It’s five thirty pm - rejoiced Jo. Outside the rain eased, lazy drops were scantily knocking on the windowsill; rainbow-like colours gleamed on the dissolving clouds.
Im gonna call with my parents for a while, - she told him - we have to leave in like two hours. You gonna call home too? Ah, you're reading something?! Either way, I’ll just sit in the hall, so I won’t bother blabbing, she chuckled. See you in a bit, she whispered and walked out of the room...
“ (...) he suddenly woke up to the sound of a bell emanating from the front hall. As he was half asleep, for a second he thought he was still in the village, but when he opened his eyes the first thing he saw was the red oak floor of the kitchen. It was holding his solid body and face, with his right hand weirdly tucked underneath him. He could not tell how long he had lain there and was rather unsure if what he had dreamed was real or not, but the acute bell didn't give much chance for him to contemplate what had happened. It was almost dark behind the windows and the moon was still; it lingered to glow. He looked around and realised that he was in the same position as when he had collapsed. Despite this, he felt at ease when he looked around, because he saw that both the crack and the calendar had reappeared on the kitchen’s walls. What a relief, he thought and finally twisted his numb hand from under his head, while lamely trying to shake some life back into it. The sound of the bell sharpened. He took a wide breath, sat up and quickly straightened his back; still, he seemed to be unstable and tangled in his vision.
Two days before this incident, he had managed to smoke a whole package of twenty-one cigarettes. Normally he only smoked seventeen or eighteen. It had been quite a while –in fact six months– since Antoine had started his daily routine with a cigarette or two. Since he had moved there, he had felt comfortable. He had convinced himself that he made a good decision by leaving the city behind. He tried to avoid the burden of his decisions and did not think back to the life he had lived before and the everyday tasks that had absorbed his weeks. Neither the packed streets and cafes that had made up his daily routine, nor the sped-up rhythm of the people he hadn’t picked up. He also chose not to think back on the unnecessary long daily metro rides, as he could no longer avoid feeling inpatient with the roiling crowds; or those endless conversations on nothing and many other topics he could not seem to follow, with people whom he and everyone else barely knew. Neither did he think back on all the other places, where he had only gone because he had to, and his square grey flat on the ninth floor, where he spent significant amounts of time analysing such events.
It took him one and a half years to write his book. As he could not be truly satisfied with what he did, every time he opened his book, he got dizzy with the thought of all the effort it had taken to write. His supervisor, Monsieur Picot, on the other hand, saw high potential in it and he even said it was the best book of the year; therefore he had suggested that Antoine publish it. However, once he had finished it, Antoine decided never to write again. When he published his book he also never read it– and neither did his downstairs neighbour Mademoiselle Arsenault, who had accidentally bought it on a Wednesday afternoon. She had finally decided to leave her flat and surprise herself with a book after her husband left her for another woman, Jean Luneau, who was ten years younger but ten times less attractive than her. She was enchanted by the book’s blue velvet cover, as it made her think of her mother’s photo album, but eventually the content made her think of her husband, which led her to stay in her apartment for another six months.
After writing his book, Antoine also didn’t ever want to think back on his years of studies and all those never-ending days and months he spent on them, as the overload of information challenged his brain capacity. Upon completing his degree, he
had realised that his fascination had not been found where he originally thought it might lie. Nevertheless, Antoine had an excellent sense for realising the passion of others, everywhere around him. He admired the baker under his house and how she sacrificed half of her sleep just to prepare the best pastries for her consumers. He admired all the construction workers as they restlessly assembled various materials from nothing into the new library building of Boulevard des Mines. He was charmed by the florist on Avenue Compans Cafferelli, who under the fragrance of his ardor, always prepared the right bouquets for the right occasions. He admired his supervisor, as he always had a sharp reference for each topic they debated; and the old shoemaker on Allée Jean Jaurès, who never doubted the importance of utilising his craft. Only in himself, Antoine could not realise the desire to create; as he constantly over- analysed and criticised his own acts, he soon became unable to make use of his abilities.
He had not returned to the city ever since. After writing his book, he did not leave his house anymore and he could not walk down Chemin Barrieu without getting bored by the countless advertisements streaming from each store. Even after turning to Rue des Pervenches, as he had done every day before taking the metro, he always confronted the diverse displays and marketing of useless pastimes. Neither could he pretend to
listen to his retired neighbour’s never-ending stories of his years of service, or his colleagues’ insignificant scandals on politics, which filled up all the free hours of their days. Although Antoine had always succeeded at what he did and could always adopt to each situation, he could not commit nor relate to his surroundings anymore. Yet the idea of leaving only became clear for him when his doctor, Monsieur Didier, stolidly said in his light green, trapeze-shaped office, “ I don't know if it is depression or not, but you have to change things in your life before you get bored of them. ” Antoine could not understand what he really meant by that, but when he walked home from M. Didier’s office, his knees were wobbly and he knew that he could not stay in the city any longer. Antoine had always thought highly of M. Didier, because he had always sat so remarkably under a fifteenth-century oil painting of his great, great-grandfather, in his old, red cherry-oak armchair behind his desk, smoking a thin vanilla cigar below his strong black moustache, full of wisdom, full of experience. Although his black round glasses seemed to be a bit small for his friendly square face, and his serious eyebrows were stuck from the process of pulling together, M. Didier was a very alluring man. He always wore the right ties with his shirts, plus he was always straight and honest with Antoine, who therefore decided to trust him.
