Simone waited in the apartment she shared with Jean-Paul and Olga, feeling their absence like a weight on her chest. She consoled herself by sitting in her favourite spot, the chair by the window, from where she saw all the goings-on in the street below. The workers on their bicycles, the fashionistas on foot scurrying home. Busy bodies bustling in and out of cafés and bookshops. A man smoking as he leans against a lamp-post.
She lit up her own cigarette, drawing deeply on the woody smoke before exhaling. She looked in her cup and gulped the little bit of cold coffee, half-gagging on the bitter grits from the bottom as they hit the back of her throat.
They were probably out having an aperitif right now, thought Simone. Olga’s coat and satchel were strewn on the sofa, so she couldn’t be far way. Why didn’t she ever hang things up? Just like a child, which I guess is what Jean-Paul likes about her.
An open relationship. She was starting to hate those words. It had sounded so daring, so exciting when he first suggested it. An adventure for the brave. But she didn’t feel like being brave any more. She just wanted to be happy.
She stubbed her cigarette out–she hadn’t smoked it anyhow–just a long grey fragile stem of ash.
Simone jumped when she heard the crash. But it was only the front door banging open and hitting the hallway wall. She heard Olga first, laughing, then a loud squeal. Then Jean-Paul’s low voice and Olga giggling. This was too much. Olga’s thick Russian accent sounded even thicker than usual.
‘Play it now! Can you? Play it now!’
‘Okay, okay, I’ll just...Oh–you’re here!’
Jean-Paul, a tipsy Olga on his arm, looked genuinely shocked on encountering his partner in the living room.
‘Hi Simone!’ said Olga grinning. Her stringy blonde hair had formed an unruly lattice across her face. ‘Jean-Paul’s going to play me his favourite song.’
Olga pushed her shoes off, one at a time, and hauled off her pullover. Simone found herself staring at Olga’s lean smooth arms, her girlish hips. Olga’s mischievous eyes met Simone’s just as they were looking her up and down. Simone felt herself flush.
‘C’mon Simone, are you gonna dance?’ Olga shouted, clapping her hands.
A crescendo of piano and trumpet flooded the room, followed by the unmistakable voice of Louis Armstrong. It was one of Simone’s favourite songs too. She and Jean-Paul used to lie together and listen to this all the time before...
‘Get up and dance, Simone! C’mon!’
Olga hovered unsteadily. Simone noticed her lipstick was smudged, a stray red smear spread across her left cheek.
‘I don’t feel like dancing,’ mumbled Simone. She didn’t want to look at Olga any more.
‘What?’ Olga shouted over the music. ‘What did you say?’
‘I don’t feel like dancing.’
Olga’s face suddenly darkened: ‘You’re so boring! Old and boring. No wonder Jean-Paul no longer wants to–’
Jean-Paul’s hand came out of nowhere, covering her mouth. Simone stared, speechless, at Olga’s eyebrows silently jiggling, Jean-Paul’s arm across her face.
Simone jumped up and headed for the bathroom, a trumpet solo swarming around her ears as she slammed the door behind her.
Simone leaned over the bowl, her whole body heaving. She didn’t actually bring anything up. Her stomach, it seemed, just needed to go through the motions. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, sat on the toilet seat, and took in her surroundings. The bidet on her left stared back at her. As did two towels hanging neatly on the door, and Olga’s towel in sodden disarray on the floor.
She stood up, splashed water on her face and threw the bathroom door back open.
Jean-Paul and Olga were on the sofa, one at each end, their feet touching. The music had stopped. Simone marched over and stood directly in front of Olga. Jean-Paul, looking nervous, pulled his legs back.
‘Olga. I want you to pack your things and leave. Now.’
‘What?’ Olga smiled incredulously, looking to Jean-Paul for support. But he said nothing.
‘Tonight. Now.’ Simone repeated. ‘I’ll walk you to the station.’
‘But–’ Olga looked at Jean-Paul again; he was now intently studying his shoes.
Olga turned to Simone. ‘But I thought we were a thing! You know. The Family. The three of us.’
‘No. Olga. Not any more. The Family is no longer. Don’t think you’re anything special. Jean-Paul does this all the time. There’s been plenty like you, there’ll be plenty more. C’mon, pack your things. I don’t have all night.’
Simone closed her eyes and let her shoulders drop back against the platform wall as the train pulled away, its deafening clickety-clack bouncing off the Metro’s subterranean walls. After the carriage disappeared into the darkness, she walked along the empty platform. She took a familiar exit, and climbed the stairs to the world above. On the outside she was greeted by darkness and the earthy smell of freshly fallen rain. Although she had only been down there twenty minutes, there were puddles everywhere. As she walked along St-Michel Boulevard back to the apartment, these shiny collections of rainwater reflected the colourful lights of the street’s cafes, brasseries, and bars opening for another night’s business. The autumn air was cool but clean. The recent downpour had brought a crispness to the air she hadn’t felt in Paris for a long, long time.
by Warren Ward