petite anglaise

March 14, 2007

date

Filed under: misc, parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 8:54 pm

I was standing in the queue for passport control at Marrakech airport when my mobile phone started to purr in my pocket.

“Sorry, can’t meet you for dinner tonight. Reservation problem.” Mr Frog

I felt like a balloon, slowly deflating. My first day. Out of the aeroplane not five minutes, and already some bad news.

“Shame,” I texted back. I thought that was suitably ambiguous. He could read into that whatever he wanted. It could mean “Oh, okay, never mind, that’s cool” but equally “Oh what a terrible shame. I’m gutted. You have ruined my holiday. And how much notice did you need that I’d be joining you, anyway? Was a month not enough?”

Later, as I meandered through the souk, hopelessly lost, wondering if I would ever find my way back to my hotel, my phone stirred in my pocket once more. This time it was a call. From Mr Frog. Goodness only knows how much Orange would be charging me for the privilege, but I sighed and picked up anyway.

“Hi, how’s it going?”

“M’kay. I’m lost. I have no idea where my hotel is. But apart from that, fine… You?”

“Good. We’re just leaving the medina actually. Heading back to our hotel for a massage.”

“Ah. Happy finish?”

“Sorry?”

“Never mind,” I said, wondering if it was really possible he could have forgotten the Christmas dinner at my parents’ place where I had one too many G&T’s and somehow ended up on the subject of Prince Charles. I don’t recall the exact definition I supplied to my confused grandma, but I’m surprised the scene was forgettable.

“Listen,” he said, “I’m sorry about tonight. N had made a reservation somewhere really posh, and he tried to add you on, but couldn’t.” I made a face which I was glad he couldn’t see, and refrained from stating the obvious, i.e. that he had known I would be joining him for A Very Long Time and this was rather A Weak Excuse.

“No worries. I’m fixed for tonight. I’m eating in my hotel. Which is lovely, by the way…”

“Oh. Right. Because I was going to offer to come out with you instead. Just the two of us.”

I ponder. A ploy to get me on my own? No. I doubt it. We lunch on our own all the time. A ploy to not see me with his friends to minimise embarrassment and awkwardness? Perhaps. Utterly pathetic organisational skills and a rather half-hearted attempt to make amends? Most likely explanation.

“No. It’s fine. Really. You go out with your friends and I’ll eat in my hotel. Have a lovely holiday. And tell me if you get anything for Tadpole, so I don’t end up buying her the same thing.”

So folks, I’m afraid that is the story. A bit of an anti-climax for all concerned. And proof, if such a thing were needed, that people never change.

February 23, 2007

holiday

Filed under: parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 2:02 pm

“Are you sure it won’t be too weird, me meeting you and your friends for dinner in Marrakech?” I say, between forkfuls of crispy pancake. Mr Frog and I are having lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant tucked behind the Café Chéri(e) on boulevard de la Villette. Tiny and unassuming, it is nonetheless jam packed, and we were lucky to get a table at all.

“It will be slightly awkward, yes,” he replies with a half smile, “but we can’t not meet up. It’s too much of a coincidence that we’ve ended up both being there at the same time…”

“Well, I’m pleased you feel that way,” I say. “I’m quite nervous about being on holiday on my own, so it’s nice to know I’ll have some chaperones on my first night, at least.”

When I booked my holiday, you see, to neatly coincide with Tadpole’s stay with her French grandparents during half term, I knew Mr Frog was going to Casablanca, but neither of us had any inkling that a weekend in Marrakech was also on the cards. If he was going alone, meeting wouldn’t be odd in the slightest. We often do lunch, with or without Tadpole, or shoot the breeze by email or googlechat. But since our breakup nearly two years ago I’ve barely clapped eyes on any of his friends or work colleagues. They were more his than mine, and I figured I’d relinquished my right to see them. Not that they hate me or anything, and I’m almost certain that Mr Frog badmouthed me to no-one, because that’s simply not his style. But seeing these people after almost two years, after everything that has happened, both in public and in private, it’s bound to be strange.

I try to imagine the conversation we’ll have over pastilla and tajine in a rooftop restaurant overlooking the medina.

“So, Catherine, you’re writing a book now. What’s it about? It’s a memoir, right?”

I blush. “Well, er, meeting this guy for starters.” I point at Mr Frog with my fork. “And then, er, leaving him for someone else, and how we all dealt with that. Among other things.”

