‘I didn’t want to come here. I wanted Menton. It’s cheaper and not so full of posers. You can’t walk a hundred yards without some Frenchman ogling your girlfriend.’
James Jackson is annoyed. You can see it in the flare of his nostrils, the curl of his top lip. ‘Calm down,’ replies his best friend, Mark Oxford. ‘You’ve had a shock, that’s all.’ ‘Shock? I’ll say I’ve had a shock. It’s not every day that you find your girl would prefer to be with a Frog than you.’
‘I say, steady on,’ says Rose Tremayne, who happens to be the girlfriend in question. ‘There’s no need to jump to conclusions. Marcel’s a friend, that’s all.’
‘Marcel, is it? M-a-r-c-e-l. Rolls off the tongue, does it? Unlike James, of course, which is just a plain and simple English name.’
‘You have to admit, he’s a handsome devil,’ says Mark’s wife, Penelope. ‘Full of Gallic charm and all that.’
‘What do you expect?’ says Mark ‘A chap with two days’ growth on his chin, wearing a beret and smoking a Gauloise?’
‘In the meantime,’ says James, ‘I’d be obliged, Mark, if you’d let go of my wrists.’ ‘Certainly, as long as you lay off Rose.’
Mark releases his grip and James begins the vexed process of showing restraint. Rose is one of those women who is attractive enough to make any boyfriend jealous. She is blonde, late twenties, with the type of vellum skin stretched over high cheekbones that give her the aspect of a delicate piece of porcelain, to be nurtured, protected and worshipped. James worships her. Unfortunately, Rose has the pleasant, outgoing nature that borders on the coquettish, and Marcel, who is the receptionist at the Hotel la Régènce in Villefranche-Sur-Mer, has recognised that and has made his move, discreetly, of course.
Whereas Marcel is slim, dapper and extremely handsome as well as oozing charm by the bucketful, James is short, dark, with a temper that is never completely under control and occasionally bursts out like a spring from an ancient mattress.
Mark has secretly loved Rose for a long while, though he hasn’t made that entirely clear to Penny, the dark gipsy girl, raven-haired and feisty, whom he married two years before. The quartet decide to splash out on an expensive holiday and three of them settle on Villefranche-Sur-Mer, because it sounds posh and they will be guaranteed sunshine for the duration of their stay. James is the only objector but the vote is carried, three to one. There have been tensions from the start. James hates French cuisine and grumbles constantly about it. Mark wants to explore the surrounding towns and villages, especially rich areas such as Aix-en-Provence and Grasse, but Penny wants to lie in the sun and turn her dark skin into burnished teak. Rose has come to the conclusion that she no longer loves James, whom she now thinks is a bit of a bore and a tightwad with money. When they dine a deux and a restaurant bill for one hundred and fifty euros is presented to him, he turns an interesting shade of puce and demands that Rose pays half.
Then Marcel shows up one night, when Rose is in the hotel bar and James is lying down, nursing a headache brought about by the infernal heat.
I mean, there isn’t even air-conditioning and the blasted room costs a hundred and forty a night.
Mark and Penny are outside, seated on a bench on the seafront, on a gloriously warm evening, watching young couples promenading up and down la plage.
‘Mademoiselle, you look stunning tonight.’
‘Thank you, Marcel.’
‘May I buy you a drink, an aperitif, perhaps?’
‘I’ll have a campari and soda, thank you, Marcel.’
‘Call me Rose.’
‘Rose – an eminently suitable name if I may say so. Rose, I have a confession to make.’ ‘Have you, Marcel? Perhaps you should make it, then.’
‘Mademoiselle Rose, I desire you.’
‘Do you, Marcel?’
‘With every beat of my heart.’
‘Marcel, what about James, my boyfriend? He’s lying upstairs, chewing paracetamol.’ ‘Mademoiselle Rose, I fear that Monsieur James is a trifle ennuyeux.’
‘How do you say it in English? Somebody who is tedious in the extreme.’ ‘I agree.’
‘I am afraid that he is not a suitable lover for you.’
Mark and Penny return from their people-watching and espy the pair in intimate conversation. ‘Uh-oh,’ said Mark. ‘James isn’t going to like this.’
‘Don’t tell him, then. Christ, they’re only talking,’ says Penny.
‘He’s practically got his tongue in her ear,’ remarks Mark. ‘There’s something going on.’ ‘Leave them be,’ says Penny. ‘I need a drink. Let’s go to the other bar. We don’t want to disturb the young lovers.’
‘He’s my best friend. I’ve a duty to tell him what I’ve seen.’
‘You have to put your oar in all the time, haven’t you Mark? You can never leave well alone. You’re always interfering.’
‘I am off duty,’ says Marcel. ‘I have a bottle of cognac in my room. I would be honoured if you would condescend to join me for a drink.’
Rose smiles and says: ‘Lead the way.’
‘I’m glad you told me,’ says James, as the quartet stand arguing under a parasol amongst the china cups and saucers outside the café where they have partaken of a breakfast of coffee and croissants. The two English women seated at the next table are especially interested in the conversation. One leans so far forward to hear the dialogue that her elbow slips off the white plastic table and she fetches herself a nasty blow on the chin.
‘I’m going back to my room,’ says Rose.
‘I’ll come with you,’ says Penny.
‘You’ve had it, James,’ says Mark. ‘She doesn’t need you any more. That’s obvious from last night. She’s head over heels with him.’
James pulls back his right fist and lets Mark have it full on his chin. It makes him feel a whole lot better.
Published in Issue #10