(Bev and Carol are characters from my two novels: 'One Summer in France' and its sequel 'Bunny on a Bike'.)
A French lesson
I looked about me. It was difficult to see the world as a bright and shiny place, when Jean-Paul Sartre had wheedled his way inside my brain. ‘Huis Clos’, on the beach. I looked around at some of the people, trying to decide which of them I would mind being locked up with for eternity.
‘What rubbish are you reading now?’ asked Carol, sleepily.
‘It’s a play about three people who are locked in a room together.’
‘It doesn’t say.’ It was a good question.
‘Tell me what happens.’ Carol wriggled a little and readied herself for some entertainment.
‘Okay. It’s supposed to be about hell. The title means ‘No Exit’. Have you heard of existentialism?’
‘Just get on with it!’
This meant she hadn’t, or like me, didn’t really get it. ‘There are two women and one man and they hate each other. The idea is that putting them together will create a personalised hell.’
‘Christ! I can think of a couple of people I wouldn’t want to be locked up with!’
‘Anyway, the upshot is that we are supposed to consider the fact that we are all free and responsible for our own lives, but that we rely on other people or even a little voice inside our own head to spoil our freedom by defining us and everything we do. Oh, and existence itself is meaningless.’
‘Is it French?’
She nodded. ‘Right! So, what you’re saying is that, if I pick my nose, I only feel bad about it if someone sees me and I see that they see me?’
I thought for a moment. ‘Yeah, I think so. Or, you could be self-conscious and see yourself.’
‘Sounds as though Jean-Paul had too much time on his hands,’ said Carol, having lost interest.
I re-opened my book, exercising my freedom to do as I pleased, with my friend’s comments niggling somewhere at the back of my otherwise pure and unencumbered mind. I was soon back in hell and appalled at Estelle’s blatant sexual advances towards Garcin in front of Inez (a lesbian, and, admittedly, a bit of a tart herself). They seemed to be making it all much worse for themselves.’
‘Come on, then. Teach me something useful.’
Carol lay with her hands behind her head and not a stitch on. She was irresistible. It was another late afternoon at the naturist beach we had found by accident, in a bid to outrun a hoard of Japanese tourists and, much as I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of my French literature reading list, I really hadn’t the heart to ignore her. I decided to have some fun.
‘Okay. Let me see. Something useful. Right! Did you know that you can remove hair dye from your forehead with plain old milk? Works like a dream.’
Carol didn’t speak.
‘It’s really useful, actually -’
‘Stop! I meant, you incredible numbskull, teach me some useful phrases in French!’
‘Ha! Got you!’
Carol sat up. ‘What?’
‘I got you! This time, I got you!’ I was beside my new and very childish self.
‘What are you talking about?’ she said, but I knew that she knew she had been got. It was a rare victory. Sweet, and to be savoured.
Carol examined the white marks under her two silver rings, not looking up.
In an effort to remain blasé I picked up my book and pretended to read, snickering quietly.
‘Aren’t you going to teach me any French, then? You always say I should learn some and now, when I ask, you just muck about!’
I put down my book. ‘All right. Let’s start with something easy... J’ai faim. I’m hungry.’
‘J’ai soif. I’m thirsty.’
‘Good. J’ai chaud. I’m hot.’
‘Now you’re talking! J’ai chaud!’ Carol licked her lips in a rather sluttish fashion, if I’m being totally honest.
‘It doesn’t mean that kind of hot!’ I laughed and then I saw Carol smiling. It was the easy, mocking smile of revenge.
‘Got you back!’
‘I do really hate you!’ I said, categorically.
‘I know you do, you lovely tart.’
The sun was still delicious, even though it was past 9.00pm. Time to put on some pants, go back to the campsite and cook up some soup and rice, followed by Pop Tarts. A perfect end to another perfect day.
‘Bring Jean-Paul,’ she said. ‘Don’t want any other poor bugger to have to read his deadly book.’
I shoved ‘Huis Clos’ in my bag for later and thanked God (now that I had thought of him) that there were people like Carol in the world.
You can download more of Bev and Carol, young and carefree in the South of France, by clicking on the direct link to ONE SUMMER IN FRANCE, at the top right of this blog.