THEY WERE LIVING at le Grau du Roi then and the hotel was on a canal that ran from the walled city of Aigues Mortes straight down to the sea. They could see the towers of Aigues Mortes across the low plain of the Camargue and they rode there on their bicycles at some time of nearly every day along the white road that bordered the canal. In the evenings and the mornings when there was a rising tide sea bass would come into it and they would see the mullet jumping wildly to escape from the bass and watch the swelling bulge of the water as the bass attacked.
A jetty ran out into the blue and pleasant sea and they fished from the jetty and swam on the beach and each day helped the fishermen haul in the long net that brought the fish up onto the long sloping beach. They drank aperitifs in the cafe on the corner facing the sea and watched the sails of the mackerel fishing boats out in the Gulf of Lions. It was late in the spring and the mackerel were running and fishing people of the port were very busy. It was a cheerful and friendly town and the young couple liked the hotel, which had four rooms upstairs and a restaurant and two billiard tables downstairs facing the canal and the light house. The room they lived in looked like the painting of Van Gogh's room at Arles except there was a double bed and two big windows and you could look out across the water and the marsh and sea meadows to the white town and bright beach of Palavas.
They were always hungry but they ate very well. They were hungry for breakfast which they ate at the cafe, ordering brioche and cafe au lait and eggs, and the type of preserve that they chose and the manner in which the eggs were to be cooked was an excitement. They were always so hungry for breakfast that the girl often had a headache until the coffee came. But the coffee took the headache away. She took her coffee without sugar and the young man was learning to remember that.
On this morning there was brioche and red raspberry preserve and the eggs were boiled and there was a pat of butter that melted as they stirred them and salted them lightly and ground pepper over them in the cups. They were big eggs and fresh and the girl's were not cooked quite as long as the young man's. He remembered that easily and he was happy with his which he diced up with the spoon and ate with only the flow of the butter to moisten them and the fresh early morning texture and the bite of the coarsely ground pepper grains and the hot coffee and the chickory-fragrant bowl of cafe au lait.
The fishing boats were well out. They had gone out in the dark with the first rising of the breeze and the young man and the girl had wakened and heard them and then curled together under the sheet of the bed and slept again. They had made love when they were half awake with the light bright outside but the room still shadowed and then had lain together and been happy and tired and then made love again. Then they were so hungry that they did not think they would live until breakfast and now they were in the cafe eating and watching the sea and the sails and it was a new day again.
"What are you thinking?" the girl asked.
"You have to think something."
"I was just feeling."
"But I get so hungry," she said. "Is it normal do you think? Do you always get so hungry when you make love?"
"When you love somebody."
"Oh, you know too much about it," she said.
"I don't care. I love it and we don't have to worry about any thing do we?"
"What do you think we should do?"
"I don't know," he said. "What do you?"
"I don't care at all. If you'd like to fish I should write a letter or maybe two and then we could swim before lunch."
"To be hungry?"
"Don't say it. I'm getting hungry already and we haven't finished breakfast."
"We can think about lunch."
"And then after lunch?"
"We'll take a nap like good children."
"That's an absolutely new idea," she said. "Why have we never thought of that?"
"I have these flashes of intuition," he said. "I'm the inventive type.
"I'm the destructive type," she said. "And I'm going to destroy you. They'll put a plaque up on the wall of the building outside the room. I'm going to wake up in the night and do something to you that you've never even heard of or imagined. I was going to last night but I was too sleepy."
"You're too sleepy to be dangerous."
"Don't lull yourself into any false security. Oh darling let's have it hurry up and be lunch time."
They sat there in their striped fishermen's shirts and the shorts they had bought in the store that sold marine supplies, and they were very tan and their hair was streaked and faded by the sun and the sea. Most people thought they were brother and sister until they said they were married. Some did not believe that they were married and that pleased the girl very much.
In those years only a very few people had ever come to the Mediterranean in the summer time and no one came to le Grau du Roi except a few people from Nimes. There was no casino and no entertainment and except in the hottest months when people came to swim there was no one at the hotel. People did not wear fishermen's shirts then and this girl that he was married to was the first girl he had ever seen wearing one. She had bought the shirts for them and then had washed them in the basin in their room at the hotel to take the stiffness out of them. They were stiff and built for hard wear but the washings softened them and now they were worn and softened enough so that when he looked at the girl now her breasts showed beautifully against the worn cloth.
