Souvenirs à travers la nouvelle neige
(Memories Through New Snow)
Relaxing in an ochre seat on the Renaissance car, Véronique gazed out her window at infinite periwinkle sky. Not one cloud, she observed, thinking how the opposite was true for her personal outlook. In her native country she had been just another girl from the wrong side of the tracks. After crossing the U.S.-Canadian border in her late twenties, she blossomed from a waif into a voluptuous woman like a weed bud through time-lapse photography, fated to cling to the railroad fence but never to climb over it. Waiting, lurking around the bend, was the midlife milestone that she had dreaded since the year she met him: Mr. Wrong’s grand-père.
Dismissed by her seasoned lover, she longed for chaste respite that lay a safe distance from his apathy. May to his December, she had perceived his ravenousness, in the honeymoon phase of their relationship, as a justifiable reaction to an igloo of marital neglect. As time wore on, she excused his absenteeism on the left side of her full-size bed on most weekends and on all holidays. Then anger and resentment began roiling within her bosom. She had reached the limit of complacency, but couldn’t find the courage to scold him for breaching their deal. In her mind, the tape continually unreeled of Monsieur affixing an “Infinité” postage stamp on an envelope that was bulging with the valves of her broken heart. La lettre sealed a fate that she hadn’t considered, for, more than once upon a time, he had addressed her as “ma princesse.”
Like a forecast of snowfall below the Canadian border since Le Grand Réchauffement Climatique — shortened to “The Warming” in the old country — Véronique found her sex mate’s latest separation from her peculiar. Their severance also was final. Unceremonious. Chilling. Never again would she unlatch the door, untie her peignoir and unleash the whore. Only in her memories would she have the pleasure of surrendering to him on all fours, on her own or by his hand, with her knuckles dimpling the damp pillows as if kneading baguette dough. Never again would she get to reclaim temporary control of his heart, offer him shelter in the wet spot and conceal his ice pick within the sheath of her sweltering sex until it morphed back into her necessary prick. His was an irresistible dick that had hammered away at her pity and left them both reverberating with passion.
* * *
Rock, paper, scissors. Véronique’s playmate only pretended to be the rock; his wife wielded it with one hand. She knew it to be true. She had watched the two. On more than one unpleasant occasion, she had donned a pair of TruGrip sneakers — securing crampons when stubborn Montréal snow still clung to the surfaces of mountains, buildings and faces — and scaled the south wall of the couple’s seventeenth-century-stone petite chateau. Displaying a feline sense of balance, she had spied on them through opera glasses while perched on a balcony that lay three feet from unlocked French doors. On each covert, solo spiritual-suicide mission, whenever Madame would clutch her man’s broad shoulders in ecstasy, Véronique would gasp at the rock below one of the spasming woman’s ruddy, elephant-skinned knuckles. There, a resplendent diamond outshone all the heavenly bodies that had drifted down her spouse’s serpentine path to furtive love. However, Véronique, who had hurtled through the sky as if ejected from a dystopic universe rewound to its turbulent genesis, managed to slip below Madame‘s radar and unwittingly rejuvenated their banal life.
In contrast to his transient flings with the predictable type of mistress, the cheating husband’s intense involvement with an underclass American transplant was a figment of his wife’s imagination until the day a cherished Spanish fan vanished like summer in les Laurentides. The memento’s disappearance soon conjured up repressed suspicions of hers, which Monsieur attempted to dismiss — until the housekeeper’s day off. When his brassy, bulimic bride finished raiding the dusty wine cellar, a heaping basket of dirty laundry in an adjacent, dank room beckoned her to another woman’s cheap fragrance lingering on the fly of her gallant groom’s striped cotton boxers. Then followed questions, accusations and shattered mirrors. And before the week was out, la lettre.
No matter how powerful Véronique’s paroxysms when she played house with him on stolen time, his wife always had come first. “Pardon, mon amant, une ménage à trois? Jamais!” she had replied to him when, toward the end of their affair, he deigned to suggest his spouse join them in bed. Facetiously she had added, “Besides, I couldn’t bear watching, waiting and wanting with a neglected clit while your lips, teeth and tongue are busy bringing the first wife to climax.”
Paper. Since boarding the VIA Rail Canada train at Montréal’s Gare Centrale, Véronique had used the restroom three times — only once to relieve herself. Québec City lay more than two hours of track in the distance. The other occasions in la salle de bain, she was peering into the mirror, swaying with the train’s sensuous movements and obsessing over wrinkles. Sheesh, my face has more creases than crêpe paper, she thought, as if her worry lines were as deep as the San Andreas Fault. Until la lettre, she had considered herself superior to her old man. Reading between her lines, she contemplated, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number,” my elderly U.S. relatives used to say, but they forgot to tell me that, as the years snowballed, it didn’t come gift-wrapped in wisdom. Those family members also neglected to mention that wisdom required translating intuition into action and asserting one’s will, continually, until one’s existence was in alignment with a divine purpose for eternity.
“Le vieillard,” Véronique used to call the granddaddy mack behind his back. She regretted what she used to call his wife, putain sounding too poetic for the bitch she had wished was screwing her old man. Convinced that her vigorous vagina would preclude a pre-nup — as if une mariage to a woman of her class was in the philanderer’s plan — Véronique used to curse him during the act, curling the hot tongue he had just wrestled as the first rays of a Montréal sunrise made zebra stripes of their conjoined bodies through the angled slats of Venetian blinds. Again and again she would mouth the secret sobriquet between moaning and panting.
Straining to breathe under his beastly chest, she dug nails into mounds of flesh that rose and stretched through the salty mist of lazy morning sex. Though far from graceful, his moist back and shoulders reminded her of beluga whales that, like many other marine mammals, she only could dream about. Repeatedly allowing him to return to her bed — and especially to spend the entire night — she had deluded herself into thinking she could bear the weight of romantic sex disguised as authentic love. As his submarine barreled through the southern portal of her universe, she momentarily was set adrift. Confounding was the thought that true love could never become extinct although its creation, too, existed beyond mankind’s power.