So the next week, the tenth of April that year, he had packed his flimsy leather-suitcase with his remaining clothes, three books that he had never read, a carton of cigarettes and a tired empty notebook. He had taken a night train close to the shore, to his grandmother’s charming weekend house, which she had never visited again after she happened to die.
Time to go to bed, realised Antoine as he stubbed out his twenty-first cigarette. A single star above the village blinked in the vast blue sky, indicating that the night had begun.
The room with his bed seemed to be the smallest in the weekend house. The mansion itself wasn’t notably big and he could not recall the reason why he had chosen the smallest room as his bedroom. It could have been the white oak floor that was only installed there, whereas the rest of the house was surprisingly laminated with red oak, as Antoine later told his father when he came to visit him. Antoine was four years old, when the house had been built on the nearby ramps of a simple village, after his grandparents had decided to buy a bare land upon their retirement. His parents took him and his brother Vincent there only once during the construction process, therefore he could not recall clear memories, but he could always clearly remember the fresh smell of the massive timber wood beams and panels, laying neatly piled on the ground, or the charming smell of the lack and ivory white paint, which they had finally used to decorate the whole exterior. They ended up applying a layer of gently lighter colour only to the facade of the house, which was certainly insisted upon by Antoine’s grandmother, who had a very fine fascination for details. Around the house, on the edges of the empty but buoyant land, they had planted short, solid fences of arborvitae bush and one fig tree, which had blossomed all year long. They had also planted four cherry trees on the side, from which the cheeky children had often consumed significant amounts while carelessly climbing between the strong branches before those rare Sunday family lunches.
Besides the bedroom there was a spacious beige living room, where only a great round walnut dining table with two chairs, an antique Edwardian wardrobe and a stunning Romford- style brick fireplace were installed. The carpet that originally belonged there was gotten rid of when Antoine’s brother Vincent had accidentally burned it with a candle on his fifth birthday. The living room’s window was the biggest window of the house and it opened up on an idyllic view of one of the garden’s cherry trees with the nearby forest behind. The enormous length of this forest separated the lands around the village from the distant dunes of the remote ocean.
Parallel to the living room, between the kitchen and the bedroom, stood a salon with a light azure- blue left wall, where Antoine as a child used to play with their departed cat Léo, who had never played with anyone but Antoine. Now he used this space to keep his folders filled with undeveloped and empty film rolls, various sizes and kinds of papers and the other materials he did not use. The kitchen opened from the salon through a narrow arch. It was half the size of the living room and its crooked windows faced the empty side of the garden, the front. The house also had a bathroom at the back of the building between the living room and the bedroom. It had a toilet where an everlasting freshener provided the artificial smell of a lavender field and a small shower that was brightened with calm, soft turquoise-green tiles. In that shady L-shaped hall, amidst the bathroom and the bedroom, an old white spiral wooden staircase led the way upstairs to the attic. The dimensions of the low attic, reachable by an adult’s gentle movement of its wooden beams, had a charming potential. Antoine and his brother used to spend their precious visits there. With the generous permission of their grandparents, they had constantly decorated it with various fabrics, benches and ropes, creating charming areas for hiding, playing, reading and sleeping. Now it was neglected; notably dusty, it contained dozens of boxes, filled with his grandmother’s belongings and Antoine’s old toys.
Just like Antoine, the distant village also decided to sleep. At least so did Madam Bourgoin: as the moon suddenly wrapped the roof tiles with its silver blanket, she wrapped her last leftover boudin sausage in white gardenia paper. She felt pleased with the day; she smoothly closed the old mahogany red door of the store, which she inherited from her father Alain Bourgoin, who inherited it from his father, the noted butcher Henri Bourgoin. The store as always was still in good hands, as Mme Bourgoin passionately took over and kept it organised and ready with unending enthusiasm, serving her costumers the greatest local goods from the area. Her Bavarian- style stone store was built on the highest hill of the centre, which made it possible for the spectator to see the village, especially the tiny brick garden-house of the Chevalier family, which had taken Gérard Chevalier six years to build himself. He was already retired but he retained his enthusiasm and kept using his hands. The curved yellow walls of the pub were also visible from the hill; Antoine had never returned there after embarrassing himself on the fifth day of his arrival. One could also see the unclean windows of the local library, which was missing the only books Antoine would have considered borrowing, as well as Monsieur Valois’ freshly painted barbershop. At the end of the main cobblestone road appeared the humble, white cottage of the aged Monsieur Danton, the only priest in town, where at that moment he wobbly closed the bedroom window facing the street, a sign of his intention to sleep. Our Antoine, as opposed to M. Danton, preferred to sleep with the window slightly open. The reason for this might have been an odd memory of his mother, who had once fallen asleep with an accidentally open window on a stormy spring night. But when Antoine’s handsome friend Joachim had once asked him why he slept with his window open, he could not give a straight answer; he started doubting whether his memory was real or not.
