Contemporary Romance

For the special occasion, I prepared his favorite dish, beef bourguignon. I covered the dining room table with an embroidered tablecloth, lit the candles, and placed the beef casserole, the mashed potatoes, and the salad bowl on the table. I opened a bottle of Bordeaux and called Roger.

 “Dinner is served, chérie.

 “Hmm it smells so good,” he said. “Thank you for making this French stew again. Santé!” He raised his glass and I responded likewise. He had a taste of the beef that I had been cooking all afternoon and complimented me. “Scrumptious, it melts in the mouth. No one makes this dish like you.” 

Merci chérie, enjoy.” 

“Tell me, Catherine, did I forget something?” he asked, admiring the nicely set table.

 “Yes, it’s our fifteenth anniversary.”

 “Oh, sorry, I forgot,” said Roger, blushing. 

We ate quietly, savoring the food while hearing the rain knocking on the roof. It was cold outside. I poured us both a second glass of red wine. But instead of picking up my glass, I covered my face with my hands. I just couldn’t keep pretending things were normal. “I can’t continue living like this,” I said.

 “Like this? How?” asked Roger.

 “Alone, at our family home while you spend all your time here at the farm. You’ve abandoned me! All I do is look after an empty house, waiting for my children to come back one day. I am just a house-sitter now. My life is not making sense anymore.”

 “You could move here,” suggested Roger. 

 “C’mon,” I replied. “You know that I’m more of a city girl. But even when I’m here, we just don’t talk like we used to.” I sighed. I remembered the passion of the first years, the way he looked at me with his blue eyes, radiating love and warmth but now his gaze was arctic cold. 

“You have changed so much,” I said. “All you care about is the horses.” I looked at the man who was silver-haired at sixty-three but still looked achingly like the man I’d fallen madly in love with, though he rarely bothered to shave now that he’d retired from criminal law. He was wearing the sweater I’d bought him for our last anniversary, one that he’d also forgotten. When we bought the farm together, I’d never imagined he would one day disappear to live there without me, and that I’d rarely get to see him.

 “People think that you’ve gone mad,” I said.

“I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t like people. They have loved and hated me for the wrong reasons.” 

“So…” I said, “was it true when you used to tell me that you wanted to become a hermit?”

 “It was true. I meant it. People can be terrible. If you had heard all the stories I’ve heard, you would understand me.” 

“Hmm,” I muttered, pressing my lips together. “At least you have Tim, someone to talk to. I don’t have anyone.” I thought of Tim, the loyal worker who had been tending to the horses for the past ten years. 

“Yes, I’m lucky to have him. We have a cup of tea together at the stable every day at three pm. I have introduced him to classical music, and we have accidentally discovered that this type of music is soothing to the horses.”

 “Hmm, that’s interesting,” I said, raising an eyebrow.

 “You should see Stella’s face when she listens to Bach. She closes her eyes and moves her ears forward and backward as if she enjoyed it.” 

 “No wonder they call you ‘The Horse Whisperer’,” I said smiling. I poured more wine into both glasses before discussing our relationship. “We had some fantastic years together.”

 “We did. Santé! I’ll drink to that.” 

Nostalgic thoughts crossed my mind. I remembered the love and the passion that held us together, the dinners in the expensive restaurants, the trips to Europe with our blended family, our glamorous lifestyle, and my part-time job at the Alliance Francaise

“You look sad,” he said, holding my hand. “You know what red wine does to me,” I explained.

 “Both of us and the circumstances have changed. I’ve lost my job after Covid, my children are back in France, and we are not connecting like we used to.” I sighed.

 “I see...” he said. “That’s quite a lot to deal with. It’s too bad you don’t want to move here with me. Horses are beautiful, sensitive creatures, you know.” 

“Yes, I know.”

 “I have begun a research project. I’m studying the effect that music has on horses,” said Roger. “You could become involved in that.” 

“I suppose I could...” I replied, squinting my eyes. I remembered falling off Stella and breaking my hip and how the trauma and the pain had put me off horses altogether. We were silent for a while and then I asked, “Would you like some crackers and cheese?” 

“I’d love some.” 