Oh yes, I feel sure this is definitely going to be weird.

May 17, 2006

sleeping with ghosts

Filed under: mills & boon, parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 11:15 am

I think we both knew, or at least suspected, from the moment we agreed he should come to Paris and see the concert with me, that no-one would really be sleeping in the spare room.

However ill-advised it might seem, in theory, to see the person who had cast me adrift only two months previously, I knew I was ready. I still love him, granted, but in a completely different way. Whenever I think of what might have been, and wasn’t, I am, quite simply, overwhelmed with relief. Relief which is admittedly tinged with a little regret at how uncommonly compatible we were in some ways I now miss.

When the time came, I was an adrenaline-fuelled wreck, so preoccupied with other worries that I didn’t have time to get excited, or nervous, or both, at the prospect of our meeting.

All I wanted that night was to feel his familiar, strong arms around me. To be taken outside of myself, even if it was just for a few short hours. To share something precious, without incurring any guilt, any pain. To be soothed by the sound of his slow, regular breathing at my side. To be lulled into the first good night’s sleep in a week.

In the morning, before we parted, there were comforting echoes of our old routine: tea, toast and marmalade.

He told me he felt absolved in some way; as if a weight had now lifted. We acknowledged that we have both moved on, but continue to care deeply about each other. There was no awkwardness, no inequality. No sense that one of us was clinging, desperately, to the wreckage, wanting something more.

Only one thing made me feel mildly uncomfortable: at times, doubtless because I was so strung out, I was painfully conscious of a separation of mind and body.

A nagging feeling that I had succeeded in appropriating for myself the very detachment I recently observed, with regret, in someone else.

April 12, 2006

one-upmanship

Filed under: parting ways, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 8:56 pm

Mr Frog and I sit in comfortable silence, devouring our Chinese takeaway. Tadpole lies sleeping in the next room. Finding myself at a loose end on my night off, I slipped across the road for a chat. Inevitably, he and I start comparing Tadpole anecdotes, as we are wont to do. We generally end up trying to outdo one another’s stories, which brings my naturally competitive streak out to play.

For my opening shot, I describe the picture Tadpole drew of a tortoise that morning on her magic drawing board. “It was fantastic – totally lifelike, with a patterned shell. Even if it did have six or seven legs…” I wish I had omitted the last part, but it’s too late now. Mr Frog silently reaches for his new camera, a victorious smile playing about his lips, and proceeds to show me a photo of Tadpole’s perfect rendition of Brian the snail from the Magic Roundabout, complete with antennae poking through hat at the required jaunty angle.

Mr Frog: un point
petite: nul points

I skip the yellow teeth anecdote, which still smarts a little, and instead recount how Tadpole reacted to the sight of blossom drifting down from the trees which line the park on Monday morning: “Mummy,” she cried, “it looks just like confetti!”

“Oh that, yes, she said it in French this morning too,” Mr Frog replies, “on dirait des confettis…” Then, with a faux casual air: “Did I tell you that my mum taught her how to recite the whole alphabet last week?”

I wince, knowing that there is no way I can top that one without inventing something. And even I wouldn’t stoop so low as to fabricate a Tadpole anecdote.

Mr Frog: deux points
petite: nul points

I opt for a change of tack. “It’s such a shame you couldn’t make it for lunch in Belleville on Sunday,” I lament, “she got sooo excited watching a Chinese boy – he must have been about her age – eating with chopsticks. She fiddled around with hers for ages – they were massive, and the slippery kind that even I have trouble with – and I couldn’t believe it when she actually managed to pick up some chicken holding them in one hand. Half the restaurant applauded…”

The only innocent little embellishment in that sentence was the applause. Honestly. I mean, I clapped, but I’m not sure whether anyone else actually noticed.

“Yeah, I was really sorry to miss that. The photo you sent me on my mobile was really cute,” he replies, bashfully, “…but I really was far too hanged over when you texted me on Sunday…”

Tadpole competition forgotten, I quiz Mr Frog about where he goes on these long nights out of his, and with whom. In the process of easing myself back into the Paris social scene after a prolonged absence, I am curious as to which bars and clubs he frequents with his friends. I felt so out of touch the other day when I realised that the Pariscope magazine no longer has a miniature “Time Out” section inside (and probably hasn’t for several years). My confidence as a seasoned Parisienne was severely dented and hasn’t yet recovered.

