Knock Knock

Late Summer 1967, Paris, France

She stood in the window, interlaced her fingers, stretched her arms over her head and yawned. The late summer, warm, close, made her long, silk nightgown almost too much to be wearing against the sun. Three months ago she had been Amanda Vincent. Barely twenty-two, Masters with Honors from Cambridge and madly in love enough with a beautiful French-Italian playboy to walk out in the middle of her M.Phil in International Finance. This late Monday morning she was young bride of three months Amanda Morisé, daydreaming out the window of a third-floor Montmartre apartment at the noise and dust of Paris, the memory of day-long lovemaking fresh in her mind. A light knock on the door brought her back to Earth.

She answered the knock to find a young woman similar in age and style, wearing a soft cotton summer dress, hair pulled up loosely against the heat, her arms down, crossed at the wrists, waiting. She had the bluest eyes Amanda had ever seen.

“Amanda? Amanda Morisé?” Obvious from the sound of her voice her visitor was very French. And on the verge of impatience overcoming her mannered demeanor. “Je peut entrer? To speak a moment? A matter I think most important?”

Amanda was still somewhere between her daydreams and the young woman standing in the open door. “Yes. Yes…of course…My manners escape me…”  As her visitor passed she thought that if whatever was holding her guest’s hair together let go, it might just explode off her head.

“Your mind is still possessed by his charm, Madame,” her guest said as she passed. “I am Alixandrie. It is too formal. I am called Alix. As in your America, now we shake the hands, oui?” The blue-eyed girl’s English was much better than Amanda’s French. Alix raised a hand, declared a halt to further polite formalities and launched into a story, told in a series of broken sentences wrenched from the center of her being. Some tears were shed in the telling and it ended with “I believe you also are married to my husband, Yannick Morisé.”

“No, that’s quite impossible,” Amanda’s tone completely dismissive of Alix’s story about a whirlwind romance followed closely by betrayal. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry for whatever your husband may have done, but my husband left just this morning for Marseille. His name is Yannick, but it’s not an unusual name, neither is Morisé.” Her daydreams returned, she saw them eating breakfast together, barely clothed, he spanked her lightly on her behind as she walked past him with her coffee. How, as he was leaving, he had bent over, dropped an end of his tie down her robe, raised his eyebrows, smiled when it followed him as he stood after a quick, deep kiss goodbye.

“No! No, I tell you he is in a house in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, half of one hour’s train ride from Paris. He believes I have come to Paris to discover an answer of my pregnancy. You are assured, Madame Morisé, I am not with child. I have come to meet you, the wife he married two weeks after me. Of treachery as such, be most assured!”

Alix removed a notecard from her black leather clutch with an address in Saint-Germain printed at the top. “I am not believed? By you, his beautiful American woman? Tomorrow he will be away the day. If not for you, perhaps another wife? The Mademoiselle of flowers waits in the road from the station of trains in Saint Germaine. As you have arrived, show her this.” She took Amanda’s hand and smashed the card in her palm. “She will show the way to you. Tomorrow.” Her face softened. “Offer her kindness, please, the young girl of flowers. If what is discovered in Saint-Germain you cannot believe? No more will I speak of it to you.”

The blue of Alix’s eyes burned through the redness of recent tears straight into Amanda’s own before she gently moved a strap of Amanda’s nightgown back onto her shoulder, turned and walked quietly away. The soft fragrance of fresh flowers followed her. She put Amanda in mind of a small, beautifully sad garden as she pulled the door closed softly behind her, not quite closing it all the way.

Amanda smoothed the card. Quite a girl, and even more of a story. Yes, Yannick had married her in a quiet civil ceremony, that was true. Often accused by the press of squandering his inheritance on a laundry list of immoral pursuits, he’d told her he needed no more publicity. That it was best his enemies, even his friends, not know that he now had such a beautiful wife. She had agreed. He could get her to do whatever he wanted. The things he said, the things he did to her, with her…It was all a lie. It must be. A jealous girlfriend with a story, attempting to start some girl nonsense. She would go to Saint-Germaine in the morning and get the truth from the lovely little French girl with her wild hair, blue eyes, and pathetic little lie.

