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Still With Me, страница 1

 

Still With Me
 

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Still With Me


  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Text copyright © 2007 by Plon

  English translation copyright © 2012 by Summer Robinson

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Still with Me was first published in 2007 by Plon, Paris, as J’aurais préféré vivre. Translated from French by Summer Robinson. Published in English by AmazonCrossing in 2012.

  Published by AmazonCrossing

  P.O. Box 400818

  Las Vegas, NV 89140

  ISBN-13: 9781611097160

  ISBN-10: 1611097169

  eISBN: 978-1-6110-9716-0

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2012914131

  To my friend Eric Haim Bensaid.

  As a way to say, “I miss you.”

  To my parents, Helene and Jacques.

  As a way to say, “I love you.”

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  THANKS

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

  ONE

  May 8, 2001—Paris, France

  Pills. Whiskey. A little pot. I’m lying down. I know what I’m doing. I’m thinking about how I’m going to do it and nothing else. Thinking about the movements—that’s it. Thinking only about myself, right here in the living room. About the bottle, the pills. Just me. The cap. The pipe. Opening my mouth, placing the pills on my tongue, bringing the bottle to my lips. Swallowing. Thinking about how to do it. Nothing else. Not about Dad, not about Mom. Especially not them. About my shame. All alone, right here. Me and my shame. I know what I’m doing. Mom and Dad will understand. Maybe. I don’t care whether they understand. No, don’t think about them. Think about no one.

  Today it’s my choice. I don’t want this life anymore. It’s torture, an insult. It’s my choice. And I choose to end it. Today I’m in control.

  If I’m not brave enough, if I’m tempted to get up, to stop everything, I’ll think of her. The one who is life itself and who rejected me. Not about the others, who love me, but about the one who doesn’t, doesn’t want to love me. Who won’t even try. Her satin skin, her emerald eyes, her smile. Her smile. Her beauty’s embrace, given so freely to those who come near. Now it’s agony. But it’s not just her beauty. Everything about her destroyed me, dragging me into oblivion. The oblivion of death or the emptiness of my life. What’s the difference?

  God, my head is spinning. God…Why am I talking to you? Are you there? Have you been there all along? Did you hear my prayers? Come on, God, let’s be honest. How can a God of mercy put such a creature so close to me and at the same time keep her from me? What’s the point? To make me suffer? You won. I’m suffering. I don’t even want to live. Are you proud of yourself? I’m handing you my future. Give it to someone else. You’ve shown me nothing but the abyss, so that’s where I’m going.

  I’m not afraid.

  I’m thinking about how to do it. Nothing else. The rolling papers are still smoking. I can get a little higher. Get away from myself so I can get away from her. There, my spirit feels light, lulled by the smoke, the alcohol, and soon enough the pills. That’s how to do it. I’m sweating. Not from fear.

  Just a few more seconds. Thinking of her.

  I decided to tell her everything. Today, on my twentieth birthday. Cast off my doubts and finally know. I practiced…Did I need to practice? I had no shortage of words for her. But she didn’t hear me. She didn’t want to hear me. I reminded her of our childhood romance. The first pages of the story.

  “But we were nine, Jeremy,” she said, smiling.

  Ten, actually. That’s not too young, ten years old. I was madly in love with her. And she liked me too. For her, it was nothing more than make-believe. A few innocent kisses, just a tender allegiance, a sweet melody. A distant memory, colors fading. But for me, that’s when life began. A warm glow, stronger than the light of our last summer together.

  “We were friends. I confided in you.”

  What torture, the role I had to play all those years just to be near her. Watching all those little show-offs strut their beauty, their physiques. She liked making them happy.

  So I pulled away. I tried to forget her. In vain. The pain, the hope. Like I was suffocating. I needed everything to end. On my twentieth birthday. An ultimatum I’d set when the wait became unbearable.

  I would confess my love. Try to convince her. With words like pearls, polished by their time beside my wounds.

  I saw her falter, touched by my words.

  For a few seconds, she was mine.

  Or did I imagine it?

  That was when he appeared and everything fell apart.

  “I want you to meet Hugo. My fiancé.”

  With these words, my spirit froze. The pain, my old friend, lying in wait somewhere between my heart and my stomach, suddenly resurfaced, stronger than ever. Like the last brave battle before inevitable defeat. She’s mine. She was made for me. She belongs to me!

  I thought these words so loudly they left my mouth. Loudly.

  He hit me. I fell, pitiful. She held him back. Her eyes were full of tenderness. Her mouth, pity.

  “I love him. And I don’t love you, Jeremy. I never loved you. I never will love you. I’m sorry.”

  The words were meant to ease her passion, to butcher my love. Like arrows in my heart.

  Then they left.

  And everything ended.

  I finish my joint. I lie down. Pills in one hand, bottle in the other. The only way out.

  Now, God, let’s settle up. And you’d better explain yourself. I don’t want any excuses. Here’s a chance to redeem yourself. What do you have for me up there when my hell is down here? Will I have to appear before your court to answer for my sins? You don’t believe in suicide? You reject anyone who does it? You rejected me while I was alive. This is your fault.