Impervious to her dreams, meditations and philosophical meanderings, the old man would conquer her tranquillity by sea, twisting their history with the fragrant vocabulary of romantic love. His story of how they came to be buried hers and threatened to suffocate her individualism in the way that his cologne-infused funk enveloped her natural feminine aroma. Then, impersonating an incubus, he would thrust a resentful wakefulness into her.
Scissors. Rock crushed paper. Véronique hadn’t been the one who decided to end the affair. Even now she couldn’t admit to becoming delusional during her decadent decade with Monsieur, and all the while, her nemesis had been sharpening her blades. I guess Madame had locked away the scissors, she pondered, rubbing her bare ring finger. Eyes fixated on la vitre without seeing her reflection, she remembered unexpectedly meeting her former rival via the billboard-size oil-on-canvas portrait hanging off-center on a parlor wall in la maison Françoise the night he lured her there. During the repetitious countdown to their first time — the consummation of their crime — she had shrunk to a horny dwarf standing far below a regal portrait that would have been perceived as anachronistic outside the mansion. In the salon’s cavernous, ornate space she inwardly had commented on the subject’s faded beauty and how it reminded her of a bejeweled but jaded princess of some insignificant nation-state who was smirking in awareness that she was a human manifestation of the rotting ramparts that protected her domain from a non-existent entity.
Caressing her fleshy ring finger turned on Véronique’s own awareness of her temporary status in the old man’s life. En route to their fake honeymoon city, on the same train although in a different timeframe, she felt as discardable as paper; her heart as heavy as the wood pulp in its former life. Soon her mental index was filtering pages of their roman de gare. Véronique’s third eye located a difficult chapter midway. Harder she rubbed her digit until it burned from the friction, as did her memory of Monsieur‘s role of antagonist in their anti-climactic fiction.
Dread was their time-tripping tale’s setting. She had played a protagonist screwed over as much by the unreliable narrator as by her married man. Otherwise she had had no explanation for her decision to leave the digit purposely bare so that her ex-beau would be inspired to adorn it with precious metal. Five years into our affair, she recollected in her Renaissance compartment, I would’ve settled for nickel silver and my birthstone. Hell, even a rhinestone that could pass for topaz would’ve sufficed. Conspicuous placements of ring-sizers in her apartment also had failed to translate what she had feared to ask her permanently attached lover: “Darling, what are your long-term intentions?” Her lack of subtlety backfired, steering him to penetrate her with emotional cruelty masked as sexual intensity during their decade together. While reinforcing his fear of commitment to any woman but his wife, she had secured the unenviable position of dispensable mistress and had reminded him of sacred marriage vows Etch-A-Sketched in his memory.
* * *
Véronique’s ex-suitor had orchestrated the dalliance after an alfresco symphonic performance. Although his backstage flirtation had launched the affair, his attentiveness and her obedience in and out of bed would sustain it. Rapt in a center row at Parc Splendide, she already had been seduced by his facial expressions as he, the principal cellist, bowed gracefully through a Vivaldi concerto. By the time the audience began its extended standing ovation, she had given the slip to her snoring escort — a university student eight years her junior who apparently had fibbed about his musical preferences to impress her. On her way to the aisle she tripped on the sneakered foot of a lanky guy who could pass for forty and who was wearing a nondescript T-shirt and denims beneath an effervescent smile.
“Je suis désolée, monsieur,” she said, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment from his gorgeous tan face as much as from her ungracefulness. Taking a step backward, she collided with a mustachioed middle-aged Italian woman who kept running in an attempt to fetch her husband, who was boring a hole in a waif’s brassiere through her transparent silver blouse.
“Pas de problème, mademoiselle,” he said, trying not to laugh as he reached down to rescue his clumsy damsel and then eyeing her bold rear curves while she brushed off the dirt from her skirt.
She couldn’t escape his triple-X-ray vision and quick reflex. Eyeing his vintage titanium Patek Philippe, she batted lashes from its solid-gold hands down to his veiny grip on her scarred wrist. “Oui?” she asked, regretting she hadn’t worn a trio of antique Bakelite bangles found at Village of the Damned Rich on rue Notre-Dame ouest. Her pulse was outpacing the audience’s thunderclaps, but for the moment she couldn’t see the people or the trees in the park. Only him.
“Comment vous appelez-vous, sexy ?” he asked.
He thinks I’m the one who’s sexy? she wondered, puzzled that no vixen ever stared back at her from any mirrors besides the ones in romantic dreams. The man was too handsome for her to be angry at his gaffe. Besides, she was flattered, young and single — and he, unlike her bored date, appreciated classical music. Above the trees the moon winked its consent for her to take things further with the tall stranger. In the cerulean spotlight of Véronique’s imagination their pupils volleyed back, creating sparks of a peculiar attraction.
“Je m’appelle Véronique, monsieur,” she replied in an attempt to flip flirtation to formality.
“Le mien est Étienne. Enchanté,” he greeted, extending his hand as if to erase their first, awkward encounter.
Oh! Why couldn’t he resemble an ogre? Ugh! she rambled to herself. The rangy stranger’s eyes, one gray and the other light brown, held her gaze until she felt her dark orbs warming like le sirop d’érable over piping-hot crêpes. Although she was hungry for something hot, she didn’t want anything flat. She desired something cylindrical. Tubular. Bulky. Thick. Hard.
Étienne, meanwhile, fancied a sugaring-off, but nothing so innocent as tapping a maple tree on an early-April morning. Maybe later, but someday soon, I can coax out her sap … his mind meandered. He whiffed in her scent. Ahhh, sugar bush …
“Ouais, monsieur?” she waited impatiently.
“Ah, ouais. Aimeriez-vous allez pour les boissons, mademoiselle?”
