It’s no secret. I have to take things one night and one day at a time until I figure out a bigger plan. I can’t rush things or skip over any steps. It’s the way of the survivor.
I wake up while it’s still dark. My freaking back is killing me from clinging to the narrow banquette, and my nose and – when I allow myself to think about it – my pride, are both sore as hell. You know how it is in the early morning, before it gets light? Too much time to think about things, and what’s on your mind just goes round and round, like a merry-go-round or a stuck record, until you’re sick of it and finally drag your ass up and take a pee. So that’s what I do.
Things start early in restaurants, and I remember Marcel’s warning not to let anyone know I spent the night, so I figure this is as good a time as any to wash up, put on my clean clothes, and stash my carry-on bag behind the desk in Marcel’s office. By the time the first preppers arrive at the back door, which I’ve unlocked as an afterthought, it all seems normal as it could be at 5 in the frigging morning. Good morning, Paris.
I try to keep my word, I really do. Though by now you know I’m practically a professional liar, so you probably don’t believe that. But I do. And I really appreciate the break Marcel gave me, so I work like a galley slave all through the morning and into the afternoon. I’m practically the kitchen boss by the time Marcel shows up, and everyone just wishes I’d take a break or, better, go take a hike somewhere. It’s like I’m on an adrenaline rush and when I get like that there’s no stopping me.
“Mademoiselle Rosie, it seems like all is well this morning, yes? Did you pass a good night?”
“Tout va bien, Marcel. C’était une bonne nuit, sûrement. Merci à toi, seulement à toi, mon chef. Mon sauveur.”
“Your French is progressing well. You seem in much better form than when we parted company last night.”
“I am, Marcel. Thanks to you. And by the end of my shift today I’ll be gone and won’t need to call on your kindness again. I’ll be back to being the happy little intern.”
“Let us hope so. Now chop those onions fine, ma fille.”
I chop the onions so fine they are the ones crying. And by the end of the day I’m ready to face Chantal and whatever might await me there. I can’t hide my still-swollen nose, but at least my pride is back and standing upright with me at Chantal’s door.
I take a couple of deep breaths and knock. It’s but a second or two, and Chantal opens it. I can see the look on her face change, suddenly, from smiling happiness to a morose kind of sullen stare. She pulls me into her salon and closes the door quickly behind me.
“Rosie, mon petit oiseau, qu’est ce que c’est que ça?”
“I’m sorry, Chantal. I waited a day to let it all go down. I guess I don’t have to tell you Sid did it. Has he been here?”
I know the answer to that questions since, had Sid been there, my appearance would not have been such a surprise to Chantal. But she seems honestly surprised, even shocked.
“Le bâtard. Non, he has not been here. I would have thrown him out on his fucking ass. What happened, ma choupette?”
“It’s a sort of long story. Actually, it’s not. Some prick lifted my wallet on the Metro on the way back from my other gig at the restaurant, and Sid took that to be some sort of personal affront and socked me in the face and broke my nose. So I packed a bag and left. That’s the long and the short of it, and damned if I know why the bastard reacted like that.”
“I am so sorry for you, chérie. When did this happen?”
“Last night. And before you ask, no, I could not come to you all fucked-up like I was then. I went back to the restaurant and Marcel was kind enough to let me spend the night there. He didn’t want to, but he saw how I was and did. And I’m a whole lot better today than I was yesterday. Really I am. And I’m ready to play the piano as always for you, Chantal.”
“You are – how do you say? – something else, Rosie. Why did you not come to me last night? I told you that you always have a place here, quoi qu’il arrive.”
“I know, Chantal. I really appreciate that. But I have my pride, too, and Rosie’s pride wouldn’t let me do that. It’s a lot that I’m here today, except I knew you were counting on me. So that let me come to you now. I couldn’t stand you up.”
“Have you not gone to a clinic to have your nose looked at?”
“Nah. No money, and it’s just a broken nose. It’ll fix itself if I don’t mess with it. Not much anyone can do for it. And I don’t want to go around with a splint on my beak the next couple of weeks.”
“Tu es vraiment folle, ma chérie. A crazy, crazy girl. And what about Sid? Are you now finally done with him?”
“Let’s talk about that later, Chantal. I’m not in the right head to talk about that now. Okay?”
Chantal understands and lets me go to my screen and undress and pass the rest of the afternoon and evening naked at the piano, playing the lightest tunes I can think of to entertain her clients. To lighten my own dark heart. And when someone asks, as inevitably someone would, there is always that door that got in my way. Being a bit imaginative, it was a door on the Metro that caught my nose as I rushed to get on a train. How stupid of me! Can you imagine! Hey, if you’re gonna lie, might as well make it a good one. Those are the ones people believe since they seem so unbelievable. Who could make them up, right?
It’s a quiet evening, this still being August in Paris, and finally I find myself in Chantal’s bed, in her arms, her naked body warm and soothing against my own. And finally I can let it all go, I can let myself sob softly into her breasts.
If you think survivors don’t cry, you’d be wrong again. Boy, would you ever. Do you think I don’t have feelings? Do you think I’m never afraid, never fearful of what comes next? By now you should know better. Really you should. I’m a girl, not a robot. Don’t forget that. I don’t. And while Chantal might not be familiar with this whole survivor thing – even if she’s a survivor herself – she understands how sometimes there’s nothing else to do, nothing but just cry. So I do. And she lets me.
I don’t stop, I just keep on sobbing. There comes a point when I can stop. But I know the question that will come when I do, so I prolong my crying as long as I can before even I know it’s futile. And finally I stop, and the question comes.
“What will you do, ma chère? Will you leave Sid? Will you come stay with me now? You know you must decide.”
Damn. What is there to decide? To stay with a frigging brute who uses you like a toy for his own pleasure and whatever else he needs, or to leave him and stay with a sweet woman who cares for you and looks after you like a daughter, not just a lover? Seems easy, doesn’t it? But that’s because you’re looking at things from the outside and maybe, if you are, like a normal person. But then there’s me, not even close to a normal person, and certainly anything but on the outside of all this.
Just like I did the only thing I could do when Sid socked me in the face and busted my nose, I do the only thing I can do with Chantal when she asks the question. Which is to reach up and kiss her, kiss her as passionately as I possibly can, kiss her despite my sore nose, which throbs and telegraphs waves of pain when it touches Chantal’s, kiss her on her delicious full lips, and cling even tighter to her warm, comforting, reassuring body, that body that makes me feel safe, that gets me so wet, that lets me know I have not just a lover but a mother and a friend, someone who makes me feel more than safe and protected, but wanted, at last.
And still I don’t have an answer to give her. As much as I wish I did, really I do, I don’t.