When Achille was still a child, his father would walk with him in the Bois so that he could take the air and be ready for more practice. Not that he minded the practice. Quite the contrary. In the main, he lived and breathed for his piano. Still, the walks in the Bois were nice, and made even nicer by the admiring looks he received from the many enticing young men who also walked there. His father firmly believed that the admiration stemmed from their obvious knowledge of Achille's prodigious talent which was, frankly, not the case. Achille himself knew perfectly well that it was his amazing beauty that turned their heads. He was always tall for his age with the face and curled, golden hair of a Renaissance cherub and the body of an impending athlete
Achille was thirteen when his father became too old and infirm to continue to take him for walks. His father was certainly old, much, much older than his pretty but ineffectual mother, and she agreed that, for the sake of his health, he should continue to take his walks alone. She would not accompany him, for walking was not her strong point and, besides, she should be at home with her ailing husband. Just as long as Achille were back in time to continue to practise, all would be well. Papa would be looked after, Achille would be well, and his career would be assured.
The boy, - almost, one might say, young man - then alone, allowed himself yet to be admired, but not enticed. By then, the handsome face had matured, the hair settled to a fashionable bob, the beautiful body become dressed in the sexiest of sports clothing. One might think that he wouldn't have known what would happen if he were to allow himself to be enticed, though, given his extraordinary beauty, intellect and talent, one couldn't be sure. In any case, none of the young men was sufficiently enticing. Each had his fault, even faults. Perhaps the nose too long, the hands too thick, the fitting of the trousers too lose at the back, the hair too curly or not curly enough. No young man walking in the Bois was good enough to entice Achille.
A little before his sixteenth birthday, Achille was admitted to the Conservatoire. His father was so delighted that he died almost immediately the news was received, and his mother was so overwhelmed with grief that she made arrangements to re-marry almost equally as immediately. That, however, is another story, and has little to do with the events we are eager to relate.
Achille found the Conservatoire not a little boring, for his professor was, though highly esteemed, rather dull. Instead of allowing his pupil to roam in the forests of Debussy and Chopin, he set Achille to tread the disciplined paths of Bach and Mozart, only allowing an occasional diversion along the mazy lanes of Scarlatti. Still, Achille prospered and, in his second year of study, was accepted as a candidate for a prestigious competition in the north of England, and it was during his stay there that he did at last allow himself to be enticed.
The competition took place in August. The north of England was not, on the whole, to Achille's taste, even in the depths of summer. Still, though the expedition would take him away from his piano for a considerable time, he determined to walk in what might possibly pass as 'the Bois', to whit, 'the Moors'. This meant an early bus journey of some hour's duration, perhaps an hour's walking, then a further hour on the bus. Three hours away from essential practice with the semi-final the next evening!
The bus-ride ended in a pretty remote place where vehicles might turn round or park. There were some picnic tables and litter-bins, and a sign showing timed walks, nothing more. Much as Achille hated to admit it, it was very, very beautiful, truly wild and lonely, the blue-grey of heather punctuated by the vivid yellow of gorse, some rolling cloud interrupting the sunshine. Yes. It was, as the English say, a 'nice day'!
There were no others to alight from the bus in that far car-park, and he set out along a path labelled with three coloured discs. The idea was that, should one follow red markers, one was intending a long walk, up to three hours. Yellow discs signalled a two-hour walk, green tokens, a simple hour-long stroll. Naturally, Achille set out on the green route alone. However, he hadn't been walking but a few minutes when he felt he had company.
The young man was on a bicycle, dressed in the fashion of a serious cyclist, a body-hugging one-piece suit, a little back-pack, and a strange, pointed crash-helmet. As he passed Achille, he slowed almost to a halt, sat up on his saddle, took his hands from the handlebars, and flexed the muscles in his back. Achille was stirred, but the cyclist bent to the bars and accelerated away. Moments later, though, he was back. He repeated his previous actions, this time facing our hero and smiling a winning smile. Achille returned the smile. Again the young man bent to the handlebars and sped away, again to return a little later. This time, he stopped. 'You're in the competition, aren't you? I heard you play the Revolutionary Study.' He took a Thermos flask from the back-pack and sat down beside the path. 'Want a drink? It's only Lucozade, but it's cold.'
Involuntarily, Achille sat beside him. 'Yes, please. I didn't think to bring a drink. I didn't think it could get so warm in England.'
'You're French, aren't you? You speak very good English.' He handed Achille a little cup of cold, golden liquid.
'Thank you. Yes, I'm French. I've never been in England before.'
'Your English must have been very well-taught. That's what I'm going to do. Teach English abroad.'
Achille sipped the drink. 'I think you'll be very good at it.'
'What makes you say that?'
'A feeling. Just a feeling.' He passed the cup to his new acquaintance.
The young man refilled it, drank, and said, 'You'll have to excuse me. I need a pee.' He smiled. 'The trouble with this gear is that you have to take it off to pee.' He peeled the garment from his shoulders, turned, and slid it down to his knees. Achille's mouth dried a little at the sight of the rippling back and tight buttocks, and it began to resemble the Sahara Desert when the young man turned round, his substantial penis in his hand, substantially erect. 'No offence,' he said. 'But do you play? I'm feeling randy.'
Achille returned to the bus-stop in a dream. The bus came and he paid his fare to the driver still in a dream, in fact, so much in a dream that he tried to pay with francs. The driver laughed and spoke halting French. Achille, too, smiled and said, 'Vous êtes tres gentil!' Nevertheless, he spent the journey consumed with the image of the naked cyclist whose penis he had caressed and kissed, rather than the Rachmaninov he was to perform the following evening.
Despite his preoccupation, or, possibly, because of his preoccupation, he played brilliantly and gained a place in the Grand Final. There, he played the second Brahms concerto accompanied by the Hallé Orchestra. The concert was broadcast not only on BBC2 and Radio Three, but on the prestige channels of ORTF, RAI, ERT, DW and several other elevated television and wireless stations. As you may have suspected, Achille won. The prize was an American tour. Concerts in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and all with the best orchestras. Recitals in Boston, New Orleans, Miami, New York again, and all with the best Steinways, Bechsteins and Yamahas. However, there was another prize.
He was in his dressing room after the concert, waiting for the judges' decision. He desperately wanted to get out of his monkey-suit and into the shower, but he had to wait. He had to wait for the judges' decision. There was a tap at the door. The decision? The answer? The porter brought a note, but it wasn't the judges' decision. It was in French and it said, 'Congratulations. You were the best,' and it was signed, 'Your friend, the Cyclist.' A little later, the porter came again. This time, it was the judges' decision. To cut a long story short, Achille never to his knowledge saw the Cyclist again, though he preserved the note.
The career of a concert pianist is not conducive to home life. In London, Achille could choose to walk in Hyde Park, St James's Park, The Green Park, though he preferred Hampstead Heath. In New York, he was limited to Central Park. Still, the nearest thing he had to a home was in Paris. He didn't get on with his mother's new husband so he took his own apartment where he was looked after by Madame Lafayette who had once taught him. She was old and not terribly efficient, in fact her cooking was awful and her arthritic attempts to play the piano had to be assessed with a sympathetic ear, so he mostly ate out and kept away from the salon when she wanted to play. Still, in Paris, he could walk in the Bois. He could look for the perfect man, someone to become his companion, to care for him in his latter years. He even accepted cheap engagements in the north of England so he could walk on the Moors, but the Cyclist wasn't there. The Cyclist was never there, and no-one else was good enough. No-one else exceded Achille's own beauty.
Georges was into middle-age though still elegant and potentially dashing, indeed the greying of his hair at the temples if anything enhanced his generally handsome appearance. He might be seen at a fashionable restaurant or a concert accompanied by a young woman though only rarely with the same one twice, and he never took any to his house.
His aged mother worried. How could he reach almost fifty and still remain unmarried? It was yet another disappointment to her. She had intended him to become a concert pianist and, truly, he had studied, worked hard, and he played the piano well. But not well enough. He knew he would never sustain a career in music and took a dilettante post in the bank of which his father was president. When his father died and he inherited a substanial share of the holding, he almost ceased even to pretend to go to work, much, it must be said, to the relief of the former vice-president.
His aged mother worried. Georges was 'out' a great deal and she wondered where he went. Of course she asked him, but all the answer she got was that he liked to walk. That worried her even more for, when one likes to walk in Paris, one is likely to do so in the Bois de Boulogne, and who knows what goes on in the Bois de Boulogne? She had heard that women gathered there to prey upon wealthy gentlemen. Perhaps it was with such women that her son was seen in society, Oh, she worried!
She need not have done for it was not the women of the Bois that attracted Georges, though he had been walking there for some years before he had an encounter. He truly only went into the copse of trees intending to urinate, though he wasn't surprised to find a young man already there, his trousers and underwear round his ankles, his penis erect. His own penis also erected and the desire to urinate dissolved when the young man reached out to hold it, play with it, took Georges's hand and placed it on his own penis. They thus masturbated for a while and ejaculated almost together. The young man asked for twenty francs. Georges gave him fifty. The young man dressed and slipped away. At last Georges was able to do what he had intended to do in the first place!
Such encounters could hardly be said to have become regular and certainly not frequent. They simply occurred from time to time, almost never with any degree of forethought and absolutely never at levels beyond mutual masturbation. The young men were always different and well paid. Consequently, they gave Georges no trouble. Of course, he was never to be seen in public in the company of a young man. That would not have done, though, many years later, it was a sudden desire to be seen in the company of a young man that introduced him to Hortense.
One morning, he told his mother he was going to the bank. Rather surprised at such volunteered information, she said, 'Do you need money?'
'No. Not at all. I just thought it was time I put in an appearance.'
'Good. When will you be home?'
'I don't know. I'll probably go for a walk afterwards.'
The old lady grimaced. 'I thought you might.'
Émile was not a new employee, indeed he had been at his post in the accounts section for over a year when Georges saw him first, which tells you how infrequent Georges's appearances had become. He was fascinating, a fine head on a long neck, hair elegantly coiffured, tongue occasionally licking a little at his full lips as he bent in concentration over his work. Georges could hardly resist approaching and introducing himself, a director of the bank. Émile looked up. His eyes were even better than Georges had hoped, large, misty-grey. He stood up, bowed, and offered his hand. Georges could scarcely believe himself when he heard himself saying, 'We must get to know one another. Perhaps you'll join me for lunch.'
'I should like that very much, but my sister will be expecting me. Our telephone is out of order.'
'Ah. Perhaps another day. Perhaps tomorrow you might both join me for lunch. At the Tour d'Argent. Might that be possible?'
Émile licked his lips. The Tour d'Argent? Oh, yes. Very possible!
The luncheon parties became regular events. Hortense was very like her brother in appearance, a little younger perhaps, though not in demeanour. While he was intense, sometimes even brooding, she was light-hearted, a little frivolous, and it was she that Georges took home to meet his mother. The old lady was not exactly disapproving of this girl so much younger than her son, though nor was she approving neither. Still, Georges proposed to Hortense and they were married about three months later. On their wedding night, Georges surprised himself with his ability in bed and, despite his previous sexual proclivities, copulation became a nightly occurrence for quite a while. Thus it was not long before Hortense became pregnant.
It was not an easy birth and the doctors thought the baby might die, but he didn't, though the doctors also declared that Hortense was unlikely ever to become pregnant again, which she also didn't. The sadness was that Georges's mother never saw her grandson, for the old lady died when her daughter-in-law was in the fifth month of her term.
Georges wanted to call his son after his uncle, his mother's beautiful brother, and Hortense agreed. Émile, though, was emphatic. 'Certainly not,' he said. 'You can't call him after me. I was named from Rousseau. I was expected to be a model child.'
'What's wrong with being a model child?'
Émile ignored his brother-in-law's question. 'He must be named for his strength and his beauty, for he is beautiful. I think he must be named from the classics. Not a god. Something close, though.'
Hortense smiled at her son and said firmly, 'Achille. I shall call him Achille.'
My name's Paul. I'm twenty-three years old and I live on the Moors in the north of England. I've got a degree in French and English and a diploma in teaching English as a second language but, as I'm not technically a 'qualified' teacher, I can only get work teaching evening classes, mostly to adult Asian immigrants. I enjoy it, though. My students are very keen. I don't know how I'd get on in a school where, I'm told, the students aren't so keen. Oh. I also do a French evening class. Since I'm not 'qualified', I don't get paid very much. It doesn't really matter and it means I can look after my mother. She gets quite a lot of help from the state because she's dying. She has lung cancer. They say she hasn't got long to live. When she dies, I intend to go and work in France. Jerry, one of the teachers at the University, can organise it for me. My father isn't dead, but he doesn't live with us, in fact we don't know where he is. Probably in South America!
I have two passions. I won't call them hobbies. That sounds trite. One I can afford, the other I can't, well, not to the extent I'd like to, and that is music. I love music, real music I mean, the kind that sends you tingling, the music of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mahler. You know. Real music. When I was at school, I used to pretend to like pop music. You had to, really, or they thought there was something wrong with you. It was all right at University and Jerry taught me a lot about music, too. Up to last Christmas, I only had a cheap tape player. The quality wasn't very good. Then Mum got a Christmas bonus from somewhere and she insisted I used it to buy a decent stereo. They're not so dear these days. It plays CDs as well as tapes and I can get Radio Three properly. CDs are dear. Still, there are some cheap eastern European ones that aren't so bad. Orchestras you've never heard of. I've got all the Beethoven symphonies on them. Mum likes to listen too. She doesn't know much about music, in fact, these days, she's usually so zonked out with pain-killers, she doesn't know much about anything. The District Nurse says it won't be long.
Of course, the best way to hear music is in the concert hall. Jerry used to take me to concerts. When we can afford it and I can get someone to keep an eye on Mum, I still go. I love the Free Trade Hall in Manchester but going to a concert there's pretty expensive, what with the train and the ticket. Still, I manage sometimes. There's just been a big piano competition nearer home. I made it to a couple of concerts. It was terrific. In the early rounds, they let you in free all day, but I had to pay for the tickets for the finals. It was terrific.
My other passion is cycling. I can hardly remember when I didn't have a bike. When I was fourteen, my Dad turned up and bought me the one I'm still riding. It's pretty good but it's a lightweight racer, so I can't use it across country. Still, the roads and paths on the Moors are all right. I'd really like a mountain bike but I don't see it happening, not now. Maybe when I've got a decent job in France.
I had a bit of a bonus myself after Christmas. The numbers in two of my classes increased, so I got a pay rise. I suppose the way I spent the first extra bit of money was silly really. Extravagant. I've always ridden wearing old cut-off jeans and a vest, but I was in town and I saw those new all-in-one cycling suits. They were in the sale, two for the price of one. I couldn't resist. I don't know why, but I bought a crash-helmet too. In all my cycling life, I've never come off my bike. Famous last words!
I suppose there's one other thing about myself I ought to tell you. You see, I'm what is known as an 'active' homosexual. I'll just go and see if Mum's all right.
I expect you're thinking it was Jerry who taught me the 'Gay Way'. Do you remember those books? Mum learned to read from them so they were around the house when I was little. I expect they still are. Mum hates throwning books away. Anyway, if that is what you're thinking, about Jerry, I mean, you'd be wrong. Jerry's gay all right, but he never made a pass at me. Not so much as touched my leg. A bit of me wishes he had, but it would have been unprofessional and anyway, his boyfriend would have gone mad. Duncan, he's called. I never really liked him.
No, I wasn't taught. I just learned. I suppose I'm an autodidact when it comes to being queer. I suppose I knew I was in primary school. Just occasionally, you'd see someone else's willy in the toilet and I always got an erection when I did. Of course, at grammar school, there were no secrets. Naked in the showers, like it or not. Luckily, I wasn't the only one with a stiffy and, just as luckily, I was blessed with a big one. It was pretty big before my balls dropped, and then it grew. You'd have thought it had been immersed in National Growmore! When you're that well-endowed, it isn't difficult to find the curious who want a closer look, and one good turn . . . I'm always pleased to lend a helping hand!