Drinks — hmmm, too fast in all things, she mulled over his proposition, becoming more seduced by the second. Suddenly, standing in front of this stranger, she was profoundly aware of time and place. Then she had a change of heart, and her mind began filling up with objections as well as prepositions and other grammatical contexts of expression. “Peut-être. … Mais, dans un autre vie.”
Breaking free of his grasp, she turned to hide a coy half-smile. Not that she had thought it through, but she intended her comment as a come-on. Little did she know it also would be the last line between them. When she swung around to reel him in, he was gone. Fled on a bed of grass. Beside his chair lay a rumpled white handkerchief, which, once stretched between her fingers, revealed the embroidered initials E.L. in red. Well, at least I found out that he’s green. I hate tissue. Kills too many trees, she thought. Stuffing the handkerchief in her purse, she returned her focus to the first object of her affection: the cellist.
Véronique wandered off to the concession stand to hide among emptied wineglasses, which trembled from vibrations of a low-flying private plane. When the tipsy bartender, Fyodor, went from spinning tawdry tales about ex-mistress Flor to slurring expletives, he reached across the stand to pinch Véronique’s twitching bottom. Spooked, she trotted away from his clutches like the startled steed in one of her favorite Alfred Hitchcock movies, Marnie. With the bandshell in sight and the concert concluded, she hastened past intimate hugs, halfhearted handshakes and French kisses among disorderly rows of collapsible chairs, leaping over creased programs and deflated condoms that were strewn about Parc Splendide’s manicured lawn, until her spool heels had scooped out divots in the manner of polo players’ mallets.
Once she careened around the steps and reached backstage, she stumbled into her finite future. Face to chest with the handsome musician, she was leaking sexual juices while imagining her future-self dripping in diamonds, which by the mid-twenty-first century had become as rare as snow falling anywhere but the northern reaches of Asia, Europe and — of all three countries on North America — Canada. Against the murmurs of publicity types and flashes of ninja-nimble paparazzi, she had thrusted out her magenta sequined bust into sixtysomething degrees of heat. Despite all the years he had on her, she battled his geopsychological eclipse by shimmying in the direction of a moonlit corner of bandshell.
At first she absentmindedly was grinding her teeth as he chattered on and on like castanets about the preservation of Western European classical music. Soon, however, the hair on bare arms that quivered for his touch was standing on end with every bend of his Franglish. Trees, grass and flowers tantalized her with their earthy fragrances, masking the musk that she feared was seeping from her soaked cotton crotch. Rubbing her thighs together matted her pubic hair to a beaver’s slickness, and she already could sense the generous wood within her lowered hand’s grasp.
She barely heard the musician ask her name — “Comment vous appelez-vous, mademoiselle?” — because her mind had coasted off his ocean of ethnomusicological information. “Je m’appelle Véronique,” she replied, batting her enhanced eyelashes. Flirting with the man so overtly, she was surprised both pairs didn’t dislodge from her upper eyelids and flutter away like black butterflies violating nature’s curfew.
“Enchanté,” their greetings overlapped clumsily, but his lips precisely pecked the center vein on the back of her right hand.
Recovering her breath, she followed his wandering eyes as they flattered her voluptuous proportions with mystic poetry. She sighed, checking out how the curly, silver hair peeking out of his tuxedo jacket’s sleeves coordinated with whimsical Gemini cufflinks. Breaking out into a smile whiter than his shirt, the charming cellist brushed back thinner tresses from his dome into the boondocks of French masculine vanity. Véronique was blinded either by his charisma or by lavender stagelights reflecting off his noble forehead. Beyond the duo’s acoustic chemistry, the bilingual din of praise and farewells segued into syncopated rhythms of folded chairs and clinking glasses as the catering company’s cleanup crew restored the park to its naked beauty.
Brown doe eyes fetching a white-mustachioed smile, she felt more than his star rise when he pressed his heavy body down on her, stage right. Disappearing with him into lucid night, endorphins spinning from their erotic sparks, she couldn’t have had a clue that they already had waltzed a dangerous distance beyond a wrong turn. He’s just your first mature one-night stand, her id was whispering within her. Then the genteel stranger motioned with an index finger — “Viens avec moi, chère” — et, voilà, his black-and-white wing tips were tripping her toward the dark side of his existence. And into his burgundy eco-car.
Later, after a relentless storm had blown in from Newfoundland, they bickered over her desire to be driven home (“Maintenant!“) to Le Plateau and his decision to swerve onto le pont Jacques-Cartier in the direction of his suburb — and some light sustenance. She wouldn’t dare tell him she feared that beneath the dapper cellist was a murderer; he wouldn’t dare tell her that he was heading to the site of his and Françoise’s first date. In other words, he was a masked murderer and one as suave as Sean Connery’s James Bond.
Observing discretion, Monsieur Bond ditched his wheels on rue St-Charles in le Vieux-Longueuil, about eight blocks from the tiny parking lot of a bistro that retained its picturesque qualities despite the downpour. As Véronique lagged behind him in heels that were ill-suited for long walks, she chastised him for not storing an emergency umbrella in his dashboard, “where you’d have room for one if you could sacrifice tossing out all those glow-in-the-dark condoms.”
Barely able to hold back a chortle, her aged assassin said, “Donc, a little rain bother you? Hmpf, you only beginning to get wet, ma chère.”
Already she hated the way he pronounced the adjective little, as if it rhymed with beetle. Yeah, he only thinks he’s going to get some, she thought to herself. Fuming under the bright light of a verdigris street lamp, she watched her breath misting in the dank air. She limped past her kidnapper as if knowing where she was headed. Her blood began to crawl. Nah, it’s just the rain seeping through my clothes, she tried assuring herself. Then: Where the hell am I? Soon anger again replaced worry. When she glanced over her shoulder to sneer at her captor, she nearly collided with a gate to la chocolaterie-traiteur. She wasn’t sure if the wind or some love god had swung open the gate because Monsieur had managed to snatch her inches away from injury. In one swift motion, despite his advanced age, he was no longer a stranger in her eyes. Just a “leetel” strange.
