True Love Leaves no Traces

by jamesmerolla

E stood between the strange woman and me. She closed her book, tucked it under her arm, and impatiently waited for me to decide what to do next.

The strange woman started talking, in a sad disappointed voice.

Eli, qu’est –ce qui ne va pas? Qui parles-tu aussie?

What is she saying?

Sounds like French I think.

Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas? Ne vous sentez pas bien? Oh, je savais que c’était une mauvaise idée.

What do I say?

Since when do I speak French?

The woman took my hand. Her deep brown eyes sparkled with tears. I said the words that came naturally.

I’m sorry.

Je ne comprends pas. Ai-je vous décevoir. Eli?

I’ll let you deal with this. I’ll be in that cafe if you are looking for me.

E, wait, don’t leave me here…… E!

She just kept walking.

I turned to the woman, looked her in eyes, and opened my mouth to speak but ended up hugging her.

Vous me confondre.

I gently let go of my grasp. She stepped away, with hopeful eyes, while presenting a ring of keys from her pocket. She nodded in the direction of the old brick building.

The keys rattled against the steel door, and with a loud snap, and a low wail of old hinges, we stepped into an empty tomb.

It was much colder in there. Our breath mingled with the floating dust.

The floor was rotten and chewed, and the exposed timbers on the wall and ceiling were grimy and splintered.

There were only two small windows, one above the front door, and one above the back. Above me was a large skylight that was more of a hole in the roof.

By then I knew I was in France, and it made me wonder if anyone had died of the plague in that small building.

J’ai pensé que c’était parfait. Il a besoin de beaucoup de travail, mais …

I smiled, and let my eyes wander. An old chair sat in the light dripping in from the hole in the roof. I stood behind it and leaned against its back.

Vous ne l’aimez pas? Je sais que c’est étrange Eli, mais je voulais le faire pour vous. Personne ne pense que moins de vous parce que    votre petite amie vous a acheté un bâtiment pour votre entreprise. Personne ne va même rappeler. And vous pouvez simplement continuer de m’aimer, et je vais continuer à vous aimer, et au moment où nous mourons, nous ne saurons pas qui a fait quoi.

She stood just in the shadows of the room. I could only see her arms across her chest, and hands clutching her shoulders. She was motionless, her words mingling with our breath and floating dust.

I don’t understand. I’m sorry. Did you… Is this mine ?

I tried my best to translate with my hands.

Pourquoi parlez-vous en anglais? S’il vous plaît, ne vous moquez pas.

She stepped into the light. The hurt streaked down her cheeks.

If you did this, thank you.

The look of pain and puzzlement grew as she stepped closer to me.

Vous n’avez pas à le faire. Vous pourriez juste être un homme et non plus me maudire, ou m’aimer, mais vous n’avez pas à se moquer de moi. Vous êtes cruel, Eli. Ils avaient raison quand ils m’ont dit que vous ne me laisserait pas faire cela pour vous. Voici les clés. Je vais vous laisser vivre ici maintenant.

She handed me the keys, and then drifted into the dark.

Wait!

I heard the wail of hinges, before a sudden shock of light from the outside blinked the dark.

I scrambled to follow her, but she was gone.

I sat in the old chair and rocked on its uneven legs as I stared at the keys. I wondered if I really did have to sleep in that building. I wondered who this woman was.

E, I’m in trouble.

I’m shocked.

That woman got very upset with me and ran away. And I think that in order to get out of here I have to somehow make it up to her.

Yeah, you have to find a way to communicate with her, and tell her you love her, and appreciate what you did, or else you will both end up dying alone, and unhappy, mostly you though.

How the hell did you know that ?

Some guy, who was sitting with me before, told me.

How did he, what ?

He saw your alternate version of the story when you were writing it. He said it was ugly.

What?

You’re the one writing this, I don’t know. Now, do you want me to tell you where that lady lives so you could attempt to communicate with her, and through the power of whatever you save the day.

E, you’re spoiling the whole story. I had this great sweeping romantic climax planned for when she and I begin to slowly understand each other through quiet gestures of love.

Oh, I’m sorry I spared the world of your sweeping romance. Here ‘s the address. I wrote it down on this small sheet of paper because you didn’t know of any street names in Paris, and you were too lazy to look any up.

Thanks, E.

And the next time you send some strange man to whisper details about your stories in my ear, could you at least not make him old?

Fine.

I turned and started in the direction of the woman’s house. It was at the end of  a long hilly road banked by tall, proud trees.  It looked like a Roman road I’ve only seen  poor recreations of.  Such a road hasn’t existed in Paris in a few centuries.

I felt the green hue of the sun splashing through the trees as I walked, unsure of myself and my intentions. The piece of paper E had given me was getting moist in my hand, and the wool coat scratched my jaw with each shaky step.

