Excerpt 13 from Nick Alexander’s gripping 13:55 Eastern Standard Time.
More Myself Or Less Myself
Veronique sits on the red Ikea sofa, the box of photos between her legs. She swallows hard and pulls another cliché from the box. This time it shows Jacques sitting on a donkey, grinning madly. His legs look pale and spindly, his eyes – terrified.
She pulls another from the box. Jacques in a sombre blue suit standing next to their artist friend, Federico at a private view. Dressed up, Jacques looks tall and proud, noble even. He holds himself differently when he wears a suit; she likes it. She has tried to get him to dress up more often, but he says it’s not him, says it makes him feel like a bank manager.
She runs a finger across the photo and something stirs within – whether it’s love or desire she’s not quite sure.
She wipes a hand across her mouth, and blinks to dispel a forming tear. So much time together, so many memories. And the truth is that it really isn’t all bad – far from it. And after five years together – fifteen percent of her entire life thus far – five years of holidays and shopping trips, birthdays and arguments… After all that, Jacques feels like a part of her.
The idea of leaving him, though, feels liberating all the same, feels like a last chance for a different life, a better life.
Opportunity served up on a plate. A final chance to be who she really is, to return to the source of who, or what, Véronique Delanoe is, was, can be. Young and proud and independent again. Sad and lonely and scared again.
She thinks of a song lyric, an English lyric from her favourite band, Everything But The Girl. – How am I without you? Am I more myself or less myself? I feel younger, louder, like I don’t always connect.
She realises that she is staring at the wall, and pulls her focal point back to the box of photos and delves anew.
She and Jacques in Venice, laughing – rather stupidly it seems now – at the unknown delay of the self-timer on the camera. They had a big row right afterwards; but even that, even the arguments, even Jacques’ own failings feel like they belong, feel almost as much a part of her as her own shortcomings, and God knows, she has plenty.
But some things can’t be forgiven can they? Not without loss of face by the forgiving party. One can’t, surely, accept anything, everything, can one? And if she does? If she does just say, “Whatever you have done, I forgive you, I want you so much, I love you so much, that I accept your failure. I would rather live with the disappointment of who you are than find myself alone again.” Well what does that make her? Forgiving? Broad-minded? Or just desperate, needy, co-dependant?
She slides the picture back in and flips quickly through a wad of dull photos – a holiday house, a dog, a car… And then, there it is – the perfect allegory for their relationship.
She is on the right, looking confused or puzzled by something happening off-frame. Jacques is standing, hands in pockets on the left, smiling the cheap plastic smile of holiday shots. And beside him, too blurred to make out, someone else, blurred because she’s moving into, or out of the picture – the unknown woman. Véronique wonders. Is she moving into, or out of the picture?
Catch up | Part one Eight Million | Part two Ok Sticker | Part three 13:55 Eastern Standard Time | Part four Slipping through | Part five A bus in Berlin | Part six A Really Good Decision | Part seven Yanks and Paddies | part eight Frozen | part nine The slowlands | Part ten Caravan Of Hope | Part 11 Not Quite Unhappy | Part 12 Virtual Reality