Chapter 23 here ... Chapter 25 here
Francine, Ksenia and Hugh went for a short walk in the forest in the morning and Ksenia thought it the most beautiful thing she had seen, after the beriozi, of course. Trees and rocky outcrops were the primary motif everywhere - this was Fontainebleau after all and even the feel underfoot was soft and yet crisp.
They went for a drive a bit later and saw a little chapel which she fell in love with immediately. It was a delight, a sort of holy series of farmhouses and outhouses.
‘What’s it called?’ she asked.
‘L’Eglise Anglicane de Fontainebleau on le rue des Provenceaux - just off boulevard Maginot.’
This didn’t mean a lot to Ksenia but she knew she loved this chapel. She asked if they could speak with the priest and was told it was Anglican and had a vicar.
‘Well can we talk to him?’
‘If you wish,’ Francine shrugged.
Hugh watched incredulously as she asked the chaplain, John, if he’d marry the two of them. The man was taken aback and asked a few questions. ‘Do either of you live here?’
‘Do you plan to live here?’
And so on and so on. Hugh wondered if he were ever going to be consulted. In the end, they agreed to pop down again the next day.
On the way back to the farm, Ksenia was dreaming and that was a turn-up for the books. That most dangerous of emotions, hope, was clearly in her eyes.
Francine picked up on it too and said, ‘You’re in the right country for this, Ksenia. Love, romance, anything becomes possible if you really want. But there are many lovely chapels. I’m thinking of the church in La Chapelle-la-Reine, south of Fontainebleau itself but that’s a long way from Barbizon, a grand affair with a lofty spire. Our side of the family were never Chapelains anyway.’
‘I love this eglise.’
‘I’m sure it would be possible if you really wanted it. Do you want this one, Hugh?’
‘I’m easy.’ He caught Ksenia’s look. ‘No, no, I really want. I’m desperate for it.’
Ksenia suddenly kissed him, then leant forward between the front seats and kissed Francine. Francine laughed.
Hugh asked if she, Francine, had a special person waiting.
‘Mmmm … in a way.’
‘He won’t propose?’ asked Hugh.
Francine chipped in. ‘Oh he wants, all right. I’m the problem.’ Her voice was lovely, silky and her dark brown hair matched the fern and earthen outfit.
‘You must adore that house of yours,’ said Ksenia.
‘Lodge, Ksenia, Lodge,’ corrected Francine, ‘on the route de la Glandée.’
Then reality hit home. ‘Oh Hugh, I have to get back to Shazhara. I’m on a commission and it’s about funding. They had to fight to get me a seat so I must be there. But we can come back and do this, da?’
‘Yes, love. We can come back.’
Francine now chipped in with a poem, in French, he remembered much of it and between them they translated roughly:
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.
Married when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind and true.
When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know.
Marry in April when you can, Joy for Maiden and for Man.
Marry in the month of May, and you'll surely rue the day.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you'll go.
Those who in July do wed, must labour for their daily bred.
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see
Marry in September's shrine, your living will be rich and fine.
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry.
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.
'September or some time in winter,' thought Ksenia. 'September might be best.'
'Good time for us,' said Francine.
Geneviève appeared in the late afternoon and settled in, then joined them all in the main living area for a supper. Unfortunately, Marc and family were going to be late packing and would eat before they came.
Hugh asked Geneviève if she loved it down here too. Francine broke in and said that Mademoiselle was from this area, from Barbizon itself, actually.
‘Ah, so maybe you like Rousseau, Michel and Millet.’
‘Do you like the naturalists?’ asked Geneviève, delighted.
‘I like Millet. I’ve wandered around Barbizon, you know - through this forest too, with bare trunks interspersed with boulders.’
‘You’ve been here before? That’s – nice. I like Millet.’
‘Have you heard of a Russian artist – Shishkin?’
‘When did he paint?’
‘End of the 19th century. His landscapes are natural.’
‘Do you like him, Ksusha?’
Ksenia looked across at her. ‘Of course. He’s one of our national artists and he’s a local too. His pictures have much light.’
