|A misplaced letter|
Henry left the university with the confirmed idea of becoming a writer, but nothing in his universities studies presupposed this was a wise decision. Given his final grades it was obvious his English professor was not convinced. His talents lay in his ability to spin a good yarn; his problem was converting these stories to the written word, a competence he had, as yet, never mastered. His father’s skepticism did not add any encouragement; his mother tried in vain to convince him to join the family business. Henry felt he was suffocated by the regimented life of living under the influence of dominant parents. He was convinced. If subjected to the right environment, he had the capacity of mastering the written word. After a long and tedious discussion with his father they arrived at the following compromise: a passage paid to Paris, four months living expenses on condition at the end of this period he would produce five short stories worthy of publication.
Three months later he woke with a start from a strange nightmare to realize all his attempts at writing had been deplorable; his waste paper basket full of crumpled paper told the disappointing story. What went wrong?
It had all started so well. On arriving in Paris he found a small, charming two-roomed apartment in the Latin Quarter. His parents’ allowance was generous: permitting him to dine out most nights in fashionable restaurant. Life was nectarous, the beauty, scents and tastes of the City of Lights captured his imagination. His first two days were spent in exploring, enjoying the café terraces, and engaging in conversations with its inhabitants in his passable French. The contrast to his well-ordered life in a small New England community was like receiving a breath of oxygen after a marathon run. Elation!
On the third day he typed up a regimented schedule of his work plan. In doing so he wondered if a French counterpart would approach the task ahead in the same disciplined way. His proposed schedule consisted of morning coffee and croissants in the local bistro, with writing starting at around ten in the morning. A light lunch, maybe an occasional siesta, with further writing until dinner, a meal he intended taking at some classy restaurant. He considered that a restaurant’s bright lights reflecting the bustle of dinners being served to vivacious customers would add a touch of inspiration to his lonely day of writing. Sunday would be devoted to art galleries and wondering through the streets of Paris. With smug satisfaction he pinned his little schedule to the wall above his desk.
He sat there looking at the timetable meditating whether he would start today, or tomorrow. He heard the domineering voice of his father say, “there is nothing like the present.” He opened his computer; the screen’s light shed an eerie luminosity over the keyboards, his fingers moved into position, nothing happened. Two hours later, on that first morning, still nothing had happened. The light lunch was forgotten, after a bottle of wine the siesta turned into a profound sleep that found him awake and hungry at midnight. He carefully underlined the words light lunch. Three days later he had only managed to cover one sheet of paper with a mediocre offering. He was smitten with a deep sense of depression that slowly enveloped his creative spirit. The stories, he told so well, once confronted with writing them down seemed to vanish in some deep corner of this brain to which he had lost the key.
On his third evening, comfortably installed in a stylish restaurant, he no doubt looked a lonely and woeful figure sitting at a corner table. The wine bottle was already half empty as he started ruminating on what he was going to order. This simple act of satisfying his hunger was proving difficult, somehow he couldn’t concentrate on making a choice, may be it was the constant flow of the waiters as they weaved in and out of the tables, or the merriment coming from the noisy table next to him. He looked at his neighbors with a mimicked plea: please, just a few seconds of silence while I concentrate on the menu. The hilarity didn’t for a second cease, but his facial expression must have attracted the following remark.
“If you are all by yourself, why don’t you join us?”