There was a Gay Society at the University though I wasn't part of it. They all seemed so intense, so political. For me, sex and politics don't mix. I reckon you're more likely to come unstuck if you shout about your rights. Mum always says there are no rights without responsibility and Jerry agrees with her. Mum knows I'm queer. I had quite a few 'affairs' in Uni., but I always tried to be responsible. There was one chap I let myself go with. I was lucky. I don't leave things to chance any more. Anyway, around here, you might say chance would be a fine thing. There are tourists in the summer and old Steve over the fell. There's a kid in the village who saw my dick when I was having a pee and wanted to play with it. Maybe when he's eighteen! Although that can't be far away. He might be seventeen already. I must ask Mum!
Now for the serious bit. I didn't think I'd ever fall in love, but I reckon I have. He's unreachable, but I have had sex with him. He's absolutely beautiful and he's French, a musician. I saw him first in the early rounds of the piano competition. Then I actually met him. He was walking the Moorland Path and I was out for a ride - on the bike, I mean. I did my usual trick with solitary tourists, which is to offer them a drink and then decide I need a pee. You have to take these all-in-one suits off to have a pee so I do it with my back to them. Then I turn round and see what the reaction is when they see my dick. His was, shall we say, positive. It was bit strange, because it seemed like he'd never done anything before. Anyway, that's partly why I used the money to go to the final concerts of the competition, and that's why I don't think I'll ever see him again, well, not sexually so to speak. When I live in France, I hope I'll be able to afford to go to some of his concerts. Oh, yes. He won the competition. Excuse me a moment. I think I can hear Mum.
I think Mum's dead.
Hortense was, indeed, a little younger than Émile, to be precise, twenty-eight minutes younger, the second-born of twins. Obviously, they were not monozygotic 'identical' twins, for they are perforce to be of the same sex. Nevertheless, their physical resemblance was remarkable, uncanny, and would have pleased Shakespeare. The confusion of Sebastian and Viola in Twelfth Night always seems, to say the least, unlikely but, if one knew Émile and Hortense, one could easily understand it.
When they were children, they played on it. It would not have been fashionable at the time for Hortense to have her hair cut as did most boys, but it was perfectly acceptable for Émile's to be left to grow freely and, in fact, it was not until he was about to attend the Lycée that he went to the barber for the first time. Their father was a stern man, a schoolmaster in the most oppressive sense of the word but, fortunately for the twins' senses of humour, he died when they were but babies. The only marks he left behind him were their names, for he was enthusiastic student and follower of Rousseau - Jean-Jacques, not 'le Douanier' - and insisted on his son being called Émile after the educational philosopher's 'model child'. He truly wanted his daughter to be called Emilie, but his wife put her foot down. After all, to name one's twins Émile and Emilie would certainly cause eyebrows to be raised, so it was agreed to call the little girl Hortense, which happened to be the name of both her maternal and paternal grandmothers.
To return to the twins' childish antics, obviously they exchanged clothes and caused confusion even to their poor mother. She became more and more of a shadowy figure after their father died and, as was the custom among the wealthier middle-classes of that age, they were brought up by a succession of 'nurses'. Luckily, by the time they were five, the succession stopped with the arrival of the capable Marie, not so much a nurse as a governess, a figure of true permanence who was, incidentally, present at Hortense's wedding. Marie's surname might easily have 'Poppins', but it wasn't. One would have thought, given her down-to-earth nature, she might have tried to influence Émile's mother to allow his hair to be cut, but she didn't. On the contrary, she loved both twins' flowing tresses and took great pleasure, as did they, in their being brushed each evening before bedtime. She was also never confused by their cross-dressing and seemed to enjoy the humour of it.
It was Émile who changed the nature of the confusion game. He had never truly liked dressing a girl, not because of his sexuality, hardly prominent in early childhood, but because he hated the encumbrance of skirts, in those days often voluminous and not at all conducive to lively, physical activity. Hortense actually concurred with him, for she, too, enjoyed rough and tumble games, and it was agreed that they should both wear his clothes whenever possible. Marie even facilitated the illusion by seeing that Émile's wardrobe was expanded to allow them to wear identical clothes though, of course, it would not have done for boy's clothes to be kept among a girl's wardrobe. How things have changed!
The summer of the twins' ninth year was to be spent by the sea, after which they would go to school. Mama arranged a house a little outside Paimpol in Brittany, though she only stayed with them long enough to kiss them and wish them a good holiday before she took a taxi to St Brieuc and regained the train to Paris. Marie was to be in charge, but then, she always was, and a local woman would come in to cook and clean, for Mama could not spare either of her own 'staff'. To be direct, that was the way things were. Mama led her life: the twins led theirs. One might hope that they thanked God for the wonderful Marie and, it must be said, they usually did.
Marie taught them to swim. She called it 'drownproofing' and said it was an essential part of everyone's education. They learned easily, almost as if they had already known how anyway. Of course, they wore identical bathing dresses, although swimming trunks for boys and men were usually by then the vogue. The costumes were quite loose, of red and white striped cotton with singlet tops and slight leg pieces, a style perhaps a little old-fashioned, but it didn't matter. Interestingly, the only time when a casual observer might have been aware that the twins were not of the same sex was immediately after they came from the sea, for the costumes clung when they were wet, and Émile's little 'pipi' could be seen. Once the bathing dresses dried, however, the illusion returned.
Otherwise, they spent their time running, jumping, climbing, adventuring in the fields and woods behind the house dressed in loose shirts and baggy shorts, totally at ease and very happy. Madame Foche, who came to cook and clean, did both splendidly. They ate well, bathed often, exercised hard, and slept a full eight hours each night. Even Marie had a proper holiday, sometimes joining them to play in the fields, though she drew the line when it came to climbing and adventuring. Mostly, though, she left them to their own devices, even after they met Albert.
Albert was big. He said he was ten, but he was tall and not a little rotund. Despite his long legs and powerful appearance, when he suggested a race, they outran him easily and left him in a panting heap well before the intended finish. They trotted back to him and stood one on either side. He looked from the one to the other, from the other to the one and said, 'You've got to be boys. I wasn't sure, but you've got to be boys to run like that.'
Émile, who had actually won the race, smiled, shook his head and said, 'No. I'm a girl. My name's Emilie.'
Hortense picked up on the joke and said, 'And I'm a boy.'
Albert stood up and loosened the buckle of his belt. He said, 'I may not know much, but I do know something.' He released his trousers, pushed them and his underpants down to his knees, turned to face Émile, lifted his long shirt and said, 'If you're a girl, you haven't got one of these, so prove it.'
Émile felt tears of anger hot in his eyes, turned and fled.
Hortense said, 'I'm not a boy. Look.' She slid from her shorts and knickers and lifted her shirt. Albert's eyes, not to mention his 'pipi', bulged. Hortense said, 'Yours is much bigger than Émile's. Can I touch it?'
'I don't know if you should. Can I have a close look at yours? I've never seen one before.'
'If I can feel yours, you can do what you like.'
And so Hortense developed a taste for penises, though Albert did no more than make a close inspection of her 'Mount of Venus' and nothing else occurred on the holiday.
Émile avoided Albert, though they did meet a week or so later. Albert held out his hand and said, 'Sorry if I embarrassed you the other day. Friends?'
The holiday ended and it was time to return to Paris and school. Mama had said she would come to collect them, but, in the end, she telephoned to say she was unavoidably detained and would send Georges the 'footman' to meet them at the station. No-one was surprised.
It is patently unfair that, while men of the time in which we are immersed were supposed to be sexually experienced on their wedding nights, women were still most emphatically not. Generally speaking, men could become initially experienced in one of two ways, either homosexual encounters, even though they might not be a man's proclivity, or encounters with courtesans or prostitutes.
Émile received his first experiences during the war when he was at the Lycée. French grammar schools did not in those days include the organised physical aspects of education very much in their curricula but, boys being boys, their students did. In the rough and tumble of such activity, one is only half as likely to encounter a penis as an ear, and just as likely as one is to encounter a nose. Consequently, comparisons are made and mutual masturbation occurs. Émile did not dislike it and, by the time he was intending to enter University, took positive steps to seek it out.
He was taking coffee one morning at an expensive cafe close to Notre Dame when he met the Duke. At this time, Émile had begun to smoke cigarettes, and the young aristocrat concerned came to ask him for a light, introduced himself, and sat at Émile's table. He proved to be a humourous, affable gentleman, and it was not long before a putative friendship was on the cards and he invited Émile to join him for lunch at his town house. They finished their coffee and the Duke signalled to his chauffeur. In those days, one could park near Notre Dame!
The house was splendid, set back from one of the great boulevards, externally of the eighteenth century but, within, utterly modern in the fashionable 'art deco' style. Émile was impressed. The lunch was equally splendid, consomme, fresh salmon, and tropical fruit, a bottle of Pouilly Fumee, home-ground Brazilian coffee, and a little exquisite brandy. The Duke offered Émile one of his personal, hand-made cigarettes, and they retired to the salon - or rather, a salon, for there were several - to smoke, finish their coffee and brandy, and talk. At last, his Grace asked Émile if he liked to swim, and Émile replied that he certainly did.
'Well, then,' said the Duke, 'Come and see my swimming pool.'
The pool wasn't large, for there is a limit to what one can get into an eighteenth-century Parisian town-house, but it was beautifully appointed. The Duke said, 'How about a swim?'
'If you can lend me a swimsuit, I'd love to.'
'Oh, come now,' said the aristocrat. 'In the privacy of one's own pool, one doesn't bother with such banalities,' and he simply took off his clothes and dived in.
Émile had little choice but to follow suit, or rather, without suit.
After a length or two, the Duke swam up to Émile and grasped his genitals lightly. 'How about a bit of sex?' he said.
Émile was a little taken aback, but after all, if you can do it with a fellow student, why not with a Duke? Anyway, he felt decidedly titillated, so he said, 'Why not?'
They lay together on a broad bed beside which was a stainless-steel trolley with bottles of various lotions and above which hung an arc-lamp, in those days the nearest thing one could get to a sun-bed, masturbating each other gently. Suddenly, the Duke said, 'Right. I want you to fuck me.'
'I want you to fuck me. I know you're up to it. Don't worry. I don't want to fuck you. There's some oil on the second shelf of the trolley,' and he pressed a button so that the middle of the bed rose into a mound over which he lay.
Émile could not have said that he didn't enjoy the experience. Still, when he arrived home a couple of hours later in one of the Duke's cars, he went straight to the bathroom, filled the bath with hot, soapy water, immersed himself, and washed his penis over and over again, as he was always to do after he had visited his Grace.
Émile never got to the University. It was becoming increasingly clear, especially to Marie, that Mama's lifestyle was too expensive for the remains of her late husband's estate to support. Other servants had been the first sacrifice and Émile's academic career was the second, but the bills piled up. Eventually, Mama solved the problem herself to some extent by marrying a rich American who paid her debts and took her away to Chicago, leaving Émile and Hortense, and, of course, the inestimable Marie, to get on with it.
In better days, as has been said, a young man of Émile's class would have obtained his heterosexual initiation in the bed of a courtesan, an expensive event which would have been arranged by his father. Émile had neither father nor money and it was clear that he must get a job, and the only person he knew who might be able to arrange something suitable was, of course, the Duke.
His Grace was at home and greeted Émile warmly. 'This is a nice surprise. Have some tea.' He rang the bell. 'Something I can do for you?' He laughed. 'I know there's something you can do for me!'
'Listen, Freddy,' - Émile had become sufficiently familiar to be on first-name terms by then - 'Not to put too fine a point on it, my mother seems to have blown all our money. I really need a job. There aren't any debts or anything. Her American saw to that, but we just don't have anything to live on.'
'Yes. I know.' The Duke became uncharacteristically serious. 'I know. Must be awful.' He brightened and a servant came in with the tea. 'Still, don't see a problem. Soon sort something out. Have some tea and let's go for a swim.'
When they had finished their usual activity, Freddy said, 'Have you ever fucked a woman?’
Émile turned his head away a little. 'No. Never.'
'Oh? You should. Bloody good if you get the right ones. Do it all the time myself.' He laughed. 'Only trouble with women is, they can't fuck you!'
And that is how a chance encounter in a cafe near Notre Dame got Émile a position of some importance in a bank and a week of considerable sexual experience in the bed of an expensive prostitute. If this were a Colette story, he would, of course, have fallen in love with her. As it was, he didn't.
The experience with Albert impressed Hortense immensely and she was, even at the age of ten, determined to research the matter further. The trouble was that she didn't really know any boys. Of course, she asked Émile to let her investigate his genitals, but he was clearly not happy when she did and she didn't persue the matter. She asked him why he didn't bring any of his schoolmates home, and he said there weren't any he liked enough. Consequently, she was perforce to go out and look!
The house in which they lived was not far from the Place de la République. Beyond the Place to the east is a canal, and on either bank, rough grass, trees and bushes where 'poor' children play. Had Marie or even Émile known she intended going there, she would have met with strong disapproval, not to say have been prevented from undertaking the expedition. However, she made the acceptable excuse that she was going to her friend Claudette's house after school and left wearing a pair of Émile's shorts under her school skirt.
When she arrived on the canal bank, there didn't seem to be anyone about. She found a suitable bush, took off her skirt, folded it, put it in her school satchel, and hid the satchel under the bush. She tied back her hair with a piece of string, a fashion she had observed among 'poor' boys and sat on a big stone to wait. Two boys appeared so she picked up a substantial stick and threw it at them. It missed, but it drew their attention to her presence and they approached.
'What you do that for? Looking for a fight?' He was swarthy, smaller than Hortense and had broken teeth. The other one was bigger and more attractive.
'Might be. Dunno.' She affected a 'poor' accent.
'Garn!' The smaller one seemed to be the spokesman.
'Bet I can run faster than you.'
The bigger one did have a voice. 'Bet you can't run faster than me.'
'Bet I can.'
'What you bet?'
Hortense appeared to think, though she knew exactly what she intended to say. 'Well, er, if I win, you have to do anything I say, and if you win, I have to do anything you say.'
The little one grinned. 'What? Like jump in the canal?'
'Could be. I don't care. I can swim. But you don't say till after the race so no-one can chicken out.'
The bigger one said, 'All right. Where we racing to?'
Hortense studied the terrain. 'That big tree. Over there. By all those bushes.'
'Who's gonna say 'go'?' The little one was thinking, probably of how to cheat or haggle.
'Easy.' Hortense had it all worked out. 'I say 'one',' - she pointed to the little one - 'You say 'two', he says 'three', and we all shout 'go' together. All right?'
And that is what happened. Of course, Hortense won, though the bigger boy was a close second, the smaller one, a rather poor third. The little one said, 'All right. You win. You're pretty good. What do we have to do?'
'Come into the bushes.' They did. 'Stand there.' They did. 'Drop your trousers.'
'What?' The bigger boy was aghast.
'You heard. I want to see what you've got. Drop your trousers.'
The smaller boy grinned his jagged grin and did as he was told. The other one was more diffident, and Hortense could see why. His penis was pretty small, probably even smaller than Émile's. The other boy was a different matter. His appeared huge and it seemed to have fur at the top. He said, 'Ain't you gonna show us yours?'
'Can't.' Hortense dropped her shorts dramatically. 'I'm a girl!'
'Cor!' The little one's penis rose as dramatically as Hortense's shorts had fallen. 'Can I have a proper look?'
She regained her shorts. 'Not today. I gotta go. If you come the day after tomorrow, same time, you can then.'
They didn't argue.
Of course, Hortense counted the hours until it was time for the meeting, but she had felt an element of suspense might get better results. In the event, the little one was already there before her. 'Where's your friend?' she said.
'Didn't wanna come. Chicken 'cos he's got a little dick. Come on!'
'Just a minute. I must take my skirt off. Don't want to get it dirty.' She had given up on the 'poor' accent! Anyway, her 'playmate' ran off into the far bushes, and she arranged her things as she had intended before she ran to join him.
When she arrived, he was naked, a thin little body with a pretty big penis that was, to an informed eye, likely to get a lot bigger. Hortense's eye was not, however, yet informed. She didn't strip completely, just took off the shorts and her knickers and stood beside him. 'Can I touch it?' she said.
'Course. Kneel down. Have a good feel.'
'It doesn't smell too good!'
'Sorry. I shoulda 'ad a bath.'
She stroked the fur at the top. 'Why is it furry?'
