“So — and just so you know this, just so you recognize what I am telling you — this will mean the end of your crisp hospital corners.”
“Française, please, Marie. Pas d’anglais s’il vous plaît.”
You squeezed your eyes shut. You hated this; I knew this about you. “Cela signifiera la fin de vos coins d’hôpital nets!”
And you left. You walked out on him, and you did not show him a tear. You gave those tears to me — raw and lucid — half a mile down the road.
“I didn’t tell him what we rehearsed, Daniel. I’m sorry. If you want, you can drop me off at the drug store and I will call for a taxi.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because the French word for fuck does not sound quite so declarative to you, and it is the only language I want to use right now.”
“I’m not just dropping you off.”
“Then you can wait for me in the car. I only need a few things. I don’t even have a pair of slippers, and I dislike your stone floors.”
“Then I will knit you a throw rug. An entire series of them.”
“You don’t knit rugs, Daniel, you crochet — never mind. It will only take me five minutes if I don’t swear en français, ten minutes if I do, fifteen if the police are summoned.”
“Marie?” I said, and leaned towards her. “You’re finished with him. Terminé. No police, please. We go home, to our home, to our floors, and I will kiss you just a little.”
“You are not French, Daniel. You do not know how to kiss me just a little. I am too distracting for your petits English kisses, ma chérie.”
“Then let us scorch your fresh hospital corners,” I said, “and I will kiss you into eventuality.” You laughed more tears than you cried, and I discovered a new thing: you were mostly unafraid to run with me, and I was mostly afraid I could not keep up with you.
Seven dollars and sixteen cents for a pair of lime-colored slippers. Molded cotton with thin rubber soles. You bought me a six-pack of Löwenbräu and a ballpoint pen. I’m still not sure why. You brought with you a plain cloth shopping bag filled with toiletries and magazines and chocolate, as if this were a vacation, or an escape.
“The years,” you said. “The years that I made their bed, cooked their meals. The years, Daniel.”
“Years that are behind you now,” I said. “Those slippers, though. They will last forever.”
“Are they not beautiful? They were in a discount bin beside the cassette tapes. I almost bought you a Dan Fogelberg album… he reminds me of you. There were mauve slippers, and orange, and strawberry red, but this was the only pair in this particular shade.”
‘They look radioactive.”
“Oui. I should be able to find them in the dark.”
“You should be able to find them from outer space.”
“Oui. Is that wrong?”
“No, not wrong. In fact, very apt. Very you.”
“Oui. Very me. Are you jealous I did not buy you a pair? As I said, these were the only ones in this color.”
“You got the slippers, I got the pen. And the beer. Very me.”
“Yes, and I am very tired now, Daniel. Do you mind? I am ready for those small kisses of yours, but, I regret, not much more. Are you sad now?”
“Sad? Yes, a little,” I said. “But it’s a long drive, and you need to sleep.”
“Ah, yes. And the world sends its regrets.” And she turned from me.
The city was behind us and it was a bronze Rodin sculpture, a monument to this idolatry I felt. What remained of the moon was scattered, masking absinthe rows of stunted trees. Where we landed was so far from the place I thought was promised us. Of course I was sad.
“I think you will be a very good artist, Daniel,” but it was in French: Je pense que tu seras un très bon artiste, Daniel.
Your voice was sleepy and shadowy. “Yes? I will be?”
“Of course you are already good. But great, is what I mean.”
“We will be great,” I said. “You will be there to see to that, right? By my side?”
“Oui. I will see it.”
“Did you sleep? You were very quiet.”
“No. No sleep. This is a longer drive at night. It bears a weight, does it not?”
“It feels like it. It’s late, almost 1:30. We’ll be there soon.”
“Half an hour, forty-five minutes. Traffic’s light, so not too long.” I stroked her cheek and she closed her eyes. “This would have been an expensive taxi ride.”
“Yes. I am sorry. He made me so angry, I could not think. ‘Française, please. Pas d’anglais s’il vous plaît.’ Like I was a child.”
“You were kind to leave it at that,” I said. “You two are like sticks of dynamite when you’re together, each one holding up a match, daring the other to strike.”
“He is a bastard.”
“He is your father.”
“That does not change his bastardness.”
“I suppose not. Let it go for now, Marie. It is still a fresh wound. Give it time to heal.”
“Yes. To heal. Can we stop somewhere for coffee? I feel a migraine gathering between my eyes.”
“We’re not too far from home, honey.”
“Please? I won’t be able to sleep anyway. I am still tightened up.”
“You’re too wound up. That’s the expression.”
“Pardon, can we somewhere for a fucking coffee so I can will not be so wound up?”
“Yes. You are tightened up, my mistake. Next exit, I promise.”
“I am so sorry, Daniel.”
“C’est la vie. It’s been a long night.”
“Oui. It has. We are arguing like bastards.”
“Two creams, two sugars, is that correct?”
“Yes, my love. And I am so sorry. Beaucoup d’excuses.”
“No worries,” I said. “Anything else?”
“No. Yes! Perhaps beignets, if they have them? I am suddenly hungry.”
“I’ll ask, you bet. Or any reasonable substitute.”
“Oui. Any reasonable substitute.”
It was two o’clock in the morning, but the restaurant — Mister Warren’s Southside — was busy, with a lot of truckers and shift workers filling up on coffee and early/late breakfasts. Who ‘Mister Warren’ was, I had no idea. The room was filled with the usual aromas of a good diner: freshly brewed coffee, greasy eggs, toast, bacon, good cigarettes. I almost went back to the car to ask you if you wanted a sit-down breakfast, but then I remembered your oncoming migraine. So I stood in line and waited. There were three large men and a laughing tattooed woman ahead of me. I thought you might fall asleep, and so was in no hurry. I thought of ‘Nighthawks’ by Edward Hopper, and smiled. If I could be that good….
When it was my turn to order, I asked for two large coffees, and half-a-dozen Boston creams. I think they were freshly made. I stuffed extra napkins in my pocket. I almost started to whistle, walking out the door, but I think I knew.
The car, of course, was gone. I retraced my steps, trying to convince myself I parked one row over, or not as close to the parking lot lights. I refused to notice the plain cloth shopping bag left in place of the car. I thought you were playing a game with me because I corrected your English. How many times did I correct your English? So I stood there. And I stood there longer, and I waited. I knew but refused to believe. You were gone. Inside that plain cloth shopping bag was your / my pair of lime green slippers. No note. No explanation.
I found a ride home, eventually. I arrived at seven-thirty that morning. My car was there, parked in the driveway, and you were still gone. There was no note. I decided not to wait for you. I went inside and placed the plain cloth shopping bag on the kitchen table.
I cried more tears than I laughed, and I discovered a new thing: you were mostly afraid to run with me, and I was mostly afraid you would not keep up with me.
I went to bed and I slept on the back of several broken hours. When I woke up, I showered and shaved.
Then I discovered a new thing about me: I would move on. And I decided I would cancel my French lesson on Monday.
I took them for three more weeks, and then signed on for the advanced class.