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A Secret Kept

I am shown into a small, drab room, told to sit down and wait. Six empty brown plastic chairs face each other on tired linoleum. In a corner, a fake green plant, shiny leaves coated with dust. I do as I am told. I sit down. My thighs tremble. My palms feel clammy, my throat parched. My head throbs. I think: I should call our father now, I should call him before it gets too late. But my hand makes no effort to grab the phone in the pocket of my jeans. Call our father and tell him what? Tell him how?

The lighting is harsh, glaring strips of neon barring the ceiling. The walls are yellowish and cracked. I sit there, numb. Helpless. Lost. I long for a cigarette. I wonder if I am going to retch, bring up the bitter coffee and stale brioche I had a couple of hours ago.

I can still hear the screech of the wheels, feel the sudden lurch of the car as it veered sharply to the right, careening into the railing. And her scream. I can still hear her scream.

How many people have waited here, I think. How many people have sat here where I am sitting now and waited for news of their loved ones. I cannot help imagining what those jaundiced walls have seen. What they know. What they remember. Tears, shouts, or relief. Hope, pain, or joy.

The minutes click by. I watch the round face of a grimy clock above the door. There is nothing else for me to do but wait.

After half an hour or so, a nurse comes in. She has a long horsy face, skinny white arms.

“Monsieur Rey?”

“Yes,” I say, my heart in my mouth.

“You need to fill out these papers. With her details.”

She hands me a couple of sheets and a pen.

“Is she alright?” I mumble.

My voice seems thin and strained.

She flickers watery, lashless eyes over me.

“The doctor will tell you. The doctor will come.”

She leaves. She has a sad, flat ass.

I spread the sheets of paper over my knees with trembling fingers.

Name, birth date and place, marital status, address, social security number, health insurance number. My hand still shakes as I print out: Mélanie Rey, born August 15th 1967 at Boulogne-Billancourt, single, 49 rue de la Roquette, Paris 75011.

I have no idea what my sister’s social security number is. Or her health insurance number for that matter. All that stuff must be in her bag. Where is her bag? I can’t remember anything about her bag. Just the way her body slumped forward when they hauled her out of the car. The way her limp arms hung down to the ground from the stretcher. And there I was, not a hair out of place, not a bruise on my skin, and I had been sitting right next to her. I flinch. I keep thinking I am going to wake up.

The nurse comes back with a glass of water. I gulp it down. It has a metallic, stale taste. I thank her. I tell her I don’t have Mélanie’s social security number. She nods, takes the sheets and leaves.

The minutes inch by. The room is silent. It is a small hospital. A small town, I guess. In the suburbs of Nantes. I’m not quite sure where. I stink. No air conditioning. I can smell the sweat trickling under my armpits, gathering around my groin. The sweaty, meaty smell of despair and panic. My head still throbs. I try breathing calmly. I manage to do this for a couple of minutes. Then the helpless, awful feeling takes over swamps me.

Paris is more than three hours away. I wonder again if I should call my father. I tell myself I need to wait. I don’t even know what the doctor has to say. I glance down at my watch. Ten thirty. Where would our father be now, I wonder? At some dinner party? Or watching cable TV in his study, with Régine in the next room, on the phone, painting her nails?

I decide to wait a little longer. I am tempted to call my ex wife. Astrid’s name is still the first one that pops up in times of stress or despair. But the thought of her with Serge, in Malakoff, in our old house, in our old bed, with him invariably answering the phone, even her mobile, for Christ’s sake, --- “Oh hi, Antoine, what’s up, man?”--- is just too much. So I don’t call Astrid, although I long to.

I stay in the small, stuffy room and I try once more to remain calm. Try to stop the panic rising within me. I think of my kids. Arno in all his teenage glory and rebellion. Margaux, a creature of mystery at fourteen. Lucas, still a baby at eleven, compared to the other two and their raging hormones. I simply cannot imagine myself telling them: “Your aunt is dead. Mélanie is dead. My sister is dead.” The words make no sense. I push them away.

Another hour creeps by. I sit there, my head in my hands. I try to sort out the mess building up in my mind. I start thinking about the deadlines I need to keep, tomorrow is Monday and after this long weekend, there are many urgent things to be done, that unpleasant Rabagny and his God-awful daycare center I should not have taken on, Florence, that hopeless assistant I know I have to fire. But how can I possibly think of this, I realize, appalled at myself, how can I think of my job now, at this precise moment when Mélanie is somewhere between life and death? I say to myself, with a sinking heart: why Mélanie? Why her? Why not me? This trip had been my idea. My present for her birthday. That fortieth birthday she was so upset about.

