Régine is seated in her parlor, very straight and elegant in her chair, with only an afghan over her knees as a concession to comfort. She looks out the window at the sun setting over the garden, her hands folded in her lap.
There is a knock on the door.
"Yes," she says without turning, "come in."
Marcelin does. He looks as if he has recently arrived and only handed off his overcoat to a servant before seeing his mother; his clothes are somewhat dusty and rumpled, and his slightly greying hair is full of flyaways. "How are you, Mother?"
Régine looks over as he enters, and for a moment her eyes are cold; then she concedes a smile. "Marcelin, really. You are the most untidy child. I am as well as can be expected."
He pauses, takes a deep breath, and says lightly, "I came in haste. This is how I am with no one to look after me, even at my age," as he walks over to stand where it is easy for her to see him, but where he is not directly in front of her. "How well do you expect to be?"
Régine does not answer this. She looks up at him with that odd little half-smile for a minute, then extends a frail arm. "Come here," she says quite gently.
Another pause, this one of surprise, then Marcelin takes her hand and drops to one knee to be more at her eyelevel. "What is it?"
"Look at you," Régine says almost chidingly. "I didn't feel sixty until this moment." She frees her hand to smooth his hair back, nearly hesitantly.
Marcelin blinks but does not protest. "You do not seem sixty."
She smiles again, with, it seems, genuine amusement. "Thank you, dear."
"You have nothing to thank me for, truly." He looks at her quietly for a minute, taking note of the new lines in her face and her apparently cheerful mood. "It is good to see you."
Régine's smile turns sardonic. "Indeed."
"Truly. Every now and then, a boy needs to visit his mother, if only to reassure her that she is still as beautiful as he remembers from his youth." Marcelin kisses his mother's hand.
Régine makes a little scornful grimace. "To be sure." And tightens her fingers around his. "How have you been, dear?"
"Healthy and busy. The foibles of the people of Paris never cease to amaze me; just when I think they could not be any more foolish, they outdo themselves."
Régine looks amused again. "Yes?"
Marcelin shakes his head slightly. "Yes."
"I cannot think of anything specific that you do not know about already, but every new legal difficulty disheartens me somewhat." Marcelin smiles. "You would not believe the difficulties some people have in, say, drawing up a will."
"No, likely not." Régine studies him a moment or two. "And your friends?"
Marcelin considers this. "They are doing well, for the most part."
"Yes?" A tilt of the head. "For the most part?"
"A man who was my friend when I was in college died recently," Marcelin explains, only giving the truth a slight gloss.
Régine blinks twice, coolly. "Really. I am sorry." Her fingers tighten slightly on his again.
Marcelin's eyebrows rise slightly. "It is not particularly important," in the verbal equivalent of a shrug. "We -- no. It is not important. Tell me, mother, why did you ask me to visit?"
Régine mirrors his expression. "I have been asking you for years, Marcelin. So has your sister, for that matter."
Marcelin looks away from her. "I have been trying to establish a stable practice and a settled household, neither of which have come with any ease. I am sorry I have not been able to visit you."
Régine's mouth twists at the corner at 'settled household'. "Of course, dear. I was merely wondering why I must have some particular reason for wanting to see my only son."
"You do not need any reason, of course, Mother." He misses her change of expression. "I was merely curious."
"And you detest being here," she says calmly to the wall behind him.
"I --" Marcelin looks at the floor. "Yes. I hate being here. It is nothing to do with you, now."
He looks up at her. "No. I dislike this house because of the memories here, not because of you. If I thought you would accept the invitation, I would invite you to visit me, but I doubt that the thought would please you."
Régine says, too mildly, "I should hate to inconvenience your... household."
Marcelin answers coldly, letting her hand go, "I understood that."
The light goes out of her face, leaving it cold and brittle. She folds her hands again, smoothly, as if it had been her idea to break the contact. "You were always a perceptive child."
"Must you call me that?" He stands. "I know that you do not like my living arrangements or what I have made of my life. I have not done anything to remind you of them. Let that be enough."
Régine stares at him coldly a moment, then turns away, looking out the window again.
The silence defuses Marcelin's anger. "You do not want to visit Paris." He sounds tired.
"No, I do not." Clipped, emotionless.
"Please do not be angry with me for failing to invite you."
Régine gives a faint shrug. "I am not."
"Why are you angry?"
She closes her eyes. "I am not angry. I am tired, tired to death. I am sick at heart. I am not angry."
Marcelin kneels by her chair. "What troubles you?"
"I will die," she flings at him bitterly, "with my children hating me."
"I have not hated you in a very long time, Maman."
Régine turns blazing eyes on him. "I have not seen my grandchildren in six years, my daughters refuse to write to me, and my son--"
"I am here, aren't I?"
"Visits me under protest, resenting me all the while because, God help me, I cannot approve of his living arrangements," with slicing irony. "And I cannot complain, can I, because I--" She cuts herself off sharply.
"If you hated Chantal's husband, you would understand her right to resent you," Marcelin says in an almost level voice. "You may complain. You may believe that I hate you, but that will not make it true. I have not visited you because I cannot tolerate this house; everyone who belonged to it hates me except you. I did not want to infringe on your comfortable life by offering you invitations you could not accept. You did not want to know what was happening to me on a daily or monthly basis, Mother, it is not interesting to anyone except me."
Régine sits stiffly, expressionless, staring at the wall. After a pause she says coldly, "If you dislike being here so much, I shall not keep you."
"That is not my point."
"Tell me what I should have done so that I can apologize for having failed you."
Régine shrugs again. "You already know that. It is not worth apologizing again." She seems about to say more, but stops.
Marcelin looks at her without understanding for a moment, then shakes his head. "I have done the best I could do."
"So have I," she says very, very softly, not looking at him.
"Then there is nothing to apologize for and nothing more to be done." He nearly takes her hand again, but lets his hand fall without touching her. "I do not hate you. Believe that."
Régine does look at him then, her face as rigid as ever, but her eyes are strangely hesitant. She starts to speak, but no words come, and after a moment she leans over and puts her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder.
Marcelin embraces her. He looks somewhat concerned at her fragility. "Oh, Maman."
Régine is quiet, just holding him, for a long minute or two. Then she straightens slowly, and kisses his forehead. "Look at you," she says for the second time, softly.
Marcelin asks, just as softly, "What do you see?"
She is silent another moment, regarding him. "A man who knows his own mind."
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