Louise Demarest Thunin ’66 has been living in France since graduation. She has published four novels, two in English and two in French, and a number of her short stories in English have appeared in American literary journals. Her three cats inspire the monthly column she writes with a friend in the “felizine”, catnipchronicles.com. Louise leads a writing workshop in French in her home near Le Mans.
Five years after the fact, André discovered he was a father. The news had come in the form of a Polaroid snapshot: a wide-eyed little girl with very straight, very brown hair, pressing against a pair of adult legs in black, flared jeans. The picture didn’t show Alicia’s face, but he recognized the slender limbs, the way she held her feet, with the left one pointing inward ever so slightly. He used to think her stance was quaint, proof of a shy temperament. If she was retiring, she was also ferociously proud and secretive. But such a secret as this?
He’d studied the picture carefully. There was no denying it. She looked like him. He’d seen innumerable childhood pictures of himself at his parents’ home in Arles, and something in the little girl’s puzzled stare reminded him of his own intense gaze at the same age. Beyond astonishment, his first emotion in front of the picture was anger. It crashed in bitter heaves inside his chest and made his diaphragm ache, as if he’d been running too fast and too much. He felt deceived and totally disarmed, defeated. Why hadn’t she told him? Why had she waited? If it wasn’t because she needed money, then why tell him at all? Did she expect him to feel paternal stirrings at this point in history, their history, his own?
And there was another question: why had Alicia simultaneously deprived his parents of their role as grandparents? Should he tell them? If he were to establish any sort of relationship with his daughter, then he would have to.
Non et merde, he would not. Neither establish nor tell. He would send money, even if Alicia hadn’t asked for any. He’d make certain the child had an account in her own name, where he could make deposits, wired from France. But that would be all. Alicia hadn’t considered him worthy; she’d blanked him out of her life. Even now, and in spite of the overture the picture represented, she was asking nothing, at least not in plain language. It was wonder enough that she’d kept his child. He wasn’t going to reappear with a teddy bear under his arm and a packet of lollipops.
Besides, at the time he’d received the photograph, there’d been Hélène to think of. They’d met shortly after André had moved back to France and taken up his post again at the University of Aix-Marseille. She’d been in his department in Aix, Lettres Modernes, as a junior lecturer, and she’d asked him to direct her dissertation. Hélène was bird-frail and blond, unlike Alicia, who was regally tall, chestnut-haired, and walked as though she had the Harrap’s Collegiate on her head.
About a year after she’d begun living with him, Hélène had fallen gravely, desperately ill. She had one of those cancers that violate the bodies of young people and send toxins pulsating through their lymph glands. They’d saved Hélène, thanks to burning remedies nearly as poisonous as the illness itself, and at the cost of her reproductive system. She would never have children. That, she said, was why she wouldn’t marry him. One day, he’d find a woman who would give him a child. Anyway, how long did she have for this earth? she would add, cuddling into his warmth, imbibing his energy, begging tenderness and consolation.
He wasn’t going to tell Hélène he already had a daughter: Melody. What sort of name was Melody? Something only an American mother would choose—out of a knitting catalogue, probably. Baby patterns. He had to smile at his dramatized contempt; Alicia was never one to do handcrafts of any kind.
Alicia, too, had been his student the year he’d spent at Yale spreading the good word of twentieth century French literature. She’d been in the Master’s program and had followed him around with a coterie of graduate students, all girls, who’d elected him their guru of the year: the handsome young Frenchman with the funny, incomplete nasals of Provence in his speech and the hazel eyes brimming with sunlight and poetry: Reverdy, Aragon, Eluard.
They all dreamed of sleeping with him, or so he thought. Every day, they’d join him after lunch for heavy little cups of piping-hot espresso, then wander the campus lawns, questioning him about the cafés of Paris, the lavender of Haute Provence, or maybe Marcel Proust. He imagined himself in a toga, Socrates of the Sisterhood, as he called his groupies, anointing the savage American breast with the dew of his knowledge.
Only for Alicia was the dew more physical. In his mind, she remained indistinguishable from the warm, genteel polish of the library, where they would meet in a far corner of the main reference room. Their hands first touched under the glow of a green-shaded reading lamp. The stacks rose behind her, and her dark hair shone against the reds and gold of venerable, leather-bound volumes.
Alicia began coming to his apartment for private tutorials. At occasional, anxious moments, André would imagine the consequences if she should suddenly, for reasons not yet established or fathomable, report him for…what? Seduction? Sexual harassment? That was such a widespread obsession among American women that it seemed an eventuality to be considered. Corrupting a minor could be eliminated; Alicia was of age. But no, she’d told him she loved him.
