Five years ago, when seeing someone from Paris, I visited her at Christmas. She was between flats and staying for a few months at her parents' place while looking for another apartment. Her friend was in Barcelona for the festivities, knew I was visiting, and suggested to Marianne that we take her apartment for the ten days of my stay. The flat was near Belleville, on the third floor. On the ground level, next to the block, was a flat I found fascinating as I wondered who lived in it. They too seemed to be away for the Christmas period and I sometimes peered into the windows of this converted space that was almost certainly a shop in a previous existence. There were thousands of books, many records and numerous artworks on the wall. One evening, Marianne and I discussed over dinner who might be living there. Part of our hypothesis was reasonably accurate; other details were more fantastic than we had the imagination to create.
Marianne and I weren't together too long and my affiliations with the city stretched much further back, to three friends in Paris that I have known since I studied in the city on an Erasmus programme twenty years ago. Each summer I would stay in places that friends of theirs had vacated while they went off to the northern, western, or southern coast. One evening, last summer, when I was with one of these three friends, Jerome, we were wandering through the city as we often did during the quiet of August, and he was talking about how as well as the flat I was staying in he had keys to three other flats too: in one he looked after the cats, in another, the plants and in the third he merely popped in occasionally to make sure nobody had broken into the place. He added that he found the flat fascinating and that since we weren't too far away from it, after wandering around Buttes Chaumont and into the 20th arrondissement, we could visit. I hoped that it was the flat I'd stayed above several years earlier and for some reason wasn't surprised that it was. He had met the owner a couple of years earlier through the radio show he worked on, a radio station specifically for people without legal status in France, a station that promoted their plight and raised awareness.
We entered through the side since the front door which would have been originally the shop entrance had been blocked off altogether and the apartment remained as I had remembered it, but with additional rooms that I couldn't see when years ago I had looked inside. There was the kitchen, with the red, orange and blue tiling on the walls matched by larger tiles of the same colour on the floor, a gas hob and an electric oven, and numerous jars of spices and pickled items, a large wine rack and a selection of malt whiskies. I sensed they were people who often entertained and though the dining table in the kitchen was compact, the one in the main area the room I had been able to see contained a much larger one, as well as a projector that hung from the ceiling and a screen that was rolled up and attached to the wall. Books were everywhere and not only packed into shelves that covered one wall but were also placed against the outside wall of the bathroom that was like a hut built into the corner of the room. Next to the kitchen was the bedroom which I didn't see.
Jerome said he occasionally slept over, watched a film on the projector, made dinner and utilised the space, just as they insisted he should, but he never once ventured into the bedroom; didn't even know if the door was locked. I said that I had five years earlier looked through the flat's main, front window and wondered who lived there and recalled that he hadn't come over to see Marianne and I that Christmas because he too had been away for most of my stay, visiting his parents in Brittany. I added that there he was discreetly refusing to peek into the bedroom when I had tried to see as much as I could through the window.
He told me as we sat drinking a tea in a couple of comfy chairs in the sitting room that in all three flats he looked after, during this month that was his favourite time of year in Paris, he assumed in each space there were areas of privacy that while nobody had told him to respect he instinctively sensed needed to remain private. He reckoned that to go into the bedroom, even to try the door handle here, to look through a drawer in the apartment where he looked after the plants, or to enter a closet in the flat where he took care of the cats, would somehow be a violation, and yet at the same time he wasn't sure if he could claim that such a position was moral. It seemed to him more an issue of superstition.
And so that evening where we stayed at the flat for a further hour, and walked for another hour and a half back to the place where I was staying on a street near the Parthenon in the fifth, he told me what he knew about the woman who owned the apartment, and more especially about her ex who died five years earlier and believed, when he was dying, that the cancer wasn't accidental; it was nothing less than cosmic. Jerome said that of course he had never met him but Nicole talked about him often and Jerome couldn't help but see that her present partner was a man she liked, whose companionship she enjoyed but that could not replace the mythic figure she hadn't only created in her mind but that others had also created in theirs.
