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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two ex-pat American women in Paris wander, talk, discuss and discover in the Tuileries Gardens on an Autumn afternoon.

Submitted: October 16, 2016

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Submitted: October 16, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


Sandra Jennings looked at her watch for the fifth time in the last three minutes. Her concentration in and fixation on the passage of time pushed aside the reason for her meeting with Joanna Farnheim.

All around her in the Tuileries Gardens were the three main stages of life: infancy and babyhood; youth and adulthood; and the last stages: illnesses; Alzheimer’s; imminent death. Suddenly, several paintings by Salvador Dali cued up on her inner eye and momentarily distracted her from her obsession with the hour.

Beside the artificial lake, young girls as well as young boys guided their craft with wireless glee, with the boys inevitably reverting to tactics to ram or even sink the boats of the other children, whether male or female. Sandra took in this scene and her subconscious shot out the idea that boys will be boys even if it meant hurting and destroying young girls—even without touching them—and even without saying anything to them.

Suddenly Joanna was pinching her elbow.

“Hiya, kiddo . . . I picked that up from my grandfather the other day. I kinda like it; what do you think?”

Sandra squeezed her friend's arm and laughed, “I think it has a purposeful and very direct aspect to it; certainly better than ‘what’s shakin’ or ‘whazzzzup’.”

They both laughed.

Joanna was of medium height. She wore her dark hair with graying spots in a short style. She was very smartly dressed and Sandra made a mental note to ask her where she was going, or, at least, why she was all dressed up.

Sandra, thirty-two, wore jeans and a long off-beige shirt that covered her chubby bottom but accentuated her breasts as well as her slim waist. Her tan accentuated her perfectly straight teeth. Her arms, below the three-quarter sleeve buttons were slim and bronzed.

Sandra’s walk was provocative.

When men came close to her, they met a musky scent of sexuality. Sometimes Sandra thought that this alluring scent was what kept Jason around for the last three years.

Although they were not married, neither had uttered the word ‘nuptials’ over that entire period.

Joanna’s best features were her eyes and her legs—although her remaining charms were by no means mediocre.

Joanna was the eternal companion and aide de camp of her prettier set; even those who were gorgeous like Sandra and a few others who were glamorous. Joanna practiced this triage effect whenever she had the opportunity to observe a situation such as a gathering of some women’s club or volunteer project, for which she was always the prominent member.

Joanna was married to Rolf, but she had all the money. Her parents, as well as her grandparents and all four siblings, died within a two year period.

All the inheritances reverted to the sole survivor, Joanna.

This uncommonly fortunate result from such a horrific misfortune on the part of the deceased never left Joanna’s mind. She determined to work full time on ways to create trusts; foundations; charitable causes; and to donate to innumerable established institutions doing good works.

She had offered Sandra and Jason a very large sum of money when Jason broke his thigh bone as the result of tripping over a high curb while running on a street near Montparnasse Station.

Sandra had very politely declined her offer and made a point of including Joanna and her husband in almost all of her plans, if only to deliver a roundabout gesture of thanks for being so thoughtful.

Jason applauded his girlfriends’ rejection of the money and agreed with her about including Joanna and her husband, Rolf, a burly Prussian with a fine sense of humor as well as a deep thundering laugh that never failed to alarm all within the arrondissement.

All four were ex-pats who had fallen in love with Paris and immediately moved there.


A flock of starlings wheeled and whirled, regrouped, and set off for the Left Bank.

Now, the little girls were crying as the little boys continued to batter and sink the distaff craft.

“Look at that, Joanna, isn’t that a primer or a beginning template for the treatment of women by males right through to death?”

Joanna was silent while she pondered a suitable reply to Sandra’s enlightened remarks. She ended by beginning with, “Oh, maybe they’re the reform school kids out of stir for an afternoon at the boat pool; or, they may be the best brought-up group of boys in all of Paris—even France,” pausing, “what on earth made you become so involved with the little ones and their mini wars in the Tuileries?”

Sandra chuckled for a few moments while she fished for a brilliant riposte—or at least a witty existential reason for her momentary but keenly focused attention on the battle of the sexes; toddler version. However, she could only offer the slightest form of a wise reply.

Joanna drew in a breath, “I was thinking of Rolf, and how he always appears to be trying to sink my boat even though I know he would be horrified to hear even a passing reference by me to such a thought, “sighing, “how’s Jason?”

“Well that’s why I wanted to get with you Joanna, to talk about him.

"I can’t decide if he’s a cat burglar, a Mr. Hyde, or a night crawler. But the main point is that he goes out every night either before or after we have sex, and then he’s gone—after, at least—for hours. I fall asleep and he very kindly leaves me alone or if he says he’s not in the least sleepy, we chatter on until four or five—even six,  which explains why I have purple bags under my eyes most of the time and Jason sleeps on the job.”

Joanna Farnheim carried off her rather plain looks with an occasional flash.

Sandra never told her friend, but she secretly wanted to get her hands on Joanna for about four hours, surrounded with every make-up product available as well as a good photo-shop program and turn her into the stunning, glamorous woman she was hiding under all her grey clothing and cheap beauty aids.