Marc, Dilyara and baby arrived, were welcomed by Jean and came through to the main area. There was lots of noise, Hugh embraced Dilyara and congratulated her.
‘That linen for the bassinet was beautiful, Hugh, Ksenia.’ She turned and beamed at Ksenia. He'd actually forgotten about it.
‘All right, let’s see the baby,’ he demanded.
Ksenia was moved and asked if she could hold her for a minute. As for the baby herself, being the centre of attention obviously suited her.
Francine stood back in the kitchenette and smiled on it all. She loved the commotion, the meeting of friends, the repartee, the cut and thrust – all this was what she lived for, what the whole purpose of the Lodge was. She gave one or two thoughts to babies and had a quiet word to Jean about inviting the crew to stay on for two nights, not one.
After all, this might never happen again in their lifetimes for all they knew.
Jean thought he could get a day off, the others were working for Mademoiselle and the guests’ flight was not for two days. They could easily make it to Orly for the flight.
Next morning, the day was superb again and different people found themselves in different combinations as the day wore on – Hugh and Francine, Ksenia and Dilyara, Hugh and Geneviève.
Marc and Dilyara had gone back, they were fine and would make their own way to the airport.
Francine took Ksenia and Hugh down to the chaplain. They resisted more than a light tea, pleading the need to get back to Barbizon, so they covered the details of the service, dealt with the documents and all was underway for when the happy couple would return in September.
The evening came round, there was good cheer until late, Dilyara seemed to lap it up before dropping off to sleep and finally, silence descended on the household.
The following day, it was frenetic. People had to work, farewells were hurried, the guests went to the airport and flew, things returned to relative normal.
Anya, Viktor, Gulya and Hugh met at Giuseppe. Pizzas were ordered, champagne was bought, feasting began.
Viktor asked, ‘Man, are you coming back here to live or staying there?’
‘We have to return - there’s Ksusha’s position, you know.’
‘Are we invited?’ asked Anya.
‘Each person here has an invitation. We weren’t going to issue written ones. Not really done, of course but we’ve done it. Consider yourself invited.’
‘Will she wear white?’ Anya continued and Gulya was interested in this.
‘How should I know? I dare say she’ll think it out.’
‘Perhaps she could do with a little help, a few suggestions,’ said Gulya.
‘Well, let me ask her. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.’
There was a lull in the conversation whilst thoughts ran through everyone’s head and then Viktor felt he should toast the couple. ‘I don’t know if it will work out, Man. You know what our view was but if it’s possible, let it be a happy time. To both of you.’
Glasses clinked together.
Ksenia’s apartment had been cleaned out thoroughly, especially the bedroom. That bed had gone and he was having to look for a new flat too, not so easy with the change in the real estate scene in the past two years.
They decided they’d buy a new flat together after the wedding and before the baby.
Viktor’s and Anya’s warnings remained vivid though, in the back of his mind. At this time of planning, weddings, babies, new projects, the horror he knew she was capable of did not seem likely to arise. He knew how not to cramp her, how not to asphyxiate her and he watched his words at times.
Ksenia looked across at him this evening and thought that this was the best result she could have hoped for, given the circumstances. She felt that maybe the long drip, drip, drip of Hugh’s attitude into her was altering her perceptions bit by bit.
She hoped so.
Barbizon had been a shot in the arm, a real pick-me-up and that’s where she’d begun to believe, truly begun to believe that it was going to be possible. That’s when she saw a baby girl in her mother's arms in one of the shops and wanted one so badly. A boy, a girl, byez raznitsa, it didn’t matter to her. That’s when she saw that people could carve a good life out for themselves and it wasn’t necessary to be at the whim of evil forces the whole time.
The old cynic in her was still there, ready to whisper in her ear that it was going to be snatched away just as she reached out for it but she suppressed those thoughts.
She looked over at him and smiled.
He moved over, held her and looked into her eyes, a gaze she returned. He smiled. ‘Perhaps we’ve moved on from your Papa’s dacha outside Moscow. Do you believe we have?’
‘I do. Yes, I do.’
Her sickness at different times of the day was a concern and she felt a bit washed out but it wasn't 24/7 and there were times she wanted to make love gently.