  Visions sprang up in Jeremy’s mind, the last embers of a dying fire. His parents watched him go. His mother waving to him tearfully. His father watching him coldly. Then a little girl appeared and slid into place between them. His sister. Back where she belonged. He moaned. His enemy—pain—was strong! He needed to act quickly, to pacify the old hurt or win it over to his side. Wasn’t this what the pain wanted?

  He placed the pills on his tongue and drank a mouthful of whiskey.

  A cold shiver ran through him. Cold and strong enough to snuff out twenty years of life. He thought he heard a voice. Was it Victoria?

  And what that voice whispered, so far away, fixed a smile on his face.

  “Happy birthday, Jeremy!”

  TWO

  Light woke him. A delicious warmth enveloped him. He felt good.

  Before dying, his last thought had been of the afterlife and his hope of finding something better, finding peace.

  And now a soft glow licked his eyelids. I’m dead. I crossed over. I’m going farther, and I’ll arrive on the other side to discover the full light, the truth. And maybe understand the meaning of my life.

  He waited a moment, anticipating the movement that would carry him toward total clarity. But it never came. Instead, what felt like a gentle touch grazed his stomach, and the sensation surpr
ised him. Then he felt the weight of his body and thought he heard his own heartbeat.

  A single thought threw him into a panic: he wasn’t dead yet!

  Jeremy tried to open his eyes, and a light blinded him. Blurry vision, then a moving form.

  He shuddered.

  The contours, shadows, and colors came into focus slowly: chestnut hair, a woman’s face. It’s not possible! I’m dreaming! Death made me delirious. This face…It’s unbelievable.

  With her chin poised on two slender hands that she clasped over his stomach, Victoria smiled up at him.

  Jeremy froze, hypnotized by this unlikely apparition.

  “There you are. Awake, finally?” She spoke to him softly.

  Victoria’s face. Victoria’s touch. And now her voice.

  “Come on, lazy bones. Get up!” Victoria’s fingers played across his chest.

  She’s here, beside me. She’s looking at me, talking to me…

  “Are you really awake, or should I go?”

  He tried to move; to his surprise, he managed to move a hand toward Victoria’s, touching it.

  Is this a dream? An illusion? A work of fiction? Who made it? God? The devil?

  Jeremy felt divided between fear and euphoria. He wanted to scream, laugh, and cry.

  He decided to simply give in to this death hallucination.

  The girl slid next to him. Her skin felt like silk, rippling slowly across his body. Even softer than in his dreams. When Victoria’s face was a few inches from his, he squinted to take in every detail: her deep green eyes, her long lashes, and her mouth coming closer to his.

  How many times had he dreamed of holding her?

  She kissed him tenderly, and he gave in to his overpowering desire. Who cares if this is real or not? It’s real to me…

  “Come on, can’t you put in a little more effort?” Victoria chided him. “Just because it’s your birthday doesn’t mean I have to do all the work.”

  His birthday? He froze. What did that mean? Had Death chosen to respect the ultimatum rejected by Life? Or maybe in the depth of the abyss, time and oblivion collided, conspiring to offer him one last joy. He decided to take advantage of this moment, to live this delirium completely before finishing his journey.

  Victoria pulled his body to hers, and he felt her skin melt into him. Jeremy didn’t dare move.

  “Hold me, damn it,” she moaned. She lifted her head and looked at him slyly. “Don’t you want your gift?”

  She kissed Jeremy’s lips, and he tasted her in his mouth. He felt intoxicated, lulled by a ghost that was so close to being real.

  “I’ll turn off the light,” she whispered.

  Not the dark. Not yet! The darkness will devour us, take Victoria away and drag me off to the end of my journey. And this brief respite, so marvelous, will be over.

  The light disappeared, but Victoria’s body did not.

  “You’re holding me too tight. I can’t move,” she said, her voice low and playful.

  Victoria was still there next to him.

  Jeremy held her hand. He had been afraid his joy would mean the end of his dream. How many others had ended the same way? He had held completely still, dreading the moment he’d have to stop and finally die.

  Victoria set her chin on his chest and whispered, “You know, it’s silly, but I can’t stop thinking that it was a year ago…you wanted to die. For me.”

  Jeremy sat on the bed, shaken. He tried to make sense of Victoria’s words. A year ago? My birthday? Are we alive? Why don’t I remember the past year?

  Jeremy’s thoughts darkened under the onslaught of foolish questions, incomplete ideas, and answers and theories that were just as strange. The absurdity of the situation became unbearable, and he got up. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously, trying to decide.

  He could hear Victoria humming “Hymn to Love” in the shower.

  He studied the apartment: a sunny room with creamy white walls in a somewhat cold, contemporary style, cheered up by a few knickknacks. He recognized some of the furnishings. The leather sofa his parents gave him. The lamp with a red shade he bought from an artist friend. Two brightly colored pillows.