“I must keep you safe, mon coco, eh?” he said with an illuminated smile.
“And pay my outrageous bill at the hair salon tomorrow, eh?” she joked, launching them both into spasms of laughter. The rest of the way they held hands, not wanting to tempt a lightning bolt with an adulterous kiss.
Once inside Benoît’s Bistro, the forbidden lovers hugged briefly and apologized. It was a squishy affair made no more pleasant by the pebbles shifting in their shoes — and sitting on wooden chairs that were inadvertently of the rocking variety. Straightening his tie, Monsieur addressed the server, Olivier, with: “Mon dieu, what have you all done with the place?”
Puzzled, Olivier peered down at him and asked, “Have we ever had the pleasure of receiving you, Monsieur?” Hearing only “Bien sûr” in reply, he set down two water glasses and took an inordinate amount of time straightening out his patrons’ starched, white linen napkins while humming the melody to “Long Black Veil.” Before he turned to leave, he had noticed that not only the napkins were stiff.
The old Johnny Cash song was lost on the couple; the waiter’s observation, on Véronique. And water was the last thing either of them desired. While they drank in each other’s eyes above their menus, their elegant threads clung to their prickly skin like a perp to an imperfect alibi. Raindrops as large as wishing stones pelted the bay windows. Thunderclaps plucked the accomplices’ nerves. Traffic lights on the quaint town road may have been stuck on the red, but lightning was flashing on the tawdry curtain of their inchoate courtship.
A single pink rose had wilted by the time Monsieur got up the nerve to inquire about Véronique’s sexual experience and by the time she found the energy to dance around his brazen attention. By then, her pink petals had bloomed like a desert succulent’s leaves, but without spiny needles for that illusion of virtue. Apologizing whenever their words collided, they created awkward pauses in a flickering space that shrank at the same rate of the wick which lengthened in the votive glass that he caressed. He winked. She smiled. He grinned. She sighed, feeling adored for the first time. He inhaled, capturing her soul. Melted candlewax wasn’t the only lava pool between their midnight gazes. Her blood was in a dead heat with her reproductive fluids. She only could imagine the cauldrons that he was juggling behind his fly, although he was far from being a warlock. At least I hope not, she wondered.
Just then, she heard thumping under the table. His cock is calling out to me, she feared, crisscrossing her legs over and over again. But it was only the server trying to interest them in a late-night snack.
“Mmmm … I would like to leave room for a butterscotch dessert, Madame,” the man said, beaming his boudoir eyes on Véronique’s reddening pinnas.
“Monsieur!” was all she could object, else choke on the ice water that the waiter had just poured from the netted carafe as if it were a bottle of a vintage 2014 Bordeaux.
Meanwhile Olivier was snickering en route to the sweltering kitchen to convey Monsieur‘s request when he returned with lusty eyes and a frank line of questioning. Véronique preferred that Olivier save the grilling for their appetizer. Better yet, she preferred he bore them with another pugilist-turned-actor-moonlighting-as-a-server anecdote that would have her yawning into her fist. Anything to signal to her persistent lover that she would be a lousy lay that night.
Night surrendered to day on the other side of the bistro window. While they had consumed enough buttered bread to give Véronique a yeast infection, they hadn’t consummated their desire. The cellist’s mental masturbation and the ingénue’s hidden lubrication only stoked a fire that no candle could’ve withstood. Before matters could get out of hand, she attempted to free herself from his sensuous, invisible grasp. She had waited too long; he possessed her with his entire being.
Each time her partner in crime raised a palm to her cheek, she flushed rouge above and below, then slapped away his hand before it could dive in her exaggerated cleavage, the sensual illusion of a pricey vintage Wonderbra. “Aaaahhh … ouiiiiii … non … noooooo” rose up from her throat and floated out her parted lips. Bilingually vocalizing her pleasure inadvertently previewed the way that she would respond when impaled on the obelisk of his ancient brand of masculinity.
“Don’t look down at the table!” he admonished her. “Face me!”
“I can’t,” she said, almost pleading not to be seduced further. Then she felt her walls buckle and, slowly, her dilated pupils found his.
“Mmmm … la pluie,” he taunted her, switching to English when he added, “Drink in my eyes, cherie, until your panties are flooded with Dionysian rain.”
“Arrêt!” she begged him. And again, but he started mumbling verses of lewd poetry with the piety of a sinner reciting psalms. “Commmmmiiiiing,” she sang sweetly while he massaged the clammy palm that wasn’t filling with splinters.
When she had been delivered and was coming to, she was the fresh-faced girl of a recurring dream in which she pirouetted nude on moist blades of mowed grass. With each twirl her sun-splashed body was rendered a yellowish-brown trellis for pastel blossoms that sprouted from her nipples, navel and clit. Approaching full consciousness, she could feel the clumps of grass in Parc Splendide and, slowing her rotation, spied on her enraptured self staring at the virtuosic cellist. Oozing ultrafeminine elixir, she realized that her black garters were stinging her thighs and, glancing beneath the table, saw that her back-seam stockings had rolled down her legs to join soaking-wet underpants gathered at her ankles. Stranger than an unfamiliar lightheadedness was the sight of her table companion wiping his hands and wrists with a humongous napkin beneath a wicked smile while Olivier stood behind him fondling a bulge as prominent as Cyrano de Bergerac’s schnoz.
Instead of dissonant strings trilling in a pit, a rapturous rhapsody was rippling through the awkward space between the lover’s husky innuendoes and her blushing brown cheeks. Soon, however, the beverages began flowing, with nary un café nor une tasse du thé among them. Amid slurps of Champagne-spritzed oysters, he was cloying open an erotic vault that she had shoved into the recesses of her new-immigrant mind. As his eyes narrowed to dashes, her slit was yawning like the insomniac moon, prompting her to contemplate how to retrieve her high-cuts – and how long it might take to wring out the crotch in the resto’s lavabo. Then her lover’s gruff, nasal voice popped her back onto the marigold banquette faster than the snap of a wet thong on freshly spanked cheeks. Her sequined twins were jiggling so vigorously as she tried to dodge his flattery that her breasts nearly busted her pearly pink bottom lip.