This was one of them.
The day of the flight came around. One sad moment was that Viktor and Gulya couldn’t make it – she had a meeting in Moscow and he had an interpretation job in Prague, of all places. That’s how things go, unfortunately.
They’d come round to give their well wishes.
Anya wasn’t going to be able to either but then, at the last minute, she was given a few days’ leave and then, cruelly, it was withdrawn and she was sent to Moscow instead.
The evening before she departed, Anya and he were allowed down the road to a café to chat over old times but most of it had already been said. Instead, they just drank each other in and parted tenderly. ‘It might have felt strange to you, Hugh, if I’d been there behind you, watching my former man leave me forever.’
‘I’m coming back to Shadzhara, you know.’
‘And you’re in my heart forever. I know I’m in yours.’
On the day of the departure, Ksenia was lovelier than he could remember, in dark maroon ruffle wrap dress, allowing for the bulge, with scarf, largish navy grace coat and thick beret. Tights and boots completed the effect.
He wanted to know what else she'd packed away in the two travel cases. She had nibblies with her most of the time, secreted away, her hand would sneak into a bag and out would come a Mars Bar or some biscuits or whatever. What it did mean, of course, was that she was out to pasture in security, no one said anything but this freedom to move, to travel, was covered by some sort of pre-maternity leave.
The trip was pretty good, a bit of bounce over the Caucasus but apart from that - acceptable.
They touched down and were met by Geneviève and Louise, both nodding their approval of the Ksenia they now saw, which meant far more than words could have. Into the Citroen they got and they were on the way - not to Paris but further south. It had been left to Geneviève to arrange so they were both figuratively and literally in the dark, as night now fell.
Next morning was their only free day so after an inadequate French breakfast supplemented by boiled eggs, Geneviève’s concession, they stepped into the forest proper, with its dark brown beeches - and the grey, overcast sky made for a more subdued mood. Hard to know which musical composition to play if this had been a film. Sibelius and Tschaikovsky came to mind but this was France, after all.
They clambered over boulders, all except for Ksenia who took a regal path round them and deep they walked into the forest, conversing little.
Back at the Lodge again, tournados were washed down with a heavy red and the repartee went long into the night.
It had a different feel to the last time they’d been here and they hadn’t expected the same mood to be recreated but there was something else, something equally as nice but different.
Ksenia needed to lie down but when Hugh made to get up, Geneviève stopped him with her hand, saying, ‘Groom mustn’t see the bride.’ He thought Genie was a bit out with that but no matter. She took Ksenia through to the Gardener's with her.
Geneviève got in beside her and drew the duvet over them both. She ran her finger from Ksusha’s chin down her neck, over her chest, down to the stomach, only one fingertip touching, down to the navel and almost to her forest. ‘February, yes?
‘Merci. For all of it.’
Geneviève smiled and was content. She lay on her side, looking at Ksenia who grew a little self-conscious. ‘Why are you looking at me?’
‘Because you’re very beautiful and I understand Hugh more now.’
‘I’m scarred and pregnant.’
'Non, you’re beautiful and Hugh knows it too. I’d say he’s played his part in your beauty as well.’
‘Geneviève,’ she coughed, ‘we’re not, well, not as flowery with romance as you are here.’
‘I don’t know, I just wanted to say that.’
When the other didn’t reply, she looked over and Geneviève was pondering. ‘Who decided to marry - you or Hugh?’
Ksenia lay back, hair spread over the lace-edged pillow. ‘You know, I really can’t remember. Hugh was always one-on-one, despite appearances and I took some convincing but actually marrying - I think it was seeing that chapel really.’
‘I want to marry but Philippe doesn’t. It’s less of a tradition these days in this country and he certainly doesn’t want children.’
‘I’m not hearing wonderful things about your Philippe, Genie.’
‘He has a way with me. He can excite me. He knows what to do in situations.’
‘Does he love you?
She looked down at the bed. ‘That may come one day. You'll rest a little now?’
Ksenia nodded, Geneviève slipped back to the others in the main house. Hugh was putting wood on the fire and Jean was in the kitchen with Francine, getting more coffee ready.
