Authors: Hannah Tunnicliffe
Max told the guys he had to go see his friends; he would catch them up later at the bar they went to when everywhere else was shut. Moving through the crowd was easy, it was back to being a loose thing, composed of separate parts. Max felt pats on his back, an arm slung around him for a moment and a guy roaring something in his ear he didn't catch but grinned at anyway. They had done good. Everyone was happy with them.
âMax!' Helen called, running up with her long skirt and twisted hair. Her skin was browner than usual, her eyes shining. Max let her cling to him. Allowed himself a moment to breathe her in, the scent of her skin made up of patchouli, cotton, smoke and soap.
âGood to see you, kid. How was India?'
âI want to hear all about it.'
âI'm going to bore you senseless,' she warned.
âNever,' Max said, kissing her cheeks, leaving slick patches of sweat.
Lars next, slapping him too hard on the back, palm as big as a plate. âBrilliant. Fucking brilliant. So proud of you mate.' His eyes were wide and he looked wasted but that was just Lars. High on enthusiasm. Nina, still on her stool, gave a thumbs-up and a smile that said all that Lars had just beaten into Max's back.
Eddie collared Max with his elbow. âLook at you!' Eddie was wasted. He
pushed a warm beer in a plastic cup into Max's hand. Max welcomed it down his throat. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked around at them all.
âGuy came to see us. After. Record label guy,' he said, in purposeful staccato.
âWhat did he say?'
âParlophone,' Max replied.
Helen screamed; Max caught her in his arms, beer spilling over both of them.
âShit, mate, shit â¦' Lars said, shaking his head.
Nina got off her stool to give him a laughing hug. âThis is really happening, hey?'
Max shrugged. âCould be.' Though he knew it was. Eddie was swearing and doing fist pumps. He almost stumbled into a guy standing by the bar. A big guy with a lot of tattoos. Lars yanked Eddie upright by his shirt and made apologies.
Helen shifted into
the spot underneath Max's arm, which he hung over her
shoulder. She fit perfectly there. Max felt the tiny hairs
that had escaped her braids tickling his nostrils as he
kissed her head. Everyone was laughing and talking. Max felt
as though the blood in his veins was bristling and
sparkling, more alive and vibrant than ever. Felt like his
body was made of incandescent particles, gold dust, assembled for
a moment in his form but for how long, who
knew? Felt radiant. Felt invincible. He squeezed Helen closer to
him and tried to commit the moment to memory like
processing film in the darkroom. The opposite of Max's usual
approach which was to light and burn moments almost as soon as they happened.
Max felt a finger in his side and turned to see Rosie.
âWhat did I miss?'
Helen peeked out from Max's wing. âMax might have a record deal!'
Rosie checked Max's face; his smile unshakeable.
Rosie laughed, just like Nina had done. âWell. That is news.'
Max put down his beer and drew Rosie in under his other arm.
It always surprised Max that of the entire memory (which, despite the coke and alcohol flooding his system at the time, Max remembered so vividly) the part he recalled most perfectly was the one that came with the smells of the venue â beer, sweat, smoke and dust â and the sounds â The Cure played loud through the crackling speakers â and the physical feelings of bodies under each arm, blonde hair near his face, Helen's smooth, tanned arm beneath his calloused fingers. It was the memory that bore Rosie's earnest face. It was when she said in his ear:
âMax, you deserve it.'
kitchen has the best light in
the house. Especially now, as it moves from midday sun
into afternoon light. It falls through the windows in brilliant
puddles, shadows cast by the leaves of the linden tree
outside, and it moves. Dances, in fact. Over hands and
spoons and the worn grey flagstones. Over the bread dough
Juliette has made. It is her favourite room in the
house. It smells of yeast and flour and a warming
oven, but also the stone of the floor, the metal
of the taps, the plaited tress of papery, pink Roscoff
onions and the copper of her favourite bowls. Even the
cast iron and roasted, salted butter scent of the
the griddle used to make
crepe de ble noir
galettes, that sits on one of the counters. Most people
wouldn't be able to distinguish these things, but to Juliette
they are as familiar as the salty-sweet perfume of a
Max didn't update this part of the house â a slate-roofed stone cottage now with a huge extension of blond wood and expansive windows. The kitchen, other than its appliances, is original. The small windows with warped glass don't have huge modern blinds that whir down when remote controls are pressed. The thick worn wooden beams are a ribcage in the low ceiling. Here the spring light is exactly as it should be in west Brittany, FinistÃ¨re, the end of the world â sweet, the colour of chamomile tea, and dappled, not hotly and brightly bullying its way into the room.
