Collin Kelley is the author of the novels Conquering Venus and Remain In Light, which was a 2012 finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction. His poetry collections include Better To Travel, Slow To Burn and After the Poison and the forthcoming Render. Kelley is also the author of the eBook short story collection, Kiss Shot. A recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year Award, Deep South Festival of Writers Award and Goodreads Poetry Award, Kelley’s poetry, essays and interviews have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies around the world. He lives in Atlanta, GA. For more information, visit www.collinkelley.com, find him on Facebook at CollinKelleyWriter or follow him on Twitter @collinkelley.
Conquering Venus and Remain In Light are available in ebook and trade paperback formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Smashwords and through your favourite local bookstore.
Prologue: The Reflecting Hands
For here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. – Rilke
In his dreams he can remember her name. From the shadowy first glimpses when she was peripheral, on the edge of a crowd or morphing into a friend or family member, to the day the plane lifted off from Memphis Airport bound for London and her face and body finally synchronized in mid-flight slumber. Upon waking, her image remains sharp and clear, but her name slips into the ether of his subconscious.
She is older, but stunning, like a French movie star; her mouth down-turned at the corners, dark eyes, hair long and blonde. She has a place now, too, not just random locations in unrelated dreams, but a balcony over a street. She appears, a palm raised in what seems like greeting, until she begins tracing her life line, a delicate finger circling the pad under her thumb, the mound of Venus. I don’t know what you mean, -----, he says with frustration. She smiles and rests her hands on the railing, their whiteness shocking against the black metal, and on the back of her left hand, between the thumb and index finger, is a tattoo of small interlocking crosses. He knows this marking, knows it like the back of his own hand, because in the summer of 1995 as Martin Page stares at himself in the mirror of his London hotel room, he can see the same tattoo inked into his skin – a South American symbol meaning “equal but opposite” – and her name is on the tip of his tongue.
1. The Dreaming
Martin sat at a dressing table in the Metropole hotel on London’s Edgware Road. He was twenty-two that year, but looked older. Tiny lines were forming around his eyes, while closer inspection revealed the beginning of a furrow in his brow. His skin was unblemished and pale, like so many blondes, eyes large and blue. Not fat or thin, just in between. When people noticed the tattoo there was a momentary pause, a summing up of character, a re-assessment. They would notice he wore all black, that his eyes were often hidden behind bangs, that he spoke with a calm, detached voice. But their gaze would eventually flicker back to his left hand. Peter had the same tattoo when he was alive; inked in the same spot on the same day as Martin’s, when they decided they were familiars. At his parents’ insistence, the mortician covered Peter’s tattoo with make-up, so that when his hands were crossed over his heart in the long coffin, it would be as if those dark lines never existed. As if Martin never existed.
Earlier in the evening, Martin went downstairs to the large indoor swimming pool. He lost his way in the maze of hallways, and then emerged into a glass corridor that overlooked the pool below. He saw David McLaren alone in the pool doing laps. David was eighteen, athletic, tan and aware of his looks. When David began his backstroke, he caught a glimpse of Martin looking down at him and felt a chill pass through him in the warm water. Like the first time they met, like he had suddenly caught his breath. But Martin did not see this moment of panic, for he was in the elevator, filled with both a dread and excitement he had not felt in years. When Martin came into the poolroom, David swam to the edge and smiled up at him.
“Why don’t you come in?” David asked.
“No, we have to be ready for dinner in an hour,” Martin said.
“Stop playing chaperone. Leave that to Lady Diane. Loosen up.”
David climbed out of the pool. The water ran down his lithe body, making his bathing suit cling to his narrow hips. David stood there running his hands through his wet, dark hair. Martin and David stared at each other. They had been in similar situations before, when something unspoken was palpable, a third person whispering, but the words were unclear.
“Let me make you as wet as I am,” David said opening his arm, water glistening.
Too late for that, Martin thought, sidestepping David, who laughed as he grabbed a towel and walked toward the changing room.
Back in his room, Martin remembered the evening four months ago that Diane Jacobs, his best friend, called and said she had been asked by her principal to fill in as chaperone for a group of students from the high school where she taught English on their graduation trip abroad. We need another chaperone, she said, I can finagle it so you can go. She badgered him into saying yes – it’s cheap and we’ll be there for over three weeks and they swore to God the hotels would be decent – and, after relenting, he went to bed and the woman, whose name he could almost recall, made her first appearance.
Martin sat at the mirror, as if in a trance, and for the third time since he arrived in London, he could see her in the reflection, as if the glass did not exist. There were dark circles around her eyes, highlighted by her pale skin, and she wore her hair pulled back away from her face. The hands, in which she cradled her chin, showed her true age, and there was the tattoo…
There was a knock on the door. Both Martin and the woman in the mirror turned to acknowledge it. For a moment, Martin stared at the door.
“I’m coming. Just a second.”
Martin stood up and moved toward the door. He took a deep breath and went out into the hallway where Diane, David and the others were waiting.
In the mirror, the woman turned back to look at herself, unsure of what she had heard or where it came from. Her trance broken, yet feeling that something was in motion, the fluidity of time and space. She reached out and put her palm against the mirror. Over her shoulder, the reflection of her own city, its distant cacophony of traffic and voices like a second heartbeat slightly out of sync. There was a name on the tip of her tongue, had been for months, and an image becoming clearer by the moment. She tapped on the glass, intoning the mantra she used in place of the name that only came to her in dreams, sending it like a beacon into the unknown: Paris, Paris, Paris.