The owner of the voice belonged to a high-spirited, exceptional good- looking young French women. That evening he met Veronique de Clarion. In an act of folly, no doubt aided by several bottles of wine coupled with the exuberant company, he posed as an up and coming American writer living in Paris. Later he would realize this night would irrevocably change his life
Veronique was everything a young American east coaster imagined a French woman would be. She was blessed with classical, intelligent features, an impeccable education and a worldly sophistication with that touch of arrogance prevalent in the French upper class. Oh! Yes, Veronique had all the attributes that turned men heads and hearts. The result was an instant collision of two different cultures striving to find a common bond. Henry, posing as a talented writer, was at first captivated, then enamored, and finally deeply in love. Veronique appeared to know everybody; the doors of the Paris social circle were thrown open. Weekends in the country, endless dinners at the best of tables! Veronique introduced her “find” in exaggerated terms to her glittering social world as the new and up and coming young American literary success, a title he reveled in, but accepted with trepidation. His recompense for being put on display as a shooting star was the delectable nights spent in her arms. These passionate nights filled with love making always took place in her elegant apartment in the sixteenth district. At times Henry felt trapped in some intricate web woven to please an audience that lived in an emotional charged theatre requiring instance gratification. He often returned to his studio with the excuse he needed peace and quiet to write. The idea of these pilgrimages to his secret garden for inspiration and writing seemed to excite his newfound love, but on his parting she always insisted he return in time to honor their next social commitment.
Once in his apartment he found little consolation. The writing schedule pinned over his desk had taken on the appearance of a lighthouse’s flashing red light found on some rugged coastline. The computer was never opened; his only desire was bed and a profound sleep. He returned to Veronique armed with the skeleton description of a story he was supposedly working on. Her eyes of admiration were but small compensation for his monstrous deception. The kisses that followed had the effect of drowning his heart in a profound love.
It was towards the end of the third month Veronique became restless to read one of his written stories.
“Henry, darling, I insist you show me your latest story, I have a publisher friend that is looking for talented American writers in Paris. In fact you met him three weeks ago, he was very impressed with the stories you told. You remember, Jean-Charles de Menton.”
Henry’s immediate reaction was one of panic; his deceptive power of conversation was, he knew, still a far cry from his ability with the written word. Easy is the spoken word; wine and the bright eyes of approval allowed his tongue to formulate a merry tale. Once on paper these inspired tales lost their charm and lay like some insipid offering only fit for the waste paper basket. He tried to make excuses. To no avail, it was decided that within two days he would submit a story for Veronique’s admiration.
Plagiarism crossed his sickened mind, falling ill; both these ideas were, he knew, feeble attempts to put off the inevitable day of reckoning. Two days later, in a state of controlled agitation, he handed Veronique one of his stories. Silence, followed a few minutes later by a tone of voice that shocked him.
“Henry, is this what you consider the work of a talented writer?”
There was a long pause as Henry contemplated his reply. In front of him he saw the beautiful classical face that he had come to love distorted as if he was looking at it through a shattered mirror. Gone were her dreams of the up and coming American writer, instead deception and anger were scorched in her eyes. The glamorous introductions of her young talented American author had turned into an ugly world of deception she wanted no part of it. Henry had no time to reply. Her words came thundering across the room.
“Get out. I never want to see you again!”
Henry tried to say something. He opened his mouth, but was incapable of making a sound. He just left.
Over the next couple days he tried to contact her, he even tried to speak to a few of her friends. The silence was total; the world of social glitter had closed on him as a distasteful dish is discarded. The depression of his early days returned with a vengeance.
Five days later sitting at his desk, he crossed out the scheduled dinners at a chic restaurant. He was a failure, an imposture, and a romantic fool who had been caught in a world he didn’t understand. He sat there looking at the computer screen, his fingers paralyzed, his brain devoid of any inspiration. Suddenly the words of his old university professor appeared before him.
“I have known many writers that start the day by writing a letter to themselves. This simple trick can have the beneficial effect on the act of writing; it clears out the cobwebs and incites inspiration.” Henry had always thought this an odd approach, but he remembered his professor went on to say this technique had been the subject of considerable success. Write a letter; write a letter, started beating a little tune in his brain, but to whom? His parents, a friend! Suddenly the idea of writing to Veronique sprung to his mind. Why not? It would certainly relieve the appalling tension he was suffering from.