When he thought back on that year, André could never be certain she had actually pronounced those words. He thought that he hadn’t either, but it went without saying that he felt at ease in her company. She was no gum-chewing, cheerleading ingénue. She’d read her classics and minored in philosophy. Alicia had class.
He hadn’t understood when, nearing the end of the academic year, she’d stopped attending his lectures—a fact that didn’t prevent her from passing the final with flying colors. Her telephone went unanswered, and when he asked the Sisterhood about her (as casually as he could), they muttered something about a sick parent, a return to Cincinnati. He went to the airport alone and boarded his return flight to Charles de Gaulle (with a transfer to Marseille-Marignane), while a kaleidoscope of Connecticut colors and odors continued to spin in his mind.
Progressively they’d faded, replaced by the familiar, radiant light of Provence and the emanations of sun-baked thyme and fallen pine-needles. Only in the surrounding countryside did he occasionally find a village green enough to recall, in a modest way, the dramatic emerald of spring foliage on the New Haven campus. Never again did he feel that particular quality of the air that, like a damp wash-cloth, would lie against his skin, exalting the fragrance of grass. André wrote to Alicia, several times in fact, but he had only her college address. The letters were never returned nor were they ever answered.
Until the “Melody announcement letter”—ever so brief—and the photograph. And now, centuries—that is, nineteen years–later, he held another letter, this one without a photograph but written by Melody herself. He reread it for the fourth time:
I’m capable of nothing more than the salutation in French—unfortunately, I didn’t inherit my mother’s gift for languages—but, since you are, indeed, my Père, I have been wanting to contact you. I must tell you that Mom is gone. She passed away six months ago from severe injuries sustained in a car crash.
(Alicia, dead? Had she ever really existed? Had she had a job, a career? A husband, perhaps? Lovers? Had she matured? Turned into a forty-something woman? Put on weight? Had her hair frosted to hide incipient grey? How can those who have never lived for us affront us by dying?)
Luckily, I’m not alone, but I think perhaps the time has come for us to meet. On the tenth of June, I’ll be receiving my Master’s in psychology from Yale University, and I’d like to invite you to attend the ceremony. It is largely thanks to the money you’ve sent me over the years, that I’ve been able to afford my education.
I hope my letter won’t come as too much of a shock. I hope also that we may, at long last, become acquainted, although I realize your life has gone on for many years without your American child, and that you may wish for it to continue that way—in which case, I’ll understand.
Your daughter, Melody Wellington
Without a second’s hesitation, he knew he would go. He even felt an odd agitation at the prospect, something between panic and exhilaration. It was indecent to rejoice at Alicia’s death. At the same time, he knew he owed the opportunity to meet his daughter to this event. At fifty-four now, he’d begun weeding the excess out of his life: intellectual ambition, the recognition of peers, even material success. Family had begun to count, and he had so little. He and Hélène had never broken off, but rather drifted apart. She’d been assigned to the university in Bordeaux, her native city, and they’d kept up a railroad relationship for several years, along with the pretence that he would request reassignment and join her. He had no real desire to leave Provence and put it off year after year. Now, they mainly exchanged letters, like old pen pals, wondering sometimes what to write about.
He lacked no inspiration in answering Melody, however, and blackened page after page with explanations, longings, regrets—then threw the lot into the waste paper basket. He finally sent off a laconic but (he hoped) warm note, saying how pleased he would be to attend her graduation ceremony. He decided to come a month (at least) ahead of the date to spend a little more time in his past haunts, to (he had to admit to himself) have a chance to get to know her. He promptly requested a leave of absence from his own year-end obligations, for “imperative family reasons.” The dean, assuming a dying parent, granted it.
She was pressing against the arrivals rail at Kennedy, holding a computer-printed sign with his name on it. He’d half expected to see Alicia, reissued, but the young woman waiting for him was shorter, with straighter hair tamed by a winding strip of leather, and hazel eyes—his own, he saw that immediately—sharp and questioning, behind outdated (to a Frenchman) tortoise-shell rimmed glasses. All ideas of playing the self-composed intellectual, the prodigal yet sophisticated European father, the aloof but open-minded elder, melted in the light of that inquiring gaze. He found himself blushing furiously, stammering out of control, whatever English he still possessed gone haywire, even dropping his attaché case on her foot, which elicited a peal of laughter—perhaps nervous, too, but he wouldn’t have wanted her to be otherwise.
