The book behind the new play by David Hare, The Red Barn

Read an extract of The Hand by Georges Simenon

The Hand

Isabel is tall, with a graceful figure, regular features and a slightly condescending smile, as if those with whom she is speaking were at fault in some way

‘He doesn’t know me . . .’

‘At Ashbridge’s, you don’t need to know anybody.’

Isabel was listening without saying a word. Isabel never intervenes in such moments. She is the docile wife par excellence. She does not protest. She simply watches you and passes judgement.

At that point, there had been nothing to criticize in my behaviour. We went every year to that party at the Ashbridges’, which is like a professional obligation. Isabel did not point out that the snow was falling hard and that the drive up to North Hillsdale is a difficult one. In any case, the snowplough had certainly gone by.

‘What car are we taking?’

‘Mine,’ I said.

And at the back of my mind – it’s only now that I discover this – there was a tiny ulterior motive.

Ray works on Madison Avenue. He is a partner in one of the biggest ad agencies. I see him almost every time I go to New York and am familiar with his routine. Without being a drinker, he does need two or three double martinis before each meal, like almost all those in his profession who live on their nerves.

‘If he drinks a bit too much, at the party . . .’

It’s funny – or tragic – to recall those little details a few hours later. For fear that Ray might over-indulge, I was taking precautions, arranging to be the driver on the way home. Except that I was the one who had got drunk!

At first, there were at least fifty people, if not more. An immense buffet was set out in the front hall, but all the doors were open, with people coming and going, even in the upstairs bedrooms, and bottles and glasses were everywhere.

‘May I introduce Mrs Ashbridge . . . Patricia, my friend Ray . . .’

Patricia is only thirty. She is Ashbridge’s third wife. She’s very beautiful. Not beautiful like . . . I wouldn’t say like Isabel; my wife has never been truly beautiful. Besides, I always find it difficult to describe a woman and I automatically do so in relation to my wife.

Isabel is tall, with a graceful figure, regular features and a slightly condescending smile, as if those with whom she is speaking were at fault in some way.

Well, Patricia is the opposite. On the small side, like Mona. Even more of a brunette than she is, but with green eyes. And Patricia, she looks at you, fascinated, as if she desired nothing more than to learn your innermost thoughts or to confide her own to you.

Isabel never conjures up the image of a bedroom. Now, Patricia – she always makes me think of a bed.

They say . . . But I pay no attention to what people say.

First of all, I don’t trust hearsay. And then, I instinctively loathe indiscretion, so I hate backbiting all the more.

The Russels were there, the Dyers, the Collinses, the Greenes, the Hassbergers, the . . .

‘Ted! Hello!’

‘Dan! Hello!’

People talk, drink, come, go, nibble things that taste like fish, turkey or beef . . . I had, I remember, a serious conversation off in the morning room with Bill Hassberger, who was thinking of sending me to Chicago to settle a legal matter.

Those people are rich. For most of the year, don’t ask me why, they live in our little corner of Connecticut, but they have business interests more or less throughout the country.

Compared to them, I’m a poor man. Dr Warren as well, with whom I chatted briefly. I was not drunk, far from it.

I don’t know exactly when it all began.

Or rather, as of a few seconds ago, I do know, because on my bench, where I’m having at least my fifth cigarette, I’m suddenly discovering in myself a curious lucidity.

I went upstairs, for no reason, like others before and after me. I pushed open a door and quickly shut it, with just time enough to see Ray and Patricia in what wasn’t even a bedroom, but a bathroom, where they were making love, completely clothed.

I may be forty-five years old, but that image made such an impression that I can still see it in minute detail. Patricia saw me, I’m sure of that. I would even swear that the look in her eyes was not embarrassment, but a kind of amused defiance.

That’s very important. That image has considerable importance for me.

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