What he knew in Tours was this: she was not to be consorted with any longer. And it wasn’t just that Martin had to deal with the parental disapproval she wrought upon his life, it was also that, quite simply he was tired. Nothing was ever easy with Effie. If he told her it was hot, she would insist it was cold. That something was a delicacy, no, it was commonplace. At first, this is what attracted Martin to the relationship. At twenty-six, he had the strength to endure such challenges. At thirty, it was becoming more difficult to be amenable to Effie’s self-evident bullshit. But to her, there was nothing to indicate that Martin was feeling this way–that he might decamp from what she viewed as the shelter of their relationship. To Martin it was no shelter, but a prison. And the longer he stayed on this tour of France with her, the crueler he would come across by breaking up with her the second they got back to Los Angeles. He turned over all the possible “gentle” ways to let her down, but knew there was surely no viable one–nary an excuse that could cushion her from the pain of losing him. For he knew that after him, she would struggle to find another. That’s just how it was going to be, the luck of the draw for someone who found it so difficult to move on, from anything.
There was a story she had once told him about a boy named Izzy she had admired from afar in elementary school. When she took a gamble on giving him a custom Valentine in the hand-crafted boxes they had all been forced to make, he shamed her for it in front of the entire classroom, mocking the phrase, “With all my heart, Effie,” in particular. From that moment forward, she hardened the falsely depicted organ, refusing ever to attempt to express her feelings for any man unless he first did the same. Martin was the first person to fulfill that criterion. Sure, she suspected she had a few overly eager “friends” in college and beyond, but since they never explicitly stated their desire for her, she kept herself closed, never daring to risk the potential trauma of further humiliation. Yes, you could say that an act Izzy thought to be seemingly insignificant fucked Effie up for life. That’s usually how it goes when it comes to psychological damage. And upon hearing her recount the tale to him one night as they lie in bed talking of nothing and everything in the way that only lovers can, an unpleasant thought crept into Martin’s mind: if I ever break up with this girl, she will be ruined. But this was at the beginning of their relationship, when he was still infatuated, and their demise seemed impossible.
How they came to be in Tours was, as usual, a result of Martin’s good fortune to have been born a white male. After landing a job at a company that sought to reinvigorate the allure of tour guidebooks as a result of his father buying a publishing company that recently happened to absorb it, Martin was able to write off as a business expense going to the Loire Valley as his first order of business. This, he had told his company as its chief editor, was the guidebook in the greatest need of a revamp. Even more than Syria’s. So he agreed to take Effie, who had long expressed a desire to go to France and, of course, Paris, which is where they would fly into for a few days before making their way south. For some reason, he felt he owed her this trip–he didn’t know why. Maybe a piece of him knew that this would be their last hoorah together. Or maybe he wanted to figure out if she was the type of person he could travel with, the ultimate determining factor in whether or not a significant other was truly “match-worthy.” Martin quickly found that Effie was not a “go with the flow” traveler. She complained over having to walk too far to their Airbnb with a suitcase, she retched when she ate certain foods that she found disagreeable and she tended to look particularly unkempt while on the go. In essence, she was wearing down his last nerve with her.
But on the third night they were in Tours, something happened. For one, they had finally had sex for the first time since the airplane (Martin could never fault Effie for her obsession with doing it in “weird places”) and for another, Martin realized after he had finished (she, mind you, did not achieve “completion”) that this was going to be the last time. He would end it tomorrow, while they were visiting the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. It was the point of interest he most wanted to revitalize in the guidebook, feeling that the descriptions really didn’t do the castle justice in terms of being a foremost example of French Renaissance architecture.
He rented a car that they were on the road in by 9 a.m., much to the dismay of Effie, whose own job as a remote freelance copywriter permitted her the luxury of waking up at her preferred time of 11. In the face of her complaints about not being able to get a “to go” coffee anywhere in Europe that wasn’t London, Martin forged ahead in the silver Citroën he had settled for. Effie rolled the window down in defiance against Martin, who had only moments before turned the heat on. Letting her shoulder-length black hair bat her in the face as the wind blew through, Martin slammed on the brake abruptly, jolting her into a reality where she was suddenly aware of just how irritated he was with her.
“Roll up your fucking window.” She obeyed. In truth, this wasn’t the first time Martin had spoken to her this way, and as a result, she always knew it was best to simply do as he said and wait for him to cool off. But he didn’t seem to want to as they approached the breathtaking in its isolation castle. A mere twenty-five minutes away from Tours, the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau was just what Martin imagined it would be. Not just for the purposes of his new edition of the guidebook, but also for the breakup he had been ruminating on since the previous night.
Effie remained quiet, docile even as Martin proceeded to tell her a bit about the castle’s history. “The château was in disuse after the Hundred Years’ War. It wasn’t until Francis I’s Treasurer-General, Gilles Berthelot, came along and saw something worth spending money on to fix that the castle was restored.”
Effie said nothing in response, still stung from Martin’s tone in the car. She instead took pictures of the lavish interior, rife with the paintings and furniture one would expect of a castle, even one as “modest” as this. When Effie ignored him, Martin continued his spiel anyway. “Berthelot was often too busy to personally tend to the renovations, however, leaving his wife, Philippa Lesbahy, to deal with most of the repairs.”
At this, Effie couldn’t help but take the bait, whipping around to say, “So his wife was left here all alone to deal with his shit?”
“I wouldn’t state it like that, but, fundamentally, yes.”
Effie arched her brow. This would be the ideal moment to tell her, Martin thought. But oh god, how he dreaded her reaction, which would be either ice cold or hot with rage. He couldn’t take either. And that’s when he knew the plan that had been germinating in his mind was budding like a flower in accelerated motion. It was as the idea exploded within him that Effie began to bristle. To Martin, she looked more hideous and repugnant than ever in her mock martyrdom. And it was only going to make his next move all the more facile.
What he knew in Tours was this: ultimately, he had to kill this fucking bitch for her own good–and his. She would never know the pain of rejection and he would never have to know the annoyance of dealing with her post-breakup river of shit. Instead only a river in which her body floated peacefully through it. It was a win-win situation when you looked at it practically. And men are nothing if not pragmatists.