“Follow me to the car,” she said, recovering her composure. Her gaze sought his, and she placed her hand lightly on his right forearm. “The car’s in the first parking lot.” She was smiling at him now, not a constrained smile of circumstance, he was certain, but a friendly, forgiving (he knew he was reading that into it) smile of near, yes, near complicity. Had she gone down on her knees and said, “I adore and admire you, and I’m yours forever,” he could not have fallen more suddenly, more thoroughly, or more poignantly in love. André was transpierced; the sensation was physically painful, like a stab-wound to the heart. He had never felt anything like it and wondered for the first time in his life if he oughtn’t to believe in God.
Melody glanced in his direction as she drove. “I don’t know what to call you,” she said, with the spontaneous frankness he’d always appreciated in Americans.
“‘André’ will be fine.”
“What about ‘Père’?” she said, almost mischievously, making it sound like “pair” as in “pair of socks.”
“You choose then,” he said, trying to sound light-hearted. “I’m not sure the particular label suits very well.”
“If the shoe fits, wear it,” she said, actually laughing now. It occurred to him she wasn’t bitter, and that she was calmly mocking him. He’d dreamed many scenarios, foreseen a multitude of reactions, most of them negative—awkwardness, indifference, and even outright hostility–but humor had never crossed his mind. She was brilliant, this daughter of his, self-possessed and wise. He thrashed about in the ocean-waves of love, and still they swept his being, beating against him with all the force of their novelty.
“You’ll be my guest this evening at dinner?” he ventured, fearing refusal like a shaky suitor.
“Tonight, you must rest,” she answered. “Tomorrow will be time enough. We haven’t spoken for twenty-four years. One more evening can hardly matter.”
André felt the earth sink. Why was she delaying? Another engagement, surely. A more pressing one.
In fitful sleep, André dreamed of her. During his waking moments, he realized he’d had the coup de foudre, the stroke of lightning—ah, French was more poetic than English, with its matter-of-fact “love at first sight.” “Thunderstruck” said it better. This wonderful child was his: his own blood coursed in her veins; his genes peopled her cells. No, no, he wasn’t forgetting Alicia, apparent in the girl’s easy grace and bearing, the rich chestnut of her hair, the curiosity that livened her features. And only an American upbringing could have brought her that confident attitude of immediate trust.
Seated opposite him in a pricey restaurant near his Forty-Sixth Street hotel, her eyes raked his aging face. What did she see there? He wondered. Was their resemblance apparent to her, past the lines and furrows? He was still handsome for his age, distinguished (he thought), with only a hint of silver in his hair. Many women looked at him with interest, but although it gratified his vanity, André paid no attention. Life had lost much of its appeal in recent years. But now there would be Melody. Had she visited France? Did she know where his people came from? Her people, nom de nom! He wanted to ask her so many things, but first, why. Why had Alicia deserted him all those years ago without a moment’s hesitation, and what had she told their child? He understood she must have been in dire financial straits when she’d sent him the photograph of Melody at five. But surely there was more. She’d wanted him to know. She had! As for him, he hadn’t measured up. Oh yes, he’d sent money, but money was a measure of nothing at all.
A waiter appeared, boyish and effeminate; André endured the listing and contents of the day’s specials—enough for five restaurants where he came from. “You choose for me,” he told Melody, and, with a glint in her eye, she requested one dish for herself, another for “the gentleman.” He felt a twinge of disappointment. Another time she would say, “For my father.” It would come out spontaneously, the most natural thing in the world. He would tame her, win her over. His questions, on the other hand, burned in urgency. “Melody, what did your mother tell you about me? Did she marry? Do you have a step-father?”
“Mom never married. But she could have, any number of times. She was so smart, and she was a beautiful woman, still, at forty-seven.” Her eyes widened; she was seeing something he could not.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, feeling the inadequacy of it, feeling lost.
His eyes never left Melody’s face. For a fraction of a second, her features tensed into a bright smile. Then to his surprise, she burst into tears. A moment later, she composed herself, this brave child of his, daubed at her cheeks with her napkin and looked straight at him again, waiting.
“I just…you see, I never understood why she dropped me from her life.” I wanted so to hear from her. I waited and waited for news, and it didn’t come. He could hear himself blundering. “She never told me she was expecting you.”
“She dumped you?” Melody sounded incredulous. “That’s not the version I heard.”