Antoine finally stood up from the kitchen table and carelessly emptied the ashtray from all the twenty-one cigarettes he had smoked. A small amount of the cold, circling ash landed mutely on his black pants. He could leave it there, he thought, but he swiped it off, leaving a greyish stain. He did not care so much, he had gotten used to such ornaments enriching his attire. The round moon’s glaze overcame the silent gloom of the night. Without brushing his teeth he slowly walked to his tiny bedroom, where he took off his clothes. He closed his window, the only one in the house that faced the distant village, shut its dark brown, voile curtain and lay down on his bed in an attempt to close his eyes. He tried to gaze at the old plafond, but as the room was dark by then, it was difficult to focus on it. He pulled the blanket to his neck and with his elbows spread open, folded his palms under his head. For a split second, just before he fell asleep, he felt wistful. It was a rapid, repressed feeling: he could not tell if it was because of how the village looked through his window or just the result of the unusual amount of cigarettes he had consumed that day.
Before he realised it, his dreams overtook his vigilance.
The next day he woke up as if nothing had happened - because actually nothing really had happened. Even though he was restless upon awakening, when he opened his eyes he felt that he had overslept. His neck was tense on both sides. He could turn to the pillow’s left side, he thought, hoping that the pain would ease. Above his neck grew dark brown hair the same colour as his eyebrows; it was soft and shiny, medium-short, average. He could never really decide if he preferred it long or short, therefore he spent long minutes observing his hair from every possible angle in the small, round bathroom mirror. Like his head, his body was also hairy: his chest, neck, arms and legs were covered with strong, solid black hair that he hated as a teenager but grew to accept later. His back also hurt that morning, more than before; while sitting in bed and attempting to stretch by trying to touch his toes, he felt the sighs of his aching muscles. This was felt not only on his back, but also from his shoulders down to his legs. His body hosted his decision to neglect any kind of demanding exercise, as well as his decision to consume increased doses of nicotine and a reduced quantity of food. Despite this, fifteen centimetres under his left knee - where Antoine had once happened to tear a ligament when he had hasty stepped down from the train they had taken for the first time on a trip to the shore with their mother - the Doctor, M. Didier, considered him physically healthy.
His bed felt harsh but hard to leave.
Time to get up, thought Antoine. With a noble motion he twisted himself down the bed and placed his feet on the old rug, which his great- grandmother had made herself. The rug had a mild tread. He glanced on his toenails and could not decide if he should cut them or not. He ignored them and chose to stand up. He closed the dark blue belt on his only black trousers and put one of his white shirts on. After three slow rounds of a figure eight-shaped movement with his head, he cracked his back and walked through the small azure-shaded salon, all the way to the kitchen. The old wooden floor groaned under his steps. The kitchen seemed calm and composed in the morning light. He looked around inspecting everything to see if it had stayed in its place overnight. Everything was as he had left it, so he decided to take a glass and fill it up with water. He put the glass next to the sink. He stood there blankly, grabbed his first cigarette from the kitchen’s tiny table and lit it with a safety match from his grandmother’s ancient, never-ending matchbox inscribed with a fading image of three birds. The garden’s grass was bathed in the pleasant dawn dew and the noble distant trees swayed in the fresh early breeze. Faraway roosters stopped crowing, accepting that the morning had started. He let the smoke enter his throat and took two new matches from the box. He gave them a long look and started playing with them, moving both between his fingers, tapping them on the table, observing their texture, measuring their possible sizes and trying their resistance by bravely bending them. Just before he could break a stick, he stopped, placed the matches back and put the ancient box on the small mustard-yellow bread plate on the right corner of the table where it belonged. This was one of the small rituals he had developed since he moved here: after a while he had realised that he could break his own silence by approaching objects around him with cautious little gestures. Through long analyses, he started to discover and focus more on his close environment, wishing to distract his thoughts, as he often found himself doing appallingly nothing, but merely contemplating his surroundings. This is how he ended up playing this game, or the one where he would start counting the endless falling drops from the kitchen’s crappy tap - which took one minute to warm up when he needed warm water and took another minute to cool down if he needed cold instead; therefore it took about two impossible minutes (about twelve-hundred drops) to get it right for an acceptable glass of drinking water. As it was almost impossible to close the tap properly, this counting activity soon became a well-known pastime to our visitor.
He looked at the empty garden thorough the window. For an unexpected second he remembered his unusual dream...