'They all go like that. It's when your balls are dropping?'
She looked up, puzzled. 'What's that? What are balls?'
'Feel underneath. See? That's me balls. They're what does it.'
She didn't understand, but she didn't ask. 'Now do you want have a good look at mine?' She stood up and placed her feet apart.
He knelt before her. 'Can I have a feel too?'
'I suppose so. What is there to feel?'
He slid a grubby finger inside her and wriggled it gently. 'That,' he said. 'That's what it's all about.'
After a little while, she said, 'I must go. I'll be here again tomorrow. Do you know anyone else with a big - what did you call it? - dick?'
'Dick or cock or prick. Yeah. Plenty.'
'I thought it was 'pipi'.'
He laughed. 'What Jean's got's a pipi. When they get like mine, they're dicks or cocks or pricks.'
He was still naked when she left him, still with the feel of his finger inside her. She liked the feeling but, when she got home, just as her brother was to do some years later, she filled the bath with warm, soapy water, and washed herself thoroughly.
She had forgotten that it was the weekend when she had said she would be there the next day, and, consequently, she couldn't go until Monday. That she did, but she also thought the little boy with the broken teeth might not come. She was right. However, another much more prepossessing lad did come. She was sitting on the big stone waiting. He approached her and said, 'You the girl that likes to play with pricks?'
He didn't wait for a reply, but turned and walked off towards the bushes. Hortense was breathless, for he stirred something in her, and she wondered if she should simply go home, but she didn't. When she caught him up, he had already taken off his shirt. He wasn't very tall, but his body was lean and sinuous. Attractive. He unbuttoned the fly of his trousers slowly and his penis jutted out. When he finally took the trousers off, she could see a mass of dark hair. He said, 'Well? Aren't you going to get undressed?'
She did, and stood completely naked in front to him. He put his hand between her legs and slid a finger inside her, easing it gently round and round. It thrilled her, the feeling truly thrilled her. 'How old are you?' he said.
'Nearly eleven,' she lied.
'Have you had a period?'
'What? I don't understand.'
He moved away and sat down. 'Listen,' he said. 'You don't want to go playing with things you don't understand.'
'I don't understand because no-one will tell me anything. Will you tell me?'
'A bit. I don't know everything. I only know you don't want to go messing about with Gaston. He's a dirty little bugger. He's only after a fuck.'
He smiled. 'You really don't know anything, do you? How did you get involved with him and Jean?'
'I just wanted to see some pricks. I wanted to know. I want to know.'
'All right. Listen. When boys turn into men, their balls drop.'
'I know that. Gaston told me.'
'Well, then they can 'come'.'
'I don't understand.'
'They can squirt stuff into women and make babies.'
'Can you squirt stuff?'
'Yes. I might show you.'
'Could you make a baby in me?'
'I don't think so. Not if you haven't had a period.'
'I don't understand.'
'I don't really, either. I only know that once a month my sisters bleed from their fannies for a few days and, once that starts to happen, they can have babies if they get fucked.'
'I don't understand. What's 'fucked'?'
'It's when a man puts his prick inside a woman's fanny until it squirts.'
She was silent for a moment. Then she said, 'Will you fuck me? It wouldn't make a baby. I like having your finger inside me.'
He shook his head. 'Not today. I'll show you what happens when I come and then I must go. Got to go to work.' He stood up and rubbed his penis until cloudy liquid spurted from the end. Then he wiped it with his hand, dressed, and left in the opposite direction to that from which they had come.
That day, Hortense didn't feel the need to have a bath, though she did feel a deep desire to be fucked. Not many weeks later, she had her first menstruation. Marie was surprised that her young charge seemed unconcerned by the event, except insofar as it was initially painful, and said, 'Do you know what's happening?'
'I think so. I feel as if I'm turning into a woman.'
Well, here I am on the ferry. It's all a bit scary. I've never been on the sea before and, until the day before yesterday, I'd never been to London. Jerry set it all up for me because I had to go to a concert at the Festival Hall so I had to stay overnight in an hotel. I've never done that before either. This ferry is going from Folkestone to Boulogne. When I get to Boulogne, I shall have to find somewhere to stay because it'll be too late to go straight to Paris. I just hope my French is as good as I think it is!
I said I had to go to a concert at the Festival Hall, and that's for two reasons. One is that, if you're into music like I am, you don't pass up an opportunity to go to a concert at the Festival Hall, and the other is that he was the soloist. He played the Schumann brilliantly. It was wonderful, though I felt as if I'd disgraced myself. I had an erection at the end of the performance! I don't think I'll ever meet him again to speak to or for any other reason, but then, Mum always said it was rude to talk with your mouth full. Sorry about that!
Oh, poor Mum. I expect you've worked out that she was dead, though it's taken me longer to get on my way to France than I expected. That's another 'two-reason' effort. One was that I didn't want to leave my students in the lurch and the other that there was so much to sort out. I didn't realise how complicated things are. You see, she didn't leave a will and, technically, Dad was as entitled to half of what there was as I am. They couldn't find him, of course, so eventually, the Court of Probate agreed to let me have my half and hang on to the rest for five years, after which they'd give up and let me have what was left - plus interest! That didn't include the cottage which is technically in Dad's name, but they agreed to let it be put in the hands of an estate-agent so he could rent it out and I could have the rent. Apparently, there's quite a demand for cottages on the Moors in the summer. I can't think why! No. That was flippant. Of course I know why. It's in a very beautiful place.
Anyway, Mum had a lot more cash in the bank than I ever thought, the crafty old love. I suppose that's where the mysterious Christmas bonus came from, the one that bought my stereo. I've had to leave it and most of my CDs behind, of course. I don't mind anyone who rents the cottage using the stereo, but not the CDs, so I've had most of them stored away. I've left a few, so I hope my tenants like Tchaikovsky and Borodin! To return to money, I've come away with three thousand quid! Of course, I haven't got that much in my pocket. It's in a bank, and I've got a new credit-card thingy so I can get it in France if I have to. I've only got a tenner in my pocket. The rest's in francs.
I can see France! For the first time in my life, I can see France. It doesn't look much different from England, but I know it will be. I shall be able to speak French, and I love that, I shall be able to spend francs, I shall be able to teach freely and I shall be able to be queer. Vive la France! We've docked and I'm standing on the quay. It's not at all like England, but it's more or less what I expected. There's a kiosk with an 'Information' sign just over there so I shall go and find an hotel.
The girl in the kiosk was helpful and complimented me on my French. The 'Hotel du Bocage' is, apparently, easy walking distance from the quay. She's given me a map and marked on it where the hotel is, so I'm heading in that direction. I can see it! I don't know why it's called 'Hotel du Bocage' because 'bocage' means 'coppice' and I can't see one anywhere near! Anyway, I shall dump my cases and go and find somewhere to eat. I don't think I'm up to escargots or jambes de grenouilles yet, but I'm sure I'll find something.
And here I am in a restaurant. I'm hungry, so I'm going to have fruit juice, steak in a sauce with potatoes and carrots, and ice-cream. I'm going to treat myself to half a bottle of wine, and then I shall go for a walk before I go back to the hotel to bed. It's been a pretty hectic couple of days, so I'm pretty whacked.
Good morning! I hope you slept as well as I did. I've had breakfast - coffee and a croissant - and I'm on my way to catch the train. Next stop, Paris Nord. Well, not actually. Next stop, Calais, and then the fast train to Paris where Jerry's friends will meet me. I'm not absolutely sure how they'll know me, but Jerry said not to worry, so I won't. Anyway, I've got their address and phone number, and I can always get a taxi.
I've been told that Paris is shut in August because everyone goes away. If everyone goes away, why are there so many people on the Gare du Nord? I've no idea how anyone can recognise anyone and I've turned to look back along the train in case they've missed me, or I've missed them. Now I've turned back again and I can see three people walking towards me in the 'wrong' direction, so to speak. Two of them I don't know, but the third is Jerry. No wonder he told me not to worry about being recognised.
Of course I assume the two men with him are the friends he's talked about, though they don't look like I imagined from his descriptions. They aren't. They're the director and senior English teacher of the Lycée where I'm going to work as an 'assistant'. They wanted to meet me straight away, I suppose to be sure my face fitted, and it had to be now because they're off on holiday with their families. We're going to have coffee and talk in a cafe nearby. They're sorry to put me through it like this, but it can't be helped because they'll be away into September.
We don't talk for long before they leave, saying they'll see me at the Lycée two days before the students come back. My face obviously fitted! It's lovely to be on my own with Jerry again. You know I'm not in love with him, but I do love him. I suppose if he asked me to go to bed with him, I would. Anyway, I ask about the friends I'm - or rather, we're, I suppose - going to stay with and he tells me they're at work. I know one is an accountant and the other is a journalist. I tell him about the concert, but I don't tell him I had sex with the beautiful pianist. I might later.
Jerry's friends have an apartment at the very top of the building where they both work. The ground floor is a bank, the first floor is used by a detective agency and the second and third floors are the offices of a magazine. At the very top is the flat. We go up in a rather ricketty lift, the old-fashioned kind with a rope in the corner and no gates. I suppose I haven't been in that many lifts, and certainly never one like that. Frankly, it seems a good reason to get my own place as soon as possible!
One of Jerry's friends comes back from his office about half-past five, not very long after we get there. It isn't a very big flat, but things like beds and tables fold up into the walls. Eugene, the accountant, says they use it because it's cheap and it doesn't cost them anything to get to work. They have a house in the country, too, in Picardy. That reminds me of my Mum. She used to sing a song called 'Roses are shining in Picardy'. Eugene says, when I'm settled, I must come for the weekend.
Paul, the journalist, comes home a bit later. He knows my name is Paul too, and he greets me like a brother, or, perhaps, a lover. He kisses me fully on the mouth. I find it a bit strange to be kissed like that. In England you just can't do it, well, not in daylight. Anyway, then he announces that he's found a flat for me to look at. It's furnished and has all mod. cons. and it's the ground floor of a house that belongs to some friends of his, near the Place de la République. The house used to be their family home, but, now their children are grown up, it's too big for them, so they've turned it into flats. They keep the top floor for themselves, but they aren't often there because they have a little house near Versailles. Sometimes, one or other of their sons stays there when he's in Paris..
It really is a tight squeeze in Eugene and Paul's little apartment. I sleep with Jerry, but that's all I do. Well, that's all he does. Maybe he really doesn't fancy me. I have trouble sleeping, not because I'm not tired, but because Jerry snores something rotten. It's funny, but I never thought of him as a snorer!
We go to look at the flat the next morning. The owner of the house is there to meet us. He's a very distinguished-looking gentleman I would rather address as 'Monsieur', but he insists I call him Émile. One of his sons is there, too. He's very beautiful, about my age and, at first, I think he's my lovely pianist. Of course, he isn't. That would be too much to expect!
So here I am in my own flat near the Place de la République. Yes. I've moved in. I thought Jerry might stay with me, but he didn't. It's all right. I like being on my own, and I shall have time to explore Paris. Of course, I know the city from maps and pictures in books, but it's lovely just to be there really.
Not far from my flat there's a canal. The second evening, I'm on my own - the first evening I met Jerry, Paul and Eugene to eat in a nice restaurant - I find somewhere to eat near home, and then I go for a walk by the canal. There are several young men, not much more than boys, really, just hanging around. They don't talk to each other. They wait for a stranger to appear and, maybe, ask for a light for a cigarette. Or ask the time. One of them accosts me. He's obviously very young but he has a cigarette and he asks for a light. I say that I don't smoke. Then he takes my hand and pushes it into his crotch, looks me straight in the eyes, and says, 'Cent francs.' Then I work out what that is. A tenner! My God! The kid'd sell himself for a tenner.
As has been said, Hortense did not return to the canal bank. Considering the danger of pregnancy if she did, to coin a phrase, 'get herself fucked', for she knew no other expression to describe the act of copulation, she tried hard to turn her mind away from visions of penises. She tried religion, but the priest was a man, and every time she looked at him, his cassock seemed to become transparent so she could see the exciting organ dangling between his legs. Perhaps she might become a nun, though even nuns have contact with priests, and priests are men, etc., etc., etc.
One spring morning, Marie declared herself to have bad backache, so that it would be too painful to attend the market at Les Halles and carry the purchases home, though the household was woefully short of both meat and vegetables. By that time, other servants had, on the whole, disappeared, since there was scarsely money enough to pay them. All that remained were Charles, the gardener-handiman, and Marie herself, neither of whom seemed to need wages, and Marie could not bring herself to ask Charles to do the shopping. Émile was busy studying for one of the all-consuming Lycée examinations, so the task must fall to Hortense.
Hortense did not mind at all, in fact she looked forward to the bustle of the grand market. Marie made her a list - 'A kilo of cheap beef and a kilo of lamb chops. Two kilos of potatoes, a kilo of tomatoes - nice, firm ones - and a kilo of onions. If they're nice, get a cabbage. Oh, and some bulbs of garlic. You'd better get a cucumber. Then we can have tomato and cucumber salad with lettuce. I know there are some in the garden.' So Hortense set off dressed in a pair of Émile's trousers and a smart, red jacket of her own, the list and a supply of money in a purse in her pocket. Indeed, what with the capacious shopping-basket she carried, she might easily have been Red Riding Hood, except, of course, that she was not going to visit her Grannie, and the basket was empty. Which is not to say there might not have been wolves about.
It is a fair step to Les Halles from the Place de la République, but Hortense was carefree, enjoying the spring sunshine, not a penis in sight. Even the mention of the cucumber did not bring an image to her mind. Perhaps she was cured. Perhaps she had seen all the penises she needed to. No need for religion, no need for the nunnery. Once again, she was no more than an artless child helping with her family's day-to-day business, careful only of domestic responsibilities.
The market is huge, but Hortense did not shirk those responsibilities, and went from greengrocer to greengrocer comparing prices before she settled on one stall for potatoes, onions and the cabbage, and another for the salad and the garlic. By then, of course, the basket was beginning to feel very heavy. Neverthless, she wandered similarly among the butchery. There seemed to be no 'cheap' beef, and she settled on the least expensive, though at that stall, the lamb chops were dear. And then something happened.
She went to a stall where the chops seemed reasonable. A young man stood with his back to her, sharpening a knife with a steel. She called to him for the kilo of lamb and, when he turned to serve her, almost dropped the basket. He smiled and said quietly, 'Remember me? Still want to get fucked?'
His name was Robert, something she had neglected to discover on their previous encounter, and they arranged to meet in the Tuillery Gardens the following afternoon, after the market closed for the day. Despite the weight of the basket, she almost ran home, her mind consumed with the memory of Robert's penis. She seemed to remember every drop of the generative juice that had spurted from it, and determined to find a way to see it happen again, if not in the Tuillery Gardens, which seemed unlikely, somewhere suitable, even on the canal bank.
She raised the issue of a visit to the Tuillery at dinner that evening. Unusually, Mama was present, and Marie, despite her bad back, had managed to conjure up an excellent repast. Hortense became a little unnerved when Mama suggested Émile might go with her. She need not have worried. Émile was not one for visiting such splendours and pleaded the pressure of work for his examinations. Mama said, 'Very well, but I really think you should get out more, dear. You seem to spend such a lot of time in the house.' How Mama could have known that, which was not the case anyway, can only be surmised, for she herself was so infrequently 'at home'.
Robert was waiting for Hortense when she arrived. As they walked, she really wanted to hold his hand, but she dismissed the idea on the grounds that he might think it 'cissy'. He said, 'So do you still want to do it?'
'I don't think I dare. I get periods now. I don't think it would be a good idea to make a baby, do you?' In truth, despite her feeling for him, the concept of a child fathered by a butcher's boy horrified her almost as much as it would have both Marie and her mother, had they known about it.
'There are ways to do it without making babies,' he said.
Her eyes widened. 'Really? What ways?'
'Well, you can pull your dick out before you come. But my sister says that's dodgy.'
'Yes. Little drops might still get in. It doesn't take much.'
'Oh.' She sounded glum.
'Or there are condoms.'
'Condoms? What are condoms?'
'They're like fingers of a thin rubber glove. You slide them over your dick before it goes in.'
'And do they work? Can you get some?'
