My Wife in France
Jac Jemc

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 her pants.

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 more quickly.

"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 daughters' virginity."

My wife said, "I wanted to crack the glass, let the book feel my hands on it."

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.

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Photo detail on main page courtesy of Baby Dinosaur.

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