***

When shown the card, the flower girl said “Oh, Oui,” and spoke rapidly and only in French that she knew the way, offered to walk with Amanda.

“No, thank you.” Amanda tried to politely extricate her hand from the flower girl’s. “I prefer the quiet. It’s so unlike Paris.” She tried in English, and her best French, the flower girl not understanding. Amanda finally said, “Mercì” for all the girl’s pointing and handed her a silver 10 Franc coin, which made the flower girl squeal, take Amanda’s hand back and kiss it until Amanda pulled it away.

The tiny house was no more than a half a mile from the station, off a narrow street. She passed through the hedge wall in front and knocked with purpose. Alix answered and the door opened into a cool, dark room. Amanda wanted to say “Show me your evidence, tell me your tale, cry and let me leave. My husband will be home tomorrow.” Alix’s blue eyes were burning again, lighting up the dark entryway. Amanda decided she might be better served with tact. It wouldn’t kill her to be polite. The girl was obviously hurt, give her a chance. Hear her out. It was a lovely village, so quiet after Paris, and Alix’s cottage was remarkably cool.

“I have said you are most beautiful,” Alix pulled the runaway strands of Amanda’s hair from her cheek, pushed them gently behind her ear. “Sad, no? Two beautiful women should meet such as this, our lives entwined in deceit.”

“I’m still certain there’s been a mistake of some kind, I —” Alix’s touch had been light as a feather, warm and cool at the same time…

“I talk too much to you, his beautiful American woman. See your ‘husband,’ Yannick Morisé. Come.”

Amanda had heard at Cambridge, mostly by way of racial innuendo, that French girls were temperamental, hot-headed. Meaner than Spanish girls, smarter than English girls, sexier than Italian girls. This was always said by someone in a pub, in a fake French accent. It might just be true.

She followed Alix down a short hallway to a small bedroom dominated by a double bed, the window at the foot of it open where a light breeze drifted in, bringing with it a garden awash in flowers. It felt like home should feel. No, this wasn’t Paris. A view of trees some ten yards distant replaced the dusty haze that surrounded the Eiffel tower. The soft rustling of the hedge, the flowers. It was serene, like she was inside of poetry, so –

Alix yanked open the doors of double armoire, banged them violently on the cabinet’s side. Inside, Yannick’s signature blousy, white collarless shirts he had handmade in Florence hung there in testament to his presence. His white collared dress shirt from the High Street in Oxford. No…Surely, they weren’t her Yannick’s. They couldn’t be.

Alix grabbed a man’s lacquered jewelry box from inside, dumped the contents on the armoire’s shelf and tossed the box to the floor. Amanda recognized a familiar pair of cufflinks, the Tissot watch she had bought him as a wedding gift. No, no, no…She lifted the watch as if it were unreal, turned it over to see the “Love Always, C.A.M.” she’d had engraved on the back. Shaking she tugged on a shirt, softly at first, then violently, ripping it from its hanger to stare blankly at the tailor’s mark on the bottom. YFM, a number. It was true. It was all true. The compact bundle of electric French girl had told her the truth.

Amanda started to fold. Alix caught her, set her on the edge of the bed, kept her hands on Amanda’s shoulders. “No more tears. No more for this bastard, our ‘husband,’ will there be tears. Your Father has wealth I am certain?”

“Yes.” Amanda was dizzy, felt sick, nauseous.…

“As also mine. This Yannick desires above beauty or sex, our money to waste. Do not faint on me, Amanda. The steps now must be most severe. To destroy him. He will not destroy us.” She looked Amanda in the eye, shook her shoulders. “We have the means. In France also the women may judge these things. Divorce him together, destroy him together. Together we shame this misery of women from the face of France!”

