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Romance Creative Nonfiction Contemporary

That’s the thing about this city…” Alex was thinking to himself as Lena walked towards him “…so many beautiful women”. They had crossed paths several times recently, so they’d both realized that they were neighbors. Roy Orbison was singing in Alexander’s head ‘I don't believe you. You're not the truth. No one could look as good as you. Mercy!’ Flowing from under a black fedora, her blond curls fell freely over her black wool trench coat. A fuzzy white turtleneck softened her allure, and her cerulean eyes were gleaming with a look of appreciation for the man she was approaching. Lena, like most Parisian women, preferred men who dress smartly.

This time, both of them were ready to make acquaintance and it happened naturally. “Hello, looks like we’re neighbors, I’m Alexander (speaking French), and what’s your name?”

“Lena. Pleased to meet you Alexander. You have an accent, American?”

“That’s right. Glad to meet you too Lena.” Alex didn’t hesitate a second. “Are you free for a drink?”

“Sure, how about the Garden Café?” (now in English)

“Sounds fine. Nice to speak English for a change. You speak without a French accent!”

“It’s from my work, my voice is my greatest asset, I have to sing in Italian, German, French, and English.”

“You sing for the Opera I take it? You speak all four languages?”

“That’s right, I’m a mezzo-soprano, and yes, I speak all four languages. Singing for the opera was my childhood dream. It’s hard work though, people don’t realize how much effort it takes.”

“I love to sing, but I’m not a professional. Everyone says I have a nice voice, and I used to sing for a band when I came to Paris in September ’83.”

“How old were you? “I had just turned 10 years old on September 4th.”

“23, I’m 49 now.”

“I thought you were my age!”

“So that makes you 35, I would have said 28. And you’re a Virgo, that means you like to do things right!”

“Flattery will get you nowhere.” Lena smiles, appreciating the compliments nonetheless.

The café was just a few minutes’ walk, they were on the rue du Pont du Jour in Boulogne Billancourt, right next to Alexander’s studio apartment.

Alex held the door for Lena and the warmth of the café greeted them, inviting them to take off their coats. Alex took Lena’s coat and hung it on a rack with his own, then they went to a table and he pulled her chair for her.

The waiter came straight away, as there were very few people in the café. Lunchtime was finished, and it was Sunday afternoon. “What would you like?”

Alex ordered first. “Just a drink, Remy Martin VSOP, and warm the glass first please.”

“Sounds good, I’ll have the same. Nothing beats a warm cognac on a chilly day.”

Alex smiled, thinking that there was one thing that would beat cognac to warm them up, and he was almost sure that she had the same thought. In fact, she did.

“So, you know what I do, what about you? I only know that you sing, but not for a living.”

“For a living, at the moment I work as a project manager in a communication agency here in Boulogne Billancourt. I’ve been in sales and marketing for almost 2 decades. For myself, I paint, it’s been a passion since I was 10. I also play the guitar, I just bought one just last week on e-bay, an electric guitar with a hard case and a Marshal practice amp.” Alex pulled out his card case, handing Lena two business cards, one for his job at ‘Graphi-Plus’, and one marked ‘Artist Peintre’.

“Portraits, Nudes, Landscapes…Yeah, hard to make a living as a painter, especially if you don’t do abstracts. I’d like to see your paintings; I do like nudes and portraits.”

“Do you mind if I smoke?” Alex wouldn’t dare light a cigarette without asking.

“Yes, in fact, I do. You shouldn’t smoke, it’s a filthy habit.”

“No problem. I can go without smoking all evening if it bothers you.” Alex winked.

They continued to discover each other the time it took to have two glasses each, Alex paid, held her coat for her, and held the door.

“Let’s go see my paintings.”

“That’s a cliché line, but I don’t mind. Artists have a reputation, especially when they paint nudes; I hope you’re up to it.” Lena was direct and to the point, she knew what she wanted.

