Finally Genica and Artaud emerged, carelessly dressed and uncombed and dragging their bags, though I noticed Artaud had taken the time to shave. He was always impeccably clean-shaven, every day, even when he wandered homeless around Paris. He trudged up to Desnos. “Can we go,” he snapped, “so I can have the pleasure of watching the old man hurl his damned soul past my face?” God, he had a way of putting things! Desnos contemplated the man sorrowfully for a moment, then slid his arm around Artaud’s shoulders in a comforting gesture.
“Yes, we’re leaving.”
Artaud moved to go to the car but the pressure of Desnos’s hand held him there. Avoiding that luminous gaze, Artaud looked down at the ground. “You know I’m always your friend,” Desnos said gently. “Besides, this is your chance, man. He’s your fucking father—he must give a damn! And if he doesn’t, well, don’t allow him an easy death.”
Artaud answered with a biting smile. “Have you ever known me to mince words?”
Desnos laughed. “No, not you!”
After tying our bags to the roof, we smashed ourselves into the car one more time and Roger drove. Desnos, positioned triumphantly in the front seat between Roger and Justine, beamed over it at us as Genica and Artaud and Louis and I shifted our bodies with increasing irritability, knocking elbows against elbows and ribs as the car bumped along. “Now, we’re not going to argue, kids,” he admonished cheerfully.
Genica spoke up. “Speaking of which, I wonder what was wrong with you men that made you start all that stupid fighting in the first place?”
“No lie! And they call women irrational!” Justine burst out. She stuck her nose in the air. “It must have been something primal—you know, one man gets angry, or jealous for no reason at all, and then the others start in. They—” and she turned around to deliver the rest of her sentence in my face, glaring at me, “—do that.”
The good citizens at the train station in La Charité stopped in their tracks to stare at the bedraggled group of young people who spilled painfully from their mud-encrusted car. As Desnos was freeing the rope that held our pile of bags on the roof, I took out a pen and wrote an address on the back of a scrap of paper from my pocket. “Here,” I said, handing it to Artaud. “This is the address of my aunt, my father’s sister, in Marseilles. If things at home become unbearable, don’t hesitate to call on her. She loves company and has little regard for formalities. Only be warned: once she has you trapped, she’s practically impossible to escape. She’ll stuff you full of cabbage rolls and complain how no one, especially me, comes to visit her enough.”
He smiled a little and accepted the paper. “Thank you.”
The unpacking done, Desnos shoved his hands into his pockets and began to glance around surreptitiously, his eyes alight with hope. I watched him out of the corner of my eye and Louis watched too, as Desnos backed up slowly until he stood against the wall that lined the street; cautiously, shoving his hands down further in his pockets, he leaned against that wall to glance around its corner.
Louis marched up to him. “Did you lose something, Desnos?”
“What? Nobody!” said the master of the non sequitur as he snapped upright again. While Louis stood looking at him, a flush crept up the poet’s cheeks. He gave us that silly grin and looked away.
“You don’t happen to know more about this ‘stolen car’ business than you’re telling, do you?” Louis asked.
Desnos smiled innocently. “It was a surprise, if that’s what you’re asking, but I happen to know more about a lot of things that I am not telling!”
Artaud said a polite farewell to everyone and Genica went with him as he walked into the station. Desnos’s smile faded, and I heard him swear beneath his breath as he watched the two leave. Perhaps the others thought I was going after them to say good-bye when I entered the station to buy my own ticket. Artaud yanked Genica into a corner near the ticket window and she obeyed, but reluctantly. Neither of them saw me, and I did not mean to eavesdrop, but as I waited in line I was quite near them. “Tell me you’ll wait, that we’ll be together in Paris this September,” he pleaded.
Genica sounded both surprised and resigned. “You still do not trust me?”
“I never felt that I had to ask before!”
I did my best to ignore this melodrama and bought my ticket. At the desk, I also dictated a telegram for my father: “Sell the land. I return soon.” Justine, looking wary, walked in also and stood at my elbow, staring down at my ticket to Vienna. “I am not going back with you,” I told her, leading her away from the couple until they were hidden from us. “I have some business in Austria. I’m going there now and will be back in Paris in about a week.”
“You’re not ever coming back, are you,” she said dully. It was not a question, and I could think of nothing to say to her. Her eyes glared back at me, accusing, and then her face crumpled into her hands. “Geoff—”
I was angry then; I wanted to shake her, ask her, Then why didn’t you fall in love with me? “I am coming back,” I said, reaching out to touch her elbow, but she pulled away.
“No, you won’t be back; you’ll withdraw, and this time for good. You’ll pull away the way that you always do, all the time.” She threw her angry, tearful face over her shoulder once more as she fled the station.
She wasn’t anywhere to be seen when I walked back to the car, but she had been there; the three men were standing in a huddle, talking softly as I approached. “Geoff, I need to speak to you,” Desnos said very seriously as he stepped forward.
I sighed. “Look, something came up, that’s all. It’s important.” Desnos’s face said clearly that he did not believe me and I lost my patience. “Oh, what did Justine tell you? She’s exaggerating!”
“She’s very upset.”