She sits in my kitchen, beautiful French flounce. She questions the correctness of her grammar and I nod and agree even when it’s not right because she is French and it’s beautiful, I like the way it sounds in its incorrectness.
Whenever she comes, she drifts through the main artery of my house dropping her children anywhere. They wander, she relaxes and they return from time to time which gives me relief. I twitch as their absences increase; she seems oblivious. They fall into sleep wherever a horizontal spot offers itself, we chat outside on garden chairs and drink wine and smoke cigarettes. Later they surface with tired eyes and faces bruised from awkward sleep; she sweeps the youngest into the folds of her clothes, his face against breast and lets him settle into her heartbeat. Then with a graceful agility, she stands. In sleep he clamps her waist with juvenile thighs and her neck with little fists. Her other sleeping child gets covered by her long cardigan and his body softens as her scent surrounds him. He will stay there for the night.
She carries her youngest effortlessly to the front door with promises to return for more wine, chat and cigarettes. I watch as she and he drift away, a melding of souls and I can see how he is of her womb. And then she is back in my garden with her beautiful malapropisms and cigarettes.
We speak of men and of our past experiences. She is explicit; I am shy and glad of the darkness. She sits back in the chair and looks at me fully, a smile playing at the edges of her eyes and lips. She knows that I am slightly flustered and she teases with an extended silence as she draws on her cigarette and maintains her gaze. Eventually, shame at the images playing in my mind draws my gaze towards the floor and she slips easily back into conversation again. She grew up on a mink farm in France and lived much of her life outdoors. Her fascination and ease with life and death is evident as she speaks of freeing the minks from time to time and of her dissections of dead animals found around the farm.
I’m fascinated by her.
The music has stopped, the stars have shifted, our children are sleeping and there is still wine in the bottle.
“Merci Madame bouteille de vin rouge,” she slurs as I top up her glass.
“Where is the music? Put something nice on.”
I choose the melodic acoustic sounds of ‘City and Colour’ and I want to tell her the significance of the name; she will like that.
I look round and she is dancing barefoot on damp grass. She holds out her hand and beckons for me to dance with her. I kick off my sandals and take her hand and we giggle and dance. The tempo changes and I move to sit down but she pulls me back and close into her. Her breath is warm against my neck and I am acutely aware of our breast-to-breast embrace. I wonder if in her inebriated state, she is pretending that I am some man that she has designs on.
“Je t’aime, ma belle amie,” she breathes against my cheek, her lips follow her breath and she kisses me. I close my eyes and for one exquisite moment everything flexes inside and out.
Then there is a voice.
I jolt away and look towards the light of the house. My eldest son is standing at the back door. He pauses and I regain a little control, but before I speak, she walks easily towards him. Everything is easy with her, she is organic and fluid.
“Bonjour gorjuos,” she says reaching out to embrace him with continental alternate cheek kisses. He grins.
“Enjoying the wine?” he says.
I hug him and brush one cheek in a very un-continental way.
“You okay, darling? What are you doing here?”
“I’ve had a row with Bex, can I sleep on the sofa?”
“Sofa’s taken but you can put the camping bed in the dining room.”
“Any more wine going?”
I pull another bottle from the rack and fill three glasses, which keep dividing into six until I close one eye.
One more glass, some catch-up conversation and I declare drunkenness and apologies for my departure to bed.
I think I hear the front door as she leaves to go to her neighbouring home. But I am fuzzy and being dragged back into drunken sleep.
4am thirst and pounding brain against skull. I am still drunk. I stagger down the stairs.
I check her first-born, he is slumbering peacefully; I check my first-born, he is not there.
Water, painkillers, I return to bed.
8am, I’m not feeling much better. I hear glasses clinking and a kettle boiling.
“Mmm, please.” I sit at the breakfast table. “Did you sleep okay?”
“Yep, fine,” he says, his back towards me as he makes tea. The clamour of metal against china slices the air and sunshine bleaches the colour from my morning room.
“Feeling rough?” he questions and he turns only briefly to put my tea on the table. “You know you can’t keep up with that woman.”
I glance at him, hearing his distancing language, and I know he has been close with her.
“Phone Bex,” I say. I look into my teacup. “I’m going back to bed for a while.”
“Yeah, I will.”
I don’t know if he managed to look at me as I left him and the elephant in the room.
Nikki Owen lives in the sunny South of England with her 3 children and enjoys her career as an educator. She is currently an Assistant Head Teacher in a large secondary school for girls and finds inspiration for her writing in every area of her life.