Alix left the room and returned with brandy in a water glass, gave it to Amanda and waited a few minutes for it to hit. When Amanda had calmed, Alix walked with her slowly, held her hand all the way to the station where they sat together on a worn, wooden bench and waited for the train. “Be strong for us,” Alix whispered when she kissed Amanda on the cheek before releasing her to board the train. “Be. Strong.”

***

Alix had said “We must be taken ill when he returns to us. He cannot touch us. No sex, no control, unable to attend the bank for him? He will go mad.” Amanda stuck to her orders from Alix, feigned “ill”, kept her mouth shut while her anger and her heart simmered into a slow boil for the two days Yannick was home before he was off to Florence on “business.”

Amanda had not only inherited her father’s money, but her one character flaw as well. Impatience. She didn’t wait well, didn’t like, as her father had said, to “let shit ride.” Now she’d let some sweet-talking, hot lovemaking pretty boy French bastard take over her body, her mind, her very soul. Let him blind her, blindside her, and marry her just two weeks after he’d married a wild, rich, blue-eyed French girl. Who the hell did he think he was?

Whatever Yannick’s business in Italy, it had been unpleasant. On his return he was irritable, needed a shave, needed a shower, wanted a woman. He drank champagne from the bottle, directed loud, profane insults at Amanda in three languages, asked her why did he have a sick wife he couldn’t fuck?

She told him she knew. About Alix, about all of it. “Because,” she seethed, “an arrogant, idiot, dickless bastard, the most useless piece of shit excuse for a man ever born left his watch and cufflinks in a cottage in Saint-Germain.” An outburst that left her on the floor of their bathroom semi-conscious with a broken jaw, a cracked cheekbone, and two fewer teeth than she’d had that Sunday morning.

On the floor, consciousness fading, all she could think of was Alix. Unaware, alone, and directly in Yannick’s path. He had stormed out in such a rage. He was dangerous. Alix needed to get away…To be safe…Amanda passed out thinking of her, of Alix, the electric French girl with those blue, blue eyes.

Yannick arrived in Saint-Germain, at least as drunk and more self-righteously enraged than when he’d left Paris. Alix refused to let him in, but she did let him make enough noise pounding on the door and screaming profanity at her in three languages to wake her neighbors. He found an axe leaning against the woodpile, used it to break down the front door. When he was at last standing inside, dripping sweat, Yannick raised the axe and with a dozen or so neighbors looking on, Alix screamed “No! S’il vous plaît!”

The Axe made it to the top of it’s arc, Yannick took half a step toward her, Alix shot him four times with the Walther PPK her father had taken from a dead German officer in 1944. He dropped to his knees, the axe falling pulled him backwards into a cavernous silence.

Alix dropped the pistol on Yannick’s body when she stepped over it and through the splintered door into the late summer night. She would take the next train to Paris, find the beautiful American woman and tell her the good news. Tell her how a passionate, blue-eyed French girl with impossible hair had begun to feel about her, see what she thought about that.

Revised and Updated

No Why

He never asked her why she danced
Or why so long ago
Sewing elastic on new pink slippers
She stuck a needle in the comforter
Covering a waterbed

She never asked him why he had to play
Strange music
Or what he heard or where he went
In expensive headphones with
Famous strangers

She showed him Oxford on the power of her words
Walked the cold mist
Touched history together
In turn he rode a box of musical wires
Offered her Venice, kissed her
Under the Bridge of Sighs

Never much money
Very little time
They never asked why

The novel it is said resides within us
Lies inside our lives.