No one wore shorts either around the village and the girl could not wear them when they rode their bicycles. But in the village it did not matter because the people were very friendly and only the local priest disapproved. But the girl went to mass on Sunday wearing a skirt and a long-sleeved cashmere sweater with her hair covered with a scarf and the young man stood in the back of the church with the men. They gave twenty francs which was more than a dollar then and since the priest took up the collection himself their attitude toward the church was known and the wearing of shorts in the village was regarded as an eccentricity by foreigners rather than an attempt against the morality of the ports of the Camargue. The priest did not speak to them when they wore shorts but he did not denounce them and when they wore trousers in the evening the three of them bowed to each other.
"I'll go up and write the letters," the girl said and she got up and smiled at the waiter and went out of the cafe.
"Monsieur is going to fish?" the waiter asked when the young man, whose name was David Bourne, called him over and paid him.
"I think so. How is the tide?"
"This tide is very good," the waiter said. "I have some bait if you want it."
"I can get some along the road."
"No. Use this. They're sandworms and there are plenty."
"Can you come out?"
"I'm on duty now. But maybe I can come out and see how you do. You have your gear?"
"It's at the hotel."
"Stop by for the worms.
At the hotel the young man wanted to go up to the room and see the girl but instead he found the long, jointed bamboo pole and the basket with his fishing gear behind the desk where the room keys hung and went back out into the brightness of the road and on down to the cafe and out onto the glare of the jetty. The sun was hot but there was a fresh breeze and the tide was just starting to ebb. He wished that he had brought a casting rod and spoons so that he might cast out across the flow of the water from the canal over the rocks on the far side but instead he rigged his long pole with its cork and quill float and let a sandworm float gently along at a depth where he thought fish might be feeding.
He fished for some time with no luck and watched the mackerel boats tacking back and forth out on the blue sea and the shadows the high clouds made on the water. Then his float went under in a sharp descent with the line angling stiffly and he brought the pole up against the pull of a fish that was strong and driving wildly and making the line hiss through the water. He tried to hold it as lightly as he could and the long pole was bent to the breaking point of the line and trace by the fish which kept trying to go toward the open sea. The young man walked with him on the jetty to ease the strain but the fish kept pulling so that as he drove a quarter of the rod was forced under water.
The waiter had come from the cafe and was very excited. He was talking by the young man's side saying, "Hold him. Hold him. Hold him as softly as you can. He'll have to tire. Don't let him break. Soft with him. Softly. Softly."
There was no way the young man could be softer with him except to get into the water with the fish and that did not make sense as the canal was deep. If I could only walk along the bank with him, he thought. But they had come to the very end of the jetty. More than half the pole was under water now.
"Just hold him softly," the waiter pleaded. "It's a strong trace." The fish bored deep, ran, zig-zagged and the long bamboo pole bent with his weight and his rapid, driving strength. Then he came up thrashing at the surface and then was down again and the young man found that although the fish felt as strong as ever the tragic violence was lessened and now he could be led around the end of the jetty and up the canal.
"Softly does it," the waiter said. "Oh softly now. Softly for us all."
Twice more the fish forced his way out to the open sea and twice the young man led him back and now he was leading him gently along the jetty toward the cafe.
"How is he?" asked the waiter.
"He's fine but we've beaten him."
"Don't say it," the waiter said. "Don't say it. We must tire him. Tire him. Tire him."
"He's got my arm tired," the young man said.
"Do you want me to take him?" the waiter asked hopefully.
"My God no."
"Just easy, easy, easy. Softly, softly, softly," the waiter said.
The young man worked the fish past the terrace of the cafe and into the canal. He was swimming just under the surface but was still strong and the young man wondered if they would take him all the way up the canal through the length of the town. There were many other people now and as they went by the hotel the girl saw them out of the window and shouted, "Oh what a wonderful fish! Wait for me! Wait for me!"