...after his first cigarette, he chose to stand up from the small kitchen table, but could not decide what to eat or whether he should eat anything at all. He realised that the white dinner plate - the only plate in the house that functioned as a good plate - was still in the sink, covered with the deserted leftovers of the potato puree he had made the other day, which now looked more like that promising fertiliser his grandfather had proudly shown him before he had died. Antoine could clean the plate, but he chose not to; he also decided not to eat anything besides the other half of the carrot he could not eat the morning before. As he swallowed the last bite he sat down again, took a new match and slowly but distinctly lit his second cigarette. The mixture of the dry taste of the carrot and the aroma of the smoke made him want to end this combination halfway through and put the cigarette into his grandmother’s oval glass ashtray. How glad she would be if she knew how much this little thing was being used, he thought. Not because she smoked, but because of her charming obsession for collecting objects. He tried to quash that half of the cigarette-butt and a sudden puff of the dying smoke snuck into his right eye, causing it to hopelessly dissolve into tears. He quickly jumped from the table to take a piece of tissue from the high, orange plywood shelf on the kitchen’s left wall, but he could not find it there. That shelf has never held anything but tissues, so he could not quite understand the situation and with his head tilted down, could not blink the infected tears out of his eye. However, he did notice a thin crack climbing from the bottom of the corner up to the plywood shelf that now hosted the tissue’s absence. He abruptly ignored his red eye. Standing still next to the crack, he began to ponder its harmless presence. The biggest struggle was not the crack itself, but the appearance of such an event. Even if it was in a well-known corner of the house, - one of his favourite to observe actually: he found it spectacular how the red wooden floor ran into the angles of the kitchen’s amber-coloured walls - he could not recall whether the crack had been there before. If yes, then when did it appear and how was it possible that he had not yet seen it? If he had seen it, how could he forget something like that? If it was not there before, how could it have appeared? He asked himself if the paint had cracked or if it was the wall itself. He crouched down as much as he could and slowly ran his forefinger along the thin crack. He then started to scrape his nails along the edges of the thin line, examining its surface. The wall felt cold and rough. If it was the paint, should he repaint the whole kitchen or just the crack? In case it was the wall itself, what could he possibly use to fix it and anyway, how could such a wall break on its own? Could it have been a minor earthquake that no one had ever noticed? That would be very unlikely in this area. Antoine guessed that he could maybe go outside and look at it from the other side, but he assumed that leaving the kitchen didn't seem to be a rational idea. A possible leak was also not an option, since two young carpenters from the village had reinstalled the insulation last year. Antoine reassured himself with the frantic thought that a leak would appear with a noticeable mark around its track anyway.
For a few minutes he could allow himself to be dragged along by his thoughts but then he got tired of all the questions and realised that he could not let his mind drift to such an extent. This very event used his brain more than any of the events thus far since his move here. He sat back down at the tiny kitchen’s small table and could not see any other option besides lighting up another cigarette, which was his third of the day. Second and a half to be more precise, as he counted the fact that he had only smoked half of the second one. The kitchen smelled like his least favourite cafe. Covered in smoke, he nervously gazed around; his confused eyes were relieved to rest on the sloppy sink’s falling drops. After this, almost two hours passed in which almost nothing really happened. Antoine once almost opened his empty notebook, as he wanted to note something down, but then he went all the way to the bathroom, where he accidentally blew the lavender freshener into his own face, and the taste in his mouth inevitably made him think of his friend from the city, Celine Lacour, who used a whole bottle of perfume every single day. He did not want to think of his friend, so he washed his mouth out and went back to the kitchen, where he then chain-smoked five cigarettes and drank two full glasses of water...
...by then, the lush morning sun had flooded the kitchen through the window with its generous spectrum of vital colours, complimenting the kitchen’s amber walls, glimmering on the red floor.
In the distance the modest old church bell rang nine mighty dongs, which meant it was nine o’clock. M. Danton the old priest hesitantly opened his window in his white linen robe. As he was still under the influence of his dream, - in which he saw twelve stark doves, falling from the twilight sky - he gazed heavy upon the cobblestone main road. At that moment, Gérard Chevalier appeared on his morning walk with his elderly dog Lucien, who because of his inevitable illness should have already been ‘put to sleep’ but M. Chevalier loved him too much and couldn't accept the fact that his dog was too old to stay alive; anyway, Lucien always seemed to willingly accompany his loving owner on their early wanderings. M. Chevalier gave the dog a bite of his breakfast and they disappeared behind the priest’s mansion. Before opening the library, Madam Ardoin awkwardly put on her oval burgundy reading glasses, tied up her temptingly long, curly red hair and with charming movements nervously started to search for a book she had been missing for about two days now. M. Valois the barber
helplessly smiled as he opened his barbershop and surveyed the scene from the other side of the road. As his salon has been painted the other day, he carefully slid the door open, hoping not to touch the hickory brown doorframe with his coat, even though it was already dry by then. He took one more look at Mme Ardoin and wondered for a second about when would he ever have the courage to admit his feelings about her. They had evolved after Mme Ardion appeared for her first haircut: since then M. Valois couldn't stop thinking about her and the delightful softness of her hair. He finally entered his shop and with a notable sigh closed the door behind him with a jarring thud. Meanwhile, Monsieur Ferron was the first guest in the pub - after returning from the ocean and delivering his sardines to the market. Upon arriving, he wondered about the exact moment in his life when his drinking problem really had become a problem. Then he ordered another pint of dark beer, forgot what he was thinking about and accidentally poured some of his beverage onto his ash grey shirt, which he was wearing for the seventh day in a row. He shared an honest laugh with his clumsy self, played a song from his blurred memory on the jukebox and chugged half of his pint.
