Chapter 6. (See all previous chapters, here.)
She was no longer Jane. She was no longer the girl in the green hat. She was the one I held in my arms, whose body I studied for the next two hours, whose lips I could recognize blindly by touch, whose smile, the one where her cheeks reached for her eyes, made me sigh, whose face was like that of a child’s, in the sunlight, the wrinkles and all, whose little room, with the wooden cabinets above our heads, was a little ship, floating miles away from Paris, whose presence beside me made all the difference, between lightness and hollow, between brightness and doom. She was Meredith.
When we rose to shower there was not enough room for us both, so I rinsed off quickly, and left her in peace, to take her time. After, we wore only our underwear. We made tea. We smoked cigarettes, sitting up on the counter. We spoke little, laughed and smiled a little, and thought little. There were brief moments I was taken away from her, pulled in by thoughts of my work, of the other. But I would come back, easily, telling my self: this was life, in front of me, smoking her cigarette out the window. This was life and it was all that mattered.
“What will you do now?” I asked her.
She thought a second, staring up into the air. She dragged on her cigarette, and blowing the smoke in a narrow jet from the corner of her mouth she said:
“Move on, I suppose. What else?”
“I want to know what happened. Obviously. One day.”
“I can tell you now if you want. It’s pretty simple actually.”
“Only if you feel like it.”
“Well, simple. You know what I mean. Unsurprising, cliché, what is the word…”
“Exactly. Predictable. Thank you.”
She took another drag, calmly, and now she was staring at me through the smoke.
“There was someone else. I’d know for a few years. I didn’t know who, or how many, but I knew. There was no doubt in my mind. I never said anything about it. He would have denied it all anyway. But I guess I just figured this was the way it was. You marry a guy like that… you have to expect he… well I mean I wasn’t surprised. He was the type you know?
“But it wasn’t even me who ended it. He came back from a week-long “business trip.” Came home bright red and burned, mind you. I kissed him hello on the cheek, then he went to pour himself a drink, like always. I went back into the kitchen to finish the dishes. I was holding a pan, drying it off, when he called my name. He said: ‘Meredith, sweet heart. Can you come in here a second? I want to talk.’ I remember looking into my reflection in the pan and knowing that second he was about to leave me. I remember seeing my face in the bottom of that pan, seeing the little wrinkles. I looked so damn tired I couldn’t even recognize myself. I walked into the living room and he couldn’t look me in the eyes. He was in love with someone, he told me. And he didn’t feel the same “spark” for me anymore.
“So was he. Believe me. Something in me snapped. All the years of holding onto him, like some little girl. I suddenly felt so damn stupid. You know I wasn’t even sad. Or worried. It’s strange. I spent five years trying to make a life work, and the second it was over, I could have cared less. Hell. I think I felt excited. The idiot, all he could do was ask me how I wasn’t crying. Not that he cared but I guess he was surprised I didn’t die from a broken heart. I drank half a bottle of vodka, and told him to drop dead. When I went for my keys he stopped me. Said I shouldn’t go out. Said he was worried I’d do something stupid. Said he was worried about me. I think he expected me to break down or something. But there was no goddamned way.”
Her voice was getting louder. She now shook her head and swallowed the rest of her words. She dropped the cigarette out the window.
“Well, that’s what happened. I took off without my keys. Drank my face off. And you know the rest.”
There was nothing to do but walk to her, to kiss her again, to feel my arms around her, to kiss her forehead, to feel the top of her head beneath chin, to say nothing. As I felt her breathing onto my chest, I imagined telling her that I loved her. But it was better to say nothing and retrieve the silence we had lived in since morning.
We were lying on the bed when the noise of a key at the door disturbed us. We heard the rattle and saw the doorknob turn. The door opened. A girl, no older 24 or 25, trudged into the room, carrying a large canvas bag over her shoulders. She looked over at our half-naked bodies with barely a look of surprise.
“Well my lord. If it isn’t Miss Merry.”
She threw her sack on the floor, not watching where it fell. She wore bleached jean shorts – cut jaggedly just below her ass – low-rise leather boots beneath two long legs, and a white cotton tank, revealing a smooth, dark brown stomach, the same sun-kissed colour of the rest of her.
“Jesus, you nearly killed me.”