The ex-boyfriend Matteo wasn't French but Italian and moved to France in the early eighties and lived for many years a subterranean existence as a man himself without papers. Though he studied European law and practised for five years in Italy, his interest in politics and the limitations he saw in the legal system moved him towards more radical beliefs and, between 1974 and 1980, he was a member of the Red Brigades. He involved himself in numerous acts of insurrection and the occasional act of violence. He never killed anyone and wasn't actively involved in the kidnapping of Aldo Moro but he did shoot in the thigh a police officer who after complications lost his leg. For years, Matteo worked in low-paid, menial and casual employment which didn't expect from him a formal identity and only demanded that he work hard. He told his partner of terrible winters in the north of France in the 80s working on a milk float and later ferocious summers in the south of France picking fruit. He didn't even have his own float but worked for someone who never left the van and who had modified it so that Matteo would usually be standing on a platform at the back delivering all the milk, while the driver, who owned the float and the round, never left the warmth of his driving seat. He worked on the float six days a week, starting at six and often not finishing till the mid-afternoon when the weather was especially treacherous.
He was so exhausted by the cold winters that he assumed hot summers would be better and moved to a village in the south of France. There was a disused building he wired up and lived in for three years without paying any rent and worked whenever there was fruit to be picked in the summer, and vegetables to be rooted out in the spring and in the autumn. He felt much freer than when working in the north but now he was in his early fifties, had sciatica made worse by endlessly bending over milk bottles and now fruit and vegetables, and wished for a reprieve, as if all the work of the previous ten years had been hard labour for his political sins. He knew that in the mid-eighties Mitterand brought in a law that ruled out extradition for freedom fighters who had committed no violent crime but Matteo had always been suspicious of such an amnesty, feeling it could be reneged on at any moment; and that though he had never been caught and sentenced, he had shot a police officer in the thigh and there might be evidence out there, somewhere linking him to the incident. But, by the beginning of the nineties, he was too tired to believe that an alternative to the life he was living was any worse and he announced his status, told the authorities that he had not been involved in any violent incidents and that he had been for years working informally in minimally paid work. He found legal employment in a college teaching European law on the outskirts of Paris, and that was when he met Nicole, who was teaching philosophy at a nearby high school and who owned the flat Jerome and I had been in earlier that evening.
The story he told me was told to him on various occasions by Nicole and with many other details that he chose to leave out but were usually of interest. We parted that night a few minutes after he had concluded telling me about how Matteo and Nicole met and I said I would be happy to hear more about their lives. He said he supposed it wasn't his story to tell but believed he was not at all betraying Nicole, and Matteo was now dead. Had he still been alive he didn't doubt Nicole would have been more circumspect and he probably wouldn't have even been able to tell the story he had just told me.
I didn't see Jerome for a couple of days; he worked in a record shop four mornings a week and presented the radio show on two afternoons as well, a show which I sometimes listened to even though I didn't always understand what Jerome was saying. The music he played I knew much better than the French he spoke as he often focused on music from the eighties and early nineties, from Sonic Youth to The Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain to Talk Talk. He would also have guests on the show discussing the music they loved but only, he admitted, if it remotely coincided with his own tastes, and usually concerned the period he himself knew well. I asked him if this was fair and he said he reckoned there was at least an integrity to the unfairness: why play music he didn't like and pretend to like it while inflicting it upon a broader public? Usually, the guests were professionals without being famous academic philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, literary professors and so on. They usually articulated their position clearly enough while also conveying a moderate enthusiasm for the music they were brought up with or became obsessed by. Jerome had talked very specifically about one guest from several years ago a sociologist who after Jerome played a number of the songs couldn't stop himself from getting emotional and yet at the same time tried to explain the importance of the songs based more on professional training than personal experience. The main reason Jerome asked professionals wasn't because of their chosen area of expertise but that he found, since they were used to presenting material to a classroom or a group, they could also do so to a wider public without too many hesitations, pauses and fillers that could ruin a show. But he also wanted from them a passion that he supposed they rarely offered in a room full of students or colleagues an enthusiasm that could be associated with biographical experiences that needn't be overly personal.
