Story — From the April 2014 issue

Coup de Foudre

Download Pdf
Read Online

Mariama, you’ll never read this letter: if I sent it, our civil settlement would be invalidated and the district attorney would reopen the criminal case. I have no reason to send it, because I will never ask for your forgiveness. My offense was too great. I got away with it. I’m pleased to remain at liberty. Plus they say you’re illiterate. Yet we commonly recognize that some moral benefit lies in acknowledging our errors, even privately, in order to do penance and seek correction in our behavior. The more truthfully and fully and exactingly we do our accounting, the greater the value. As usual, then, it transpires that I’m acting on my own behalf.

If I could communicate with you, my principal intention would be to persuade you that I’m not a madman, though even writing this unsendable letter testifies against my sanity. I concede that my mind is not right these days, these days of disgrace. My mind was certainly not right at the time of our encounter. Although I was alert to what I was doing, I was also trapped within some kind of mental tunnel in which I was unable to perceive the outer world, or the constraints that usually apply to human relations. I had been in this tunnel — less metaphorically, a highly excitable and distracted state of mind — for the past several days, my thoughts careering against the passageway’s frictionless walls from one data point related to international finance to the next. Also, from woman to woman. I cannot, however, plead that I was not myself. The more closely I recall those actions and circumstances, the more convinced I am that in those terrible minutes my true character emerged. This is the character that would have been suppressed, or crushed or strangled or decapitated, the moment I declared my candidacy.

Source photograph © pictore/Getty Images

Source photograph © pictore/Getty Images

Before we met, Mariama, you were not one of the tens of millions of people around the world for whom the name David Léon Landau signified financial brilliance in the service of the public. After you were told who I was, later that day, the name still meant nothing to you, though years ago I was involved in writing the terms of the low-interest bond issue that secured a water-treatment plant in Guinea’s Fouta Djallon highlands, not far from your place of birth. I like to think that your lips were once refreshed by cool water gurgling from the village’s communal pipe, and that you sipped it thirstily and with pleasure. You may even have reflected at the time on the miracle of the liquid’s power and plenitude.

Power and plenitude: in the minutes before our encounter I was taking a shower, full force and very hot, fully steaming the wildly oversize New York hotel bathroom. The shower’s intensity did nothing to mitigate my erection, which was fueled by an overreliance on Viagra the night before and the night before that. (I will avoid inflicting my erections on you any further, except when unavoidable.) I wasn’t thinking of sex. Rather, I was brooding about the set of problems that seemed to define my life that morning. Chief among them was the European debt crisis and my crucial appointment with the refractory German chancellor the next day. I was also alarmed about a text message I had received that morning from a friend in Paris, suggesting that my political opponents had gained access to my emails. Only two days earlier, in Washington, D.C., another friend had delivered an urgent warning that I was being spied on by French intelligence — a warning, we learned later, that was clandestinely recorded. I turned my face into the water as if it were a liberating scour.

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 12

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $23.99/year.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
's latest novel, Equilateral, has just been released in paperback by Bloomsbury USA.

More from Ken Kalfus:

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada


October 2019


You’ve read your free article from Harper’s Magazine this month.

*Click “Unsubscribe” in the Weekly Review to stop receiving emails from Harper’s Magazine.