At the top of the village Mme Bourgoin freshly opened her store’s mahogany red door. She used a cloth to carefully clean her fingerprints off the window, then put on her brand new white apron and unwrapped yesterday’s leftover boudin sausage, hoping that today she would finally sell it. Before she opened her shop to costumers, she took a piece of paper and a black pen and started to write a letter to her son Mathieu, who was the same age as Antoine and had moved to the city four years ago to marry Juliette Luneau, the younger daughter of a well-known filmmaker, Bernard Luneau. Sadly, Mme Burgoin hadn't seen Mathieu ever since, but she kept writing him once every week, hoping that he would eventually accept her invitation.
In an instant, the vivid sun lit up every single terracotta tile on the many roofs. Modest, warm morning wind gently carried the remote smell of the ocean, accompanied by scattered seabirds hoping to feast. Prepared for their arrival, the people in the market spread their massive fabrics above their goods. Even the apiarist Monsieur Godin decided to cover his stand, although he knew that the birds meant his products no harm. It will at least provide cover from the sun, he explained to his granddaughter before she had left for choir practice; then he finished placing the last bottle of honey on his table.
The village slowly fell into its rhythm.
Antoine also fell back into his routine while trying to enjoy his ninth cigarette. He could slowly shut out his mind and divert his concerns from the baffling incident of the tissue’s disappearance from above the wall’s mysterious crack. He continued staring at and contemplating the kitchen’s amber wall and its corner, but he had stopped trying to question its being. He took a considered drag of his cigarette. While emptying his lungs, his heavy eyes wandered all the way from the sink across the window to the kitchen’s right wall. There they became stuck on his grandmother’s aged calendar, which had expired four years ago. Antoine thought it wouldn't make much of a difference to get a new one instead of keeping that one and in fact, he really admired those neat landscape images by an unknown photographer, which decorated all the twelve months. This month was a scene of a quiet, dark blue lake clasped by lush flatland, which disappeared into the distant edges of a rocky mountain. The water was calm and showed no signs of waves or movement: only a small family of ducks was captured on the edge of the lake, resting soundlessly on its thin surface. The field generously sheltered the bank. Even though it did not host any prominent shrubs or trees, it was filled with endlessly strong, vigorous green grass and it extended far back into the great rising rocks, where the forms of previous life could hardly go on existing. While he analysed the image he remembered how he had never had the desire to travel to distant places. Then, when he looked at the calendar, he realised that if his calculations were right, the pictured day was supposedly the tenth day of that month and more precisely, a Saturday of that week. He took a minute and tried to recall how long he had already stayed at the weekend house, but as he had not intended to keep track of time, he could not quite remember. His stomach ached for food but he was not hungry. In the meantime, he squeezed the dead end of his ninth cigarette. While his eyes remained suspended on the calendar numbers, he suddenly noticed a tiny red spot in the cube, which hosted that day’s number. He doubted that it was a stain or a note. He never cooked with red sauce, nor wrote anything after his book besides the name and address of her mother, whom he had sent a blank postcard after his arrival.
Antoine stood up, and just as he had stepped closer to the obscure mystery, mild dizziness overtook this quick action. The moment he got close enough, he could see that the small red spot started to form letters. Not being able to read it, he stepped even closer. The small red mark plainly said ‘Dad’...
...such unexpected information caused quick tingling throughout his body: small blunt needle- heads, combined with a weird numb prickling, which he hadn’t felt again since he had left M. Didier’s office. His breathing became uneven, although that was normal since his raised amount of cigarettes and lowered amount of food. First, his issue seemed to be to judge if his calendar day guesses were right or not. He tried to recall and count all over again back to the day he had arrived. The day his grandmother had departed four years ago happened to be Sunday, the eleventh of that month, which was January. The calendar therefore had been brand new and had expired at the end of that year – upon realising this fact, Antoine felt sorry for his grandmother, who couldn't see the rest of those particular landscape images. Antoine’s arrival came four years later, which accidentally fell on the same day but in April, which was then a Thursday. Now Antoine certainly realised the fact that the day he had arrived to the weekend house was a Thursday, because before arriving to his destination he had restlessly folded his elegant train ticket into various shapes; on which the date had been marked with dark blue epson-draft fonts. As this day was his last intended encounter with the outside world as such, he referenced it on the expired calendar, even though that day, the eleventh of that month, happened to be a Saturday. Nevertheless, after all the confusion in the beginning, he had assumed that he had a well-thought strategy on how he could keep track of the shifted weekdays, but later on he lost track of this and ignored the task. After, at the weekend house, his only clear guidance was this expired agenda. There was also the church bell in the distant village - which on Sundays dinged for thirty long minutes at noon - but Antoine missed it when once he could not stay awake after his morning rituals, which then made it even more difficult for him to be able to have a rational sense of time. Besides, it has to be mentioned that there used to be an antique round wall clock on the kitchen’s narrow wall next to the entrance, but Antoine had gotten rid of it after the sixth day of his arrival, when he had sat by the table and realised that he could not separate himself from each tick and tock of the clock’s stubborn hands.