This professor started by saying one of his favourite songs was by the Cocteau Twins and Jerome had found a recording from a 1983 concert they gave in Paris. He knew from a remark the professor had made, when they met in a cafe not far from the man's apartment in the 11th arrondissement a few days before the programme, that he had been there and that it held complex memories for him. After the song had finished, Jerome asked the professor why it was such a great song and the man choked out a reply, saying that he had been there that evening and was surprised (possibly dismayed) Jerome had found and played that footage. He had been nineteen, went with three friends weeks after they had all started university, and it was there where he met someone who would be very important to him throughout his student days. Jerome knew very quickly there was a very painful story behind this but how could he manage to get the professor to talk anecdotally without exposing him to the sort of examination best reserved for a psychoanalyst's couch?
Perhaps had Jerome not started with this song by the Cocteau Twins the professor may have retained his composure throughout and only lost it a little at the end if Jerome had chosen it as the closing piece. It was a tactical error he said because then he spent the rest of the show trying to keep his guest's emotions in check rather than getting the man to open up with chatty anecdotes about why this song or that. Jerome felt that day he had violated another human being by playing a song from a concert that hadn't just revealed the professor's interest in the song but also his vulnerability towards his past. Jerome reckoned we all had this aspect; all of us have moments in our minds of experiences that, when recalled, bring out of us not a few contextualising comments but a chasm of feeling that requires an interlocutor of our choosing. I remember when Jerome told me this a couple of years ago I proposed he wasn't to blame: he didn't know it would lead to a man's minor breakdown in the studio. Jerome wasn't so sure when he mentioned that concert while they talked in the cafe he could see in the professor's face a twitch of disquiet and chose to ignore it; or worse, to exploit it.
When we next met, I reminded Jerome of the professor, of the time he felt he had semi-intentionally exposed one of his guests and he thanked me kindly for reminding me of it but said it in a rueful way that indicated there was humour in his remark but also an awareness of the underlying seriousness. He added that I didn't really need to remind him; he had thought about it himself on numerous occasions and might even think that it had since shaped his approach to the journalistic, even on how he looked at other journalists and documentary filmmakers who were willing to sacrifice an interpersonal communication for the needs of a broader story. Several people after the radio show with the professor reckoned it was the best he had ever done; one of them, a documentarist who was involved in making films about immigrants rights and who had humiliated a few politicians live on air, said it was very clever to start with a song from a concert the professor attended as a youth every song thereafter was a reminder of the wound Jerome had initially opened up. Brilliant he said, smacking Jerome on the back and saying he should consider moving into documentary filmmaking, adding that this type of cruel ingenuity is often vital. Jerome didn't know how ingenious he had been but cruel he couldn't deny however intentional or unintentional the consequence was humiliating another human being. He said he wanted to show me something. We were at that moment finishing off a beer in a half-empty cafe at Menilmontant. Most of the locals were on holiday and there was an elderly couple sitting a few seats from us who looked like they had been coming every day for decades. There were also two people at the bar who looked like they were friends of the person serving.
I drank up quickly as he said he didn't mean to rush me but we didn't have much time. Jerome seemed so perturbed I didn't ask why the hurry and followed him. Ten minutes later we were at Pere Lachaise cemetery. It was five-thirty and it closed at six. Within a few minutes we were standing in front of a grave and on it I read Philippe Moraud, 1961-2018. He was dead within nine months of the radio show and what Jerome couldn't have known at the time of the broadcast was that the woman Moraud had clearly been thinking of, when that first song played, was ill with a tumor that killed her three months later. She never married and neither did he. She never married because she never found a man she loved enough; he because he had found when young, the woman he adored and who wouldn't marry him. We left the cemetery in silence. I was too ashamed to add anything else (though I wanted to know how he knew this information; whether he attended the funeral) fearing that my earlier comments had returned to Jerome a thought he had been long suppressing after perhaps acknowledging it fretfully for an unhealthy period of time. But fifteen minutes later, as we started walking down Avenue de la Republique, apparently without purpose, he stopped abruptly and looked up at the apartments. He said that from the other side Moraud had jumped out of the sixth-floor window and landed in an empty courtyard. He was dead by the time the ambulance arrived, and neighbours heard for a minute low groans as they phoned the emergency services.
