘No I won’t do that,’ said April.

The girl smiled. ‘Did I do something?’

‘No, nothing.’

‘But you followed me.’

‘I told you. I wanted to apologize,’ April said.

‘No you didn’t,’ the girl said, sitting now in the car with her knees in the rain. ’That’s not it at all. Now I understand. I am not surprised’

‘At what?’

‘He was so afraid,’ said the girl. ‘I have never seen a man in such pain. He was afraid of you. Of You finding out. He begged me to leave.’

‘So you left.’

The girl had tears balancing on the gutter of her eyelids. ‘Once he was in hospital he wanted me to leave. He had them call you and I left.’

‘You drove the car to the hospital I presume’

‘Yes.’

‘You didn’t think to take the car back to the hotel’

‘I couldn’t drive.’

‘But you drove it there?’ April quizzed.

‘Yes, in a panic. It was a manual. I drive an automatic. Then I walked home. You must have known something.’

‘Wives generally do.’

‘Yes,’ said the girl. ‘I don’t suppose it was the first time.’

*

April started the car. Wipers cleared the rivulets of rain and the demister whirred into life. She reached across the girl and pulled the door closed.

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The girl said, ‘What are you doing now. Where are we going?’

April set off for Beauty Point. ‘It’s quite a long drive,’ she said. ‘But very beautiful.’

They drove in silence, the girl fixing her gaze to the left leaning closer to the window now and then if something caught her eye. But her fingernails dug deep into the fleshy leather of the seat.

April opened the garage with her automatic sensor and drove under cover.

‘This is my house,’ she said. ‘This is where we lived.’ They climbed out of the car and April unlocked the door to the house. ‘For ten years Paul and I. we loved each other. Don’t you break try to break that. We were together for fifteen years. Do you really think you counted for much?’

The girl said, ‘I never thought so.’ She sat in the kitchen with her knees up to her chin. April masked her tears. ‘He wanted to tell you,’ the girl said.’ Everything, always.’

‘I’m going to take you home now.’

‘He hated lies.’

‘It didn’t seem to bother you.’

‘I don’t tell lies. I have no reason. When did I lie?’

‘Never mind,’ April said.

They got back in the car.

The girl said ‘He was never going to leave you.’

‘Are you okay,’ said April. ‘Is there something wrong?’

‘I am a bit frightened in cars, that’s all. My father was injured once. I was with him.’

‘Badly?’

‘Not but there was blood. On his face and hands.’

‘I won’t hurt you,’ April said.

‘Why do you hate me?’ the girl asked

‘Do I?’

‘Please Mrs Sullivan.’

‘April,’ she said. ‘I did everything I could. I loved him.’

‘And I loved him,’ said April. ‘So there we are.’

They drove in silence again, April sitting just above the speed limit and the girl sitting stiffly beside her.

‘It’s just up here, on the left,’ the girl said when April pulled into George St.

‘When are you leaving,’ April asked as she turned off the engine and twisted to face the girl.

‘In about a month.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘I think I will have a job in Melbourne for a little time and then I will go home to study again.’

‘Are you talented?’

‘Um … perhaps. Paul said –‘

‘Did he?’

‘Thank you. Your house is lovely. Goodbye again.’

The girl skipped up the stairs to her front door and turned to wave. April started the car and drove.

*

‘I’m sorry to say I’ve never been so bloody happy,’ said April’s mother.

‘You look it,’ said April.’ Ten years younger.’

‘Only ten!’ Margaret said, theatrically. ‘I only wish –‘

‘What?’

‘You know.’

April said ‘It’s fine.’

‘I was supposed to come here to cheer you up but I have a terrible feeling it must sound like gloating. I am happy though.’

April served tea.

‘You must have had an inkling though,’ said Margaret. ‘That this was brewing.’

‘Of course,’ said April. ‘I’m not blind.’

‘We tried terribly hard poor Peter and I, but he was never going to replace your father.’

‘Are you hungry?’

‘No we have our main meal at night.’

‘How is it?’ asked April.

‘I’m perfectly happy. Helga and David treat me like a princess. The room is lovely.’

‘Has Peter told his brood?’

‘Yes. They’re young, well comparatively, the poor things but I think they understand.’

‘It was a neat little bit of cradle snatching mum, if I must say.’

Margaret laughed. ‘April I really want your advice.’

‘Advice is fine,’ said April ‘As long as you promise not to take it.’

‘I can think of so many men who would give anything to be with a woman as charming as you.’

‘Advice about what exactly?’

‘Can anyone really make a success of a marriage with someone a good deal younger than themselves?’

‘Leaving Peter and snaring David? Good god. How old is he?’ said April.

‘Forty and his marriage is a mess.’

‘Glass houses mother.’

‘Well yes but we’ve sorted that out Peter and I,’ said Margaret.

‘Whatever makes you happy Marg, really.’

‘I just feel that once you’re tied down you want to break out.’

‘I liked being married,’ said April

‘You had Paul,’ said Margaret

‘So I’m not a good judge,’ April said,

‘Were you never tempted at all, ever?’