Written in response to Ian Graham’s 3 Day Quote Challenge

https://ianggraham.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/the-3-day-quote-challenge-day-on

Dying in Your Window

The flowers I brought you
Are in your window dying
I hope they say, “He thought of you!”
One more time
Before they gasp their last

In my hand they stood tall, proud
Radiant in their best yellows and greens
They brightened your day
“Aren’t they lovely,” received with a kiss
They told you I thought of you
When I had nothing to say

Now they are dying in your window

I could have let them be
Left enthusiasm to float
With the pollen on the spring breeze
Spared their lives, sneezed
Found something to say to you
That’s never there when I need it

Instead I killed some flowers
To brighten your day
To let you know I thought of you
When I couldn’t find the words
To tell you how I feel

And now they are dying in your window

And Godammit, I’d do it again
Flower Murderer that I am
To brighten your day
And let you know I thought of you
When how I felt was bigger
Than all the words I couldn’t find

That often can be found dying in your window

Photograph by Alex Markovich
Find his work here https://photo-art.me/

For Elizabeth, the constant muse

Stigma

Neeko watched Lamar blow in through the door with the wind, late. He knew how much Lamar hated being late to anything, and on top of that, he was a sight. His half-a-head of hair windblown, the shirt tail on a cleaner’s stiff shirt was out. Slacks. Not the usual Friday Lamar. It was Neeko’s turn to offer the contents of the plastic wicker bowl when Lamar dropped on the stool to his right.

“Your girlfriend in the body shirt down there got your pretzels ready, I was afraid her heart would break when she thought you’d stood her up.”

Lamar looked down the bar, got a smile and a towel wave. Sure enough, Neeko’s offering was full of low-sodium baby pretzels. At least he could count on his friends.

“Hey, Neeko. You told her thanks and tipped her five, right?”

“Told her you were a dirty old man and the tip I offered was to run as far and fast as she could.”

“Fucker.”

“You’re late,” Neeko grinned, tipped a Collins glass that had been full of Coke, rattled the ice around. “Not like you.”

“Man. You know, what I wanna say is ‘what the fuck.’ Just ‘what, the, fuck.’”

“Long week?”

“Shit. It started last Sunday when I got light weight bad-husbanded. Marie and I spent half the day bustin’ ass on garden cleanup, I moved fifteen fuckin’ bags of wet cedar mulch into the van, out of the van and stacked up. Then up the sidewalk and stacked them again then threw them out in front of the garden like dead soldiers before I moved all of Marie’s rocks and pave stones and leveled a couple of giant pots. I finished all of that, went to the store covered in sweat and mulch, got her some shrimp, first time in forever she wanted to bust the ban of cholesterol. I had a good Sunday goin’. So she takes a bath while I’m gone and the whole bedroom smells like heaven when I get home so I took a shower and you what happened next. Later she tells me ‘I’m sorry I didn’t have anything sexy to wear, but my husband hasn’t bought me any new lingerie in for-ever.’ Which is bullshit because at Christmas I load her up on those panties she won’t buy herself. Loud, silky, fun everyday panties don’t count. I hear her when she moans about no off-white hose anyplace so I get online, deal with that and all of her ballet tights and leotards. None of that counts because it’s not that sort of lady gear. So I’m screwed. No Charming Charlie, no easy way out of lingerie.”

“That’s the what the fuck? Why you haven’t bought Marie sexy satiny nighties lately?”

“What’s the point? That lingerie shit’s coming off pretty soon anyway, right? This old fart told me back in high school that foreplay started at the mall, and I was like ‘What?’ Holding hands or go make out behind the big potted trees or what? No, he meant shopping for the right kind of undies and both of us thinking about what we were gonna do with that bottle of sandalwood body lotion, gettin’ primed in advance. And I haven’t been doing that, and that was why I took the bad husband bash. But my ‘what the fuck’ is way worse than that.”

“That wasn’t really bad enough for there to be a worst, man. Buying gas on a rainy day is worse than that if that’s all you got.”