Outside the sun reached its highest altitude. The air was heavy and humid, warm enough to lead the exhausted neighbouring dogs into the shadowy forest. He could no longer stand; in his misery Antoine fell back on the kitchen’s chair. He pretended to look outside the window but he was blocked and he could not see much, just shreds of his intricate thoughts. After the previous events around the wall’s crack, he could not explain how he could possibly miss or ignore something so particular appearing in his close environment - he who had been an expert at analysing these things. As his movements in the house were limited, or rather counted, he had a spectacular sense of keeping track of and examining his actions. That day, for the second time, he was faced with questions to which he could not seem to find answers. How could he have ignored the mark on the day and how could he be so irresponsible as to not follow the calendar at all? Antoine asked himself these questions and rubbed his forehead all the way up to his hair. In an instant he felt robust regret for not keeping track of the time. This was not for the sake of time as such, but he simply could not guess if his father was supposed to come that day or if he was mistaken. If he was right, he was in trouble, because he had assumed that there was still a week left before his father’s arrival, which until now had given Antoine the chance to procrastinate evolving his milieu.
He took another cigarette from the mustard- yellow bread plate and lit it without any further hesitation. However, this time he chose not to play with the matches, as he was already distracted enough. Although the cigarette did not help with his irregular breathing, it did cause his thoughts to drift for a short while. Due to the dose of nicotine he became even more addled in his malaise. Using his right elbow as support between his head and the table, and palm to hold his struggling face, he looked up into the back of his eye sockets and started to contemplate how he could possibly pull himself together: Cleaning the house was not the issue, as he always kept it clean: cleaning was one of the only activities he naturally and continuously did without overthinking. He could not stand mess and anyway he did not consume much and did not have a lot of things around him, only those he really needed. Besides, with the possibility of his father’s arrival, he suddenly understood that he did not have anyone to visit or to visit him. Nor, since he came here, did he have someone to talk with - except some of those strangers every second Monday, when he would go to the village to buy his essential groceries. He held his head and tried to recall the last words he intended to speak to someone. He tried to focus his nerves but could not recall his last outspoken expressions. This realisation just pushed him deeper into his anxiety. It was impossible for him to imagine going into the village, even though he would need to buy some essential things for the possible visit. He could not get out of the forceps of hesitation. Was his father coming today? He asked himself, if his father was even coming at all, almost praying for answers to the unknown. Nothing and no one seemed to give answers though. Blasts of his escalated doubts poured down on him like the sudden summer storms that always scared him as a child. From all the possibilities that could occur, he could not welcome or accept any. Obscured by his heavy mind, he forgot about his breathing. Cold sweat drops raced down his fevered body. Luckily he realised he had to use the bathroom. He stood up, hoping that the movement would relieve him. The moment he stood, his weak blood ran up to his brain. His head turned down to the table; he could not catch his lost breath. He could no longer hold his body in a standing position. He decided to wash his face; perhaps it would freshen him up. However, as he looked up to locate his steps towards the sink, he could not see much of the kitchen anymore. Not only had his sight become blurry, but he noticed that the calendar was no longer hanging on the wall. He quickly looked at the other wall. He hoped that his eyes had tricked him. He hoped that the calendar would reappear with a second look. Then he realised that the thin crack had also simply disappeared from the corner. He obviously did not believe his eyes. The more he tried staring idly around to prove this impossible fault, the more his mind seemed to fail. All the turmoil throughout the day had completely demolished his rational senses. Vacillation seemed to overtake his strength. His vision became utterly blank. As he could not fight it anymore, he gave himself in to the darkness.
Frozen in his being, he weightlessly crawled down to the kitchen’s warm, red oak floor...
Shortly enough after the darkness overtook him, Antoine found himself rushing unstoppably towards the ocean. He was running restlessly, crossing the scattered trees of the nearby forest, through stubborn piles of sand dunes, where the divine water finally awaited him. Without removing his clothes he ran in, where the sane coldness of the ocean renewed his spirit and refreshed all his senses. His vision became sharp and his body felt strong; he freed himself, leaving all his struggles behind. His breathing became deep and even, which allowed his blood to circulate efficiently; therefore his mind was calm and silent. Elevated by the water, he started his way back towards the village. The vibrant afternoon sun gently began to withdraw its strong rays but dried the ocean’s warm smell on Antoine’s body. Dispersed seabirds circled above, cawing loud, ungraspable sonatas. Mild dongs echoed from the near church bell. He did not count the chimes, nor did he know if it was Saturday or Sunday. He did not know what time it was and he did not seem to care either; this was not out of ignorance this time, but as a result of his uplifted state.
