A short story by Caroline Smadja
For twenty-five years, her love life had taken place on US soil. Guy turned out to be her first French lover which was odd, since she’d spent half her life in France. Past the obligatory awkwardness of beginnings, he displayed no inhibition or reluctance, and proved well above average in the sex department. He did not hesitate to stick his finger inside her, no matter in which orifice and how deep, or plunge his face between her thighs. First at his request, now more than willingly, she gave him head, a sucette, he called it. They fucked a lot, hard—she rarely called it love-making, he never did--She’d lie on her side right afterwards, and slip into content slumber.
She’s awake now, tossing on her mattress, alone. Guy's remodeling began three weeks ago. He owns a house in ruins in a hamlet fifty kilometers away from her studio in Paris. The friend of a friend, a professional mason from Russia, was hired to help out. He’s staying in the mobile home in Guy’s backyard. This way, Vladimir can start work bright and early Monday through Friday. He recently lost his driver’s license to binge drinking. On weekends, their common friend is supposed to give him a ride back home to the other side of the forest of Rambouillet.
Even before they’d exchanged one deep-throat kiss six months ago, Guy called her every break he had, and as soon as he returned to his empty house. He disrupted her work routine without a second thought. Since the launch of his home project, he’s been in touch once a day at best, almost as an afterthought. She called him one early afternoon, at what used to be his usual time.
“We’re having lunch,” he said. “Vlad made Pirozhki.”
Next time, she called in the evening. “Vlad invited a few friends over. We’re having a barbie. I’ll call you back later.”
By 10:30 pm last night, she hadn’t heard a peep. She dialed his number. He answered after the fourth ring.
“Me and Vlad, here, we’re just walking in the door.”
“We went to Carrefour Market for groceries.”
He was supposed to visit her last Friday evening, as he had unfailingly for six months. She got a call around 8:30 pm. He was too exhausted, what with his regular job, plus all the construction work at the house. She inquired when he’d come over that weekend. He replied he’d rather stay put and take it easy. “I’ll make it up to you next week.” He never mentioned it again.
Today, Guy told her on the phone about the tons of rubble they had to haul; about the gate, the façade, the front walls, the near-hidden doorway leading from the basement into the garden. She finally asked when they’d get together. “Oh, September or October.” It is mid-July. He’s been making the same damn joke for the past three weeks. “When?” she asked again. “Je sais pas, maybe tomorrow evening. Or Saturday? It all depends on Vlad.”
At that, she offered to take the train down to his house. Guy accepted. They agreed Vladimir would stay over on Saturday to wrap up some work, then go back to his place come night to leave them privacy. “We've never met. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him around all the time. After all, he’s not my boyfriend.” she said. Guy snorted into the receiver. “Hopefully not!”
After she got there, it transpired Vladimir had no intention of leaving. His ride had fallen through. The news upset her. Increasingly so, as he blasted Russian music in their ears, talked non-stop whenever they sat around the round plastic table out in the backyard, and chain-smoked in and outside the house, sending grey puffs over her meals with total oblivion. Guy acted as he would have with a cousin or brother—he had neither—and seemed to relish the company. He, practically a teetotaler, downed several shots of vodka at dinner. She couldn’t help notice the bottles lined on the kitchen floor near the filthy, overfilled garbage bin. Smirnoff. How cliché.
At last, Vladimir retreated into the mobile home right across from Guy’s bedroom. Guy stepped next door to brush his teeth. She was tidying up the bed when she spotted amidst the waves of unwashed sheets and blankets the hand towel she usually dried her face with. It was smeared with rust-colored streaks and brown stripes. Half-way between incredulity and disgust, she took a closer look.
Shit and blood.
“What’s this?” she asked when Guy walked in from the bathroom.
He glanced at the soiled towel on the bed, then gave her one of those French shrugs. She didn’t find the guts to press the issue. He did nothing to remove the towel. She dared not ask him to. Instead, she pinched the tiniest corner of the worn sponge fabric between her thumb and index finger, and threw it into the bathtub without a sniff, though it occurred to her to smell it.
She washed her hands with warm water and soap, and resolved to dismiss the whole thing. Maybe, he’d cut himself on the iron gate, or with a jagged plank of wood, and wiped his wound with that towel. Maybe, he’d taken a shit right afterwards, and wiped his ass with it too. Best to put the incident out of her mind. She was too much of a worry wart. The few fights they’d had so far, he’d told her to relax. Be cool.
He spooned her as always the minute she slipped into bed. As always, she felt his hard-on against the curve of her back, rolled over and opened her thighs. The next morning, Vladimir began to blow smoke up her face the moment she sat at the table in the backyard. His rambling as much as the nauseating smell of tobacco drove her away in minutes. She went back inside and sat on Guy’s bed. He soon came out of the shower, stark naked.
“Vladimir could see you,” she said in a foul mood, pointing at the French door bare of curtains.
“I don’t give a fuck about this.”
One knee on the bed, he shook his dripping hair at her in an attempt to humor her. A light spray landed on her neck. She brushed it off with the back of her hand. In one move, he pulled the straps of her tank top down her shoulders, then began to fondle her breasts through her pink bra. She let him, aroused. Eyes closed, she whispered, “Would you close the shutters? Vladimir could see us.”
“So what if he does?”
“I’d rather not make a spectacle of myself. And you.”
Guy chuckled. “Vlad’s not into watching. He’s a doer.” In his habitual in-gist mode, he added: “Matter of fact, how about inviting him for a threesome?”
Oh my God. Guy and Vlad were … The image of the soiled towel leaped at her.
Shit and blood.
As she scrambled off the bed out of Guy’s reach, a scene from years ago flashed through her brain. First day of the new millenium, she and her sister had dropped by their father's shabby apartment unannounced to wish him a happy new year, in spite of the fact he “was nearing the exit," as he used to say drily. He was gravely ill and partly handicapped by then. It was a Sunday and his cleaning lady, who also cooked him lunch, didn’t work that day.
Stench met the two sisters at the door. “I want you out of here. Call your mother. I need help,” their father said from his reclining chair without looking either of them in the eye. He’d soiled his sweatpants, too weak to walk to the bathroom. His only phone had run out of power. The next day, he began to fast and drank only juice, tea and bouillon. Less than two weeks later, the nurse who came by to give him a shot every morning found him dead.