a random extract…

Chapter 14

© Chris Rose

slumming – s’encanaillant

“Cher Philippe, où es-tu? Je ne m’attendais pas à ce que tu me manques autant… Dear Phillip, where are you? I never expected to miss you so. But then I never expected such a disappearance on your part.

   Or further to that, such a reappearance, as with your stunning wife! Such, has my little finger told me…

   À propos, do you recall how you once made me cry? Well, know too that it wasn’t for reasons negative – au contraire: it was due to your adroit English tongue. And whilst I’ll be honest in stating that I comprehended not a word, in a literal sense, I’m talking metaphysically – romantically, I am French, after all!

   And then, the significance you place behind each line is yours, yours alone, whatever the tongue – yours is a tongue universal!

 You bring words to life by your authenticity.

   And then, Phillip… and then… and then your eyes… and then your lips… your smell… your…

   Yours, Céline, truly yours…”

*

   And there goes another literary classic he won’t be parting with in a hurry – ‘What a romantic nation though!’

Of course he’s at that age. Or more at that stage, still. And it’s still the kind of dreamy memorandum to make his whirlwind world go round.

That said, he still has an uneasy time with ‘metaphysical’. And wishes she hadn’t employed it, as he still can’t quite fathom its sense: “talking metaphysically”?

He’s even been known to push aside the bi-lingual dictionaries in declaration of all-out war, in the study of The Metaphysical Poets. Only to lose. As with this here letter of meta… physical devotion.

He folds and slots it inside his Levi’s jacket – not the safest place: the interior denim flaps aren’t real pockets – before breaking into an Édith Piaf chorus. Bold as brass, he’d love to believe.

At least no-one can accuse him of lacking the devotion, as Blighty burns to an all new blast of Britpop…

Next up, Virginie, our student of theatre with the virtuoso improvisational skills. Or rather ‘V’, as Phillip’s affectionately come to call her, when reminded of some 80s American sci-fi in which alien reptiles dressed themselves in the sexiest of human skin.

He’s learning fast, is Phillip, considering how critical the curve.

Less flowery with the plume, she isn’t wanting in the French intensity. Her goal differs to Céline’s solely in that she’s proffering her plate for more, of what Céline has yet to attain.

Here, then, is V’s most recent take on matters:

*

   “Merde. How is it that you can come along and watch my company rehearse – thanks to my help – for your putain de university project, get your wicked way, and then cast me aside for your wife? You know very well I had no problem with you being married – Why would I, merde, I’m supposed to be your mistress! I mean, merde, do you have to see her every night?

   Furthermore, you said you loved me, mon coco, remember?”

*

   Except Phillip doesn’t remember. And besides, he’s become too impatient to contemplate the question, and so avoids it altogether. Or has a good go:

‘Your company? Since when does acting in a university play make it your company – Who d’ you think you are, Sophie Marceau!?’

More to the point, so what? That he may have employed the love-line?

He’ll have ejaculated it only in the heat of the moment. Or the heat of his moment: the not so evident one of finding himself locked in peaked celebration, in the merriment of his immediate environment, for which he’s laboured, and which he lives in his own, equally intense fashion…

He can’t make up his mind whether he’ll be holding onto this one, feels a tad ambivalent; somewhat mi figue, mi raisin – a sophisticated-while-modest expression Anne taught him just last week, when one of the two, irrationally enough, considered getting out of bed.

What’s more, V needn’t have etched her address beneath the supplication-verging-on-intimidation, for the umpteenth time, like he’ll have since forgotten where she lives.

*

   As for the university play to which the straight-talker refers, Phillip’s been attending the English department theatre group’s twice-weekly-rehearsals, in relation to a project he must carry out for his British university: some aspect of life in his chosen town. He’s opted for theatre, and at some point will interview each and every locally established playwright/director, generating a further dilemma before the academic year’s end.

It’s through the play he and V met, which, as you’ll have guessed, is in English: Alan Ayckbourne’s A Bedroom Farce – I know, you couldn’t make it up, and so you have to believe me.

Phillip’s unbridled enthusiasm leading up to half-term has impressed the players to the point of them demanding that the department’s directrice allow him to take charge of proceedings.

The French acting fraternity does take itself seriously.

And given that Brigitte, directrice and lady of a certain age, which accounts to nought when so very French, in this case of the impishly-cropped blond variety, who confesses to having patterned herself on Jean Seberg as Patricia in À Bout de Souffle – phew! Given she was only helping out in production faute de volunteers, she’s been more than happy to forego the role.

She opted to pose the question by use of an invitation to her office, over either an early apéritif or a late digestif. Throughout the endeavour, Phillip was too ashamed to ask what the drink was, exactly…

*

   Relocking his casier and exiting his apartment-block, he recalls her alluring demeanour.

But then she could have confessed to inviting him to her somewhere-out-of-sight in order to slit his throat, Phillip would have found her manner alluring…

At the retrieval of a renegade memo displaying a fresh tyre-mark corner to corner, he scratches his head and involuntarily allows a further third of the spoils to flee and to flurry in the wind, united in their undying proclamation of love for our half-Englishman, on this Monday morning route to a whole three-hour French class: 8am Language and Literature, the streets imbued with the essence of coffee and croissant.

More invigorating will be the guaranteed presence of Delphine – she’s the first of the boulangerie “babe”s, the one working virtually across from the other, remember? From the second chapter? The provider of the perfect pain complet.

It turns out she works on Saturdays only; like Phillip Rowlings, she otherwise attends university.

