Paris Twilight


189 pages
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A novel that “elegantly weaves together many strands—the political, the historical, and the romantic, richly braided with adventure” (Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs).

Paris, 1990. While demonstrations against the First Gulf War rage, Matilde Anselm, professor of cardiac anesthesiology, arrives in the City of Light from New York to be part of the surgical team performing a heart transplant—and soon finds herself falling in love with a suave Arab diplomat.
Even as her concerns mount over shadowy protocols surrounding the planned transplant, a surprise inheritance—a mysterious apartment and trove of love letters from the Spanish Civil War, bequeathed to her by a stranger—sweeps Matilde through a hidden Paris and into the labyrinth of her own buried past. As the diplomat and the apartment reluctantly reveal their secrets, the tragedies they unearth open a further mystery: the enigma that has haunted Matilde’s life.
A dizzying tale of personal transformation, Russ Rymer’s “richly plotted, ardently imagined first novel” is populated by “unforgettable characters [who] grapple with the mystery of what love means, and what it costs” (Geraldine Brooks, author of People of the Book).
“Russ Rymer is a virtuoso of mystery and misapprehension. With Paris Twilight, he has created a novel of fine intelligence that richly rewards the reader’s closest attention. An American original.” —Ward Just, author of An Unfinished Season and Exiles in the Garden



Publié par
Date de parution 02 juillet 2013
Nombre de visites sur la page 6
EAN13 9780544003071
Langue English

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Title Page Contents Copyright Dedication Epigraph
P A R T F I V E XXVII About the Author
Copyright © 2013 by Russ Rymer
All rights reserved.
For information about permission to reproduce selec tions from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.comor to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edi tion as follows: Rymer, Russ. Paris twilight / Russ Rymer. pages cm ISBN 978-0-618-11373-6 I. Title. PS3568.Y58P37 2013 813'.54—dc23 2013000616
eISBN 978-0-544-00307-1 v2.0915
For Susan, at last
Before the old wound dries, it bleeds again. —AESCHYLUS,AGAMEMNON
I’M NOT SURE HOW to explain this, why I am writing to you, you of a ll people, and writing to you now, except for the simple circumsta nce that the rain has chased me into this place and does not appear to want to let me go , and here in my confinement all I can find in my purse to occupy me are a pen, a nail file, a piece of paper: prisoner’s tools. I’m ignoring the file. Daniel, I need a witn ess, and there’s no one else to turn to. Can you imagine how many witnesses we have lost by now, you and I, how little sense it all makes, those ancient awful dramas, with no o ne around to remember how splendid they were? Oh, how I have hated you! And n ow you are back on my mind because of the Brahms. And before that, I suppose, the train ride in from the airport. It was snowing. The winter this year wasprécoce, as they call it here, and that afternoon was too. With the flurries and the overcast, the da y seemed hours ahead of itself, and reminded me of that other train ride, so long ago, when we had decided to go back into New York despite the blizzard, the fields and the Connecticut estuaries slipping by us, the snowflakes curling bright against the windows, your head in my lap. I see now, sitting in this dreary-day café, how unmoored I was becoming even so early on, just off the plane, with the onrush of dark and the RER hurtling me toward this city where I have none of the things I know to grab on to to kee p my mind from wandering. So, of course, the Brahms and the train. And also, I confe ss, I’m emboldened by the knowledge that whatever I set down here you will ne ver read, that I will never know your thoughts. Such comfort! You see, Daniel, that after all, you have left me safe at last. It was a Thursday, that afternoon when I got in. I deserted the train at Gare du Nord, and, pushing out with the crowd onto rue de Dun-kerque, I was tempted to try to walk it, even with the weather, but I had the bags, and I didn’t want to arrive all soggy and sad and middle-aged in some terrible cold, grand lo bby. They were putting me up at the Clairière. Anyway, my day was hardly over; they’d s cheduled me for an evening meeting, which I dreaded, if only because Willem wo uld be there, and I was nervous about seeing Willem. So I caught a cab, shards of w ar news on the radio as we swerved our way through town. In the deserts of Ara bia, Western armies were gathering to drive Iraqi legions from Kuwait. From the news a ccounts emitting from the dashboard, the first pitched skirmishes were being fought right here. L’Hôtel la Clairière de l’Armistice, when we reache d it, was as monstrous as I’d imagined it would be, one of those push-pull places full of servile staff and imposing décor, all this uncomfortable comfort, walnut and c rystal and that grotesque white furniture trimmed in gilt that always reminds me of dental work, or naval uniforms. My room wasn’t ready, of course. I dumped my bags on the concierge, and the martinet at the check-in desk (his humility had been honed to a murderous edge) scrutinized my passport and refused my credit card—“Déjà reglé,”he sniffed. Already settled. It was almost as an afterthought (though with a world of forethought devoted to his gesture) that he handed me the message, just as a voice behi nd me boomed, “Mademoiselle.” I stuffed the envelope into my purse with the luggage receipt. The accent was clearly Anglo, and I responded with all the mademoisellian coquettishness my fifty years could muster. “Why, s ir,” I said, “you flatter me.” I meant it as a quip, but really I was bracing myself. It’s a reflex. Whatever was approaching, I wanted a stance to handle it. Of course, at the sam e time, I knew exactly who to expect, whose familiar Anglo accent I was hearing, and I turned and we embraced. My