He smiled. 'I've got some. Anyway, one'll be enough. I'm not Superman!'
She didn't really understand his humour and she said, 'When can we do it? Where? On the canal bank? We can't do it here!'
'Can you come to the market tomorrow after it closes?'
'I should think so.'
'There's a little door round the side towards the Bourse. I'll leave it open. The watchman won't be about. Too early. He stays in the cafe till it starts to get dark.' As they walked back towards the Louvre, she found he was holding her hand.
Thus, the following day, Hortense simply offered the excuse that she was going for a walk, ran to the market, and slipped through that small, side door. Robert was waiting for her, just inside. He said, 'Come over to the stall. I've tried to make it comfortable.
Hortense sucked her lower lip. 'I suppose you've done it dozens of times by now.'
He shook his head. 'No,' he said. 'I've never done it before. I could have. I've had planty of chances, but I suppose I was waiting for you.'
And so it was that Hortense lost her virginity to a butcher's boy lying on a couple of old rugs spread out behind the butcher's block. After he had 'come', Robert said, 'I think I'm in love with you. I told you I've had plenty of opportunities, but I think I fell in love with you on the canal bank.'
The event was repeated on several occasions, though it worried Hortense every time Robert said he loved her. She knew the word 'love', for it occurred in almost every popular song, and she read many cheap romances. The matter came to a head when they were, as it is said, 'caught at it' by the watchman. Surprisingly, he was not an old man, though neither was he a boy. His proposition was simply that, if he didn't get his turn, he would expose them to the world. Hortense was not in the slightest bit bothered. 'Help yourself as long as you use a condom,' she said, though the act itself disappointed her, for the man had a rather unimposing penis and had trouble putting the 'preservative' on, and he ejaculated very quickly. Nevertheless, when he had finished, Robert had gone.
Hortense went home wondering if the expression 'back to square one' might be in order. She need not have worried. The very next day, Marie asked her to fetch some aspirin from the pharmacy round the corner, for she was still having trouble with her back. Hortense saw at once that the young assistant might be a suitable candidate, and feigned the inability to reach the required material herself, though it was not shelved that high. When the young man came from behind the counter and reached up to get it for her, she simply put her arms round him, squeezed his genitals and said, 'Have you ever had a fuck?'
He dropped the box of bottles of tablets in astonishment and stammered, 'Nnnno.'
'Is there anyone else here?' she said.
'Nnnnno, bbbbut the bbbboss might be bbbbback any minute.'
She took two packs of condoms from a shelf far higher than the one on which the aspirin was stored, said, 'Well, if you want to, come to the canal bank when you shut the shop, and I'll show you how to use these,' and she left without paying.
That young man did come to the canal bank and proved, despite his stammer and reserved nature, to have a magnificent penis. Unfortunately, he ejaculated as Hortense was rolling the 'preservative' on to it. Equally unfortunately, the event was witnessed by the awful Gaston of the broken teeth, and the young pharmicist took fright, grabbed his clothes, and ran. Gaston said, 'Can I 'ave a fuck now?'
Hortense, frustrated by the other's precipitate disappearance, said, 'Oh, I suppose so.'
Gaston proved to be very good at it and Hortense felt something she had only before felt on that very first occasion with Robert. Later, research into a book by someone called Simone de Beauvoir, quite accidentally discovered in a local bookshop while she was seeking a romantic novel to entertain the yet-incapacitated Marie, told her that the sensation was known as 'orgasm' and was the feminine equivalent of masculine ejaculation.
The annals of Hortense's sexual activity must be cut short before they become repetetive and thus boring. Suffice it to say that, when there was no-one else, there was always Gaston, and that, later, her elderly husband Georges's amazing if unlikely sexual success on their wedding night was most certainly a function of his wife's considerable experience, not to mention her long-held desire to be 'fucked' without a condom!
Émile went to the Duke's house on on his way home from the bank. He had not called for several weeks, and was surprised to find the house entirely vacant, its shutters closed. He returned to the house near the Place de la République in a sombre mood to find Marie elated. She greeted him ebulliantly with the news that he had become an uncle the previous day. Hortense, with, it must be said, the assistance of Georges, had been delivered of a son. It had not been an easy birth and the doctors declared that Hortense was unlikely to become pregnant again
Émile arrived at the hospital with flowers bought with some difficulty for they were, apparently, in short supply. Hortense was sitting up in bed sipping tea, Georges to one side, holding the baby. There seemed to be nowhere to put the flowers and Hortense rang a bell. Almost immediately, a tiny nun appeared and took them from him. Then he bent to congratulate his sister with a kiss and sat at the other side of the bed. The nun returned with the flowers in a vase and the baby began to cry. Hortense said, 'Give him to me. I expect he's hungry.'
'When are they going to let you go home?' Émile watched his new nephew suckle with amazement, for it was something he had never seen before.
Georges said, 'Tomorrow, it would seem.'
'Are you going to stay in Paris?'
'No. We shall go to Paimpol. I'm not getting any younger and the house is much too big. Anyway, I don't think Paris is a suitable place to bring up children these days. We've already leased the house.' Hortense held up the baby. 'I think he's going to sleep again. Would you like to hold him?'
Émile felt unaccountably thrilled. 'May I? I should like to very much.' It had never before occurred to him that he might ever have become a father, but contact with his tiny nephew seemed to stir something in him.
The following afternoon, he and Marie arrived at Georges and Hortense's house in a taxi. Normally, they would have walked, but Marie's back problem had recurred. A very large van was parked outside, and men were putting things into it. Georges came to greet them. 'We're taking everything. Come in. Hortense and the child are in the little salon. We shall leave for the Brittany in an hour or so.'
Marie cooed maternally over the baby and Émile had that feeling of paternal desire again, though, of course, if one is to become a father, one must first find a wife. Marie asked what the child was to be called and Hortense said, 'We thought Émile, after his uncle.' It was at that point that Émile expressed his disapproval and, as has already been told, the little boy came to be named Achille.
Despite their 'independent means', Georges and Hortense's house was honestly far too big and expensive to maintain. They talked about moving permanently to Brittany where they had their, albeit rented, holiday home. Consequently, they leased the ground floor to the Water Board, and that is where Émile met his future wife.
It was Charles the gardener, albeit unwittingly, that initiated the eventual liason. He was having trouble with his hose. The water in the house seemed to be functioning normally, but the outside tap produced no more than an occasional trickle. Émile thought the problem probably lay with the Water Board, though he was not prepared to confront them and, largely to placate Charles, said he would ask at the Water Board where he might find a plumber, which he did on his way to the bank the next day.
The receptionist was a pleasant young lady, probably rather younger than Émile, though he was hardly expert at judging the ages of women. He explained the problem and she said that she would contact the officer for the district of the Place de la République who would send someone round. It would not be that day. for the workmen already had their schedules, but it would almost certainly be the next. She also said that there would probably be a charge for their services since the problem seemed to be within Émile's property.
The workman, for there was only one, arrived the next morning before Émile had left for the bank. He was an almost unbelieveably beautiful young man and, as it was high summer, was dressed in shorts and a singlet. Émile felt himself to be stirred, more or less as Georges had been stirred by his first glimpse of Émile himself those years before but, in view of his decision to be heterosexual, checked himself. The young man went to look at the tap, then went into the gound floor to announce that he would have to turn the water off at the main for a little while to effect a repair. The occupiers did not seem to mind. By the time he had removed the tap, fitted a new one, turned the main on again, and demonstrated to Charles that the repair was effective, Émile had left for the bank and it was Marie who came down to pay the bill.
A few days later, the tap misbehaved again. Again, Émile called at the office of the Water Board. This time, the receptionist asked if there would be someone at the house late that afternoon, for she thought she might be able to get someone to come that day in view of the ineffectiveness of the previous repair and that there would, of course, be no further charge. Émile himself was, as it happened, there when the same young workman came. Again, he went into the ground floor to inform the occupiers that the water would be off for a while and, again, they raised no objection. This time, however, before he restored the water supply, he went upstairs to seek out Émile and Marie. He asked if he might see the bathroom on the top floor, and besought Émile to show him personally where it was. Émile concurred, took him up the stairs, and led him to the bathroom. There, the beautiful young man put his face close to Émile's and Émile again felt unwanted stirrings. However, the young man whispered, 'Not more than ten minutes after I've left, get yourself and your friends out of the house and get as far away as possible. Go for a walk to the canal. Don't run. Don't attract attention. Just get away,' and he ran down the stairs to return the water supply.
You might have expected Émile to protest, but he didn't. He trod the stairs steadily, and told Marie that they were going out. It rather disarmed him to find how readily she acceded. Then he said loudly, 'I'm sure you'd love to see Achille. I know! Let's take Charles with us. He's as soft as you are with little kids!' Charles was in the garden when Émile went to find him, but he offered no protest, just went into his shed to take off his apron and put on his jacket. Thus they left the house, one on either side of the still halting Marie, and went off in the direction of the canal. They followed its bank a little, apparently just three friends out for a walk. Suddenly, there was a slight explosion not far away, somewhere near the Place de la République. A swarthy man with broken teeth accosted them. He looked around and then said, 'We're sorry about your house, but we have a serious point to make. If you come with me, I'll take you somewhere you can stay.'
Of course they did. In such circumstances, what else could one do? The house to which he led them belonged to his family, and there lived his old mother, Natalie, his younger brother Jean, and his sister Cécile. It is hardly surprising to relate that Jean was the Water Board plumber and that Cécile, the Water Board receptionist, was even more beautiful than he, though it is more likely to cause wonder to relate that Natalie was an old acquaintance of Marie's and that she had masterminded the whole affair. As for the instantly-recognisable Gaston, he was an acknowledged leader of the campagne to liberate somewhere obscure from French occupation, though, in truth, it was his mother who held the controls, Gaston himself being actually unsure of where 'somewhere obscure' was.
The personnel of the bank were most sympathetic regarding the devastation of Émile's house. Of course, he had no trouble obtaining money. most of which was in the bank anyway, and was able to buy clothes for himself and Charles, though hardly liked to do so for Marie. That afternoon when he returned to the house beyond the Chateau Landon where Gaston and his family lived, old Natalie said that he should find somewhere else for himself and Charles, but that Marie would, for the time being at least, remain with them. Then she asked him a favour. She asked him to take Cécile with him and marry her.
The request came as something of a shock. He looked at Cécile who seemed impassionate, and then he said, 'Cécile, will you marry me?'
'Of course.' She smiled and said, 'I knew I was going to marry you the first time you came into the Water Board.'
Georges, Hortense and little Achille had lived for almost four years in the same house from which, many years earlier, Hortense had developed her interest in masculine genitalia. That interest pertained, though, it must be said, her husband was, by then, rarely able to satisfy it. Still, she remained on the whole faithful, for he was a 'good' husband, and doted on their little son.
Achille, in turn, was proving to be a remarkable child. He had spoken his first words at the age of ten months, and could construct entire, grammatical sentences a little before he was, in years, one and a half. By then he could also sing in tune and imitate any melody his father might sing or play for him. Sing or play. Yes, Georges could play, for, while most of their own furniture was stored in a nearby barn, the house being fully furnished, the one item he insisted on bringing within was his piano. Georges was a very competent if undistinguished pianist, as has been told, but he felt that, especially in the circumstances, he truly needed his piano.
His little son was fascinated by the instrument. Where most children at two years of age would be content to make noise, crashing awful discords with an arm, he picked out melodies with a chubby finger. Georges realised his son's potential and tried to teach him some simple technique. Achille baulked at the idea of being thus instructed by his father and became petulant at lesson-time. Consequently, Achille was perforce to seek out an independent teacher.
In fact, it was Hortense who found one. Sometimes that summer, the little boy would be restless and demanding very early in the morning and, rather than have her husband disturbed, she would take Achille, already an accomplished swimmer, to the beach at dawn. One beautiful, still morning, they arrived at the sea's edge to find they were not alone. On the sand, there was a towel weighted down with a thick book and, not far out, a man was swimming. Hortense hardly remarked him and, as she and her son were already wearing their swimming things, went into the sea. The man swam up to them, commented on Achille's proficiency, and waded on to the beach where he sat on his towel and watched them. Only then did Hortense realise that he was unselfconsciously naked.
Hortense, too, came from the sea, and went to sit beside him. 'Your little boy is amazing,' he said. 'How old is he?'
'He's four,' she said. 'Yes. He's very talented. He could talk by the time he was a year and he's started to play the piano, but he won't let his father teach him. He's very strong-willed.' Inconsequentially, she added, 'He learned to swim before he was two.'
'That's very strange.'
'I suppose it is unusual.'
'No. I mean, yes, it is unusual, of course, but what I meant by 'strange' is that I'm a musician myself. I'd love to try to teach your son.'
'That's wonderful. When could you come to give him a lesson?'
'I think it would be better if you brought him to my house.' He stood up and indicated a tiny house just at the edge of the beach. 'I live there.' He picked up the towel and the book. 'Now you must excuse me. Come this afternoon about three.' Hortense was transfixed by his substantial genitalia, mesmerised by his slim, tight figure as he walked away.
Georges was already up and drinking coffee in the salon when she and Achille came home. 'Have a good swim?' he said.
She poured herself a cup and said, 'Yes. Fine. We met a music teacher on the beach. He said he'd love to try to teach Achille. He said I could take him for a lesson this afternoon. Do you want to come and meet him?'
'Excellent, but I don't think I need to come. You take him. I think it's better.' Achille himself had curled up on the sofa and gone to sleep.
Monsieur René's house was tiny, a bench outside its only door. That led into the kitchen, beyond which was another, bigger room with the piano, a wide bed, and a little essential furniture. Its further wall was completely lined with shelves of books. René was, perhaps, thirty. He was certainly unconventional and greeted his new pupil and his mother apparently wearing nothing more than a long shirt. Achille took to him immediately and began to use all the fingers he could, despite their still chubby and inflexible nature. René made exercises into games and sang silly words to their prosaic melodies. Achille laughed gleefully and mastered them immediately. René made scales and arpeggios into concert-pieces. Achille stood to bow when he had completed them, and went home to perform them again for his appreciative father.
It was at the second lesson that Hortense made her move. Achille ran past his teacher, straight to the piano. Again, René seemed to be wearing nothing more than a long shirt, albeit a different one. Hortense simply put her hand firmly on his genitals and whispered, 'I want you to fuck me.'
He was not at all taken aback and said, 'Sure. Come here any time you like.'
Hortense thought of her early experiences of sex when she told Georges that she was going for a walk. Achille was fast asleep, and her husband raised no objection. René was sitting in the moonlight on the bench outside the little house, a book in his hands, when she came. The book was closed, however, and he was looking out at the sea. She sat beside him and said, 'It's beautiful, isn't it? Is it why you came here?'
'I was born here. In this house.'
'But I hadn't seen you until the other day.'
'I've been away. I haven't been home long.' He stood up. 'Let's go inside,' he said. He shut the door and pulled off the shirt, held her to him and kissed her, there in the half-light of the kitchen. The kiss held a passion she had truly never felt before, her tongue meeting his, the musky sweetness of his breath complementing the flowery sweetness of hers. At last, he released her, and she led him to the bed.
The bedroom was lit only by the moon. René undressed her so gently, caressed her, kissed her again and again, explored her body with his hands and his tongue. For Hortense, it was an entirely new experience. Her previous lovers, if one could call them by that abused word, had been, as, it must be said, had she, largely interested only in the final act, the consummation. René was different, wonderful and, when he finally entered her, she reached orgasm exactly synchronous with him.
They lay together holding hands afterwards and she said, 'How do you know I haven't got pregnant? You didn't use a condom. I'm not complaining. It was lovely.' She touched his flaccid penis and it stirred.
'I don't. Maybe I want you to have my child.'
'I'm afraid that can't happen.' She sighed. 'Achille is my first and last.' She touched him again and found that his penis was already erect. 'Fuck me again,' she said.
That second time, neither of the lovers reached a climax, but it didn't seem to matter. She kissed him and said, 'I suppose I'd better go. I'll come again.'
'I know you will.'
As she dressed, she said, 'Where's the bathroom?'
He smiled. 'I'm afraid there isn't one. The piss-house is outside. You're probably better to wait till you get home. No mod. cons. here. No telephone, no electricity, no bathroom.'