‘Tempted?’

‘You were so eloquently. Silent. You’d hardly say a word all evening and men would say “Isn’t she captivating?” And I was beating my brains out trying to be fascinating.’

‘Which men?’

‘Jason Pell,’ offered Margaret.

‘Who?’

You know that fellow with the beard. The school headmaster.’

‘God he was a bore,’ April scoffed. ‘Is that the best you can do?’

‘There was Peter.’

‘Mum, seriously.’

‘Who’s always been smitten by you.’

‘He was nice to me because I was Paul’s wife.’

‘You don’t really think he’s as nice to everyone do you?’ Margaret said.

‘You have to go.’ Said April.

‘I have to go. Promise me you’ll call is you need anything. You have to meet Peter sometime.’

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‘Peter?’

‘Oh hell,’ Margaret laughed. ‘I mean David, ha’

‘Goodbye mama.’

*

In her sleep April went to the cot for Erica, and found her, in her sleep, and on that night like so many others, and with punctual cruelty she found her alive. She picked Erica up and carried her to the room where Paul was alive too. She handed him the baby and slid into bed. He was wearing his red pajamas and turned to one side so the baby was lost to her sight. Paul lay very flat and then she saw that the bed was made and there was no-one in it. Both of them had gone. How dare Margaret pretend to understand?

*

‘So how do we stand as of whenever?’ Tom said. ‘The red or the black?’

‘You know as well as I do,’ said April. ‘Things are quite rosy.’

‘Rosy black I hope,’ Said Tom. ‘I’m so grateful April. It must be quite a strain.’

‘I did want to say,’ April continued. ‘Perhaps we can get the accountant to do all this without having me as a sort of halfway house.’

‘Yes, he can do it standing on his head.’

‘I have plenty to keep me busy. I don’t need a job manufactured for me.’

‘No-one’s doing that.’

‘I never exactly did the books because they were a vocation. I did them –‘

‘For Paul. Of course, you’d rather stop.’

‘I don’t want to put you on the spot,’ said April.

‘It’s perfectly fine.’ Said April. ‘There is one thing.’

Tom cocked his head.

‘Could you find time do you think to bring Paul’s car to the house. I’ll make you lunch and drop you back in.’

‘Of course.’

‘I think it’s still outside the hospital, ’April said. ‘Unless someone has moved it.’

‘I’ll find it,’ said Tom. ‘Tomorrow then?’

‘Of course.’ Said April. ‘Oh wait, perhaps Friday. I have a task tomorrow.’

*

The house had been recently renovated and was painted white. A coat hung on a hook by the door. The lounge was off to the left of the corridor and had no door. The kitchen was part of a large open plan. The bay windows looked over the city. The ironing board was up and magazines were strewn about.

‘Please sit down,’ said the girl.

April said ’I haven’t really come to stay. Have you been here long?’

‘About a year.’

‘April nodded ‘I’ll tell you why I called.’

‘You don’t want to borrow a book?’ the girl said.

April smirked at the guileless comment. ‘No it’s about the job.’

‘The job.’ Said the girl ‘may I offer you at least some tea?’

‘If you’re making it.’

The girl said, ‘Of course.’

‘You seemed to enjoy it.’ April said. ’The job.’

‘I have left, well mostly’ the girl insisted. ‘I left when, well you know,’

‘But you aren’t doing anything?’

‘Not until I leave Launceston.’

‘They could really do with you if you went back,’ April said.

‘I can never go back,’ said the girl. ‘David asked but I said no.’

April watched the girl fussing in the kitchen.

‘Forgive me but how did you make this tea.’

‘Oh merde, I forgot to put in the tea. I’m sorry,’ said the girl. ‘Would you like to stay and have some food?’

‘I don’t eat much at the moment,’ said April.

‘Nor do I,’ said the girl. ‘But I can make omelettes. I’ll try to remember the eggs. Are you still angry?’

April said, ‘Was I angry?’

‘Yes I think so, ‘the girl said. ‘You don’t have to pretend with me.’

April said, ‘I’d love an omelette.’

The girl pulled eggs from the fridge and fussed over a frying pan.

‘How long had it been going on,’ said April.

‘A little while, a month, two months.’

‘Surely you know.’

The girl shrugged.

‘He used to eat here with you, didn’t he?’

‘It happened,’ said the girl. ‘Not often. A few times.’

‘Do you always approach the truth by degrees?’ April said.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘It never happened before, not in fifteen years.’

‘Oh, yes, I understand. Cheese?’

They ate in silence.

‘I must go,’ April said.

‘Please stay. I have … nothing. I don’t mind.’

‘You don’t mind.’

‘I’ll make coffee. I make better coffee.’

‘I don’t want anything,’ said April. ‘Honestly.’

‘He came here only when we had been working, on his way home, when he would be late anyway.’

‘That’s a comfort to know,’ said April. ‘Or are you being kind?’

‘Truthful,’ the girl said. ‘Like him’

‘But he lied,’ April said. ‘You’re not from Paris are you.’