That strange woman, as I’d come to call her, had opened the door when I was still about 50 yards from her front stoop.  She and the house looked small, tucked within a clutch of young trees flexing in the wind

I watched her hand keep pulling her wild brown hair from her eyes, as she watched me, straining sometimes through the sun.

She kissed my cheek, then stood back to look at me. Her bright yellow sweater reflected an aura onto her tanned and freckled skin, and her red lips narrowed in her deliberate assessment of me.

She took my hand, and pulled me towards the door, but let go when it stuck for a moment. Her hard soled shoes clacked loudly onto the stone floor when she pushed through the doorway.

I heard her say something in French, and then I was alone. I passed into the kitchen, spartan, clean, and scattered with the bruises of life.

An old pocket calendar sat on the counter top among some car keys and stacks of mail. I was in the year 1962.

A poorly cropped black and white photo sat at the end of the table peeking over a folded newspaper.  It was of a small buffoonish looking man in a wool coat and a chubby , shy smile. The man in the picture seemed to smile because it was obvious he had been put there a long time ago. But, despite every intention of putting him away somewhere,  he keeps getting forgotten about until next time.

When she returned, she was wearing a red sweater. Her hair was pulled back revealing the subtle sun streaks shivering through her muddy dark hair. Her eyes were green now, and unfurled with sadness.

She had such hope for me. It was in the way she looked at the floor, and leaned like a woman who was tired of making the same mistakes.

She lost her patience waiting for me to speak first.

Pourquoime détestez-vous?

I reached up to remove the bowler cap from my head. It was made of a scratchy material too. I held it close to my chest and watched her hand slip off her hip.

Vousne changera jamais.

I….don’t……know….

Pourtant, vousmoquer de moi.

Ahhh….I’m sorry. I don’t know what you are saying. I guess my name is Eli. So…um….Eli, love you. Damn it, if E were here I could have just magically made her into a translator.

Amour? Vous avez nerveuses comme pour dire que tu m’aimes quand vous gardez agir comme un enfant et me faire mal.

Oh, Jesus, um……You’re beautiful and….Eli is happy and in love.

Vous pouvez garder le bâtiment et y vivre jusqu’à la mort. Considérez cela comme un cadeau pour finalement arriver à la dernière goutte de cette relation.

She left the room, and was gone.

I had failed, and suddenly the stone tiles under my feet felt cold.

I waited for a few minutes, hoping she’d return, but not even a whimper escaped the edges of the dark hallway she disappeared into. Her silence told me to leave.

Hey, so you did it?

Did what ?

Saved the day.

No, I blew it. What the hell was I thinking? Oh yeah, I’m going to write some great crescendo of romance. Even in the things I write I suck.

What are you talking about?

She’s gone, she hates me. I have no idea what she said, but she said it in a way that was pretty obvious.

Did you even bother to find out how the original story ended?

No, how the hell would I do that ?

The same way you tell me. Just make something up, and have you say it.

E, you’re not supposed to say things like that. You’re breaking the illusion.

For who ? No one is reading this.

Just get on with the story.

Okay, well, what happened is, that lady bought you that building.

I figured that out.

All by yourself?

Shut up.

So, original you, speaks French, and when that woman, bought him the building he was all about it. But, before he could even start his little business in there, he got caught making out with some other lady.

I knew it. There was something about the look on that guys face in that picture.

Is it anything like the look you have now, because you look exactly like him.

Probably.

So, anyway, because of that she sells the building, kicks you out of the house, throws herself into a desperate marriage with a guy she doesn’t love, and ends up having a pretty sad life.

What about me ?

Oh, yours is the best. You drink yourself into an early grave.

That’s it?

Yep, well, you actually freeze to death, but it’s because you’re so drunk.

I don’t see how I saved the day.

Well, in this alternate version, she just breaks up with you and takes the building, but because alternate universe blah blah blah….

Don’t ‘blah blah’ past the scientific stuff E, it’s interesting.

Yeah, well when you feel like looking up all the specifics of Hugh Everett’s Many World’s Interpretation you can make me say all sorts of things about Quantum Mechanics.

How does me keeping the building make a difference?

Well her sudden absence in your life drives you to drink heavily. But, because you have the building to sleep in you don’t freeze to death, which allows you to live long enough to finally find a way to open your camera store you always dreamed of.

And?

And you usually set up the Polaroid display in the corner you once used as a toilet.

No, what happened to me and the woman?

Ziggy tells me she, or Lila, ended up getting a nice promotion at her job, and now runs the company she slaved in for most of her youth. He also tells me the two of you never got back together, but she owned the building the entire time your business was there. You are reasonably happy. You nearly lost your business after your first marriage fizzled, but you managed to hang on, and carve out a nice living for yourself. You retired five years ago, and you only drink on Wednesdays and Fridays.

I thought you never heard of Quantum Leap.

I watched the entire first season during that long walk you took to the house.

Where are we jumping too next ?

I don’t know. Hey, did you know there’s a lot of sexual imagery in your writing?

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