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Exile

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We can never go back again, that much is certain. My God, what a fool I was to ever think I could keep hold of Manderley forever. My Manderley, my legacy, my own little kingdom, the only thing that truly mattered to me: gone. And I can’t help thinking that it was her who took it from me, as if she were wreaking her revenge from beyond the grave -

No. I will not think about any of that. I mustn’t. Because if I do, it will begin to drive me mad again, and not only will that ruin me, but it will ruin my wife too. My dear, faithful young wife. I see the way she looks at me sometimes - as if she sees something terrible in my face, something cold and bleak and inhuman. Women will insist upon fretting over their husbands, of course, but this is not merely fretting. It’s fear.

I have to pity her, naturally. I know this isn’t the life she deserves. But we need each other - or, at least, I need her. She must be the only woman on earth who would be content to stay here by my side; to perform the same little charades and rituals day after day; to supply me with the endless statistics and cricket scores and political debates which are like morphine to me, numbing and addictive.

And yet there’s still something in her eyes which makes me uncomfortable. As though she knows something I don’t. Imagine the face of a child who has discovered all of her Christmas presents hidden away in a cupboard, and has taken them out and played with them, and afterwards has to pretend she knows nothing about them; that same expression of guilt combined with pleasure is what I see in my wife. I'm almost certain that when she gets that expression on her face, she’s thinking of Manderley...

Perhaps I envy her, envy the simple pleasures of imagination which she can enjoy and I cannot. But what is the point in bringing myself more pain? 

Just as I think this, she drifts into the room, this morning’s newspaper in her hand. “You were right, Maxim,” she says. “Surrey have beaten Warwickshire to the finals again.” And I welcome this distraction from my disquieting thoughts the way a thirsty traveller welcomes the sight of an oasis. So we discuss the cricket for a good hour or so, criticising Warwickshire's choice of batsman, making our predictions for the results of the next match. There is no tension between us now. The only sign of distress I see in her during these tranquil moments is the look of concern on her face when she sees the cigarette ends littering the floor, still smouldering. At least a dozen cigarette ends, maybe two dozen. It startled me a little to realise that I had smoked so many.

Later we take our four o’clock tea on the balcony: bread and butter and cups of China tea, as always. This is one thing I can always rely on (unlike the arrival of the postman). For me it is a sign that I am still in control, that no unexpected changes will upset the pattern of my life - no, our life. In my head I know how feeble that sounds, a man in exile clinging to his traditions and his authority because he has nothing else to cling to. Is this what I have been reduced to? Not that it matters in this godforsaken country, where the name of de Winter means no more than the name of any other foreigner. We may not belong here, but at least there are no questions asked.

The sun here is so much sharper, almost mind-numbingly bright. From our little balcony, I look out upon a landscape of squat, whitewashed buildings and grey-limbed grapevines, suitably devoid of memories or meanings. I can look at these things without emotion, without attachment, without thinking of the person who placed them there, or the significance they hold. There are no familiar flowers here, unless you count the frail bougainvillea that slumps, ash-white, over the edge of our balcony. No memories, no meanings.

I was right to choose this little hotel, so private and out of the way. There is no risk of meeting anybody I know, anybody who might go back to England and say to their friends, “Guess who we bumped into? You remember the de Winters, don’t you? The ones who owned Manderley before it burned down, the ones who were involved with that ghastly suicide case we read about?” No, nothing like that will disturb us here. Back in England there may have been gossip, but it will have died down by now, and besides, it cannot touch us here. We are out of sight, we are out of mind, just like the old proverb.

My wife had wanted us to go to Switzerland, as Colonel Julyan had hinted, but the predictability of this suggestion put me off. Beatrice and Giles often holiday in Switzerland. Even Doctor Baker, to judge from the postcards on his mantelpiece, had relatives in Switzerland. No doubt my wife would think me petty - even paranoid - if I made these reasons known to her, but since she was in no position to argue, we headed for the Mediterranean instead. Besides, how could I look out on the rolling green Swiss hills - to be inundated by the sights and scents of edelweiss, and gentian, and orchids, and even those blasted rhododendrons - without comparing it to Manderley? But here I can gaze with indifferent ease upon an indifferent landscape, dusty and dull. Perhaps in a few months' time we will move on to a different hotel, in a few years' time we may move on to a different country altogether. It's my decision, I can choose to go wherever I like, and I know my wife will agree with whatever decision I make; she would never leave my side. But for now, this place will suffice. I have no intention of going anywhere just yet.

Tea finished, my wife and I return from the balcony to our room. I engage myself in the newspaper, absorbing the details of some triathlon-based event at Eton, whilst my wife knits. What joy women get from knitting, I’ve never understood; just the same repetitive action over and over again, and they seem to achieve very little for a very long time. Although ironically, I suppose the same could be said for my own life and habits. Still, the monotonous “click-click... click-click...” of the needles in the background is a soothingly dull form of white noise, something one can listen to without really hearing. I fear that the mauve-coloured jumper she’s knitting is for me. Mauve. God help her. At least she’s only on the left sleeve.

How quickly she seems to have aged. Once - not so long ago - I might almost have called her my daughter, but now in her manner and habits she appears almost as middle-aged as I feel. It is easy to forget that when my life eventually comes to an end, she will still have twenty, maybe even thirty, years of her mortal thread left to her. I told her once that we would have children, of course we would have children; now the idea seems inviable given our current situation, and I mean that in a number of ways. Besides, what de Winter could raise his son without a legacy to bestow upon him, without an estate to his name? Manderley. Oh god, it always comes back to Manderley. Can I not spend a day, a week, even a month, without being hounded by my recollections of the past?

Of course there will come a day when they trouble me no longer. Until then, I must continue to steel myself, to to stop up the passage to emotions. With my wife at my side, I tell myself, I am prepared for a future filled with many days just like this one: uneventful, predictable, unglorified. We will continue to hide ourselves away on the borders of society - not because we are cowards, I tell myself firmly, but because we have spent so long trying to be brave. We will remain reclusive and isolated from society for the rest of our lives if need be. Because we cannot go back now. Not back to England, and never back to my precious Manderley. For Manderley is no more.