mardi, 15 mai A second day of rain. Claude and I took lunch at a small cafe on the rue Saint-Lazare early in the a ernoon. His wife went yesterday to Normandy with their children. I doubt anyone in the Quartier knows us, or on a day like this would even notice another umbrella-topped couple. Still, it seemed so bold to step out in public with him. Afterwards, we went to the apartment. Under the covers together, we sought to excite each other. Sated from lunch, Claude fell asleep before we made much progress. I confess it was a race, and that he beat me only by a short time. The odd light of the overcast day had given way to twilight when we awoke. He was gently insistent in his need for me, and I was quite happy to oblige him. A er the love, we supped on bread and cheese accompanied by strong co ee. Claude eventually took his leave, and I spent the rest of the evening reading at the bookstore down the street. The furnishings in the apartment are too spare for me to be comfortable here alone. This is something we should talk about.
samedi, 19 mai I went to confession today. To my dismay, Father Hiver heard me again. “I can’t offer you absolution,” he said when I’d finished my litany of minor sins and one adultery. “Father?” “Oh, for the little things I think a few Our Fathers and daily use of the Rosary will suffice. But for the other, well...” I had it in my mind to tell him I truly repented loving Claude, but not in my heart to lie to a priest that way. “My daughter, this makes three times in two months that you’ve confessed adultery. If you were sorry, if the previous penances had done some good, you wouldn’t be confessing it again.” “True. I tell myself not to sin, but my heart aches for him so I do. I regret the sin, but not the acts that contain it” Father Hiver sighed. “It wouldn’t be quite so bad if this man weren’t married, didn’t have children. You really are blessed to love and be loved. There’s too little of that in the world. It’s your choice of lover that offends God.” “What should I do, then?” “Pray for guidance, and trust that right action will bring the forgiveness you ask. Go now, although I’m not foolish enough to add, ‘and sin no more’.”
dimanche, 20 mai I’m not sure if I took Holy Communion today out of defiance, or because I feared people would notice and talk.
mercredi, 23 mai As arranged, we met at the apartment. Today was such a lovely day, with lace-thin clouds and wonderfully yellow sunlight. It almost seemed a shame to spend the hours together in bed. Almost. Claude surprised me by bringing some sketches and small paintings to brighten the drab walls of our make- believe home. He says a M. Gustave Caillebotte, who works here in the arrondissement, did them. While I recognize the name, I wouldn’t be able to pick the man from the many artists who apply their skills and ply their living here. Imagine if, purely by chance, he captured us as we dined or walked arm-in-arm at midday. Do painters change the faces of their unwitting subjects as a matter of courtesy? vendredi, 25 mai Claude left to join his family in Honfleur today. He’ll be gone two weeks, making this our longest separation. I’m lonely for him already. Looking in the mirror, I wonder if my eyes have always been the color of the envy I feel for his wife. I told him yesterday that I wanted to see him off at the station, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “It’s one thing to be seen on the street or dining together. You could be an old acquaintance, a client. Saying au revoir at the Gare Saint-Lazare? at’s a different matter. What if somebody recognized me? How would I explain that to Valerie?” He was right, of course. Far worse than having Father Hiver know of my sins would be Valerie knowing. From what Claude says of her, she’s a good woman. samedi, 26 mai Reading what I wrote last night, I was mildly surprised to realize that I speak of “my” sins. As if they were mine alone! It was, after all, Claude who pursued me in the beginning, while I resisted falling in love with a man I knew was bound to another woman. To be sure, I doubt Father Hiver would see a distinction. In the end, my resistance was a lie told to my heart. lundi, 28 mai I spent the morning walking aimlessly, or so I thought. Near noon I realized I was in the 7th Arrondissement. So much for having no destination: this is where Claude and his family live. Judging by their home, it’s no