A woman of my age comes in at last. A green operating blouse and one of those funny little paper hats surgeons wear. Shrewd hazel eyes, short chestnut hair touched with silver. She smiles. My heart leaps. I rush to my feet.

“That was a close call, Monsieur Rey,” she says.

I notice small brown stains on the front of her uniform. I wonder with dread whether those stains are Mélanie’s blood.

“Your sister is going to be all right.”

To my horror, my face crumples up, tears spill out. My nose runs. I am acutely embarrassed to be crying in front of this woman, but I can’t prevent it.

“It’s OK,” the doctor says. She grips my arm. She has small, square hands. She pushes me back down into the chair, sits beside me. I bawl like I used to when I was a kid, deep sobs that come from the gut.

“She was driving, right?”

I nod, try and tidy up my damp nostrils with the back of my hand.

“We know she wasn’t drinking. We checked that. Can you tell me what happened?”

I manage to repeat what I told the police and the ambulance people earlier on. That my sister wanted to drive the rest of the way home. That she was a reliable driver. That I had never been nervous with her at the wheel.

“Did she black out?” asks the doctor. The name on her badge reads: “Docteur Bénédicte Besson”.

“No, she didn’t.”

And then it comes back to me. Something I had not told the ambulance people because I only remember it, just now.

I look down at the doctor’s small tanned face. My own face is still twitching with the crying. I catch my breath.

“My sister was in the middle of telling me something… She turned to me. And then it happened. The car drove off the highway. It happened so fast.”

The doctor urges me on.

“What was she telling you?”

Mélanie’s eyes. Her hands clasping the wheel. Antoine, there’s something I need to say. I’ve kept it back all day. Last night, at the hotel, I remembered something. Something about… Her eyes, troubled, worried. And then the car driving off the road.

Chapter 3

She fell asleep as soon as they were able to make their way though the sluggish suburban gridlock that circled Paris. Antoine smiled as her head dropped back against the car window. Her mouth opened and he thought he heard a tiny snore. She had been irritable this morning when he had come to pick her up just after dawn. She hated surprises and always had. He knew that, didn’t he? Why the hell was he organizing a surprise trip? Honestly! Wasn’t it bad enough turning forty? Getting over an agonizing break-up? Never having been married, not having any kids and people mentioning biological clocks every five minutes? “If somebody utters that word one more time I’ll hit them,” she hissed between gritted teeth. But the idea of facing the long weekend alone was unbearable for her. He knew that. He knew she couldn’t stand thinking about her hot empty apartment above the noisy rue de la Roquette, and all her friends out of town leaving joyful messages on her voice mail: “Hey, Mel, you’re forty!” Forty. He glanced across at her. Mélanie, his little sister, was going to be forty. He couldn’t quite believe it. Which made him forty-three. He couldn’t quite believe that either.

Yet the crinkled eyes in the rear view mirror were those of a man in early middle age. Thick salt and pepper hair, a long, lean face. He noticed that Mélanie dyed her hair brown. Her roots were unmistakably grey. There was something touching about Mélanie dying her hair. Why, he mused. So many women dyed their hair. Maybe it was because she was his kid sister. He simply could not imagine her growing old. Her face was still lovely. Perhaps it was even lovelier than it had been in her twenties or thirties, because her bone structure had such class. He never tired of gazing at Mélanie. Everything about her was small, feminine, delicate. Everything about her --- the dark green eyes, the beautiful curve of a nose, the startling white smile, the slim wrists and ankles --- reminded him of their mother. She didn’t like being told she looked like Clarisse. She had never liked it. But to Antoine, it was like their mother peeping out from Mélanie’s eyes.

The Peugeot gathered speed and Antoine guessed they’d probably be there in less than four hours. They had left early enough to beat the traffic. Despite her questions, he hadn’t breathed a word about their destination. He had just grinned: “Pack enough for a couple of days. We’re going to celebrate your birthday in style.”

There had been a minor problem with Astrid, his ex-wife. A little smoothing out to do. That long weekend was normally “his”. The kids were supposed to be leaving Astrid’s parents’ place in Dordogne to come to him. He had been firm on the phone, it was Mel’s birthday, she was forty, he wanted to make it special for her, she still wasn’t over Olivier, she was going through a bad patch. Astrid’s voice: “Oh, merde, Antoine, I’ve had the kids for the past two weeks. Serge and I really need some time for ourselves.”

