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Hull | City of Culture 2017
The Val Wood Prize 2019: Love Letters WINNER
Susan Auzou is the winner of The Val Wood Prize 2019: Love Letters. Here is her remarkable winning entry...
My darling Nico,
I’ve been thinking of writing this letter for a long time but it’s never been quite the right moment. I was afraid of tripping up on my way down memory lane, of being unable to find the words to do justice to what we had. This is for you, Nico, for me, for us, the girl and boy we left behind.
That summer all those years ago, before social media, before so many other things, defines who I am today. I had a place to read French at Warwick University and thought it would be useful to find a summer job in the country of Molière so that’s what I did: backbreaking physical work in an orchard in Normandy. Laurie Lee had his “Cider with Rosie”, I had my cider with Nico. You were the farmer’s son, back from university for the summer, the harvest was early that year. You helped out but you weren’t some rusty cheeked country boy, you had ambitious plans for the future. We got talking on my second evening, after supper, when you squeezed in next to me at the long wooden table where the workers ate. You were so different to the other boys I knew at that time. For a start, you never stopped talking. Your mind was as sharp as a diamond and you woke me up, made me see things differently, challenged me. You wouldn’t let me get away with my usual sulky ‘so what’, I was expected to think. I floundered at first but I learned fast, picking holes in your argument until ‘Touché’ you would give one of those annoying Gallic shrugs and quickly change the subject.
My French improved so much. Your English less so as I loved to hear you speak in your native tongue. You sounded like you in French. You spoke so fast; your voice, soft, caressing, the words tumbling out of your mouth hot off your brain. You were studying civil engineering. You were articulate, pragmatic and clever and for six weeks I forgot about being shy and concentrated on being my best me. I wanted you to like me. Of course, I fell in love with you.
You were beautiful, not handsome; slim and fluid, your movements as graceful and assured as a cat. I liked to watch you light a cigarette, the soft click of the lighter, the golden flame, the way your eyes narrowed as you inhaled followed by the graceful flick of your wrist as you slid back into the conversation. It was your ritual, a way of punctuating all those thoughts.
Carpe Diem you’d say and carpe diem we did. You opened up my heart and showed me that life could fizz with laughter and joy, that it was possible to make the most of each moment and there was nothing wrong with being happy. Your laugh, that loud surprised yelp when you found something funny, I hear my sons making a similar sound and it makes me smile.
It’s said that young love is the deepest, it’s certainly the shiniest, brightest and most raw. Fearless, we sped along those narrow country lanes on your motorbike. “Smell the flowers,” you’d shout but as I leaned into you all I could smell was you; that gritty mixture of sun kissed skin and nicotine. It made me want to cry.