9. The Mansion

THE FIRST TIME I truly saw Teresa - truly saw her for who she was, I mean, as opposed to just another member of the circle - was the day David and I picked her up on the way to the Community, although even by that time it was too late to truly see her. She had been living for some time with her parents in Versailles, in a house hidden behind a high wall. Previously she'd studied Russian and lived in town, which was how she'd fallen in with Michel, at first, and later with Jeanne and Jean-Fran├žois, David's brother, but something tragic or unpleasant or unflattering to someone must have happened, something I could never get to the bottom of, because none of them ever explained it to me except in the most cryptic ways, always with a hint of annoyance. I'd gathered it was something that involved the four of them, but especially Jean-Fran├žois, something he'd always dismissed, each time I raised the topic (three times, I recall, the third time earning a stinging rebuke), something always dismissed as Teresa's narcissism, as Teresa's egotism, as Teresa's madness, as Teresa acting like a spoiled child, or simply as Teresa being Teresa. Along the way I'd formed the impression they were harder on Teresa than on anyone else in the group, and I'd never really understood why - she was undoubtedly pretty, but Jeanne was prettier, so it couldn't have been for that reason. There was something sad about her, but I found her sadness attractive, and couldn't understand how anyone could hold it against her. We buzzed her and both gate doors swung open with a creak so we could drive in. The gravel driveway crackled pleasantly under the wheels. When I got out of the car, I noticed how quiet it was compared to my flat in Chinatown. The freestanding house wasn't large but it was impressive in its own way, two storeys high and covered in gloomy ivy, although Teresa and her younger sister lived in what would once have been servants' quarters, perhaps a stable. Looking around, all at once I understood why they were so hard on her. It was a kind of reverse snobbery that she seemed to accept without question. Teresa told us her father, who was a diplomat, was posted somewhere laughable that began with an 'm' and ended with an 'o', like Montenegro or Montevideo or Monaco or maybe even San Marino, she couldn't quite remember, and her mother, a psychoanalyst, was in Geneva or Genoa for a colloquy. Her sister was watching television in the mansion, she said. She wasn't packed: clothes were strewn all over her room and she was having trouble deciding what to take and what to leave behind. David told her she would need very little, that the Community would supply her with everything necessary, even clothes. She was trying to decide which of her Rolling Stones albums she should take. At any rate, he added, sounding impatient, there was no point taking music, jewellery or books because these things were not allowed in the Community. Not even records? Teresa asked. There's no record player. When he said this Teresa gave him a look of disbelief and despair, all mixed up together. I knew that look well - she'd given me a few of them - and it was one of the things I secretly loved about her. For a minute I wondered if she would pull out, which would have been calamitous for me personally and, for the group, something of a setback. Terry had given very precise orders that we should not come to the Community at all if Teresa didn’t come with us, although I didn't understand why. Then, just as I had feared, Teresa said she didn’t want to go to the Community anyway. She said she wasn’t feeling up to it and that we should go on ahead and she would organise a lift the next day, or whenever she was feeling better. Despite her usual melancholy, she was capable of occasional fits of determination. Secretly, I loved her all the more, and although it was impossible all I wished at that moment was to stay behind with her. But it was out of the question - we had no choice. David tried to change her mind, becoming more insistent with every minute she resisted until his demeanour became threatening. He began railing at her, calling her all kinds of names, although she didn't lose her temper, she just continued to dig her heels in. Soon enough David began railing at me too, insulting me for not pitching in, accusing me of encouraging her with my silence, yelling at the both of us, accusing us of having hatched a plot, telling us he would never allow us to get away with it. I tried talking her around in a calm way but it was futile - the situation had progressed far beyond reasonable talk. When all seemed lost he rushed towards Teresa, wrapped his beefy arms around her, picked her up and carried her to the car. She must have been just as astonished as I was, or perhaps she was frightened, because she put up no resistance, at least not until she snapped out of her surprise and began screaming, but by that time David had stuffed her into the back seat of the Renault. As she kicked and bucked, he calml went about the business of binding her hands and feet and buckling the seatbelt tightly around her. I was feeling conflicted but I slid into the front passenger meekly as David revved the engine and the car lurched forward, and as we pulled out onto the road heading south, with Teresa twisting and squirming behind us, I caught a flash behind me of a curtain rustling in one of the windows of the mansion.