“No, man. All week, when I tried to solve any kind of issue with her is why the what the fuck. I go to Home Depot, trying to replace an old faucet set. I’m waiting, and there’re these two women next to me, don’t even know each other and one of them asks the other a question about what the other one said about her health, and they go off on cysts. Vaginal cysts. How one has these cysts that show up and send her blood pressure through the roof and gave her a stroke, and she’s only maybe forty. The other one says how she had these cysts, and her metabolism was so cranked she could eat anything she wanted and lose weight but had to get it operated on, and they were telling all these vaginal scrape and medication stories, and all I wanted was a cheap bathroom faucet. Can I do that? Hell no. I get to wait for the one person with a clue in plumbing while these two women get down on their plumbing. It’s not like they didn’t know there were men around while they blew it out all over the aisle about growing mushrooms and shit in their vajayjay’s and how it fucked them up.”

“Marie might have your ass for doggin’ women not being able to talk about their business like anybody else.”

“Not my point. Look, I had a nut twist in junior high, and it got the size of an orange. They un-twisted it, it was okay. I didn’t stand around in the hall with girls in earshot talkin’ about my giant nut or how my nutsack got so stretched it lost the raisin look. A couple of years ago I thought I was dead because fluid can settle around your nuts and I had a regular and a large in there. I didn’t even wanna tell the doctor. ‘Hey, Doc, while I’m here, am I dying or what?’ He talks about this happens a lot, the fluid on a nut thing. Okay, cool. But you and I, we’re waiting in Home Depot, and we are not going to say ‘swollen nuts’ out loud. ‘Oh? Really? How big did it get? Well mine was ginormous, and I fell in love with pizza again, and I looked great in tight jeans. I mean that shit belongs where it belongs, not in the plumbing aisle.”

“Did you not tell Marie you thought you were dying of a giant testicle? Because that would be stupid. What do you say to her just before you croak? ‘By the way Marie, I, uh, had this giant nut just like killed me overnight.’”

“Marie is going to know if I have a giant nut, that’s how I got the bad husband knock in the first place. The other thing is she decided to start watching this NetFlix show and will I watch it with her so sure, whatever. It beats ignoring reruns and wishing she was wearing something sexy I forgot to buy so we watch, and there’s a hint of a plot and BANG, Kevin Spacey has his face buried in the crotch of this girl half his age while she talks to her father on the phone. And there’s three-way sex and gay sex and all of this in the middle of an episodic treachery drama, and I’m like no wonder she wanted me to buy her something sexy because all these people are standing around in their underwear with their tongues out and moaning. And I’m like wait, this is TV. That’s porn, not a politics show. Every episode it’s like somebody has to assume the bra and panties or less pose and fake an orgasm. If Marie binges on two or three on the weekend it’s like all these people trying to fuck each other over, and then actually fucking each other, over, under sideways, and that’s a TV series? I mean politics by Leave it to Beaver. Beavers.”

Neeko thought about the pretzels in front Lamar, held up his Collins glass instead. “Television isn’t the same, Lamar, nothing is the same. We could talk about why forever. Shifting cultural paradigms and all of that. We know better than to waste air on that shit, part of it is our fault. Nothing is new, it’s just more out front.”

“That’s the deal, Neeko. Stigma. There is no fuckin’ stigma about anything. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. I’m just not ready for anatomical funk where sex happens to be like, ‘Oh, did you have any hail damage Friday? How is your vag?’ at Home Depot.”

“None of that is enough to piss you off.” Neeko was shaking a little with silent laughter. “Get to the good shit before I have to leave.”

Lamar ran his tongue around his teeth, gathered it all up.

“This morning, the reason I’m late? Victoria’s Secret. I’m too old for that place, and that is an unfortunate stigma. But I defy the letch shit and go in. First, they don’t have anywhere near what I found online. Then I’m prowling through silk and satin and being followed by this big bi-cultural guy who asks me in a very affected way if I need any help. A guy. In Victoria’s Secret. A linebacker-sized gay guy who is delighted by the complimentary colors on the nightie I pick out. Of course, it’s not Wal-Mart where the cheap itchy lace panties are on the same hanger. So he goes off to find me some non-itchy Victoria’s Secret matching undies while a couple of girls, one with a figure that would have netted me a restraining order forty years ago are giggling and watching this whole episode go down like something out of Marie’s NetFlix. The gay linebacker comes back really pleased with himself waving Marie’s ‘aren’t these just perfect?’ panties like a fuckin’ ‘Go Niners’ banner. We transact, the girls all still watching while he rolls everything up in pink tissue paper, you know down to the size of nothing and puts it in a bag that might as well have been a billboard for me to carry out of the mall. ‘Old dude buys peach colored panties!’ Jesus. You know? What, the, fuck?”