surprise he can afford to keep me in a pied-a-terre. If anything puzzles me, it’s that he’s chosen a shopkeeper’s daughter for his mistress, rather than some stationed lady. But, then, who said the heart has to make sense? La deuxième partie: Honfleur, Normandy A small bottle lay broken on the carpet. Perfume stained the wallpaper next to the bedroom door. “Why do you lie to me?” “Come now, Valerie. What makes you think I’m having an affair?” She seized a second bottle from the dressing table, then set it back. “’An affair’? Don’t you mean ‘another affair’? We’ve been through this before.” The bottle was in her hand again, then flew across the room to explode against the door. Her aim was improving. With luck, she thought, the next one might take the bastard’s head off. Claude began to protest his innocence. She cut him off in mid-sentence. “Women know these things. We see when you put your ring back on as you walk down the street. We smell the difference between the soap they buy and what we use in our bath.” “ This is nonsense, darling. I promised you I wouldn’t stray any more.” “And your promise was worthless. My God, Claude. You smoke Gitanes, and you come home smelling of Gauloises. Haven’t you even noticed that the perfume you buy her is a jasmine from Fragonard, while I wear Mane’s rose?” Valerie watched the blood drain from her husband’s face, and thought it one of the most beautiful things she’d ever witnessed. The children knelt on the grassy riverbank, luring ducks with bits of bread. Claude and Valerie sat in the shade from a nearby tree. There was tension in their postures, the movements of their hands, but the anger of that morning was absent. “Why?” “I honestly can’t stop myself.” “You’d better learn how. For the children, if not for me.” “I know.” He stared along the river for a moment. “I never mean to hurt you.” “ That doesn’t keep me from hurting.” She looked to see what had caught his attention. A passing barge, perhaps, or the leap of a fish after flies. “Is she better than me?” The words “in bed” went unspoken. “No.” A smile flew across his face, chased by a frown that settled where it had been. “I had to teach her things you taught me.” “You piece of shit.” “I know.” “Do you love the children? Me?” “Yes, and yes. Of course I do. Nothing changes what I feel for you. It’s just...” “Do you love her?” He answered without hesitation. “No.” He hesitated. “I love the fact that she loves me.” “So, what’s this one’s name?” “You don’t need to know. I’ll end it when we get back to Paris.” “You’re damned right you will.” La troisième partie: Giselle’s Diary dimanche, 10 juin I went to the Gare Saint-Lazare this afternoon, just to see Claude from a distance. Just to heal the wound of missing him these past few weeks. Not knowing which train he would return on, I took a table at the cafe across the street from the station. My book filled the time between scanning the crowds leaving the station. Eventually, I saw him come through the doors and walk toward the rank of cabs. He had a small girl in his arms. Following him with an older boy in tow was a woman: Valerie. Claude saw me, I knew. When his wife followed his long gaze, I averted my face and looked at my book without seeing the words written there. My God! She’s beautiful, and the children are lovely. The four of them looked so right together. lundi, 11 juin Claude came to me this afternoon, bringing only himself. I would have welcomed some souvenir of his trip to Normandy, something tangible to say he thinks of me when we’re apart. How foolish, of course. He couldn’t very well go shopping for a present to bring his His whore. There, I’ve said what I am. We fought. Yes, I started it. I’ve missed him so much. I love him. I hate him for his wife and children. All he did to set me off was say he was thinking of leaving Valerie. He thought to please me. “Why?” “To be with you. Why else?” “I can’t be your wife. The Church would never bless it.” “So? The Church’s blessing doesn’t matter. We can have a civil marriage.” I twisted his choice of words. “There’d be nothing civil about it.” “What do you mean?” “How long would it take you to start cheating on me?” There was no answer to that. He tried, instead, to seduce me into our bed. I refused, and he left seeming angry and hurt. jeudi, 14 juin I met Valerie today. La dernière partie: Quartier de l’Europe, Paris Rain drummed on the city. The unexpected