“Rien ne sert d’essayer d’éviter cette affaire de coeur,” he tempted her. While teaching her French lessons that were unobtainable at the university where she toiled by day, he was assuring himself that she soon would become a dutiful student by night.
“Voilà qui est dit!” she replied, snickering at the lust oozing from her frisky date’s dentured smile. So amused was she that she hadn’t realized the shellfish’s aphrodisiacal properties were wafting a path toward her receptive airways.
Indeed, he had decided. “Aaaahhhh, bébé, c’est bien.”
Un moment. Véronique couldn’t breathe. But her oxygen deprivation lasted long enough to allow his potent sensuality to seep inside her pores. Then she exhaled through a smile that spelled out n-i-r-v-a-n-a over Royaligned ivories.
Within three counts of a lightning bolt that hushed all seven of the bistro’s diners, he whipped out and flipped over a timeless wild card of seduction: the aging lothario’s tease. She, having chaste-dated either inexperienced men or anachronistic gentlemen since her arrival in Canada, was a damsel trapped in his designs. Thus, between l’entrecôte et l’entremets, he was recommending a raincheck on “cosmic sex”; she, pulse racing, was checking her digital calendar. Inwardly she triumphed, He treated me to a three-course dinner. He’s mine. Not until their raindate the next month, May, would she learn that he was married and that she had been taken.
Under the resto’s blinking lighting, no longer dwarfed in the shadow of her tuxedoed suitor’s slouching bulkiness, she was developing a superiority complex while he was slipping her a mickey of an ice-breaker: “Your golden brown beauty appeared before my eyes like a meteor in the night sky.” His compliment, like countless others that he would feed her to keep her bed-ready, was fortifying her self-esteem until she was Saguenay granite. Rock to his paper. Or so she fantasized.
* * *
Pampering in business class launched her into ephemeral states of happiness. But like every snowflake descending through the atmosphere, her spirit felt light until it settled on earth, where it clinged to mediocrity. Once she touched down, she shivered enough to rattle her food tray and her nerves. Fretting over not shredding her married suitor’s letter back home in Montréal, she glanced down the aisle to wave over a waiter and order coffee, even though she doubted that it could compare to any of Second Cup’s spellbinding concoctions. To her chagrin une femme d’un certain âge was flipping her brassy blond hair and fidgeting within the liquid blue incandescence of the server’s eyes.
The frank letter that her former beau sent her, though tissue-thin, weighed heavier on Véronique’s mind than the impulse to seek a new identity through travel. His crisp correspondence was neatly folded in thirds in its matching florid envelope, which itself was tucked like a perfumed sachet between the pairs of enormous, floral-print cotton panties that Véronique had packed for her weeklong getaway. Frayed and flawed, she was a frangible tapestry of femininity unworthy of moths.
Their illicit affair had been an unsigned contract containing a rider of romantic promises rendered in vanishing ink, but now she wished she had repurposed it as origami to hide their lies in the razor’s-edge folds. Disoriented, she was torn between Exhibit A — their first kiss on a rain date — and Exhibit Z — a blank section that was now filled with his dismissive missive.
Dewdrops chasing each other on her windowpane symbolized tears that she had shed during the final weeks of their clandestine relationship. When she traced the streaked pattern with a slender teak-brown index finger, she didn’t recoil from the chill. No matter the season, she had an overflowing reservoir of warmth in her heart — a surplus of love despite the absence in her life of someone emotionally mature enough to receive it.
Like the stubborn, steely gray coils that had begun multiplying amid her chocolate brown corkscrew curls for the past year, the premature winter that existed outside her gelid window was most unwelcome. Twisting an index finger in and out of one cottony curl after another, she peered through intertwined bearded branches and reflected on an entanglement that spanned what so many Boomer III bloggers had promised to be “the thrilling thirties.” Soothsayers they were not. Hypesters and hysteriacs, yes.
Every time that Véronique used to check her biological clock, its arthritic hands would spin out of control. Despite the ensuing dizzy spell, each time she would profess inwardly: No matter how much he intoxicates me, I will not allow him to spill inside. C’est mon terroir à moi. And mine alone. Besides, she didn’t desire babies; she only wanted to be one man’s baby.
Hearing her part-time paramour’s profession of committed love turned out to be a perennial hallucination. Nonetheless, such an admission topped each of her new year’s resolutions. Each thirty-first of December, she would slouch in the splintered unsteady chair in her breakfast nook, which opened onto the living room. She absentmindedly would cradle a glass of some inferior wine that loverman had left behind in his haste to play the role of husband at Madame‘s grande soirée. Through cinnamon-scented candlelight, she would catch her melancholic reflection in an ice-glazed window: hollow eyes gazing across the table at an empty chair. On the street below, whistling and tooting partygoers would assault her unscheduled solitude.
Swarmed by ghosts of mistresses past, she would curse her co-adulterer’s duplicity and relive the night that she veered into his orbit. Like a cello with sprung strings, she was damaged goods better left shut in a velvet-lined case. Smarting from her lover’s mind-fucking, she would imagine him copulating with her competition in a remote locale — the French Riviera, Martinique, Cuba, Mars — while waves (or meteors) crashed outside. She would envision him plunging balls deep in his wife, pledging fidelity forever as if a naive teenager trying to carve mushy sentiments into frozen bark. Son épouse jusqu’à la éternité. Defeated, she would try to block out his empty words and the squeaking, thumping bed, squeezing the wine goblet until it threatened to shatter.