Francine called over, ‘You’re always going to be welcome back here – anytime you wish.’
Hugh thanked her. ‘Now, this rule about bride and groom not seeing each other. Sorry but I need her and she needs me. Good night all.’
She was awake when he came through and the smile said it all. He did a few things and climbed in beside her.
‘You’re unsure about all this, Hugh?’
‘Not any more. You?’
‘Honestly, I’m terrified. But I’m sure it’s right too. Right for me, right for you. It’s what we’re going to do anyway because we want to do it.’
She looked across at him lying on his front, hands supporting his chin. ‘You look like a boy when you do that. Come over here.’
He'd learned to take advantage of these non-nauseous moments.
She dropped off and he looked at her for a long time.
Geneviève knocked next morning and announced, ‘You have one hour before breakfast.’
Ksenia said, ‘Reach under my side of the bed, Hugh.’
He jumped out, went round and pulled out a packet in brown paper. Undoing it, he lifted up a long, long woollen scarf in navy and maroon. Seemed to be a bit uneven in the stitching and he realized. ‘You - you actually made this?’
‘You cunning girl. You really made this?’ She nodded and then looked anxious. ‘There are one or two mistakes.’
‘It’s perfect, Ksusha. Thank you.’ He kissed her, went over to his wheelie case and brought back a package as well. ‘Here you are.’
She unwrapped it and stared at it. It was a porcelain doll, a girl figure, dressed in ornate folds of clothing, with frills and all that type of thing girls seem to love. A classic doll. She hugged it to her and then hugged him.
Geneviève had stretched breakfast to croissants and honey this time, with the mandatory eggs; they then did the necessaries and dressed.
By 11:00, they were ready to go, waiting for two cars from Paris, one with Marc and Dilyara who'd driven over from Prague, one with some of Geneviève’s girls.
The cars congregated, discreetly festooned. Greetings were exchanged and off they headed for the Anglican Chapel, a bumpy drive but they made it well within time - due to meet with the chaplain at 12:30, they had some fifteen minutes to kill.
The back entrance via rue de Fleury was a lychgate, beyond that the gravel path and then the chapel itself the other side of some outbuildings. If Ksenia was nervous she didn’t show it, the sky had cleared up, chilly but not drizzly.
Hugh watched her deep in conversation with Jean and Francine, Geneviève watched him watching Ksenia and noted his feeling for her, Marc and Dilyara went across but that left Geneviève and Hugh still standing near the vehicles, Genie took Hugh’s hands in hers, didn't really have anything to say but the smile said it all.
A couple of cars came into the carpark and Hugh grinned at the French concept of parking – leave your car anywhere was more like it. Ksenia, impatient to go through, called to them, then came over to get him but three metres away, she just stopped and wobbled, crashed to her knees and fell over sideways to her right.
He leapt to where she was half lying, Marc was almost there too, he cried out and then Hugh saw it – blood had seeped out through her wedding dress; it seemed to come from her heart. He dropped to his knees to support her head, talking to her, Marc had already called for help on his mobile, Genie took it and called a different number, quoted a code and that probably meant faster, Hugh had found the hole and called for two pieces of plastic, Marc sprinted for his car and opened his trunk, she was alive, his hands were full and he asked Genie to find the exit wound, she dropped to her knees and found it, he reassured Ksenia, she turned her eyes to him and smiled a small smile, Jean had returned and was cutting a plastic sheet at the cleanest part, Hugh called for two, one was given to Genie to close the back wound, Hugh undid Ksenia’s dress, apologizing and put the plastic on the bloodied hole, her breathing was already laboured and he held the plastic close on three sides, he looked into her eyes and kissed her, he saw the first blood seep from her mouth, her eyes glazed and he kissed the side of the lips quickly so she’d know, she slipped out of consciousness, he lay her back on the blanket Dilyara had brought, head to one side, he sucked blood from her mouth and other things too, Marc had started the chest pushes and he seemed to know his stuff, Hugh used a finger to keep the tongue forward, the blood was too much from the chest and it was choke on blood and do chest pushes or turn her over the whole way and let the blood drain, resuscitation won and Marc continued, Francine had been watching and now took over from Marc, Hugh tried to suck mess from her mouth but the blood had welled up completely and he had to let the hole open a little, telling Genie to keep hers closed, the medics arrived, took in the situation, the stretcher was brought and four of them did the move with very little movement, Hugh went in the back with them and Genie.
