Autumn 2003 – Spring 2004
There hadn’t been much left to be said, between Carl and I. Our whirlwind affair was already relegated to the status of emotional baggage. So I picked up the pieces as best as I could. I called friends and let their soothing words boost my damaged ego. I let them take turns on pot-shot character assassinations at Carl’s expense. And it felt so very good.
I decided against telling my father. Although I needed his paternal wisdom, I feared it would only be met with disdain. And besides the topic was far too intimate in its nature to be shared between father and daughter.
It was a Tuesday morning when I arrived with my friend Liza at the hospital. I was told to have a shower and was handed a blue hospital gown that was to be tied at my back. Liza stayed at my side whilst I waited for the procedure to take place. I was thankful for her company, as she did her very best to distract me with a generous dose of insider gossip. In the meantime a nurse came into the room and inserted a tablet to soften and dilate my cervix.
“This might hurt a little, so relax,” she warned, her voice soft and gentle as if she took pity on me. I looked away, focusing all my attention on my friend who, oblivious to my anguish, kept going on about Gregory, our childhood friend, finally coming out of the closet. I couldn’t help but laugh and I reminded her that he had tried to fondle me during a game of “human pyramids”. We laughed so hard, only stopping when the nurse said she was done. An hour later I was rolled into the operating theatre and was put under general anaesthesia. I could feel my eyes go heavy as I tried to distinguish the sounds emitting from the doctors around me. Then my senses were all obliterated as I drifted into a deep sleep.
I was dazed and groggy when the nurse prodded me awake.
“You will be ready to go home in the next hour.” I nodded, feeling relieved by the knowledge that it was all over. Liza packed my belongings and drove me back to the apartment. She prepared tea and blueberry muffins whilst I lay on the couch under a massive dose of painkillers and wine and watched rom-coms that she’d brought as relief effort. The thought was kind, but only made my situation all the more poignant.
I spent the next months focusing on my studies. My upcoming graduation the following year was a welcome distraction. We had a long Indian summer running well into the depths of October, but then came the chill. It was an early October morning when I woke up to a thin layer of frost that had descended over Paris. I opened up the balcony and inhaled the crisp air into my lungs. The wind swept by me and into the apartment, touching its content with an icy rawness. When I closed the doors, it was as if the summer leftovers with their clinging remnants of memories and reminiscence had vanished for good. I got dressed and went to school grateful to have dispelled the last remains of love.
I didn’t hear anything from Carl. I didn’t know any of his friends from his Paris university time, and his circumstances in Sweden were still obscure. Occasionally I Googled him but found little of relevance apart from some essays and a thesis from his Business Administration Studies. He also appeared to have taken up running as his name was linked to a number of marathon result lists. But beyond this, there was nothing. It was all rather quiet and any attempt to track his whereabouts proved fruitless.
People say abortions are hard to bear. I’m not so sure. Or at least I wasn’t back then. As soon as my bleeding had turned into a mere trickle of pink, I resumed life with an even greater vigour than heretofore. I gathered the few friends I had around me (I often prefer my own company to that of others) — or, perhaps more accurately, joined their group once more with the clear intention to land invites to parties and openings. I succeeded, and soon I was back on the never-ending bandwagon called dating. French people are rather carefree, and we live for pleasure and titillation. It’s rather an end to a means, but in our pursuit of it, we will use and abuse it as we see fit.
“Pleasure, which is undeniably the sole motive force behind the union of the sexes, is nevertheless not enough to form a bond between them…even if it is preceded by desire which impels, it is succeeded by disgust which repels. This is a law of nature which only love can change.” ~Marquise de Mertuile, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
So I threw myself into some meaningful affairs, as well as those less so, with a multitude of men. I’m trying to count the number as I write, and come to the figure of thirty-one. Some are lost to alcohol and class II drugs, although the latter only figured in a handful of occasions. Others are lost to selective memory, which thankfully kicked in during moments of stupidity and embarrassment.
As I write, and courage is replaced with boldness, I find I should paint the picture of this time for you with some of the affairs most memorable. If I ransack my mind, there were perhaps only two.
The first one that springs to mind was a software developer called Hugh. I had taken up a part-time job doing translations at a development company in the outskirts of Paris. It was a two-day-a-week job, which only required my onsite attendance once weekly. This suited me fine as lessons had dwindled down to a near nought on the last workday of the week. Hugh was from an old Poitou family related to the counts of La Marche through an illegitimate daughter born to Hugh XI. Ever since, the family had taken up the custom of naming every first-born son Hugh, my colleague no exception.
As I didn’t hold a permanent desk, I took whatever was available, which in most cases was a desk opposite Hugh belonging to a colleague who didn’t work on Fridays. The only girl in an office of testosterone-fuelled Java programmers, I soon became the colourful feather in their hat. Hugh was different from the rest as he was one of the few who could skilfully carry a conversation with the female sex. He had, against all odds, managed to cultivate the skill of separating Java from women, and could perfectly well switch between the two at any given moment — just as his forefathers had been able to switch swords between both hands. It was a parallel rather fitting, as Hugh also happened to be ambidextrous.