As we continued walking down the street he said nothing for a few minutes before, as we arrived at Place de la Republique, he added that it was the first time he had ventured along the avenue since he had heard of Moraud's death. He proposed as we kept walking through the square and onto his apartment halfway along Rue du Faubourg du temple that, as I well knew, he had for years loved to walk the streets of the city without a purpose, but there he had been with a negative one. While most walked through the city knowing where they were going; he enjoyed sometimes setting out in the afternoon and arriving home six hours later following whatever impulse took him. I knew in the past that he would be moving along one street, find someone interesting and follow them for a block before following someone else instead. He never felt he was stalking anyone; just that the curiosity they piqued in him left him literally following his ruminations as he ended up in parts of the city he wouldn't have imagined walking along only a couple of hours earlier. About a year ago he was doing exactly this when the person turned down Avenue de la Republique and he stopped as though he was following the person to their death. It was as if the vertigo Moraud must have felt standing on the window overcame him as Jerome stood by watching the person he was following carry on down the street.
Should he have felt so guilty? Wasn't Moraud's suicide associated with the death of the woman he loved and nothing to do with appearing on a radio show? Wasn't his exaggerated sense of responsibility a form of egotism? I didn't say this to Jerome Jerome offered the questions himself, as if repeated to me after they were rattling around in his mind since Moraud's death. All I could add was that I understood his guilt and wondered whether we should feel responsible in these instances that we perhaps exaggerate.
Jerome had planned to make dinner for the pair of us, an elaborate fish stew, but he said he was interested more in drinking than eating. We bought a couple of packs of fresh pasta from the supermarket, an accompanying sauce, some green salad, and two bottles of wine. The food took five minutes to cook and the wine we drank over the next three hours before Jerome brought out a bottle of whisky I had brought for him the previous summer. It was a rare malt from my brother's pub on the Isle of Skye, and when he received a case of it, he put aside eight bottles for the pub and four for himself and others. He knew I had a friend in Paris who loved Scottish music from the eighties and he said in return for a bottle he expected a show devoted to Scottish music of the time. Jerome did such a show, sent me the recording, and perhaps my brother listens to it at least as often as Jerome sips at my brother's whisky.
For most of the evening, we talked about films and music but when we started drinking the whisky I asked him to tell me more about Matteo. I asked Jerome how involved Matteo had been in the violence of the movement. Matteo mainly planned operations rather than executed them and often felt his purpose was to minimise the risk rather than maximise the profit. He chose banks that were low on security even if the funds were far less substantial than those held in vaults elsewhere. But one morning at around eight he received a call to say there was to be a bank robbery in the city in which he lived, in a bank that was holding very large of sums of money. He hadn't set up the operation and would have avoided doing so, but the robbery was to take place at eleven that morning and one of the four people who was to rob the bank had overdosed the night before and was still in hospital. Had he been a better driver he would have proposed that he take the wheel but the drivers they already had were people who had been racing cars since their late teens; Matteo struggled with three-point turns and parking in tight spaces. He didn't know how to handle a gun any better than he knew how to drive but he supposed that if he pointed it in a given direction he would look much the more professional than trying to drive through the busy streets of the city. However, though he practised with the others on numerous occasions as everyone in the movement had, he had never pointed one at another human being. He said maybe he could just fill the bags and that he wouldn't need a gun for that. No, the person said on the other end of the phone. If the police turn up we will need everyone armed.
Matteo had been involved in the movement for a couple of years, joining a few months before the Aldo Moro kidnapping, but up until that moment, even with Moro's death, he couldn't see what he was doing as anything more than improving society. He knew people were dying but whatever responsibility he felt he was far more inclined to focus on the good that was to come out of the society they were determined to create rather than the bullets that found themselves piercing people's bodies. But there he was, less than three hours away from pointing a gun in someone's face.
The operation was botched more in the planning than in the execution: the bank was busy, a police station was nearby and the vault was far from the front counter. The result was that they were in the building too long, out of the many people they had to keep watch over, one managed to raise the alarm, and while they were leaving the building a police car pulled up. As Matteo was about to get into the car, a policeman shot at him and Matteo fired back, shooting the man twice in the thigh. The car pulled away and Matteo was relieved the driver was far more competent than he had been but dismayed at what he had just done. The policeman had shot first; he was merely defending himself. But the bullets thumped hard into the man's leg and Matteo wondered whether the police officer would ever walk again.
