Meet My Son

         Their evenings together were short and beautiful. Mireille liked the little Flemish restaurant at the very end of Avenue du Regent, and she liked

Amedeo Modigliani
the quiet clean room on the second floor above the restaurant where Emil took her. She loved the rain outside the windows. It had a gentle impatience Emil didn’t have for her. It soothed her. There was no winter and no summer there, in that Avenue du Regent. There was drizzle and there were lawns, and there were always clouds the color of cold tea that reassured her. The first time Emil brought her to Avenue du Regent she felt miserable. He didn’t speak nor smile while she told him about her job in the translation pool. Then things changed. She learned to love his silences. Emil was quiet and very clean. He listened to her, it rained, and Brussels waited behind her closed eyes. It was pleasant to have Emil’s sweetly scented skin by her side. She liked his shadow. She liked his shirts and his long thin fingers. She liked his gray eyes and his “A bientot”, which didn’t mean “See you soon”. It meant “See you next Friday”.

         Their evenings together happened on Fridays, then they happened on Tuesdays and Fridays, too, even on Mondays, the evening and Emil’s silences a promise in the fresh wind, their clean room on the second floor an island of quiet. Mirelle’s life was an autumn of November but it was a happy November with Emil’s beautiful hands and beautiful smell that lingered in her mind long after he was gone. She felt she had to protect him from his gloom. She loved him eagerly and tactfully, she kissed him patiently, gently, then angrily and rudely because he was so inert and silent. She learned to like his quiet immobility; it was warm and unobtrusive like a windless day. She enjoyed every inch of his quiet skin, a pale continent her kisses had mapped with patient precision.

         Their evenings together happened in the morning, too, when he telephoned they needed to talk. He said “Je voudrais parler avec toi”, “I’d like to have a word with you”. Her steps to him were their conversation, his beautiful shadow waiting for her to love it. There was no end waiting for Emil. He didn’t tell her where he worked or if he worked at all, the room on the second floor was enough for her November. He left her a ring once, and he left her another one the next time. He didn’t say he was happy to see her and didn’t tell her she was magnificent. It felt that way, though. When on Sundays there was no “Je voudrais parler avec toi,” she hated her apartment. The quiet in it was bad for the translations she worked on, her anxiety killed the metaphors and November ended. She tried to forget about Avenue du Regent. She couldn’t work. She had to go out.

         She strolled along Rue Plasky and drank a beer at “The Old Counter”, a cheap cozy pub that smelled of sweet beer and weak wine. Her life was a cozy pub. She knew its customers were long gone home and the old counter shimmered empty, warm and dry in the night. She liked it that way. At “The Old Counter”, she drank her beer sitting next to Jean-Marc, another quiet man who didn’t pay attention to her when she said “Hi” from across the bar. He was a computer programmer. He was almost as tall and as quiet as Emil and he didn’t mind listening to Mireille’s translations. His skin didn’t feel soft and translucent the way Emil’s did and it had no odor. One man simply replaced another in Mireille’s month of November, in the rain that quietly mixed with the night. Neither Emil nor Jean-Marc had told her she made a difference.

         A month or two ago – Mirreille couldn’t be sure when exactly that happened - she had been obsessed with a long abstract poem that sounded colder than the sky – Jean Mark gave her a wedding ring. It was cheap and poorly made, not even silver. Jean-Marc had said “Next Monday I’ll marry you”.

         It was raining hard next Sunday. Mireille had not translated the poem to the end. The old pub where Jean-Marc was supposed to wait for her was closed. Jean-Marc didn’t show up – he wasn’t in front of the church Saint Servais, or in “The Green Lemon” restaurant where they’d planned to eat an expensive lunch. She didn’t know where to look for him, so that Sunday she didn’t marry anybody. She tried to translate that difficult poem instead. She went to another good pub, “L’Etrier”, which meant “The Stirrup”.

         “Je voudrais parler avec toi,” a man said to her. Emil. She had not expected to meet him there.

         His new car looked expensive and when she asked him how much it cost, he answered, “It’s nothing. I own flats, which I rent.”