Everyone in the carpark was silent. Stone silent. The police arrived and they spent the best part of thirty minutes ascertaining, taking statements, measuring. Gendarmes checked the area.
In the ambulance, Hugh dared not interfere, they had I.V. in her and resuscitation was constant, it had to have been less than ten minutes and that was a boost for them all, as the ambulance siren went, they turned and almost the next thing they were in the casualty, the stretcher came out on its wheels and she was rushed down the corridor, into a side room.
Hugh was allowed but not Genie – they indicated the basin and the gloves. A nurse came over to him and put on the mask.
They worked and worked and there seemed to be movement. Hugh was in her line of sight, should she come back but back from the table, not interfering. He willed her back and then something he should have done far earlier, he prayed.
They didn’t give it away for forty minutes and they let him take her hand but it told him what he'd feared. He prayed for a flicker of an eyelid, they all knew the score, they let him have the moment of hope. He hoped that whatever state she was in, she would recognize the touch or if she was in the next state, she’d be seeing what he was doing. He looked at them and pointed to his lips, they understood and turned away.
He kissed her forehead and lips in the particular way they always had, hoping that that would register but it was pretty plain it was over. He looked up and saw Geneviève through the little square of wire gridded window – she was expressionless, she’d seen all. One of the nurses came to him and touched his forearm.
Oh hell, he didn’t know what came next, he didn’t know whether to stay, to make arrangements, he didn’t want her on a slab, he wanted to jump to the burial without the intervening stages, to get it all done and finished. He couldn’t cry, he couldn’t move.
He had to move. He had to … well, he had to take his leave. He didn’t have enough French to talk to them, so he called Genie but she was already in there, talking to them, telling them what she’d arranged, they nodded, he understood some, she now turned to him and put her hand out towards Ksenia, paused and awaited his permission, he nodded, she touched Ksenia’s cheek with the tips of her fingers and Hugh thought he saw a flicker … but no, no movement at all.
He asked at what point Ksenia had actually … departed, Genie translated. In the ambulance, really. So it had been quick - quickish anyway. Ksusha had been a tough cookie and she’d have remembered his face looking at her, she was not unhappy, he remembered that clearly; it was as though she accepted this and it was done with her man there, the ambulance had been quick; he asked Genie to ask what else could have been done differently and that took a minute. Hugh saw from their gestures and tone that they felt Genie and he had done all they could – he wondered how they could know.
Genie explained that she needed his permission now for them to take her. Genie knew the best people for this, there’d be respect, there had to be a time now, overnight in fact, in which he could not be with her. They had to prepare her and make it all a bit more pleasant. They revered those who passed on in France; it would be done, not by strangers with no respect but by people she had worked with.
He couldn’t go. He now knew how totally dependent on her he’d become and he’d thought it was all the other way. This was his wife here.
Genie said it was best to go now, to say au revoir for now but he’d see her tomorrow. He asked her to promise to drive him there, wherever there was.
He couldn’t cry, not with Genie there, he just couldn’t do that with her present. She knew that. He wanted one last chance to revive her, just one chance. She might respond to the kiss, the touch, it had happened before, miracles had happened.
Geneviève did not prevent him, the medical staff, the two nurses left, were patient; Hugh went to her and stared a long time, many minutes, taking in every single feature, he ventured a kiss to the cheek, to the side of the lips but he knew – he knew completely.
She was at rest now, at peace.
Geneviève was so patient. He got up and walked towards the door, away from his Ksenia. He turned to go back one more time but Genie stood slightly in the way and he took the hint. Was he betraying Ksusha, going now?
He went through the door, Genie following.
