A petite FRENCH STORY
“Jacques! Jacques!!!” Beatrice cried, staring at Jacques and his feet: one shod, another one – not so much. His neck was in the noose; his tongue stuck out in a very unpleasant fashion; his skin colour was borderline blue, and it’s been about an hour since he left for a better world…
A little earlier, Jacques leisured in a small café in his native Lyon and read a newspaper, and had a cup of tea with currant (red currant), and looked outside of the giant window. Outside the trolleybuses strolled, the winter sun shone brightly. Great. Let’s take a look at our Jacques then: he’s about twenty years old, he’s creative to an alarming extent, and the newspaper he reads publishes his poems. Here’s an example:
“Spring’s in blossom but I fall apart
Why this sadness bothers my heart
Why this anguish’s upon me today
In the middle of colourful May?
Where are you, will you answer to me?
À Bordeaux, Nice, Cannes? À Paris?
I’m alone, I’m living in vain.
I would rather be dead
With a knife in my hand
By your indifference slain…”
Well, you get the idea. They usually publish them once a month or something like that. His poems are all, pretty much, the same. Half of the readers usually skipped the page with his writing; one quarter had no desire to give their feedback, the remaining quarter, however, had an exuberance of feedback – they hated his poems and asked the editorial office to stop wasting paper. But the scribes just won’t stop! And Jacques won’t stop too – he loved his poems. He wasn’t that crazy about them, and there’s always room for fair criticism, but he still enjoyed reading and writing them. Jacques thought that they may be far from perfect, but every new one is a step forward. And so he viewed his self-consciousness as a source of some mystical inner power.
The reality begged to differ, because every one of his poems ended the same way – the hero always committed some sort of very poetic suicide, and the biggest variety between those poems was the method that led to the poet’s death. One cannot call that a movement anywhere, especially forward. One also does not understand why they publish them. I mean, I really don’t.
It might come out as a surprise that he never opened his heart to anyone, being so intertwined with failed love and heartbreak. He was falling in love so many times, always on the edge of his sanity, knowing that every new love will last forever and only end with his death. But his feelings never lasted more than a few months, as he started to feel that he was burning out. Not being able to share his feelings with the object of his unbearable passion, he chose another way out, looking for one (or two, or three) grave imperfection(s) in the person, sealing the torment of the past love with a tombstone of a poem.
But it all was about to change – Jacques knew that he was growing up. Now he would not hesitate the moment his true and pure, his desperately awaited love appeared in his life. And everyone he dared to think of before, they all will disappear from his memory, clearing his mind for the empyrean feeling to come. “Childhood’s end,” said Jacques, longing for deeds to be done in the name of love.
Speaking of love: a trolleybus opened its doors to let out a petite, short-haired brunette in a beige trench coat. Her big eyes were bored. The way she moved never gave the people around her a chance to think that she would ever flirt with them. Her full lips were shut tight. There was no possibility for Jacques to resist the feeling – he was in love. A tremor seized all of his body. Jacques burned, he was sweating, “You can’t turn back, Jacques! You should act, now!” that was Jacques’ act inside his head. “I can’t! I had to pay for the tea first!” The girl graced every window of the café with her mesmerising beauty and disappeared.
“I never saw anyone like her!” Jacques thought about her on his way home. The next day the girl’s face in his memory was losing its features. He tried to cherish that warm feeling inside, thinking about her, but the warmth cooled down and cleared the place for depression to step in. A week passed and Jacques barely remembered that he ever had a feeling for her, plunging into the depths of his loneliness and estrangement from the whole world.
On his way to the university, shaking along with the trolleybus, Jacques rhymed another poem in his head, holding it (his head) high above the full width of his scarf. At the bus stop, the same brunette entered the vehicle. It really was her – only her hair grew a little longer. Jacques opened his mouth, never expecting something like this to happen. He adoringly gazed at the serious, somewhat cold expression on her face. His legs were not able to handle it anymore – they bent down, so for a moment he felt that he’s sitting on some old man’s knees (that man, I have to say, collaborated with Nazis during the war, thirty years ago. And now he was trying to hide that fact from everyone. But his wife loved him for completely different reasons. I thought this information was important to share. No, it serves no purpose in the story itself. Just letting you know).
The brunette paid some attention to the commotion but turned her head away, untouched by the event. Jacques blushed with shame. He forced himself to move and flew out through the closing doors of the trolleybus. “A disgrace! Oh, what a disgrace!”
It was raining outside and Jacques was steaming. He lifted the collar of his overcoat and went in a different direction from his university – he learned enough today. A car drove by and sprayed him with water from a giant puddle. It stopped, reversed, splashed the young man one more time, and stopped again. Jacques decided that he’s going to teach the driver a lesson, but the car just drove away, covering him with dirty water for the third time. He was certain that it all was choreographed. He wrote another poem that evening,
“How good it is to be alone
My death won’t bother anyone.
I’ll turn myself into a stone
And disappear into the ocean while I drown…”
Now he felt much, much better. The morning sky was clear, but Jacques decided that he’ll go to the university on foot. Yesterday's shame was all gone and he started thinking about his lovely stranger again.
Jacques was bored. He dreamed, staring at the ceiling, and paid no attention to any of his professors. He was not that easy to communicate with before, as his speech was always full of meaningless philosophising, but now he brought it to a whole nother level. Being in love, Jacques had no intent to converse on earthly terms and always gazed somewhere beyond the plains of existence, even if there was a wall right in front of him.
He felt an acute pain, somewhere inside – the need to meet his unknown sweetheart. But even the strongest pain ends someday. Jacques was forgetting about her again and the image of the girl rarely bothered him as the time passed.
It was early spring when he saw her right in front of him. They passed each other somewhere on the waterfront. There was no time for Jacques to think. “Now!” He became an automaton and followed her.
“Madam, excuse me, madam.”
The brunette turned around – there was no hint of a smile on her face, “What?”
Jacques was still out of his head and its usual thinking process, but he completely missed that. The brunette sounded somewhat lifeless, but he missed that too. He felt sick, trying to handle inner disturbance, and it seemed that his mouth said the words on its own, producing them in a required order without his input.
“Three times I saw you. How much longer do I have to walk the streets of Lyon without knowing your name?”