For the first time in Paris his fingers moved across the keyboards with ease. As the words flowed, he felt a surge of passion
56 Boulevard Saint Germain Apt 4B
Melle. Veronique de Clarion
161 Avenue George Mandel
Date: 15th May 1998
Veronique, only a few days ago I would have addressed you as my darling, the love of my life. Today the only emotion I feel for you is one of hatred.
As you can imagine over the last few days I have thought long and hard about our whirlwind relationship. On many occasions I have tried to contact you, your silence is both detestable, and so unlike the Veronique I thought I knew. The short time we spent together is now just a dream soured by a nightmare of misunderstandings. My wordless exit from your life was not so much out of shame but the result of realizing my immaturity and naivety, coupled with an uncontrollable desire to do you bodily harm.
Looking back on that fateful night when we first met, I now realize our passion for each other was built on quicksand that would plunge us both into a misunderstanding of disastrous consequences. The scene of that first meeting is still vivid in my memory. Two tables, one occupied by a lonely despondent, shall we say “student of literature”, the other table bounding in merriment and the joie de vivre. If loneliness is to compete with merriment it must, as surely as the sun comes up, rise to the occasion. To pose as an up- and- coming American writer in Paris seemed but a small concession to my miserable state of mind. No doubt the wine and a silvery tongue embellished the image.
Veronique, on that critical night you and your smart friends heightened my folly with talks of all the illustrious community of American writers in those footsteps I was foolishly attempting to emulate. Your beauty, gaiety and sophistication captivated me. The obvious attraction you placed on being in the company of an assured successful author seemed but a small deception for me to conquer your heart.
On doubt my inexperience of foreign lands, the perfume of Paris, the glitter of the social scene, and the long tender nights we spent together lulled me into the spider’s web of deceit. Flamed by your admiration, my stories and tales grew out of all proportion to my writing abilities. I became but a puppet dependant on the strings of an intoxicating Parisian society. Your touch, your kisses turned into a burning desire. My sole objective, at whatever cost, was to imprison your heart for eternity. Oh! What folly! Never in my wildest desire did I, for one minute, image that your favors were based only on a preconceived romantic idea of a young talented American writer living in Paris? Little did I realize your seeds of passion were sown on land cultivated with your blinding ambition to be associated with a successful writer. The very basis of your supposed love was founded on a misconception.
My desire for you was devoid of any social status, it transcended from the realms of true love. It was given generously with a purity of spirit I felt was received with equal ardor. You leave me devoid and empty of any future faith in attaining the meaning of “amour” As I sit here the words of Oscar Wilde come floating across the page. “Each man kills the thing he loves, some do it with a bitter look, some with a flattering word, the coward with a kiss, the strongman with a sword.”
Your contempt for my written word, not only made me realize the hideous truth on which our relationship was founded, but at that moment the profound passion of my love turned to an engulfing hatred of all you stand for. As I stood before you on that momentous day, my speechless dilemma concealed an uncontrollable desire to rush forward and kill you. Even today when I think about you, the dark and desperate folly of taking your life seems to bring a certain calm. Veronique, you have left me like some ship-wreck, without a course to steer or a star to be guided by. I……..
At this point he stopped, printed out what he had written, stuffed it in his pocket and slipped downstairs to the local café for a glass of wine. As he pulled out the crumpled manuscript he had a distinct feeling of having achieved a passionate piece of writing. He reread what he had written. A little repetitive and rough in places, but written with a passion he had hitherto unknown. As he placed it on the table, he smiled at the wisdom in his old professor’s advice. He sat there deep in thought. How was he going to finish his tirade? He had no intention of sending it to Veronique, but the sheer act of writing the letter relieved the grief he still suffered. Slowly the conclusion of the letter started to formulate in his mind. In a hurry he gulped down the remains of the wine and retraced the steps to his apartment. Halfway there he remembered he had left the unfinished letter on the table. On returning to the local café he was told, in a rather curt manner, that nothing had been found. Odd he thought, but of no importance as the original was in his computer. Two hours later he had finished the letter.