Serge. Even the mere name made him cringe. A photographer, in his early thirties. The muscular, outdoors, rugged type. He specialized in food. Natures mortes for luxurious cook books. He spent hours trying to get pasta to glisten, veal to look savory, fruit to look luscious. Serge. Every time Antoine shook his hand when he came to pick up the children, he was confronted with the hideous recollection of Astrid’s digital camera and what he had discovered in its memory card while she was out shopping that fateful Saturday. At first, puzzled, he had only seen a pair of hairy buttocks clenching and unclenching. And then he had realized with horror that the buttocks were actually pumping a penis into what looked extraordinarily like Astrid’s body. That was how he had found out. He had confronted Astrid, laden with shopping bags, on that doomed Saturday afternoon, and she had burst into tears and admitted that she loved Serge and that the affair had been going on ever since that trip in Turkey with the kids, and that she felt so relieved that he now knew.

Antoine felt tempted to light a cigarette to ward off unpleasant memories. But he knew that the smoke would wake his sister and that she would make some cantankerous comment about his “filthy habit”. Instead, he concentrated on the highway opening up before him.

Astrid still felt guilty about Serge, he felt it, about how he, Antoine, had found out about their affair. About the divorce. About the aftermath of it all. And she loved Mélanie dearly, they had been friends for a long time, they worked in the same field, publishing. She hadn’t had the heart to say no. Astrid had sighed, “OK, then. The kids can come to you later. Give Mel a hell of a birthday.”

When Antoine stopped at a gas station for a refill, Mélanie at last yawned and swiveled the car window down.

“Hé, Tonio,” she drawled, “where the hell are we?”

“You really have no idea?”

She shrugged.


“You’ve been asleep for the past two hours.”

“Well, you did turn up at dawn, you bastard.”

After a quick coffee (for her) and a quick cigarette (for him), they got back into the car. She seemed less petulant, Antoine noticed.

“It’s cute of you to do this,” she said.


“You’re a cute brother.”

“I know.”

“You didn’t have to. Maybe you had other plans?”’

“No other plans.”

“Like a girlfriend?”

He sighed.

“No girlfriend.”

The thought of his recent affairs made him want to stop the car, get out and weep. Since the divorce, there had been a string of women. And a string of disillusion. Women he had met via the Internet, on those infamous websites. Women of his age, married women, divorced women, younger women. He had thrown himself into the dating process with gusto, determined to find it exhilarating. But after the first couple of sexually acrobatic stunts, and coming back heavy-hearted and drained to his new empty apartment and to his new empty bed, he found the truth staring at him in the face. He had shied away from it long enough. He still loved Astrid. He had finally admitted that to himself. He still loved his ex-wife. He loved her so desperately it made him feel sick to his stomach.

Mélanie was saying:

“Probably had better, more exciting things to do than to take your spinster of a sister on a long weekend.”

“Don’t be silly Mel. This is what I want to do. I want to do this for you.”

She glanced at a signpost on the highway.

“Hey, we’re heading west!”

“Clever girl!”

“What’s west?” she asked, ignoring the affectionate irony in his voice.

“Think,” he said.

“Um, Normandy? Brittany? Vendée?”

“You’re on the right track.”

She said nothing, listening to the old Beatles CD Antoine had turned on. As they drove on, she uttered a little scream.

“I know! You’re taking me to Noirmoutier!”

“Bingo,” he said.

But her face had sobered up. She looked down at her hands in her lap, her lips tightening.

“What’s wrong?” he said, concerned. He had been expecting laughter, whoops, smiles, anything but her static face.

“I haven’t been back there.”

“So?” he said. “Neither have I.”

“It’s been…” she paused to count on her slim fingers, “1973, right? It’s been 34 years. I won’t remember a thing! I was six years old.”

Antoine slowed the car.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s just, you know, to celebrate your birthday. We did your sixth birthday there, remember?”

“No,” she said, slowly. “I don’t remember a thing about Noirmoutier.”

She must have realized she was acting like a spoilt child because she swiftly put a hand on her brother’s arm.

“Oh, but it doesn’t matter, Tonio. I’m happy. I am, really. And the weather is beautiful. It’s so nice to be alone with you, and to get away from everything!”

By “everything”, Antoine knew she meant Olivier, and the wreckage their break-up had left behind. And her fiercely competitive job as a publisher in one of France’s most famous publishing companies.

