you just need something to eat. Would you like me to order room service?” Doug
hesitated. “Or maybe you’d like to go downstairs. You could get the same food,
but it would cost a lot less in the café. Walking around might do you some
good, too. Better than lying here on the bed, in the dark.” He walked over to
the window and grabbed a curtain.
keep that closed,” Tracy
said, opening her eyes to glare at her husband, who was dwarfed by the
high-ceilinged room of that once-elegant hotel.
turned when she spoke, dropping the brocade.
wrong with you, Tracy?” His face twisted with anger, any tender concern
vanishing. “And what’s this about leaving? You amaze me! You don’t really want
to leave. Where did you get this idea? You suddenly want to give up thirty
years? And after all I’ve done for you, provided you with? And right now, too,
especially when I’ve finally retired, you want to leave me? I thought we were
going to spend our golden years together.” He waved an arm, ordering her to
stand. “Now stop this foolishness, Tracy.
Get up and we’ll go out so you can eat.”
shrugged then shook his head as though in disbelief. He moved to the foot of
the bed, and his voice softened again. “I already ate, after you left the
restaurant; we can skip the gallery this afternoon, if you want. Maybe do
something you’d like to do. Shop? I don’t mind. Really. But let’s forget we
even had that conversation, and just go back to the way things were. Okay?”
propped one elbow on the café railing and, cupping her chin in the hand’s palm,
gazed down the street at nothing in particular, silently willing her husband to
stop pontificating. Bad enough she’d had to traipse around after him all
morning in the museum. Now he was hell-bent on lecturing her about what they’d
Parisian back street was moderately busy that sun-drenched day. The restaurant
patio, a block from their hotel, offered welcome cooling shade, and a place for
Tracy to relax
her aching legs. Doug had plans to hit another art gallery shortly after lunch,
so she would have little time to rest.
Not conferring with Tracy first, he automatically ordered café au
lait, “Deux, s’il vous plait,” holding up two fingers in a V at the
didn’t bother to remind him that the French count numbers beginning with their
thumb. Her lips set in a tight, silent line, she also didn’t mention she would
rather have had something cold to drink, maybe a beer for a change. What was
launched back into his monologue, not showing any sign of letting up, so she
continued staring down the street, nodding towards her husband every so often
to give the impression she was paying attention. After thirty years of practice
she had this routine down pat.
Tracy sat up on the bed and turned
around, placing her feet firmly on the carpeted floor. She looked directly at
Doug and, emphasizing each word, said, “What you’ve done for me?” She gulped.
“What you’ve given me?”
she had suddenly found her voice, though, there was no stopping, and she leaped
right down his throat.
had thirty years of boredom, of doing only what you wanted to do because
I thought that was the way a happy marriage worked, what society wanted of me,
and I was afraid to do anything different. Now a naked man has shown me there’s
something more to life that I’ve been missing all along. I know it’s okay to do
what pleases me–if I want to. It’s not just the gallery this afternoon,
volume had risen to the point where it bordered on a scream.
get dragged into one more museum, or have to do anything else because you
want to do it, I might just possibly die. Walking around the streets naked
would be preferable to this unrelenting boredom our life has become. At least
I’d feel free, like I was doing something I chose to do.”
Keep your voice down.” Doug held out his hands, patting down the air. “There
might be someone in the next room.”
wouldn’t care about what we’re saying in English.” But Tracy lowered her voice out of habitual
paused and, nodding slowly, said, “It’s the money you want, isn’t it? If you
think I’m going to let you go without a fight, allowing you to get away with
this … or, wait a minute … is there someone else? You’ve planned this with
someone, haven’t you?”
just don’t get it–and there’s the problem. I don’t want your money, or at least
no more than I’m entitled to. And there’s no one else. I just want to be
allowed to find out who I really am. I can’t do that as long as you’re
constantly calling the shots.”
know what it is—you’re menopausal. You’re not thinking clearly, Tracy.” Doug looked
concerned again and, leaning over, reached a hand out to touch her shoulder.
She stood up from the bed, shrugging him off in one motion.
continued, “Can’t we wait until we’re back in Calgary to talk about this? You could see a
doctor there, or maybe talk with a therapist. Then we’ll both decide what to
clenched teeth, Tracy
said, “I’ve never thought more clearly in all my life.” And if I don’t
follow through now, I’ll never get away from this man. “I’m not sick. I
just need some space.”
what do you plan to do?” He became very business-like. “I might remind you that
there are responsibilities you can’t just walk away from. We have tickets and
bookings already paid for. You should at least stay and finish this trip.”
first time in her life, the novelty of not-knowing, not having a plan as to
what was about to happen, was decidedly exciting, yet, at the same time,
I’d like to go home.” She said, looking away from him.
if that’s what you want.” Doug shook his head. “I don’t know why we can’t just
go back to the way things were this morning. We were having such a good time.”
were having a good time. I was tagging along, like I’ve always done.
Tracy glanced at Doug’s angry face before
he turned away to walk into the bathroom. When he came back out she was still
standing in the same position as though chained to the spot. “I’d
better start seeing about changing our flight,” he said. “This isn’t going to
be easy, you know. It’s probably going to cost a lot, too.” He pointed around
the room. “You pack up our things. I’ll call from the lobby and let you know
when I get through with it all. And, Tracy … ” He reached an arm towards her,
attempting to drape it around her shoulders, but she slouched out of the way so
the arm hit empty space before dropping by his side again. “Buck up, Sweetie.
We’ll figure a way out of this.”
himself out of the room.