Mr Frog namedrops several places I have never heard of, and I grow wistful. Just in time, I manage to prevent myself from asking whether I couldn’t tag along one evening. We are so at ease in one another’s company, that sometimes I forget that it might actually be weird to witness the father of my child flirting and chatting up girls.

And even if he didn’t mind, imagine how it could cramp his style.

“Yeah, I have a two year old daughter. Her mum and I are separated. Actually, that’s my ex over there, chatting up the dark-haired guy…”

March 17, 2006

downsizing

Filed under: city of light, parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 12:27 pm

Easing my hand gently out from where it had been lodged – between someone’s left buttock and a standard issue French teenager’s Eastpak rucksack – I glanced tensely at my watch. The métro was taking an eternity to leave each station, the doors failing to close on the tightly packed mass of commuters and student demonstrators compressed within.

I was late for my first appointment with my new destiny; getting progressively more flustered as the minutes ticked by.

Red faced and panting, I finally arrived, complete with Tadpole and pushchair, at the address I had scribbled on the printout. A smartly dressed man with a briefcase awaited us in front of the entrance, and he motioned us inside, although not before woefully mispronouncing my surname.

Tadpole was in a very chatty mood.

“I’m going to help mummy choose a new house today!” she announced. “I’ve got three houses: mummy’s house, daddy’s house and tata’s house! And now I going to buy an udder one!” Normal rules do not apply to Tadpole-speak, a language punctuated exclusively with exclamation marks.

Mr Agent Immobilier raised his eyebrows, probably thinking that 32 square metres of working-class Paris looking onto an interior courtyard doesn’t normally qualify for “house” status.

He rang the doorbell, and a harried looking student answered the door, before scuttling back to her dissertation.

I looked around me, finally able to appreciate, after combing my way through all those petites annonces, what thirtysomething metres really felt like. Tried to imagine fitting Tadpole and me, plus as many of our belongings as possible, into a space half the size of the apartment we occupy, but can no longer afford.

I couldn’t, without resorting to use of the word mezzanine.

The indignity. Thirty four years old this year, teetering on the brink of getting myself 165,000 or so euros into debt, and I will be reduced to either sleeping on a convertible sofa in the living room, or adopting the bed-on-stilts approach in order to share Tadpole’s bedroom.

Obsessed as I may be with clambering onto the first rung of the property ladder, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would have to do so in quite such a literal sense.

I forced myself to pay attention to the kitchen, the bathroom, the electrics, the central heating, but concentration was difficult, on account of a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Because the word “mezzanine”, to me, spelled the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one which I am rather hesitant to embrace. I closed my eyes and let myself contemplate my dream home, a stone cottage nestled in the Breton countryside, one last time.

Then I took a deep breath and let it go.

For now.

March 14, 2006

eleven days later

Filed under: parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 8:17 pm

I find it incredibly frustrating not knowing what is going through his mind – even if recent events proved rather forcefully that I knew at lot less about the contents of his head than I could possibly imagine, when we were together.

In my mind’s eye, I picture him delivering the news to his parents, his friends, his daughters. People who had met me; fallen under Tadpole’s spell. I try to imagine their reactions. Part of me hopes, cruelly, selfishly, that they are telling him he has behaved like a fool. That he is unlikely to get a chance like that again, in this lifetime. That they cause him to question the wisdom of his actions. To bitterly regret. To be gripped with remorse.

Deep down, I know that his friends will be feeding him the same platitudes that mine do; as everyone always does. It can only have been for the best. It just wasn’t meant to be. It would have been terrible if she had uprooted her whole life, her daughter’s life, to chase an empty, barren dream. Wouldn’t it?

Even if I have conditioned myself to agree with these sentiments, and sincerely believe that we may have been doomed to fail, I still cannot shake off this dull ache I carry around with me every day, which can flare up without warning, in the most unlikely situations, and set about gnawing at my insides.

I hear his voice in my head, marvelling at the softness of my skin, or laughing at something naïve I said, and I stop in my tracks, simply unable to believe that, for him, the bad outweighed the good. Then I replay those other words, those caustic, wounding words, to nip such pointless thoughts in the bud. A form of necessary self torture.

A confession: sometimes, I find myself scrolling through my statcounter, searching for Rennes, Brittany among the current visitors. But I won’t allow myself to call, or email. I simply cannot. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.

So, if you are out there, ex-Lover, you have the advantage.

Because here I am, an open book, with a broken spine. While you remain unfathomable.

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