Juliette presses her palms on the floured bench top and looks out of the stone-framed windows at the garden. It is bordered by flowering rhododendron bushes, spring flowers in tooth-whites and girlish pinks, established trees that Max left standing, as well as a gnarly and ancient apple espaliered on a fence. In the centre of the lawn is the girl who arrived this morning with Max's friend Eddie. Beth. An American with long, red hair. She has pulled one of Max's white lounging chairs into the sunniest part of the garden and is arranging herself upon it, magazine between her lips while she scoops her vermillion mane into a bun on top of her head. Juliette squints to make out the pattern on her white bikini â tiny pink raspberries topped with green leaves like winter hats. Eddie comes by now, to lean on the back of the chair. Juliette barely caught Eddie's name as he rushed to shake her hand before striding into the house, looking around, pointing out the size of everything â huge! â dumping his bag, with fat percussion, in the lounge. Juliette went to the list she'd taped up inside the pantry; where she'd written âEddie and ??' (Max couldn't remember the girlfriend's name). She added Beth. Then, in her mind, not on the list: American. Red-haired. Young. Bikini with raspberries.
Eddie is English, and from London like Max. His voice reminds Juliette of her father's. Juliette watches Eddie smearing sunscreen on his face, up to the line of his thick dark hair. He has very pale legs, which poke out from a pair of white shorts that look brand new; the white of the fabric almost matching the shade of his calves. Juliette notices the small crocodile logo on the back, by the pocket. Eddie turns, sees her and waves. Juliette lifts her palm, now covered in flour. He isn't so bad looking, she decides. It isn't fair for Juliette to judge the colour of a person's legs. She has spent the last year here in Douarnenez, gathering seaweed from the beach, cutting lavender, raking leaves and washing windows, her skin browning from Parisian milk-white to Breton cafÃ© au lait. Even her hair has lightened, now more chestnut than brown, made noticeable from the haircut. Short, curls by her ears and a tiny fringe. She will never again have to lift and twist it as Beth does, and tuck it into a pleated white chef's toque. She might never wear a toque again. Thinking of toques reminds Juliette of the bread, which she needs to punch down and divide. She pulls the bowl towards her and removes the cloth. The dough rises above the rim in a luscious curve.
âWas it Julie?'
Juliette turns to see Eddie inspecting the fruit bowl. He picks up an apple.
âRight! Juliette. So French.' Eddie grins, with dimpled cheeks. It makes him look like a boy. Despite the five o'clock shadow and the glinting grey strands in his hair. Max said Eddie is the manager of a whisky bar in a boutique hotel. Juliette can imagine it, the customers would love him.
âI am French,' she says.
âYou actually are French? From here?' Eddie sinks his teeth into the apple. âYou don't sound French.'
âMy parents were from England.'
âAhhh. So you're a bit English.' He looks so pleased that Juliette laughs. She shrugs, although she wants to say, â
Non. Je suis bretonne
,' which she has come to realise means even more than being French. She thinks about sinking her hands into the soft, swollen dough on the bench but doesn't want to turn away so quickly as to be rude.
âMax said he got himself a French chef from Paris.'
âThat's me then. I was a French chef from Paris,' Juliette says, smiling. âNow I'm the Breton girl who keeps the windows clean.'
That has them both looking out the window towards Beth. Eddie steps closer, apple in hand. He looks down at her bowl.
âBread,' Juliette explains. They are now standing side by side; the gardens and lawn ahead of them, Beth and her chair in the middle of the view, dotted appropriately, as she is, with raspberries.
âBeautiful,' Eddie murmurs. Juliette is unsure if he means his girlfriend or Max's house and gardens. Then he says, âHe should have had us here earlier. This place is amazing.'
Juliette nods. She doesn't explain that Max rarely has guests. Sometimes he brings a girl, someone he seems wholly unattached to, who might attempt small talk with Juliette in the morning, the conversation pocked with awkward silences. For the most part Max comes solo. He drives from Paris through the night or early morning, sending Juliette a quick message en route so she has just enough time to throw on a coat and wobble over on her bike from her parents' cottage in the village. She keeps things in the house she knows he likes â
Andouille de GuÃ©menÃ©
, the famous smoked and dried pork sausage, her version of piccalilli relish with local cauliflower, as well as hard cheeses, preserved sardines and tins of handmade crackers and
â in case he arrives before she does. She orders at least two dozen Cancale oysters if he is staying more than one night, more if he has company. There is always champagne, salted butter and cider in the fridge, including Baron's Cuvee Carpe Diem, liqueurs, gin whiskey, buckwheat and Saint-Malo potatoes in the pantry.
âYou've known Max a long time?' Juliette asks Eddie, out of politeness, knowing that he has. Max has told her about his friends from his London days, how they met and what they are each like.