I sat up to cross my legs.
“Oh my god. I thought you were away all week. I’m so sorry.”
Meredith stood up and they embraced. The girl turned her attention to me.
“And who might you be, monsieur?”
Meredith put her hand to her forehead and met my eyes with an apologetic glance.
“Well, this is Jack. Jack, Angela. My sister.”
“Enchanté,” she said.
She approached me and leaned in for a bisous. She had black hair, cropped short to her jaw. Her bangs swept my face as she kissed my one cheek, then the other. She stood back up and faced Meredith.
“What the hell’s going on? Are things with Jacques finally – well, never mind right now, we can talk about all that later. God, I’ve missed you, sis.
She hugged her again.
“I missed you too, man. Jesus.”
I picked up my jeans, crumpled near the foot of the bed, and put them on, closing up the leather belt. I might have stayed with my shirt off, I thought, seeing myself in the reflection of the shower door. But Meredith tossed me my t-shirt, so I put it on, facing the girls as I did so.
“You’re always full of surprises, sis.”
“How was the trip?”
Angela quickly looked away from me as I pushed my head through the shirt, and she walked over to the counter. She placed the wooden chair down and took a seat. She opened a make-up bag and retrieved a red lipstick. She began to apply it, looking into the small round mirror.
“Fabulous. Mallorca’s always fabulous. Went with Antoine. You met Antoine? Anyway, with Antoine. A week on the beach, you know? You can’t believe the place his friends had where we stayed. A castle. Though the friends – a married couple – were just unbearable. But you can’t beat Mallorca, really, you can’t. You been, Jacky?”
“Mallorca? No. But I keep hearing about it.”
“Yeah, you must go. You simply must.”
She finished applying the lipstick and she made the puckering motion to smooth out the colour. Her lips were like two silk sachets, nearly bursting at the seam, only seconds away from revealing what ever tender gel they contained. The bottom lip alone, its own little pink island, was two or three times the size of the one above it. She scoured through the makeup bag and brought out a mascara and began to apply the black oil onto those tremendous fans, like raven peacocks, above her eyes, eyes so large they were in a constant state of nearly crying, the surface of those brilliant orbs glimmering like an ivory ocean. I could see her face in the little mirror. I could not look away.
Meredith had picked out a pair of jeans and a white shirt from her bag and was sitting on the bed, getting dressed.
“You said you’d be back Sunday?”
“Oh yes, I know, but Antoine’s friend, what’s his name, Hubert, Humbert, who can remember? Well he cut open his foot on one of those little clam thingies, and it had to be operated on. Put the whole adventure to bits, so we all resigned to come back a little early.
“I know you said things were on the out, but I had no idea they were, like, this out, sister. You could have told me, you know.”
“Well I don’t think I knew either, be honest. And I know. I didn’t want to bother you, though, man.”
“Please,” Angela said, turning to face Meredith. “You know family is the most important. Now look at you! You look beat.”
“Oh you know I don’t mean it that way.
“And you Jacky, I can call you Jacky by the way? What’s your story?”
“Sure – that’s what my mom calls me, but go for it. I’m a…”
I wanted to say what I had said to Meredith, the night we met. But I watched myself speak, and say the thing I had not wanted to say, the thing I determined I’d stop telling people.
“I’m a copywriter. Advertising. I mean I used to be. I’m a writer now. I mean, I still do the freelance stuff, on the side for cash. But I’m a writer.”
“I see. Well, how about we all catch up with a drink?”
“Actually I’m starved,” said Meredith.
My throat was still choking on the stupid thing I’d said when Meredith walked up to me.
“Hey,” she said. “What you wanna do?”
“I could eat.”
“You sure? It’s OK if, you know, you’ve got things to do. You said you wanted to work today.”
I looked over at her sister. I thought of the three of us, surrounding a round table, a candle lit restaurant, in Paris. I thought of the wine. Of the food we would eat. The silver plates. Coffee after. I thought of laughter. I saw Angela, and Meredith, and me, the three of us laughing at a table, in Paris. But mostly I thought of Angela. Mostly I saw those eyes, those lips, beyond everything in front of me. I saw Angela.
“No it’s OK Jane, er, Meredith. Really. I want to. I have to eat.”
“Good,” she said.