Finally, some activity broke through
Doug’s lecturing drone, catching her attention. Startled into close
observation, she blinked hard, twice, not believing her eyes.
were stepping aside, giving wide berth, pointing, and stifling laughter behind
hands. An elderly man, squat, pleasantly plump, and totally naked, save for
sandals and white socks, strolled out from the parting crowd along the
sidewalk’s centre towards Tracy. With a full head of wavey-grey hair framing a
Cheshire Cat-face, he resembled an odd mix of aged-cherub and manically
grinning gargoyle, just like those carvings they’d seen in Notre Dame.
Tracy stared intently, then giggled,
imagining a friend’s oh-so-British voice declaring, “His dingly-danglies are
showing!” When the man came alongside Tracy, he turned his head and they made
eye contact. He flashed her a big, self-satisfied smile, threw a quick wave,
and continued walking. Tracy returned the infectious smile.
the … ” Doug said, his consideration of the
Gauls and Visigoths ending
Tracy turned back to look
at her husband, a smile on her lips. “You didn’t see his gem-encrusted penis
ring. Gave new meaning to the term Family Jewels.”
huffed, “Where are the police?” Craning his neck, he watched the man’s
backside, adding, “Surely, even in France, one can’t walk around
Tracy looked at Doug, her
brow now furrowed. “Why not? He seemed perfectly happy to me.” She turned
around for another glimpse, but the nudist had already disappeared into a
crowd. “And harmless,” she said, more to herself, continuing to look down the
later there was a scuffle when two police approached. They grabbed the naked
man’s arms, plucking him from passers-by, and dragged him out of Tracy’s sight.
Doug said, settling back into his seat, pulling straight his jacket lapels.
“That’s taken care of.”
The waiter appeared and disinterestedly placed two
cups on their table, leaving immediately.
Tracy said to the retreating white-shirted back. She reached for a paper napkin
and, while sopping up spilled coffee from the saucer, she studied her husband’s
face. “Why good? Why can’t we do what makes us happy, whenever the
moment grabs us?”
a question! Everything would become chaotic without rules. You know that.
You’ve helped me raise three children.”
Tracy said, catching her breath, her head shaking in anger. More like, we’ve
always done as you’ve said, but she didn’t dare speak those words out loud.
“People can’t do whatever they want, you know,
not if it upsets everyone.”
settled back into his seat, looking satisfied he had made his point and their
discussion was over.
observed that life in the café had resumed as though nothing had happened. Or,
what was more likely the case–a naked man walking down a Paris street was so
common an occurrence that few had paid any attention at all.
waved an arm at other diners seated on the patio. “You’re the only one who’s
upset.” Laughing, she added, “Besides, if the man has an expensive penis ring,
why can’t he flaunt it?”
longer in the shade, she cupped a hand over her eyes. Doug’s face, even still protected
by the overhead awning, was turning a brilliant crimson; sweat beaded his brow.
“Tracy, this isn’t funny.
He’s crazy. How long will it be before he hurts someone, or himself? Better if
he’s locked up.”
pursed her lips, but remained silent. After a
few moments, gathering courage, she looked Doug straight in the eye, and said,
want to go back to the hotel? But we just got our coffee. I thought we were
going to eat lunch.” He searched around for their waiter.
Doug. I’m leaving you.” Tracy
reached to the ground, fingering her purse’s handles.
turned back to her with a deer-in-the-headlights look. She’d managed to silence
him more effectively than if she’d reached across and slapped his face.
Composing himself, he harrumphed and, reaching for the sugar, fumbled with the
coffee spoon, buying time to avoid the direction Tracy was heading. Finally finding his voice,
Doug said with a hiss, “What will the kids think? What about the rest of the
family, our friends, our neighbours? How do you expect me to explain this to
everyone? Have you considered anything at all? You’re going to make me look
like a fool!”
balding spot where his hairline was receding had been sunburned an angry red;
the skin would soon peel. A tear glistened in the corner of one eye. Quickly
removing his glasses, he swiped the moisture away, not allowing it an
opportunity to course down his cheek.
sighed and shook her head as if to stop any guilt from settling on her
shoulders yet one more time. She grabbed the handles of her bag, lifting it
from the ground and, pushing herself up from the chair, reached over and placed
one palm on her husband’s cheek. She whispered, “Goodbye, Doug.” Then turning,
she straightened her back and walked steadily through the café entrance, out
onto the sidewalk, heading towards their hotel. If Doug had called out, trying
to stop her, she didn’t hear.
shining full on her face caused her to squint. Or was that the beginning of a
opened her bag and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, fitting them on. Then
flicking the blouse button high on her neck, she impulsively unfastened it, as
well as the next, allowing a slight breeze to deliciously trickle down into her
Tracy sighed deeply. Where had her
happiness gone, what she’d felt earlier when leaving the restaurant? She walked
over to the window and drew back the curtains. The much cheaper
room-without-a-view Doug had insisted on booking looked out on the blank wall
of a next-door building. The large pane of glass still allowed in some light,
although not that famous Paris light known to
artists, and Tracy
stood in the middle of its sunny warmth, trying to clear her mind of all
thought. It hurt to think, but if she could just figure out which direction was
best, now that she’d suddenly set things in motion. All she knew was that there
was no going back to what they’d had, what they had been.
behind her head, Tracy
expertly pinned up some escaped strands of hair into the usual tightly wound
bun. Sighing once more, she walked over to the wardrobe, opened the door and,
reaching in, pulled out her own suitcase. She hesitated briefly, just for a
moment, before also grabbing Doug’s.
Thank you Susan for sharing your stories. Dear readers, if you get a chance, pick up one of Susan's novels. You won't be disappointed.
Watch here next week when Rob Rayner of New Brunswick is featured as our guest author.