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3 Women

women

Snow fell in Paris. It was thick, slow, and haphazard. The crystals clumped like skydivers. Floating down, twisting, curling, hurtling through the gusty air.

The air was dense and white. It clung to Hermione’s lashes and made her lids flutter. She regretted her mascara; the heat from her face melted the flakes, and they streaked down her cheeks.

She was in a hurry, heaving puffs of white air and then breaking through them as she rushed forward.

Footprints on the pavement were soon covered by snow. There were no tracks to follow, only hazy patterns where shoes might have been. The snow crunched under her feet. She hitched her small bag onto her shoulder and walked towards the L’Opera. The dark, chalky buildings rose around her, defying the wind and weather.

Taxis honked, men and women ran from cafés and shops to whatever shelter they could find. Hermione was not sure where she was going and had to check her phone. She saw her blue dot moving before a snowflake fell on the screen, blurring the image. She put it back in her pocket. Her fingers were cold.

At the next intersection, she looked up and saw a blue street sign, partly covered in flakes. Rue La Fayette. Perfect. She kept walking. She had several more blocks. She guessed she had gone a half mile from Gare du Nord where she had arrived a few minutes earlier from London. She’d have to get inside to look on her phone.

Stepping into a café, Hermione noticed the bright display cases of neatly lined rows of baguettes with tomatoes and ham. She grabbed a napkin and wiped her face, blotting it slowly under her eyes. She wasn’t hungry.

She rubbed her hands and pulled out her phone, wiping the screen on the inside of her coat.  She pulled up her dot. There it was, bright, blue, pulsing, and waiting. Waiting for her to take a step. To make a decision.

She was happy to focus on the weather. On finding her way. It allowed her to avoid thinking of anything but what she was doing there.

A few minutes later, she was in front of the hotel—a three-star, convenient place for tourists. Tucked away on a side street. He’d stayed here before, said it was good. No, fine. He said it was fine. The front door was locked, so she waited for another guest to walk in. When one did, she followed him and ducked in the tiny elevator.

Room 213. Her heart was beating so fast she was sure it would show. She knocked on the door. The silence that followed lasted forever. The door opened, and a woman stood there.

“Oui?”

Hermoine looked at the face. It was beautiful, demanding, thin, unexpected. She searched for answers but found none. “Um . . . I . . . ”

“Oui? Qu’est ce qui a? Vous avez frappe?”

“I don’t . . .”

“Who are you? What would you want?” the woman said in clipped, enunciated English.

“I don’t know . . . . I don’t remember. I really don’t remember.”

Story Break

“You’re stuck. You have nowhere to go.” Aaron gestured with the chicken breast he was cleaning.

Caroline lifted her head from her computer and refocused on his silhouette across the room. “What?”

“I don’t see it. Where are you going with this?” Aaron continued, still waving the chicken. “So, she doesn’t remember, what is the rest of it? Why do we care? Why did she lose her memory?”

Caroline looked back at her screen at the unwritten words and felt them waiting for her. “I was getting there. You interrupted.”

“No. Doesn’t work. It comes out of nowhere.”

“She’s going to a hotel to meet with her lover.”

“She’s having an affair?”

“She’s having an affair.”

“Is she married?”

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t know. But she’s in a relationship. Unhappy in a relationship. And there are expectations of fidelity.”

“And the woman at the door is . . . ?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know. Caroline, you created her.’ He put the first breast aside and looked down at his hands which were busy cleaning the second one.

“Well, I haven’t figured it out. It’s going to be the wife of the man she’s sleeping with, who is just there, for some reason. Or it’s the wrong room. Either way, she comes face to face with what she’s doing, and freezes under guilt, strain, truth.”

Aaron raised his voice over the running water. “I don’t know if people get sudden amnesia from seeing an unexpected woman at a door. Lover’s wife or not.”

“But if she’s confronted with a horrible truth about herself that is too much to bear, she could. It happens.”

“What is that truth?”

“That her lover is married. She didn’t know until she sees the woman.”

“But she froze before she found out who the woman was.”

“That’s a technical issue.”

“Even so, I just don’t think it’s interesting. It won’t take you anywhere interesting. So she has guilt. So she had an affair. So what? What’s the angle? What ties it to the core women? Of people? Of human nature?” He gestured with the breast.

Caroline rubbed her temples rhythmically and imagined she was in Paris.

Aaron continued, “And, something else didn’t work.”

“What, Aaron?”

“The writing, it’s cliche. Everyone says ‘snow crunches.’ Predictable. And Paris? Everyone has affairs in Paris. Not having an affair in Paris would be a story. Why not make it somewhere else? Like Cedar Rapids. Or Grand fucking Rapids. Nothing but Christians and old people, no one is having affairs. No one is having sex. Or be rude—make it in Bangor, Maine. No, not Bangor. Too obvious.”