“What did you hear?”
“Well, when I was little, she didn’t tell me anything, of course, except a fairy-tale about this mysterious, faraway papa I had, who lived in a foreign land and couldn’t come to visit.”
“Did that satisfy you?”
“Oh, for a short time. She was actually pretty evasive, but when I was thirteen, she told me the whole story. I mean, how you’d two-timed on her with Linda.”
“Linda?” André was flabbergasted, frozen with disbelief. “But I never even knew any Linda.”
Melody looked at him hard. “Mom told me Linda was another girl in that group of students you used to go around with. Mom had believed you were in love with her, when all the time you were shagging this Linda person.” In the face of André’s horrified frown, Melody paused. “Apparently Linda boasted about…about your prowess.”
“And your mother believed her… I don’t even remember a Linda. Melody, I swear to you by all that is sacred. If this Linda existed, she was good for one thing: a prize in fiction. She was a…a raving mythomaniac. Never, never did I have another American girlfriend.”
“So Linda was taking her fantasies for reality?”
“And my mother bought her innuendo at face value?”
“It would seem she did.”
“Oh Lord, and that’s why I missed out on having a father for twenty-four years?” She shook her head. “Mom was a fiercely loyal person but very, very independent. She might not have married you anyway… But still… “
“Mélodie (her name came out sheer French), it is all past. Do not hold anything against your mother. She wanted to do what she thought was best for you and for herself. “
“I’ve never doubted that.”
“We can’t rewrite the past, but we can set the record straight and begin a new chapter now for ourselves, you and me, daughter and… ‘Père.’” He tried to smile as easily as Melody had, when she’d given him that name. In all his imaginings, the effect it would have on him had never crossed his mind. In France, the term would’ve been “Papa”, but that was more than he deserved to hope for. “Père” sounded like something out of Balzac, but that was all right. Melody didn’t know French.
A phrase from her letter suddenly returned to him. “You wrote that you were not alone. You have a suitor? A beau, as the, uh, English goes?”
This elicited a wan, slightly absent smile; Melody’s mind was elsewhere, wondering if she ought to, if, in fact, she could bear to deconstruct twelve years of misconception She’d been told her birth father, as she thought of him, was a womanizer. That was a hard fact she’d simply had to live with. It was easier than thinking there had been an awful, life-determining mistake, and that twenty-four years of separation were twenty-four years of love lost. She wanted to push it from her consciousness, but she knew it would dog her now. With an effort, she brought herself back to the present. “Yes, I have a ‘beau’. Oh, a very handsome one very accomplished. In fact, we’re planning on getting married, probably in the fall.”
“What does he do?”
“Financial consultant. He has a Wall Street Office.”
“Oh ho! A ‘golden boy,’ as we say in France? A financial wizard?”
“Well, you might say that. He’s had a good measure of success.”
“What is his name?”
Was there any first name more common? It revealed no clue, and André hesitated to ask the last name. He wanted to appear supportive, not prying. Melody might conclude that by asking the boy’s last name, André was pressing at family background, religion, social status, ethnic origin, so many things that could be suggested but never proven. What did it matter? He’d find out soon enough. “John will be at the graduation ceremony, of course?”
“I’m afraid not,” she said. “He’d have loved to, but there’s a huge board meeting that very day that he can’t possibly miss.”
“I’ll see him another time, then.”
“Of course. I’ll be sure you two are introduced before you fly back.”
Already she was thinking of his departure, when he had only just arrived. She had wanted to meet him, and now she was satisfied. She had no particular intention of detaining him (not yet, anyway). So be it. He would win her confidence, inch by inch. Without weighing on her, he would make every minute of his stay count.
“Have you got a snapshot of John?” he asked.
“Oh, not on me. Sorry. But you’ll meet, don’t worry.”
André left New York for New Haven, where he took a room near enough the campus to meet Melody easily for lunch—frequently, if not daily. The cups of espresso such as he’d enjoyed years ago with Alicia were now downed in the company of her daughter—his daughter, too, he thought, feeling the swell of pride that continued to astonish and ravish him. He showed her family snapshots, the French grandparents she hadn’t known, and pictures of Aix-en-Provence: the fountain of the Four Dolphins, the Place d’Albertas, the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, the Bibliothèque Méjane, the Cours Mirabeau with its plane-tree shaded cafés. “When you come…,” he would repeat, while Melody would tilt her head and smile non-committally.