“A gay, I’m guessing half-black linebacker since you don’t like to talk race at all, helping you pick panties for Marie that you probably wouldn’t have found on your own, that’s the big ‘what the fuck,’ right? The rest of it was just –”

“No the rest of it is just all of it. I want to know when did stigma go away.”

“I’m not sure there was a sell-by-date posted anywhere or if it was officially repealed. It just happened. Why?”

“Here’s why. You remember when I was a kid and sold expensive men’s clothes for a while in college? People called me sir when I was twenty-one ‘cause I had on a Pierre Cardin suit and needed a haircut. Well if stigma had taken a hike earlier and men could have sold lingerie my whole career path might have changed. I woulda stuck around a lot longer and had a shitload more fun with a tape measure at Victoria’s Secret measuring what needs measuring in there than I did knuckle knocking nutsacks out of the way to measure inseams.”

Not Too Deep or Wide and Kind of Slow

You could fish here with your Grampa. Or stand by the rail and think about Route 66 a long time ago. Walk across and feel the wood move, hear it creak and groan. You could park just off the road in the shade and blow an entire afternoon with the stereo off and nothing but the music of the breeze and the birds and the creek to serenade you on a hot, Oklahoma summer day. You could share it with a friend or your true love, lean on the rail and watch the leaves land on the water and get carried off into nowhere like your thoughts. You could think about who you are, where you’ve been and where you haven’t and how you might correct that. You could think about nothing at all and let the movies your mind wants to play for you run until the sun starts to set and twilight says get home before they eat without you. You could bask in the simplicity of your not very deep thoughts and be all the better for it. Because simple isn’t always as easy as it appears and navigating shallow waters is often worse. Which is why we should enjoy all of our moments with our not so deep thoughts. Because they pave the way for deeper ones.

Not far from this peaceful bridge in Catoosa, Oklahoma, a man shot and killed a police officer. The man convicted of it somehow seduced, from prison, a girl who was at the top of the list of girls most likely to be somebody. She became the somebody in a story full of tragedy who helped him escape from jail and they moved to nowhere in the Dakotas. Years later they were both recaptured, and she died of an overdose and a broken heart at forty-nine, the love of her life back in jail until he turned to dust. Her house could have been on your paper route. Maybe her mother made you talk to her through the screen door. She might have made fun of a record you took to a swimming party once, but your name wasn’t on it so you dodged that one. You could watch a leaf kiss the water and float away and make it almost any allegory you wanted.

Oklahoma trip 039You could stop here after taking a picture of your lover in that Route 66 Blue Whale, laugh, drink a Coke and talk about all those people who splashed in that mud hole like it was fun, watch another leaf kiss the creek and wonder where memories go, and if they really live forever.

One day no one will stand here because the bridge out of Catoosa will have rusted away. All of the dreams dreamed by dreamers with the top down on their MG, the travelers with their tired kids who needed a place to pee right now, the people who crossed this bridge daily or only once, all of those will no longer have a home. Did the girl who escaped with the murderer cross this way? Will their memories all die with the bridge?

Lord Byron begins his ode to Venice with,

I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs

and ends with,

There are some feelings time cannot benumb,

Nor torture shake, or mine would now be cold and dumb.

All of our dreams, all of our crossings travel a Bridge of Sighs. A bridge of memories that once made, cannot collapse or die. They merely fall like leaves in the breeze, kiss the water and float off into forever.