Our relationship, which as we shall come to was of a purely platonic nature, albeit with sexual undertones, started off as a series of Skype messages querying the backend structure of an affiliate platform that had to be translated into commercial spiel. As the lead developer and the only programmer with one foot in the real world, Hugh seemed best equipped to answer my questions. However, our chats soon turned towards more personal, NSFW topics, where two dark minds met in the vast space of the virtual universe.
[17:46] Primal_Fear: so what do you like then, in bed?
[17:46] Narcisse_Noir: Hmmm…a lot 😛
[17:47] Primal_Fear: like what?
[17:47] Narcisse_Noir: I have certain fantasies…
[17:47] Primal_Fear: I’m listening
[17:48] Narcisse_Noir: I want to be in control, dominating my subject
[17:49] Primal_Fear: really?
[17:49] Primal_Fear: I don’t believe you
[17:50] Narcisse_Noir: Why not?
[17:53] Primal_Fear: ‘cause you are rather demure. just my experience…
[17:54] Narcisse_Noir: in your experience? So what exactly would that be?
[17:55] Primal_Fear: you are attempting to change the subject
[17:55] Narcisse_Noir: no
[17:55] Primal_Fear: yes
[17:56] Narcisse_Noir: well, maybe
[17:58] Primal_Fear: honesty prevails my fair lady
[17:59] Narcisse_Noir: I don’t agree
[18:01] Primal_Fear: so you prefer lying?
[18:03] Narcisse_Noir: perhaps
[18:04] Narcisse_Noir: ok, I will tell you a fantasy if you tell me yours
[18:06] Primal_Fear: fair enough. as long as you start
[18:06] Narcisse_Noir: you were right
[18:06] Primal_Fear: about what?
[18:08] Narcisse_Noir: I’m not into domination
[18:08] Primal_Fear: I know. you like to be dominated
[18:10] Narcisse_Noir: so how would you know?
[18:10] Primal_Fear: I can see it on you. again, down to experience
[18:11] Narcisse_Noir: But I could swing both ways
[18:13] Primal_Fear: no, you are either one or the other, although as submissive you are usually the one in control. That’s the paradox
[18:15] Narcisse_Noir: I don’t agree, and I think one can swing both ways. but yes I suppose as a woman I like to be fucked well.
[18:16] Primal_Fear: define well
[18:17] Narcisse_Noir: good, hard, deep
[18:20] Primal_Fear: you sound like a 3rd-rate porn flick. I am sure you can do better than that
[18:21] Narcisse_Noir: how do you want me to describe it then?
[18:22] Primal_Fear: well for starters tell be about your fantasy
[18:24] Narcisse_Noir: that puts us back to square one
[18:24] Primal_Fear: touché
[18:25] Narcisee_Noir: OK, give me a minute to think this through
[18:26] Primal_Fear: certainly
[18:30] Narcisse_Noir: so, there is this guy. He is dark haired, tall, large hands. I watch them whilst he is typing. He is good with his hands. Knows how to use them well
[18:32] Narcisse_Noir: One day we go to see a client. I give a presentation and my colleague fills me in, backs me up where necessary. I wear a pencil skirt with a high waist all the way up to the bust line where a cream silk blouse picks up. It’s summer and too hot for stockings. So my bare feet are only covered in a pair of black Mary Janes.
[18:35] Primal_Fear: go on
[18:37] Narcisse_Noir: My colleague is stealing glances. I notice it when I bend over to connect my laptop to the beamer. His eyes level with the cavity of my chest.
[18:39] Narcisse_Noir: We return to the train station. At first waiting at the platform. It’s sweltering, the underside of my breasts creating sweat marks on the blouse.
[18:41] Narcisse_Noir: We find a train compartment that is empty. I position myself opposite my colleague. We sit there for about five, seven minutes before the train leaves the platform. When the train is at full speed he comes over to me. Kissing me, he unbuttons my blouse. I fumble with the belt, tightening it before the pin is released from its position. The zipper comes down relatively easy and I insert my hand into his underpants, grabbing his already stiff cock
[18:42] Primal_Fear: and then?
[18:44] Narcisse_Noir: I massage it, first with my hands, then with my mouth. He comes. I swallow
[18:44] Narcisse_Noir: for practical reasons as well. I don’t want cum on my skirt
[18:45] Primal_Fear: of course you wouldn’t
[18:46] Primal_Fear: and this is it? your fantasy?
[18:47] Narcisse_Noir: Well not the only one. But one of them I suppose. Perhaps with a different ending
[18:49] Primal_Fear: I know. your fantasy has certain flaws
[18:49] Narcisse_Noir: What do you mean?
[18:51]Primal_Fear: I mean…in your scenario you take control. but in fact you want to be controlled. perhaps you are afraid of letting your true feelings speak. either to me or to yourself
[18:52] Narcisse_Noir: you might have a point there
[18:52] Primal_Fear: I know I do 😉
[18:54] Narcisse_Noir: so what is your fantasy?