Jacques, unlike Beatrice, smiled perhaps a little bit too much.
“I’ve been thinking about you ever since I saw you through the windows of one lovely café. You stepped out of the trolleybus. It was a bright winter day. And I had no courage to ask for your name then.”
That was the moment when Beatrice smiled. It was more of a one-sided smirk than a smile. She folded her arms across her chest, “It is much more useful to be courageous in life!”
Jacques was about to regain his ability to come up with his own thoughts. And those thoughts were very smug – there was a dialogue going on and that meant that he’s on the right track!
“I am so lucky to meet you here for the third time.”
Beatrice looked away, “Today’s the third. The first one was in a café. What about the second time?”
Jacques knew that he’s blushing, reminiscing about their second encounter, “Uhm… it was in a trolleybus… I was… uhm–“
Beatrice looked at him and made him feel uneasy. There was something about the look that she gave him or, to be more precise, there something wasn’t.
“Yay! I remember now! Rumble with an old fart. Funny shit,” the girl laughed. She had a very loud laugh, “What’s your name?”
“Jacques. Jacques Auclair,” Jacques bowed a little, firing up the best of his manners.
“You’re so terribly cute, Jacques. How old are you?”
He became confused – Beatrice was not old, she was not even mature.
“Twenty. I’m twenty years old.”
Her humming was her only answer to that. She smirked at him and looked straight into his eyes, “So, what are we going to do now, Jacques?”
Jacques, whilst being a very romantic soul, had a hard time understanding the intention of this question. He felt that he was losing the thread of their dialogue and wanted to say, “What are you talking about?” But he asked her to go for a walk with him instead.
Beatrice looked away again, “I’m in a hurry. I’ll give you my phone number. Call me tomorrow evening. Maybe we could go for a walk later, if you won’t change your mind... and I advise you to do so.”
Her advice sounded worrisome, but Jacques didn’t care – there was a tiny piece of paper in his hand with a phone number on it. Jacques is happiness, Jacques is joy, though he’s still afraid to use the phone, he doesn’t think about it. From this moment on he is the man of action, not a man of thought. Beatrice waved at him, said a one-word goodbye, and left.
If there were a criminal prosecution for too good of a mood and too big of a smile, then Jacques would’ve been executed three times in a row. He wanted to hear his magical Beatrice today, but he found the power to restrain himself from calling her. He went to bed two hours earlier than usual but fell asleep only when the sun began to rise.
The next day, Jacques finally sounded clear in his speeches. His classmates thought that he became hyperactive and, maybe, popped a pill or two. He was invited to a couple of parties and seriously thought about accepting some of the invitations, but politely declined, for there’s a “friend” in a “girlfriend” for a reason.
It was about eight o’clock when Jacques grabbed the telephone. He gawked at the rotary dial, then at the piece of paper. He felt dizzy and not that good. He was alone – his mother worked the night shift, so he had enough time to feel dizzy and not that good before he would call Beatrice. He went to the balcony, spent five minutes there, and came back. He grabbed the phone and started rotating the wheel of fortune. The rotary dial is the wheel of fortune in his case. I think you got it without this explanation.
Jacques breathed too heavily right into the phone, “May I speak with Beatrice? Please.”
“It is Beatrice.”
“Hi,” Jacques breathed out and smiled, being the happy idiot that he was.
“Oh. It’s Jacques. Jacques Auclair. We met yesterday, you may remem–“
“Of course I remember. Good evening, Jacques. You haven’t changed your mind, as I can see.”
Jacques’ pride shone – he treated the girl’s words as a compliment to his bravery, “Of course I haven’t’! So, are you up for a walk?”
Beatrice hummed into the mouthpiece. She fell silent. Jacques became nervous. Beatrice answered, “This Saturday. At six in the evening. Bonaparte Bridge. Western side. Near Saint-Jean,” she wasn’t questioning, discussing, or making a proposition. Her words were a fact for Jacques to accept.
Jacques did so, acting as if the time and the place were in his head even before he heard a single sound from his phone, “Great!”
“Till Saturday, then. Bye.”
The days till Saturday were the longest days of Jacques’ life.
The bouquet was magnificent, colourful, fresh. The bouquet was the awakening of the spring in the hands of a single human being. People looked at Jacques, especially girls. Some of them were young, some of them weren’t. They were usual girls, they were unusual girls, but Jacques never looked back at them. He was excited, he was sick, but he walked down the embankment towards the bridge of his first date.
He waited for her at six o’clock. He waited for her at six-ten. The wait was over at six-twenty. Beatrice looked stunning, beyond his wildest belief.
“Sorry for being late – work. Hi,” she wasn’t smiling. Her eyes were focused on the flowers more than on the young man, “Wow. Who’s this thing for?”
“For you is this thing for!” Jacques, as you can expect, depicted a coin in mint condition. I’m not going to mention all of his smiles evoked by Beatrice’s presence, because it became his usual state… for some time.
Jacques gave her the bouquet. She inhaled every scent of the spring confined inside the wrapping paper and finally smiled at him, “Thank you so much, Jacques! They’re so fucking beautiful! Come on, let’s go!”
They strolled along the river. As darkness fell upon Lyon, the streetlights enveloped the city. The evening air spread a sense of chill but the freshness of revived nature could’ve been felt everywhere.
They discussed the weather, some generic things that had no real meaning to any of them, and something else. Beatrice and Jacques were the same age. She left her hometown on the farthest outskirts of the prefecture after school and moved to Lyon. She barely spoke with her parents, and her parents barely spoke with each other. She studied biology at the university and her father paid for her studies, but Beatrice tried to be as independent as she could, so she worked at the pharmacy in her spare time. She didn’t like working with people; she didn’t like people in general, but at least she had a source of income. Jacques, for example, had no source of income. He studied engineering, but without any desire to become an engineer, had a very vague idea of what he really wanted to be, and had no idea if there was any use in him being something. He liked to drink redcurrant tea and gaze at the city from the hills. And Beatrice, she liked to swear. She didn’t share it with him on purpose – he figured it out himself.
When the evening started turning into night, they made their way up to the Basilica. They sat on the balustrade to observe the city beneath their feet.
“I had a great time today, Jacques. Thank you for taking me out. I’m tired as shit, though. My legs are killing me.”
