Read My Hundred Lovers Online

Authors: Susan Johnson

Tags: #ebook, #book

My Hundred Lovers (25 page)

BOOK: My Hundred Lovers
6.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

AND MASSAGES. THE BODY WORKED
upon like clay, like dough, reduced to sinew, muscle, pulp. Each part of the body individually tended to, taken apart: the torso, the muscles of the back, the limbs, each leg, each arm, the hands, the feet, the scalp, the face. The secret moment of transformation, that delicious equation, when the body usurps the head. The organs of the body turned to soup: the urethra, the kidneys, the liver, the heart. The hands and feet forgetting to sweat, the brain and its thoughts finally disarmed, the conscious self reduced to pure body. Is the self the physical body? Or is the body the vessel for the self? On the massage table, the self is only a body.

EIGHTY-ONE
Coup de foudre
—The princely lover

FOR EVERYONE SAFE FROM WAR,
injustice, plagues and starvation, the choice of who to love becomes the most important question of existence. If you are not in chains or interned in the Doge's Palace, everything of value rests on your choice: where you live, what you hope for, how joyful or sad your life will be. Work and love, is there anything else? What picture of life is found in your lover's face? What future is seen there?

My future husband had horizons in his face. He had freedom in his eyes, dreams, hopes, infinite opportunities in his fingertips. I looked at him and my future appeared, dazzling, more beautiful than I could have believed.

I saw boats on shining seas, a house of laughing children. I saw rooms of people I wanted to know, swooping movement, a big life. I saw a man I recognised at once.

‘
Coup de foudre
. Love at first sight.' I heard Celestine say, a voice through cloud.

I turned my eyes from him and looked at Celestine, who I had forgotten. ‘Deborah
, je te présente mon ami
David
.
David
, voici
Deborah
.'

He had the same name as my father.

EIGHTY-TWO
Prince

OUR DAYS WERE GLAD.

Our days were counted not in the number of breaths that we took but in the number of moments that took our breath away.

We counted ourselves lucky.

We counted out the hours we had left to us, each of us set like clocks, with our handful of seconds.

We counted the colours and sounds and smells of the world, saturated with detail.

He was a lawyer, did I tell you that? He had a job, shoes, clothes, by which I mean to say that he was of the world, a real person, as well as the man of my dreams.

He was English and he lived on a houseboat on the Seine, a converted freight transporter with creaking floors, moored opposite the Petit Palais.

He was a lawyer but a lawyer with a heart (insert jokes here). He worked for Médecins Sans Frontières.

He spoke flawless French.

His father was a famous children's book illustrator, an artist. His father was a member of the British Academy and belonged to the Chelsea Arts Club, a place I had always wanted to go.

How fast a person can move from a standing position! How quickly a person can go from being loveless to being loved! Within seconds of laying eyes on my prince, my life rearranged itself into a miraculous new pattern, a shape yet to be revealed to me but which I already knew contained everything I wanted.

But first things first: over Celestine's head, the man of my dreams asked me to meet him later that same afternoon.

‘But I don't even know you!' I said, laughing.

‘Yes, you do,' he said.

He told me where his houseboat was moored, with explicit instructions on how to distinguish his boat,
Scheherazade
, from the rest. I was watching his mouth move: his bottom teeth were slightly crooked. His front teeth, the teeth he smiled with, were straight and white.

What can I tell you about his face? He had blue eyes, arrestingly blue, a smallish mouth, a slight cleft in the middle of his chin as if a child's finger had pushed itself into clay. It was an intelligent face, sensitive, passable as handsome. He wore his brown hair long, tangled and curled round his ears, the nape of his neck. It was a face that you might pass in the street without a second glance, but for me it was a specific face in which I could read the future.

I noticed he was tall. I noticed his body had a natural grace and that he moved with ease. He had beautiful hands.

‘
Je suis ici, mon petit kangourou
,' said poor Celestine, who might as well have been a scarf slipped unnoticed from the back of a chair to the floor. When I turned my eyes towards her it took me a moment to recognise who she was. ‘
Deborah?
'

Had I ever seen her eyes look so worried?

Had I ever properly looked at her before?

Walking home, Celestine, uncharacteristically, talked all the way. She chattered on like a schoolgirl, about this and that, about our plans for the weekend. All I wanted to hear her speak about was him.

‘How long have you known him?' I asked.

For a moment it appeared she was going to answer ‘Who?' but I could see the struggle and its aftermath, the sad news settling in her face. I saw that her face was not sultry at all but full of suffering.

‘Several years,' she said. ‘Much longer than you,
évidemment
.'

We walked on, past our favourite florist, with flowers arranged like living works of art, arranged as only Parisians could arrange flowers, with every detail perfect, each arrangement as beautiful as a painting. I wanted to gather up armfuls of beauty, to eat it, to become the flowers. I wanted to arrest the moment, to stay dazed and smote all the days of my life.

EIGHTY-THREE
The tree lover

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO DO
nothing except lie on your back with your eyes closed, preferably with your bare toes touching grass. Sometimes you have to lie on a picnic rug, anywhere near a spreading tree, and open your eyes to look up into the spreading tree, a living green umbrella. Any tree will do, but ideally one with arms that embrace you, reaching out and around you, a dome of branches and leaves. The great oaks of Richmond Park, where you can lie close to the descendants of deer brought there by a king escaping the London plague. The chestnuts of France, with their blossoms like artfully designed cakes scattered like decorations in a Christmas tree. The strangler figs of Queensland, with their whiskery, old-man beards, and their cousins, Moreton Bay figs, rigged like boats, a fretwork of sinewy branches twisting and turning, as tangled as ropes. Sometimes you have to cry at the beauty of a single cherry tree in blossom, of the white stars strung like lights, so white against the perfect blue of the sky. I lay upon the earth one spring and looked up at such a tree and my heart sang because it knew what it meant to be beating.

EIGHTY-FOUR
Toes

THERE IS NOTHING LIKE IT:
mudflats at low tide, the slivers of silver water, the ooze between the toes, the adult feet returned to childhood, shoes off, crab holes everywhere and, if you are lucky, a cloud of crabs with their bony, articulated limbs swarming across the ruffled mud.

EIGHTY-FIVE
A black pearl

MY FATHER ONCE BROUGHT ME
back a gleaming black pearl. He flew in on his magic carpet from a land of lotus leaves and burning candles and there it was: a glistening drop of beauty on a silver chain.

My father selected only me for this pearl: not my beautiful mother, and not my beautiful sister Jane. ‘It goes with your skin,' he said, doing up the clasp at the back of my neck. The black pearl sat perfectly in the scoop of my collarbone as if all my life my bones had been waiting for its touch.

EIGHTY-SIX
David, David, David

BOOK: My Hundred Lovers
6.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Sweet Addiction by Daniels, Jessica
Innocence Lost by Tiffany Green
Nurse Angela by Hilary Preston
The Thinking Reed by Rebecca West
Town Tamers by David Robbins
Norton, Andre - Novel 08 by Yankee Privateer (v1.0)
The Monkey Grammarian by Octavio Paz
The Further Adventures of Batman by Martin H. Greenberg
Temperature's Rising by Karen Kelley