âWe went to Camberwell together. It's an arts college in London.'
Eddie has almost finished his apple. âWell, we went to
college â Lars and Nina, Rosie and me â Max did more drinking â¦
and less classes.'
Eddie holds the apple core by the stalk. Juliette remembers the rest of the names from stories she has been told and the list Max dictated to her.
Rosie and Hugo.
Nina and Lars and their kid, Sophie.
Eddie and ?? (She had remedied the blank, of course.)
Eddie laughs. âTo be fair, none of us studied very hard. Mainly we were partying or trying to get laid.' He glances around till Juliette opens a cupboard and shows him the rubbish bin. âThanks.' He wipes his hands on his shirt. âThen Max went and made a life out of that.'
Juliette nods. Max Dresner, guitarist for The Jacks. The man who dated both of the Marceau twins. Party boy. Musical genius. Rogue. A man the press loved to write about because he fit a formula â good looking with bad behaviour. But Juliette knew Max was more complicated and compelling than what was written about him.
âI forgot Helen,' Eddie says. âYou've heard of Helen, right?'
Juliette nods again. Max had told her about Helen. His voice quickened whenever he spoke of her.
Eddie gives a little laugh âFortieth-birthday party â¦ reunion â¦ It's really nice. I'm not complaining. But Max probably just wants to see Helen.'
He glances back to Juliette's bowl. âSorry, you were in the middle of something.'
âThat's my little lady!'
Beside Beth's chair is a bundle of fabric, covered in tiny raspberries, fallen beside her magazine. Her palms face up to the sun; her eyes are covered with big dark glasses. And her breasts, high and rounded as Juliette's dough, are exposed to the light. Nipples the colour of local eggshells, the surrounding skin creamy and unmarred.
Eddie is laughing hard. âThat girl has no shame.'
Juliette shrugs and smiles. âIt's okay, Eddie. You're in France, remember?'
âHas Eddie's bird got her baps out?'
Juliette is cutting the now baked bread into thick pieces. She already has a plate of cheeses, sliced
, and cruditÃ©s of spring carrots and the local green cauliflower with a
cream cheese dip. She pauses, knife in hand, as a man comes into the kitchen. The sun is lower now, turning clementine and getting in her eyes.
The man claps his hands together, his face a hundred happy creases. âSorry!' he laughs. âI thought you were one of the girls. I'm Lars.' His height means he almost has to slouch due to the low ceiling.
âJuliette,' she says. âI work for Max.'
âAw, you poor thing.' Lars shakes his head in mock sympathy. He has ruffled sandy-coloured hair. When he blinks, Juliette notices that even his eyelashes are blond.
âIt's not so bad.'
âWell, you're braver than most.'
Lars holds out his hand, which Juliette shakes. His hand is covered in pale freckles and his fingers are long, like the rest of him.
âWelcome to Douarnenez,' she says, offering him the plate of food.
âThank you.' He beams, piling cheese onto bread.
Two women follow Lars into the kitchen. They are the same height â the first one dark-haired and heavier than the other, who is blonde and wearing sunglasses. The dark-haired woman's face is soft and round; she too shakes Juliette's hand firmly.
âShe's with me,' Lars adds.
âRosie,' the blonde woman says. She is carrying a basket, and on one hand wears a rose-gold ring with a large stone the colour of jadeite.
âI'm Juliette. I work for Max,' Juliette says again.
âYou poor thing,' both women say together, and then laugh at the same time. They don't look at all alike â Nina dark, confident and plump, Rosie blonde, polite and trim â but they act like sisters. Max had described them to Juliette over the phone.
Nina â publisher, top girl, smart as hell, she's with Lars. Now he's a great bloke. They have a daughter, Sophie and Lars is a stay-at-home Dad. He'd do anything for those two. Rosie â jeweller, talented too; unfortunately she's married to Hugo â¦
âThat's what I said,' Lars cuts in. He slips his arm around Nina's back.
âWho's here?' Rosie places the basket down on a bench top. âIs Helen going to be late? When's her flight in from New York?'
âTonight,' replies Lars. âWhere's Hugo gone?'
âHe's getting luggage from the car.'
âWho has the boys?'
âThat's the way.' Lars says, comradely, lifting his palm to high-five Rosie. âSo for now it's us, you and Hugo, Eddie and â¦' Lars looks to Juliette.
âBeth,' she offers.
âRight. Beth McBaps.'
Lars gestures out the window and the two women quickly crowd in. Juliette steps out of the way. She should probably take the bread to the outdoor table before it gets cold. It tastes so good warm, with a generous smear of GuÃ©rande salted butter.