'I don't think I could cope.'
'One does if one has to.' He came with her naked to the door. 'Do you know,' he said, 'You're the first woman I've fucked for a very long time.'
She laughed. 'Does that mean you've fucked some men? You certainly haven't forgotten what to do!'
'Yes,' he said. 'Where I've been, there were no women to fuck, and fucking for me is like music. I have to have it'
Within weeks, Achille could play one of the child Mozart's sonatinas. His fingering was unconventional, but it worked. Hortense's fingering was equally, if not similarly, unconventional and, just as Achille gained control of the keyboard, she gained control of René's penis. One cannot be sure to what extent Georges was aware of what was happening. Nevertheless, Hortense's 'affair' provided him with welcome relief from her previously impossible appetite for sex.
The lessons and the love-making continued until the end of the summer. Then, one day, when Hortense took Achille for his lesson, René was not there. The house was closed up. Achille was disappointed, but Hortense said, 'I expect he had to go out.'
That evening, when she went for her 'walk', the little house was still closed up, and the next day, and the next. At last Achille resigned himself to lessons from his father, for his appetite for music grew by the second and he knew that he would, one day, be a concert pianist. Hortense also became resigned and left her son more and more in the charge of her husband, though she pleaded with him for them to return to Paris and, after Christmas, they did.
Émile and his new 'wife' returned to the house near the Place de la République to find it not nearly as devastated as one might have thought. Cécile spoke to the policeman stationed outside. 'What happened?' she said.
'Bomb,' he said. 'Only a little one.'
The policeman smiled when he said, 'No-one, than goodness. The engineers are inside making sure it's safe.' He recovered himself and said officiously, 'And what's your interest?'
'It's our house. My husband's and mine. We'd really like to go home.'
'Well, I'm afraid you can't. Not yet, anyway.'
As they walked towards the canal, Émile said, 'I'm going to marry you and you don't know anything about me and I don't know anything about you. Where are you from?'
'Alsace. Jean and I lived there with our grandmother when we were little. I think our father was German. Granny didn't talk about him much. When she died, we had to come to live with Mama in Paris.'
'What about Gaston?'
'Oh, he was there already. His father might have come from anywhere. He thinks he was north African. Mama says she can't really remember but she goes along with Gaston. She wasn't married to either of them. She produced Gaston in Paris I think. Then she moved to Alsace and produced us. We lived in a nice little town. Really nice. But she got fed up with it and took Gaston back to Paris. Do you really want to marry me?'
'Yes.' Émile was definite. 'There may not be much time and I need to know that I've fathered a child.'
'You can fuck me without marrying me, you know. I wouldn't mind.'
Émile looked aghast. 'Well, I would,' he said. 'I want my name on the . . . the . . .' He couldn't think of the word. 'Deeds.'
Cécile laughed. 'You mean 'birth certificate',' she said.
He blushed. 'Yes, well you knew what I meant.' Then he, too, laughed. 'It's what comes of working in a bank!'
They walked in silence for a little beside the canal. Suddenly, Cécile said, 'Do you want to fuck me now? It's all right among those bushes. I've done it there before.'
Émile felt he should have been shocked, but he wasn't. 'I don't know,' he said. 'I had visions of a romantic wedding, a honeymoon bed. You know.'
'Fat chance of that. May I remind you that we don't have anywhere to sleep tonight.'
'Oh, my God!'
'What? What's the matter?'
'Charles. What about Charles?'
'Don't worry about him. Marie won't let Mama chuck him out. Anyway, now she's got rid of me, there won't be a problem. Have you got much money?'
'With me? Five hundred or so.'
'Oh,' she said. 'Then there's no problem. I know an hotel that'll book us in as Mr and Mrs without any trouble. Let's pick up some things from Mama's and go there. Maybe you can find somewhere more permanent tomorrow.'
The hotel was, to Émile's eyes, pretty sordid, a ramshackle place near the tracks of the Gare de l'Est. The consierge seemed to know Cécile and gave her the key to a room without asking any questions. Perhaps the room wasn't so bad, and once they were inside, she turned they key in the lock, held him tight, and kissed him. 'You know,' she said, 'I can't say I love you, but I think I'm going to,' and, although he still wore his jacket, she unfastened his trousers.
They were married at the Mairie a few days later. Their witnesses were two complete strangers provided for a small fee by the presiding officer. Afterwards, Émile said, 'I've got a surprise for you.'
'What? What is it?'
'We can go back to my house. Our house. One of the directors of the bank arranged it.'
While the house near the Place de la République was not 'devastated', it was certainly a mess. The tenants had removed what had been left of their paraphernalia from the ground floor and the lowest part of the stairs was held up with scaffolding. The doors leading from the hall had been blown off in the blast and the windows were boarded up. The internal door leading from the salon to the dining room was still there, and Émile picked his way through the rubble to try to open it. It was either impossibly stuck or locked. He sighed and said, 'Let's see what it's like upstairs.'
Climbing the stairs was not easy. Treads had been blown away and they had to hold on to scaffold poles for support. At the top was another door put there to separate the upper floors of the house from the ground-floor tenants. Cécile tried to open it but couldn't. Émile said, 'That's because it's locked.' He produced a key and opened the door, but he barred her entry. 'No,' he said. 'I'm going to carry you over the threshold. Let's at least have one bit of romance!'
Inside, things had fallen and most were broken. Cécile said, 'I hope there's a decent bed left.'
He set her down and said, 'There's only one really big bed, and that's in the room over there.'
Again, things had fallen and broken, but the bed remained intact if dusty. Cécile sat on it. 'It feels all right,' she said. 'Take your clothes off, though. They'll get filthy and we've both got to go to work tomorrow.'
Émile said, 'No. I think we should go upstairs. The beds aren't as big, but they're big enough for us and they're likely to be less dusty.'
The stairs to the second floor were hardly damaged and the rooms certainly less dusty. French windows led on to the roof-balcony. Cécile opened them and went outside. 'You can see the canal.'
Émile came to join her. 'Yes,' he said. 'When we were little, we often sat out here. After our father died and Marie came to look after us, she thought it was dangerous and had the railings fitted to the parapet. I think it's a pity. They spoil the view.'
Cécile noticed a further, iron spiral staircase. 'Where does that go?' she said.
'To the very top of the roof.'
'What's up there?'
'A little house. Part of it contains the cold-water tank and the rest is where Charles used to sleep.'
'Can I see it?'
'Of course. You're the mistress of the house now.'
Cécile was delighted. 'I want to live here,' she said. 'At least until the rest of the house is mended. It's perfect and it's clean. The bomb hasn't affected it at all. Can we? Please?'
Émile smiled. 'All right. Why not?'
She wriggled her dress up so that she shouldn't sit on it and sat on the bed to take off her shoes. 'Take your clothes off,' she said as she pulled the dress over her head, 'And come and fuck me.'
Despite the destructive efforts of Gaston and his extremist friends (and family!), Émile and Cécile moved back into the house quite soon. There was no real structural damage though the tenants discontinued their lease of the ground floor, but it was over a year before that was properly restored and re-furnished. Émile planned a party to celebrate, but Cécile didn't know much about it, for she went into labour at the crucial moment. It had taken many attempts for her to become pregnant, much, it must be said, to the pleasure of both herself and her husband, though Émile did wonder if something might be wrong with one of them.
It was Marie who said, 'Don't worry. It can take time. Just because your sister managed it the moment she got into bed doesn't mean everyone does. You must remember the stresses of the bombs. Before the war, people could eat what they liked. They can't nowadays. Before the war, you didn't have to worry about waking up alive. Maybe now it's all supposed to be over, perhaps we can get back to normal, though I doubt it.' By that time, Marie was sometimes confused and had a marked tendency to live in the past!
Nevertheless, Édouard slid easily and carelessly into the world. Émile immediately thought he was beautiful, though Cécile's view of her son was more prosaic. 'He looks like a baby,' she said. Still, it was clear as she gave him her breast that she knew she could be proud of him, that strangers would remark on his beauty when she wheeled him in his bassinette through the streets of the city.
Cécile may have been a slow starter in the race for motherhood, but she certainly picked up speed after that, for Thiérry was born the following year, hardly eleven months younger than his brother. Managing two such infants at the same time would have daunted most mothers, but not Cécile. On the contrary, she throve on the challenge, supported to some extent by the doting if elderly Marie who had, after all, effectively brought up Émile and Hortense. How different was she from her sister-in-law.
Édouard and Thiérry might well have been twins, so similar were they in appearance, though it was their mother rather than they who played upon that. She dressed them identically and used a twin perambulator, then a twin push-chair for, by the time he was a year old, Thiérry had more or less caught his brother up in stature. Strangers certainly did remark upon the boys' good looks, and Cécile was doubly proud.
Édouard was nearly three and Thiérry two when they first met their cousin Achille, for Émile and Cécile had never taken them to Brittany. Still, although they knew him, they did not see him very often. He seemed to Cécile to be a moody and solitary child, always distracted by his music, too often only in the company of his elderly father, and quite unable to play in the way in which children, in her opinion, should. She also disliked her sister-in-law, indeed even Marie remarked on how like her own absent mother Hortense was becoming. Since Marie had never known the twins' mother, it is hard to see how the old lady had come to that conclusion, however!
When it was time for the brothers to go to school, Thiérry had overtaken Édouard in height, and the boys' facial resemblance could no longer be said to be completely confusing. Their developing personalities were also becoming dissimilar for, while Thiérry was a dreamer, a maker of stories, Édouard was practical, though something of a talented artist, and a potential athlete. Nevertheless, they remained almost inseparable. One might almost have said that they showed two aspects of s single personality, though that is not to say that Édouard was without imagination nor Thiérry without physical strength. On the contrary, both boys were lithe and intelligent.
Édouard desperately wanted a 'proper' bicycle to ride to school, for other boys already had them, while he and his brother had only 'baby' ones to ride in the garden. Marie was horrified and Émile wary, but Cécile thought it a good idea and he duly received one for his tenth birthday. She asked Thiérry if he would also like one, although he had not shown his brother's interest in cycling. He said that he would, perhaps a little doubtfully, and thus, a month or so later, he too possessed a shiny new machine.
The bicycles came into their own when Édouard began to attend the Lycée. For the first time, he and Thiérry were separated for long periods. Thiérry could hardly wait for his own shorter school day to end, and took to cycling to meet his brother so that they could arrive home together, as they had always done. One afternoon, as Édouard approached, another, bulkier boy was cycling beside him. He stopped as they approached Thiérry and said, 'This is Jean-Jacques. This is my brother Thiérry.'
Jean-Jacques said, 'You look like twins.'
'Well, we're not. He's over a year younger than me.' He laughed, Thiérry thought, unpleasantly. 'They wouldn't let him into the Lycée this year because he's only got a little dick.'
Jean-Jacques laughed too, though less unpleasantly. 'Well, your is hardly a cucumber!'
'Just because you've got a Belgian salami between your legs doesn't mean everyone has. Come on. Race you to your house.'
Thiérry was about to say, 'Can I come too?' but they were gone. When he got home, he found he was crying, though no-one saw. By the time Édouard returned the house near the Place de la République, Thiérry had recovered himself. It was the first time his brother had seemed deliberately not to want his company.
Édouard spent more and more time with his new friend, and Thiérry, more and more time on his own, usually reading or writing, though he would not show his mother or Marie his stories. At least, they assumed they were stories. Marie worried about him. 'He should get himself a friend,' she said. 'It's not healthy. Mind you, I don't like that Jean-Jacques. It was better when our boys stuck together.'
Cécile was embroidering Émile's initial on a new pair of silk pyjamas that were to be a surprise birthday present. 'Don't worry. They're fine.' She looked up at the clock. 'I must put this away before Émile gets home.'
Paris is great, though it's noisier and scruffier than I imagined. I mean, they only show you pictures of the 'posh' bits, don't they? They show you the Place de Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, they show you the Champs Elysees and the other grand boulevards, the Isle de la Cite and Notre Dame. They don't show you the women-whores up from the Place Pigalle or the drunks under the viaduct near the flea-market by the Boulevard Rochechouart. They don't show you the ghastly tower-blocks of the seventh 'arondissement' that make Moss Side look pretty good, or the tumbledown tenements near the Gare de l'Est. They don't show you the boy-whores looking for business by the canal or the heaving sex of all kinds in the Bois de Boulogne.
I'm enjoying teaching at the Lycée. It's quite a way away and I have to go on the Metro. Luckily, it's in the 'wrong' direction for most people so I don't have to worry about rush-hour crowds. Anyway, the kids are really enthusiastic and the staff are friendly, though the money doesn't go as far as I hoped it would. Still, I haven't dipped into Mum's money yet. My flat's very nice. Monsieur Émile, the landlord, came yesterday for the rent. He should have come over a week ago and I was worrying that I hadn't paid it. I needn't have. He said it didn't matter. Bit different from the landlord when I was at University. I reckon he knew when it was due to the second, and he was always there waiting for it.
School finishes at lunch-time so I spend a lot of afternoons walking in the city, getting the feel of the place, you might say. Then I find a cafe not too far from home to have a drink or two and something to eat. Actually, it's usually the same cafe and they've taken to having my pastis ready when they see me coming. I suppose I'm becoming a 'local'! Anyway, after supper, I go home to prepare my lessons for the next day, maybe watch television, always listen to some music. I've bought two CDs of 'my' pianist. One's the Brahms second concerto and some Brahms waltzes, the other's the fourth and fifth Beethoven concertos. One thing I must admit, though. I'm lonely and I really want some sex.
When I knew I'd fallen in love with him, sex didn't seem to matter any more, but it catches up with you. I suppose it's like a drug. Habit-forming. I know I moaned about how little I got back home, but there was usually somebody when I needed it. Here, all I can do is have a lonely wank. Maybe I'll pick up one of the men on the canal bank or in the Bois. No. I can't afford a hundred francs. Anyway, it's ridiculous paying for it. Someone'll come along.
There's a bike shop on the way from the station. Well, one of the stations. I can use several. I've made up my mind. I've seen a terrific mountain-bike in the shop-window so I shall go and see about it after school and, if the price isn't too awful, I'll go to a cash-machine and get enough of Mum's money to buy it. I've made up my mind. That's what's been the matter with me. Not only no sex, but no bike.
The price is too awful! Still, they've got another one that isn't so dear and I've decided to have it. I might even cycle to school tomorrow, though I'm not sure I know the way. That's the trouble with the Metro. You don't really know where you're going. Anyway, it'd mean taking school clothes and stuff in a backpack. I wouldn't want to cycle that far wearing a jacket and trousers.
Something strange has happened. Well, not strange exactly. Unexpected. It's often still nice enough to sit outside my cafe when I'm having supper. A bit over a week ago, I was doing just that when a very distinguished-looking gentleman walked past. A couple of days later, he passed again. That time, he had a cigarette in his hand and he stopped to ask me for a light. I told him I didn't smoke and he asked if he might sit at my table so that he could have a brandy and ask the waiter for a light, which he did. The waiter seemed to know him. Well, he obviously did know him because he called him 'Monsieur le Duc'. Anyway, 'Monsieur le Duc' asked me if I'd join him for a Cognac and I must admit, I did. I'm becoming an alcoholic! Pastis before supper, wine with supper and now, brandy after supper. Not really. It's just the French way.
'Monsieur le Duc' said he couldn't work out from my accent where I came from, though he knew I wasn't Parisian. I must admit I felt very proud at his reaction when I told him I was English. He said he could hardly believe it. He thought I might be Belgian. We chatted for quite a while before he asked the waiter to get him a taxi and, as he got into it, said he hoped we'd meet again. I went home that evening feeling pretty good. It's odd how a bit of casual conversation can cheer you up.
But now I've got back from school, changed into my cycling-gear, and I'm out on my bike. The traffic's still pretty awful, but I want to get round past the Gare du Nord and on to the Boulevard Rochechouart so I can see if I can still cycle uphill. The bike's got about seventy-five gears, so I should be able to. It's a bit scary and the taxis don't seem to care if they knock you off. Still, I suppose it's not much worse than it was when I used to cycle from the flat to college. Now I'm on the hill up into Montmartre. It's bloody hard work, but I reckon I can make it. Yes! I'm sitting in a cafe on the Place Montmartre having a mineral water. It's bloody expensive, but I need it!
