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– Take your coat, Veronica says to her son as the 11.52 express from Milan glides soundlessly into the main line station of Geneva and comes, almost imperceptibly, to a stop. Make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
On the platform she takes his hand. – Can you see a taxi sign anywhere? she asks him.
– There, Mum! he says, swerving off suddenly to the left. Once again she marvels at how big he has grown in the past few months.
In the taxi she gives the driver an address and sits back, peering short-sightedly at the passing houses.
– Are we going to see Philippe?
– Not now. We’re going to the hotel first.
– And then we’re going to see him?
– No. Tomorrow morning.
[private]He is silent, playing with his backpack. Then, – Is this Geneva? he asks.
He is silent again.
– I thought we could go for a boat-ride on the lake, she says. Would you like that?
He is silent, staring out of the window.
– Would you? she repeats.
– I don’t mind, he says, not looking at her.
– Hotel du soleil, the driver says, pulling in to the kerb.
The next morning, at breakfast, he asks again: – Are we going to see Philippe today?
– Yes, she says.
– Where does he live?
– Not far from here. We’ll walk.
In the street she says: – Look, one can see the lake from almost anywhere in this city.
– Come on, she says, stopping and waiting for him. Why are you dawdling so much this morning?
She holds out her hand but he does not take it. He reaches up to my armpit, she thinks, soon it will be my shoulder, and then he’ll be as tall as I am.
She looks at her watch: – We’re early, she says. Let’s go and have a coffee.
– I don’t want a coffee.
– You can have a coke.
Though autumn is drawing in it’s still warm enough to sit on the terrace.
– Don’t do that, she says, as he sucks noisily at the dregs of his coke through the straw.
He puts the glass down on the table.
– Do you want another? she asks him.
– He looks at her in surprise: – Another coke?
– Why not? she says. We’re on holiday.
She laughs, but he goes on looking at her, puzzled, across the table.
– Or something else? She says.
She fumbles in her bag, takes out a packet of cigarettes, selects one, lights it. – What’s the matter? she says. What are you looking at me like that for?
– Nothing, he says.
He retreats into himself.
– Go on, she says. Have a milk shake.
– Will you have one?
– No. I don’t think so. But why don’t you?
– No thank you, he says, in his most adult tone.
– Another coke then?
– No, Mum, he says, I don’t want anything,
She calls for the bill, stubbing out her cigarette as she does so.
From her bag she takes a pair of soft black leather gloves. She draws them on, pressing between her fingers, smoothing them over her wrists.
– Do you like them? she asks, holding up her hands for him to see.
– They’re all right, he says.
– I think they’re very nice, she says.
In the street she takes a piece of paper from her bag, examines it. The boy waits, looking idly round him.
– Come, she says. She pushes him ahead of her.
They round a corner. She says: – Look out for number 52.
He walks beside her. She can feel the heat of his body against her side. – Here, he says.
She presses the buzzer and the door opens. Opposite them is a lift. – Fifth floor, she says.
In the lift she opens her bag and feels about inside it. Then she examines her face in the wall mirror.
The lift stops. The inner doors slide open. They get out.
Three doors give onto the landing. She peers at the name on one, moves to the next, rings a bell.
– Come, she says to the boy. Stand here beside me.
She rings again,
Finally she says: – All right. We’ll come back later.
The lift is still there. She opens the door and pushes him in ahead of her.
In the street she hesitates a moment, then turns right in the direction of the lake.
– What are we going to do? he asks.
– We’ll have a little walk, she says.
He walks beside her, absently.
They pass a café. – Come, she says. We’ll have a drink.
He follows her onto the terrace. She finds a table and sits down.
– What will you have? she asks him.
– Nothing, he says.
– You must have something.
– I’m not thirsty.
– On a hot day like this?
– The waiter is standing beside them. She orders a glass of wine for herself and a coke for the boy. When he returns the waiter makes a great show of opening the bottle and pouring the contents into a long glass half-filled with ice.
The boy stares ahead of him.
– Go on, his mother says, when the waiter has left. Drink up.
She peels off her gloves and lays them on the table beside her.
– I’m not thirsty, the boy says.
– It’ll do you good.
– Mum, he says, it’s the second one this morning.
– Never mind, she says. This is as special occasion,
Reluctantly, he draws the glass towards him and sips the drink through the straw.
She has drunk her wine. She is examining her face in a pocket mirror she has taken from her bag, She applies some lipstick.
She returns the lipstick and mirror to her bag, snaps it shut. – Go on, she says, Drink up.
– I’ve had enough, he says,
She calls the waiter, pays.
She puts on her gloves, stands up. – Come, she says.
In the street the boy says: – Mum, I need to pee.
– Wait till we get to Philippe’s.
– And if he isn’t there?
– He’ll be there.
They retrace their steps. In the lift mirror she again checks her face. The boy stands beside her, impassive.
Once again she presses the bell. This time, after a pause, there is the sound of footsteps.
The door opens.
He stares at them in surprise.
– Veronica! he says, when he realises who it is. What are you doing here?
– Are you alone? she asks him.
– Yes, he says, still staring.
– May we come in?
He steps aside. She pushes the boy in ahead of her.
– Where’s the lavatory? she asks. He needs to go.
He closes the front door. – I’ll take him, he says.
When he returns she has gone into the large light living-room next to the entrance hall and is standing at the window.
– Veronica, he says, coming towards her. What do you want?
– Then he sees the knife in her hand. – No, he says, Veronica. Put that away.
– He reaches out a hand to push her away but she brushes it aside.
– Veronica, he says.
She leans into him and pushes the knife into his stomach as far as it will go. He gasps and sinks onto the sofa, dislodging a large glass ashtray on the little table by the sofa, which slides to the floor and smashes to pieces. She stands over him, puts her left hand on his shoulder and pulls out the knife. He gasps again and seems to fold in two. She wipes the blade of the knife on his trousers and puts it back in her bag.
The boy is standing at the door of the living-room.
– Come, she says. We’re going.
He stands, looking into the room.
– Philippe’s not feeling very well, she says, taking his hand and turning him towards the front door.
In the lift she examines her face in the wall mirror.
– Come, she says, as they leave the house. We’ve got to get to the hotel and collect our bags.
She sets off down the street. He trails a few steps behind her.
In the train he sits opposite her, staring out of the window.
Finally he says: – Will we have to go back to Geneva?
– No, she says. I don’t think so.
– I’m glad, he says, I didn’t like it much. Did you?
– I liked the lake, she says.
– I didn’t like it much, he says, putting on his most adult expression. It was too pretty pretty.
She laughs, hearing the expression in his mouth.
– It was, Mum, he says. Didn’t you think so?
– I suppose so, she says. Now be quiet. I want to sleep.[/private]
Gabriel Josipovici was born in Nice in 1940 and has lived in England since 1956. He is the author of fourteen novels, three collections of short stories, six critical books and of a dozen plays for stage and radio. His most recent book is Two Novels; After & Making Mistakes (Carcanet). Carcanet will be publishing a volume of new and selected stories, Heart’s Wings, later this year.