With a serene smile on his face, Antoine reached the village, where, after the church bells, M. Ferron left the Pub to finally get some rest before his evening sail. He felt shaky from the eleven pints he had drunk, but couldn't resist the mystic call of the ocean. When he arrived to his hut he opened a can of sardines, fell into his bed without eating it and set his alarm clock for three hours later. M. Valois on the other hand, was still busy shaping his costumer’s coiffure. As he forgot his longing eyes on the library window, he accidentally cut three more centimetres than needed from the back of M. Chevalier’s hair, but fortunately the mishap wasn't visible. M. Chevalier’s old dog Lucien, had to stay outside of the store this time, therefore he was frustrated and continued barking at an ignorant grey cat that was sleeping on the facade of the library, wherein Mme Ardoin had by then given up on her search for the book she couldn't find. She was now reading a romantic novel by a famous author that deeply touched her emotions, yet she didn't really understand the storyline. It had been two and a half years since her husband had disappeared and for the first time she felt the repressed desire to be loved by someone. She closed the book and started gazing out the library window. M. Danton the priest was mumbling a restless prayer at the back of the altar but he made sure that no one could hear it, though the young members of the scattered choir were desperately looking for him to finish up their late rehearsal. The priest swung his right hand across his perspiring chest and put away the small, holy silver cross that had previously convulsed against him. The people from the market had packed the goods from their tables, ready to go home after a successful day. M. Godin certainly did not regret covering his stand, as the sun has melted almost all of his products. However, he had managed to sell everything and now was waiting for his granddaughter, who was supposed to be back by now.
Antoine entered Mme Bourgoin’s store and she heartily welcomed him. She told him that she hasn’t seen him in a while; she wondered what had happened to him. She didn't have to insist though; he explained that he had spent the lonely time in the weekend house, filled with emptiness and doubts. He told her how he had tried to find a cure for his malaise and how he had therefore ended up deeper in that state. He shared his relief and explained how he had realised that his ignorance and bad habits took over his routines and how he had refused his own well being. He had decided to change his life from this day on. He bought a boudin sausage and a bag of potatoes; with Mme Bourgoin’s good wishes, he started his way back to the weekend house, wishing that his father would be there by then. He walked out of the store and delightfully observed the buildings of the small village. He was charmed by the glazed gold of the cobblestone road in the fading sun and how the tiny curved houses followed the road from each side. Each house was painted with pleasant warm colours; each seemed inviting and fable-like. He wondered who lived in those houses and what those people were doing at that moment; he felt curiosity and desire to meet them, desire to somehow be part of their routines.
...he was still dizzy when he finally stood up from the red oak wooden floor. He washed his eyes in the tap and rushed to the hall. When he opened the front door, his father was standing there with a warm smile on his handsome face. He looked fresh and shiny, just like his bald head, which wasn't bald because he preferred to cut it, but was due to stressful years of work he had endured. Now that he was retired, he was calm and had time to do all the things he had always wanted to do. Antoine told him that he could not stay here any longer; first thing tomorrow he would move back with him to the city. His father didn’t seem to question his decision, even though he had been hoping for a longer visit. They walked for three hours and by the time they entered the weekend house, they only had enough energy to sleep. They left on the second train in the morning. When Antoine arrived to the city, his grey cubic flat on the ninth floor was flooded with the moon’s silent shroud of light. Rush hour had ended by then and the night was mild. Red and blue coloured waves of light ran across the living room’s ceiling, as the night store across the road opened with its shiny neon-packed facade. All the cars were in order, parked in two endless lines. The last tram wobbled down, deliberately collecting its long-awaited passengers. From cafe to cafe, the street carried the drunk buzzing of zig-zagging crowds unable to decide whether to go home or not. Countless songs echoed quietly from each bar through the neighbourhood, compounded by the scattered noises of the area. In the surrounding houses, more and more windows orderly began to shine, lit by their inhabitant’s lights.
Monsieur Deon, Antoine’s neighbour, set his radio to its highest volume, as he was half deaf by then, trying to understand why he had to buy the futuristic kitchen tool from the commercial he was listening to. He couldn't hear Antoine arrive either, although he would have been glad to talk with him. Right above Antoine lived Mademoiselle Morace, who – as at that moment she heard from her homecoming husband that he had been fired – loudly dropped a bottle of awfully expensive wine on the floor. She had intended to open the wine to celebrate, as her husband was supposed to have gotten promoted instead of dismissed. Although she wasn't upset at her husband, she regretted buying that expensive bottle now that their financial state would only get worse. But she hugged him and opened another bottle of wine, a cheap one that she had originally bought for the next day’s quiche. Her shocked husband tried to clean the broken glass, but made it worse by breaking the amphora vase, which was positioned next to the hapless incident. All of this was clearly heard even by Mme Arsenault, Antoine’s lower neighbour, who carefully removed the lid off her pot of boeuf bourguignon, as it was ready by then. She had prepared that dish one thousand and four hundred times in her life, as her former husband had never been willing to eat anything else. However, even after the divorce she kept making it the same way, at the same time, every day. She set the table with a plate and spoon, washed her hands and sat down to eat her dinner.