That evening, the waiter, whose name, by the way, is Alphonse - very theatrical! - remarks that I'm later than usual, and I tell him I've been up to Montmartre on my bike. He's suitably impressed. He tells me that 'Monsieur le Duc' has stopped and asked where I was. He turns his head a little to the left and winks when he says, 'Monsieur said he would call tomorrow hoping to see you.' I suppose I understand the turn of the head and the wink. I must be more transparent than I think. Anyway, maybe I'm going to get some sex!
The next day I come straight home from school in fine rain, get my lessons prepared, and have a long, long shower. I spend ages cleaning under my foreskin. After all, if you're going to have sex with a Duke, you've got to be prepared. I'm still in the shower when the doorbell rings. It's the first time it's ever rung - when Monsieur Émile comes, he always knocks at the door rather than using the bell - and I curse as I wrap a towel round myself to go to answer. On the doorstep is a very, very beautiful young man who looks so nearly like 'my' pianist that I gasp. Then I realise it's Monsieur Émile's son. I stammer that we've met before, but he says we haven't. It was his younger brother I met. He says he's sorry to bother me, but he's going to stay upstairs and he's forgotten his key. He's phoned his father at the bank, but he wonders if I'd mind him waiting in my flat till his father brings the spare key because it's still raining. I say of course I don't mind and retire to get dressed wondering if he's noticed my erection under the towel.
Monsieur Émile isn't long, in fact I've hardly had time to strike up much of a conversation with Édouard - that's his son's name - when I hear his knock at the door. He's apologetic for my being disturbed, gives Édouard the key, and wishes us both good evening. Édouard too apologises, wishes me good evening, and goes upstairs. I return to the bathroom to wash my dick again because I reckon I seeped a bit when I saw 'my' pianist's lookalike.
That evening, it's still raining and I have my supper inside. I suppose that the Duke won't come, but a taxi draws up, and there he is. He orders Cognac for us both. I am amazed at his immaculate timing. Then, of course, he makes his proposition, but it isn't what I expected. He simply invites me to lunch at his house on Saturday. He will send a car for me. Of course, I accept, and start to explain where I live. He smiles and say that he knows, then excuses himself and returns to the taxi which has been waiting. When I get home, I am in a daze. Upstairs is a beautiful young man who might easily be my idol. Not far away is a Duke apparently lusting after me!
Tickets for Achille's concert at the Opera were in short supply even thought they were expensive. It was the first of four spread out over the winter season, and Paul, of course, wanted desperately to go. He remarked his desire to Monsieur Émile who said, 'I think I can probably get you a ticket. How much do you want to pay? I don't know how much they are, but they won't be cheap.'
Paul remembered what the ticket for the Festival Hall concert had cost and said, 'I suppose there won't be anything under a hundred francs. I think I can afford a hundred and fifty.'
So it was that, when Paul came home from school a day or so later, he found an envelope had been pushed under his door. In it was the ticket and a note: 'It was a hundred and twenty. I'm afraid it isn't exactly in the front row. Pay me when you pay the rent. Émile.' Nevertheless, the price printed on the ticket was two hundred and fifty francs. It is, perhaps, strange that neither in their conversation about the concert nor in the note had Émile mentioned that the brilliant young pianist was his nephew.
Émile's sister Hortense felt obliged to attend her son's concert, but her second husband, who could not stand his stepson, flatly refused to go with her. Achille, who had similar feelings for his stepfather, had not stayed with his mother since he won the competition in England and went to America. Instead, he took an apartment near the Bois de Boulogne and always stayed there when he was in Paris, in the care of Madame Lafayette, an elderly lady who had once taught him and who looked after the place when he was away.
Paul knew that the Opera was a pretty grand sort of place, and considered what he should wear to attend the concert. One could hardly wear a cycling outfit or jeans and a tee-shirt but, apart from his school clothes, those were all he had. Both his bicycle and the ticket had really been extravagances, but it could not be helped. He would have to take some more of his mother's money and go out to buy a suit, a shirt and a tie. They were not inexpensive, in fact, together they cost nearly as much as had done the bicycle!
He could hardly have described his feelings as he entered the Opera. Already, he had a sense of thrilled expectation at the thought of hearing and seeing his idol again, and that sense was enhanced by the magnificence of the building. His seat was in the stalls, about ten rows back from the stage, not, as Émile had said, 'exactly' in the front row, but as near as Paul might have wished and nearer by far than he had hoped, a great deal nearer than the seat he had had in the Festival Hall.
Of course, he arrived early and had read the programme twice through when the orchestra began to come on to the stage. The seat a little to the right in the row in front of him was still empty when the assistant leader of the orchestra called to the principal oboist for an 'A'. Just as the leader himself appeared to a trickle of applause, a very smartly dressed woman of, perhaps, forty, came in, causing some upset to the rest of the people in her row, and sat in it, and she had hardly settled down when the conductor came on to the stage.
The concert began with a Rossini overture, 'The Italian Girl in Algiers', inconsequential if pleasant. The conductor went off as the applause faded and was away long enough for the audience to begin to chatter. At last, the conductor reappeared hand-in-hand with Achille, and the expectant applause was tremendous, though, Paul observed, the woman who had arrived so late barely applauded at all and seemed more concerned with casting sideways glances at the man sitting next to her.
Achille played the third Beethoven concerto brilliantly. It irritated Paul that the woman in front of him seemed more interested in the man sitting beside her than in the performance, but, so great was his enjoyment of the music that the irritation was insignificant. Just before the final cadence of the concerto, the woman whispered something in the man's ear. The applause was phenomenal and Paul clapped until he felt his hands would fall off. The man and woman left long before the applause had died and, to Paul's relief, did not return after the interval. The woman was, of course, Hortense, and the man beside her, René.
Hortense had been late because, as was not unusual, she was having a disagreement with her husband. Their house was within walking distance of the Opera but, since she was already late, she took a passing taxi which was slow in the evening traffic so that she might just as well have walked anyway! Still, she got to her seat just in time. At first, she was not sure that the man in the seat next to hers really was René. After all, sixteen years is a long time. Thus, she was unable to concentrate on the music, on her son's probably wonderful performance. René, on the other hand, was intense until, just before the final cadence, she turned to him and whispered, 'When are you going to fuck me again?'
They took the Metro to the apartment in Montparnasse where he was staying. He explained that it was not his apartment, for he did not usually live in Paris, but was borrowed from a friend. She remarked on how thin he had become, he that she had hardly changed. Although the train was not at all empty, she embraced him and felt the same passionate kiss she remembered from sixteen years before.
It was scarsely an apartment, hardly even a studio, simply a room with a little shower-room beyond, more like an hotel-room than anything, though the building was not an hotel. The door closed behind them and she embraced him again and, even during the kiss, unfastened his trousers so that they fell to the floor. She lay down where they had been standing, raised her skirt and reached up to touch his penis for, characteristically, he wore nothing beneath the trousers. Thus they made love, he with his trousers round his ankles, his penis sliding into her past the fabric of her insubstantial underwear. Only after they had reached their climaxes did they take off their clothes and lie together naked on the bed. She said, 'That's the first time I've been fucked by a man for years.'
He laughed and said, 'Does that mean you've been fucked by women?'
'I've thought about it, but what I meant was that my husband is hardly a man. Where do you live? You said you didn't live in Paris.'
'I still have the little house near Paimpol. Mostly, I stay there.'
'Why did you leave so suddenly like that?'
'Business. You don't make much money teaching the piano, especially in Paimpol.' He kissed her breast and they made love again. Afterwards, she began to dress and said, 'I'd better go. My husband will expect me to come back from the concert straight away.'
He sat up in the bed, still naked. 'I'd have thought you'd have gone to congratulate Achille, maybe drink his health. He's very good.'
'I know, but when I began to be sure who the man sitting beside me was, I couldn't really hear the music. Anyway, Achille and I rarely communicate these days. I suppose it's sad, really. I doubt he knew I was in the audience. After you left Paimpol, we didn't stay long. We came back to Paris and he became more and more his father's son. When Georges died, I got married again and I don't think Achille ever forgave me. I don't really know. We never talked about it. Then he won the competition and, when he came back from America, he moved into his own flat.' She looked at her watch. 'I must go.'
'Will you feel safe on the Metro?'
'I'll get a taxi.'
They said nothing about meeting again, nothing, even, about communicating. A week or so later, she took the train out to Montparnasse during the afternoon and went to the apartment. A north African man wearing a simple, long shirt answered the door. She said, 'Is René here?'
'No. He's left Paris.'
Instinctively, she reached to touch his penis and he turned and went into the room. She followed him, closed the door behind her, and took off her clothes. He slipped the shirt over his head, and she was not disappointed by what she saw. She lay on the bed, and they had good, hard sex. Afterwards, she said, 'Why did you use a condom? I can't get pregnant.'
'It's the first time I've fucked a woman for a very long time.'
'Ah,' she said as she began to dress, 'I suppose you fuck men too.'
It would be a cliche, but one might be forgiven for having a sense of deja vue. One might also be forgiven for thinking something about leopards and spots!
It's Saturday. The concert was wonderful, except the first half was spoiled a bit by some woman in front of me shuffling about. Still, she only stayed till the interval. My pianist played two concertos, the Beethoven three in the first half and the Bartok in the second. Is it the Bartok or a Bartok? I don't know much about him. Anyway, it was terrific, so I must find out. Maybe I'll get a CD, though I'm going to have to be careful with my pennies. Or centimes!
That's the doorbell. Probably Monsieur le Duc's chauffeur. I'm in my best bib and tucker and I'm having a quick look in the mirror before I answer it. It isn't the chauffeur. It's Édouard. He's dressed in sexy cycling gear and he's asking me if I want to go for a ride. I'm thinking, any time sweetheart, but, of course, I'm saying that I can't because I'm going out to lunch with a friend. He's saying never mind, maybe another time and I'm saying what about tomorrow and he's saying all right, he'll give me a knock about ten. Wow! Lunch with a Duke and a cycle ride with my idol's lookalike both on the same weekend. The chauffeur's here, only it's a taxi-driver.
The Duke's house is beautiful, eighteenth century on the outside and very grand. Inside, it's sort of old-fashioned though still very grand. It's the kind of style that would have been 'modern' years ago, probably before the war. Still, lunch is pretty good, consomme followed by thin slices of meat fried in egg-and-breadcrumbs, with little pyramids of mashed potato browned on top and cauliflower cooked with tomato. After that, there's fruit salad with cream. We drink the best part of a bottle of very nice wine and then go into a sitting room to have coffee and brandy. He offers me a cigarette but then remembers that I don't smoke. My Mum smoked, and it didn't do her much good.
He asks me if I'd like to see round the house and, of course, I say yes. We start upstairs and all the rooms are decorated in that same old-fashioned style, though everything looks almost new. When we eventually come down, he takes me through another sitting-room and, beyond that, into a swimming pool. He asks me if I like to swim and I say yes, a bit, but that I'm not very good. I learned at school, but I never swam much because it was a long way to the nearest pool and the North Sea isn't very inviting most of the year. He says he swims every day after lunch and will I join him? I say I don't have any trunks and he says who cares and gets undressed. I must say, he's pretty good for his age. He doesn't dive into the pool because, I suppose, he's waiting for me. I'm a bit slow to get undressed because, just looking at him, I've got a stiffy. I take off my jacket and tie, slip my shirt over my head and, when I can see again, he's got one too. We don't go into the pool, just lie naked on a sort-of bed, and play. He goes down on me, and I'm afraid I'll come, but I don't. Then he takes his mouth away from my dick and asks me to fuck him. I've never done it before but I must say I liked it. When I've come, he gets up and stands with his dick near my mouth for me to suck it so he comes down my throat. That's my favourite thing. Then he dives into the pool. I'm a bit nervous, but I slide in as well and doggy-paddle a bit. He laughs and says, if I want to come again, he'll teach me to swim properly. Of course I want to come again. I can hardly wait for next time, though we don't arrange anything.
Sunday morning, and, despite yesterday's efforts, I'm about pretty early cooking myself a sort-of English breakfast, bacon, eggs and fried bread. You can't get English sausages and I haven't got a toaster. I'm sitting at the kitchen table in my pyjamas drinking coffee at nine o'clock. The idea is that I'll let my breakfast go down a bit and then have a shower and get into my cycling gear. If Édouard doesn't turn up by eleven, I'll go for a ride anyway. As it happens, the doorbell rings spot on ten. He looks beautiful, so like my pianist, and I know I have a stiffy, but he doesn't seem to notice, and we set out, side by side.
It's lovely to ride across the city on a Sunday morning because there's virtually no traffic. It's November, but it's a lovely sunny day. You'd think more people would be about. I don't know where we're going and I simply follow Édouard. Well, not follow behind because we're side by side. I simply go where he goes. We go right across the city, past the Etoile and out towards the west. Of course! It suddenly occurs to me where we're going. The Bois de Boulogne.
There's hardly anyone in the Bois either. We haven't gone far when Édouard stops. Of course, I do too. He says he needs a pee, lays his bike down and goes in among some trees. Of course, I follow after a minute or two. I suppose I'm thinking of my old technique on the Moors. When I get there, he still has his suit round his ankles. He turns to face me and he has a stiffy. I don't know if I want him because he's so like my pianist or just because I want him, but I go to strip off my suit. He says, no, not here. Let's get back to the house.
That night, we sleep together, all night in his big bed, though not all night sleeping! I've never done that before. I've never woken up with someone beside me, or rather, on top of me. He's almost insatiable and we have sex any way you can think of. After my previous enforced period of celibacy, I ought to be exhausted, what with the Duke on Saturday, the cycle ride, and Édouard all afternoon and night, but I'm not and I wake at six as usual. He's already up, making coffee. As we sit drinking it, both naked at his kitchen table, I tell him about the Duke and he says he knows Duke Freddy pretty well and reckons his father, Émile, used to fuck him years ago, too. It's unbelievable! I also tell him about my pianist and how like him he is to look at. He smiles and tells me that Achille is his cousin.
During the rest of the winter, Hortense made not infrequent visits to the room in Montparnasse. On the second occasion, it was the same man as on the first who opened the door, but on the third, another. He wore a similar long shirt and performed to Hortense's specifications. He was still there the fourth time, but, on the fifth, was replaced by a man of more southerly African appearance, though he also wore a similar shirt. It occurred to Hortense that they may all be sharing the same one! Still, the equatorial African proved to have a magnificent penis and knew how to use it, so Hortense was well satisfied and, in truth, found his dark skin very titillating. Several occasions later, the man who opened the door did not wear the shirt, just an ordinary tee-shirt and jeans. He also had broken teeth and Hortense knew him, for it was the irrepressible Gaston. Obviously, he, too, recognised her, though neither of them spoke of their previous 'acquaintance'.
At the beginning of April, Hortense's husband announced that he must go abroad on business to America for an unspecified period of time, at which prompt she, too, said that she would probably go away, perhaps until the end of the summer. As neither could really have cared less what the other did, it didn't matter, and Hortense made enquiries about the house in Brittany that had played so great a part in her life. Happily, it was available for as long as she liked and, as soon as her husband had left for New York, she headed for Paimpol driving his car.
René's little house by the beach was unoccupied. Hortense did not really know if that were a disappointment or a relief. A little of her psyche still felt she might be 'in love' with him in the 'romantic' sense of the expression but most of it, to tell the truth, knew that it was any man's penis that excited her with its prospect of vibrant orgasm. Consequently it was with no qualms that she seduced a sixteen-year old boy within days of her arrival at the house.
To be fair, she originally estimated Antoine to be rather older than his sixteen years, for he was tall and quite muscular. She had been to look for René on the evening of her arrival, so it was on the second morning that she went to the beach. The sea was calm, though most people might have thought it not yet warm enough to swim and, indeed, that had not been her intention when she set out. Still, she saw Antoine swimming a little way out and decided that, if it were warm enough for him, it would also be warm enough for her. Thus she simply took off her clothes, piled them far enough up the beach that they might not get wet, and ran into the water.