“Santé,” she would toast to the abandoned place setting while a Catholic church’s heavy bell clanged like her paramour’s Kevlar heart had against his armor. Several hours before each reverberating midnight stroke, he would be pumping iron inside of his brittle-boned bride in a race against time. One sip. Suave motherfucker. Swilling the remainder of his poison, she would feel her brown curls bouncing off her shoulderblades like coils from the boxspring of Monsieur et Madame‘s holiday bed. Merde!
Snowy vistas of a mid-November afternoon seemed to disappear as swiftly as a capricious lover’s fervent promise committed to his coke-laced memory. Briefly Véronique eyed her solar wristwatch — the penultimate birthday gift from her semiprivate Father Time. Upon seeing his silver-tufted hand pat her smooth brown wrist with the affection of the doting father she never had, however, the reminiscence stung like stubble scraping against her cheek in a losing protest against wake-up sex.
Returning to entwining fingers in her hair, she switched views from the past to the present, then slid into the future. Her eyes meandered from one bleak scenario to the next, her mouth turning drier than a desert by the nanosecond. Not a diamond tiara in sight. One more reason for her dismal mood creeped through her mind: Mon dieu, I left my pills in the Tiffany Blue chiffonier.
Hooked on Memorase like most of her race — not to obliterate memories but to alleviate the agonizing ones — she had come to accept that her mind’s windows to the past were far less dependable than the actual pane in front of her face. Mass, not in a ritual sense, but in the realm of physics. Attempts to envision the future were akin to tempting a psychosis and required a complicated regimen of meds. Many generations had passed since people consoled each other simply with “mind over matter” to deal with issues of the past that could not be altered as well as preoccupations with future dimensions of existence — whether five minutes away or five years ahead. Despite the fleeting sense of the present, especially on the rails, her overanalyses of ex-loverman’s manipulative dominance in her life had taken root and she lacked the cerebral tools to sever it.
Trees standing against the relentless wind had vanished. Frozen lake, slippery track, stiff brush and crimson canopies of staghorn sumac shrubs now were rushing by. She wondered, Had I snapped my fingers? Mouthed “abracadabra”? Could there’ve been a magic wand wrapped within my curls? Like Québec’s changing pastoral tableau — austere hibernal snapshots more than one hundred miles from Montréal’s cosmopolitan autumn scenes — time was passing rapidly and tinkering with her sanity. Hurtling through space toward a future made more uncertain without a lover to return to, she realized that time rendered every moment of mortality an effervescent realization and every afterthought an evaporated dream.
Squinting, she searched her illusory contours in a partial reflection that the afternoon sun unevenly unveiled. She was conflicted by Gestalt theoreticism; afflicted with GERD. Studying her spectral image, she attempted to connect the dots to tattered remnants of her existence that survived a tabooed relationship. From knitted brows to pursed lips, a frosty grimace crept into her pores, but she pretended to be content that it masked her penchant to shower affection on the lowest calibre of men. She hadn’t expatriated from the United States to find more of the same — pseudoromantic brutes — only with French accents. If it would take the second half of her life, she would prove her killjoy of a father a liar and settle down with a better man, one whose dreams meshed with her own.
Twelve years into the past she had been scoffing at fairytales regurgitated in modern literature and cinema but more irritatingly through university colleagues’ embellished accounts of fated romances. While she would have access to myriad nurseries in her new hometown of Montréal, she had doubted that any of the pumpkins carried midnight magic in their chalky, white seeds. In her unimaginative mind, variations of squash were made to be peeled and scooped for their delicious pulp — for autumn pies and winter stews — and mules were beasts of burden. She hadn’t owned a pair of glass-heeled ballroom slippers to pack in any of her luggage compartments. Lacking belief in her authenticity, she ignored ethereal whispers of intuition, followed the throbbing heart between her thighs and settled for a counterfeit prince.
Back then she had hauled around baggage of various forms but made sure to leave behind her American name: Veronica Isabel Payne. With much less contemplation, she also had abandoned her patriotic father, his gold digger wife and the latter’s unambitious adult sons — all scowling in the driveway. Standing to their right was the indestructible brick house that her real-estate mother had purchased outright in Germantown, Pennsylvania, during the Second-Great Depression. Between national apathy that commenced in the turbulent teens and the bio-warfare that fizzed in Mr. Payne’s tall, daily glasses. Mrs. Payne had died of a vandalized heart and thus never had the chance to help her daughter extinguish the two candles of her birthday cake, of which there would be none.
More than her bra size or water retention, something on a molecular level had changed in Véronique since her immigration to Canada. No longer was she that practical woman, such as her maternal Great-Aunt Lisa — after whom Véronique’s film-loving mother had fashioned her a middle name, albeit with scraps of antique Spanish lace that uncovered her infatuation with then-thespian and -heartthrob Javier Bardem. Various oral histories of relatives who still resided in the States also revealed that her independent great-aunt had campaigned for their nation’s first Black president’s second term while treading the poverty line rather than risk self-loathing by accepting the bejeweled hand of a diehard Republican suitor.
Tense in her present, Véronique fumbled in her synthetic purse for her Memorase meds until she realized the futility in her effort. Zut! she cursed herself. How could I forget that I forgot them? Digging deeper into her purse, she felt the creases of her wallet and, minutes later, was speed-dialing the Downtown Montréal branch of NuMeds — a universal collective of internists, neuropharmacologists and pharmacists — in a desperate attempt to have a Memorase prescription called in to a Québec City branch. However, there was no answer at the number for a business which prided itself on the slogan “We NuMeds never sleep, so that you can.”
Discontent individuals carried the black-polkadot on white tablets on tiny, perforated cards and perceived them to be as indispensable as TruVox cellphones; thumbprint patches; eye-scan pass codes; and minute-before Pleasurtopia capsules for him, hour-after Pleasurtopia capsules for her and combo versions of the recreational-sex drug for intersex people. For the last gender group the international Pan-Gender Treaty, passed during the quarter-century Baby Boom III, entitled its members to the same rights as all other sexes. Those rights included marriage, which resulted in a dramatic rise in adoption rates, the gradual elimination of orphanages and the heralding of the Children’s Human-Rights Act.