A week later they were hiding out in a village somewhere in the south of Italy where the getaway driver was from. The environment was idyllic but their mood restless and irritated. The house was five miles from the nearest village and was in a state of disrepair but there were trees all around it with lemons, limes, oranges and olives. The driver's sister brought them eggs, bread, cheese and milk. There was no television but they heard on the radio that a police officer who was shot the previous week in a bank robbery had undergone an operation to remove his left leg.
The money from the robbery amounted to three hundred thousand euros and usually these funds would be used to pay for further operations but the four agreed there would be no more robberies or kidnappings and that they would have to go into hiding, try and leave the country. Matteo's share was about sixty-thousand and he thought of putting it into an envelope and posting it to the hospital where the cop was now lying with only one leg. Did he not do so out of an understandable fear that it would somehow be traced back to him or was he pragmatically aware that his new life would require initial funding, and the equivalent of sixty-thousand Euros then was a lot of money, worth close to a million today? He didn't want to benefit from the cash but what else could he do? He took two thousand euros which was the sum of money he had in his own bank account, and then left the remaining amount of cash with the other gang members. He then crossed the border into France and through various contacts in the country found himself living in the north, in a village called Ballieul. As he worked in hard jobs for a decade, first on the milk round and then picking fruit, he tried to convince himself this was the hard labour he would have had to undergo as a prisoner, paying for his sins. And a sin he believed it to be even if he wasn't at all religious. As he was out in bone-brittle cold delivering milk, and later in the glare of a noonday sun grilling his back and neck, so he knew these were jobs that couldn't be done by a man who had lost one leg. His own limbs became luxuries he could never quite entertain as belonging to him since he was responsible for removing the limb of another. As Jerome played with the whisky in the glass, as I glanced at the clock which showed it was two in the morning, I thought of our perambulations, and the ease with which we could walk with the benefit of both our legs.
I was leaving on Friday and Jerome asked on Tuesday night if I wanted to see a film at Nicole's flat. He said he wanted to watch a Tarkovsky film. The box-set was in the apartment (he had been Matteo's favourite filmmaker) and I could choose which one. I met him over at the flat feeling at one moment as I walked there that I wasn't visiting Jerome in this apartment that I would peer into five years earlier but visiting Marianne in the friend's place we had stayed in. My culpability was weak next to Matteo's, insubstantial even next to Jerome's, but it co-mingled with loss and yet I'd never talked to Jerome about it, thinking that I might that evening after the film.
I had seen a couple of Tarkovsky films before but neither Stalker nor Andrei Rublev. I closed my eyes, pointed at one of the boxes and my finger chose Stalker. We closed over the curtains to block out the remaining light. In the film, the title character takes two people, a scientist and a writer, into an area called the Zone. It is a place as much mental as geographical and when they arrive there the stalker tells a story about a man who went to the zone and whose wishes came true. He became very rich and later ended his life. But what interested me even more than any story it was telling was the atmosphere, or perhaps more precisely the location. The film, Jerome told me later, was made in various places but one of them was by the river Jagala outside Tallinn, where a disused oil refinery and a paper mill that was still utilised, pumped out waste into the river. The character seemed immersed in a world that was utterly physical and thoroughly abstract, and the film was both hard to follow and yet constantly fascinating. At the end of it, Jerome didn't switch on any lights while we sat in the dark for thirty minutes. The lights were still off as he started to talk, and he told me about the location, about the river, the paper mill and the oil refinery, about the actor playing stalker who cried and got drunk when he thought the project wasn't going to go ahead, and he told me also about the belief people have espoused that Tarkovsky and others died because of their exposure to the chemicals while filming. However, Matteo never believed that Tarkovsky died because of filming Stalker but because of filming Andrei Rublev.