Jacques was tired too. Not as shit, but fairly close to that state. He also had a problem with his date’s vocabulary, so his eyes were not shining as bright as they were four hours ago. It seemed that the melancholic Jacques was about to make his return.
Beatrice moved closer to him and hugged the young man with her right hand, “Come on, Jacques, what’s the matter with you? Didn’t you enjoy our little promenade? Told you to stay away from me!” she laughed again, as loudly as usual. The female touch on his body evoked a very pleasant and awkward feeling, so Jacques was glad that he was sitting.
“No, no, how could you think that? I enjoyed every second of it. I had fun, to say the least. I just didn’t expect that I would be so tired. And the city, the streetlights, they make me feel sad… and why… I just don’t know.”
The girl pinched him, “Leave your sadness for lonely evenings with your poetry. Put a smile on your face, come on. You rainbowed at the world when we met.”
Her words worked the opposite way. To add to the injury, the mentioning of his poems, which Beatrice never read in the first place, offended the young man. But he really was exhausted and had no will to argue about anything. He just “put” the smile on his face and that made the girl laugh even louder.
She removed her hand, “Time to go home? I think it is.”
His upper body stretched out as if he was impaled, “Really? I’ll walk you home then!”
“Go home, Jacques. You’re falling asleep. Literally.”
Jacques rounded his eyes.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake! What’s wrong now? We’re going out for the first time, and I’m sure that it’s not the last time! But if you’re going to act like sauerkraut I’ll fucking hang myself just to end your suffering!” she cried the last sentence out and showed him the process of self-hanging in detail. Jacques burst with laughter, then looked down, but finally ceased his sauerkrauting.
They jumped off the balustrade. Beatrice lightly hugged Jacques, kissed him on the cheek as lightly, grabbed the flowers, and ran away. She turned around for a brief moment and then blended into the night.
Jacques held on to his cheek. He sensed happiness under his hand, or so he thought. As tired as he was, he still chose the longest way home and returned around midnight.
“Jacques! Look at the clock!” his mother opened the door.
The young man lifted his chin, but dropped it taking his shoes off, “I was out for a walk, that’s all, mum.”
“Warn me the next time you’re going for a night walk. Goodnight,” Madame Auclair shook her head and went to her bedroom.
That night, Jacques sat in front of his window with a notebook and pencil in his hands. He tried to come up with a new poem but everything he composed turned out to be a blank page.
“May I speak with Beatrice? Please.”
“Jacques. It’s me. ‘Hello’ is enough. There’s no one here but me. There’s never anyone here but me.”
“Oh, yes, ah, oh, sorry, oh, yes –“
“So-o-o?” Beatrice stretched her “o” for a few seconds.
“Would the magnificent madam consider joining a lonely soul on a promenade through suburban woods?”
“Jacques… are you thinking of raping me?!” Beatrice sounded so realistically scared of him that Jacques instantly lost all of his composure.
“What?! No! No! I would never even… how could you think something like that?!”
“Don’t be a quack, Jacques! Jacques the quack! It’s a little yak, that’s all. Relax, I’m joking with you.”
“Guess I missed the funny part.”
“Well, it’s a pity that you’re not thinking of such things… Joking, I’m joking again! Probably!” the girl was dying from laughter but Jacques was having no fun at all.
The forest already embraced the new season and was turning green. The young couple walked side by side, blending their voices with the quiet rustle of young leaves.
“My parents constantly argued with each other. All my childhood is screaming, swearing, and cussing. Fuck you, no, fuck you, no, you stupid fuck, fucking fuck you! My dad screamed at my mum like there’s no tomorrow. She was mad at him always hopping from one broad to another, so she tried to even the score. They never paid much attention to me. But my grandma did. She lived with us and she really loved me. Anything good that might be in me – it’s all from her. I moved out after her death and rarely visited home since I turned fifteen. I lived with my friends, moving in and out, never staying anywhere for too long. But… my dad still pays for my education. I guess I should be thankful for that. Can’t wait to get my diploma, find a job, and give him all of his damn money back. And to hell with him after that.”
Jacques paid attention to every word. His heart ached as he was afraid to learn something terrible about Beatrice herself. He tried to figure out the real reason behind that – maybe he just felt for her and her complicated upbringing, or maybe he thought that there was something wrong and impure deep inside her.
“But don’t you think that he does this out of his love for you?”
“I don’t know. He loves himself, that’s for sure. I’m just an investment. An investment should pay off in the end. Sorry for all this drama, I don’t want to sound like a downer. What about you, huh, Jacques? You had an exemplary childhood, didn’t you, Jacques Cognac?” Beatrice started pinching him mercilessly. He had no ability to tolerate the tickle, so his body responded with a fury of hilarious sounds. The girl decided that she tortured him enough. She took him by his arm and allowed the young man to talk about himself.
“My mum works at the hospital. My dad lives on a constant business trip. He spends more time in Africa than at home. He used to be a sailor back in his day… and now he pumps the oil out of Earth.”
The last sentence turned Jacques into his typical dramatic self, as if he was trying to say, “O Father, where art thou?”, but Beatrice had none of it.
She yelled, “Jacques!!! Are you a millionaire?! Beatrice wants you to share!” the girl laughed and hid behind the tree. He started chasing her. Beatrice changed her cover, running away from Jacques, peeking out of the branches and showing him her tongue, “Jacques the coatrack, Jacques the coatrack!”
His hands finally reached her petite figure and grabbed the girl by her waist. Jacques was unable to control himself and embraced Beatrice, feeling her warmth with his body. She tried to resist for a second, or pretended to do so. They were alone for many miles, but the girl lowered her voice, “Jacques, stop it… it’s only our second date. I’m not a slut.” She grabbed his hand and stroked her hip with it, “Though I really love being touched like that. But behave yourself.”
The young man froze in place, unable to do anything but release her from his hold. His face was white from jealousy.
“Jacques, what’s wrong? Hey, Jacques?”
He turned away and lifted his hand.
“Are you jealous?”
Beatrice tried to hug him, but he had the hardest time fighting his anger off, so he just walked a few steps in the opposite direction from her.
“Listen. Drop it, okay? First of all, we’re not in a relationship yet, second of all, I’m not in a relationship with anyone. And there are no skeletons in my closet. I’m not a whore and no one could even get close to me without my permission.”
