Creative Nonfiction Friendship Contemporary

Alexander Blackwell first saw the young Martiniquais Jazz singer Larissa Paris at one of her concerts in December 2007, and had taken pictures of her as she sang and played the piano, they had made acquaintance, and Alex took her phone number. He’s worked on a portrait of her without her knowledge, and now two months later he’s happy with it.

Alex has an exposition for the month of March at the gallery Communic’Art, 18 rue de Gergovie in the 14th District. He wants to exhibit Larissa’s portrait with his other paintings, and calls her to talk about his plans. He says that he’ll give her the painting but would like her approval before exhibiting it (it won’t be for sale). He frames the painting with black and white to parallel the ebony and ivory keys of her piano, and goes to visit her to present it. She welcomes him to her family home, as she lives with her parents. They are all impressed with the painting, and invite Alex to have dinner with them. Of course, he accepts, and by the end of the evening Larissa and Alex have become friends (just friends) He asks her to keep a secret, that the painting was free, and she accepts.

So, the portrait of Larissa Paris at her piano is the centerpiece of Alex’s exhibition, on one of 4 walls, with 3 other artists. She visits the exhibition and leaves a beautiful note on the first page of his Art Show Exhibition Guest Book, also drawing a piano keyboard which is like a flying ribbon “Hello Alex, your paintings are very soft and full of inspiration…you already know which one is my favorite! Artistically…Larissa Paris

Communic’Art has planned an event on the evening of Saturday, March 29th for the end of the current exhibition, where there will be musicians and poetry reading, and Alexander convinces Larissa to come and play for the event. After all, she has a free portrait, doesn’t she? Alex is fairly sure that this event will bring more people to see his work and make him more well known on the Paris scene. Who knows, maybe a few women will want to have their portraits done?

Michèle, Alexander’s wife, is still very attached to him. Every night, in tears, she desperately clutches one of Alex’s old shirts and buries her nose in it until sleep finally finds her. She sincerely regrets all of the times she screamed at him and slapped his face. We were happy, weren’t we? Can’t it be like it was before?

She lives with their three children in a country house near Le Mans, one that Alex spent a lot of time renovating from a 100-year-old stone barn, and that is now up for sale. Michèle decides to use the event as a reason to come and see him in Paris, to show that she’s taken an interest in his art, and to try to win his love back. Their oldest child, Flora, is 21, so Michèle leaves her the responsibility of the house while she’s away.

Michèle asks him “The event is open to the public, isn’t it?”

“Of course. It’s not a private show.”

“I’m coming. We can go together.”

While this doesn’t please Alex, there’s no way he can refuse. She’s right, it’s public. Besides, they did live together for 23 years and they are still married. “Alright, but where will you stay?”

“I thought I’d stay the night with you, if you don’t mind. You know that I can’t afford a hotel.”

“I can pay for your hotel room for a night.”

“No, I prefer to stay with you.” She insists. Alex doesn’t want to fight, so he cedes.

“Alright, but if you sleep in my bed, it’s only to sleep, nothing else.”

“Agreed then, I’ll meet you and we’ll go together.”

The evening of the event Alex goes to meet her at the Montparnasse train station. Michèle looks really classy in a white off-the shoulder dress and jacket. She knows how much Alex loves her long wavy hair and is wearing it loosely, but professionally done; light warm brown with a subtle copper-blonde balayage, and she’s accented it with a golden embellished hair comb pin in the form of a leafy branch. She’s wearing the same purple, blue, and pink glass dangle ear-rings that she was wearing for the portrait he painted of her just after their honeymoon in ’84. Incidentally, Alex has always considered that it’s the best painting he has ever done, and always keeps a photo of it in his wallet. As they do the 4 French cheek kisses Alex is thrown back into the past…that delightful perfume! The same one she was wearing on the night they first met. If this had been just a few years earlier, Alex would have certainly complimented her, saying how beautiful she was, but this time, he remains silent. His mind is made up never to go back to living with her, and her efforts are all too obvious. He still loves her, but all of the abuse he has taken strengthens his will not to give in. They are separated and it will remain so.

The art gallery is in the same neighborhood as the train station so they go directly. Alex plays along, they go as husband and wife. He introduces her to Larissa and other people he knows. Sitting side-by-side, Alex can’t stop fidgeting all through the show. They hardly speak to each other. He feels that he’s playing a masquerade, and Michèle can tell because he has never been able to hide his feelings. She’s determined and unfazed.

Alex warmly congratulates Larissa after the show and as they do the 4 French cheek kisses Michèle smiles nervously and wrenches her hands behind her back. She’s steaming inside. Although Alex has told her that they are just friends, she can’t help but doubt that it’s true. It’s been a little more than a year since he left her, and she’s seen him date several beautiful women, starting with the Senegalese Fatoumata. Michèle is convinced that this is another case like the others. Why would he have done her portrait if they were just friends? Even after all their years of married life, and despite his transparence, Michèle will never be able to understand his painter’s mindset. Alexander sees beauty in all women, and doesn’t feel that he has to sleep with every beautiful woman he meets or paints. Larissa is truly just a friend, but Michèle’s jealousy will not let her see this truth.

When the show is over, they go to Alex’s little studio. It’s the first time that Michèle has seen it. They go to bed, and Michèle tries to carry out her plan. Instead of receiving her eager lips as they press against his, Alex recoils in disgust.

“I told you no sex, dammit! Leave me alone!” He jumps out of the loft bed and lands with a thud. “You stay there. I’d rather sleep on the floor than stay in bed with you!”

Michèle’s words are intermittent with sobbing. “I dis…disgust you, doe…don’t I? My lips are…are old and my face… is all wrink…led. You ju…just want young lips a…and young bodies, b…but you’re an old man Alex, you’re li…like me! You act like you’re yo…young but it’s not true! You’re ju…just kidding yourself into th…thinking that you’re young again. Your place i…is with us, your family, and wh…what about your children! Stop acting like a fool and act your age.!” She breaks down. Alex doesn’t say a word in response. Neither of them can sleep that night. Alex stays below and she stays above on the bed.

The next morning Alex accompanies Michèle to the train station, and hardly a word is spoken. They were once more than lovers; they were also best friends for so many years. Now they are strangers, and will remain so for the rest of their lives, drifting ever farther from each other. Michèle will continue to sleep with Alex’s shirt, and the old photo of Michèle’s portrait will stay in Alex’s wallet.

June 04, 2021 01:03

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