Naomi Leimsider
PROSE
 

The Man I Love




         At first I imagined that it happened like this: you met a beautiful French woman at the train station and instantly you were hungry for her. You were just going to work - the same thing you do everyday. She asked you for directions because you're so devilishly handsome in your brown overcoat and shined shoes. It is difficult to be new in this city so you took pity on her. You showed her around and spoke in your best Brooklyn accent to make her laugh. She recited obscure French poetry. She tripped on an uneven sidewalk - a clever excuse to grab you and kiss you on the neck. You pulled down her shirtsleeves and pressed your mouth on her exposed shoulders.
         Or - it didn't happen that way at all.
         She just showed up nowhere special, you can't pinpoint it, because that would be like trying to keep track of the whole universe. One moment she didn't exist and the next she was so real you had to reach out and touch her because she might, at any time, disappear. Just slip away like a ghost through a wall.

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         We had one of our dates for dinner the night after you met her. You were flushed and ripping your nails through the raised goosebumps on your arms. Just scratching and scratching and letting the blood droplets gather on the tips of your fingers.

         Halfway through dinner you told me you had to make an important call - no, no, it really couldn't wait. I saw you across the restaurant hugging the phone close, murmuring into it, your body language wrapped around the whole booth. You got up again before dessert.
         You told me - It's nothing. It's nothing. It's just work. Trouble at work. Nothing to worry about. Eat. Come on now, Cathy. Finish your food.
         As an example for me you picked up your fork and chewed. One more piece, one more piece, one right after the other. A marching band of food in your mouth.

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         Everything started to change. We spent less time at dinner. I listened with my whole body, sitting up in bed, waiting to hear your borrowed key in my front door even though it would eventually become too late and you never came over too late. We were busy people. Early meetings, long days at work.
         And then I started hearing about somebody named Bella Roux. Sometimes you spoke about the new French woman at work, and sometimes it was the new French woman one of your friends was dating, and sometimes it was the new French woman who was marrying your boss.
         I said I had a theory about why beautiful French women came to America.
         You laughed at me.
         Bella Roux is a genuine city girl, you said. Born and raised. She speaks English, Cathy. She's American-French.

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         I saw her for the first time with you. She's shaped like a spoon, her big head rolling from side to side and her skinny stick body moving along a step behind the rest of her. I never expected to see you on the street like that, like you still belonged here. The whole city was supposed to have been washed clean. Windows were covered so I couldn't see your face in any reflection. Buildings were painted over and taxicabs were given a fresh new smell. Neither of you had jackets on even though it is still cold in the evening. You had your arms wrapped around each other, that seemed to be enough.
         And there you were. Together. Your faces were so huge they took up the whole sky and the only option I had was to follow you both wherever you went.

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         A long time ago - I don't remember when, we met in a bar in the city. We had just moved here and were still dazzled by all the talking and the walking and the lights. We had conversations about the hardships of moving here and we strolled down confusing sidestreets.
         People like us settle into routine quickly. We're business people. It made sense, we made sense. What are the chances? What are the chances that two people like us should meet? There was statistics, logic involved.

         We dated the way young professional people are supposed to.
         So many dinners out - extra wine and bread. Bloody pools of rare steak. We tried swing dancing downtown, but there was too much opportunity for awkwardness there. Slow dancing was much better in uptown bars at the end of the night when the place smells musty and cigar smoke envelopes everything.
         We had dinners in, I made spaghetti with meat sauce in my little kitchen. You told me in the city it's called pasta with bolognese. Lying on my bed with cognac served in blue glasses with deep bottoms that neither of us liked too much- the liquid forming unsightly rings on the night table.
         You gave something you called a promise ring. A diamond chip set on a slim gold band. What does it mean, I asked. I was hopeful. I was full of hope. It's a promise, you said.