He tried, he really tried to control himself, but only added his usual sadness to the mixture of emotions. Jacques fell down on a tree stump, viewing the whole day as a complete failure.
“Jacques. Come on. Am I jealous of you? I could be, you know you’re such a pretty boy.”
“As if there ever was a case…”
Beatrice sat down in front of him and put her hand on his knee, “No one ever kissed my sweet poet?”
Jacques was caught off guard – he blushed but answered nothing. He only let out some weird sounds that bore no meaning. Beatrice’s eyes observed him. She smiled, touched his face, and gave him a tender, long kiss on the cheek.
On their way back in a half-empty bus, she quietly napped on the shoulder of a very poetic Jacques. His adventure was so different from his endless reveries of love, but he felt a new feeling growing inside: he wasn’t alone anymore, he had Beatrice. It was an unusual feeling, as if he was jousting with the world for the love of one lady.
“You should invite her for dinner, Jacques, if both of you are serious. I’m really happy for you. Dad called to say, ‘Hello’, by the way,” Madame Auclair was about to leave for work. Jacques was about to leave to study, but, at the same time, he wasn’t. Today, he planned to find Beatrice on her campus, skipping some of his classes.
The reality turned out to be quite confusing – the campus was not only full of different buildings, but it was also full of people. Many of those people were petite short-haired brunettes. It was impossible for him not to recognize Beatrice, but it was possible for him not to find her. And similar hairstyles were not helping him at all.
“It’s a pity that I don’t know her friends,” thought Jacques. “But she doesn’t have any friends,” he thought a little more. “Or maybe she does?” He tripped over a curb and sprained his ankle. It wasn’t hurting that much, but hurting it was nonetheless, “End of the line, damn it.”
“Jacques? What the fuck?!” who else could greet her lover in this warm and loving way but Beatrice. “I thought you were drawing flying saucers. I am about to cut some froguses open… or homo sapienses. Who are we cutting today, Perle?”
“Plants, Beatrice, good old plants,” Perle was a very tall blonde girl and a total opposite of Beatrice in many senses. Even their outfits were the reversed versions of themselves: a short white dress for Beatrice and a long black one for Perle.
“Jacques, meet Perle, my fellow classmate. Perle, meet Jacques, my knight and my dragon, all at once,” she winked at him, but Jacques didn’t get that she was referring not only to his attitude but to his lonely lifestyle too.
Jacques turned his gallantry up, the way he always did, trying to present the better version of himself to his new acquaintances. After a short conversation, Perle sprinted towards one of the buildings, not willing to miss the beginning of the class.
“You missed me so much?” Beatrice saw Jacques’ shadow that was ready to embrace and touch her, but she waved with her finger at him, “Too many people around! Don’t confuse Lyon with Paris, Jacques. I have a full day of lectures, we can meet in the evening. Okay? Now, go study!”
“I can’t go anywhere, I sprained my ankle.”
Beatrice led Jacques to her place.
“Welcome! You are my first male guest!”
Jacques let out a displeased snort.
“And hopefully the last one! Don’t you snort like a horse!”
Her room was tiny. It was located on the last floor of the same building where Beatrice worked, but it had its own bathroom and telephone – a truly luxurious apartment. There was just one window and it was a skylight. Judging by a tin basin under it, the window tended to leak.
Beatrice pointed at her bed for Jacques to sit down. She took his shoes and socks off and examined his ankle, “One calls it a bullshit injury, buddy. You’ll be just fine. You were desperately looking for a way to get into my room, weren’t you, you pervert?”
Jacques once again didn’t understand the joke, but Beatrice already stood up and sat down near him. Her head fell on his chest. The young man couldn’t control his arousal; the exalted poetry that usually filled the gaps of his brain left his head at once. He caressed her bare, still untouched by the spring sun legs, unable to resist the flame spreading throughout his body.
“I want you in me, Jacques.”
In his last conscious thought, Jacques Auclair wholeheartedly thanked the uneven curbs of Lyon.
The prehistoric pharmacist stacked and moved something behind the counter, “Can I help you, young man?”
“I’m looking for Beatrice Charpentier.”
“Oh, I see… and you must be Jacques. Jacques Armagnac.”
“Well, not really. It’s Auclair, Jacques Auclair.”
“I’m kidding, keedo. You can call me Monsieur Déry. She left a note for you.”
Jacques received a folded piece of paper covered in pencil hearts and flowers, “No more kisses for you till you introduce me to your mother! Yours, B.”
“Thank you, Monsieur Déry. I’ve got to go.”
“Thank god for that.”
Jacques was taken aback by the old man’s words, “Pardon me?”
“Jokes, lad, jokes. Go, have a nice day. And watch your baton, I need this girl intact here.”
No one answered the knocks on Beatrice’s door. Jacques spent five minutes on her landing, knocked one more time, waited for a little longer, and returned to the pharmacy.
“Excuse me, Monsieur Déry. Do you know where Beatrice went?”
Monsieur Déry left the counter. He gently took the young man by his arm and led him outside, “Read the sign.”
“Exactly. Pharmacy. Not an information desk, not a lost and found service, not even the police.”
Jacques freed his arm, “That wasn’t necessary. You could’ve told me that you simply don’t know.”
“The lassie went for a walk. Do the same.”
Jacques moved towards his home. Every archway, every little yard around tried to hide Beatrice from him – he looked around, expecting to see her behind some filthy heap of garbage, kissing, touching another man or two. Her message reemerged inside his mind and his hand immediately reached for his inner pocket. He looked at every letter again, again, and again. Turning, replacing, misplacing the words to get more feeling, to get more Beatrice out of a piece of paper. He kissed the letter and breathed it in: it smelled of her perfume. The fragrance kicked the Earth and sent Jacques spinning in the air of his memories, forcing him to sit down on a bench. He kissed the letter and moaned, remembering the image of Beatrice, the one that smelled just like the paper did. An unknown lady jumped on her feet from a nearby bench and hurried wherever and anywhere, expressing her strongest resentment towards the young man and all of his hopeless generation.
Jacques called Beatrice around ten in the evening.
“Beatrice, where the hell have you been today?!”
“Hi, Jacques, I’m so glad to hear you too.”
Jacques missed his own manners. Or their absence.
