April In Paris Part I - A Short Story
A middle-aged woman faces the biggest challenge of her life
Constance waited for the Xanax to kick in.
She was seated in between two large women who talked to each other loudly. Constance willed herself not to listen to their conversation about which socks they'd packed and closed her eyes.
She felt she should be more excited. She was going to Paris for the first time, after all - but she felt only nervous and uneasy.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to have turned out. She was supposed to be going to Paris with her husband. He was supposed to be there with her. Constance sighed. She was supposed to be married.
She tried not to remember, for the hundredth time, the look on her husband George’s face when he’d told her, 5 days ago, that he wanted a divorce. She’d have almost preferred he’d been having an affair, but no, he just wanted out. Why? she’d kept asking him, feeling the cold fingers of desperation closing around her throat. And he’d only looked at her, with that most horrible of emotions - pity. “Dear, I...just don’t feel that spark any more.”
What was she supposed to do with that? It wasn’t a criticism to be worked on, as in please do a better job getting the laundry clean or please, next time don’t use so much ammonia when you wash the floor. It was, plain and simple, a character assassination.
And that’s how Constance felt on the Air France flight that April morning. As though she’d just been shot. And the assassin was not a crazy gunman or a terrorist or a crack addict. It was her husband.
They’d married when she was 21 and he 23, and she and her parents had been over the moon. George was handsome, kind, and had a good job as a banker. Over the years he’d worked his way up to bank VP, and had always been Constance’s right arm. She’d never had to worry about anything as long as George was around. And now...
Constance stifled a sob. The last thing she wanted was the large ladies’ attention directed at her. She just wanted to disappear.
The announcement to fasten seat belts and straighten seat backs was a welcome respite from her thoughts. Then it came on in French. And Constance froze.
She knew intellectually, of course, that they spoke French in France - but for some ridiculous reason she hadn’t cracked any of the guidebooks her daughters had bought her. She’d never had to worry about things like that before...she’d always had George. Now she realized the extent of her helplessness, and panicked. What was she going to do? Even the loud ladies suddenly started speaking in French to each other. Constance had never felt more alone.
Don’t think about that now, she said to herself, drifting off. Just be like Scarlett O’Hara, don’t think about that now...
Constance opened her eyes. Something was different in the cabin. The air pressure - that was it. She looked across the rows of legs toward the window. Green. Was Paris supposed to be green? She checked her watch. Silly. Still another hour until landing.
She closed her eyes again and dreamed of croissants and berets and everything she remembered from the French pavilion at Epcot Center. She woke up again to the nasal sounds of French pouring out of the loudspeakers. She must have missed the English version. She smiled wryly to herself. From here on in, no more English versions.
The large women were speaking rapidly in French now as they hurriedly zipped up their carry-on bags. It was as if they had somehow transformed from idiotic, irrelevant American house fraus to chic, modern French women. Was it that easy? Constance clutched the Berlitz book in her purse.
Customs was a combination of soul-numbing waiting combined with brusque questions asked - thankfully - in English. Funny. Constance had never felt like a foreigner before. A stamp on her passport, a pleasant enough taxi driver who read the address of her hotel and nodded "Oui, Madame. Ok", and a few miles, er - kilometers later, and Constance was sitting on a flowered upholstered chair in a little room in a Paris hotel. She took a look around at the small wooden writing desk and the raised double bed with its faded but freshly laundered striped quilt. Her eyes grazed the window with its view to the alley and a sliver of street in the background. She looked at the wooden floor beams, partially covered with a thin rose-colored carpet. She looked at her suitcase.
Constance began crying - small bursts which made way to huge, lung-filling sobs no longer needing to be hidden. She cried until she just couldn’t cry any more. Then cried again.
She cried until 10AM 2 days later.
READ PART II OF APRIL IN PARIS HERE.