He rather enjoyed imagining the financial whiz she’d chosen: business suit (only out of obligation), brisk walk, attaché case under one arm, electronic agenda—an honest, energetic young man who would provide a secure, stable life for her. He would commute to the heart of the city, while Melody would be free to hang out her psychologist’s shingle. Oh, he would have preferred an academic like himself for Melody, one of those passionate, young American scholars devouring the fabulous libraries the country put at everyone’s disposal, but her choice was sacred. André even found himself entertaining the idea of grandchildren: two or three chestnut-haired tykes who would summer in Provence, become rapidly bilingual, and climb onto Grandpère’s lap, demanding love and stories. Surely, there would be at least one grandchild. André would, after all these years, have a youngster to lavish his (newfound) affection on.
His phone rang. John was coming up from the city, Melody announced, and would André like to meet him? An appointment was made for dinner.
André watched the couple enter; navigate the noisy crowd of diners. His first thought was, but where is her young man? At Melody’s side was someone André could only describe as “a mature gentleman,” about his own age, probably five or six years older—seriously encroaching on sixty, in other words—with thinning salt-and-pepper hair and a very slight stoop to his shoulders. The fellow’s father, he told himself, feeling, nonetheless, a sudden spark of panic ignite.
Melody spotted him and waved, tugging slightly on the grey-haired man’s sleeve. Her smile was broad as she introduced him: “Père, this is John. John, my long-lost father, André.” André willed himself to rise, to shake the hand that was offered, to calm his heartbeat gone wild. How could she, how could she, how could she…?
As he tossed in bed that night, he convinced himself that she couldn’t. Not love the fellow, not possibly. It was obvious she had lacked a father. That was the long and short of it. No need to read Doctor Freud for that to strike loud and clear. She wanted the assurance of material comfort, the advice and approval of an older man—but love him, she could not. And he, the pervert, taking advantage of a naïve, idealistic young woman! Of course, it was hard to blame him. Melody of the winning ways, the sparkling eyes. Why should he resist a banquet offered? I have arrived in the nick, André thought, sweating profusely in his over-heated hotel room. I will save her from the clutches of this–this paedophile!
André realized he was treading on eggshells. He would have to deploy his subtlest French diplomacy in order for Melody to discover, as if on her own, that this John could never be a husband for her. And to think he had gone so far as to imagine grandchildren. If the marriage went through and children there were (how could that even be thinkable?), they would have no father but two grandfathers. Ugh, the very thought disgusted him. Never would he share any grandchild of his with a greying vieux beau, un papa-gâteau—a sugar daddy! He resolved to speak to her in the morning. If he didn’t talk to her immediately, his life would be unending torture.
Melody suggested they meet later. She was having lunch with John, she said, but she’d be free later, when he returned to New York. On the phone she sounded happy, carefree. “What’s the big rush?” she asked, as if slightly amused. “We only just saw each other last night.” André wondered if she sensed what was bothering him. She must; her degree was in psychology, after all. So why hadn’t she warned him? Well, he had asked no questions. He hadn’t wanted to.
However hard he tried, André could not keep his voice even. He felt the blood rush to his face, imagined himself ridiculously congested and purple, and only blushed more violently. He leaned across the table. “My dear child,” he said, “ma Mélodie”… Surely you aren’t really planning to marry this monsieur…Watkins…John. Do tell me I have misunderstood. He is an old friend of your mother’s who has known and loved you since childhood—in a fatherly sort of way, of course. But marriage, no… I realize you needed support—the kind I ought to have given you, and that circumstances prevented me from providing. You know now how I regret that, Melody. This being said, I am here now, and I want to give you the advice of a man who is older than you and loves you as a true father. Do not throw your youth and beauty away on someone so…”
“So old?” She laughed. “Don’t worry, Père! John is wonderfully fit. Do you know he goes sailing every weekend? If I’m not there, he goes alone or with another banker friend of his. His boat’s at a New Jersey yacht club. And as far as working out is concerned…
“His yacht,” André interrupted. “I see. Melody, I can understand you would be attracted to him for his money—your childhood was a long period of deprivation—but please, reflect on this.”
“It’s not that, Père. John is…well, he’s just a wonderful person.” Her eyes crinkled at the corners, “and a wonderful lover.”
André felt nausea wash over him. He pushed away the absurdly overloaded plate he’d been served. The heavy, pervasive smell of frying sickened him. Why did these American restaurants always have to reek of deep fat?
Melody was studying his face. She added softly, “Even if he were to lose his fortune, I would still marry him.” Her tone was gently firm.