“So am I! I thought something happened to you!”
“I just went for a walk, spent some time in the library. That’s it. We see each other almost every day. Everybody needs some time on their own.”
Jacques relaxed a little, “I’m sorry, Beatrice.”
“Did you get my message?”
“Yeah, I did. But… Why are you so eager to meet my mum? I don’t get that.”
“Because she’s my boyfriend’s mother! Judging by the things you’ve told me, she’s too sweet to be real! Meeting parents is a normal thing, I thought you knew that.”
“Beatrice,” Jacques paused, “please don’t cuss in front of my mum.”
“Woah… so you think I am a dumb yokel who thinks that ‘etiquette’ is the name of an expensive restaurant?”
“No! But you love cussing. And my mum is a very educated woman, you know.”
Beatrice hummed, approving everything that Jacques said, “Oh, sure, yeah, understood. I’ll try to control myself… Fuck. Fuck! Fuck! Fucking cunt! Fucking cunt! Fucking cunt!” Beatrice swore with even spacing, resembling an idling engine, changing the pitch of every word from time to time, adding musicality to the swearing and turning it into some kind of a nursery rhyme.
Jacques tried to interfere but there was no gap between her profanities, “Bea… Be… Beat…” he stopped and decided to wait till the end.
After a solid minute of swearing, Beatrice took a deep breath, let a dozen of quick ones out, and continued her previous speech, “Well, how did you like that, you posh bastard?”
“Beatrice, I’m sorry! Let’s meet this Saturday, is it alright with you?”
“The only reason I’m going to say ‘yes’ is because I respect your mother’s time.”
“I’m really sorry, Beatrice, I really am… Shall we meet tomorrow?”
“See you on Saturday, Jacques. Forgiven you are not!”
Beatrice ended their conversation.
Jacques’ mood changed its colour to thunder-sky black and remained this way for the rest of the week. Beatrice never called him and he was afraid to call her. He hated himself for the things he said, but his mother was filled with emotion when he told her that she’ll meet Beatrice soon.
This Saturday changed not only Beatrice’s behaviour, but her appearance too – the girl looked a little too proper. She dressed modestly, used a minimum of makeup, and brought an abnormally expensive cake from an abnormally expensive bakery.
“Good evening! I’m so glad to finally meet you!” Beatrice reached with her hand and her cake, “Beatrice Charpentier!”
Madame Auclair found her gesture very amusing and laughed out loud. The evening turned out to be a surprise, especially for Jacques, who became suspicious that his mother liked Beatrice more than him. But Madame Auclair’s ability to swear became the biggest surprise of the whole event, for he had no idea that she knew how to do it – though it was a long way to the top, where Beatrice proudly stood.
His mother kissed the girl on the cheek before she left, “You’re always welcome at our home, Beatrice.”
She held his notebook in her hands. He felt uneasy and uncomfortable. The newspaper saw more than a dozen of his poems but all of them were polished and properly typed. No one but Jacques himself saw them in their original form, full of little remarks, corrections, and geometric figures that covered the whole words and sentences. The notebook was populated with sheets of paper of different sizes from other sources. The girl studied every poem, reading them with a serious, concentrated look. She raised her eyes around the middle of the notebook, “It’s all death upon death. I’m worried about you, Jacques.”
He folded his arms across his chest and his legs across the chair he was sitting on. To keep the attention away from his nervousness, Jacques tried to find something interesting to look at in the window. He grabbed a pipe to fill it with tobacco. It was his father’s pipe – he only packed it, unable to force his entity to smoke, no matter how many times he tried.
“You know, it’s just an image… a poetic image.”
Beatrice continued reading, “This one I really, really like,
Beyond the restless, wavy sea
The Sun draws circles, goes around
And so do you in search of me
My dearest friend I haven’t found.
In mountains, forests, plains of gold
The wind went quiet to unfold
Our voices reaching from afar—“
“I stuff my mouth with caviar,” Jacques snorted the same way horses did. “This is my first poem, I was fourteen. It is the worst case of graphomania,” he tried to take his notebook back.
“Let me finish, you cannibal, you!” Beatrice resisted. “I love it! I may be a full zero in poetry, but at least it’s not black on black! Don’t you see? You wrote about us!”
The notebook was not going to tolerate such treatment anymore and Jacques let it go, allowing Beatrice to finish her reading. She carefully put the notebook on his desk, stroked his hair, and kissed Jacques on the forehead, “You are very talented– they wouldn’t publish your poems in a newspaper otherwise. But the sheer amount of death, it’s just,” she lifted her hand up to her neck and showed him “too much.”
Jacques smirked, “Stick to biology, Beatrice.”
The girl stood up. She was not offended, she was hurt. She didn’t answer anything and simply decided to leave. Jacques understood that he was at fault again, “I’m sorry. Beatrice.”
“Stop being sorry all the time! It’s not some ‘magical’ word. Think next time before you’re saying something. I don’t write poems, but I have a soul inside! Not just a butt outside! Look at me, I’m Jacques Auclair, behold my poetry: I am shit, I’m full of shit, and the world’s okay with it!”
Jacques tried not to laugh, but Beatrice hit him in the soft spot.
They walked to her home without saying a word. It started to pour and the weather was not helping with the mood. The rain turned into a heavy shower when they made it to the apartment’s door. The girl let him in to dry, without any desire to do so. She took his wet t-shirt and put it near the hotplate.
Jacques stared at her white lingerie when she took her dress off. The rain made the fabric appear translucent, playing with his excitement. She went to the bathroom to soak her dress in the washing basin. He followed Beatrice and embraced her from behind, kissing the girl’s neck.
“Jacques, stop it.”
He didn’t stop.
“Jacques, enough,” she wasn’t flirting with him. Beatrice pushed him away, returned to the room, and wrapped herself in a blanket, “I’m angry with you. And I don’t think about sex all the time. Even if you think that I do.”
Jacques pursed his lips.
“Guess that wasn’t a problem when you gave head to your exes.”
She quietly got off the bed and took his t-shirt that hadn’t even begun to dry. Her eyes turned red from tears. She stepped towards Jacques, looking down, and extended her hand forward. The tears were running down her cheeks, but she didn’t notice them. She lifted her eyes and stared at him.