The young man came from the sea, spread out the towel he had left not far from where Hortense had put her clothes and sat on it in the morning sunshine to let himself dry. He wore a pair of loose beach shorts and she studied him from a little way out. Despite herself and her possible feelings for the absent René, she felt that old desire for knowledge. What sort of penis did he have? Long and slender, shorter and thicker, Gargantuan, miniscule? She remembered young men of his age she had had before, and decided to find out. She could see he was watching her so she came flagrantly from the water and went to sit on the sand beside her clothes. Of course he turned his eyes away. She rested with her arms braced behind her and stretched her body. She knew he would still be watching, though furtively, so she turned a little in his direction, raised the knee further from him so he could see her breasts and groin, and fixed her gaze firmly out to sea.
Of course he was watching. She could sense it. He didn't move so, after ten minutes or so in what was, after all, a rather uncomfortable pose, she got up and approached him. 'Do you mind if I sit beside you?' she said. He shook his head and tried to keep his eyes off her. 'Have you been here long? Do you live here?'
He shook his head, still trying not to look at her. 'About a week.' He looked hard at the sand between his legs. 'I had trouble at school so they sent me away.'
'Do you know,' she said, 'It's sixteen years since I was here last.'
He smiled, though he still studied the sand. 'It's sixteen years since I was born,' he said. 'Today's my birthday.' Suddenly, he looked squarely at her, though he said no more.
Hortense too studied the sand between his legs and thought, no, knew, she saw the fabric of the shorts stir. She stood up and said, 'Would you like a birthday present?'
He seemed puzzled. 'What? What birthday present?'
She pointed to the house where she was staying and said, 'That's my house over there. Come at three o'clock this afternoon, and you'll find out.' Then she picked up her clothes and strode naked towards it.
Heloise, the local girl who was to come each afternoon to clean and cook the evening meal had not even arrived when Hortense came to the house, for it was still before noon, and she found the key in the pocket of her jeans to let herself in. When the girl arrived not much later, Hortense had put on her dressing-gown. She said, 'Just clear up a bit today. There really isn't much mess. Then you can go. I'm eating in a restaurant tonight. Don't worry. You'll still be paid for the whole day. I'm sure you'll be able to make up for it tomorrow.'
Thus, Hortense was sitting, still in her dressing-gown, on the balcony before the front door, a bottle of Muscadet in an ice-bucket, a little bottle of grenadine, and two glasses on the table beside her when Antoine arrived promptly at three. She said, 'You never told me your name. Mine's Hortense. Please sit down. Would you like a drink?'
He was wearing a fashionable athletic suit, the sides of the trousers held together only with big press-studs, the kind usually known as 'poppers'. 'Thank you,' he said. 'I'd like a drink. I don't drink much, but I'd like a drink.'
She poured a little grenadine into each glass and swirled it round before she added the chilled wine. 'You know,' she said, 'I don't see the point of trousers like those.'
He sipped a little wine. 'They're for when you're playing football. When the coach calls you on to the field, you can get them off quickly. That's why they're called 'rip-off' trousers.' He swallowed his wine.
She stood up and said, 'You still haven't told me your name.'
He, too, stood up. 'Antoine,' he said. 'My name's Antoine.'
'Well, Antoine, come into the house and I'll show you your birthday present. But first, I want to know if those trousers really work,' and she put her hands one to either side of his waist and pulled. The trousers fell to the floor. Rather to her disappointment, beneath them he wore football shorts!
He pulled the trousers up, though he didn't fasten them, and followed her into the house. She said, 'Shut the door and I'll show you your present, but first put your hands over your eyes.' Of course, the trousers fell. 'Don't peek,' she said, and she took off her dressing-gown. She moved close to him, took one of his hands from an eye and placed it between her legs. 'There's your present,' she said. She slid her own hand into his shorts to hold his erect penis. 'And there's mine. I want you to fuck me.'
A little later, lying on her bed, she said, 'You were a virgin, weren't you?'
'No. Well, yes.'
'Never mind. Next time, you won't 'come' so quickly.'
About ten that evening she was watching television and there was a little knock at the door. She didn't get up but called, 'Come in, Antoine. I was expecting you.'
That second time, she reached orgasm a little before him, and it seemed to frighten him. 'Are you all right?' he said.
'Of course.' She smiled and stroked his penis. 'That's what's supposed to happen. It means you're a very good fucker.'
As Hortense had read many years before, Simone de Beauvoir says that young men from the maturation of puberty to the age of around twenty are at their sexual peak. Hortense, in the main, agreed with her, though she still held a little yearning for René who must have reached that peak long before she met him!
Édouard is lovely, but I'm not sure that I love him. I say I do when I whisper in his ear at night, but the serious bit of me thinks, no, knows, it's his cousin I love, even though I've hardly met him. Anyway, I suppose we're a couple, me and Édouard, though we don't shout about it. We haven't moved in together or anything. Sometimes we sleep upstairs in his flat and sometimes we sleep in mine. His bed is bigger, but mine's cosier. I haven't really talked to him about how I feel about Achille, but I reckon he knows. It doesn't seem to bother him. Sometimes, I used to ask my Mum if she ever really loved my Dad and she said she didn't know any more. She said she supposed she did but that all marriages are compromises. She said she fell in love with Gregory Peck but he was too far away and Dad was the next best thing. I think that was a joke. I think when you ask someone about things they don't really want to talk about, they often make jokes. I think my Mum really did love Dad. I think she was always sad deep inside that he pushed off like he did. I wonder where he is. Or even if he is any more.
Most weekends we go out on the bikes. Most weekends? There've only been three! We didn't go out last weekend because the weather was pretty rotten, cold and rainy. Personally, I'd have gone anyway. When you come from the Moors, you're not put off by cold and rain, but Édouard isn't used to it I suppose. I could have gone on my own, but he didn't want me to, so I didn't. That made me think of something Jerry once said. I was thinking of moving in with one of my affairs and I talked to him about it. He said you had to be careful in partnerships. You had to be careful your partner didn't dominate you so you always did what he wanted. Funny he should've said that. Duncan dominates him like anything, as far as I can see.
I'm home from school preparing stuff for tomorrow and listening to Achille play Brahms number two. It gets dark pretty early these days but I can judge the time from the music. Édouard isn't home from college yet which is unusual. I expect he's stayed to do some work. He never seems to do much at home anyway. I've put the Brahms on again because I've more or less finished my preparation so I can sit and listen to it properly.
It's finished. Now Beethoven, and I've put the Emperor on. Édouard still isn't back and I'm getting hungry. I've put a casserole in the oven. I'm quite into cooking the last few weeks. Eating in the cafe is all right, but it's cheaper to cook at home. There he is now. He says he's sorry he's late, but he got the chance to have sex with someone he's fancied for ages and he took it. I'm not sure how I feel about that. He says it so bluntly, as if he's got no feelings, yet, when we're in bed later, he seems so, well, loving. I say I didn't know there was someone else he fancied, and he says that's different. He says, when you fancy someone, you go for it before it's too late. And then he kisses me and strokes my dick so that I suppose I forget about it, only I don't really, if you see what I mean.
I'm preoccupied as I go to school on the train. I wonder what he looks like, this bloke Édouard had sex with yesterday. What's so special about him? There's a chap sitting opposite me who's pretty good-looking, though you can't judge his body because he's wrapped up in an enormous overcoat. I know it's getting chilly, but I couldn't wear something like that. Even when it used to snow on the Moors, I never wore anything bigger than a parka. Too restrictive. Is that what's happening to me? Am I becoming restrictive, worrying about Édouard fancying someone else and doing something about it? Is that part of what Jerry meant?
I suppose I'm the same thing with me and Achille. Difference is, I can't do anything about it. I know I would if I got the opportunity. He's Édouard's cousin. Maybe Édouard can arrange for us to meet. That's crossed my mind before, but I've never said anything. I suppose it'd be too scary, dangerous. He might not recognise me. He might cut me dead. Or he might cut me dead because he does recognise me. He might've spent the last few years cursing himself for having had sex with me in the first place. On the other hand, he might've spent the last few years looking for me. He might be holding a candle for me.
I nearly missed my stop. Got to get out of this. Got work to do. Still, I do wonder what he looks like, Édouard's playmate.
It's been a nothing day at school because my head hasn't been there. I haven't lost it completely, I mean, I haven't been rotten to the kids or done anything stupid, just been sort-of uninspired. Anyway, I can't wait to get home. I'm not going to cook. I shall just wait till Édouard comes and tell him I'm treating him to a meal in a restaurant. Not just the usual cafe. A proper restaurant. We'll have to dress up. I'll wear my suit. Yes, I reckon we deserve a treat.
I'm in the bath having a good soak and I've got a stiffy. To wank or not to wank, that is the question! I don't know who I'm fantasizing about, Achille or Édouard. No. It's the man on the train. The train's empty in my fantasy and he's taken the big overcoat off and underneath he's wearing a cycling suit. He's turned to piss against the doors and when he turns back to show me what he's got, it's a tiny little dick and a body like Mr Muscle!
I've showered off the suds from the bath, towelled myself hard, and the stiffy's subsided. I've sprayed myself with nice smell and put on my dressing-gown and now I've put some music on and I'm in the kitchen ironing two shirts, mine and one of Édouard's. He's got loads but this the one I want him to wear. It's blue-and-white stripes. When he comes, I go to the door to meet him, still just in my dressing-gown. He kisses me, says I smell nice and comments that I'll get a cold with nothing on my feet. I smile inside because the music is one of the pieces by Satie. It's called 'Gymnopedie' - 'Barefoot'.
The great disadvantage when one deflowers an adolescent virgin is that adolescents are inclined to take 'love', which is to say, sex, too seriously and thus become encumbrances. Hortense knew this but disregarded it. She supposed that Antoine's magnificent penis and readiness to learn, his supple athletic body and disarming simplicity were ample recompence for his constant if sometimes unwanted availability. Still, she would only stay at Paimpol perhaps a month, and then, well, that would be that. She would return to Paris and he would return to school.
She asked him why he had been sent away, and he was very diffident. He said he had 'trouble' with one of the masters. She persued the matter, but it was not until she took a firm grip on his scrotum and threatened to squeeze hard that he said, 'All right. I'll tell you. He wanted me to have sex with him and I did.'
'Why didn't they send him away?'
'Oh, they did. He lost his job. They said he was lucky not to be sent to prison.'
'Maybe he should have been. You weren't sixteen. They call that 'statutory rape'.'
He turned his head away. 'Not really,' he said. 'He didn't rape me. He wanted me to fuck him at first.'
'Is that why you said you weren't a virgin and then changed your mind?'
'I suppose so. I fucked him three times before we were caught.'
'But he didn't fuck you.'
He stood up and pulled on his baggy beach shorts. 'Oh yes he did.' He looked at her sharply. 'I didn't mind.' He turned and fled, though he returned a little later still wet from the sea.
René came back the next afternoon. He announced his presence by playing the piano very loud with the door and windows of his little house open wide, as if he knew there were someone to listen. As it happened, Antoine and Hortense were not having sex - the boy still thought of it as 'making love', for he read too many romances - but were in the salon playing bezique. Antoine said, 'What's that music?'
'Chopin. It's called the 'Revolutionary' Study.'
Later that evening when Antoine had left, Hortense went to René's little house. He was sitting outside the door with a book, but he was truly reading. As she approached, he read aloud: 'My belove spake and said unto me, 'Rise, rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away, for the winter is past and the summer is come.'' She smiled and went into the house, and he put down the Old Testament, for that is what the book was, and followed her. Not much later, the voice of the turtle was heard in the land.
Of course she told him about Antoine. It would have been pointless to try to deceive him and anyway, she knew he would make no objection. How could he? He obviously knew about the men in Montparnasse and made no objection to her giving pleasure to them though she hardly had time to tell him herself. Several days later indeed, he asked her about them. It surprised her not a little when, after they had had sex one evening, he said, 'So who gave you the greatest pleasure?'
Truly, she had no idea. It was something which did not occur to her, for few men had not given her pleasure, but she answered instantly, 'Oh, Gaston.' He was the only one she could have put a name to!
He smiled and kissed her breast. 'Yes. Perhaps you're right. He's an ugly little sod, but he certainly knows how to use his prick.'
. 'Has he fucked you?'
'Do you like being fucked by men?'
He sat up. 'I don't think I did at first but, when you're in prison, there are no women and honour demands returned favours.'
She was not shocked. She said, 'Years ago, when I first met you and you said you'd been away somewhere there were no women, I tried to think you'd been at sea or even in the Foreign Legion. After Montparnasse, I knew you'd been in prison.'
'I'd have told you if you'd asked.'
She got up to dress, kissed him lightly and said, 'I know. I don't mind but I shan't come here tomorrow.'
In fact, it was a long time before she went to his house again and she encouraged Antoine to come in the evening rather than during the day, though she never allowed him to stay the night despite his frequently expressed desire to wake up with her. She made a joke out of it. 'When you're having an affair,' she said, 'The golden rule is always to sleep in your own bed.' In truth, after so many years sleeping alone, she wondered if she would be able actually to sleep with a man beside her. When one is in one's forties, sleep is, perhaps, almost as important as sex!
A few evenings later, she and Antoine had reached their climaxes and he lay beside her expecting to be sent away, so it surprised him a little when she reached down to stroke his penis. It surprised him rather more when she turned her body to kiss it and run her tongue round its tip. Naturally, he again became aroused, but she did not allow him to mount her. Instead, she sat astride him and made him enter her, rode him gently. He closed his eyes in an attitude of bliss and reached up to touch her breasts and then her face. Neither of them reacted when they heard the door open softly. Hortense did not stop when she became aware of a shadow on the wall behind the bed, of a figure standing watching in the doorway.
René came to stand beside the bed. He wore his usual long, loose shirt and he took Antoine's hand and brought it up inside the shirt so that it might touch his erect penis. Antoine opened his eyes, but not in horror as one might have thought. He looked up into the face of the stranger and massaged the man's organ, sliding the foreskin to and fro in steady rhythm, lifting his buttocks in time with it as Hortense reciprocated until, at last, he and she reached their climaxes. She lifted herself from his body but he did not stop masturbating René and Hortense said, 'Antoine, I want to watch René fuck you.'
The following afternoon, Hortense sat outside the house with a little bottle of Grenadine, a full bottle of Muscadet in an ice-bucket, and two glasses, but it was René who came to visit. Antoine never came again.
Achille hardly took his compositions seriously. Like all pianists, one supposes, he had 'composed' from a very early age, made up bits of music for his own amusement to try out new skills, though the only audience he had performed them for was his doting father and, when Georges died, he never played them publicly. It did not occur to him to write them down. They were mere improvisations, exercises.
It is not strictly right to say Georges had been the only audience for his son's inventions, for Madame Lafayette heard them frequently of course. She hardly remarked them though, and, like the pianist himself, dismissed them as exercises, usually technically intricate but brief and undeveloped. It amused her to develop some of them herself and, when Achille was out and it was her turn to use the piano, often did. However, one melodic line from among them stayed with her, and she commented to Achille about it, in fact she said it was driving her mad because, in her mind, it needed to be completed, and she could not think of a suitable complement.
Two days later, Achille left for Manchester where he was to play a concert in the Free Trades Hall at the weekend. His intention was to stay with friends, Monica, a teacher at the local conservatoire, and her husband, George, a well-known painter and sculptor. Monica's piano suited him and he would be able to spend his second day walking on the Moors for, lurking in the back of his mind remained the image of the cyclist. Still, as soon as he arrived at their house and had refreshed himself, he asked if he might use the piano and was, of course, granted leave.
He was to play Beethoven's Fifth Concerto, 'The Emperor', but he began his practice with a movement from a Beethoven sonata. He felt himself to be uncomfortable with some of the passage-work and began to improvise to trim the fingering. Inevitably, the melodic snatch that had so impressed Madame Lafayette became involved and he worked at it, adding variations with intricate decoration. Monica never interrupted his practice, but she found herself listening and, when he had finished with the final flourish of the concerto, asked him what the unfamiliar piece had been. 'Piece?' he said.
'Yes. When you got fed up with the Beethoven, you played something I haven’t heard before.'
He laughed. 'That wasn't a piece. Just something I improvised.'
