April In Paris Part II - A Short Story
Constance is a 55-year-old American woman whose husband of 34 years has just left her. Will springtime in Paris change anything?
Constance woke up. She opened her eyes and looked around. The room looked different today - brighter somehow. For the first time in 2 days she got out of bed. Pulling her robe on, she tied it around herself and walked across the room.
She realized that she'd been in Paris for over 48 hours and hadn't yet looked out the window. She found that by craning her neck just so, she could get a pretty good view of the goings-on out there---people rushing around, talking, buying, laughing. She picked up a piece of hotel stationary. Hotel Printemps, it said. 17 Rue Michelle. Well, that was a start. She knew "rue" meant street. Constance sat down, scooped up her bag and plucked out the guidebook she'd been avoiding all week.
A half hour later she had a marked up map and a few words of French to her credit. Constance showered in the strangely appointed bathroom, got dressed and, heart pounding, opened her hotel room door. She stepped out.
The breakfast the hotel provided - croissants and muffins - was the best food Constance had ever tasted, she was sure of it. She snuck sidelong glances at her fellow diners. A man and woman in their 40s speaking German. A hippyish boy with long hair and a guitar. A pair of giggling Japanese women. She turned back to her guidebook.
"Springtime is the best time to visit Paris," it said. "The beauty of the blossoms is matched only by the...". She looked up. A young woman in a crisp white apron smiled at Constance as she rapidly picked up teacups.
Time to go.
Constance's heart pounded. She took one last swig of coffee, and pushed open the hotel door.
Her first thought was that it didn't seem that different from New York, and this relaxed her. It was a sunny spring day. In front of her a man was walking his dog. Across the street, two construction workers talked to each other and laughed loudly. Constance didn't know when she would laugh again. But no matter. She was in Paris, and she was determined to check it out.
That afternoon about 3, Constance finally stopped walking and sat down at a cafe. She had lost herself in the architecture and the shops, and found that the people she begged directions from were actually extremely friendly. Nothing like her canasta partners had told her. She smiled. None of them had even been to Paris. She wondered what they'd think of her trip. She hadn't spoken to them since her daughter Beth had handed her the plane ticket and announced that she was going to Paris in 3 days. She couldn't stand to see her like this, Beth had said, and she was going or she was going to cost her daughter $659.50 for the plane ticket. Oh, Beth had added, it’s an open return ticket.
At first Constance balked at the idea - go to Paris? Now? By HERSELF? But then as Beth kept reminding her, she’d always wanted to go, and why NOT now? What did she have to lose? She couldn’t be more miserable there than in her bed in the same house she’d shared with her husband for more than half her life.
She thought about the life they’d planned together, the life they’d started together, the---she stopped for a moment, frowned, remembering.
She was back at her parent’s vacation home in the Berkshires right after they’d gotten engaged, trying to sell George on the advantages of country living. He was having none of it.
“But, sweetheart, someday don’t you want a place we can go to relax?” she’d implored him.
“Yes, and it’s called Manhattan.” And that was it. She’d never brought it up again, and so many years had passed she’d just assumed the decision not to buy a country home had been hers too. Even after they could well afford it, the idea was something to be ridiculed as hayseed and unnecessary.
Well, with the settlement money she supposed she could afford one now. She laughed. For what? To go there alone? No thanks.
Constance looked down at a menu of words that looked somewhat recognizable and ordered. “A nutella crepe and a cup of coffee, please,” she said to the young waitress with short, black pageboy hair. Her bightly lipsticked lips pursed in confusion.
Undaunted, Constance tried again. “Une crepe noo-tella avec oon...oon...cafe?” The waitress nodded briskly and was gone. She didn’t even congratulate me on my first French sentence, Constance laughed to herself.
“Vous parle tres bien le francais, mademoiselle,*” she heard behind her.
Constance turned her head to see a smiling man sitting alone at a table by the window. He looked - looked - she couldn’t put her finger on it. Free, she supposed was the word. Like he didn’t have to be anywhere he didn’t want to be. He lounged against the hard wooden cafe chair as though it were a velvet couch. She smiled perfunctorily and turned back to her coffee, now steaming in front of her.
“Comment vous-applez vous?”
She scrambled to find this phrase in her guidebook, to no avail. She knew it had to be there, only suddenly her fingers had started shaking, so she was skipping pages. This was ridiculous. A nice man had just told her she spoke French well (yeah, right) and now he was just being polite. So why was her heart pounding? She turned to look at him again. Brown hair, kind of wavy, dancing brown eyes that seemed to laugh at her. Not in a mean way. More like, inviting her to laugh at herself, at him, at life. She smiled again, this time a little longer before shaking her head apologetically and turning back to her table.
“Well, I can speak English too,” the man continued. Constance stopped, the nutella filling dripping out of the forkfull of crepe in her hand. She hadn’t been single in over 34 years - what was she supposed to do, exactly? Beth hadn’t prepared her for this! But she was being stupid. Surely this was not that type of situation.
Constance saw him in front of her, and she hastily put down the fork. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you’d like to share a table with me?” He looked so nice, so inviting, she just nodded dumbly and let him pull his chair over. “Henri.” He extended his hand. “Constance.” She shook it. They talked till the cafe closed at 9PM.
READ PART III OF APRIL IN PARIS HERE.