She had seen the fish clearly from above and his length and the shine of him in the water and her husband with the bamboo pole bent almost double and the procession of people following. When she got down to the canal bank and, running, caught up with the people, the procession had stopped. The waiter was in the water at the edge of the canal and her husband was guiding the fish slowly against the bank where there was a clump of weeds growing. The fish was on the surface now and the waiter bent down and brought his hands together from either side and then lifted the fish with his thumbs in both his gills and moved up the bank of the canal with him. He was a heavy fish and the waiter held him high against his chest with the head under his chin and the tail flopping against his thighs.
Several men were pounding the young man on the back and putting their arms around him and a woman from the fish market kissed him. Then the girl had her arms around him and kissed him and he said, "Did you see him?"
Then they all went over to see him laid out on the side of the road silver as a salmon and dark gunmetal shining on his back. He was a handsome beautifully built fish with great live eyes and he breathed slowly and brokenly.
"What is he?"
"A loup," he said. "That's a sea bass. They call them bar too. They're a wonderful fish. This is the biggest one I've ever seen.
The waiter, whose name was Andre, came over and put his arms around David and kissed him and then he kissed the girl.
"Madame, it is necessary," he said. "It is truly necessary. No one ever caught such a fish on such tackle."
"We better have him weighed," David said.
They were at the cafe now. The young man had put the tackle away, after the weighing, and washed up and the fish was on a block of ice that had come in the camion from Nimes to ice the mackerel catch. The fish had weighed a little over fifteen pounds. On the ice he was still silver and beautiful but the color on his back had changed to gray. Only his eyes still looked alive. The mackerel fishing boats were coming in now and the women were unloading the shining blue and green and silver mackerel from the boats into baskets and carrying the heavy baskets on their heads to the fish house. It was a very good catch and the town was busy and happy.
"What are we going to do with the big fish?" the girl asked.
"They're going to take him in and sell him," the young man said. "He's too big to cook here and they say it would be wicked to cut him up. Maybe he'll go right up to Paris. He'll end in some big restaurant. Or somebody very rich will buy him."
"He was so beautiful in the water," she said. "And when Andre held him up. I couldn't believe him when I saw him out of the window and you with your mob following you."
"We'll get a small one for us to eat. They're really wonderful. A small one ought to be grilled with butter and with herbs. They're like striped bass at home."
"I'm excited about the fish," she said. "Don't we have wonder ful simple fun?"
They were hungry for lunch and the bottle of white wine was cold and they drank it as they ate the celery remoulade and the small radishes and the home pickled mushrooms from the big glass jar. The bass was grilled and the grill marks showed on the silver skin and the butter melted on the hot plate. There was sliced lemon to press on the bass and fresh bread from the bakery and the wine cooled their tongues of the heat of the fried potatoes. It was good light, dry, cheerful unknown white wine and the restaurant was proud of it.
"We're not great conversationalists at meals," the girl said. "Do I bore you, darling?"
The young man laughed.
"Don't laugh at me, David."
"I wasn't. No. You don't bore me. I'd be happy looking at you if you never said a word."
He poured her another small glass of the wine and filled his own.
"I have a big surprise. I didn't tell you, did I?" the girl said.
"What sort of surprise?"
"Oh it's very simple but it's very complicated."
"No. You might like it and maybe you couldn't stand it."
"It sounds too dangerous."
"It's dangerous," she said. "But don't ask me. I'm going up to the room if I may."
The young man paid for the lunch and drank the wine that was left in the bottle. Then he went upstairs. The girl's clothes were folded on one of the Van Gogh chairs and she was waiting for him in the bed with the sheet over her. Her hair was spread out over the pillow and her eyes were laughing and he lifted the sheet and she said, "Hello, darling. Did you have a nice lunch?"
Afterwards they lay together with his arm under her head and were happy and lazy and he felt her turn her head from side to side and stroke it against his cheek. It felt silky and barely roughened from the sun and the sea. Then with her hair all forward over her face so it touched him as her head moved she started to play with him lightly and exploringly and then with delight and she said, "You do love me, don't you?"
He nodded and kissed the top of her head and then turned her head and held it and kissed her lips.
"Oh," she said. "Oh."
A long time later they were lying each holding the other close and she said,
"And you love me just the way I am? You're sure.
"Yes," he said. "So much yes."
"Because I'm going to be changed."
"No," he said. "No. Not changed."
"I'm going to," she said. "It's for you. It's for me too. I won't pretend it's not. But it will do something to you. I'm sure but I shouldn't say it."