“GET OUT!!! OUT!!!” she screamed as loudly as it was humanly possible, losing her voice from a single cry. Jacques tried to protect himself with his hands, the way one protects himself from a knife. He grabbed the piece of white cotton and ran away.
The door closed. Beatrice fell down on her knees in front of her bed, piercing the wet blanket with her nails. She was not trying to find any comfort inside her mind. She was not trying to hold her tears back. She was wailing for the first time in the last five years.
Jacques Auclair called Beatrice Charpentier every day, every ten minutes. She picked up the phone once, listened to the steam of his incoherent excuses and loud sobbing, said nothing, and hung up the phone. He visited the pharmacy on multiple occasions, but Monsieur Déry told him that Beatrice was on vacation, and that she has no desire to ever see him again. He also added a few words that would make Beatrice blush, but Jacques only agreed with him.
He annoyed Perle, whose words were not that different from those of Beatrice’s employer, with the only difference being that they did not contain any profanities.
Jacques forgot the way to his university, spending most of the day out on the streets, skipping classes, unable to tell his mother the truth.
The phone rang. Jacques prayed to hear Beatrice on the other side.
“Hello, Jacques? It’s me, Richard. I can’t recall how many months, but you haven’t sent us a single poem… for that exact amount of months. Is everything fine?”
“Good day, Richard. Yes, everything’s fine. I just can’t come up with anything. Writer’s block, I guess.”
“Aha! Got yourself a girl?”
Jacques hummed after a pause, “Well, I don’t think that it’s connected.”
“I do. Keep it up, buddy. We’ll do just fine, our readers for sure will. Have a nice life.”
“I’ll send something in a month!”
The phone hung itself on the other end of the line.
October was near and Jacques thought that he was turning grey. His mother asked him why Beatrice hasn’t visited them for quite some time, so he came up with a lie about hometown, relatives, and something else. After a full three weeks of total silence, he witnessed her again. She stood in front of the pharmacy counter as if she never left. He cried right there, on the street, but those were the tears of relief.
The next day the doors of the pharmacy opened to let miserable Jacques in. He entered the building crawling on his knees with a giant crown of flowers in his hands. He made his way to the counter without lifting his head once. Beatrice tried to show that she was still angry, but it was a hard thing to do since Jacques performed with the power of a comedic master.
“Jacques. Jacques Auclair. Stand up. Oh, Lord, what a disgrace.”
Jacques quietly put the bouquet on the counter. He mumbled, staring at the floor tiles and his knees, “This is for you, Madame Charpentier.”
Beatrice moved the flowers to the side, “Jacques, I’m not going to talk with you like that.”
The young man tried to look even more miserable.
“Jacques, your mum washes your jeans for you, please, respect her labour.”
Jacques stood up but kept his head in the same floor-staring position. His attempts to hold his tears back were not successful.
“Oh my, let’s go to the backroom… let’s go anywhere. For Christ’s sake. Monsieur Déry, I’m in the storeroom!”
The pharmacist yelled from another part of the building, “Alright, please abstain from fucking, kids!”
Jacques snotted with laughter.
Beatrice stood in the corner, lit by a tiny lightbulb. Everything about this room was tiny, dirty, and unfinished. A couple of wires were sticking out of the ceiling, stained with plaster. Jacques tried to fit in – there barely was a place for two people to stand. He sat down on a box of syringes.
“So, what are we going to do now, Jacques?”
Guilt was the only feeling that he knew at the moment and it turned the young man into a stray dog, “Can we go for a walk?”
Beatrice smiled. It wasn’t a big smile – the pain of his words was still there, living under her skin, but she missed him too.
“Jacques. I want you to accept me the way I am. I can’t change my past, it all already happened. I’m joking, I’m cursing all the time because this life is hard for me too, and I’m just trying to carry on. I did stupid things in life, I regret many of them. But I did them because I thought that they were the right things to do because I was in love. I don’t want to share my past with you; I know how difficult it is for you to hear about it. The only thing I want you to know is that I care about you more than I ever cared about anybody else. But if that’s not enough for you, then we should break up.”
Jacques fell on his knees again and wrapped his arms around Beatrice’s legs, “No, please, no, no, please no.”
“Jacques, get a hold of yourself. You hear me? Of yourself, not of myself.”
He stood up and decided to support the wall with his head, “No. Please.”
“Auclair, change the tune. Go home, have a sleep. I’ll call you.”
His red eyes looked at her, “You will?”
“I will. Jacques thwack. Go, I’ve got to work.”
They left the backroom. Jacques slowly walked towards the entrance, blinded by the sunlight coming from the street.
“Jacques. Thank you for the flowers. They are beautiful… as always.”
“They are as beautiful as you.”
Beatrice looked at him with a smile. It wasn’t a smile of joy.
The overly dramatic finale
A month has passed and Beatrice was visiting Auclair’s apartment once again. Jacques’ father returned in November, but he was gone again before the girl had a chance to meet him. Jacques tried to compose new poems, dedicating some of them to Beatrice. The results were appalling and he didn’t have the courage to show the drafts to his beloved.
He was fed up with the university. Now, after his fall out with Beatrice, he was afraid to say any bad word to her, and the constant need to constrain himself was pushing Jacques to a mental breakdown.
“Jacques,” her voice cracked out of the phone, “Can I come? We need to talk.”
“Yes, sure. Come, please.”
An hour later, Beatrice terrified Jacques with her words, “Jacques, I have an opportunity to study abroad, in Canada. It’s only for half a year. I made up my mind but I want you to support me in my decision.”
Jacques was stunned, “I need to think about it.”
“Sure. You have one week.”
“I… I’m just not sure… I think you’re looking for a way to get rid of me.”
Beatrice grabbed him by the chin, “Jacques! Are you motherfucking sick? If I wanted to get rid of you, I would’ve already done it… no, no, no! Don’t you purse your lips! What?! What is it now?!”
“Do it, then, leave me.”
Beatrice was mad at him, genuinely mad, “Do you even hear what I’m saying? I can’t even recall the last time I said something funny! I think I’m fucked in my head because of all these hysterics. Jacques, you would’ve never touched me if I didn’t like you. Never would've visited my home if I wasn't in love with you. You broke my heart; you hurt me so much I had no will to live anymore. Look at me – I’m still here, with you, caring to know your opinion.”
