MAN IN RED

There’s something magical about the way blood looks under your fingernails. The way it collects in maroon near the inside of your fingertip, but catches more and more light as it reaches the top. The last time I had blood under my fingernails, I placed my hands up against the bathroom window where sunlight was flooding in. I placed my hands against the window, and the maroon I knew was no longer maroon, but rather… crimson. Yes, crimson! The kind of crimson that the ripe cherries of Southern France envy.

M. Canardi was his name. And it was a warm autumn evening in 1923 when I first met him. When I remember how exceptionally warm Les Baux-de-Provence was that very night, I remember Canardi’s cheeks: rosy and mysterious. You could never tell when he was uncomfortable or taken aback because his face had such natural red pigment. It made him look alive, and so much so that it gave him an air of murder. Almost as though his cheeks were red with the blood of those he had killed. And I suppose that’s what drew me to him on that blissfully eerie evening. His aura was one of intensity, enchantment, and arrogance all at once. Like my grandmother once claimed, clipping an exotic bird’s wings out of envy will do you no justice, because it is its belly that carries color. Well, this man carried beauty in the palm of his hand, in his posture and in the way his eyes traveled across women like he was in search for something. Or even hungry for it.

The Great War put all us writers in a golden daze. As America entered the Jazz Age, my colleagues and I thought it best we move to Europe; culture and literary intelligence seemed to thrive there. The “Lost Generation”, Gertrude called us. Well, I was anything but lost. In fact, it was only by situating myself deep in the heart of de-Provence that I came to find myself. I found myself in the endless hours I spent writing at a local café, where an old accordionist played a sad tune and the flower petals smelled of cigarettes. Drunkards sat aimlessly by the bar, laughing at their own emptiness and sizing up women as though looking for bait. But Canardi was different. Canardi was very different. And I remember exactly how.

“The usual, madame?”

“Non, non merci. I’m feeling a little different tonight.”

The waiter Gaston and I had gotten fairly acquainted with one another. He knew all about how I liked my coffee depending on the time of day I’d enter the café and why I despised sweet things like sugar. He once tried to suggest we engage in a sort of tryst, but I found a way to express my response. For the longest time he tended the bar with three fingers wrapped in spoiled gauze. Poor man.

“Something cold as death, please,” I said to Gaston with my eyes shut. The warmth in the air was fuzzing my train of thought. I hated when that happened. Gaston dried the last of a crystal glass set on the counter and immediately got to concocting my favorite kiwi smoothie. Ice, lots of ice. I like to deluge myself in the cold of a drink. Unless it’s winter season. Then I can deluge myself in the air.

Just as the blender calmed itself after the storm of crushing my ice, I heard the café door open. The owner had placed a little bell atop the door, not because the café did bad enough business that a customer walking in was anything to celebrate, but rather so that already present customers could get acquainted with new ones. She tried to create a friendly vibe around the café, this owner.

“One whisky on the rocks,” the man spoke. His voice was husky but steady. Gruff, but put together in a most elaborate fashion. Sure enough, he reached into his coat’s left pocket and pulled out a pack of Luckies. Funny. I had the same pack in my purse.

In my peripheral vision, I saw him scan the room. It was a quick scan, which told me he was dissatisfied with his findings. Two young lovers in the corner, speaking in fast whispers and holding hands. An old, willowed woman by the bar, voicing her troubles to Gaston who showed no interest in the conversation whatsoever. The old accordionist by the window, looking out at the quaint city and singing a sad song about a woman who drowned named Michelle. And myself. Three meters away from this striking man.

“Your drink, madame?”

“Ah, merci.”

I accepted the glass and quietly set it on the table, still caught up in the enchanting mystery of the man before me. I truly do not know what it was that drew me so forcefully to him.

I wanted to make him my own. To love him. Adore him. And kill him.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – ∞ – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

As the evening drew to a close and night arose from the lakes of de-Provence, I found myself trailing the meandering paths right outside the café. The interesting thing about these paths is that if you follow them for long enough you’ll end up in the heart of the de-Provence hills. A secluded haven. Not very many people know about this place. All the more reason to love it.

I strictly remember having a jazzy tune in my head as I walked. One of those annoying, loud and over-joyous tunes. In the midst of trying to pull that very song out of my mind, I heard the crunch of an old leaf behind me. Ordinarily, one would immediately turn around and put an end to their curiosity by identifying the source of that sound. Instinct. But I pursued my trail. Writers tend to do that, bend particular norms such as instinct and common sense for the sake of creative juice. I loved the thrill of hearing footsteps quickening in pace behind me. I loved the mental state this experience would soon leave me in, able to concoct the eccentric mixes of character, plot and allusion. A twisted mess is what I yearn for. Truthfully, in literature and in life.

I stopped walking. So did the stranger. I took a bold step backwards. The stranger did not move. Then all at once, sending an electric shock down my spine, the stranger yanked my left hand.

“Regarde moi,” the voice demanded. I took a deep breath, wiped the sneaky grin off my face and finally turned around. The man from the café. Dazzling.

With two firm hands, he pulled me towards him so that I could now taste the air of his breath. His nose inches away from mine. His eyes piercing through my soul. In one swift movement, his lips swooned down upon mine like a bird diving into water for its prey. How I enjoyed the fervor of his touch. Youth sprung from his embrace; it seeped through his heated cheeks. I will die for the thrill, I thought. I will die for it.

“You write,” said the man, in between sips of me. “I can taste it on your breath, this desire to create and destruct both at once.” I was enthralled. “Call me Canardi,” he continued to steer the ship of our chemistry. “I have written about you.”

Oh, the characters I’ll derive from this spirited encounter! Oh, the stories I’ll write and get sucked into! Oh, the art behind this madness! The man continued to travel the course of my lips. A foreign explorer granted free entry into native land. I know no heritage. I know no home.

Touch. Heat. Urgency.

How I would love to kill this man for my craft.

Desperation. Embrace. Mystery.

The slick sound of metal and steel.

Confusion. Persistence. Power.

I caught the smell of dominance in the air. He pulled out a menacing and undeniably beautiful knife from his pocket. With one of his hands cupped around my waist and the other pointing a weapon at my chin, I smiled. The somber smile of a novel read one-too-many times. He had established his presence by conquering my body. And now the hills of de-Provence would carry his victory for the entirety of existence.

I let a madman touch me. I let a madman consume me. And even though he dropped his knife and ran towards the abyss of time at the sound of nearby French hikers and even though the blood under my fingernails was indeed my own, I knew it at that exact moment. Or perhaps from the very start.

I had let a madman kill me.

 

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