An Afternoon Can Last Forever,
In Provence – Part Deux
We passed the afternoon with a delightful combination of small talk, shameless flirting, off-color jokes, some soothing Chopin in the background, and introspective thoughts on our lives.
We were well into our third bottle of Rose when she lobbed a grenade my way.
“You made an interesting comment a while back, which I let float by. But it’s too tasty a morsel to not revisit. May I?”
“I guess that should make me nervous, but I’m not. Fire away.”
She smiled at me and ate a grape. “You were explaining why a two year marriage, which failed, turned you off to the entire institution. I think you said, quote, ‘Unconsciously embracing what I’d probably been harboring inside anyway’, unquote.”
It was an impressive exact quote, given the amount of alcohol we’d drank.
I thought for a moment, watching as a trio of large Baton Blue butterflies flitted about in their frantic air dance above a blooming yellow rose bush. The cacophony of colors continued to astound the senses.
“Well, I have already copped to being a cynic. I guess that’s an extension of that. And probably a big reason why my marriage didn’t work out. I must have gone into it skeptical and doubtful. We had no chance. And yes, I have blamed myself for its failure, not my wife.”
“Did your parents get divorced?”
“They remain happily married in San Carlos, California; in the same home I was born.”
Her eyes got large and an ear-to-ear grin bisected her pretty face. “I’ve been to San Carlos. More than once. About twenty minutes drive north from Stanford up the El Camino.”
She laughed and sipped some wine. “Yeah. Is this weird for you?”
“More than you know. But not in a creepy way. In a mind-blowing way. What brought a med student to San Carlos?”
“Oh, there was a little dive bar, The 1139 Club, there on San Carlos Avenue near the train station. I met my first fiancé there. Bill.”
“I’ve spent some time in that bar. It had a small town charm with just enough seediness to give it an edge. I liked it. How close to walking down the aisle did you get with Bill?”
“We were engaged about three months, I was poised to graduate, Detroit loomed, and we decided it was a bad idea. We were right. Our union would have made yours look like your parents.”
“Okay, I’ll turn the tables…gently. Why is the ’no child’ regret heavier than never having a husband.”
“Ah, so you were listening. Well, that’s kind of easy now, but when I made the vow to never marry, after I turned forty, I’ll confess, it was not easy.”
She got up and walked to the railing and leaned on it. She’d pushed her sweatshirt sleeves up past her elbows in response to the warm afternoon. So had I. She gazed out at a paradise that was all hers. Apparently, her child cavorting through the rows of vibrant flowers with the butterflies and bees was all that she lacked.
She rose to her tip toes and looked at me.
She sighed and returned to her chair, picking up her wine glass and draining the last inch.
“Shot of courage?”
“No, not really. I have not talked about a lot of this stuff for years, you know. Some of this, this whole afternoon, has involved ripping off a band aid. And there’s some surprise for me to discover the wound hasn’t healed.”
“You, of course, may take the fifth.”
“No, I’ll answer. You appear to be earnest and interested. You deserve a response.”
“Thank you. I am being totally genuine.”
She nodded. “Back to your direct question, however. I am not a feminist, by any stretch. Being raised in Paris makes a woman a woman. There is no modern day Simone de Beauvoir model for today’s Parisian woman. She was a failed feminist, anyway, letting Sartre walk all over her. I never felt the need for a man. I had boyfriends through high school and college, but nothing serious till grad school. And by then, I was almost fully formed as a woman. My views on men and relationships were healthy. My dad was a strong figure in my life, up till his death. No man I ever met came close to his standard. I know the cliché about that. Sue me. I loved my dad, he was a great man, and he raised me after my mom died when I was 14. It was inevitable that I would compare any potential mate to him.”
“And also inevitable that they would fall short.”
She looked at me, startled.
She got up again and walked down the four wide steps to the dirt and stood facing her field of dreams, hands thrust in the back pockets of her jeans. I remained seated and took a sip of wine.
This was a knife edge we were balanced on. We could fall either way, or be sliced in half.
I noticed the wine bottle was empty, as was her glass. A fourth bottle could take this one of two ways. I waited and watched her.
She stood still like that for five minutes, occasionally shaking her head, as if holding a conversation with herself, which she probably was.
When she returned to her chair I saw her glance at the wine bottle, start to reach for it, stop and turn and sit down. No shot of courage this time.
“This is true confession time, Jesse. I mentioned my mom dying when I was a teenager. She was raped and killed by a man one night in Paris. A man who knew my father. There had been a business deal that went sour, not my father’s fault, but this man decided to exact revenge, in the worst way. Since then, other than my father, I’ve had trouble trusting men. When I left my fiancé on my wedding day, it was because I had a panic attack that almost killed me. I couldn’t breath. My dad was the only person I told the truth to about it. Men scared me.”
Past tense, I noticed.
I absorbed this while watching her. She shot a furtive glance at me and looked away, then grabbed the wine bottle and retreated inside, letting the screen door bang close behind her. I had not grown tired of looking at her ass. For the fourth time that afternoon, I heard the oddly comforting, muted pop of a fresh wine cork being removed.
When she returned, I realized what I wanted to say. What I needed to say.
She poured the wine without asking and sat facing me, crossing her legs.
“I’ve never had this before.”
“Yes, this. Whatever this day has been. This comfort level with another woman. The chemistry, the willingness to divulge and share…even trust. You welcomed me into your garden,
onto your porch and inside your soul.”
”Spoken like a true writer.”
“From your lips to God’s ears. Have you?”
“Not even close.”
“Makes me wonder, ‘why now’? You know, where were you when I was looking for a soul mate?”
“Where the hell were you? I’ve even been to your home town.”
“And I yours.”
“And in the south of France the two shall meet?”
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Our cryptic exchange had established very little, in spite of its intense rhetoric. Were we inclined toward each other? Toward anyone? We’d both chosen disengagement as a path through life, for very different reasons. She didn’t trust men, I didn’t trust THIS man.
Amazing how saying “never” can open doors when it seemingly is designed to close them. How giving up can open up the senses to people you used to not even see, let alone engage with. It can be freeing in an odd way, paving the way for a ‘what the hell have I got to lose’ mentality.
I felt us approaching those gates, pearly or otherwise, hands grasping the bars, questioning previously assumed truths. Can one afternoon and four bottles of wine do all that?
A gorgeous hillside of flora and fauna could be a delivery room for the birth of so much, but can love be born there?
© Copyright 2016 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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