Véronique purposely had left behind her solar-powered Verdeo reader, which on the winter morning of her firing from her university teaching position a decade prior the French lit dean — unlike his hockey devotee colleagues, a basketball fan — tossed into her crate as she ran crimson-cheeked down a buzzing corridor. Then as now, she didn’t know whether to be angrier with Dean Duhamel, who had been bent on her total conversion to the latest technologies and, considering previous hands-on tutelage, on extracurricular perversion — or with her adulterous ex-lover. She caressed the third-chapter page of Bid Time Return, which unlike her Memorase pills she had packed to prevent drifting into quicksands of memories. It didn’t matter that she had read the novel almost as often as she sought tarot card therapy to inject romantic intrigue into her future. Like the bewitching soul behind an exhibition hall photograph that beckoned Richard Matheson’s playwright protagonist to a mysterious, fantastic past, Veronique was hearing whispers that interfered with intuitive frequencies. Tonalities of survival.
Listening against reason, she was reminded of the old man’s whispers aboard another VIA train headed on the same course. Whiskers tickling her auricle, he had explained that “side effects of a long rail journey, for the unaccompanied person of any gender, may include spontaneous, unpleasant distractions that prompt him or her to question the reliability of anything and everything, including gravity.” He neglected to mention that their coupling wouldn’t be eternal.
When he reached Véronique’s row, Didier, a twentysomething VIA Rail steward, abruptly curtailed his stroll down the aisle to check in passenger’s comfort and gave her a bewildered look, which sent her searching for the paragraph that she had abandoned. She thumbed gently down the soft, warm page at a relaxed pace, the opposite of her display at any of Montréal’s picturesque places, where she would raise a book, preferably a hardcover, at jaw level to frame the beautiful mask of her thick dark-brown brows and alluring eyes. For the duration of her lunchbreak, or hours on those weekends that she was robbed of her married boyfriend’s presence, she would pore over pages of fiction in defiance of passers-by of the under-thirty set — whose gadget-calloused fingertips would’ve murdered the delicate pages of antiquated books that she sold to Montréal’s senior denizens — and of hypocritical tree huggers whose minds struggled to reconcile green activism with overreliance on paper in the workplace.
Back on the train, Véronique intermittently disengaged herself from her book to glimpse the austere realism beyond her windowpane. Looking over her right shoulder, she craned her neck to watch the rear cars gracefully undulate like segments of a caterpillar inching along a leaf’s serrated curves. Although she refused to grow weary of love, she couldn’t help but feel leery of time’s detours and time’s contours, both of which conspired with her unconscious mind to sabotage valiant efforts to transform herself into a dignified woman.
It seemed it was yesterday that, armed with a Canadian visa, a boarding pass and a printout of her one-way e-ticket, and a month’s supply of memory-sickness pills, she staggered her goodbyes. Once she bade farewell to her colleagues at Temple University and, over high tea at the Rittenhouse, allowed envious girlfriends’ ephemeral promises (“ooh, girl, we have got to stay in touch”) to slip through her fingers, she donned her angel-mother’s gossamer wings.
What better location than the endpoint of a longtime emblem of freedom for Black American people: the human-linked Underground Railroad? her twenty-seven-year-old self had reasoned. As countless articles on the Internet had concurred to her satisfaction, Canadians were more tolerant than U.S. folks. In the realm of sexuality one province held promises previously sketched only in her dreams. Soon she was tucking a SimulTranslator into her carry-on luggage, plus extra padding into her brassiere, and emigrating to a place where she trusted that her unconscious mind would disperse an inherited belief in unshackled love.
* * *
As she lurched forward in tandem with the silver locomotive’s insistent motion, the only truth that soothed her was a robust lunch on the horizon. Starved for nutrients more than sexual freedom at the moment, she sipped on seltzer while her eyes lingered on main courses on the limited but elegant menu. Hmmm, will it be the grilled salmon, roast chicken or beef short ribs? she mulled over the choices. She quickly eliminated the middle option upon spotting a lone bird flapping its blue-gray form through new snowflakes as if it were racing the train. With my luck, that’s probably a vulture up there, she thought.
Considering her iron deficiency, which left her muscles only slightly weaker than her heart from her ex-lover’s waning romantic gestures, she selected the beef. Not that she was a hardcore carnivore, but she couldn’t care less about la soupe au pistou or “la mariage d’automne“: sautéed red potatoes and tarragon carrots. I’m craving something bloody delicious, she thought, nibbling her generous bottom lip. Based on her memories of her destination city and its denizens’ loyalty to centuries-old traditions, she was comforted that there would be plenty more opportunities to feast on fresh fish and game. Though, she was disconcerted that Québec City was renowned for attracting lovers of another type of hunt.
Zapping herself out of the cold snap of recent memory, Véronique slapped the laminated menu down on the tray beside her Richard Matheson novel. With a hand to her restless tummy over a bulky ecru cardigan, she tried to muzzle otherworldly growls and worried that the waiter’s bilingual lunch announcement to his section a half-hour earlier was only a tease. Of all things, teasing and untruths would more than try her patience.
Again her eyes scanned the abused menu on her tray. She tried to avoid thinking about the beef short ribs to no avail. Too bad the soupe de jour isn’t parsnip, which I love and he abhorred, she murmured within. Then it hit her like a swinging carcass in a slaughterhouse: Damn, I will not have had this much beef inside me since that night when B — … When he … Although nearly three weeks had lapsed since her emotional collapse, after he released her from their at-will relationship, she couldn’t bear to enunciate his name.