         That day, Emil was calm and she read her new translations to him. He didn’t say a word of praise, nor criticize her. He remarked, “My hands are damp,” and she didn’t quite make out what he meant. She read her poetry to him and he kept silent. He was sleepy when she explored his magnificent profile. “Shall we marry next Monday?” she asked him and he said that Monday was a day he wanted for himself. That was all.

         “We should stop seeing each other,” Emil said the next time they met. As usual, he left her a little gift, a gold brooch, but didn’t say, “Je voudrais parler avec toi.” Mireille went to the “Old Counter” to drink a quiet beer in the rain and there was Jean-Marc, the computer geek, sitting at his usual table, his usual beer, Leff Brune, almost black, in front of him. He didn’t say “Hi” when she approached, but she sat opposite him. She said she didn’t feel too well, but that was quite okay with her. He listened, drinking Leff Brune, which was almost black. The street and its gray houses listened, and the evening was a poem about a woman who went to a pub, an old cozy place like no other in the world where a man should have waited for her. The evening didn’t have anything good for the woman in the poem.

         Mireille took Jean-Marc to her tiny apartment, and he didn’t say, “You are magnificent,” the way the man in her poem did. He saw the jar full of rings, all of them much better than the one he had given her, and said, “You’ve worked hard for that”. Then he was silent and she read “The Rhyme of the Ancient mariner” which she had begun translating into French just for the pleasure of it.

         Jean-Marc said “Who by the way will you marry next Sunday?” and he didn’t believe it when she answered she couldn’t think of anybody.

         Then it rained for two months and the sky was a pool of Leff Brune beer, almost black. It was reassuring to have it there, Mireille thought, above her poetry and translations, a big wet thing that gave her its cozy clouds. Her poetry didn’t sell and her translations didn’t make money, but that was all right. She went to L’Etrier and if Jean-Marc was not there, she drank her Leff quite happily alone. Sometimes she recited her poetry to men she didn’t know. They listened, and of course it was November and she missed Emil’s beautiful, “Je voudrais parler avec toi.”

         “You write well,” he told her once and she was happy. She was happy when after months of rain and Leff Brune, Emil telephoned her. “Je voudrais parler avec toi.”

         She had many things to tell him. One of her poems was published in a literary magazine. Her boss liked her translations and paid her. Jean-Marc had said again, “Let’s get married next Sunday.”

         She had answered, “Okay”, but this time she didn’t go to the church “St Genevieve La Miserable” because the rain was so thick and strong it broke her umbrella.

         Emil’s obedient skin gleamed in their old clean room above the Flemish restaurant, and the night outside the windows was all happy winds. Emil had prepared a gift for her and said her poetry was okay. Then he said, “I want you to meet somebody.”

         Emil dialed a number on his GSM and almost immediately the door of their clean room opened. A gangly youth entered, his thin body trembling, his cheeks red like the little lamp on the bedside table.

         “Meet my son Christophe,” Emil said.

         It was dark outside and she couldn’t tell if the shadows she saw were silhouettes of houses or the evening was hauling new clouds in its wake. It was warm in the room and the TV was telling them it would be wet on the following day.

         Emil patted the sickly boy’s shoulder.

         Mireille thought of “L’Etrier” and of the poems she had written there. She had recited them to Emil and he had said “I hope Gaston will bring us the salad soon.” Gaston was the waiter. He was slow or maybe the salad had not been ready.

         The youth’s hands trembled violently. His long curly hair trembled too. He produced a small packet out of his pocket. “This is a necklace,” he said and scratched his meager neck.

         He was sweating. His chin was covered with thin colorless hairs. “It’s a necklace,” the boy repeated.

         His long trembling fingers reached for the buttons of his shirt.

         “What are you doing?” Miraille said.

         “Come on,” Emil said.

         The boy took off his shirt. His puny chest glistened in the thin scarlet light of the bedside table.

         “She is clean and she will teach you,” Emil said glancing at Mireille. “It won’t hurt.”

         The boy recoiled and swallowed hard. Suddenly there were tears in his eyes.

Zdravka Evtimova's short story collection "Bitter Sky" was published in 2003 in UK by Skrev Press. A second short story collection "Somebody Else" was published by MAG Press, USA, in 2004. A third story collection "Miss Daniella" was published by SKREV Press, UK in April 2007.

© 2009 Underground Voices