Alex’s studio apartment was only about 90 ft², but it was secured and had a parking lot in the basement. It was on the ground floor with a big window facing south on a garden. Even though it was small, the rent cost him a third of his salary. He sent another third to his ex-wife every month, and the last third was for him. He had just gotten his yearly bonus though and his commissions were high. Business in the last quarter of 2008 had been good. The communication departments in companies often have left over budget to spend urgently at the end of the year so that they won’t lose out in getting the budget they want for the next year. All this to say that Alex had more money than usual at the moment. Boulogne Billancourt was a rich neighborhood, and Alex had been able to furnish his apartment almost entirely with used furniture that people had left in the street. There was his elevated wooden bed that he brought with him, a free sofa, a free coffee table, a free chest of drawers, a free large wooden artist’s worktable with shelves that he repainted, and a large easel. A big TV set was also sitting on the chest of drawers. Paintings were everywhere. Under the bed an electric keyboard sat on a shelf fixed to the bedframe, with a folding chair and a laptop on a free PC table.

Lena’s eyes lit up. “You didn’t say that you play the keyboards.”

“Because I don’t, I just play around. I took piano when I was young, and my fingers are agile, but I really don’t know how to play. I’ve been wanting to learn jazz piano.”

“Perhaps I can teach you. I have a piano in my flat.” She spotted his guitar case sitting on the easel. “Interesting design, Yin-Yangs with white and black rats? What does that stand for?”

“I painted it this morning. I had already done the same design on canvas a year ago for the Chinese New Year of the Rat, because I’m a Rat. Today was the last day. Tomorrow starts the Year of the Ox, with the new moon. Hey, you’re 35, right? And you’ll be 36 this year, so it’s your year, You’re an Ox.”

“I don’t know if that’s a compliment, but I’m glad I’m not a Rat!” They both burst out laughing. A second later they were locked in a passionate embrace.

Lena stopped suddenly “You do have protection, don’t you?”

“Of course.” Alex was prepared, with ‘Extended Pleasure’ to help his performance.

The sofa took a first lover’s spree and then Alex served smoked salmon with toast and dry white wine before they hit the bed for a second round. Afterwards, Alex went into the small kitchen, opened the window and closed the door to have a smoke, Camel Natural, no additives. Alex enjoyed the cold night air, he found it invigorating, and at least he wasn’t bothering Lena with the smell.

“It’s getting a bit late; can I walk you home?”

“Of course. It’s only 5 minutes’ walk.”

She invited him in and of course he accepted.

Her one-bedroom flat was her own, so she didn’t have any rent to pay. The ambiance felt cozy and classical. Several framed posters of Lena’s performances adorned the walls. Alex noticed a turntable and stacks of vinyl records.

“I worked in the music industry for 16 years. I love to see people who appreciate vinyl. Most people say that it’s too noisy, but if the record is clean and the diamond is new, the sound is much better. Digital doesn’t have the same range from lows to highs. Can I take a look at your collection?”

“Sure! Go ahead. How about a nightcap, Remy Martin? You are staying, aren’t you?”

“I’d love one. I just have to leave early enough to prepare for work. Hey, you have my favorite album of all time!”

“Let me guess, Wish You Were Here, right?”

Alex put it on, side 2. When it got to track two, they were sitting cozy with their cognacs and they sang Wish You Were Here together. Alex hit all the high notes in the ‘doo-doo-doo’s really well, which surprised the mezzo-soprano.

“You do have a nice voice! You’d need a lot of coaching to go pro though. You don’t breathe correctly; you have to breathe from your diaphragm.”

“Thanks, I don’t plan to sing for a living though. I tried it in the 80’s and had no luck. Me too, they ‘told me what to dream’, but it didn’t get me either the Jaguar or eating at the steak bar. Guess I didn’t play a mean enough guitar.”

Lena’s bedroom was waiting, and they wasted no time in getting down to business again. Alex set the alarm on his phone and woke up at dawn. He kissed Lena and they said bye ‘till later on. His office was only 10 minutes’ walk, but he had to get ready. He always had to look sharp.

