That Thing That Never Happened – Part One
We sat down and I let her order for me. I told her I could only speak kitchen French, which was a roundabout way of saying I spoke Spanish. She laughed a little. I didn’t think she’d get the industry joke. “I just want black coffee.” I said as she looked at me for my order.
“Café au lait et un cafe pour le monsieur s’il vous plaît.” Sadie said to the waiter.
I’d been living in Spain the last few years and she in Paris. We hadn’t seen each other in almost 6 years even though we were only a few hours apart. She was gorgeous. Her dark brown hair had grown back long and thick. Her skin was pale and smooth. She’d matured past the punky girl I’d known her as. She spoke French now. She was posh. She studied art.
The waiter left and she began again in English. “Eli it’s been years. What’s been going on?” I tore a piece of bread from one of the small loaves on the table and buttered it. “I got a job through one of my Spanish teachers in high school. She worked as a translator for the U.N. She got me a job teaching English, and when that ran out I started cooking.” The waiter came back and sat the coffee down. I poured a slow cup and sipped. It’s black bitterness felt so good after a night on the train. I plucked a cigarette from my pack and offered one to Sadie. She let me light it for her.
We drank our coffee and talked. She’d gone to University here, and had gotten another visa once she was out to maintain her studies. She wore a navy blue skirt that stopped right below her knees. Mary Janes on her feet. Her hair fell from a loose bun held together with a set of sticks. “I can’t believe who I used to be.” she mentioned pushing her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose, “All the makeup and the clothes, the drugs. I was trying so hard to be the person I wasn’t.”
“I still thought you were cute.” I said blowing smoke into the wind, refilling my cup.
“Oh my God! You should have said something.” she said as her eyes opened wide. She sat her coffee down and explained the crush she had on me when we were in art school back in the states. “You were just so quiet. It was like this total mystery. I knew who you were but almost nothing about you.” Sadie explained.
“You were exactly the opposite. You were different. You had this outgoing personality. Everyone seemed to like you, you were fun. I was so shy, unbearably so. That’s why you thought I was mysterious. I was just too afraid to let people in. That stupid nickname I had? I gave it to myself. I didn’t wanna be me. It took me a while to figure that out. That I was much better at me than anything else.” I teased the holes in my jeans as I explained the oddity I used to be. I blew a bit off ash from my white shirt.
“Could I have another cigarette?” She asked. I obliged. “We both saw the other as a mystery.” she said, “It’s funny how life is like that. They say opposites attract but it’s never how that seems to work out.”
We left the cafe and began to walk around the city. She took me across the river to the Musée Bourdelle. It was one of her favorites. It was Bourdelle’s studio turned into an homage to his work. Towering copper green statues filled the garden and Etruscan-esque sculptures littered his home. I took her hand as she showed me the works she’d studied in school and in her personal time. A man she knew approached us and she cried out, “Bonjour Henri!!” and she let me go to hug his neck and kiss his cheek. They began to babble in French. She pointed at me and apparently introduced me. “Ravi de vous rencontrer.” I mustered. “Et i ainsi. Daunt warree I weel nawt kees you. Ayam a cure-ay-tare ear.” he said with a fake laugh and a firm handshake. He looked down at me with his slick black hair and pencil thin moustache, when Sadie turned away. Like I was a hoodlum. Like I was of no class. I wasn’t, but still.
He walked us around and gave us an inside tour. Sadie translated the tidbits he gave as we followed. “This is one version of “Herakles The Archer”. Bourdelle did several versions of this piece.” I stood and looked at the statue. Pretending to examine the chisel marks in the rock. I had no interest to be honest, but I couldn’t let Sadie know that. We walked a few steps and took in the stone busts lined up against the wall. I could tell by sheer body language Henri didn’t like the idea of me and Sadie together. He escorted her by putting his hand on the small of her back. He constantly tried to be between the two of us. He’d whisper in her ear and wouldn’t even attempt English when speaking aloud. After about an hour, he bid us “Adieu” and left to return to his curation duties. It bugged me how he was towards her.
We sat on a white bench outside and admired a gigantic horse beginning a canter but frozen in time. “How do you know Henri?” I asked dancing around the subject. “I met Henri in school when in my first year. I see him a lot whenever I visit.” It was burning me from the inside out. I had to ask. “You guys ever…”
“Fuck?” she interjected with a raised eyebrow and a funny faced smile. She knew it was just a little schoolboy jealousy “No,” she said. “He was a brother to me. We went out a lot though. He showed me the city, taught me to blend in. How “to be French” as he put it. I wouldn’t have learned the language so well without him. I never thought of him that way. He’s been there for me for a long time. He’s just a good friend.”
The red brick wall faded with age. It made a beautiful contrast with the evergreen topiaries. The shrubbery bloomed with white and yellow blossoms. I wrapped my arms around her and we listened to the birds sing. She rubbed her thumb against mine as she hunkered into my embrace. She looked up at me, longing eyes and soft pink lips.
I kissed her.
read next: That Thing That Never Happened – Part Two
more by JORDAN CLAYTON
photograph by Anthony Delanoix