Jerome said that Nicole had told him Matteo died of bone cancer that initially started in the left leg, as she also told him about the Red Brigades, the robbery, and how a policeman had lost his left limb so many years earlier after Matteo had shot him. Matteo, she insisted, was not usually a suspicious man but he reckoned that this was his deserved destiny, that he reckoned he ought to die by losing his life as the man he had shot had lost a leg. He accepted the disease rather than fought it and said so often we don't realise how much the spirit of a deed becomes a material manifestation. And so Nicole told Jerome about Matteo's theory of Tarkovsky's death. It had nothing to do with the pollution the director was exposed to in Tallinn in the late seventies but instead the guilt that must have consumed him from making Andrei Rublev in the mid-sixties. in the film, a horse is deliberately killed on screen and though the director was well aware that this was a horse destined for the slaughterhouse the next day, that didn't excuse the cruelty involved as the horse was stabbed and then pushed down the stairs. If it is said in certain cultures that photographing you steals your soul, then maybe photographing the death of an animal, that you know will die for your film, steals your own, or turns the soul cancerous as readily as a polluted environment will. Is this not after all partly the message of Stalker, Matteo reckoned: that there is no discernible gap between thought and deed?
As we continued sitting in the dark, I wondered not only what was going through Jerome's mind but even what expression happened to be on his face. We sat like that for a few minutes more; eventually, he suggested making some tea. It was again two in the morning. He apologised for leaving us in the dark for so long after the film but he said it had moved him so much he was embarrassed to put the light on just in case I might have seen the tears running down his face, and yet here he was telling me about those tears. Were they the tears for the events in the film or for the events in several lives, in Tarkovsky's, in Matteo's, in his own? As he talked about Matteo and Tarkovsky how could he not also have thought about his own culpability that only days before he had told me about again? While Tarkovsky had filmed a horse's death, Jerome had recorded Monaud's despair, perhaps even helped reactivate it. These were musings I wasn't inclined to share with Jerome and not because I thought them and that I suspected he didn't, but because all I was doing in thinking them was imagining myself into his mind. There Jerome was only a few days ago for the first time able to walk down Avenue de la Republique and there he was a few days later unable to watch Stalker without crying. I am not so sure what I would have said to Tarkovsky if he insisted he deserved to die because of what he did to the horse, or to Matteo, if he said that his death was just reward for an earlier amputation, in some cosmic eye for an eye, but I believed however guilty Jerome felt, he was a victim not so much of circumstances but of consequences. What Tarkovsky and Matteo did was wrong in the very act; they harmed another fully aware of what they were doing as they were doing it. In Jerome's case, he unwittingly caused humiliation in his guest. Sure, he was looking for good radio but he couldn't have known the sound footage from an early eighties concert would impact so strongly on the professor. Jerome may well have been right that the show was one of the reasons why Monaud took his life. There were others too, and those others, and no more so than his ex-lover's death, were of more significance than Jerome's contribution, but it could be seen as a contribution nevertheless. Jerome may have exaggerated his impact but when comprehending cause and consequence there is no point denying an aspect of it because it leaves us in a bad light to do so.
But that leaves me thinking of where this story started and my own instance of unacceptable behaviour, a term that can seem so mild if the consequences are strong; so apt if they aren't. Between the trip to Paris where Marianne and I were staying in the flat upstairs, and the next visit at Easter where we stayed at the flat Marianne had recently rented, I started seeing someone else in Edinburgh. The affair with Marianne was always tentative and I assumed that since it was long-distance she may too have been sleeping with others during our time apart. I didn't think this was likely given Marianne's emails while we were in different countries but I claimed to myself that it was possible since I had started an affair. It justified my actions, thinking that she too had been cheating that Easter in the flat she had moved into a month earlier, and which she had decorated with my visits in mind, saying she knew I liked to breakfast by the window which is why the table was there, and where she had bought a projector so we could watch films. I told her that I was seeing someone else in Edinburgh. I didn't say anything in the first couple of days but as she seemed so sincere in her feelings towards me so I felt increasingly insincere in my feelings towards her. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy lying next to her in bed, get pleasure from our conversations or being shown parts of the city that were unfamiliar to me and that she loved. It wasn't even as if I was thinking very much about the person back in Edinburgh. It was that I felt like a liar in every word I offered because sitting behind them was what increasingly seemed like a secret I was keeping from her.