He stopped. ‘I promise it is only once more - one minute, no more.’ She nodded. He went back in, straight up to her and poured nothings into her ear, promising he’d get back to her flat and look after things, promising he’d see her tomorrow.
He kissed her, took five steps and swiftly went through the door.
The ride back was inconsolable. It was all the worse because he was going back to the very place whence he’d come in the morning with a living, breathing bride and now, he'd left her on a slab. He had to get Genie to see that and to take him back to get her away from there.
Almost as though she’d read his mind, she leaned a little towards him and said, ‘She’s not going to be there, Hugh. Are you forgetting she was shot? The surete – they must do certain things, the coroner, you know. You signed that release.’
He couldn’t even start to get his mind round that one. He knew it had to be but wanted to stop this further violation of one who’d been violated her whole life. This is not how it was meant to end.
Again, almost as if she’d read his mind, she said, quietly, ‘In our work, this is always possible, with you and me too, never forget that.’
That did help. Actually, it helped enormously. He thought how Ksenia would have handled it, if it had been an operative. Well actually, she’d been distraught over Yulia.
He just felt so empty now.
A third time she tuned into his thoughts. ‘I’ll stay on one divan in the Lodge of the Gardener. You need to decide if you can stay in that bed again or else on the other divan or else in the main house.’
‘They’ll meet you and then depart.’
The most difficult thing was facing them all. They’d been primed not to be too effusive, not too quick with the sympathy and yet he felt it in the handshakes and in their voices.
As for himself, he was just dazed and dog-tired.
They said their pieces and departed, good people, nice people; Francine supplied him with warm soup in a big mug and he drank it down. He now thought of where to spend the night.
Geneviève said nothing but she understood. When he was ready, he got up, she got up and he said, ‘Let’s go. Francine, Jean, je vous remercie.’
In the Gardener’s Lodge, she went to get ready and he sat on the edge of the divan across from her. When she came out, he went in. Eventually they were done.
There was silence, except for some creatures of the night in the trees out there. She knew he was thinking it through, she was patient and then he said, ‘It’s imperative that the right thing be done by Ksenia and our baby because we just don’t know. We believe things but we just don’t know. All we have is the guidance from a book but I think I know. It has to be her tradition. She wasn’t religious but in these things, it’s always done that way.’
‘The Russians say the soul has until the 9th day to visit loved ones, to generally take care of business, after which it goes to some place where it rests and then, on the 40th day, the decision is made whether the soul goes to heaven or not.
The job of everyone left alive on the 9th day and on the 40th day is to say prayers for the soul, in a sort of wake. Then they need to get together again at the one year mark.
‘Je comprends. You’ll be at the churchyard, you’ll take care of those things with my help and then you’ll return to Russia, her home soil and do the necessary things there.’
‘Anya will go to her flat and see if she can find any documents which say what to do. I don’t know if she wanted to be cremated or what and we have to know quickly now.’
‘I’ll contact Anya, Hugh, if you’ll let me.’
‘Merci. Her mother will know what to do. Ksenia does have family and that will be sorted out. We have to know which way Ksusha wanted it to be. Strangely, we never once spoke about this. We have to know what happens with unborn babies.’
It was welling up, not unlike the blood through her throat and mouth. ‘This is hard. I don’t know if I can keep this up. So empty, so desolate.’
‘I’m here and I won’t be sleeping until you sleep.’
‘That could be all night.’
‘If it is, it is. I was in bed with her last evening too. I told her she was beautiful.’
‘Genie – don’t. Please?’
That was the toughest night he could remember but it still didn’t bring her back next day. She still wasn’t there with him.
Geneviève looked a bit the worse for wear too. He must have looked a fright. ‘I’d like to see her today, Genie. I’m more … I’ve come to terms with it more today. This would be a good time … not this evening.’
‘Comprends. I’ll make the calls apres le petit dejeuner.’
‘I really need one of Francine’s big bowls of coffee. They’re enormous.’
She smiled. ‘I have two days free to be with you … if you want.’
He took her hand. ‘If you would, if only you could. Merci. But I’ll also need time with her today and tomorrow – I don’t mean physically although I’d like to see her too.’
