Excerpt Six from 'A Life Lived Twice' by B A Spicer
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After two years, Claude had reluctantly left his apprenticeship under the guidance of Felix Dumas, to return to his father, who could no longer fulfil the occasional contracts required of him. The time had come when he did not have the stomach for his trade and preferred to busy himself with his undertaking business, making arrangements for the dead instead of providing new corpses for the coffins he sold. So, despite an overwhelming wish for his son to qualify as a lawyer, he sent for Claude one cold afternoon, when his heart had been touched by ice for the last time.
Claude had not hesitated. He would not have said so for the world, but he knew fundamentally and categorically that Felix Dumas would never make anything of him. The former was restricted by the law he served, despite his undeniable intelligence. The law was a prison. Claude coveted his freedom, both physical and spiritual – he would never be able to abide by such petty rules.
And now, his father was dead.
Rosa Cousteau had grown older and fatter, her expression set and sullen. She worried about the past and the future, leaving no time for the present. She had no love for her son, but grieved still for the daughter she had lost years ago to a cruel virus. Claude was no substitute, with his cadaverous features, his sunken eyes and his untidy, mouse-coloured hair.
She could not bring herself to kiss her son when he came to visit, but listened politely to his descriptions of the places he had been. It was always places that he spoke of and never people. Almost never. Only one name came up in conversation: Felix Dumas was a paragon of virtue, selfless and generous to a fault. She was sick of hearing about him. His father had been a constant drain on her husband. Such a big man! Wealthy and educated. Pah! Her husband had been caught in his flame, like a moth, bobbing and blundering to remain in the circle of light, just as her son now did, a generation on.
The life had been sucked out of her husband slowly but surely, until his heart had given out one day during dinner and he had died in front of her, the agony on his face a memory she could not forget, his love for her too tragic to be savoured. Dumas had not attended the funeral but his son had sent a message – she remembered how Claude had read it out to her. It had made her sick to her stomach.
Rosa Cousteau’s bills were paid, and food was put before her. She lived on, cared for by servants who whispered behind her back, and a son who fulfilled his professional obligations with a sang froid that her husband had lacked.The sun rose each morning and lit the room where she slept, but could not warm her heart. And when Claude came to visit, it was without love that she surveyed the dull features of a man who killed, she suspected, without conscience. More than once, she had considered taking the shotgun from the cabinet and pretending that she had mistaken him for an intruder, for, the thought that she had brought such a monster into the world was, at times, unbearable.