For the first time in our friendship, I was really disappointed and vexed with Armand.
If it were Paris, I would probably have stormed out of the apartment, to wonder around the 6e arrondessiment, where we lived not far from the École. Losing and finding myself in the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés never bored me, and another nearby favorite destination to unwind was the Jardin du Luxembourg. But on the Île du Blachomme I could only cross its hundred meters until the other extremity, where I turned that strong, uncomfortable energy into very intense strokes. Getting hold of a new canvas, I stroked the night away, diluting my exasperation. I painted furiously, uncertain about what I was creating under the moonlight.
I don't know for how long I painted, but when I decided to return to my room - and after having checked at the fire pit that Armand was no longer helplessly sitting there -, while still going up the very first steps of the stair, I could clearly hear him crying at the front porch.
He must have heard my footsteps as well, because he swiftly retreated further to the veranda at the end of the corridor, facing his room.
I decided to go after him, even if his attitude of retreating indicated that he preferred to be left alone. But how could I go on praying "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes... May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes..." and leave my best friend crying?
I approached him carefully. Leaning against the rail, the light of a candle silhouetting his noble beauty with golden tones, he stared pensively in my direction.
"I'm sorry if I'm intruding, mon ami," I tried to be polite, having learned it from Armand himself, the prince, "but I'm not going to bed tonight before you tell me what's going on." I said, as I took seat in one of the chairs next to his room, acting perhaps inconveniently, a bit more like myself, the peasant. "I've been watching you crying from the day I've arrived, and you often look like a man defeated in the last battle of his life. Are you ill, Armand? Or what is it? I've just told you about that apparition that has impressed and touched me deeply, and you seemed disappointed, even half-hearted." I felt relieved once I expressed my own hurting, and from then on, it was only about my friend's feelings, and caring about him. "Do you regret having invited me here?"
Armand had stopped crying. Taking a deep breath, he took the chair next to mine before saying, "I'm sorry for that, mon cher Carlo. And I'm thankful you've come after me tonight. This is really difficult for me. Our friendship is so precious, and I'm terrified, at the thought even, that I could do or say something that would cause our parting... I don't want to lose you. Never. That would be the worst thing that could happen." Armand took another deep breath, relaxing, finally leaning against the back of the chair. "There is something I've always wanted to ask you... Why haven't you ever had a girlfriend, Carlo?"
I was surprised. That had probably been the most personal question Armand had ever asked me in years. We had spoken about the death of my parents, my quarrels with my grandfather when I had decided to leave our ancestral farm, most of my hurts and fears. But that was something new, and totally unexpected.
"I don't know." I replied, taken aback. "I have never thought about that. I guess the answer is of a practical order. I can barely take care of myself... how can I dare to have a girlfriend? And invite her to eat canned soup and sleep with the rats? Not even a hooker would do it, not for free. I guess it will happen one day, but I don't know when nor where." The night was silent and the world out there seemed so vague and empty and distant and timeless. "Can I ask you a question too, Armand? How haven't you married yet?" That was again my role. I had asked my friend a question, and he had returned a question to me. Now I'd have to extract his sincerity. "You were the one who had so many girlfriends during the École!"
YOU ARE READING
The Last CanvasSpiritual
A starving Italian painter flees Paris in the winter of 1974. His destination -- a tiny private island lost in the Indian Ocean. His destiny -- a soul-crushing love triangle with a French nobleman and a haughty Parisian intellectual. His fate -- inv...