“Do you think he’s having an affair—or affairs? I mean; what the hell does he do for four or five hours in the middle of the night and the wee hours of the morning? Is he a serial killer? “A rapist? A cat burglar? . . . or does he just like to walk around and see what’s happening with and to whom, during the hours when the rest of us plebes are snoring and getting our required eight or nine hours of zzzzs?

“I am baffled, Joanna.”

They were moving across a freshly cut portion of the gardens where the scent of the new-mown grass was strong enough to qualify as aromatherapy.

They soon left the shrieks of triumph and disaster at the boat lake and found themselves near a group of people playing a game of some kind. There was quite the throng, almost five deep, surrounding the players.

Sandra was the least indecisive of the two and immediately began to move very quickly toward the gathered masses to begin looking for the fastest and easiest way to sidle through and around the older men, where she could gain a vantage point to watch whatever it was that they were playing. 

Sandra more or less dragged Joanna in her wake and the older men were polite enough to allow the two well-dressed young women to find a path to the fore, right next to the scene of the contest.

Someone had set up a tall table about three feet square and two players faced each other from their perches atop shiny metal bar stools with crimson cushions.

On either side of the table sat a wall of small tiles. The players were in the middle of a game of Mahjong. What Sandra andJoanna noticed immediately was that one of the players was a beautiful young Eurasian woman approximately their age. She held herself—and particularly her head—in an attitude of grace and determination.

Her hands never hesitated for a moment as she employed her tiles to gain the win.

Her opponent was a very old Chinese man.

After a few moments, cries and yelps from the onlookers clearly indicated that the glamorous young woman was ‘putting it to’ (as they say) the old gent and he was not taking his whipping well; in fact, his entire demeanor was one of rage and impotence.

Both Joanna and Sandra believed that if the old man had a gun he would shoot the young woman. He was furious. 

Apparently, he was of a very good family, and so there were neither threats nor curses, only a steady tirade against his opponent’s moves—not her—just her brilliant moves.

Suddenly, the game was over. The old man had lost.

With amazing alacrity, he retreated to the sanctuary of a handy hedge where he could cry out the bitterness of his defeat.

His tears of frustration were ejected not only by the realization that he was defeated by a person substantially younger than he was but also by the fact that his conqueror was a woman.


The young winner gave a broad smile in recognition of the loud prolonged clapping, whistling, and cries of good cheer directed at her.

Sandra and Joanna both felt compelled to stay to watch the next game even though they had no clue as to either the rules or the strategy of the game.

The spectators were smoking and jesting, chattering and laughing.

The two women rarely saw such jollity, and they secretly wondered why Caucasians lacked that Asian trait of directness charged with humor and good will.


While the crowd smoked, talked, and drank some tea provided by an itinerant vendor, the other areas of the Tuileries felt very far away.

There was nothing French about this sector of the gardens; neither the people in attendance nor the game that was attracting so much keen attention on the part of all the spectators. Finally, there was nothing French about the old man or even his opponent.

And yet they were impossibly polite to each other both during and after their match.

“I’ve heard of this game, Joanna. It’s becoming more popular all over the world. I read an article in the Herald Tribune that Jason brings in every morning. Where he gets it, I have no idea. But every morning we have our coffee and read the Tribune.”

A flock of geese was passing overhead on their way to the Riviera.

The reluctant October sun occasionally bounced off a shiny feather.

The sky sat still like an extremely deep-blue inverted bowl.

Notre Dame belled out the hour of three.

Sandra had wanted to talk with Joanna about Jason.

After three years, Sandra thought it was time to ask Jason to fess up to whatever junk he was involved with in the French capital that required his presence virtually every night for the last year and a half.

Joanna offered nothing helpful to explain his absences.

Sandra thought that she would spend about fifteen minutes watching the next game, then wander to a different part of the gardens where she could sneak a smoke, and get the benefit of Joanna’s experience as well as her intuition.

Joanna was six years older than Sandra but looked a few years younger, something that puzzled Joanna and secretly pissed off Sandra.


Without any warning, a cry went up from the crowd, a mob that had grown by at least fifty more than watched the last match. These additional spectators merged into the previous crowd to bring the total to somewhere around two hundred.

The young Eurasian woman resumed her seat and shuffled the tiles while she waited for her next opponent.

Sandra almost fainted while Joanna remained very calm and in full control of her emotions—for the moment.

Onto the bar stool, amidst cries and shouts of encouragement, climbed Jason.

Joanna gave him a wink and pursed her lips in a silent kissing position. Jason smiled back and winked.

Sandra was behind Joanna and could not see Joanna’s expression. She believed that Jason was winking at her.

Jason prevailed and Sandra noticed that the Eurasian woman smiled very broadly at Jason, even though she had lost.

At no time had Jason seen Sandra in the crowd. He gave the Eurasian woman a long kiss to raucous shouts and whistle and whoops. He then turned and approached Joanna.

At just that moment, Jason’s view of Sandra was shielded by a very large man’s body.

“Hi sweetheart, well this should be enough for us to loll on the beach at St. Tropez for a month or so. I’ll give Sandy some excuse for being out of town that long. Anyway, she hasn’t caught on so I’ll keep going to my Mahjong classes and dropping by for a night with you.”

His tanned face increased the brilliance of his teeth while he smiled at Joanna before grabbing her and kissing her very long and very deep.


Sandra crouched lower behind the large man, then turned and scuttled back through the swelling crowd and went home.

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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