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         And then one day there was Bella Roux. She wasn't there and then she was. I searched through women's magazines on my lunch hour looking for signs of her. There were long detailed articles about how to spot Bella Roux, what the warning signals are.
         There are the mundane everyday signs. Does he seem distant? Has he bought a new suit, a new cookbook, suddenly have an overwhelming interest in working late?
         They should trigger loud flashing sirens. Follow them like the light at the end of the tunnel. Don't forget to look for them. They are your friends -trust them. They always mean what they say, they will never let you down. But there are other signs as well. Look for them. Look for them too. It is like a disease that attacks the surface first. There is the scratching away of dead skin to reach the new pink layer underneath. There may be mild dementia, a touch of amnesia, a noticable loss of appetite and sleep deprivation. Sometimes it eats the victim up alive. Look for these signs, too.

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         I followed you both down a crazy maze of dark streets. Almost all of the streetlights were out. Bella Roux wore tight sparkly clothes - jeans and a rainbow shirt with so many colors bleeding together. Perhaps it wasn't a rainbow shirt at all. Perhaps it was a laundry accident. You had one arm around her shoulder.
         Full garbage bags spilled over on the sidewalks. Lamps were turned off inside the apartments above, the windows were all shuttered. Nobody wanted to know. Everything was blocked out so that they didn't have to see. Outside, it had become uninhabitable. Everyone vanished, no one else existed there.
         There was just a tiny sliver of a moon. When you stopped in front of a large brick building I hid behind garbage cans on the opposite side of the street for protection. I wanted to do something dangerous. I wanted to lick the cans and feel all the germs resting on my tongue, feel the sharp flaking rust cutting into my lower lip.
         There was only the outline of Bella Roux's head leaning on the wall. I saw your back, but your arms were gone - they disappeared up her shirt. Moonlight appeared and disappeared. It shined for a moment on her, making her rainbow colors dark and rich, and then she moved, and it was gone. I couldn't see your legs, you must have been wearing black pants pulled down just enough. You were a torso leaning on that large brick building in your bright white shirt pushing up against Bella Roux. I heard her across the street. She was calling out to you, she didn't care that she was outside, that the whole world was listening. And I didn't hear any French, no French at all - only English. Heavy Brooklyn-accented English, the consonants dropped off at the ends. The shrill sound of her voice bounced off the buildings and the sidewalk and into my secret hiding place where nobody knew where I was.
You were there, outside with her. Out on the street. Fucking her - out on the street. Just like that. And the blue black sky was dazzling above you.

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         I had invented a history for Bella Roux. Her grandparents owned vineyards, they created the most delicious wine from the plumpest grapes. I could almost smell the fermentation. Her parents grew up in the countryside, probably near Marseilles or Nice, but they don't meet until the stars are aligned and they are ready to get married and have children, because that is how this story always goes.
         They moved to America, to the city, because they read about how wonderfully exciting it is to live here in a back issue of See The Planet and they wanted to experience it for themselves. When they settled here with temporary jobs and English lessons they had a child, a beautiful girl, an American angel. But still in the great French tradition they name her Bella and she grows up to become Bella Roux.

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         Time became soft and pliable behind the garbage cans. It bended and shifted and moved ahead. I wanted to burn down all the bars and restaurants we kissed in and drank in, the whole city deserved to be punished because of you.
         You ended it with me over the phone. Cathy, you said. I have something to tell you. Careful, I said. Be careful what you say. I don't think I really want to hear it. Cathy, you said. I've met someone else.

         I thought I had gotten over it. I made my peace with each building of this city, each block - it was you, it wasn't the city's fault. I loved this city as long as it was clean of you. This place is so big I pretended you didn't exist here anymore. I was starting to set myself free. I thought maybe I could be a part of the bustling crowds and the happiness again. Now I wanted to see raging flames and black ash and ruined storefronts. Someone would have to come along and clean up the whole mess.

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         Neither of you moved for a while. You still had your hands up her rainbow laundry accident shirt. I remember your fingers. Those fingers that I remember on her beautiful French woman Bella Roux breasts .
         You both leaned against the brick wall, breathing so loud I heard you gasping. Small rays of light started to shine through apartment window curtains. Everything was starting to come alive. It was still cold, you put your jacket over her shoulders. I didn't move. You called her La Bella. You arched your back and gazed up at the beautiful streaked blue sky over the beautiful city and yelled - it sounded like nonsense to me, each syllable was foreign, but blood and guts were in your voice. You called out her name - Bella Roux! Bella Roux! - like you were howling at the moon.

   
   
   

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