Fabrizio Dépole woke up on the French Riviera, more precisely in a five-star hotel, with no idea how he got there. The perfume was from Gladis, the suitcase, the laundry abandoned on the carpet. But… how could she have moved it, alone, from Paris? Someone must have helped her. He felt a strange jealousy.
He remembered drinking absinthe endlessly. He had vanished. At one point, a man or two helped Gladis drag him onto the train, or ship, whatever it was, and deposit him in the room. Why were the white panties lying on the beige padding on that two-seater bed? There was no man smell, thank God. Maybe they had and he didn’t remember it? Better not keep finding out. Gladis might be offended if Fabricio asks her.
Gladis Guvur was 51 years old. Fabrizio Depole, 25 years old. She had hired him as a lady-in-waiting.
Gladis, the cultural promoter of her time, had discovered Fabricio one summer in Mar del Plata, the day Kennedy was killed. The beach, until then semi-populated by citizens and unusual tourists, had emptied out in a torrid November. But Fabricio and his family, the Mar del Plata petty bourgeoisie, remained; also Gladis herself and her friends, drinking mate and whisky.
Gladis had fallen in love with the boy, who inexplicably read Somerset Maugham. Tanned, lanky, with an unflappable smile, white and wild without being mean. Abs involuntarily marked. She waited for a time when he would be away from his parents and sister, and He offered to travel to Europe together, with all payment for her.
The journey had lasted two years. They hadn’t been hurt in their deaths, but Gladis had changed markedly by the time she turned 51. She was a very beautiful woman. Between the ages of 19 and 40 she had been desired, claimed, requested. At 50, she retained, separately, each of the parts of her that defined her as glamorous. At 51, her attitude had deserted her. Fabricius, no.
Both came from traditional Catholic families: they were atheists. Often, in private moments, they confessed that they only believed in Somerset Maugham and money. They were in the five-star hotel precisely because Maugham had died a week ago.
Gladis had visited Maugham, in the late 1950s, at the Villa Mauresque, ten blocks from where spies, actors and a large number of gigolos, such as Fabrizio himself, were now staying, along with the cultural jet set of the time. . Though the Villa Mauresque gigolos of the late 1950s were largely professionals, Fabrizio was invented by her as such.
A group of friends and admirers of Maugham, from different parts of the world, had agreed to meet in that hotel, to say goodbye. It seemed like a foolish decision to Gladis, but she liked the hotel and had invited her.
Among those present was a seventy-year-old Argentine writer with his daughter, Victoria Galante (for irrelevant reasons, she did not bear her father’s surname. It was in fact a strange, furtive reunion between father and daughter). Victoria spotted Fabrizio and Gladis and, aware of the collusion between the two, she separated Fabrizio from the rest of the crew.
The 24-year-old girl was inhumanly beautiful. Blonde and sunny, gifted and graceful at the same time, with devastating curves and the audacity of someone who knows she can compete with nature. She naturally smelled of fragrances that the greatest perfumers had failed to imitate.
He led Fabrizio by the hand to the gates of Villa Mauresque, barely guarded by a bored policeman, under the pale sun of a European winter, 15 degrees and a casual wind. Fabricio didn’t know what Victoria had said to the guard, but he didn’t care; or let them pass on purpose. In the garden, beside the empty swimming pool, Victoria pointed out the villa to Fabricio.
“Maybe it’s too imprudent to interfere,” the boy commented. We’ve come quite far already.
“But delicious all the same,” Victoria hinted.
Fabrizio understood her perfectly. But he was surprised and intrigued by the proposal.
-What would Maugham say about your relationship with Gladis? Victoria asked casually.
Fabricio thought he understood the situation: Victoria was playing a game against Gladis.
“I’d say,” Fabrizio improvised, “that it’s a sufficiently squalid situation to interest you.”
Victoria laughed and kissed him.
Fabrizio immediately accepted the kiss.
“Let’s go to the villa,” he insisted.
“I can’t afford the scandal of going to jail,” the boy retorted. He was royally excited.
“If you come with me, we will travel the world together,” he proposed.
“You don’t have to go that far,” replied Fabrizio.
They cautiously descended into the empty pool.
When they could talk more calmly, Victoria insisted: -Tomorrow I’m leaving for the Himalayas. Won’t you come with me?
“I’m very lazy,” Fabrizio refused.
“A Sherpa and a Tibetan monk will accompany us,” said Victoria, with the perfect mix of enthusiasm and irony.
“I prefer the plain,” Fabrizio mused.
-I can’t believe that between us you stay with Gladis.
Fabrizio remained silent.
-How much would you say, if you did the math, that he pays you per month?
A moment later, Fabricio confessed: -I’ve been working for two months. They invited her to this hotel. If it weren’t for my job and the income she left behind, we wouldn’t have anything to live on.
-I don’t believe you – Victoria insisted -What are you doing?
-I collect memories of Maugham around the world. Anecdotes, letters, objects. I am paid in sterling for every verifiable souvenir or situation. Practically, day by day, I maintain it. Because the rent stays in Buenos Aires. Since Maugham’s death, the price per heirloom has increased exponentially.
Victoria rubbed her hands against her miniskirt as if she realized she’d done something wrong.
“I’d find out he’s bankrupt,” he warned.
“He hides it jealously,” Fabrizio explained. It is something that would deeply embarrass her, if she were to know.
-And yet… will you tell me? She spoke like a disgruntled porteña.
“We already have two secrets to keep,” Fabrizio explained.
Why are you still with her? Victoria almost burst into tears.
“I’m interested,” replied Fabrizio to himself.
-What interests you? Victoria asked.
-This, Maugham would say, is a mystery that shares with the universe the merit of not having an answer.
Charles Hurd is an entertainment journalist for News Rebeat. He brings a fresh and engaging voice to the world of pop culture, covering the latest developments in film, television, music, and more.