Love, by Pascal Thomas

Neither believed in God, singular or plural, and this was the prerequisite for all that followed. In the era in which they lived, it was hard to entertain even briefly, even the fantasy of mutual attraction with such an ugly obstacle as a deity planted in the way of their respective, gently intertwining paths. Jean in particular hated the concept of God – hated it with his very being – and this hatred had dominated much of his thought during adolescence, no more or less difficult and embarrassing an adolescence than that of his esteemed peers. Sophie was altogether less invested in the matter, but could still be depended upon to deliver a scathing analysis on the clear absence of God and the clearer cruelty of God if one existed, her thought processes rooted in the arid realm of morality.

They felt alienated by many of their esteemed peers, whose collective disbelief, while pronounced, paled in comparison to their own. There was no academic outlet for the denouncement of all religious faith, and indeed some teachers still clung to theirs. Thus it was only natural that Jean and Sophie would develop an attraction, not romantic at first, but more than what was generally appropriate between two individuals in a large group of friends. When they realised what was happening – when they’d found each other and knew it – the topic of God quickly receded, first into the background, then off-stage, never to be seen or heard again.

The honeymoon days were thick with lust and sweetness of the kind that can only be found among those rare couples who consume copious amounts of pornography but do not wish to emulate it. From the start they surrendered themselves completely, on their own terms and openly, with an earnestness that left unsaid only their undying passion for one another. What they once put into words more easily, in the soft haze of post-coital bliss, was the idea of changing what it meant for two to be as one: in that moment they believed, simultaneously, that the definition of their relations could somehow define the relations of the entire world. They believed that their centre could, in different forms and standards, be anyone’s centre, if anyone tried to make it so.

But the greatest pleasure, for the longest time, was to be found in the individual. They learned and loved one another’s habits – Jean’s guffaw, which he said had been described by many women as everything from goofy to alluring, and Sophie’s insistence on selecting one random cigarette from a fresh packet, re-inserting it into the carton upside-down and declaring it her “lucky cigarette” to be enjoyed last – allowing each to shape their own thoughts and being. They were not sentimental, for sentimentality was reserved primarily for the optimistic and dumb, neither of which could be justly applied to them. They saw in their actions and amplifications only a natural progression of their separate lives, and a harmonious fusion of the two.

Time passed, and they grew older and completed a long education and realised, in their own ways, how the realities of the professional world differed from the illusions they’d lived by in the years spent crafting the perfect essay, chasing a flawless understanding of their chosen industries. It was not easy, going out in the world five days a week and being greeted by systematic dysfunction, and Sophie in particular developed a mild but chronic depression, but this was quelled when they both returned home to a shared apartment, losing themselves to the continued pleasures, evenly distributed, of the throb of his prick and the quivering of her cunt. Familiarity had not bred contempt; they came to see each other as they saw themselves, in a mirror, after many years spent perfecting a style they could finally call their own.

That contempt did not materialise. What did was a slow fatigue, localised at first around the ways of the world. They came to grow indescribably tired of: late shifts, mandatory training, processed meat, public transport, Hollywood movies, bad weather, the property market, iPhones, loud people and the package holidays that many of their friends seemed to live for. The participation of such friends in all that they felt dead towards – the seemingly total and seemingly willing immersion in all these things  had a profound effect on Jean and Sophie, and in retaliation they doubled down on what they thought it meant to be alive.

And their affections came to resemble that between parent and offspring, the former purposefully blind to all the flaws and faults of the latter, and certainly unable to cast judgement with the same standards applied to any other. If there were any errors to be found in the words or actions of one, the other would not confront the issue, if the other was aware of it at all. The sex began its inevitable decline, a cruel machination of fate, and it was difficult for either to say why; although if pressed, both would have suggested reasons emotional rather than physical. Their simple togetherness, stripped of all superficiality, became the antidote for every high salary and every wayward child they’d never had or wanted.

And time passed, and they grew older, Jean straying from the marital home and Sophie withdrawing into it, neither allowing the other to wander too far from the boundaries of their minds. Systematic dysfunction had had its way with them – had forced them to make difficult choices and live difficult lives that in more prosperous times they may have otherwise avoided – and without putting such thoughts into words, they came to recognise and accept the perversion of their ultimate ideals. It was not the core that was at fault, the four-letter word with a capital L, but rather the havoc Man had let loose on the world, soiling their own version of paradise.

And there was nothing else to say, their lives defined so long ago by the adolescent encounter that now seemed at once chance and unavoidable. They went out and paid bills and had affairs or entertained the notion of them, attended the funerals of their parents and siblings and the friends who left behind a black hole in the corporate world, no longer feeling much of anything but forever grateful to be able to endure each necessity together. To the very end they never stopped believing in Love, and in that respect, it could be said that they had won.

Pascal Thomas divides his time between France and England.