"I like surprises but I like everything the way it is just now at this minute."
"Then maybe I shouldn't do it," she said. "Oh I'm sad. It was such a wonderful dangerous surprise. I thought about it for days and I didn't decide until this morning."
"If it's something you really want."
"It is," she said. "And I'm going to do it. You've liked every thing we've done so far haven't you?"
She slipped out of bed and stood straight with her long brown legs and her beautiful body tanned evenly from the far beach where they swam without suits. She held her shoulders back and her chin up and she shook her head so her heavy tawny hair slapped around her cheeks and then bowed forward so it all fell forward and covered her face. She pulled the striped shirt over her head and then shook her hair back and then sat in the chair in front of the mirror on the dresser and brushed it back looking at it critically. It fell to the top of her shoulders. She shook her head at the mirror. Then she pulled on her slacks and belted them and put on her faded blue rope-soled shoes.
"I have to ride up to Aigues Mortes," she said.
"Good," he said. "I'll come too."
"No. I have to go alone. It's about the surprise."
She kissed him goodbye and went down and he watched her mount her bicycle and go up the road riding smoothly and easily, her hair blowing in the wind.
The afternoon sun was in the window now and the room was too warm. The young man washed and put on his clothes and went down to walk on the beach. He knew he should swim but he was tired and after he had walked along the beach and then along a path through the salt grass that led inland for a way he went back along the beach to the port and climbed up to the cafe. In the cafe he found the paper and ordered himself a fine l'eau because he felt empty and hollow from making love.
They had been married three weeks and had come down on the train from Paris to Avignon with their bicycles, a suitcase with their town clothes, and a rucksack and a musette bag. They stayed at a good hotel in Avignon and left the suitcase there and had thought that they would ride to the Pont du Gard. But the mistral was blowing so they rode with the mistral down to Nimes and stayed there at the Imperator and then had ridden down to Aigues Mortes still with the heavy wind behind them and then on to le Grau du Roi. They had been there ever since.
It had been wonderful and they had been truly happy and he had not known that you could love anyone so much that you cared about nothing else and other things seemed inexistent. He had many problems when he married but he had thought of none of them here nor of writing nor of anything but being with this girl whom he loved and was married to and he did not have the sudden deadly clarity that had always come after intercourse.
That was gone. Now when they had made love they would eat and drink and make love again. It was a very simple world and he had never been truly happy in any other. He thought that it must be the same with her and certainly she acted in that way but today there had been this thing about the change and the surprise. But maybe it would be a happy change and a good surprise. The brandy and water as he drank it and read the local paper made him look forward to whatever it was.
This was the first time since they had come on the wedding trip that he had taken a drink of brandy or whiskey when they were not together. But he was not working and his only rules about drinking were never to drink before or while he was working. It would be good to work again but that would come soon enough as he well knew and he must remember to be unselfish about it and make it as clear as he could that the enforced loneliness was regrettable and that he was not proud of it. He was sure she would be fine about it and she had her own resources but he hated to think of it, the work, starting when they were as they were now. It never could start of course without the clarity and he wondered if she knew that and if that was why she drove beyond what they had for something new that nothing could break. But what could it be? They could not be held tighter together than they were now and there was no bad ness afterwards. There was only happiness and loving each other and then hunger and replenishing and starting over.
He found that he had drunk the fine a l'eau and that it was getting late in the afternoon. He ordered another and started to concentrate on the paper. But the paper did not interest him as it should and he was looking out at the sea with late afternoon sun heavy on it when he heard her come into the cafe and say in her throaty voice, "Hello darling."
She came quickly to the table and sat down and lifted her chin and looked at him with the laughing eyes and the golden face with the tiny freckles. Her hair was cropped as short as a boy's. It was cut with no compromises. It was brushed back, heavy as always, but the sides were cut short and the ears that grew close to her head were clear and the tawny line of her hair was cropped close to her head and smooth and sweeping back. She turned her head and lifted her breasts and said, "Kiss me please."
He kissed her and looked at her face and at her hair and he kissed her again.
"Do you like it? Feel it how smooth. Feel it in back," she said.
He felt it in back.
"Feel on my cheek and feel in front of my ear. Run your fingers up at the sides."