Early the next morning he was awakened with a loud knocking on his door.
“Police, open up.”
Bleary eyed he opened the door to find two police officers stand there.
“Your name Henry Bricknell”
“ What nationality are you?”
“Do you know a Veronique de Clarion?”
“When did you last see her?”
“Five days ago. Why all the questions?”
The elder of the two officers step forward, pushing his foot against the door.
“We ask the questions, you just give us the answers.”
The questioning continued. “Do you read the French papers.”
“No, very rarely, my knowledge of French makes it a tedious task, I prefer the Anglo-Saxon press.”
“Veronique de Clarion was murdered in her apartment two days ago. Have you anything to say?”
Henry stood there stunned by the shock of her death. The news was even more appalling as it had been delivered in such a cool clinical manner. Had he anything to say, what kind of question was that? He was about to reply when one of the policemen pulled out his half finished letter.
“Yes, but!” He stammered. At this point he received a sharp order.
“Get dressed quickly, you are coming with us.”
By this time, without asking, the two officers had entered the apartment and closed the door. Henry hurriedly went into his bedroom and dressed in what he thought would be appropriate clothes for the occasion. He had difficulty buttoning up his shirt, his body and hands were trembling, his brain numb. As he emerged into the adjoining small sitting room he saw the officers had started to look through the documents strewn on his desk. He was about to say something when the officer’s telephone rang. The room fell into expectant silence that pervades the atmosphere when those present are intent on trying to listen to a one-sided conversation. The result was highly frustrating, mono- syllables, grunts, with a final “will do.”
The officer turned to Henry. As he spoke there was a distinctive softening of his voice, gone were the strident tones of the interrogation.
“It seems, my friend, it is your lucky day. That was Central. It appears a young man came into the station early this morning confessing to the murder of the victim. Something about a lovers quarrel. His story seems too check out, but until the matter is completely cleared up the chief has asked me to temporarily impound your passport and ask you a few questions. While he took out his notebook the first of a series of questions followed: Full name, home address in the States, the reason for him being in Paris, his relationship with the deceased, what was the meaning of the letter etc. Henry’s explanation of the half finished letter sent a chilling echo around the room. He saw a quizzical look pass between the officers, definitely in their minds further explanation would be required should an additional investigation be necessary. The last question had Henry in deep thought.”
“Monsieur, where were you between the hours of seven and eleven on Tuesday night.”
Henry tried to reply in a clear, confident voice. “At about 7.15 I left my apartment and went to the tobacconist on the corner to buy some cigarettes. As I didn’t have any euros on me I left the tobacconist $5, telling him to keep the change. I then walked along the quay and had a long discussion on Hemingway with a manager of Shakespeare’s bookshop, no doubt he would remember. Before returning home I ate at Lipps’s brasserie using my credit card as payment. No doubt I have the receipt. I must have got back to my apartment at about 10.45.” Henry paused, reasonably satisfied with the account of his movement.
The officer shut his notebook and turned to his colleague.
“I think that is all for the moment, have you anything to add Pierre?”
“No,” came the reply. They took his passport telling him to come down to the station the day after tomorrow.
As Henry closed the door behind them he felt a violent urge to be sick. Happily it only lasted a minute and was quickly followed by a feeling of complete exhaustion. He found a chair and collapsed into a fitful dream of some weird sacrificial dance. He was encircled by a multitude of people dressed in elegant clothes and sparkling jewelry. They all had disfigured painted faces. Somewhere in the distance a procession of priests clothed in white were bearing a body of a woman towards a sacrificial altar. He heard music; the crowd had started to dance. The music grew louder, the dancing more fanatical; then suddenly it all stopped. He woke with a start.
He was alive! The first thing he saw was his schedule pinned on the wall. He sat in front of the computer and started to write with a fluidity and elegance that surprised him.
Years later the press and publishing world developed a fascination to know why the famous bachelor novelist Henry Bricknell always dedicated his works to Veronique.