first thought wasMy, he’s prospered!—do you remember what a skinny guy Willem used to be?—and then immediately I was reminded of my own prosperity and grew self-conscious. After a few seconds of squeezing th e life out of me, he held me out at arm’s length with locked elbows and a hand on each shoulder—why do men of a certain stature think women enjoy being grasped lik e a lectern?—and gave methe expression: you know, this tight-lipped side glance full of rue and fondness that’s supposed to add up to the gaze of enduring love. “M y God, you haven’t changed a bit,” he said, intoning, and I shot him my expression of enduring dismissal, and he said that, well, we could head out whenever I was ready. I checked myself over in my mind—was my travel atti re really presentable? My travel face?—and I heard myself babbling that he really ha dn’t needed to pick me up at the hotel, I could easily have caught a cab, that we co uld leave right away, why not, since I couldn’t check in yet. We stepped out under the porte-cochère and he helped me into the back of a long, dark Mercedes that slid up to the curb and gave the driver a destination. I thought:His first honest sentence. On the way down the boulevard, he ventured another, more quietly. “Thank you for doin g this, Matilde.” “You’re very welcome,” I said, and, after a while, “I don’t call a paid month in Paris much of a sacrifice.” “It’s an exorbitant amount of time,” he said. “Mayb e five weeks, we still don’t know.” “Well, I told you when you called, you’re not exactly dragging me away from anything.” He looked at me slightly mystified, as though I had answered a question about something else. I had thought the ride would be a short one; that’s generally how things work in such arrangements, proximity being at a premium. But we headed down the boulevard to the highway and out of the city center into the neighbo rhoods of some innerbanlieue. The traffic, at first, was more clotted even than I rem embered it, even for late on a weekday afternoon. Willem leaned over the seatback to inqui re.“Les manifestations,” the chauffeur answered—he was an Algerian, Willem would later inform me, whose name was Drôlet—the protests“contre la guerre.” The snow flurries had abated, and as soon as we esc aped the city, the roads cleared of other cars. A small village flashed by, and another and smaller one, and then we were on a winding country avenue passing the walls of enclosed estates, until finally the Mercedes turned up a pea-gravel driveway that l ed through the lawns of a large old chateau. Former chateau. It was a hospital now. The re were no indicators of such, no glaring emergency bay, no QUIET signs lining the road or speed bumps on the drive, and no name on the art-nouveau beveled-glass door, but it was irrefutably a hospital. With a little practice, you can smell them a mile a way. There was a small lobby inside the beveled glass, b ut no public waiting room and no records window staffed by admitting nurses, only a stocky, efficient, daunting woman in a silk dress and sensible heels sitting behind a ta ble who half stood when the door opened and then relaxed when she saw Willem and nod ded us wordlessly toward some double doors. The doors gave a click when she reach ed beneath the table, and we went through into a hallway. Inside, things were brighter and more antiseptic, b ut hardly less sumptuous. Willem felt my gaze on his cheek, or sensed my raised eyeb row, and said—did I imagine he was chuckling a little?—“Come along, you’ll see,” a nd we caught an elevator up to the top floor, the floor you needed to use a key for th e elevator to reach, which Willem
produced from his key ring, and then he ushered me down another hallway into a small, book-lined conference study where a dozen or so men were milling about, eating little sandwiches and sipping coffee. As we entered, a qui et fell, and all of them simultaneously moved to put down their plates. “Hello, gentlemen,” Willem said as we bustled in, a nd he steered me past the crowd to a man standing out of the light and modestly apa rt, and introduced us. “Professor Anselm,” the man said to me, softly. “I’m honored.” “Mr. Sahran,” I said back, hoping I’d caught the pronunciation right. He was a trim man in a quiet suit, shorter than me and maybe youn ger, late forties or so, aristocratic in his bearing and with an extraordinary limpid gen tleness in his gaze, though it was the sort of gentleness you would never want to cross. I took him to be a consul or envoy— he was one of those men tightly coiled within their composure whom you rarely run into anymore outside the foreign service, but what on ea rth (I reminded myself) did I know about the foreign service? I couldn’t help feeling that if he was honored, I was obscurely in peril. “We are very grateful that you are able to take this on,” he said, and his eyes probed mine for an exploratory second. “I trust you had a nice trip? Your accommodations are acceptable?” he asked, and when I answered the rhetorical pleasantry with a rhetorical nod, he answered my answer with a little smile. “Go od,” he said, and it was understood that some contract had been efficiently negotiated and signed. “Well, Dr. Madsen, I leave all this to you.” Sahran shook Willem’s hand, and then mine again, with a slight, quick bow of the head, a nd left the room, and two other men in cheaper suits left with him. The subsequent hour was a ritual, more or less stan