“I booked us into the Hotel Saint-Pierre. You remember that, don’t you?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Yes, I do! The old, lovely hotel in the woods! With Grand-père and Grand-mère…Oh, God, so long ago…”

The Beatles sang on. Mélanie hummed along. Antoine felt relieved, at peace. She liked his surprise. She was happy to go back. But one little thing niggled at him. One little thing he hadn’t taken into account when the idea of going back had occurred to him.

Noirmoutier 1973 had been their last summer with Clarisse.

Why Noirmoutier, he wondered, as the car sped on and Mélanie hummed to Let it Be. He had never considered himself a nostalgic person. He had never looked back. But since his divorce, he had changed. Relentlessly, he had found himself thinking more about the past than the present, or the future. The weight of the past year, his first year alone, that dreary, solitary year, had sparked off pangs of regret, longing for his childhood, striving for happy memories. That was how the island had come back to him, timidly at first, then more powerful, and more precise as the memories came tumbling in like mail gathering in a box.

His grandparents, regal and white-haired, Blanche with her parasol and Robert with his silver cigarette box that never left him, sitting at the shadowy hotel veranda and drinking their coffee, and he would wave at them from the garden. His father’s sister, Solange, plump and sunburned, reading fashion magazines in her deckchair. Mélanie, small and wiry, a floppy sun hat framing her cheeks. And Clarisse raising her heart-shaped face to the sun. And their father turning up on weekends smelling of cigar smoke and of the city. And the cobbled submersible road that would fascinate him as a child, and still did. The Gois passage. You could only use it at low tide. Before the bridge was built in 1971, it was the only way to get on to the island.

He wanted to do something special for Mélanie’s birthday. He had started thinking about it since April. Not just another surprise birthday party with giggling friends hiding in the bathroom laden with bottles of champagne. No, something different. Something she would remember. He needed to shift her out of the rut she was stuck in, her job that was eating her life up, her obsession with her age, and above all, her not getting over Olivier.

He had never liked Olivier. Stuck up, pompous snob. He cooked superbly. Made his own sushi. Specialized in oriental arts. Listened to Lully. Spoke four languages fluently. Knew how to waltz. And couldn’t live up to commitment, even after six years with Mélanie. Olivier wasn’t ready to settle down. Despite being 41. So he had left Mélanie only to promptly get some 25-year-old manicurist pregnant. He was now the proud father of twins. Mélanie never forgave him.

Why Noirmoutier? Because they had spent unforgettable summers there. Because Noirmoutier was the symbol of the perfection of youth, of those happy-go-lucky days when the summer vacation seemed endless, when you felt you were ten years old forever. When there was nothing more promising than a perfect day on the beach with friends. When school was a century away. Why hadn’t he ever taken Astrid and the children to the island, he wondered. Of course he had told them all about it. But Noirmoutier was his private past, he realized, his and Mélanie’s, a pure, untouched past.

And he had wanted to spend time with his sister, just to be with her. On their own. They didn’t see that much of each other in Paris, he reflected. She was always busy, lunching or dining with some author, or on a book tour. He was often off visiting some building site out of town, or taken up with a last minute deadline for a job. Sometimes she came over for brunch on Sunday mornings, when the children were there. She made the creamiest scrambled eggs. Yes, he now found he needed to be with her, alone with her, at this fragile, complicated moment of his life. His friends were important to him, he needed their mirth, their entertainment, but what he craved now was Mélanie’s support, her presence, the fact that she was the only tie that linked him to his past.

He had forgotten what a long drive it was from Paris. He recalled the two cars, Robert, Blanche and Solange in the black, lethargic DS with Clarisse and Mélanie, and the nervous Triumph with their father at the wheel smoking his cigar and Antoine sitting in the back feeling nauseous. It took six or seven hours, including the leisurely lunch at the little auberge near Nantes. Grand-père was particularly picky about food, wine and waiters.

He wondered what Mélanie remembered of the endless drive. She was after all three years younger than him. She had said she didn’t remember anything. He glanced across at her. She had stopped humming and was studying her hands with that intent, stern expression that sometimes frightened him.

Was this a good idea, he pondered. Was she truly happy about coming back here all these years later, coming back to a place where forgotten childhood memories lingered, motionless, for the moment, like the surface of untroubled water?

“Do you remember all this?” Antoine asked as the car climbed the broad curve of the bridge. On their right, along the mainland, rows of gigantic rotating silver windmills.

“No,” she said. “Just sitting in the car and waiting for the tide. And riding in along the Gois passage. It was fun. And our father getting so impatient because Grand-père got the tide schedule wrong again.”

