I wrote this for a competition; I failed to get the entry in. Ho hum.
12.30 was a bad idea. She’d always known it was a bad idea, that it was going to be a bad idea. But she hadn’t felt able to say no to him.
Hadn’t that been the truth of their time together? Adam had found something that bypassed her usual – her extraordinary – defences, that she’d spent the decade establishing, fortifying. She was pleased, no, proud, of the citadel that protected her against any chance of inappropriate love.
He first found it, the ability to short circuit her desire to say no, one night, one random night at the Proud Galleries in Camden, filled with canapés and champagne and cocktails and conversation, all of it heady and flirtatious and inappropriate, all at once. He hadn’t even bothered to hide his wedding ring; the challenge was on her, clearly, obviously.
To her surprise, she accepted with barely a demur. The citadel shook, and yet it didn’t shake. Funny how the rules you make for yourself are the easiest to break.
It was their third or fourth time sleeping together – about 10 days later – that Adam suggested doing something different. He’d thrown this over his shoulder as he was getting dressed, and she was expecting, on the previous days’ evidence, some sort of request that would have her diving to the box below her bed, the contents of which she hadn’t investigated for some time, and only fitfully remembered buying. But no.
“We should start meeting in the morning, first thing. I’m better then.” She had blushed at this. “It’s OK; I’ll say I’m running to work. I might even do it sometimes.” She’d accepted this too. But once, she’d teased him about how he’d arrived at her door already sweaty, and how she should be the one to get him into that state. That had elicited a grimace, a grunt, a cold fuck.
She didn’t say anything like that again.
Adam’s policy had had to change after she’d taken the job in Paris. It hadn’t merited much discussion, and she had been glad of that. Because she’d have thought it a bit odd that it would be this that he’d choose to make a scene over; and it would pre-suppose that he actually had a greater claim over her than either of them might have cared to acknowledge.
The pretence had lasted about two weeks, just enough time for her to get settled in the flat behind Sacre Coeur which had been arranged for her, and to find the true, necessary landmark of her neighbourhood; the best stop for coffee, breakfast and a cigarette, all to be grabbed and consumed in a five minute walk between shutting her building’s front door and descending into the Metro, the sliver of carnet fluttering between her fingers.
It was while she was making the reverse parabola the second Monday night that her phone started being impatient in her handbag. It was his signature style never to hang up, however long she fought to ignore the ring, a battle which Adam always won, but which had the paradoxical effect that, on his side at least, the conversation was always a breathless rush of pleading demands and wheedling cajoling towards the inevitable. She hadn’t missed it, that tone, and yet now that the mobile was unstoppable in its insistence to be answered, she had, she did, she did.
So the early mornings continued, “just in a different city”, but her curiosity was never roused enough to ask him how he made the logistics work. She idly wondered about it from time to time – which hotels he booked, as he must have done, as he never stayed; the ruse of the running gear, the route he took to the flat.
How he always made it up the Rue Lamarck, only just out of breath, like he was demonstrating that he was making some effort, sure, but holding the rest back for her.
And now this. A change; an uncertainty. He said over the phone that it had to be lunchtime, 12.30, and she was about to try and be larky and say he wasn’t taking a sufficiently Francophone approach to his infidelity, what with their trysts being between 7 and 9, not 5 and 7, as they always were in the films. But before she managed to fire this little bit of gentle repartee off, he’d fallen very silent, and then suddenly blurted out: “Give me a chance to win you over again.”
‘A chance to win you over again.’ She examined that thought from every possible angle, as she made her way down through Montmartre at 12, a hastily confected excuse phoned into the office giving her a chance to get ready for him.
It was revealing nothing, the more she looked at it, and she was distracted by the three couples she passed, kissing openly, celebrating the clichés of being together that she’d never be able to do with him.
And now here she was, outside the Hotel du Nord, the canal beside the Quai de Jemmapes glittering with menace. She was holding a spray of flowers that refused to act as a parasol from the spits of rain that had started to fall.
Then it clicked. Why 12.30 had been a bad idea. Lunchtime is for people in love, she realised. Not what we have. And it was then she knew he wasn’t going to come.
Labels: fiction paris