LA MAISON DU DÉLICE
10:48 on a Wednesday morning in December. 10:48. To still be in bed at this hour would have been unthinkable in my previous life.
I forced myself up and pottered through to the kitchenette. Kettle on. Took my mug off the drying rack. It was a solid brown thing - just the right size and weight. Funny how you grow attached to these bits and pieces: this old mug had served me well. I would have liked to have taken it with me but nothing in La Maison du Délice was mine.
I settled with my cuppa by the kitchen window. It had a nothing view - lawn, couple of apartment blocks, fence, hedge - and yet...the hours spent surveying this scene. I came over strangely wistful. Very soon, this would all be memory.
The sight of a hairless Chinese Crested snapped me from my revery. A woman across the way exercised hers - presumably it was hers - two or three times a day and, I can’t lie, it never failed to creep me out. Its skin was grey and glossy but for a spiky 80s moptop and boot-like tufts on its legs.
I downed my tea and went to the bathroom.
A shit, a shower and a shave.
Disgusting line, yes? I learned it from my father. He was, and remains, very polite, very proper. But he served in the Army, where he picked up a number of vulgarities which, every now and then, would pop out. A shit, a shower and a shave was one I first heard as a small child and it never left me.
The shower pressure was excellent, the temperature control very sensitive, and the water clean and soft. An all-round quality shower, then. Not that it had done a damn thing to stem the decline in fortune of the hair on my head.
In recent times (many years) what I had done was move it, nudging and combing my hair just so, to disguise the bald fact: I was bald.
A bald man.
Post-shower, as I lathered shaving foam on my chin, I surveyed him in the medicine-cabinet mirror. Pitiful. Broken. Barely recognisable. I closed my eyes but could still see it. A bald head crowning a face sallow, haunted, sickly, harrowed, beaten. This place had done all this and more to me. Not La Maison du Délice itself, but where La Maison du Délice was.
Neuchâtel, Switzerland - a country I should by all rights have been forbidden from entering.
I suffer a psychological disorder characterised by a fear of the land, culture and people of Switzerland, that manifests as depression, nausea, psychotic episodes and skin rashes. Its name: Anthrophobie Suisse.
Sounds made-up, you say? Do you always question other people’s experience of their lives?
My body was proof of the devastating reality of Anthrophobie Suisse. After however-many-weeks (twelve?) in Switzerland, only a forlorn carcass remained. I towelled off my bony frame and pulled on a sweater and tracksuit bottoms. Pajamas, essentially.
Memories from my not-so-distant past: a New & Lingwood robe de chambre in blurred paisley pattern, with matching smoking hat. Its damask fabric had a shiny-matte surface that exuded a magnificent presence under flickering candlelight. Wearing it made the hours before and after sleep an elegant treat.
Different era, different Patric.
I went through to the lounge and allowed myself a little cry. It swelled. Soon I was wailing, bent over, curled on the floor, gulping down sobs. There was so much anxiety and regret in my tears. But there was also joy. And I suspect it was this that pushed me over the edge.
For at last the realisation dawned: it was over...I had made it...I was alive. There had been moments, of doubt, of dread, of doom-soaked depression, when I wasn’t sure I had it in me. Over the past weeks, triumph seemed so distant and far-fetched, but here I was: my final day in La Maison du Délice…
Time seemed now to fold in on itself. How long had it been since my journey began?
Was it, really, only last summer?