When I told her about this other woman, she sobbed like I had never heard sobs before. They seemed to come from a place of sorrow that could never have been put into words but could only come out of a sudden shock. I knew that there were details in her past that were very painful, and I may have been the only person with whom she came close to sharing them, but this only occurred to me after she sat by the window, seated at the table while I slowly extricated myself and walked around the neighbourhood for an hour. When I returned she said she appreciated my honesty but she would have appreciated if I had told her the truth as soon as I had arrived, or better still in an email months earlier from Scotland. If I couldn't find anywhere else to stay she said I could remain until my flight in five days' time but if I could sleep over at a friend's place that would be best. I stayed at Jerome's for the rest of the visit and didn't see Marianne again, even though I'd left a shaver and a tablet there. Jerome picked them up about eight months later. She invited him in and though the flat was a compact one-bedroom apartment she was clearly living there with someone whom she introduced as her partner. Handing me the items a couple of months afterwards, when I visited Paris again, he said she seemed happy, suggesting that I need no longer feel terrible about what I did. I was more relieved that she was okay than pleased that she was happy: as if towards her happiness I had no obligation while I did towards her potential unhappiness. If she was lucky to have found love again, I was lucky to have avoided the consequences of my actions. My own affair lasted no more than a month after Marianne and I broke up: she went off with someone else and I saw it as nothing less than what I deserved. For a long time afterwards, though, I thought about the happiness Marianne and I did share and especially that Christmas staying in the apartment of her friend while the friend was in Barcelona.
I returned once more with Jerome to the flat below, before returning to Scotland and tried to explain to him that it was possible to get over a deed we feel guilty about if we can find the context even if we still feel terrible about the consequentiality. I was lucky with the consequences; he wasn't. I'd been thinking about this since we watched Tarkovsky's film, thought about how certainly Marianne's happiness made my own infliction of misery upon her seem insignificant but I had already found the means by which to minimise my guilt after my affair when the other person left me. I didn't suffer much from this loss but I perhaps suffered enough to protect myself from feeling terrible about Marianne's pain.
He then admitted to me in all the years of our friendship he had told me only one lie and it concerned the shaver and the tablet. He hadn't taken them from her apartment eight months later but only a few weeks after Marianne and I had broken up. She came to his flat with them and she stayed the night. They didn't sleep together but that evening she slept in the bed and he fell asleep on the chair. During that night they talked a great deal and she told him various things about me that he had never known. He said to her that she probably shouldn't be telling him such things but she needed to talk and it was as though the suffering I had inflicted upon her entitled Marianne to speak about things I would have been reluctant to share with male friends. He had perhaps even instigated her confessions by showing her photos of him and me from years earlier. He said that Marianne's visit was only a week or two before he met Monaud in the cafe to talk about the programme and Jerome believed that one reason he played the Cocteau Twins concert was that he was thinking about how past documents (photographs, recordings) can trigger traumatic memories. When in the cafe Monaud discussed with him aspects of his life, he sensed that the vulnerability Monaud was expressing could be emphasised still more by a recording from his past and so he would use deliberately the past with Monaud as he had accidentally done so with Marianne.
I didn't know whether to feel angry with Marianne or Jerome, or to feel pity that Jerome's small lie to me, though extended over time, was so enmeshed in the life and death of somebody he barely knew but who had made for several years Paris a city that was no longer so easily Jerome's own. Leaving the apartment I looked up at the one several floors above and the memories were no longer the same, though I didn't quite believe that they would be so infiltrated by this new knowledge that I would need to avoid the street in future visits to the city. I did wonder, however, as Jerome and I walked some of the way home before taking our divergent paths, if I should thank him or otherwise for the lie he told me, thinking perhaps he did so because he knew that exposing the truth in the form of recorded footage did Monaud no good at all. I thought about this all the way back to the flat in the 5th and occasionally for a few days thereafter, back in Scotland, thinking too of Matteo who may have been the noblest character in this convoluted tale and also the most guilty.
© Tony McKibbin