The Absconding

Louise Phillips

The Bachelorette is twenty-five eligible bachelors competing to win the hand of a single woman. There is an elimination ceremony at the end of every episode, and the Bachelorette agonizes over her decision. These bachelors are men of rare distinction. Attractive and broad-shouldered, they practice karate, speak Italian, hunt for truffles. They woo the comely Bachelorette against increasingly lavish backdrops. They dine on tropical beaches and in medieval courtyards surrounded by thousands of candles. They take helicopter rides. Each date is an opportunity for endless rumination about misunderstandings, expectations, and feelings of insecurity. Around the third or fourth date the Bachelorette starts asking the bachelors if they are willing to move.

“The Rose Ceremony is a ritual as ancient as mankind himself,” says thirty-one year old Vincent at a casting session in a steakhouse in Cincinnati, “Going back all the way to Eve being tempted by the big snake.”

The panel learns that Vincent enjoys shooting pool, has worked in information technology, and if something bad came out about him it would be his arrest at the culmination of a feud with some former neighbors. He has never been convicted of a felony, and wants to be a comic book creator. He does not smoke. He tells them he really likes sex and drama, and he’s sure if he got on the show he’d really stir things up.

“I’m a passionate, emotional guy, who’s crazy about showing his feelings,” Vincent says. “I model myself on the films of Nicholas Cage. He really feels! Just like me.”

He is flown to Los Angeles with twenty-four other bachelors and two alternates. The contestants are told their Bachelorette is the third-runner up from the previous season of The Bachelor, a former professional cheerleader. The producers confiscate their watches, passports, and phones.

“We need your clothes. Don’t worry, you get them back at the end,” a production assistant tells Kyle, an advertising account executive who is reluctant to part with his bolo tie. “And you’re getting your teeth bleached and a haircut.”

The bachelors don unwieldy sunglasses. Their lips are propped open in ghoulish smiles with cheek retractors. A dental clinic stays open past midnight laser whitening their teeth. The mood in the waiting room is grim. Stripped of their phones, it is the first time most of the contestants are meeting. They eye one another and flip through Men’s Health.

At the inaugural cocktail party Vincent sidles up to the Bachelorette and whispers something suggestive. Responding instantly, the Bachelorette licks her upper lip and purrs an Alveolar trill. She presents Vincent with the First Impression Rose. The producers are puzzled. They thought the recipient of the First Impression Rose would be Jesse, an entrepreneur from Warren, MI, or the black-haired, grey-eyed restaurateur Malone, an angry, lantern-jawed drunk from Barrington, RI.

Vincent monopolizes the Bachelorette during a group date in Las Vegas. He tells an explicit story about losing his virginity on a motorboat. He impersonates Robert De Niro in Cape Fear and sticks his thumb in the Bachelorette’s mouth. The producers refuse to give him a one-on-one date with the Bachelorette. She abseils down the Citigroup Center with Mitchell from Park Ridge, IL, and visits a vineyard in the Napa Valley with Malone. The Bachelorette is flat and completely disinterested. Dangling above Bunker Hill in a harness, she cringes away when the helmeted Mitchell leans in for a kiss.

The production moves to France. Motorways, forests, and rolling hills race past the tinted windows of their coaches and trains. The weeks unfold in a miasma of boat rides, forced laughter, market visits, and bottles of wine. At night the jet lagged bachelors wake up parched and disoriented, overwhelmed with terror and despair.

They are comfort eating. They eat chocolate croissants every morning, and devour cheese plates and bowls of potato dauphinoise. The crew encourages them to use the fitness equipment in the hotels, but the bachelors have grown saturnine, shuffling from their rooms to graze on crusty loafs of butter and jambon like broken circus animals. They call one another “bro,” and exchange low-key high-fives at the slightest pretext. Malone gets blind drunk and punches a wall in Valence. When he goes up in a hot air balloon with the Bachelorette the next day he’s wearing a brace on his hand.

There is a cocktail party before the Rose Ceremony, where the bachelors can petition the Bachelorette for a reprieve. The Bachelorette always ignores everyone except Vincent. She sits on his knee, and they neck; long, slow, deep, full-tongue kisses, which make everyone else feel awkward. In a week the production will return to America so the Bachelorette can meet the families of the three finalists. The almost-lovers are frantic at the thought of a prolonged separation, and Vincent is almost out of his mind with jealousy.

He absconds with the Bachelorette in Lyon. The producers have their passports and bank cards but suspect the principals were hoarding their per diem. The show’s host arrives at the bachelors’ hotel wearing blue jeans, and gravely breaks the news to Ryan, Laszlo, and Malone. One by one, they are cast before the cameras to display their wretchedness.

Vincent and the Bachelorette hide in plain sight. They buy wine, an opener, and a bag of madeleines in a Petit Casino near the hotel. They spend the day on a quai of the Rhone watching the ducks and the riverboats and different patterns of sunlight on the surface of the water.

“I’m not a comic book artist,” Vincent tells the Bachelorette. “That blog was completely made up for the show.”

“That’s okay,” she replies, “I’m not really a Hospital Events Coordinator.”

Bells peal. The cobblestones rattle when cars and scooters roar up and down the narrow roads. They stroll past churches, marble fountains, galleries, newsagents, bars, and kebab shops. Storefronts display mink teddy bears, suede ballet slippers with pink leather petunias on the toes, and porcelain tea sets with hammered gold tops. Shelves are stacked with handmade chocolates, raspberry truffles, and fruit brandies from Switzerland. One window is given over to green objects: green rhinestone shoes, green silk underwear, a belt made from green clay discs, and three green baby bottles filled with lotion for men, each item costing hundreds of euros.

They call each other Tomas and Karin. The Bachelorette’s highlights have faded and Vincent has grown a moustache and a beard. They try to have a peek at the French newspapers every day and have never seen anything about themselves. They visited an internet café and learned the network has filed a one hundred million dollar breach of contract lawsuit. The Bachelorette found an issue of People with a story about them but Vincent said it wasn’t safe to keep it.

They have both started smoking. Vincent stops outside a bar and tries to cadge a cigarette off the patrons. He has picked up some French, though not as much as the Bachelorette. No one will give him a cigarette.

“Walking is still free!” he says to the Bachelorette.

Their footsteps echo in humid stone passages. Spiral stairways rise up from small round courtyards with wells. Vines tumble over peach and mustard walls marked with graffiti. A nun in a grey habit and orthopedic shoes trudges past them holding a basket of vegetables. Twilight encroaches. Blue clouds mass at the horizon of the white sky like a mountain range.

Louise Phillips
Louise Phillips

Louise Phillips lives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Dream Catcher, The Copperfield Review, The Delinquent, The Dirty Napkin, 3 AM Magazine, 34th Parallel, Monkeybicycle, Litro, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.