  Jeremy walked to the window and parted the thick curtains. A ray of sunlight shot through onto the bed, revealing particles of dust suspended in the air. Outside the people, cars, and sounds came together to form an everyday street scene.

  He looked around the room again—so full of natural light—and noticed an electronic calendar on the wall. It featured a classic landscape from his hometown, Essaouira. Some white houses and some blue; sunlit trees leaning in the wind. Jeremy stepped closer to read the date flashing in florescent diodes: MAY 8, 2002.

  He had committed suicide on May 8, 2001.

  Jeremy sat down on the couch, shocked, his eyes riveted on the calendar.

  In an effort to control his mounting panic, Jeremy forced himself to stop and think. Come up with a few theories. If he was dead, maybe he was in some kind of paradise where every day was his birthday. Or maybe it was a hell that condemned him to relive his dream, always on the same date. And if he was alive…that meant his suicide had backfired and he’d lost his memory—of an entire year.

  Victoria appeared in the bathroom door wearing a robe, hair in a white towel, cheeks red, smiling. The love of his life was there beside him.

  “What are you up to? Checking the calendar? Making sure it’s the right date? Well, yes, it really is your birthday. Why do you think I threw myself at you earlier? It was your gift!” She laughed.

  Then she frowned, noticing Jeremy’s serious look. “What’s going on with you today? Why are you making that face? You’re acting really weird this morning.”

  Shaken, he decided to ask her a few questions.

  “I…” It was the first time he’d spoken since he woke up, and his voice surprised him. He paused and let the sound resonate, almost like something solid in his mind.

  “Yes?” She tilted her head, intrigued.

  What could he say? If this were all an illusion, what would be the point of admitting his uncertainty?

  But he had to say something. “I forget…”

  “You forget? What did you forget, my dear? Your birthday?” She made the joke without smiling.

  He was too serious, too tense.

  “What did you forget, my love?” she insisted.

  “I forget everything,” he fumbled, delightfully surprised by Victoria’s concern. “I don’t remember anything. I don’t know this apartment. I don’t remember yesterday or the day before yesterday or the day or the month before.”

  Victoria looked at him for a minute, puzzled; then she shrugged her shoulders. She sat on the couch and began rubbing her hair with the towel.

  “Victoria…” He shivered as he pronounced her name. “I think I have amnesia.”

  “Oh, come on. Stop it. You and your bad jokes.” She went on rubbing her hair vigorously, her head bowed.

  How do I tell her? Is it really necessary? After all, whatever world I’m in, present or future, if they even exist, it’s wonderful because she’s here. So why worry about the past? Twelve months out of an eternity—what does it matter?

  But Jeremy knew he couldn’t be himself again without getting back his memory of the last twelve months. He wanted to try one last time.

  “I really don’t feel well. I have a headache. And…”

  Hearing this, Victoria raised her head and looked at him indulgently. “That must be from the party last night. I’m not surprised after how much you drank!”

  Jeremy shivered. A party last night? I drank too much? I don’t even like alcohol, but anything’s possible. That must be it! I celebrated my birthday and got drunk, drunk enough to forget a year of my life…

  A weak theory, but plausible and reassuring. So that means I’m really alive. And when my hangover goes away, I’ll get my memory back.

  “So what happened?” Jeremy asked, enchanted by the idea.

  By then Victoria
had moved on to painting her nails.

  “Oh, well, you definitely tied one on. You really don’t remember?” she asked slyly.

  “No.”

  “I see why you’d want to forget. You almost ruined the party. You told dirty jokes; you confessed your love for Clotilde…It would’ve been fine if you hadn’t punched Pierre when he told you to shut up.” She’d said all this without raising her head, a wry smile on her lips.

  Her words bothered Jeremy. How could he behave that way? He was way too shy to act out like that. Could he have changed that much in one year?

  “Love for Clotilde? Pierre?”

  “Don’t worry about it; they weren’t offended. They know you get stupid when you drink. At the time, it bothered me. But then again, it was your birthday, you were drinking, all that…and anyway,” she added, smiling, “what you said to Clotilde was really flat compared to your confession to me, one year ago today.”

  “You’re talking about what I said in the park? But…I had to say it…I’ve said it since then…”

  She flashed a brilliant smile. “Yes, of course. Sweet words. Some touching. But no real declaration. Not the kind of thing that brings tears to your eyes…” She paused as if she were looking back on those moments. “You surprised me so much I brutally dumped the man who had just asked me to marry him so I could throw myself in your arms!”

  The comment bothered Jeremy. It revealed part of their story and helped to make sense of his presence in her room, but it also revealed a surprising aspect of his personality.

  He moved closer and sat down next to her. He took her hands and placed them against his cheeks. “You know, I should say beautiful things to you every day.”

  “You’re so serious! Did I upset you, my love?” she asked, frowning.

  “No, I just have a really bad…headache.”

  She put a hand on his forehead. “It’s true, you don’t look good. You’re pale as a corpse.”

 
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