She was immersed in acrid thoughts of his charming deception when a Botoxified white woman seated in front of her began trashing her husband with a brown-complexioned companion about forty years her junior. No scarlet letter for her; hubby was stigmatized with the “little ‘i'” — impotence — which deflated his exaggerated perception of Québécois masculinity. In an exasperated voice that, Véronique surmised, all of the other passengers in the coach also tried tuning out, she complained about le vieillard while caressing her accomplice’s smooth cheek with the back of a spotted, wrinkled hand. Reaching down to his zippered bulge, and eliciting a gasp, she yammered how “Old Faithful” annihilated the meek in the boardroom yet lacked the penile velocity necessary to slam her dome into their mahogany headboard — let alone to dent her walls. The young man seemed to fight back falsetto moans as his lover groped his package and chatted away in dusky French.
Véronique had sized up the pair whenever they left their seats together and headed up the aisle toward the loo, and especially after the third outing, when they ambled past her row reeking of raw seafood that didn’t appear among the train menu’s appetizers. Each time she had examined how the young man’s face was chiseled and how his lover’s was carved up in sharp contrast with her wattle. Guess being cutthroat applies only to cheating on her hubby, she thought without a hint of irony.
During the sixtysomething’s audible tongue duet with her boyfriend, an annoying ringtone — “Fist Me, Baby, Trois More Times” by the neo-pop-trance band Britney’s Blonde Disciples — interrupted their indiscretion. Moments after hushing Adonis, she was assuring her cuckolded mari via TruVox: “Je t’aime, mon amour.”
Merde! Véronique wished to vomit and could taste salt and bile rising in her esophagus. What about that doting young man, putain? she thought but dared not utter. As if on cue, the rookie at mature nookie pivoted in his seat until they locked gazes in empathic telepathy. She wasn’t so sure that his lust-flooded brain transmitted the correct message. Never again, she chanted while beaming silent lessons in his direction.
If she correctly had translated her fellow passengers’ overlapping conversations at the departure point — Montréal’s Gare Centrale — most of them also were headed for Québec City in the wintriest country on the North American continent. Not one to engage in schadenfreude, she hoped that none of the travelers shared her reason for venturing north, for she was an escapee from a different kind of deep freeze. Québec province would reach its frigid zenith in February, when she planned to go underground.
Deep, beyond the earth’s core, where no train could travel, she would wait out the day she used to associate with his and her eternal bond. Ugh, Valentine’s Day, she pondered. She had loved as hard as a hockey puck, and now she was a spurned lover who had traded a pair of ice skates for a train seat; a stadium cup for a wine glass. Instead of the game ending in bruises and broken bones, it had concluded with a broken heart — hers.
Prior to meeting her older man, Lucifer in human form, she had never thought she was dating below her worth. I’m just having fun, going with the flow, she used to tell the baffled young woman in the mirror. Most recently she had lied to her inner “V” that the highest price she had to pay was for a first-class, round-trip ticket in VIA’s shoulder season when, in truth, she was an emotionally bankrupt woman. Unlike the tourists on the train, she was a fugitive from tainted love and destined for pure hell. She doubted there could be atonement for an adulterer in a predominantly Catholic province that had welcomed the relatively chaste version of herself so many years ago. If not her soul, then her reputation had tried to combat time; defeated, it eventually became more tarnished than an abandoned set of antique silverware.
With the certainty of four positive pregnancy tests and zero births during the ten years she dated someone else’s husband, she knew that if he hadn’t dumped her, they would’ve continued their twisted affair despite its inevitable dead end. As sure as a lazily stitched hem on a loose woman’s dress, she would’ve allowed him to declare her extra baggage on vacations abroad. Nevertheless, he usually limited the borders of concubinage to Canada, and she would’ve permitted him to continue dragging her cross-country, fornicating from rocky outposts of eastern provinces to the lush forests of Vancouver.
However, one letter and one envelope doused in some antique perfume altered her destiny. Now, with thirty thousand dollars of Madame Piqûre’s disposable income deposited in her checking account and bankrolling most of her trip — and covering her prescriptions, groceries and a nosebleed-inducing monthly rent from St-Sylvestre to la Fête du déménagement, or Moving Day — Véronique had money to burn, even if she wouldn’t. As a defeated mistress, she also had enough sense not to get sued, else wind up jingling nothing but sous.
As the sleek, shiny train’s incessant horn melody serenaded the new snow coating the sparse forest, Véronique reconciled herself to the idea that, for the first time since her hair was the color of a cow moose, she would be spending a solo holiday. Christmas was less than a month away, but she didn’t have the courage to step out alone under ropes of royal blue lights swinging in the winter wind outside restaurants in the Haute-Ville, even if the regal hue could disguise how she had hanged herself over a man incapable of rooting himself in an ancillary relationship.
Noël, Noël. Fa-la-la-la-la. Zut! Trop d’amour, trop de rires. And far too many committed couples, she had confessed to her invisible confidante hours after her comfortable life changed in blue hues from electra to ethyl. After she had slit open the fancy scented envelope, the sender’s impeccable penmanship stunned her at first because she used to tease him about his handwriting. “More confounding than a lawyer’s or a physician’s,” she would tell him, biting her bottom lip when his narrowing eyes curtailed her laughter. It hadn’t taken her long to realize that she was reading a breakup letter — she paused only once, to count the pages.
She had been grateful only that he had written his tome mostly in English, for a summary of a dissolution in the French language would’ve been unbearable. But still, she unraveled with each word. Blinking through the final paragraph, she had weighed whether she would need to hire a criminal-defense attorney or call NuMeds for a prescription of pills that could induce eternal rest. Ten years of love and sex whittled down to the formal closing of a letter: Respectfully, Bertrand Piqûre.
After overpacking her vintage Oleg Cassini suitcase for her solo trip — a getaway from herself — she had reread the missive, nearly ripping the delicate paper each time a flashback of ardent kisses struck her brain like a lightning bolt on a solitary person strolling a shoreline, or walking a high wire. Until that spell of vertigo which sent her tumbling back to the safety net of self-preservation, she hadn’t realized that she had fallen victim to a clown prince who took pleasure whisking her off multiple stories above her comfort zone.
À poursuivre / To be continued
© 2013/2015 Chantale Rêve
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Photography by Chantale Rêve
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