She said that she kept the extra words in her mouth in case of an emergency. Silence only loves the gate which creates it. Her hair smelled like wine and peaches. I just stood there trying to remember what it reminded me of. Too long of a lull in our conversation and she forgot that I was there. An itch on her forehead and she began sawing away with the nail of her pinky.
As we stood by Zola’s grave I noticed that she was now crying. It was not real though, his importance to her lay only in that the grave was an ideal prop to serve as a catalyst to the dramatic scene that she wanted so badly to act out. I wondered if it would look as suspect to someone who did not know her.
Her hand went into her pocketbook for a tissue. She momentarily froze. Calculations were being worked out in her head, which would offer her a better emotional payoff: to complete the scene as she usually did such things, with a musician’s sense of timing; or to purposely make it drag out too long so that I would lose my cool and we could have a fight?
Before she could finish working out the equation, a group of elderly couples, cameras in hand taking a tour happened by. Momentarily she was rendered inert as long ago Marthe had made a vow to herself not to play games in front of the elderly. This was to prevent consciously having to dredge up the memory of the time that she had defeated herself in Marseilles.
Marthe had wanted to go shopping even though she knew that I had kidney gravel, my discomfort made worse by the heat. We kept walking by bars, I did not ask for permission to stop but in the spirit of compromise asked;
“This one all right?”
She would pull a face or pretend to be in deep thought as to not have heard me. Finally my discomfort reached a point that I could not wait any longer and so chose for us. By happenstance it had a nice view of the bay.
My first drink I put down fast. She assumed that I would slap some money down on the zinc and that we would leave. As the drink relaxed everything, I realized that I should have some water and one more, this time for pleasure’s sake. The motivations for my actions had nothing to do with her or our games. By way of protest she got no drink but sat on her stool sideways ignoring the view as to be able to bore her eyes into me.
Finally I told her that if she wanted to, then she could go on without me. Somehow this caught her by surprise. She took to the street, the look on her face being mistaken by an older man eating bouillabaisse al fresco across the street as some kind of hurt. He called her over and insisted that she have a vermouth, telling him what was the matter. How could anything be so terrible for a pretty girl in a place with beautiful weather and good food?
By the time she was being handed a menu I had left, heading back to the hotel. To the old man, as they sat there talking, he had worked his magic. See, he thought to himself, she was smiling again, such a lovely smile.
Marthe chuckled to herself as she had finished figuring out how long to spend at the table to make me jealous or if I had not seen her, a little worried. It was right around this time that under the table the old man was putting well practiced fingers on her bare thigh.
Back at the hotel, I was giving the concierge an envelope with her name on it in which there was enough money for a cattle class seat on the train back to Paris and her passport, everything bound together by a faded red elastic I had found on the nightstand.
I made my way back to the city alone, letting scenes outside my window lull me to sleep. Of course we made up but she now spent most of her time stateside. Obviously practicing on who knew, as her techniques were now more varied. Even with the confidence of an increased skill set still, old men were now an omen of bad luck for her.
“Shall we go get a drink?” she asked me. Taking her hand, as we walked away;
“He is not actually buried there any longer you know.”
- Wayne H. W Wolfson 2015