André felt like a drowning man, and all he could thrash out at were the buoys of cliché: I’m warning you for your own good; all I want is for you to be happy. Beneath the hackneyed phrases, he could hear his own disappointment and, yes, jealousy. Don’t leave me for this other “father.” I’m here now. A young man, yes, I can accept, a father for my grandchildren, but not someone who cannot be anything more to you than I am. A lover? Preposterous. You have your life ahead of you. And he? How many years to live? Do you want to spend the bloom of your prime caring for a senile invalid? He brought his breathing under control and managed a smile.
Melody pressed his hand.
André made his way to Union Station, where he boarded the New York train. He would check the yellow pages for firearms, then get a taxi directly to the shop. They hardly asked any questions here, he knew that. Everyone said it was absurdly easy. He had his maroon passport with him (Communauté européenne, République française). They’d want to know if he had a police record, a history of mental illness. He was a foreigner—there might be a perfunctory check—perhaps a couple days’ wait. No matter. He imagined how the thing would feel in the palm of his hand: heavy, metallic, cold and hard. Melody. The name that at first had sounded silly to his ears sang to him like the theme from a symphony. It was exactly what she had brought to his life: music. I could have danced through life, he thought. If only, when she was five years old, I had run to her and seized her in my arms. I never once considered what it might feel like to a child—not knowing who her father was.
Lack of imagination carried a high price. Why should anyone other than himself be held accountable? The lethal elegance of the small revolver weighed against his thigh. The buildings of Wall Street oppressed him, casting long afternoon shadows on the sidewalk. André watched as businessmen and -women, most of them youthful and preoccupied, hurried past: time to catch a subway train, time to race home to upper Manhattan, to Queens, to the suburbs of New Jersey or Staten Island or Brooklyn. He caught sight of a greying head, shoulders bent slightly forward. André’s hand tightened on his weapon. He saw the man closer up: he wore thick, plastic-rimmed glasses and looked nothing at all like John Watkins. And even so—the gun was empty of ammunition.
No guts, André told himself. Not interested in my child when it was still time, not interested enough in her mother to track her down when first she’d fled, not interested enough in Hélène to insist on making a life with her, not even truly interested in my research and my students. André walked to the tip of Battery Park. He felt for the bullet in his left pocket.
He heard the wail of an ambulance driving off, or was it a police car? Near the water’s edge, a small crowd huddled, discussing something that must have occurred moments before. He overheard snatches of conversation:
“… put an end to it all.”
“Poor, pathetic fellow.”
“Some people have no courage.”
“Don’t say that; you don’t know what he was feeling.”
“Suicide’s the easy way out.”
André turned on his heel, seeking the subway entrance.
He sent Melody a generous gift of money in honor of her Master’s degree. He was so sorry he couldn’t be there after all, he’d written. He’d been called back to France by his publisher, the one bringing out his study in September on the playwright, Bernard-Marie Koltès. He was needed urgently for several promotional appearances in June. Readers have to be tantalized in advance. A Koltès play was on at the Théâtre Montparnasse, and an unexpected opportunity to participate in a panel of drama critics and university experts had arisen. André’s study of Koltès was real; the panel was a pure fabrication.
Hélène wrote to him about a possible opening in the French Literature department in Bordeaux for the following academic year. They spent the summer hunting for an apartment to share. He didn’t know if the post could be his but chose to act as if it was going to be. Another year spent commuting, and then they would really be together. André decided to put his parents’ Provençal house up for sale. He wasn’t sure there would be anyone he’d leave it to.
Just as the initial buzz over his Koltès book was subsiding, André received a letter from Melody. He opened the envelope and drew out a snapshot of her in cap and gown—a magnificent, black gown such as graduate students wore, with a crimson velvet hood and stripes on the flowing sleeves. She appeared to be on a podium, shaking the hand of an academic—certainly the dean. The envelope remained stiff, and André realized there was a second snapshot in it. There was Melody again, this time in a sweatshirt with wind whipping her straight hair. She was leaning against a tan, broad-shouldered young man. There was a vast expanse of blue sky behind them. They seemed to be in the country, or perhaps at the beach, and their pose spoke of holidays and easy intimacy.
André unfolded the letter. Like an earlier one, it began:
Here are two little souvenirs for you: one shows your daughter receiving her sheepskin. The other is of Dave and me at Sandy Hook. Dave is my new boyfriend. We’ve barely been together a month now, but I can’t tell you how happy I am.