He too remembered waiting for the tide. Waiting for hours for the Gois causeway to appear beneath the slowly receding waves. And there it was at last, cobbles glistening with sea water, a four kilometre amphibian road dotted with high rescue poles with little platforms for unfortunate drivers and pedestrians stranded by the upcoming flood.

She put a quick hand on his knee.

“Antoine, can we go back to the Gois? I really want to see it again.”

“Of course!”

He felt elated that she had at last remembered something. And something as important and mysterious as the Passage du Gois. Gois. Even the word fascinated him. Pronounced like Boa. It was an old name, for an old road.

Grand-père never used to take the new bridge. He grumbled about the excessive toll fee and how the concrete structure’s gigantic sweep scarred the landscape. So he stuck to the Gois passage despite his son jeering at him and the long wait.

As they drove on to the island, Antoine realized that his memories of the Gois causeway were intact. He could play them back in his mind like a movie. He wondered if Mélanie felt the same. The large austere cross at the beginning of the causeway came back to him. “To protect and cherish,” Clarisse used to whisper, holding his hand tight. He remembered sitting on the island shore and watching the waves linger into nothingness until the vast grey bank appeared like magic. Once the sea hissed away, the bank crowded over with shell searchers wielding shrimping nets. He recalled Mélanie’s little legs rushing along the sand and Clarisse’s plastic bucket soon overflowing with cockles, clams and periwinkles. He remembered the sharp, tangy smell of seaweed, the bite of salty wind. His grandparents looking on, benign and weathered, arm in arm. And Clarisse’s long black hair aflutter. The cars would drone past along the causeway. Noirmoutier was no longer an island. He liked that idea. But the thought of the sea inching back up again, inexorable, was both thrilling and terrifying.

He had never tired of listening to gruesome Gois disaster stories. Back at the Hotel Saint-Pierre, the gardener, old père Benoît layered on all the gory details. Antoine’s favorite story was the one about the June 1968 accident, when three people of the same family drowned. Their car got stuck as the tide came up. They didn’t think of climbing one of the nearby rescue poles. The tragedy triggered headlines. Antoine couldn’t understand how a car could possibly be swept away by water and how people were unable to escape. So old père Benoit had taken him to watch the tide creeping in along the Gois passage.

For a long time, nothing had happened. Antoine had felt bored. Old père Benoît reeked of Gitanes and red wine. Then the boy noticed more and more people gathering around them. “Look, boy,” the old man whispered, “they’ve come to watch the Gois close over. Everyday, at high tide, people come from far away to watch this.”

Antoine saw there were no more cars making their way down the causeway. To his left, the immense bay filled slowly, in complete silence, like a huge transparent lake. The water seemed deeper and darker, trickling forwards over the muddy ridges of sand. Towards the right, sudden swollen waves that had appeared from nowhere were already impatiently licking the causeway. The two separate fluxes of water came together in a strange and startling embrace that surprised him, casting a long ribbon of foam above the cobbled road. The Gois passage disappeared in a couple of seconds, engulfed by the tide. It was impossible to imagine a road had ever lain there. Now there was only the blue sea and nine rescue poles emerging from its swirling surface. Noirmoutier was an island once more. Triumphant seagulls shrieked and circled overhead. Antoine marveled.

“You see, boy,” said père Benoît. “That’s how fast it goes. Some fellas think they can make it inland before the tide, only four little kilometers. But you saw that wave, didn’t you? Never mess with the Gois. Remember that.”

Antoine was aware that every Noirmoutrin had a copy of the tide schedule stuffed into a pocket, into a glove compartment. He knew the folks here never said: “When can you cross?” but “When can you pass?” He knew they didn’t measure the Gois metrically, but by it’s rescue poles: “The Parisian got stuck by the second rescue pole, his engine was swamped.” As a boy, he had hungrily read all the Gois books he could get his hands on.

Before this trip for Mélanie’s birthday, he had hunted those books down. It took him a while to remember they were in a jumble of cardboard boxes in his cellar, boxes he’d never bothered to unpack since his recent divorce and move. His best-loved book was there: “The Extraordinary History of the Gois passage”. He opened it, smiling, remembering how he would spend hours poring over the old black and white photographs of wrecked cars poking their bumpers out of sea water under a characteristic rescue pole. He decided to take the book with him, and as he closed it, a white card came fluttering out. Intrigued, he picked it up.

To Antoine, for his birthday, so that the Gois passage no longer holds any mysteries for you. Your loving Maman. January 7th 1972.

