by Chris Bardell
The coast road curved and rose slightly as it passed a village stepping down the hillside towards the sea. It was one of the few old fishing ports on the island which hadn’t yet succumbed to the influx of foreign money, but it wouldn’t be long. Less than a kilometre back down the road, there were garish, stylised hoardings advertising the construction of another new resort complex on what was now parched scrubland.
The car was a vintage Mercedes-Benz, immaculate in piano-black like a patent leather shoe. The boss had imported it from an elite restorer in Germany as a birthday present for his wife, a decade previously. It had been maintained at vast expense ever since as her personal transport.
She sat in the back seat, gazing into the distance, hearing only the car’s refined drone and the gentle breath of its air conditioning. She had told the chauffeur that she preferred not to have any music on this occasion.
He drove calmly and efficiently as always, a practised eye aiming for the smoothest progress. The surface quality of the roads was a barometer of the investment status of each area. As the dollars and roubles spread further away from the town, more and more stretches of road would be closed and resurfaced overnight with glassy, black asphalt, further extending the sprawl of new money.
The car swept through the final bends before slowing and pulling onto an unmarked dirt road. The chauffeur pressed a button under the dash, and tall metal gates began sliding open. The car bumped down the track towards the villa, the tyres kicking up brown dust. He watched the gate close again in the rear-view mirror.
The chauffeur brought the car to a halt in the shade of the building. He got out, opened the rear door, and went through the motions of helping his passenger out of the car. They both knew it was a ritual that her husband insisted on for the sake of appearances, and that she would refuse his hand as always. It was hardly like she needed the help at her age.
The chauffeur unlocked the villa and disabled the intruder alarm, standing aside to allow his passenger into the hallway. She clicked across the tiled floor towards the main living area. The villa was at the very peak of the headland. Floor to ceiling sliding windows onto the veranda presented a panorama of blue-silver sea and deeper blue sky, framed at the periphery by rocky, ochre coastline.
She put down her handbag and walked towards the kitchen area. She took two glasses from the shelf, placed them on the counter, and pulled an icy bottle of Finnish vodka from the freezer compartment. She poured a generous measure into both glasses.
The chauffeur stood impassive near the counter. She handed him one of the glasses, then took her own and drank it down in one. Following her lead, he did the same.
She reached out towards him, taking hold of the peak of his chauffeur’s cap, gently removing it from his head and laying it on the counter. Her own ritual this time, now established as their tradition. They locked eyes, and the ghost of a smile played across her lips.
She walked away, across towards the bedroom. After a moment, he followed.
They took coffee on the veranda afterwards. The heat had mellowed to a tolerable level and the sea-salt breeze was sharp and refreshing. She had busied herself in the kitchen with the chrome espresso machine, enjoying the brief subservient role. As she brought him a second cup, she took a moment to compose herself, and told him her news.
“Look, I’m sorry but I’m afraid this has to end. Us, that is. I’m leaving the island.”
No reaction. Eye contact, but his face was blank and unreadable.
“Our time together has been lovely, and I’ll always remember it. But I just cannot bear to stay here with Charles any longer. You know how unhappy I’ve been.”
He turned his head to look out to sea, but stayed silent.
“I know you’re hurt, and I really am sorry. Please say something.”
He looked back at her.
“Where will you go?”, he asked.
“Back to the mainland. We have an apartment there. I’ll get things in order, then fly home. I have friends I can stay with for a while.”
“I had to stay until Charles signed the deal with the Russians. They would only negotiate if I was involved. They’re vain, nouveau riche types. They probably thought I was authentic Old Money or something. A fading English rose with the expensive accent and manners. It took years, but they finally agreed to invest last week, so I feel free to leave now. I’m sure Charles will be happy with his projects and his millions”.
“What happens to me?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know. There will be other work for Charles, I’d imagine. Or if you decided to move on, I’m sure there will be a generous severance payment. But all this sounds so cold. You know this has never just been a physical thing for me. I care for you a great deal”.
A silence fell and lingered. After an uncomfortable moment, she sighed and began clearing the table.
She returned the tray of coffee cups to the kitchen counter, and began placing them in the dishwasher. She was surprised to feel his hands on her hips and his hardness against her. She turned around and they kissed deeply. He lifted her onto the kitchen counter, knocking his chauffeur’s cap to the floor. As he unbuckled his belt, she hitched up her dress and reached inside for the waistband of her underwear.
Preparing to close up the villa, he locked all the doors and windows, while she fixed her hair and reapplied lipstick in the hallway mirror. He retrieved the chauffeur’s cap and put it back on. They drove away into the late-afternoon sunlight, turning onto the coast road, back towards the town.
She knew that today’s long absence wouldn’t be remarked upon by her husband. His preoccupation with business, his general air of emotional detachment, had left him apparently unaware of her secret assignations over these three years.
But now that those clandestine meetings had come to an end, she felt lost and diminished. The chauffeur’s vigour and attention had reawakened her as a person and as a woman. As they had become closer and learned each others’ bodies and desires, she had found that her resurgent lust had brought along with it the unwelcome beginnings of a deeper connection. But, with effort and with some regret, she had been able to close the door on that emotion, for the first time in her life.
The chauffeur stole an occasional look at her in the rear-view mirror. He’d always known objectively that the arrangement was never destined to last. But head and heart can so often take different roads. She was older, but youthful. Demure, but imaginative. His, but not his. He too had begun to feel a profound intimacy when they were together, despite the circumstances. And now, she would be gone from his life within days.
The sordid truth of the situation hit him. He would phone the boss later to confirm that the mission had been achieved. Paid handsomely to drive a rich, bored woman around a sun-drenched Mediterranean island, with free rein to discreetly bed her whenever required. Just until she had helped get the boss’s huge property deal across the line, and wasn’t needed any longer.
It had felt like a dream job for a while, but the reality had become complicated, as it often does. His guilt and his sense of loss stretched out like the lanes of an infinite highway before him.