By J. M. Kessler
The silver tones of cutlery and glass danced above the murmur of voices in the dimly lit café. An escargot, attached to a two-pronged fork and glistening with melted butter, hovered high above the small white dish on the table for two.
“There is no way that snail is going in this mouth.”
“It’s really not as bad as you imagine,” she laughed softly. “And call it escargot. It makes a difference.”
“I don’t care if you call it Aphrodite’s nipple, it’s not going in my mouth.”
“Just one. Then you can say you’ve done it.”
“Why would I want to say that?” He gestured with his bottle of Stella Artois, then took a drink.
The fork didn’t waver. “To give your opinion authority. Just one little piece, quick as you like.”
The fork hung above the table a moment, as if hoping for a reversal, then lowered and rested on a small ramekin of melted garlic butter, the scent of parsley and white wine elevating it to the level of sublime.
He picked up the small table card bearing the restaurant name.
“What is it again?”
She smiled and tilted her chin. “Luh-swah-deezohn. The so-called or self-styled,” she explained when he cocked his head.
He nodded to himself and replaced the card.
She watched as he tucked into his French fries and ketchup. If it weren’t for the French-speaking diners and waiters around them, she might not even know that they were in Paris. He didn’t seem to know it. He could have been at a bar back at home.
She looked at the escargot on her fork. It was probably cold now. Anyway, it looked less appetizing. She pressed it between the top and bottom of her buttered dinner roll and extracted the fork, saying, “I thought you were adventurous.”
“Just not with food,” she smiled.
“Didn’t I try that plant burger?”
Oh, please not this again! She wanted to roll her eyes. She wanted to explode. She wanted to slam her fork onto the table. Instead, she stilled herself into a statue, tightening her grip on her fork.
“Yes, you did,” she conceded. She considered that holding her emotions in check wasn’t good for her, but she was not going to lose her temper in a Paris café.
“There you go. Adventurous with food.” He popped the last French fry into his mouth triumphantly.
She stabbed another snail out of its shell and plunged it into the butter sauce.
This trip wasn’t going at all the way she had hoped. She had hoped it would bring them closer together, but all it was doing was defining their separateness. Like when he’d humored her yesterday by going into a men’s shop, but walked out with nothing but his own tee shirt and cargo pants, his sartorial benchmark. It hadn’t changed since grad school.
She placed the escargot in her mouth, firm and plump, the luscious butter and garlic, all warm and golden on her tongue, melting into her and lighting up her senses. She swallowed and smiled to herself, lost in a private delight. When she lifted her gaze across the table, she was surprised to find him smiling back at her.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it.”
She picked up her Chardonnay and drank. It was a lovely moment, all of it. Just now. No trial and error, no tug of war. Just, lovely.
“Did you want to take a walk?” he asked. “We could head over the Latin Quarter, to that crepe place with the cats.”
She held a sip of wine on her tongue before swallowing. She wanted to linger in this moment, to hold it still. To normalize it. To not get cat hair on her floral print Palazzo trousers.
“Not just yet.”
He nodded, then, “Are you going to eat your bread?”
Her bread? “Uh, no.”
He reached across the table and grabbed it. She was about to stop him, but he’d already shoved half the roll into his mouth.
She looked down at her plate and picked up the last of her escargot.
Outside, the damp cobblestones shone under the lamplights. Their footsteps echoed in the empty street.
“Hang on.” He pulled out his cell phone and put his arm around her. She tilted her head toward his and he tapped the button.
“Nice.” He showed her the photo. “I don’t think it’s possible to take a bad picture in Paris. Everything is scenic here.”
She agreed, falling into step with him. “Like that book shop we found. Wasn’t that amazing?”
He laughed. “Amazing that you found a decrepit, musty, subterranean book shop? Hardly. I’d have been surprised if you didn’t. It’s what you do.” He said it in that cute, playful way, rounding his mouth on the last word.
“I suppose I do. I like old book shops.”
“And I like you,” he said. He kissed her nose.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“You used to like it.”
“Yes, when we were students.”
He put his arm around her shoulders. “Two peas in a carefree pod,” he said. “Back when we used to show up at late-night parties with a bottle of cheap wine, and get drunk and laugh all night.”
“It’s not like we don’t have fun anymore,” she said. “We’re in Paris.”
“It’s a different kind of fun,” he admitted.
“Well, we’re adults now, with adult jobs, adult lives.”
He was smiling.
“Just how much you’ve adjusted to teaching at a private school. I didn’t think you’d last a week, but you fell right in line with it.”
“I—Are you saying I’m not fun anymore?”
“I’m saying I’m proud of you.” He gave her a warm smile, then kissed her forehead.
“I don’t get it. You’ve got a proper job, but it hasn’t changed anything for you. You’re the same person you’ve always been.”
“I know.” He grinned with delight. “Why should I change?”
“Well…” She sighed. She had no argument anymore. Only she wished he hadn’t said that. True, the private school had been an adjustment, but she hadn’t fallen into line. She’d grown up.
“I can’t believe you’re still hungry.”
“I just don’t want that dinner roll to be the last thing I eat today,” he said.
She bit her lip.
“You didn’t like it?”
He grimaced. “I think it was undercooked. It was chewy in the middle.”
She knew then that she could never tell him about the snail.
A young man stumbled around the corner, loose tie, shirt tails hanging out, and hair falling over one eye.
“Baswah,” the young man slurred politely. He nodded at them, though it may not have been deliberate.
“Bonsoir,” she replied as they continued walking, her companion’s arm slipping around her waist.
Tucking his chin, he mumbled to her, “Is that how you say drunk in French?”
“He’s trying to say good evening.”
“More like good night.”
The young man called after them in garbled French. They turned to see him teetering on the cobbles.
“It seems Baswah needs our help. Shall we?”
“We can’t just walk by an adventurer in need out on a night in Paris. Besides, if it gets out of hand, I think I can lick him.”
Baswah made an attempt at tucking in his shirt as they neared. He looked her straight in the eyes, and then shifted his gaze to her companion and spoke to him.
He stared at Baswah, then turned to her for the translation.
She had trouble understanding his drunken speech, so she asked Baswah to repeat it, and he did.
“He says, he wants to know if he can kiss me. On the mouth.”
“Oh, really? Just like that? Hm.”
He looked at her, his brow raised in amusement.
She looked back at him. Then she turned to Baswah.
“Je suis désolé,” she smiled, shaking her head.
Baswah was disappointed but accepted her answer. He flung his arm in the air in an exaggerated salute, then turned and toddled slowly up the street.
They headed around the corner.
“Poor guy. At least he makes for an interesting story,” he laughed.
“You know, for a moment I wasn’t sure if you knew what I’d say, the way you looked at me.”
“Really?” He laughed again.
They walked a few steps in silence, then she brought her hand to her chest and stopped.
“My scarf. It must have fallen off back there. Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
“What if Baswah’s still there?”
“I’ll yell if I need help,” she said flatly, then took off around the corner.
He heard her footsteps fade and then stop. A few more steps, then nothing. Several seconds later, they picked up again, and she came around the corner.
She smiled and shook her head. “I remembered I didn’t wear one tonight.”
She pulled out her compact and fixed her lipstick.
“So,” she said, “that crepe place with the cats.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy. Cats wandering around the place while you eat. I like it.”
“Sounds like an adventure. Let’s go.”
©2022 by J. M. Kessler