And so the stage was set. Despite all his dreams, the waking hours of longing, and the conflict in his brain, he had committed himself to life elsewhere.
But it was not he who had made the commitment: it was if some mighty hand had flexed its fist and thrashed him into submission, and his consciousness had witnessed the entire event from outside his body. Getting married had happened so fast – he had no memory of having organised anything. Prue and her family, from a foundation of whispers and unheard phone calls, had conjured the entire event: the conceptual design of the invitation, the colour of the duck gravy, post event logistics and the rice confetti’s country of origin. Vietnamese rice was cheaper, but the working conditions of those poor people! The only thing he had to do was wear something nice and turn up sober.
Matthew and Prue Wilson. “What a lovely, young couple they made!” exclaimed intoxicated relatives. “Such a beautiful union between man and woman in the house of God,” the Priest said gesticulating at the cathedral ceiling. The eyes of the congregation that had drilled into the back of his head as he said ‘I do’ glazed with the potency of celebration at the reception tables; those knowing eyes, blinking their cheers into the newly weds’ lives, all reflected deliberate portraits of the fate that awaited Matthew. Each one of them had played their part in this morbid theatre, which had been orchestrated from the very beginning by Prue, her vicious mother and her entourage of speckled hens. They had all been there, ruffling their feathers and pouting their breasts in a fatuous interpretation of matriarchal dominance. Prue’s father meanwhile, Mr Godfery, the financier of the whole affair stood back in mild appreciation of his daughter’s achievements, muttering to himself themes of his revenge if ever his new son-in-law should cock up and betray the only heir to the Godfrey media empire.
“What is it Matthew? Don’t fall asleep again! We’ll be in Paris soon… on our honeymoon! Fantastic, isn’t it? You’ll love Paris, I just know you will.”
“You know how long they take to taxi to the terminal, just a quick power nap.”
“Oh, come on, darling,” Prue said, rolling her blond hair into a bun.
“You don’t want to be like that for the entire day – we’ve got lots to do you know. There are a ton of things I want to do while we’re in the city, and we’re only here for a week before we head off to Amsterdam!”
Matthew stumbled through customs carrying their cabin luggage. Prue, by virtue of a vague tie to her great grandfather had strolled through the gates fanning herself with an Italian passport. She was waiting by a café, a long cigarette in one hand and a caffe latte in the other, when he passed through the non-EU national gates half an hour later.
“Why couldn’t you come through we me? You’ve got an Australian passport too,” Matthew said, dropping the bags at Prue’s feet. “I don’t know why you insist on using the other one everywhere we go. You don’t even speak Italian!”
“I’m an EU citizen and here I have rights. Who knows how the Australian embassy will treat you when you need help.”
The taxi ride into the city was expensive and harrowing. The driver, a robust woman in flannel, darted between trucks and buses screaming interchangeably into one of her three mobile phones while the other two rattled on the dash board. Matthew looked across at Prue, who was gazing out the window into the Paris suburbs like an exile returning home.
In stuttering French, Prue tried to tell the taxi driver, who was still raving into her mobile phone, to drop them off in the Latin Quarter. The driver looked back at them in the rear view mirror and shrugged. Matthew handed over a note with the hotel address.
“I just don’t know sometimes,” Prue said, her shoulders drooping. “You make an effort to learn their language and they’re still not happy! Don’t tip her.”
Matthew turned his gaze to the traffic.
He couldn’t wait to kill her.
When they arrived at the hotel, Matthew tipped her twenty euros as Prue giraffed over the curb and into the foyer.
“Do you have a card?” he asked, sketching a rectangle in the air. The woman nodded and scratched a phone number on the back of an old metro ticket before catapulting the taxi back into the narrow street and around the bend. Twenty also went to the porter, who was sweating by the time he’d reached their suite with their luggage. Three designer suitcases, two suits, a zeppelin-sized camera bag and a two snowboards, just in case they decide to ‘hit the glacier’.
“So nice of daddy to organise a job for you, wasn’t it?” Prue said as she was going through the bathroom cabinets. Despite her family’s wealth and her unlimited access to it, she had an inflexible case of kleptomania, so severe and irrational it extended to things she’d already paid for but didn’t know it, such as hotel shampoos and shower caps.
“I’m not sure about the travel though. He says I have to fly to Auckland every other week.”
“What’s so bad about Auckland? Oh, never mind. Aren’t you getting ready? The car’s picking us up in fifteen minutes. I want to be on the Champs-Élysées before the sun goes down.”
Matthew ignored her and went out to the balcony. The view was stunning, he had to admit. The slate-coloured roofs of Paris swam beneath his eyes, splitting and winding every now and then around a spire or a spurt of green. A hum flowed through the streets, punctuated by car horns and exclamations in French; it was a hum that spoke to him of possibilities and opportunities, the tune of a billion buttons waiting to be pressed. Looking down to the street he saw a man carrying buckets of paint through the street; there was a gallery directly opposite the hotel that looked empty, outside stood a short woman wearing a strapless dress sucking urgently on a cigarette. About thirty metres, he thought. Cobblestones and bollards. He tapped on the iron railing like a judge affirming a decision. His wedding ring clacked dully on the metal.
“Matthew. Are you ready yet?”
“Perfectly,” he called out over his shoulder.