‘No, a small town. Perigord. I am a country girl.’ The girl giggled.

‘We went there,’ said April. ‘In our caravan. I expect he told you.

‘You had a wonderful holiday.’

‘I gave him fifteen years,’ said April.

‘And you took fifteen years,’ said the girl.

‘I don’t believe in your ideas,’ said April. ‘I’m not very French about these things.’

‘You despised him,’ the girl said.

‘I loved him.’

‘You hated him,’ the girl said. ‘You want to despise me too. You want to believe that I’m a nobody. A little French thing. You can’t believe that he loved someone more worthwhile because you believe he was not worthwhile either.’

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April said ‘I’m not going to argue with you. Do you seriously think that you meant anything to him. He was a man and you were simply a girl.’

‘And you were not,’ said the girl.

*

April broke the calm that ensued. ’I must go.’

The girl said, ‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes very undignified. Very unworthy. What must you think of me.’

‘Oh pish, what does it matter?’

‘I ought to be at home.’ The girl went about clearing up. ‘You’re very neat. Very tidy.’

‘Ha, some days I can do nothing do you know?’ the girl said.

‘Was the book one of your favourites?’ April said.

‘Yes, I suppose. He is a very French writer, but I like to read in English.’

April sipped on coffee. ‘Sometimes I hate him. Paul.’

‘He loved you,’ the girl said eventually and without conviction.

‘As if he had walked out,’ April said. ‘As though it was deliberate. He said nothing. He just left.’

‘He was coming back Madame.’

‘Madame!’

‘No-one knows that they will die,’ said the girl. ‘So what can they do.’

‘Everybody knows they are going to die,’ said April. ‘Have you ever tried to describe someone without a photograph. Out of your own mind.’

‘Not often,’

‘That’s another thing I try to do. I sit and I think if only I could describe him fully enough I could have him back. When I was at school there was a girl, a friend of mine I though and she had something which was mine. It was a little model of a horse and rider. I can see it now. Nothing exceptional but I was very fond of it. And I said to her, her name was Sari, I said to her “That’s mine” and she put it behind her back and said “No it isn’t.” She was a pretty girl, anyway she said it was hers and I said it wasn’t. She said “You have to describe it.” And I did, I said it was a man on a horse, but she kept saying “But can you describe it.”

‘And what happened in the end?’

‘She wouldn’t give it to me. One day I saw it sitting on her desk and I knew it was mine but I couldn’t take it. I just couldn’t.’

‘One can describe nothing, don’t you think?’ the girl said.

‘And now I really must go,’ said April.

‘And be alone?’ the girl said. ‘Why?’

‘What he’s done to us,’ said April. ‘Hasn’t he? Turning us both into … I don’t know.’

‘Why should we be alone,’ the girl said. ‘Even if you hate me.’

‘I don’t’ said April. ‘I don’t know what I feel anymore. I only know I wanted to kill you. It was the only thing left I had to do. I was almost glad you existed. Now … ‘

‘I understand.’

When April threw herself on the girl she did not know what she would do. ‘I still want to,’ she said. ‘I still want to.’ She cried out and her arms were around the girl. ‘God,’ she said. She fluttered in the girl’s arms and could not escape. ‘It’s absurd’ she said.

‘Don’t be afraid, the girl said cradling April’s head. He loved you I ought to know.’

Kate looked at her. The girl’s face was glowing, back-lit with pity and tenderness. Kate kissed the unflinching mouth. She kissed the plain cheeks and came back to that soft mouth which now came to meet her.

‘I have to go,’ said April.

‘No, you don’t have to,’ the girl exclaimed. ‘Never!’

*

‘Catherine?’

April’s phone alarm woke her at 7am. Catherine was asleep. Frowning and tangled in the doona.

‘Catherine.’ April leant over. She was afraid at every sound. ‘I have to go.’

‘Oh hello,’ said Catherine. ‘There you are.’ She frowned. ‘It’s early.’

April said ‘I don’t know what to say, what to think.’

Catherine stood and slipped on a gown. ‘Nothing to think. Nothing to say. I make coffee.’

Kate watched birds darting in and out of view through the kitchen window. “I wanted to leave before anyone was around.’

‘What does it matter?’ said Catherine.

She put her hands on April’s shoulders and kissed both her cheeks. April bound her arms around the girl’s waist but her head shifted from side to side in a parody of coyness.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said.

Catherine said, ’It’s not so surprising … what happened.’

‘For you. For me it’s unthinkable.’

‘We loved the same man. It’s not so strange.’

‘What are we going to do?’ said April.

‘No-one can help us,’ said Catherine. ‘At least there’s that.’

*   *   *   *

Michael Witheford is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Launceston Examiner, and various periodicals. He is the author of the novel Buzzed (Penguin) and non-fiction book The Very Worst Of The Beatles (Vivid). In a former life he played in The Fish John West Reject and other bands.

Source: Tasmanian Times https://tasmaniantimes.com/2020/09/april-catherine-and-paul-part-two/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=april-catherine-and-paul-part-two

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