My Wife in France
My wife knew a little French. We went to the south of France for our
honeymoon, stayed in Nice, took day trips, spent only one day in Paris,
threw its proportion of French historicity to the wind.
My wife spoke French to shopkeepers; waiters spoke English to my wife.
The French people became exasperated with her. They kept trying to
convince her to just speak English to them. My wife waved off what she
thought were their accommodations. "Arretez!" she would say
nonchalantly. She would take her time recalling what words she could to
get her meaning across. Her voice slid through the language I was just
hearing her speak for the first time. My wife enjoyed the waltz of it.
She liked the way everyone was trying to adapt to the others' rhythms,
like dancing with strangers.
My wife woke early while I slept. It always rains at night in the South
of France, or perhaps it always rains in the very early morning. Either
way, there were always first-light puddles in the paved-brick streets,
the air always felt damp at sunup. For the people who lived there, the
drying rainwater was something to watch happen during each day, it was
another part of the set-in-cobblestone routine.
My wife plunked through puddles, the water weighing down the hems of
My wife bought baguettes she watched being pulled from the oven.
My wife would haggle in broken French with the little old men in the
market down the street for tiny bananas, fresh strawberries, bright
bouquets of intricate ranunculus.
I would rise to the smell of the rain my wife dragged in, more than the
flowers or the food. The rain smelled of sea and slope and narrow
streets yawning, "Bon matin."
My wife and I drove to gallery after chapel after mansion and
remembered laughingly how people spoke of the rudeness of the French.
We climbed to the top of everything we saw, pressed every button, sat
on the base of every sculpture before being shagged off. There was age
there, cities built into stone, clinging to the sides of mountains with
fingers growing arthritic, but more stubborn than ever before.
My wife touched things that had velvet ropes strung before them. She
touched things older than we could imagine. She helped them age a bit
"Hands," my wife whispered in the Musee d'Orsay, on our last day, our
only day in Paris, "are full of chemicals that cause things to
deteriorate quickly. When I was a child on vacation in Dublin we went
to see the Book of Kells and it was under glass in a dimly lit room.
They told us if we touched it, it would fall apart. They warned us,
'You don't want to prevent other people from seeing this beautiful
artifact, do you?' They spoke like fathers protecting their
My wife said, "I wanted to crack the glass, let the book feel my hands
My wife's eyes glowed mischievously.
My wife, her eyes trained on mine, placed one hand on the foot of a
plaster cast model of Rodin's famous Balzac.
My wife took one of my hands and placed it on her face. She placed a
hand on top of mine.
My wife shut her eyes, my hand on her cheek, her hand on mine, her hand
on Balzac: "Have you noticed how hands are born wrinkled, where the
finger joints have already been bending for months?"
My wife said, "How must we age from handshakes alone?"
She opened her eyes, squinting in the sun, and raised her eyebrows at
me. What did she want me to say?
Does Jac Jemc live in Chicago? Then she's probably at AWP right now, not reading this or any
of her other stories. She has them — stories — in issues/postings of Caketrain, No Colony,
Opium, Sleepingfish, Dogzplot, Tarpaulin Sky and others.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200902mywife.htm
Photo detail on main page courtesy
of Baby Dinosaur.
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