“Why don’t we continue our conversation in the living room? It’s gone chilly, perhaps you could start a fire,” I suggested. As he did, I picked up the dishes, rinsed them, and put them in the dishwasher. I then made a platter with crackers, cheese, and grapes, and brought it to the small wooden table in front of the settee. 

“I love the crackling sound of logs. Nothing more romantic than an open fire,” I said. I put on a CD from Gilbert Becaud. “This song reminds me of my mum. It’s called ‘Et Maintenant’. It’s beautiful. Listen to the lyrics.” We sat in front of the fire listening, snacking, and drinking. 

After a while, I asked him something I’d wanted to ask him for some time. “Tell me, Roger, what did I contribute to your life?”

 “Romance, passion, and French culture,” he said without hesitation. 

“I wish I could turn back time,” I said wistfully.

 Roger looked at me intensely for a moment and then said, “I know what you have to do…”  

 “What?” I asked.

“You should go back to France.” 

 “Do you mean for good?” I asked, astounded.

 “I didn’t say that. I think you should go back for a few months and spend time with your family and friends.” 

“But... What about you? Wouldn’t you want to come along?” 

“No. I’m happy here. I’m a Kiwi after all. Besides, traveling has become too complicated and expensive. You should go alone and find yourself, Catherine.”

I looked at a painting of Provence that was hanging on the wall and sank into the beautiful purples of the lavender fields as I considered going home. I imagined holding my mother’s hand and hugging my children again. I pictured going out with my school friends. The thought of packing only summer clothes and enjoying the hot weather back home made me smile. 

“That’s it,” said Roger.

 “That’s it... what?” I asked. “You’ve got that look. Your face just lit up at the idea of going back home. You are homesick, Catherine. That’s what’s wrong.” “Well, yes, I suppose so. I haven’t seen my children and my Mum since before Covid and I miss them so much.”

 “Where are your children living now?” 

“They are sharing a flat in Lyon. They get along well. I must have done something right.”

“That’s great.” 

France, la belle France, I thought. “I think it’s a good idea,” I said, smiling.

 “I love that smile and those dimples.” I’d like you to be happy,” said Roger. After finishing the bottle of wine, when the fire turned to ashes, we kissed each other good night.

 “Bonne nuit, chérie,” I said before shutting my bedroom door.

 “Bonne nuit,” he replied.

December 11, 2023 08:19

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Mary Bendickson
06:00 Dec 21, 2023

Nice writing and nice story. Little sad she shut her door. They really are not together anymore, huh? Thanks for liking and the comment on my 'Words'


Maria Sardi
21:48 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks for commenting, Mary. The end is ambiguous, subject to interpretation.


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Vimala Rengasamy
21:36 Dec 18, 2023

Well done, Maria. The story flows nicely to build up layers of emotions from a seemingly light casual feeling to a progressively tensed one. All my senses were heightened through your elegant use of language tools. No words were wasted. Congratulations.


Maria Sardi
23:17 Dec 18, 2023

Thank you, Vimala, for your thoughtful comment.


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19:23 Dec 17, 2023

Brilliant writing Maria. Got swept along by this


Maria Sardi
22:11 Dec 17, 2023

Thank you so much, Derrick. I just read and liked "Speed Dating." Very original.


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Georgia Blair
17:38 Dec 15, 2023

As usual, you have done a really nice job exploring the nuances of relationships, Maria. Enjoyed your latest very much.


Maria Sardi
21:41 Dec 15, 2023

Thanks for your feedback, Georgia. Much appreciated it.


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Maria Sardi
22:26 Dec 13, 2023

Catherine is not in a good place. Roger, her husband seems too detached. Her children have left home and live overseas and she has also lost her job. Often we tend to define ourselves by the roles we play and when they change or cease to exist we might loose our North. Going back to France is a good idea for Catherine. She needs to find "home" again. But, would home be back in France? We don't know. Most importantly, she and all of us should find home within ourselves.


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Soleil Tron
15:25 Dec 13, 2023

The setting and conversation in your story create a mood of sadness and define the chasm between two people who have obviously drifted apart and are now living separate lives. Well done!


Maria Sardi
22:21 Dec 13, 2023

I'm glad you liked the story. Thank you for reading and commenting.


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