Breathless at 9525 Feet Sections 3-5

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Continued. An apartment in New York city for the dating couple as they settle in together, but as the shocking past is revealed, they wonder if they can face the emotions that are stirred up.


Hervé gave me a plant on my birthday. A plant? No, let me correct that. It was more like a tree supported by a three-foot wide clay planter. It was a miniature lyre tree, one of those eternal looking mythological symbols of Apollo, much like  streams coming together, converging from directions far apart. I gazed at it, thinking how was this going to enhance our space. I caught Herve’s eye. He gave me an impatient look.


His face was red with the effort of carrying it up the four flights of stairs, into the living room.

Chérie, ‘appy Birthday. Can you help me with this?

I slid off the couch where I had been curled up.


Oh how...grand.  I struggled to get my hands solidly around the base as I  crouched with bended knees. It was heavy!


Let’s put it in the corner. Here, next to the Empire State Building, Hervé said.

I laughed. Totally, 30 miles in the distance, to the right.

We could see the Building lit up every night from our vantage point, sometimes through a haze. it sparkled magnificently in the night sky, at dusk, in lights honoring all.


He came around to kiss me. “Baby, Appy Birfday.

I giggled, I don’t quite understand your Eengleesh.  


Hervé had never lived with someone. To some degree I was giving him the home he had never had as a child. When he first told me his story, I was aghast at the redneck French version he was telling me. I was aghast, truly at the deprivation of affection he had suffered. The arrival of a second child, a sister, turned into a nightmare for him, and the mother, when the little girl suffered a hearing loss.


His young mother could barely cope with the tragedy, blaming herself. Then him, for carrying the flu home from school.  The words of blame spoken to a young boy who could hardly bear the weight of it all. Hervé became a shadow puppet; the son who disappeared, emotionally,verbally, and finally physically.


On our first night in the apartment,  as we slipped into our bed delivered over by the Greek from the store on  Ditmars Boulevard. I was filled with trepidation. It all felt unfamiliar. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to make eye contact. I was filled with fear. Does everyone feel this deep doubt on their first night of co-habitation,marriage, setting up house?


Hervé must’ve sensed my uneasiness because he pulled me close to him.

Ça va, ma poulette?

I think so. How do you feel, I whispered.

It is different, but ...nice.


He didn’t say anymore as his long legs wrapped themselves around mine.

His hands stroked my face, my hair.


Different, but nice, I suppose I could say the same. We had a love for travel. From motels, to hotels, his place, and mine, beds and mattresses on the floor of his parents attic to finally our own place. Yes,I had waited 9 months after his initial proposal to make sure that it was what he had wanted, and what I had wanted, surely that was ground to launch without fail, and...  


My thoughts slowly unraveled as his mouth came on mine, his hands found their way between my legs. The night caught us in its wave.  




The scent of coffee wafted into the bedroom from the kitchen. I blinked at the light that shone through the red-embroidered curtains. The design was reminiscent of the curtains of my childhood in our Parisian apartment. The moment I  saw them in the 18th Street store, my heart lurched at the familiar pattern. The embroidery was hand stitched against a creamish heavy cotton. The day I bought them,Hervé stood up on a chair, fastening the clips to the already hanging rail.


I hugged him when he climbed down, surveying the straight lines.


You like it? I asked not expecting a negative response.

He grinned and said, Beautiful, comme toi!

He liked most of my aesthetic taste. The blue porcelain bowl that a colleague had made for me, the painting I had hung on the bedroom wall, from Sarah- an abstract portrait of a Laotian woman.


For a moment I lay in bed savoring the stillness of a Saturday morning. No screaming children from PS 102 around the corner, no traffic sounds from 38th Street. Instead a reverential silence blanketed the morning.


Hervé popped his head into the room.

Don’ t get up. Stay, he ordered.


He walked in a moment later carrying a blue tray-coffee in two mugs, a plateful of chocolate somethings on blue plates.


Hervé, I muttered.

Voila chérie

He had poured a bit of milk in my coffee while his remained black, a cube of sugar thrown in to make it palatable.


I’m going to get fat living with him, I thought to myself.  I bit into the swirling chocolate-covered pastry.


I went to the pâtisserie that Marie mentioned when we went over for dinner,he explained.

I bit into the scrumptiousness of it.  The chocolate was dark and rich. The pastry itself was saturated with flavors. Is that marzipan?

Hervé wrinkled his forehead. What’s that?

Le massepain. You know it as massepain.

He nodded.

We ate the chocolate in silence. He sat on the side of the bed while I was leaning against a pillow,thinking all I really wanted was for us to get back into bed together. After all, c’est le weekend. That hurry that surrounded us in the city was beyond my scope of life. I walked in rhythm of those elephants I had witnessed on safaris in eastern Africa, and in the gliding of the Montgolfier balloon that I had flown in over the Masai Mara. This constant drive to achieve bored me,yet I couldn’t say it without appearing to be a slacker, a loser. Though I knew I was all those.