change in weather filled cafes early. By luck of good timing, Giselle found a last empty table under the awning of one on the Avenue van Dyck, near the ornate gates of the Parc de Monceau. She ordered cafe au lait, lit a cigarette, and settled in to read. “May I join you? This seems to be the only available chair at the moment.” Without looking up from her book, Giselle gestured for the woman to sit. “Please. It’s no day to be searching from place to place.” “Thank you.” To the approaching waiter, she said, “Coffee, black, and crepes.” To Giselle, she said, “Would you like something? My treat, of course, since you’ve been so kind.” “I’ve already ordered coffee, but thanks just the same.” Giselle looked up at her new companion, and forced herself not to leap up from her seat. “You’re welcome.” The woman extended a delicate hand across the table. “I’m Valerie Bizet.” Feeling suddenly, amazingly calm, Giselle took the proffered hand. “And I’m Giselle Gauthier. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She closed her book and set it on the table. “Do you live nearby?” “No, my husband, children, and I live on rue Varenne in the 7th. You?” “Somewhat. I have an apartment on rue du Faubourg.” She gestured toward the cobblestone street, where the shadows of passersby glistened wetly. “You picked a fine day to visit. Shopping?” “In a way. I’m...” Valerie seemed to search for certain words. “I’m looking for my husband’s mistress.” She blushed. “I can’t believe I just said that to a stranger.” “Not a stranger. Just a sister you hadn’t met before.” There was a surrealness to what was happening. Giselle chose her words with care, lest she betray herself. “So, you have a rat in your life, too. My mother was right: all men are bastards.” Valerie laughed, showing beautiful teeth against her tanned face. “I think they’re born that way.” “And grow worse with age. Perhaps I’ve seen them together. What does she look like?” “Knowing Claude, she’s young and very pretty. Tall. Slim-waisted, with fine mésanges.” Cupping her hands in front of her in mimicry, she laughed again. “But, I’ve honestly not seen her. He won’t tell me her name, of course. He doesn’t think I know he has a place to keep her here in the Quartier.” Giselle smiled knowingly. “There are lots of girls like that here. Many of them model for the artists near the station, but most of those are the painters’ mistresses.” She paused to think. “Is your husband -- Claude, you said? -- is he an artist?” “No, his only talent is being rich. Let’s see: Claude is older than you and I, just past fifty but not yet given to a man’s late paunch. Slightly taller than average, and I think handsome despite a scar above his right eye. An accident at school when he was young.” “And a moustache,” Giselle said to finish the description. “Of course. I’ve not only seen them; she’s a friend of mine. I warned her she’d get caught, but she insists love will protect her.” “We’re fools about love, aren’t we?” “Always. Even when it bites us fatally. She’s not all that beautiful, you know. And I suspect her breasts would never fill a champagne glass. Still, I can understand why a man would be attracted to her.” Valerie asked, “Can you take me to her?” “Why?” “I don’t mean her harm. Claude won’t give her up on his own. He has a weakness for other women. This isn’t his first affair. I was hoping I might persuade her to give him up, instead. If not for my sake, then for the children.” “He’s done this before? I’d wager she doesn’t know that.” And, until now, Giselle hadn’t, or at least hadn’t believed it. “Perhaps, with that in hand, you’ll let me talk with her. A friend might be more persuasive than a stranger.” “As you said, not a stranger but a sister. He’s wronging us both. Still...” “Then it’s settled. I know her well enough to convince her I’ll see her in Hell before she ruins everybody.” Valerie smiled warmly at this. Even before her lover’s wife spoke, Giselle understood the woman knew the truth. “Thank you,” Valerie said, “for me and my children.”
-- Lennart Lundh is a short- fiction writer, poet, historian, and photographer. His work has been published internationally since 1965, including a previous appearance in Jet Fuel Review. A chapbook, Pictures of an Other Day, was released by Writing Knights Press (Cleveland) in 2013. Lundh and his wife live in northern Illinois, where he manages text acquisitions for a university.