Fictional Fragment: “At the Living Room Window”

At the living room window C gazes down toward the park below. A woman wearing a babushka is walking her dog. C remembers that when she had first arrived in Paris she was astounded by the amount of dog waste everywhere on the street. At certain times of the day it seemed as if one could not stroll the sidewalk without stepping into something. Later, when she had gotten used to it, she affectionately referred to Paris as “Dog Shit City.” She took great amusement in mentioning this in every letter or phone call home. When M and she purchased this apartment they did it for two reasons: the view of the city, and the light. In a city that valued space above all else (there was so little of it left that what was left was going for prices that only the privileged few could afford) they were lucky in picking a location that would, for the most part, still remain much the same as it had a century ago. Now, things were changing and they would never be able to afford this place today had it been on the market, had they been looking. But, of course, they weren’t. M’s inability to move beyond adjunct professor status at the American School kept them tied to the apartment in a way that suffocated him. He was never shy about telling her that he was suffocating, and she took his outbursts in stride, ignoring them for the most part, but silently keeping track of each time he had them. Now, at this particular moment, as she gazes down toward the park below, she thinks of dog shit, blood, and tears.

In all of their years together (now more than twenty) C had never thought of herself as M’s wife. In fact, she hadn’t thought of herself as a wife at all; being a wife was a role she felt she was expected but unprepared to play. She did think of herself as a lover, however. Over the years she had taken many lovers, but always with the stipulation, the personal promise to herself, that she would never have the same encounter twice. Over the course of these years she had engaged in over one hundred one-night stands, each ending in the same way: a gesture of farewell in the form of placing a kiss upon the forehead of her lover. The gesture always struck her as maternal, as if she were kissing her children through her lovers and protecting them from what she was doing. She had been good at adultery. It came easy to her and not long after her first affair she began to crave the excitement of sneaking around on M. Not that M would have noticed, since he was busy with affairs of his own. Was M equally as skilled at marital deception as C? C could only think that he was. And in this she drew (strangely enough) much comfort. Had M discovered that C was unfaithful he surely would have killed her, which was why she had not engaged in her first affair until after their children were in school. For the first eight or nine years of their marriage C had been the perfect wife: thoughtful, compassionate, sexual (but not sexually aggressive), and obedient. Because she had always thought of herself as a sensible woman, she found it increasingly difficult to argue in favor of leaving him. She would sooner have made a break with herself than tear apart what semblance of a family she had tried to build. It wasn’t so much that M had hit her on occasion as it was his remoteness from their marriage that drove her into the arms of countless anonymous lovers (for she had never asked their names—something she remembered from a Brando film—she didn’t want to know their names, because that would have signaled an intimacy she was more than reluctant to grant on these occasions). Time and again she told herself that it was M’s inability to find a teaching position that kept him on constant edge, and for a great amount of time she did indeed believe this. Soon, however, C found ways to become remote from their marriage as well. And it didn’t take long before either of them felt anything close to love. She had quickly gotten used to being in the background, first to M, then to their children. Although she believed that her children loved her, she had rarely heard from them since they moved away; one child had moved to Spain, and the other to Santa Cruz, California. Both were successful, both were happy, and both learned early that in order to be happy they would have to leave home.

It is ten steps to the door from where C is standing, just above the stain of M’s blood. The need to escape, to breathe (she’s suffocating, she cannot get the smell of M’s blood off her) suddenly overcomes her. She realizes that her coat lay just to her right, casually draped over the arm of the black leather captain’s chair M had insisted on buying years ago. She steps over the stain, gives it a glance, and then picks up her coat. Slipping into the sleeves she opens the door to the apartment. She doesn’t look back as she slams the door behind her and moves toward the stairs. Moments later, when she emerges from the lobby door and steps into the early evening, she thinks of M in the apartment above. She stands there for several minutes, undecided whether to cross the boulevard or take the metro to some as yet unknown location. Lighting a cigarette, she moves toward the Café Lorre some twenty paces from her building. The seats on the terrace are beginning to fill up, and she glances at the faces buried in their evening papers or their drinks as she begins to walk more quickly down the boulevard and away from her building.

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