And, no sooner the two of them having made the connection, they’ve since arranged to meet up for a drink, this evening, at the quirkily named Green Bar.

It’ll make a change, there being no theatre rehearsal. Une soirée reposante; respite, he tells himself, from the sexual harassment.

The whole bar is green…

*

   All barring the drink, of which Phillip, evening upon us, will request ‘une 16’; and if the barman doesn’t get it, he’s just going have to get with it.

Delphine, as per the latter’s knowing wink, will go with her ‘usual’: not une pinte, but “un baron”, as per the region.

Not that Phillip will admit to having learned something new, but simply order the same next time round, as in what’ll make for another change.

‘C’est fou!’ she exclaims. ‘You know so much about my country, about my town, my language – Are you sure you’re not French? I know… you’re a spy!’

This, of course, is altogether music to Phillip’s ears, along to Etienne Daho’s swirling cover-version of Piaf’s Mon Manège à Moi – … You make my head spin, like my very own fairground ride; why, everything’s one big party…

   … and green. Everything’s green.

They play green Draughts – squares and pieces but different shades of green. Before stretching their minds to green Chess, beneath a revolving green light.

The green glasses are refilled, once, twice, thrice, one time on the green house, conveyed by our ever friendlier barman of green complexion, a jolly green giant, in dungarees of green…

‘I like him,’ nods Phillip, withdrawing a green bishop.

‘’Put a word in for you if you like,’ smirks Delphine, with a part-slur, placing him in uncompromisingly green check, and mate, through glistening green eyes, the kind of eyes he’s read before: green for go. ‘I mean, I don’t mind, why do you think I come here?’

Whatever Phillip doesn’t get, this evening of green repartee, of double-entendres, ambivalences and ambiguities, it serves only to fuel further an already surcharged evening.

He calls the barman over, and drops an empty, still strikingly red and white Marlboro pack on the green table:

‘I’ll try some of your green cigarettes, please.’

For which his dungareed-dude will return, and skim along the top of the bar.

‘Putain, you got me there, Phillip! ’Thought I was going to be witness to lust-at-first-sight.’

It’s on applying a light to his green extremity that he twigs: that the four men playing babyfoot – table football – are two couples, the giveaway being that one has is hand in the denim back-pocket of another.

For the mere intro to Axelle Red’s Sensualité, the pair, well, clarification couldn’t be clearer, game afoot or not.

Phillip strives with the casual, takes a shot at what he hopes to prove his finest Addison–esque simper yet, veering eyes upward, to the TV screen, where Axelle achieves her Pre-Raphaelite thing, enveloped in what can only be silken-green in this light:

‘The barman’s not your bloke, then?’

‘Non, I’m single, if you don’t mind slumming.’

And to think it all comes without his having yet played what might be conceived as his trump card, the apparent French bonus, that of relaying his domestic status:

Phillip lives with his (imitation) wife.

The evening’s been too busy, dizzy, too green, combative; one of jokes, laughter, banter, teasing, all green frogs and rosbifs, a green match of wits.

And perhaps he’d been a little too concerned with the barman. Or rather with what he, the barman, meant to her…

*

   It’s everything but slumming, her place, over the top of the sexy boulangerie.

   There’s no restraining her the second he produces the tactical trump; reveals his conjugal connubials – he thought he should; ’relieves the guilt, to an extent.

*

   He saunters back to his apartment-block à la française, he reckons, with the occasional trip, hands in front trouser-pockets, pens wrong-side-up in the right rear, a pack of goofy cigarettes occupying the left, as the mandatory singular, half-burned and limping, half-life of its own, hangs from his lip, managing to play along to his pseudo moody air, jacket tossed existentially over shoulder, polo-neck as black as the night…

What he’s failed to bank on is his casier displaying more mail, if you know how to look without opening it.

Via no more than an already waning intrigue, he draws but one dispatch, from England, addressed in his real-life wife’s scrawl…

*

   Anne’s been waiting patiently in bed, with a book.

‘I’m really sorry, ’ended up going for a drink in a gay bar, all kind of by accident – Who’d have thought, in Nancy!’

She looks neither impressed nor disappointed; unreadable. Indifferent, you might say.

If she hopes to upset him, she’s chosen the easy way…

To divert matters, and with any luck to regain her trust, he turns his attention to the letter:

‘She’s posted my wedding ring, ’had it mended and polished; it was snapped.’

What his juiced eyes are able to ascertain regarding the text, he has no problem relating:

‘She wants us back together, when this is over, and I’m “home”, as she puts it – Like she’ll ever get it. ’Says she enjoys chatting with Emmaline about me. James needs me, too…’

Anne slides herself back into bed:

 ‘Have you ever stopped to think about other people, Phillip? ’Poor girl’s sent you a plea in form of a wedding ring – And goes as far as to socialise with your English lover, who sounds just as amazing…. Putai..!’

Rather than embark on what would prove an unwinnable battle for either of them, to regain her calm she bends her tongue to soft, gentle English:

‘You can at least meet people halfway. More importantly, what you must comprehend iz zat “No man is an island”.’

She turns away, leaving Phillip stumped, stranded like a sloshed seal in the hub of the room.

He abandons the wedding band for lack of coordination, which flees somewhere into a darkened corner:

‘“No man is…” – That’s John Donne; King of The Metaphysicals. The Poets…’

But if he can only retain this realisation! Retain Donne’s message from The Beyond. And not, as with the golden English plea, allow it to slip and roll away into the night…

* * * * *

THERE NOW, YOU KNOW IT MAKES SENSE > > > >