“Paris just worked. I don’t know. I felt inspired. Why is Bangor too obvious?”

“Stephen King. Always puts his book’s there. Too obvious to be an homage. And of course, Bangor. Obvious. No. And why doesn’t she have tension and antic—wait.” He stopped and rested his wet, shiny hands on the counter and looked at her. “You were just in Paris.”

“I was.”

“That’s where you got the idea.”

“Well. I guess. Mostly. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about. I developed it in Paris.”

“Is that how it works?”

“Yes. That’s how it works. Later I might write a story about a guy tearing apart his girlfriend’s story while he makes chicken marsala.”

“I’m helping you. But if you don’t want my help, you don’t have to listen. Oh, and, you cannot call her Hermione.”

Caroline exhaled loudly, pushing her breath through her teeth. “Why not?”

“It’s the girl in Harry Potter. Everyone is going to picture the girl in Harry Potter.”

“Fine. What about April?”

“Too innocent.”

“The character is innocent. That is the point. Confronted with her guilt, she loses her mind, develops amnesia.”

“She’s clearly not innocent if she’s having an affair! Also, the name isn’t sexy enough. No one wants to imagine an ‘April’ having sex.”

“Not Hermoine. Not April…” Caroline reached for her wine.

Story Break

“Why did he let it drop? That part about her being in Paris and having the affair? Did he not get it? Or not want to get it? Clearly, she wrote about it because it happened to her, no? She was having an affair? Caroline, right? The wife?” Gabby leaned in over her arms. Her large bosoms were pressed together and created a dark slit of cleavage that seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t wait to get my face in it. Oh my god, I love this woman.

“Girlfriend. They weren’t married,” I answered. Looking up and moving back from the cleavage that seemed to be climbing over the table towards me. I was looking at the most beautiful body in the world.

“Girlfriend. Whatever. Was the Paris story about her? Was she writing what happened to her? Is that it? I love the double, embedded stories.”

“Thanks. Yes. It was about her.”

“Well, I don’t blame her! That husband, what an ass!”

“Boyfriend,” I said, “just boyfriend.”

“Still, what an ass.”

“Wasn’t an ass. He was being supportive. That is just how he was. Lot of men are like that.”

“Well, it didn’t matter, she was having an affair. Good for her. But what happened, she wrote the story to tell him? Is that it?”

“Yeah. I guess. I haven’t figured that part out yet, to be honest.”

“That is brilliant. But why did the first woman forget herself? Amnesia or just lost her words? Was it the wife at the door? And she didn’t know her affair partner was married?!’

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

“What do you mean—you never figured that out?”

“I got bored with it. I didn’t figure it out.”

“So you gave her amnesia?”

I shrugged. Gabby wasn’t wrong. I was lazy. If it didn’t come to me, I couldn’t compel it. It was my truth. I am a slave to my truth. I believe in it fundamentally. I think it comes from living a lie for so long. Ignoring who I am. By embracing that truth, I feel empowered to embrace all truths. But I can’t make them out of nothing. It hurt my stories. I knew that.

“So, do you agree with the boyfriend?” Gabby asked. “Do you agree that the story wasn’t going anywhere? The Paris story, I mean.”

“I think it could have been interesting. It could have set up a backstory of how she got there, etc. But, I dunno. Doesn’t feel fresh.”

“And you cannot name her Hermione. He was right about that.”

“I didn’t name her Hermione. That was a prompt to set up the second conversation.”

“And you really cannot say ‘crunched snow.’ Made me cringe. So cliche.” Gabby pounded her fork and knife on the table in jest. Her hair bounced, black with bits of white.

“Yeah. Seriously. What has happened to writing? It’s like thesaurus are writing books themselves. I didn’t mean to put that in but caught it on my first editing round. I wrote it into the next dialogue rather than fixing it.”

“The boyfriend, he sounds like Joel.”

Joel was the man I dated before Gabby. The last man I dated. My last hetero relationship. It carried on far, far too long. I lost most of my 30s to Joel.

“Yeah, probably. There might be something there. He was always pounding raw chicken breasts.”

“He never knew you. Are you working on it again tonight?”

“No, I need to leave it. Rethink. The structure isn’t right. It isn’t as good, as clear, as it could be. I just can’t seem to communicate the truth, you know?”

“I know. I also know you will. Let’s get a movie.”

A brilliant idea. Movies with Gabby usually end up in making out or, at the very least, some hot cuddling.

Later, when we were cuddled up on the sofa trying to make sense of Memento, Gabby said nonchalantly, “You could make the Paris story about a woman who is coming to terms with her homosexuality and signs up to meet a woman stranger to have sex and goes to meet her but then does and loses her nerve because she cannot yet face the fact that she is gay and then she tells that to her current lover in hopes that he’ll see it and realize that’s she’s coming out and doesn’t love him anymore.”

It really came out of nowhere, her brilliance. She knew me. Loved me.

I kissed her.

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