That evening, after dinner, he announced his intention to order a taxi to take him over the Pennines the following morning so that he might walk on the Moors. George asked if he knew exactly where he wanted to go, and he replied that he didn’t really, for he had previously gone there by bus, but that it was perhaps an hour’s bus ride from the city where he had won the competition, and went on to describe it. Thus, his host fetched a map which they studied together, though it meant little to Achille. However, from the pianist’s description of the place, George was able to pinpoint a spot.
‘I’ll order a car for you,’ he said. ‘Then I can explain where you want to go.’
‘I’d like to keep the car all day. Will that be possible?’
‘Of course. If you’re prepared to pay.’
It was the right place, and Achille asked the driver to stay in the carpark till he returned from his walk, maybe an hour, maybe two, not more than three. The man happily agreed, for he had already been paid £50 of the £100 he was to earn for the work. George, a true Lancastrian, refused to let Achille pay the whole fee. He said, ‘I’m afraid I’ve got to the stage where I don’t trust anyone any more!’
So Achille set out on his walk, his music still filling his head. The day was not as pleasant as it had been on that first day, ‘The Day of the Cyclist’, but it was pleasant nevertheless. He followed the two-hour walk feeling himself to need the exercise, the fresh air, but after not more than half-an-hour, it began to rain, though it was not cold, so he continued to walk. Twenty minutes later, the rain became suddenly heavier, and he thought to return to the carpark, but he didn’t, and not long after, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun, he came to a clearing, and the sun came out. He took off his wet jacket and trousers and hung them on the branch of a tree so they might dry a little in the sunshine, then sat on the damp earth leaning against the bole of the tree wearing only his tee-shirt and underpants, perhaps simply to rest, but probably more truly, to consider that music further.
He heard someone coming along the path, definitely not a cyclist, but he did nothing to conceal his comparative nakedness. The walker was a man, perhaps in his forties, and he nodded to Achille and said ‘Good morning,’ as he passed, appearing for all the world not to have considered young men dressed only in their underwear to be unusual on moorland footpaths. A little later, he returned and stopped to look at the young man, perhaps not more than five meters away. He unfastened his fly, took out his penis, and urinated. He made no attempt to conceal what he was doing, and then he approached Achille, his penis still in his hand, and said, ‘D’you want some?’ Achille said nothing, simply reached up to touch the man’s organ.
Thus, for only the second time in his life, Achille had what might be called sex. It wasn’t like ‘The Day of the Cyclist’, simply mutual masturbation with a stranger. When they had both ejaculated, the man pulled up his trousers and walked away. Achille hardly watched him go, got up to get a handkerchief from his trousers to wipe away the semen, dressed, and returned to the carpark.
During the whole of the return journey, not once did he think of the man’s wrinkled penis, so full was his head with his music. Monica was waiting as the car drew up, and watched her guest pay the driver his second £50. ‘Nice day?’ She said.
‘Yes. Fine. Do you have any manuscript paper?’
After dinner, Achille said, ‘Could I have the paper? Then I think I'll go upstairs. I'm quite tired.'
'I'm not surprised.' She went to get the paper and, characteristically, did not ask why he wanted it. Perhaps she knew.
So distracted was he by his own concert-piece that he was hardly aware of his performance of the Beethoven concerto. Still, it was well-received, and he returned to Paris thinking not only of his own music, but of something his father used to say. His father considered himself nothing but an amateur and often said that, while an amateur practises until he gets the music right, a professional must practise until he cannot get it wrong!
We were out for a ride the other morning when something really odd happened. It must have been ten o’clock when we got to the Bois, and Édouard stopped and said that he needed to piss. ‘O.K.,’ I said, ‘But I’m all right. You must have drunk too much coffee for breakfast,’ and he propped up his bike and went in among the trees.
I sat on the grass in the morning sunshine, and he was rather longer than I would have expected. When at last he did come back, he was still hitching up his suit and organising his cock and balls to get back on the bike in comfort. I said, ‘You were ages. I was wondering where you’d got to.’
‘That was strange,’ he said. ‘I’ve just been given a blow-job.
‘Aren’t I good enough for you any more?’
He kissed me on the cheek and said, ‘Don’t be silly. You know I’d rather have sex with you, but, as they say, ‘Opportunity is not a tardy visitor.’ When I get the chance, I take it. You should do the same.’
‘Who’s to say I don’t?’
‘Not me, I suppose. Anyway, let’s get home. I’m looking forward to lunch already. I’ll treat you to a trip to see Alphonse.’
It wasn’t an eventful ride back to the house, and Édouard went straight up to his own flat to shower and change. I didn’t shower immediately but sat naked at the table to look through some of my students’ work, so I was still in the bathroom when he came down. ‘Get a move on,’ he said. ‘I’m hungry.’
‘All right. What shall I wear?’ I came naked into the living-room.
‘You look fine as you are to me, but I think Alphonse might be a bit shocked. Doesn’t really matter. Something comfortable.’ He had on a new track-suit and he came into the bedroom while I was getting dressed. He sat on the bed and watched me. ‘I didn’t tell you what was really odd about this morning.’
‘What you did tell me seemed odd enough.’
‘I didn’t tell you who gave me the blow-job. It was someone I know. I can’t say I know him well. We never really got on.’
‘I shouldn’t think he’d mean much to me.’ I had decided to wear jeans and a tee-shirt.
‘I think he would. It was my cousin Achille.’
‘What?’ I was obviously aghast.
‘I suppose I knew he was gay, but we never did anything. As I said, we never got on. He was always so detached. All he ever seemed interested in was music.’ I really didn’t know what to say, if I could speak at all, so dry was my mouth. Édouard went on, ‘Anyway, hurry up. I’m hungry.’
I certainly wasn’t. The last thing I wanted to do was eat, particularly in a restaurant, but I supposed I had to. ‘Do we have to go out?’ I said at last. ‘There’s plenty of food here.’
‘Yes we do. I told you. I want to treat you.’
I really didn’t want to eat. Alphonse brought my pastis, and I drank it straight down and ordered another when he brought a soda for Édouard. ‘You put that away a bit quickly,’ he said. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing.’ I put a little water in my drink.
‘Don’t believe you. Is it because I let someone else blow me?’
‘No. Well, yes.’
‘I’m sorry, but you know my philosophy.’
‘Did you talk to him? Achille? Are you sure it really was him?’
‘No and yes. No, I didn’t talk to him, and yes, I’m sure it was him.’ Alphonse brought ‘cruditées’ for our starter and I played with a carrot stick. ‘Come on. Tell me what the matter is.’
I sighed. ‘Oh, all right. You know I have a thing about your cousin.’
‘It isn’t just the music. I’m really in love with him.’
‘I mean, I do love you, but it isn’t like I feel about him.’
‘Sorry I don’t play the piano.’
‘It isn’t that. Well, not just that.’ I swallowed my drink. ‘I suppose I’d better tell you.’
‘Tell me what?’ Alphonse came with two steaks, Édouard’s rare, mine well done.
‘I don’t know.’
‘What d’you mean, ‘I don’t know.’ Of course you know. Look, this is silly. Get it off your chest.’
‘Not now.’ I cut into my steak and put a piece into my mouth.
‘Yes, now! I’m getting pissed off, so tell me now, or forget it.’ He stabbed at his steak as if he wished it had been me. I looked at him as squarely as I could and chewed my piece of steak. ‘Well? Come on. Out with it.’
I swallowed. ‘All right. I’ve had sex with him.’
‘You heard. I’ve had sex with him. Only once, but it was the best sex I ever had, and I’ve had a lot. I’m sorry. Sex with you is great, but never like it was that day. It was in England, when he was playing in the competition. I was out for a ride on the moors where I lived, and he was out for a walk. I used to get sex like that. I’d go for a ride, find a likely tourist, show myself off, and usually get sex. I’d already heard him play. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it was him. We talked. I told him I’d heard him play, and we had sex. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again, but I went to a concert he gave at the Festival Hall in London when I was on my way here. Then I went to his concert at the Opéra. That was after I found out he was your cousin.’
‘Is that the only reason you sleep with me?’
‘No, of course not. You’re a terrific lover. Honestly.’
‘And I look like him?’
‘Well, yes. You do.’
I don’t know why, but, suddenly, I got my appetite back, and we finished our meal in quite companionable silence.
Achille’s piece took quite a time for him to orchestrate. It was Madame Lafayette who said it should be a concerto rather than a sonata, and he accepted her advice. Unfortunately, before it was ready for publication, the old lady died, and it was at her funeral that he came to be back in contact with his mother, by then happily divorced from her husband, who had never returned from America anyway. Eventually, his agent arranged for its publication, and a date was agreed for its first performance
Paul bought himself a ticket for Achille’s concert, though, unlike on that previous occasion, his seat was well back in the auditorium. Hortense and René, on the other hand, sat in the second row of the stalls. This time, Hortense was not late, and she paid attention to the music, for René would have it no other way. He was, of course, well aware of Achille’s talent and sometimes secretly regretted having missed half of that earlier concert. Émile was sat quite close to them, though he had not intended to do so. Still, he acknowledged them and they him.
The concert began with the Mendelssohn overture ‘Ruy Blas’ after which Achille played the Rachmaninov concerto. At its end, Paul was ecstatic, for it was one of his favourites. It was when he stood to applaud that he saw Émile. Of course, he also saw Hortense and René, though, as he had never met them, did not know it. Anyway, during the interval which followed, he decided he would try to approach Émile and congratulate him on his fortunate relationship to the prodigious pianist
Monsieur Émile was clearly headed for the bar, apparently accompanied by those two unknown people. Paul hesitated a little, but then decided that he had a perfect right to a drink, even at the probably terrifying prices demanded at the Opéra. He need not have worried, for Émile saw him and called him to the table where he and his companions were sat. ‘Ah, Paul!’ he said. ‘May I introduce my sister Hortense and her . . .’ - he hesitated - ‘Friend?’
‘How do you do?’ Paul could hardly speak, for he was in the presence of the demi-god Achille’s mother. ‘I’d better go and get myself a drink.’
‘No, no. We’ve already ordered a bottle. When they see four people at the table, they’ll bring four glasses.’ Hortense spoke as if she already knew Paul.
‘Thank you. That’s very kind. I expect you know that I’m Monsieur Émile’s lodger. I live on the ground floor of the house.’
‘You’re not French, are you?’
‘No. I’m English.’
‘Really? You have a wonderful command of our language. I thought you might be from Alsace.’
As they returned to their seats, Émile said, ‘Please join us in the bar at the end of the concert. Hortense has arranged a little party for Achille and I’m sure you’d like to meet him.’
Paul returned to his seat somewhat apprehensive, for he had said that he would love to meet his idol, and wondered if he might regret it. The second part of the concert began with Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ symphony, and then came the climax, the premiére of Achille’s own piece. Suffice it to say that it was well received, and that he and others were to play it quite often in the future.
Thus Paul was formally introduced to Achille, though the pianist appeared not to recognise him. Still, neither did he shun him, indeed, he took time to engage him in conversation, generally pretty mundane conversation at that. During a period when he was not engaged, however, Paul excused himself and went to the toilet. As he stood at the urinal, he heard someone else come in and felt a hand touch his penis. Achille whispered, ‘Come into the cubicle. I want you again.’
Achille’s newly-emerged sexual voracity might easily have got him into trouble. As well as visiting Paul from time to time, he walked the Bois and ‘picked up’ whomever he could get. The absence of Madame Lafayette, who had been replaced by a ‘daily’ woman, made it perfectly possible for him to take anyone back to his apartment, and he often did. A conversation with Hortense, whom he also visited quite frequently, drew his attention to the canal bank near the Place de la République, which he investigated. On the first couple of occasions, nothing really took his fancy, though he did allow himself to be sucked by a beautiful north African.
After school one Friday afternoon not much later, Paul went up to Édouard’s flat. He found his erstwhile partner still in his pyjamas, a pornographic film playing on his video machine. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said.
‘Oh, come on! It isn’t like you still to be in bed at this time of day. Well, not on your own! And it’s certainly not like you to be watching dirty videos.’
Édouard didn’t look at him. ‘Achille’s been. He came just after you’d gone to school. I was in bed and I got up to answer the door. He’d got a briefcase with three videos and he insisted on putting them on. I didn’t know what to do.’
‘You know what I mean! I know how you feel about him, so I didn’t want to do anything.’
‘You can still have sex with me.’ Paul bent to kiss his cheek ‘Anyway, I’ve got no illusions about him any more. From what I can see, he’s turning into a bit of a tart.’
‘He went down on me. I couldn’t really stop him. He wanted me to fuck him, but I wouldn’t. Well, I couldn’t.’
‘Didn’t he want to fuck you? It’s his favourite sport.’
‘No. He didn’t even suggest it. After he’d sucked me off, he got his cock out and sat playing with it and watching the tv till he ‘came’. Then he wiped himself, did up his trousers and said goodbye. But he did leave you a message.’
‘What was it?’
‘I don’t know. It’s on the table in an envelope.’
Paul opened the envelope and looked at the note. Then he read it aloud.
Thank you for showing me what sex is like. That was six years ago, but until last year, I never had sex with anyone else. That was in Yorkshire, too, in more or less the same place where we made love. Oh, yes. I still think of that as ‘making love’. I still long for us to be a couple, but it can’t happen, and I know it can’t. I’ve had too much sex with other men now, and maybe too much with you. Anyway, I shan’t be in Paris much longer. I’m flying to Chicago tonight to start a six-month tour, and then I’m going to Japan. I don’t know if I’ll be in touch with you.
Édouard said, ‘Let’s go to bed.’
After they had made love, Édouard said, ‘I’d like to get away from Paris. My aunt has a house in Brittany. I might ask her if we could go there.’
‘I’ve got a better idea.’ Paul stroked Édouard’s belly and then settled his hand on his lover’s penis. ‘Let’s go to England. I’ve got a little house there. There are probably people staying in it, but they usually only stay a week or two at a time. I’m sure I could arrange it. Can we go? Please?’
Édouard kissed him very fully and for a long time. Then he said, ‘Why not?’
Paul and Édouard became an established ‘couple’ on the Yorkshire moors. They cycled a lot, but not always together, for they both maintained a right to seek - and find - alternative sex, though usually only in the Summer when there were tourists. Of course, the man who had been Achille’s second sexual ‘adventure’ was already known to Paul, and soon introduced himself to Édouard. Still, they were happy. Paul returned to his part-time work teaching immigrants in the City, and Édouard began to be well-known for his paintings, technically of the local scenery, but more frequently, of Paul.
The time allowed by the law for Paul’s father to reveal himself had passed but, of course, there was no question of the cottage being sold and, anyway, the income from its lease during the time Paul was in France had accumulated and the income from that, together with his salary, made him ‘comfortable’. Édouard - now known locally as ‘Teddy’, somewhat to his chagrin - was already pretty ‘comfortable’ and, as his paintings began to sell, became even more so. It was all idyllic!
Achille was to play a concert in Manchester and Édouard thought they might go. Paul was doubtful, because the dear old Free Trade Hall was closed, and he frankly didn’t like the look of its modern replacement. Still, he agreed, and they drove across the Pennines. By then, they had bought a car, Édouard being a qualified driver, though Paul never learned to drive.
The concert was a disappointment. Achille played a Mozart concert and one of his own, for, by that time he had written three. However, he did not play well. In the interval, Édouard said, ‘What’s wrong?’
‘He’s not playing well. There’s something the matter with him.’
‘Shall we try to see him afterwards? I’m sure he’d let us.’
‘No. I don’t want to. I don’t really want to sit through the second half, but I suppose I’d better.’
Six months later, Achille died. They read about it in the newspaper. Paul said, ‘I’m glad he didn’t fuck you. I let him fuck me without a condom a couple of times. I suppose I’d better get an HIV test.’
‘It doesn’t say he died of AIDS.’
‘It doesn’t have to, does it?’
Édouard said, ‘Don’t get a test. Please. If you’ve got it, then so have I, and I don’t want to know.’
‘All right. Perhaps I don’t either. Let’s go for a ride.’
Sweet compulsion lies not in music, but in ignorance.
You may be wondering what happened to Édouard’s brother Thiérry. All we can say is that someone had to tell me the story and that, perhaps, he will write his own later.