“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it”

? Gustave Flaubert


Hervé read me one of his favorite poems.


Le Soleil, le foyer de tendresse et de vie,
Verse l'amour brûlant à la terre ravie,
Et, quand on est couché sur la vallée, on sent
Que la terre est nubile et déborde de sang ;
Que son immense sein, soulevé par une âme,
Est d'amour comme Dieu, de chair comme la femme,
Et qu'il renferme, gros de sève et de rayons,
Le grand fourmillement de tous les embryons !





Herve wanted this particular poem included in the curriculum of the department. He found the poetry selections, limited, timid and frankly, boring.  But no one else agreed.


They will come around, he said confidently.


For a French guy, you seem quite Americanized, dude, I said teasingly. Forward looking and hopeful.Most of your compatriots are proud to not even speak a word of English!  


Each one to his own! he said his face taking on a concentrated look.  You know I came here when I was in Premiere, 12th grade, around 17, Chicago. I loved it. Plus, he winked, the American girls made it easy to improve my language. The  je ne sais quoi French charm…he trailed off laughing, as he saw my face cloud over.  


He came over and hugged me.  

Get off me, salaud! I laughed pushing him off. I know all about your charm! Like some literary figure from the 19th century!


I knew about Ms Benin from when he had lived in West Africa, an ample- bodied  woman, a dream for Bottero, who posed on his bed, wearing a lop-sided smile, her gigantic breasts hidden by a flimsy scarf; he had shown me the photographs he had taken. And damn...he was a good photographer!  There was also a girlfriend in the mid-West who had travelled with him, meeting him regularly over a period of three years. Then the Parisienne with whom he had a hopeless, gut wrenching affair with.


He told me the abbreviated version of his heartaches, a year ago as we lay entwined in my bed.


I love you, he told me.

Don’t say I love you. It’s too soon, Hervé. I held his gaze.


He looked away.


We were tangled in the sheets.  What had started as an amorous afternoon was quickly getting on my nerves.

He was too emotional,too intense,too soon. Like a drowning man he needed something solid to hold on to. I bristled at the thought of having to be his buoy.  


Saying he loved after such a short time...what was wrong with him?


I got off the bed, dragging the sheet around my body. I felt flushed with the exertion. My body was still warm from him, yet I felt a coldness creep into my being.

I stood at the large window that looked out to the bay. ln the distance sailboats floated on the sea.


I turned around to see Hervé looking disturbed.

He said slowly, I won’ t say that again. I’m not sure about  


I felt a flash of anger hearing that.

So why are you here, Hervé. Give it time. What’s the rush?


He said, I have to tell you something.


What? You have children?


He hesitated. No,not quite. But I had a...woman.

I smiled at the awkward sentence. J’avais une femme, the translation was archaic in English.


What was he going to say? That he was one of those guys searching for meaning in the exotic. That the lure of the colonial past was his undoing? The impulse to have sex with the previously colonised was too strong.


I suspected he had gone abroad in search of that un-nameable. The un nameable that would heal the rupture of the psychological, spiritual, physical.


Hervé said, It’s the like the song, Billie Jean. The girl says I am the one, but

the kid is not my son,  


I finished the line for him. It was a song with absolutely horrible lyrics,and one I had despised from the moment it played on the radio.


Celestin worked at a bar. He spent  two and a half years with her. He had supported her, and even bought the family a goat.


So she was poor, a local girl? I demanded

She wasn’t poor!


Hervé was angry.


Her brother had money, he was well to do guy at the airport. I told her that it was time to stop seeing each other. She suddenly got pregnant and said I was the father.




I sat up straight, the sheets falling off me. This was even worse than I had imagined.  

Herve’s eyes widened with the memory.

She fabricated the whole story. Then she took me to court. I had to pay for her. But she wasn’t pregnant. And if she were, it wasn’t mine. f I used a condom the last time we were together.

So you told her it was over after you had sex with her?



Brilliant! You were her ticket to Europe, my friend.

Yes, of course I knew that. Did you talk about your feelings? Did you talk about the future?

I never did but..well, I knew what she had hoped for.


Did you think you could just walk away after more than two years with her? Were you opposed to having a child?

I would have one, but one that I chose,


What are you angry about?

The privileged,male perspective. The remnant of the ugly colonialist.


Seriously, fuck you. You want to condemn me? Go ahead. I am not the asshold you think I am!

Asshole, not assholde.What was this..texting version?


Hervé grabbed his clothes, his indignation propelling him out of bed, out of the apartment.

You don’t have to leave. Talk to me.

I regretted my criticism. He was vulnerable, still in shock. Facing a court of judges in some foreign country was terrifying.  Moreover with sexual scandal in the courts where he was accused of impregnating a local girl.


One amorous encounter that changes a whole life. It was a few days before we could talk to each other again. I was drawn to him for Africa. He had know the western part. I grew up in the Eastern part. The red clay of the earth, the baobab trees, and the mix of people were always with me.


Submitted: April 13, 2019

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