“I just love you… that’s it.”
She sat down on the floor. She wasn’t raising her voice, but it was full of despair and nothing else, “I heard this on our second date. You don’t love me. More than that, you don’t even know me and don’t want to know me.” She grabbed her breasts, “this is what you love to touch and kiss. This pretty face you also love, and the same goes for my ass. Fucking me, that’s what you love. You love all of this: my body, my clothes. Everything but me. You just cannot accept me for what I am.
You know what? Kill me, turn into a doll, and carry that fucking mummy across the whole country. Dress it, undress it, “she lied down, looking up at her hands that now covered her eyes. “I don’t care if you think that I am a slut, I don’t care what you think of me at all, but I love you the way you are. And you… you are batshit crazy, Jacques. And I love that. There’s nothing generic about you: you write poems that no one needs but you; you think that you are better than everybody else. Would you believe it if I told you that I love that about you too?
Have I ever asked you to change something about yourself, apart from that unbearable sad cunt of a face that you make when you think that the situation is getting out of your hands?”
“You’re wrong. I love you more than you think.”
“This isn’t love. You have an image of me in your head. And that image is what you really love. You do all these things for you – dates, flowers. You wanted chivalry, well, you got it. And I’m just an object, a support for the lever. You need the world of your poetry to be the real world, minus the suicide.”
Jacques was breathing heavily, “Plus the suicide.”
She did not answer and got back on her feet.
“I’m going for a walk.”
Resentment, sadness, and anger were tearing Jacques apart. He knew that he was the one to blame for the feelings that he felt. His eyes pierced Beatrice and followed her every movement.
“Good god, Jacques, stop manipulating me, please! I don’t get it, what do you want from me? Tell me, I need to know, please, Jacques! You want me to get naked, to lie beside you? Is it even possible to make you happy? You want me to kill myself? I could do it if you want me to.”
Jacques walked out of the room and sat in the corner of the entry hall.
“Do I have to follow you now? Jacques! Stop shitting on my brain! Do you hear me? My brain is full of your shit! I don’t understand – what is it, my head or my ass?! I’m tired! Tired of this drama! I told you, I warned you the day we met – change your mind. You think I don’t remember that day? I remember every single detail, every word that you said. It was obvious that your head is a library full of romantic literature!”
She tried to gesture but the strength was leaving her.
“I’m so tired, Jacques. You want everyone to conform to your reality. If you let them be… then maybe you wouldn’t need me in your life anymore. I can spend the rest of this life alone because I’m getting along with myself just fine. It gets lonely from time to time, but at least I have my peace of mind. I’ve had enough yelling and arguing in my life. That’s what I knew since my early days. I don’t need it in my family. I’m sorry Jacques, I have to go.”
There was no emotion in his voice, “You’re breaking up with me?”
She only shook her head, “Moron.”
Jacques was left alone. He paced without any meaning to his movement. He tried to chew through his teeth, constantly mumbling, “I am shit, I’m full of shit, and the world’s okay with it.”
The sky was dark and grey. Beatrice disappeared around the corner. His throat became dry. He tore out a small piece of paper from his notebook, left a short message that read, “It’s all my fault,” took his father’s three-strand rope, and hanged himself.
The finale, but NOW it’s a tragicomedy
Jacques, unable to compose any new poems, still was able to handle his mood and pushed himself away from the mental breakdown. He was working at Monsieur Déry’s pharmacy instead of Beatrice, who was studying in Canada.
“Alright, listen up, Jacques-schlock–“
“It doesn’t rhyme that well, Monsieur Déry.”
“I know, don’t you interrupt me. Your primary responsibility is floor cleaning. Anyone with dirty boots comes in – you follow them like a pet macaque. Anything falls or breaks into pieces – same thing. If someone shatters a mercury thermometer… Do I need to tell who’s going to collect the droplets? Leave them to yourself and use as balls ‘cause you don’t have any.”
“It’s a joke! A joke, that’s all! Don’t you yell in the pharmacy, it’s a holy place!!!” He led Jacques to the storage room, “Alright, the storeroom. The kissy-your-missy room in your case. Look around, everything is so dirty here, maybe it’s someone’s shit, I’m not sure. See those wires on the ceiling? Get some plaster and cover them up. These are live wires, so be careful. I don’t know where the electricity source is, don’t even try to ask, I’m a pharmacist, not an electrician.”
Jacques worked hard, tolerating insults, complaints, and yells of Monsieur Déry. His abuse was verbal and the young man found comfort in the fact that it was not physical. Beatrice called him frequently and during those sweet, little moments he was able to handle any kind of pain and torture, including constant wage deductions that Monsieur Déry used to pay for their phone calls.
The young man tried to plaster the wires on his first workday. He took a half-rotten chair (a rare artifact, according to the pharmacist), climbed on it, but was introduced to electric shock through the first touch. He decided to wait until he could get himself a pair of insulating gloves.
This moment came in late July. On the same day, Beatrice secretly returned to Lyon, hoping to surprise Jacques with her appearance at the pharmacy.
Jacques Auclair took the old chair, placed it in the backroom, and looked at the wire – he was ready for the clash of a man and a piece of metal. He put the gloves on and cautiously touched the wire. Nothing happened. Jacques smiled at his victory. Now he only needed to get some of the old plaster out, put the wires inside, and then cover it all with the new layer – piece of cake! He made a noose out of the wires to keep them out of his face. He was in a great mood, the wires were not that easy to work with, but he was determined to finish his work today. He hummed, “I am shit, I’m full of shit, and the world’s okay with it!”
The old chair cracked. Jacques lost his balance. He felt the tightening wire around his neck and, never expecting this outcome, lost his life to the freshly twisted noose.
The mandatory tear-jerking finale
Beatrice Auclair caressed Jacques’ thinning hair. He smiled with sadness, the same way he did ten years ago. But the drama was real this time.
“Beatrice, I can’t go on like that.”
She was silent. She held her tears back, trying to be brave for both of them, but her clumsy movements showed her inner pain.
He tried to put a smile on, “I have an idea. What if just leave? Sounds like a plan. We can throw a farewell party for all of our friends and relatives. We’ll invite Perle!”
Beatrice laughed through her tightened throat, “You can enter Canada, but you can never leave!”