"You see," she said. "That's the surprise. I'm a girl. But now I'm a boy too and I can do anything and anything and anything."
"Sit here by me," he said. "What do you want, brother."
"Oh thank you," she said. "I'll take what you're having. You see why it's dangerous, don't you?"
"Yes. I see.
"But wasn't I good to do it?"
"Not maybe. No. I thought about it. I've thought all about it. Why do we have to go by everyone else's rules? We're us.
"We were having a good time and I didn't feel any rules."
"Would you please just put your hand over it again."
He did and he kissed her.
"Oh you're sweet," she said. "And you do like it. I can feel and I can tell. You don't have to love it. Just like it at first."
"I like it," he said. "And you have such a beautifully shaped head that it is very beautiful with the lovely bones of your face."
"Don't you like it at the sides?" she asked. "It isn't faked or phony. It's a true boy's haircut and not from any beauty shop."
"Who cut it?"
"The coiffeur at Aigues Mortes. The one who cut your hair a week ago. You told him how you wanted yours cut then and I told him to cut mine just the same as yours. He was very nice and wasn't at all surprised. He wasn't worried at all. He said exactly like yours? And I said exactly. Doesn't it do anything to you, David?"
"Yes," he said.
"Stupid people will think it is strange. But we must be proud. I love to be proud."
"So do I," he said. "We'll start being proud now.
They sat there in the cafe and watched the reflection of the setting sun over the water and watched the dusk come to the town and they drank the fine l'eau. People came by the cafe without being rude to see the girl because they had been the only foreigners in the village and had been there now nearly three weeks and she was a great beauty and they liked her. Then there had been the big fish today and ordinarily there would have been much talk about that but this other was a big thing in the village too. No decent girls had ever had their hair cut short like that in this part of the country and even in Paris it was rare and strange and could be beautiful or could be very bad. It could mean too much or it could only mean showing the beautiful shape of a head that could never be shown as well.
They ate a steak for dinner, rare, with mashed potatoes and flageolets and a salad and the girl asked if they might drink Tavel. "It is a great wine for people that are in love," she said.
She had always looked, he thought, exactly her age which was now twenty-one. He had been very proud of her for that. But tonight she did not look it. The lines of her cheekbones showed clear as he had never seen them before and she smiled and her face was heartbreaking.
In the room it was dark with only a little light from outside. It was cool now with the breeze and the top sheet was gone from the bed.
"Dave, you don't mind if we've gone to the devil, do you?"
"No, girl," he said.
"Don't call me girl."
"Where I'm holding you you are a girl," he said. He held her tight around her breasts and he opened and closed his fingers feeling her and the hard erect freshness between his fingers.
"They're just my dowry," she said. "The new is my surprise. Feel. No leave them. They'll be there. Feel my cheeks and the back of my neck. Oh it feels so wonderful and good and clean and new. Please love me David the way I am. Please under stand and love me."
He had shut his eyes and he could feel the long light weight of her on him and her breasts pressing against him and her lips on his. He lay there and felt something and then her hand holding him and searching lower and he helped with his hands and then lay back in the dark and did not think at all and only felt the weight and the strangeness inside and she said, "Now you can't tell who is who can you?"
"You are changing," she said. "Oh you are. You are. Yes you are and you're my girl Catherine. Will you change and be my girl and let me take you?"
"No. I'm Peter. You're my wonderful Catherine. You're my beautiful lovely Catherine. You were so good to change. Oh thank you, Catherine, so much. Please understand. Please know and understand. I'm going to make love to you forever."
At the end they were both dead and empty but it was not over. They lay side by side in the dark with their legs touching and her head was on his arm. The moon had risen and there was a little more light in the room. She ran her hand exploringly down over his belly without looking and said, "You don't think I'm wicked?"
"Of course not. But how long have you thought about that?"
"Not all the time. But quite a lot. You were so wonderful to let it happen."
The young man put his arms around the girl and held her very tight to him and felt her lovely breasts against his chest and kissed her on her dear mouth. He held her close and hard and inside himself he said goodbye and then goodbye and goodbye.
"Let's lie very still and quiet and hold each other and not think at all," he said and his heart said goodbye Catherine good bye my lovely girl goodbye and good luck and goodbye.