Geneviève did a lot of phoning and the long and the short of it was that they’d need to get to the … er … place … about 14:00.
She made contact with the Russian end and they asked for some hours grace to move hell and high water to find things out. Ludmilla knew whom to contact.
The message came back, late afternoon, that the Russian way would be for a normal burial – they deeply distrust cremation and the orthodox religious view is negative as well. However, if it were a choice between the body being buried in a foreign land or the ashes going back to Russia, that would be a 50-50 decision, Hugh’s decision in the end. They could advise no further.
He said he’d give it 24 hours to think.
Then they went to the morgue and Geneviève waited outside in the corridor.
If he thought he was going to be horrified, strangely, he wasn’t. She was covered to the neck and though he wanted to see what they’d done, he thought this was one indignity too many and he wanted to remember her this way. Obviously bereft of life, physical life at least, the soul was somewhere. The thing was, the soul was not here now, not in the body. The body had served its purpose during her life and now it was just the outer casing remaining, after the resident had moved on.
He still felt it was right to kiss her and did … but lightly. ‘Ksenia, I shall come tomorrow if they’ll let me. If not, then tell me it’s OK just to see you at the funeral. I think we’re doing it right. It would be nice if you’d indicate one way or the other but maybe you can’t. I know about the 9th and 40th days … and the one year. That will be done. I expect you’ll be around then. Look, I just want to say that it doesn’t matter. Who knows what might have happened but it didn’t and if we end up in the same place eventually, well no harm will have been done. I know your soul is alive and you’ll be seeing me from time to time. I’ll go from your body now but your soul will go with me, da? And with Zhenya and all you cared for. OK love, take care.’
As he began to choke, he left a kiss and went through the doors, breathing heavily, eventually composing himself. She’d always hated emotion, Ksusha.
‘Let’s go please, Genie.’
Geneviève stayed in the room with him this night as well and almost immediately asked him if she could speak.
She told him that which was always going to have to be faced but she’d kept the police away from him so far.
‘Ah. Yes. Do they have a theory?’
‘Marc saw someone slip from the branch of a tree two walls over, the other side of the carpark, close to the road. He could only vaguely describe the man. Young, normal, casual clothes. If Marc gives his evidence, then the inquiry will take longer. Which do you want?’
‘Give me thirty minutes with Ksenia and I’ll give you an answer at the end of that time.’
‘If you need more time …’
‘No, that will be enough.’
She went next door to Francine and Jean, he got down and prayed, then spoke to Ksenia. He needed to know which way she wanted. He’d try to see how she wanted it and would do it that way. He asked her not to be angry if he got it wrong. It became fairly clear in his head.
The funeral itself was low key, just the people who’d been at the wedding in fact. She was laid to rest in the church grounds, by dispensation and the Russian end saw the necessity for it to be that way. Dilyara would represent them but as she was Muslim, it was a curious situation for her.
Francine took him to the gateway on the 9th night and Hugh begged Ksenia, on his knees, not to visit the next night when he was no longer there. He’d come back here on the 39th and 40th night - have you got that? The 39th and 40th night.
About 11:30, he felt she was there but couldn’t be sure - she certainly didn’t manifest herself.
About 11:50, he was certain she called, ‘Hugh.’ He was sure she was leaving now and would they ever allow her to come back and visit? He said goodbye to mother and child.
After midnight had chimed, he walked back and got into the car. Francine was cold so he put his jacket round her; he should have done that earlier.
Francine and Jean had been marvellous but there were definite limits to hospitality. Hugh walked with them in Fontainebleau forest next morning and they reached an agreement.
Actually, they were all for Hugh to stay on indefinitely but he knew it wasn’t on, particularly with the Russian end waiting. Once he told them of his intentions, she opened up a little and asked what he’d do now, meaning, of course, vis a vis a woman.
He knew she was fishing about Geneviève.
‘Too early, Francine. I’ll be back for the 39th day and many things will be clear by then.’
At the airport, Hugh held Geneviève to him, she held him, he thanked her profusely, kissed her cheek, waved to the others and boarded.
Shadzhara was like coming home.