He hadn’t seen his mother’s handwriting for a long time. Something pricked the back of his throat. He had quickly put the card away.

Mélanie’s voice bought him back to now.

“Why didn’t we ride in on the Gois?” she asked.

He smiled apologetically.

“Sorry. Forgot to check the tide schedule.”

The first thing they noticed was how Barbâtre had thrived. It was no longer the small village overlooking the beach that they remembered, but a bustling place boasting modern bungalows and malls. The island roads were thick with traffic, another nasty surprise. The summer season was at its peak for the long weekend of August 15th. But when they reached the north end of the island, they saw to their relief that nothing much had changed. They entered the Bois de la Chaise, a green stretch of pine trees and holm oaks strewn with curiously different styled houses which used to amuse Antoine so as a child: 19th century gothic villas, logwood summer chalets, Basque-like farms, English manors, all bearing names that came back to Antoine like old friend’s faces: “Le Gaillardin”, “Les Balises”, “La Maison du Pêcheur”.

Mélanie suddenly exclaimed :

“I do remember this!” She swept her hand towards the windshield. “All this!”

Antoine could not make out whether she was happy or nervous. He felt a little anxious, too. They turned into the hotel gates, wheels crunching on white gravel. Strawberry bushes and mimosas lined the alley. It hadn’t changed, thought Antoine, slamming the car door. No, it hadn’t changed at all, but it looked a good deal smaller. The same thatch of ivy creeping up the façade. The same dark green door, the same blue-carpeted entrance, with the stairs on the right.

They went to stand by the large bay window looking out to the garden. The same hollyhock, the same fruit trees, pomegranate trees, eucalyptus and oleanders. It seemed shockingly familiar. Even the smell lingering in the entrance was familiar. A musty, humid odor enhanced with beeswax and lavender, with fresh, clean linen and vestiges of good, rich food. The particular smell that old, large houses by the sea carry year after year. Before Antoine could mention the wonderfully recognizable smell to his sister, they were greeted by a buxom young lady sitting behind the reception desk. Rooms 22 and 26. Second floor.

On their way up, they peeped into the dining room. It had been repainted, neither of them recalled that lurid pink, but the rest was exactly the same. Faded sepia photographs of the Gois, watercolors of Noirmoutier castle, of the salt marshes, of the Bois de la Chaise regatta. Same wicker chairs, same square tables covered with starched white tablecloths. Nothing had changed.

Mélanie whispered:

“We used to come down the stairs for dinner, and you had your hair plastered down with eau de Cologne, and you had a navy blue jacket and a yellow Lacoste shirt…”

“Yes!” he laughed and pointed to the largest table in the room, the one in the middle. “We used to sit there. That was our table. And you wore pink and white smocked dresses from that posh shop on the avenue Victor-Hugo and a matching ribbon in your hair. ”

How proud and important he used to feel as he came down those blue carpeted stairs in his blazer, his hair combed like a “petit Monsieur”, and from their table, Robert and Blanche looking on fondly, a Martini for Blanche, a whisky on the rocks for Robert. Solange, sipping her champagne with her little finger in the air. And everybody used to look up from their dinner and admire the entrance of these beautifully groomed children, cheeks pink from the sun, hair smoothed back. Yes, they were the Rey family. The wealthy, respectable, impeccable, proper Rey family. They had the best table. Blanche gave the biggest tips, she had seemingly endless supplies of rolled up ten franc bills in her Hermès purse. The Rey table demanded constant, careful attention from the staff. Robert’s glass always had to be half full. Blanche wanted no salt whatsoever because of her blood pressure. Solange’s sole Meunière had to be perfectly prepared, without the slightest, smallest fishbone or she’d make a fuss.

Antoine wondered if anybody here remembered the Rey family. The girl at the reception was too young. Who recalled the patrician grandparents, the officious daughter, the gifted son who only came on weekends, the well-behaved children?

And the beautiful daughter-in-law.

All of a sudden, the precise souvenir of his mother coming down those stairs in a black strapless dress hit him in the chest like a blow. Her long black hair, still damp from the shower, twisted up into a chignon, her tiny, slim feet in suede slippers. Everybody watching as she glided into the room with that dancer’s step she had passed on to Mélanie. He could see her so clearly it hurt. The freckles on the bridge of her nose. The pearls in her earlobes.

“What’s wrong?” Mélanie asked. “You look peculiar.”

“Nothing,” he said. “Let’s go to the beach.”

A Secret Kept
by by Tatiana de Rosnay

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 0312553498
  • ISBN-13: 9780312553494