dard, of putting together a surgical team—the wrinkle being that this team was so very d isparate and each of us so very new to the others, except for a couple of the Pakis tanis, I guess, who knew each other, and Willem and myself, of course. And of course the re were the other anomalies, which were glaring, but I thought I would hold off asking about those until the ride home, when I would have Willem to myself again. Papers were ha nded out, and introductions were made, names and degrees, but without, I noticed, cu rrent affiliations. Willem asked some pathology and peri-care questions and addresse d a few hematology concerns to the perfusionist, the man who would run the heart-lung bypass machine, and turned to me when we got to my role in things. Matilde Anselm , I told the group, and trotted out the insta-CV. No one had warned me to edit my histo ry, so I let them have it, or the bones of it, at least, skipping over the unpleasant stuff, the Singleton business, starting with Bryn Mawr undergrad and continuing through pos t-D at Sloan-Kettering “with post– Doctor Madsen” (no smiles from the group), all the way to head of cardiothoracic anesthesiology at St. Anne’s in New York until a fe w years ago. Teaching since (I didn’t saysince the unpleasant Singleton stuff). Currently on sabbatical. Willem thanked me and cued up a couple final members and then gave us what amounted to marching orders. “As you see, you are a mong an exceptional group of professionals,” he said, “but what we’re here to do is nothing more than a routine procedure, albeit in exemplary fashion. We have ten days minimum before the operation, and probably several weeks. But you shou ld be as entirely prepared as if it were happening tomorrow. Whatever you need to do to familiarize yourself with this facility, do it immediately. Dr. Mahlev here is you r coordinator. He has schedules for each of you to come in to checklist your equipment and go through your protocols. Whatever you need, ask him. Be thorough. Remember, there is no backup; it’s all on
you. This is the last time we will see one anotherensembleuntil we meet over the patient. You’ve each been given a telephone number. You must call that number twice a day, wherever you are, so that you’ll know when y ou’re needed—” “No beepers?” I interrupted. “We’re not to be on ca ll?” “Not yet,” Willem said. “Just be sure to phone. Eve ry morning early, every evening late, without fail. Any other questions, direct the m to Dr. Mahlev.” “But Willem . . .” “Thank you,” Willem said to the group, and then to me, “Drôlet will take you back to the hotel.” So I didn’t get to clarify anything with dear Wille m on the ride home after all, and out of weariness, I didn’t talk with Drôlet either, tho ugh I suspected somehow, as I watched his silhouette against the passing lights, that my driver knew a lot more than I did about what I had gotten myself into. La Clairière was aglitter when we got there, and th e pageant of early diners traipsing through the lobby in evening dress and formal wear confirmed my determination to hole up humble and eat in. Some poor lackey tricked out like an organ grinder’s monkey in crimson tunic and braided pillbox hat and dragging a gilded luggage cart led me to my room. It was enormous. At any rate, I couldn’t see a bed from the door when it opened, and that was always enormous enough for me. Then be hind the first room came another, and then another, a whole grand suite, which I already felt at sea in long before I bumped into a bedroom. As I fished in my purse for some change to tip the bellhop, my hand brushed against a soft, sharp-cornered object that my tactile memory recalled from only the briefest acquaintance. How long it seemed since the concierg e had handed me the envelope! It gave me a jolt. I dug up some coins, but a voice in my head whispered,Suite!and even as another voice grumbled,What does the room size have to do with the tip?I dropped the coins and pulled out a twenty-franc note instea d and pushed it into the waiting white glove, which folded it into instant invisibility wi th the practiced skill of an illusionist. We walked the long walk back to the door, and I locked it behind the departing train of minion and cart. Then, before doing what I knew I m ust do next, I put down my purse on the dining table and found the phone and ordered up a lovely-soundingfilet de poisson grillé, not really because it would be so lovely, along w ith its lovelytarte aux légumeslong with the cheapest glass, but because it was the first thing on the menu. A monsieur might recommend. Then I went into the kitc hen and boiled some water and returned with a monogrammed napkin and some green tea steeping in a Spode cup. What was I thinking while I did this? I wasn’t very hungry, nor the least bit thirsty. As I look back, I imagine that I was setting the scene, commencing an order of service, adorning the altar with chalice and cloth, and I wo nder: What did I sense? A portent? Of a sacrifice? Or was I merely heeding the conviction that any messenger who has waited so patiently deserves to be met with ceremon y? I settled myself in a dining chair and settled my glasses on my nose and set out my na pkin and my saucer and my cup and took a little breath of resolve or resignation, I’m not sure which, before reaching back into the purse. The envelope was of expensive linen, one of those s ubtle sizes easy to the hand that you never find in American stationery, and to the touch as crisp and lush as taffeta, embossed with a company name that endedet Associés. So: A law firm? The flap was sealed with a dime-sized daub of bright red wax. In side was a single sheet, folded once, its message in longhand, the same cursive han d that had penned my name and