Much time was spent at Viktor’s and with Anya; there were discussions at the university and though his Head of Department understood fully, the regulations didn’t and he’d already had all the time he could afford. He’d also need re-registration, through them, to remain in the country but that depended of course, didn’t it, on his intentions?
A few days in, he knew he’d have to go to Ksenia’s own flat.
When he got there, he went through the rooms and made a decision. He’d be all matter of fact and do what needed doing. He’d put everything into three categories – house type things which could be dealt with here and now, joint things like photographs of the two of them that he would spend hours on at a later stage and then her very personal things, childhood things perhaps, which he’d box up and one day sort through, with delicacy.
Now, having decided that, he paused at her bedroom, went in and knelt on the floor. Ksenia didn’t exactly appear but he knew she was there, watching.
Next day he went back to work and didn’t let any of the girls know his situation.
Late October, 2003
The inquiry took place on the 38th day, thank goodness and so the trip dovetailed well. Interestingly, Anya flew in with him.
Le chaplain de l’Eglise Anglicane de Fontainebleau, John Wilkinson, gave his evidence, the police gave theirs and everyone else gave theirs. It was always going to be an open verdict – person or persons unknown. Marc had said nothing, which may or may not have been a crime but it hardly mattered in the context of Ksenia now being at rest.
Anya stayed with Dilyara that night, the flat still in their name until the end of the calendar year. Hugh went straight to the Lodge and the next day was spent quietly, Francine remained with him all day, as it was not deemed good for him to be alone, Anya spent her time with the baby ... oh and with Dilyara too, of course. And Marc.
That night, Francine ran him down to the Chapel again, he repeated the 9th night but as he would return for the 40th, he didn't stay past the hour.
The following day, she went up and collected Geneviève, then drove back to the Lodge. Anya had already advised how to run the wake and it went off as well as could be expected, they all put in the afternoon and then the dusk fell.
21:45 saw the car pull into the rear car park of the church one last time.
The next day, it was a whir and there Anya and he were, farewelled by Genie, a Gallic kiss to both and that was that.
Onboard, he looked at Anya, she at him and it was almost bizarre, as if it had come full circle. She continued to look at him, seeing Russia closing it's doors behind him soon.
'You'll come back here ... won't you.'
He looked deep into her eyes. 'The only thing keeping me in Russia now is you. Don't say that to Viktor. Of course I'd visit all the time but you'd be the reason to stay.'
'Hugh.' She truly was lost for words, not from love or emotion but because she knew there was nothing she could really say. She had moved on. True, she knew she had not secured any sort of future herself, either in Italy or at home but she also knew this would be a retrograde step to go back to Hugh. There were just ... key differences. And if he stopped and thought clearly, he's see there were things he would not be able to accept too. They were best as intimate friends - that's how she saw it going.
She took his hand, hoping it would not be misunderstood.
The months back in Shadzhara were dire. He'd always loved Russia but now that this had happened he was more and more morose, dislocated.
He put on a bit of an act at university because they were neither going to understand nor overly sympathize, lesson after lesson after lesson, plus he was being paid to deliver but when he got home to Ksenia's flat in the evening, it was cold and dark and the presence of Yulia was always there in that other room.
The flat had now come to him via her will but that had involved the government - this was a foreigner in possession of Russian real estate. The Minister had helped sort it out.
Anya made it bearable, as did Viktor - when they were available that was and it was fine for the time he was with them. It didn't look as if Anya and he were going to become an item again any time soon and frankly, her eyes were still in that other direction, so phone calls to and from Geneviève eased the pain.
In short, it was time to move on. He thought of going back to England but any connections he'd had had long gone. He had registration until June, his affairs were in order and he was chafing at the bit, which Viktor and Anya both picked up on.
At the Pyramid one afternoon, he told Anya he'd made a decision. He wanted her, wanted them to try again, better this time, more mature. He wanted to know if she was remotely interested.
‘If I say I regret but no?’
‘I’ll go to Paris and see what happens.’
'So much time has gone by, hasn’t it? Maybe we’re both different people now.’
‘So that's No?’
Chapter 23 here ... Chapter 25 here