Antoine was exhausted from the long train ride, but he felt relieved joy that he had left the weekend house. He found himself full of ideas of what he could do. For instance, he could call his friend Joachim; they could go to their favourite cafe, ‘Le Tableau’. He could also call and visit his beloved mother. He could buy her flowers, perhaps yellow daffodils. He could tell them both about the time he had spent in the weekend house, close to the village, near the shore. In fact, now he could finally write again: a story about his experiences. He felt inspired. He could also visit that promising première that he had read about in the newspaper on the train. He thought that one day he could go back to his old academy, as he still kept various, unused book materials in its storage area. He ruminated for a while. He could perhaps look for a new job, since the money he inherited from his grandmother would soon be used up. He could maybe contact M. Picot, his supervisor; as he had always seen high potential in Antoine, he might have a position for him in the library. He could also buy a subscription to the nearby cinema, and a subscription to the local bathhouse. Oh, and M. Didier - he remembered; he could visit his doctor, and he could thank him for his advice with a good cigar. He could then also try that fine leather suitcase he saw in the boutique around his corner. He could then perhaps read that book his father gave him last year. He could also read the other book, which his supervisor had recommended after Antoine completed his degree. He could finally fix his broken wristwatch and buy a brand new notebook for all his ideas and plans. The moon was a thin curve and its light couldn't enter the glow of the city. Good to be back: all the potentials and options, all the people. What a wise choice, he thought; he felt restless and surprisingly inspired by all the possibilities. He could barely wait for the following days to come.
... he will start tomorrow, Antoine Manasse told himself. As he stood there, he intended to take a last look at the lively street through the living room window. With a firm movement, he shut its white cotton curtain and jumped down to the chair next to his small smoking table. He took a cigarette and lit it with a match. He let the smoke enter his throat and took two new matches from the box, then he fitfully started playing with them. Suddenly one of the stick broke into half, as Antoine had pressed his nervous thumb too much on it. He put the sticks in his ashtray. He stood up with an unexpected movement, walked back to the window and opened it wide behind the long white curtains (...) “
...okay, that’s it, - ‘enough’. Moaned Sam and clashed his laptop.
- What’s that?! screamed back Jo through the open door, without moving her head.
- No, nothing, its just this story I’m reading...
Jo looked up and threw her phone to her right side.
- Yeah, what about it?! she shouted and tied up her hair.
- It’s just that I decided, I wouldn't read these kind of stories anymore. I thought this was something more easy.
- I see, well, just stop reading it then; anyway we should start cycling soon, chirped Jo. It’s almost seven, she argued and walked to the room. She stood before him and imposingly waved her phone, with the time shining on its wide screen.
- Are you sure you wanna go?
- Just come. Everyone’s gonna be there.
- I kinda feel like staying, maybe watching a movie, muttered Sam. He stood up and looked next to her, out of the window.
The settling sun was trying hard to break through the pale veil of the passing, greyish clouds; which event let a strange light to enter the apartment.
- Ha! you should really stop reading now, you are gonna turn into one of those characters, she grinned. Come on, stop being like that, - insisted Jo and tried to hide her tamed impatience - you’ll watch your stupid movie or read your whatever story when you come back, she concluded. Come, if we leave now we could still take-away something from that falafel-place we saw around the corner. And we must buy a hand cream in that small druggist store below. I think it’s closing soon. My skin really can’t take this humid weather; I don't know about yours, but my hands are super dry... Oh, and tomorrow we have to buy the postcard, we really can’t forget that, we promised; she lingered while forcing her boots on. You should really try to enjoy Amsterdam while we are here.
- I don't know Jo, I’m just not so much in the mood tonight. Maybe you're right, it must be this story...
- Then why are you wasting your time, really?! she strained and gave him a smile. Anyhow, we have to leave now.
Sam gave a desperate look.
- But okay, as you wish; I won’t force it, - sighed Jo disappointed; however, she said it with honesty - I’ll just tell them something; or, you want me to send a message?
- No, thanks it’s ok, I’ll see them tomorrow anyway.
- All right, I’ll see you later then, she sang and put on another, light layer of jumper, as the dank breeze returned outside at that moment. She let her hair down and zipped her jacket. I’m taking my phone, text me if you need anything. I’ll bring you some snack on the way back, proffered Jo, then kissed him on his forehead. Mmm; and promise you’d stop reading that thing; please?!
- I do, he said.
- Good, she winked and shut the door behind her. Sam waved at her from the window, as Jo was still busy unlocking her bike. It took her four minutes at the end.
- You sure you are staying? laughed out Jo.
- Only tonight, I promise; screamed back down Sam, then he closed the window, as the wind was getting stronger. He went to the small kitchen, took a beer from the fridge and went back to the room. Such a small room for such a pricy place, he wondered; he sat down on the bed and grabbed his laptop.
Amsterdam, 2020, April
�Edited by, Rachel Pafe
Special thanks to / for�
Will Pollard / feedbacks
�Noa Bar Orian / drawing �Alena Alexandrova / trust�Nicolas Muratore / advices �Becket Flannery / discussions