They saw each other every evening, the next weekend it was the full moon and they spent Saturday walking around Paris, they savored exquisite master-crafted chocolate at Michel Chaudun’s shop in the 7th district, and both agreed that it’s one of the wonders of this world. They laughed and played, and spent all day Sunday in bed. The nights were sensual and sensational, sometimes in one bed, and sometimes in the other. A fortnight after their meeting came Valentine’s Day, and one to remember. Alex was head-over-heels in love, but even if she went through all the traditional practices of Valentine’s Day, deep down in her heart Lana didn’t believe in love. She was a practical woman, and for her sex was all about physical pleasure, nothing more. Alex, of course, was blind to her insensibility, and by all outward appearances one would have believed Lana to be just as thunderstruck as Alex. Another big difference existed in their respective attitudes towards life: Lana was most of all interested in luxury and material comforts and at times found herself totally perplexed by Alex’s simplistic attitude and total lack of attachment to things. Alex had noticed that she loved nice things, but hadn’t realized how important it was for her. We could say that only three things really held them together: love of music, a warm cognac on a cold day, and sex.

Alex told his ex-wife Michèle about his new love on the phone, without mentioning her name. She did an internet research and easily found out her name, Lana Lalande. Alex was surprised that Michele knew who he was dating, but she told him quite frankly that mezzo-sopranos aren’t exactly here, there, and everywhere. Michèle was jealous and skeptical, there being 17 years and a world of difference between the two women. She still loved Alex; it had been two years since he left and she still slept with one of his shirts every night. She warned him to be careful.

The Friday after Valentine’s day, Lana went to Brittany for the weekend, when she got back on Sunday, she called Alex to help her bring her baggage back from the train station. Alex wondered why, because it was just a suitcase…but went to help her anyway. It turned out to be a BIG heavy suitcase, even if it was just for the weekend. This was the first time that Lana saw his 20-year-old Golf GT because it stayed in the parking lot most of the time.

“What’s this old heap? Can’t you afford a nice car?”

“I like my little Constance. She’s never let me down yet. She always starts up, and she’s small so it’s easy to park her in Paris.” Alex was offended, Can’t Lana even see that the car is almost as clean as the day it rolled off of the assembly line? It’s a classic! “At least she’s bringing your suitcase home for you.”

“What did you call this thing? Constance? You gave it a name? It’s good for the junk heap.”

“What’s with the huge suitcase anyway? You just went to Rennes for two days!”

“What does it matter to you? I take what I want where I want and when I want.”

Silence set in and rode with them all the rest of the way back to Boulogne.

Alexander was lying in bed, and called to apologize for their spat. Lana Lalande responded curtly. “I think it’s better to stop Alex. I need a strong man.” What she really meant was a rich man. Alex was hurt. How could she do this! Lana didn’t care, she’d been dating another man since Monday the 16th, and she'd just spent the weekend with him. The next day after work Alex took the Valentine card that Lana had just given him and burnt a hole in the middle with his lighter. Then he gathered all of the things she had given him in the last month (quite a lot), took them all to her flat, put them on her doorstep with the burnt card on top, and rang the doorbell. When she arrived at the door in her negligée it was obvious that she was not alone.

“What’s all this?”

“Shit that would only hurt me to see every day. You can get your ‘strong man’ to take it inside for you.”

Michèle was overjoyed at the news. “I told you! You’re so naïve!” she rubbed the salt into his open wound.

Alex was in pain once more. Lana was too sweet to be true. Their affair had lasted just one month. Alex asked himself Will I ever learn? Probably not. That’s the thing about this city…so many beautiful women.

March 15, 2021 16:54

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2 comments

Ann Layne
18:07 Mar 25, 2021

I liked your characters they felt very real.

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Ali Anthony Bell
18:27 Mar 25, 2021

Thank you Ann Layne, Probably because they are. :) Alexander Blackwell is me. I started a series of creative non-fiction all with the same MC. I went through my midlife crisis when I was 47 to 49 in Paris, from Jan. 2007 to Sept. 2009 and dated 13 women in 33 months. The first of the series is "Dream of Senegal". One of the first stories I wrote here on reedsy. Lately I wrote "Kon Bon Wa", "To Sweet to be True", and "Ruby Slippers". I still have several to write, I'm just waiting for prompts that I can use. The best one will be something sim...

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