“You managed to return somehow,” he kissed her on the forehead. “A cancer patient and the lack of progress in medicine, what a great occasion to visit one’s motherland.”
She laughed through sorrow, trying to keep her nose from running, gazing at the cold waters of Rhone.
“Beatrice, I don’t want you to witness my decay. Listen, it all will happen one early morning. I’ll wake up, kiss you lightly, take my notebook, and disappear. Please, promise that you won’t follow me.”
She embraced him even tighter.
Jacques Auclair woke up before the March sun rose. He dressed up and took his notebook. Its condition was the only thing that hasn’t changed for the last ten years of his life – there was nothing new in it. Jacques glanced at the tender facial features of his wife for the last time. He kissed her on the forehead and left their apartment.
Beatrice opened her eyes – she was not sleeping…
A special ending for those who don’t want Jacques Auclair to hang himself
Alright, people, here’s the news. I don’t know how to break it all to you, but the thing is that Beatrice and Jacques lived a long and happy life and died on the same day. Wedding, children, grandchildren, family album, all that nonsense. What about the hanging, you ask? Well, it was some completely different Jacques. Maybe he attended the same class Beatrice did. Always had a thing for suicide. They saw him with a noose around his neck more often than without one. You won’t believe how many times they had to get him out of it.
“Are you serious?” they told him. “Will you please stop?”
“No, I will not, thank you,” he answered.
“Enjoy yourself then!”
They begged him to take his shoes off beforehand and keep his tongue in, but that bastard did the exact opposite, just for kicks. But you know what they say: there are plenty of Jacques in the lands of Lyon…
Jacques Auclair forgot how to write poetry. Maybe he just ran out of literary ways to kill his heroes. His usual endeavours produced no results and so he tried to compose love poems. His notebook was full of pages that started with something like this,
“Beatrice, be mine, please…”
“Her hair was short, her eyes looked bored, she wore a skirt, and cursed a lot…”
“What would have happened if I never lifted my eyes from that cup of redcurrant tea? Would you still wander the streets of Lyon? Would you still be the one for me?”
Every time he read any of these verses his head landed on his desk with a loud painful sound. Some of his new ideas looked more promising but he saw no possible solutions to the rest of the poetic puzzle. He hoped that two hundred days of Beatrice’s absence would bring his ability back but nothing changed. The poems were gone, and so was Beatrice. No longer was Jacques able to walk with her around Lyon for hours on end, holding hand in hand. But that also meant he had more free time... that was spent on international calls to Canada.
The Auclairs were spared financial hardship throughout all of Jacques’ life, but the rising phone bill made him think of himself as a burden to the family. The young man got himself a job at Monsieur Déry’s pharmacy. The old man was happy to have a scapegoat with a mop; Jacques was happy to be at the place that reminded him of his Beatrice.
A phone call.
“Armagnac!!!” Monsieur Déry yelled at Jacques, making sure that the young man would hear him. Jacques dropped the mop and turned around: there was less than a metre between him and the pharmacist.
Monsieur Déry’s smile was that of a merry child, “Your lassie’s calling. Don’t hang on the line for too long though, it’s a company number. I’ll withdraw the money from your salary. Enjoy yourself.”
Jacques forgot that he became deaf in one ear, “Hello?”
“Good evening, Monsieur Auclair, Montreal’s Lonely Hearts Club is calling.”
“Monsieur Auclair’s all ears.”
Jacques grabbed the phone from the counter and ran to the storage room – the cord knocked a couple of vials on the floor.
“I knew a guy who worked at a pharmacy, that guy, he had no salary,” the Jurassic pharmacist performed his favourite song. He composed it the day Jacques became his employee. But Jacques didn’t care about his salary or the old man’s song. He consumed the voice from distant Montreal; he purred, cooed, and trilled into the phone, becoming a one-man zoo of bliss, cherishing every minute of his conversation with Beatrice.
Five minutes later, he heard Monsieur Déry’s voice again, “Auclair, you’re about to pay me, and not the other way around! Enough with your chit-chatting!”
Jacques moved the conversation to its end. He looked up at the ceiling – a noose made out of wires looked at him. He was ordered to cover it up with plaster a month ago.
“Beatrice, I’ve got a problem.”
“A health problem?”
“You discovered that you’re a woman?”
“That wouldn’t be that much of a problem.”
“An ugly woman?”
“I feel offended.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I love you just the way you are!”
Jacques laughed, “Stop being sorry all the time!”
They laughed together.
“I don’t know how to write poems anymore.”
Beatrice hummed into the phone.
She was humming still.
“Yes? What? Did you say something? I just love humming. Sorry, I think you’re dating a hummingbird.”
“Relax, Jacques Balzac. Surely you can come up with something about me!”
“I. I. I tried. It sounds awful,” he quoted some of his verses (go to the beginning of the chapter if you missed them). Beatrice loved them, but she saw no point in arguing with Jacques’ opinion.
“What about that one: I am shit, I’m full of shit, and the world’s okay with it!”
“I don’t want to steal your fine art.”
“Fine art, exactly. Can you sense the emotion, the grandiose idea of the author? The feeling that this poem evokes, the masterful choice of words… you’ll get there, my boy, don’t worry. Here’s my idea, Jacques. If you can’t write poetry anymore, why don’t you switch to prose? I’m sure the papers could publish it too.”
“AUCLAIR!!! You’ll never see another payment! Never! It means never in your life! And you’ll never get a job, even your oil daddy won’t give you one! And you’ll die a poor man, or kill yourself realising your own uselessness! And Beatrice will break up with you because no one wants to date someone who has his hands growing out of his ass!!! Get your corpse here, now!!! And a big, big hello from me to your sweet little girl, tell Beatrice that I miss her, please.”
At nightfall, sitting in front of the open window, Jacques looked at the cover of the empty notebook. On it was a picture of a three-strand cable. It looked just like the framed rope that hung in his father’s office. Jacques opened the notebook. He smiled at the sinister humour of his thoughts as the black pen in his hand wrote:
“Jacques! Jacques!!!” Beatrice cried, staring at Jacques and his feet: one shod, another one – not so much. His neck was in the noose, his tongue stuck out in a very unpleasant fashion, his skin colour was borderline blue, and it’s been about an hour since he left for a better world…