November Blue – Part 1

by Phantazein Studio

Paris rooftop rain

Frankie Dunn: You forgot the rule. Now, what is the rule?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Keep my left up?

Frankie Dunn: Is to protect yourself at all times. Now, what is the rule?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Protect myself at all times. 

Frankie Dunn: Good. Good.

-Million Dollar Baby

This is the view from the window in the maid’s quarters on the 6th floor of a Haussmannian building situated on Rue La Fayette, the ground floor of which is a cordonnerie, nestled between a Starbucks and a boulangerie, facing Hôtel de Montesson in the 9th arrondissement. She’d rented the apartment eighteen months ago from Madame Delacourt, a cantankerous widow of seventy something years to whom she’d assured prompt rent and no male visitors past midnight on weekdays.

In the cavernous vacuum of the twenty meter squared room, she’s been staring out at these chalky zinc rooftops in a bewildered daze for weeks. No light, no food, no water. Etherizing herself in slumber, she’d fade in and out of consciousness, only to wake up to the startling realization of the Act, her heart doubling its beat every time.

The haze of the November evening sun filters through the dirty window, casting a soft rectangular patch of blue onto the slanted wooden floor, the only source of light in the entire room. She reaches out to grab the near empty glass from the nightstand next to her bed, lifting it to her parched lips and tilting her head back, the lukewarm water traveling down her throat, sloshing into her empty belly. She scours her memory, trying to remember when her last meal was with no success.

Her eyes scan the ceiling, painted over in infinite coats of white paint. Layers upon layers throughout the decades, faintly obscuring the friezes running along the edges, delicate floral reliefs blossoming from each of the four corners. How she’d spent hours memorizing every curving leaf, every ripple of the delicately folded ribbons wrapping and floating around the flowers as she spoke on the phone with him. A sick sensation surges through her intestines at the moment of recall. These conversations would take place approximately every four to five months, increasing in frequency towards the end, always following a tense period during which he was no longer sure he loved her. Such cutting words. She’d learn to anticipate the cruel hooks, each time a sucker punch to her gut. The sensation of her heart rapidly sinking as her eyes traveled upwards to these four bouquets, the only thing anchoring the ceiling to the sky and preventing its collapse onto her contorted body, sprawled out on the damp sheets of the bed.

She imagines the sound it would make, a slow crackling over a steady rumble, then THWAP! Shards of plaster erupting into the air, a cloud of dense white fogging the atmosphere, eventually softly descending and blanketing her body in fine crystalline powder.

She thinks back to the winter of 2010. Chicago. She’d camped out at a friend’s loft for a month, demanding absolute solitude and respite. It was the holidays. Her seventh year in Chicago and the coldest in over a decade. The blizzard in early December lasted for weeks, burying the city in an oppressive white tundra, caging everyone in their individual domestic capsules.

Fortunately, she’d doubled up on her writing assignments in the previous months, taking up genres of jobs that she’d long overlooked since her graduate school days – copywriting for e-commerce sites, technical instructions for assembling home appliances, dating advice on singles sites for women over 40. She had just celebrated her 31st birthday. She’d even ghostwritten a young adult novel, a romance between a socially awkward nerd with a mild case of tourettes and the popular, blonde, glacially pretty cheerleader with a secret soft spot for outcasts. In the end, love conquers all.

She’d been saving up for months to move to San Francisco with her fiancé. They were waiting for the shooting of his latest documentary to wrap which had been continually delayed due to technical issues. They’d sold the Range Rover, put the Victorian armoire up for auction, and paid the deposit on a loft on 24th street just next to the Mission.

She’d taken care of most of the preparations for the move alone. She didn’t mind, as she was the one with the flexible freelancer’s schedule. Her fiancé had been occupied with his shooting for the past several months, often coming home well past midnight or even the next morning. There’d been stretches of weeks when they wouldn’t see each other at all, except for the few occasions when he’d come home to shower or change his clothes between scenes. He’d promised her that this would all be over within a couple months, and that she just needed to understand that this unpredictability was part of the rhythm of filmmaking. That soon she’d be working on her next novel from her own office in their loft overlooking Noe Valley.

It took about 50 seconds for him to deliver the news to her. He sat her down in the living room, pushing over a stack of Limoges China, a gift from her soon to be mother-in-law, that she’d spent the afternoon individually wrapping in newspaper. His eyes rested about four inches below her chin, fixed onto the amethyst heart pendant he had given her for their third anniversary. Or was it for Christmas. I’ve met someone. I didn’t know this was going to happen. Something about how none of this had been planned. How the encounter made him realize that something wasn’t right. His voice was oddly robotic and lacked its usual lively cadence as his words came out, equally spaced on the assembly belt of his tongue. I’m really sorry. You can keep the apartment.

He put his hand on her knee and held it there for a second, before getting up and walking out of her line of sight. She can’t remember for how long she sat on that couch after he left the room. Maybe a few minutes, maybe a couple hours.

The pixelated face of a toothy Obama on a crinkled piece of newsprint on the floor stared back at her. The ticking of the alarm clock was the only sound in the room, producing a faint vibration on the surface of the mahogany fifties coffee table they’d inherited from his uncle. Speckles of dust floated in irregular patterns in the narrow triangle of light escaping from a crack between two heavy fringed curtains facing her. It was late afternoon. The Limoges china was already wrapped.

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Click here for part 2: https://untracings.com/2014/04/23/november-blue-part-2/