[18:56] Primal_Fear: well you didn’t exactly deliver on yours so I reserve myself the right to hold off on that one
[18:56] Primal_Fear: until a later date perhaps
[18:57] Primal_Fear: hold on a sec
[18:57] Primal_Fear: phone
[19:00] Narcisse_Noir: ok
It was the defining chat of many more that would come to play a significant part in a largely platonic relationship consisting of an exchange of sexual fantasies. Hugh was quite peculiar in the fact that he never gave any indication as to his own true feelings towards me. He signalled a preference for small, primarily Asian women. Petite with small busts and delicate hands and feet. A fetish I suppose.
He had a girlfriend, although he didn’t speak much of her. She was living in Dublin, and every so often he would be gone from work for what I assumed was a visit to her. On one occasion, during a late-night chat that extended so far that it might have passed for being an early-morning one, he alluded to his urge to dominate his girlfriend. He didn’t say how, but explained it was something she wished for – and he readily obliged. I probed him for any reasons for her submissive demeanour, to which he hinted at an abusive childhood. His answer terminated the subject and he never brought it up again. Sensing a disquieting unease, I avoided the topic from then on as well.
In response to his aloof manner, never hinting at or revealing any feelings held towards me, I never told him that my fantasies were about him. I never told him of the forbidden reveries I harboured, of being tied down to the mahogany table in our family dining room whilst he penetrated me with objects of various kinds. How could I? My assignment came to an end six months later, and so did the chats we had engaged in. In hindsight it was all a mere flight of fancy, but at the time I thought there had been something of substance. And yet there probably was, when I think back on the countless name- and faceless men that had entered my bedchamber only to leave me before the wake of dawn.
I told you, of course, I would name two, thus I shall honour our agreement. The second, the most significant, started in early spring the following year as I enjoyed cocktails with a friend at Chez Jeanette on Rue Faubourg St Denis. It was early in the evening and the usual crowd remained largely absent. My friend who had a later appointment left, but I decided to stay on, finishing my drink and reading a book that I had picked up earlier at Shakespeare & Co, an English bookstore on 37 Rue de la Bûcherie. The bartender was busy taking an inventory of a new batch of spirits. I was the only one sitting at the bar, and the temporary drop in clientele probably provided ample opportunity for ad-hoc tasks and inventory management.
“Excuse me!” I called, and the bartender shifted towards my direction.
“Sorry,” I smiled, “but could I have another Cosmo?”
“Certainly, mademoiselle.” He picked up a glass and brought the ingredients to the work surface that mirrored the bar. I watched him as he measured the spirit.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” I opened, bored of reading a book that after ten pages had proved to be a mis-purchase.
“I’m new here,” he agreed in a deep, accented voice. Greek, possibly Turkish?
“Where are you from?”
“What are you doing here?”
“For the moment working, trying to make a living. It’s not always easy.” His voice had a guttural, harsh, grating quality to it, and he pronounced his O’s from the depth of his throat. I liked it. If French was the language of Venus, the Montenegrin must surely be the speech of Mars.
“So how did you end up here?”
“A friend of mine, actually. He’s married to a French woman and convinced me to come over. Three years later and I’m still here.”
“So have you met your own French mademoiselle yet?”
“I probably shouldn’t say it, but more than one.”
“Really?” I feigned a look of surprise.
“But I am single as we speak.”
“So am I.” Three cosmos down and the alcohol was talking.
I can’t recall the exact conversation that followed. Perhaps because of the reason just mentioned. But Milan (as his name turned out to be) invited me to a music performance that evening where he played the guitar. That same night, we ended up at his place. Late enough for the earliest rays of the sun to break through the cream cotton curtains.
It was a small, crowded studio off Boulevard de Clichy. Despite my drunken state, I remember feeling abomination melting into fascination at the view of a stained mattress barely covered by a crumpled sheet. He straightened it out and told me to lay down. Whatever my fantasies and desires had been for Hugh, they were now bounteously fulfilled.
The one-night stand turned into a three-month affair. There were times I thought, in my drunken hallucinations, we had a future ahead of us, but then there were times it was clearly not so. Yet, one day he told me he loved me. In his own language.
“Volim te,” he whispered.
I repeated it. “Volum te.”
“Listen. Volim te.” He emphasized the i.
“Volim te,” I said again.
“You got it.”
Later that day he asked me if I loved him.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Say it then.”
“I can’t remember.”
“Yes you can.”
“No, really. I’ve forgotten it.”
He took my face in his hands and looked me deep in my eyes. “My teacher once told me that to remember a difficult or foreign word you should think of a word you already know. Like “volim te”. It sounds like volume tea. Almost. So if you think of this you will never forget.” He paused, then added, “Think of me… and you will never forget.”
He was right. Seven years and I still remember. Milan, I will never forget.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~Benjamin Franklin
I celebrated a quiet Christmas with Father. We watched old films and feasted on foie gras and confit du canard. I left the house on Boxing Day, ready to re-conquer my place on Rue du Trésor. A stack of postcards mixed with direct mail and bills covered the entrance floor. I pushed it aside with the door, only picking up a few cards that I quickly scanned as I was making myself a cup of coffee. Lola, my cat, jumped up on the kitchen work surface, meowing frantically for the food she had been starved of for two days. I gave her double portions to settle the score.