November Blue – Part 3

by Phantazein Studio

cafe charbon paris oberkampf

Continued from Part 2:

It’s pitch dark in the room. She turns over in the bed and reaches out blindly, her hand swishing around in black open space. A cold thin brass chain meets her fingers and she tugs sharply, a dim yellow light switching on. A fuzzy halo encircles the dusty bulb and she squints as her eyes adjust to the light. Groaning, she lifts herself onto trembling forearms and turns onto her belly to face the window. Across the street at Hôtel de Montesson, two backlit silhouettes like perfect paper cut outs face each other in their individual white windows. They seem to be communicating with each other, their hands gesticulating wildly in a ping ponging exchange. She can’t tell whether it’s an argument or just a lively conversation. The taller one walks towards the other, briefly disappearing behind the wall before popping up in the next white rectangle. More gesticulating and a brief pause in the game. The two figures stand still, their profiles mirroring each other before enmeshing into an irregular black blob as they embrace.

Her eyes focus onto her own reflection in the window. From this angle, her own image frightens her. The light from the lamp below casts black shadows into her eye sockets and nose, rendering a sad jack-o-lantern. Two dark crevices frame her mouth where her muscles have been frozen into a permanent scowl, as if two weights were dragging down the corners of her lips.

A low crackling sound interrupts her self inspection.

She catches the reflection of the giant poster on the wall behind her rolling down, the top half curling over the sullen smirk of Louis Garrel. The weight of the heavy glossy paper stubbornly resists the tape she’d layered again and again over the corners. He offered it to her after they’d seen La Jalousie together on their third date.

She’d met him at Café Charbon, a local joint in Oberkampf where she would often get her writing done. It was early evening on a Tuesday, and the after work crowd was steadily streaming in. He was nursing a beer, holding the mug in both hands. The sturdy hands of someone who used them with purpose. His eyes had been fixed on her ever since she first noticed him sitting there and they hadn’t moved. She glanced up every now and then, playing it cool as she sought a break in his gaze to check him out. He offered no such break. The words on her laptop rearranged themselves in an arbitrary order as his stare summoned her face to a bright flush. She was used to the indiscreet manners of French men by this time, but this one was particularly explicit in his intent. After she glanced up a third time, he picked up his coat and determinedly walked over to her.

He spoke with a light, musical accent which she had a hard time placing. It was Dutch. He was originally from Amsterdam, had lived in Paris for four years, and was an artist. Mostly sculptures. Ceramic. Had a flat around the corner. Never married.

She can’t remember much else of what was said during that conversation, but she does remember the faint olive tint in his brown eyes and the heart shape of his cupid’s bow, a pleasingly feminine feature to his otherwise decidedly masculine face. They saw each other again three days later.

It was an intense affair. The kind that crescendos swiftly from the first several moments without bothering to reflect on where to go next, if it goes at all. He was kind to her. Patient. Persistent as any man is when a woman isn’t quite sure. His words were quickly peppered with promises which by now she knew better than to hang her hopes on. She didn’t want to hope. She didn’t want to contrive substance onto something that was perfect in all its depthlessness and premature elation. She wanted to ride out this cherry colored wave until it’d fizzle out naturally, beautifully, the way such impossibly sweet stories should end.

He beat her to the punch.

The night he confessed the story to her she went deaf for approximately four seconds, the sound cutting out abruptly after she heard the first three syllables of her name. His ex-girlfriend. Her vision may have gone out too, although she doesn’t remember at this point. Those three syllables echoed within her ears, this persistent ring which mockingly followed her for months, boucing off the walls of that twenty metered squared room. The sound of that name still makes her stomach churn, a pavlovian impulse forever tethered to that Act.

She didn’t leave.

Instead, she subjected herself to the sight of him for many months afterwards, a constant reminder of the filth that had passed so innocuously right beneath her nose. He was apologetic at first, offering an impossible range of penances to make it right. Those actions never quite surfaced. Her hatred and revulsion never subsided. Sometimes they’d rear themselves suddenly, seizing her entire being as she heaved the contents of her rage onto him in an unwielding torrent. Insults, interrogations, and shrill how could you’s. Why did you… She would always feel infinitely worse afterwards, the violence of her own enmity seeping into her veins, immobilizing her limbs with fatigue. And yet she stayed.

At some indefinable point, his resistance broke. And thus followed the conversations. The tide had shifted, imperceptibly at first, before she found herself caught in the steady stream of his bile engulfing her still fragile being. It always caught her off guard. He’d start out with simple words, short, but efficient in their power to hurt her. Pathetic. Useless. Weak. Then onto the heavier stuff. Comparisons to his ex. Criticisms from every angle. Her mother. Her body. Her French. Her writing. Things that he wished were different in her. I don’t think I love you anymore…

And as if in some extraordinary measure to un-do all the misgivings life had presented her, she stayed the course. That if by some miracle he could pay penance for all the hurt he had caused her, for all the trauma and the anxiety this story had induced, she could somehow be cured of everything else. She desperately needed this wrong to be made right even if the quest itself killed her. In the end, it didn’t pan out that way.

The faint buzz of the rapid traffic below on the street resonates through the window. She presses her lips against the cold glass, sucking the outside energy in, a translucent white fog billowing around her mouth.

She knows she will get through it. She’s done it once before, there is no mystery involved. She will wake up the next day, and the day after that, and little by little the rawness will yield into yet another long stretch of unfeeling. But how raw the present is despite this knowledge.

Her lids weigh down with the force of her fatigue and she doesn’t resist. Giving into the invisible lull of slumber, she lays her cheek down onto her starched ivory pillowcase, fluttering into a much silkier universe where none of this ever happened.