Sunrise over Paris ... the first two chapters

Part I

Le marriage est comme le restaurant,
à peine servi on regarde dans l’assiette du voisin
–Sacha Guitry

Marriage is like eating out.
Almost as soon as your meal arrives
you start looking at the meals on the next table.

1 - The discovery

IT WAS SHOCKING how simple it was for her world to collapse.  Stacey was in bed, reading, as she usually did before going to sleep.  She didn’t remember what the novel was, something easy to relax with at the end of the day.  Jean lay next to her, a little space between them, just enough so she didn’t bump him when she turned pages.  He read emails, as he often did.  There was silence as each one read, but a companionable silence, the quiet of people who know each other well and are confident in one another’s presence.  All was well.  Or reasonably well.

And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

Between chapters, Stacey happened to glance over at her husband’s tablet.  Why?  She’d never know.  She glanced over, saw the beginning word, just one word, Chéri, and knew.  She knew why Jean had felt so distant, why he had become critical of her when he had previously been supportive, why he had stopped inviting her to Paris for date night and started watching his weight and no longer ate her gratin dauphinois.

She felt the wind knocked out of her, like taking a sucker punch to the gut.  Breathing just wasn’t possible right away, which made a yoga cleansing breath a non-starter.  She said nothing, just lay there, prostrate.  Her mind recovered before her breath did.  Damn! She couldn’t read the rest of the email.  It was no longer visible since Jean had continued on to the next email in his inbox, but the list of senders was still visible on the far left of his tablet.  Carefully, moving only her eyes, she searched the list of senders, a little above the one that was highlighted.  A woman’s name. Berenice Jaunatre. Surrounded by communications from Jean’s bank, his alumni club, his car retailer, was one single email from a private account in a woman’s name.

Le salaud! The bastard!

Her eyes had come back to the page in front of her, but she was having a hard time focusing.  Her breath came back, all at once.  She gasped for air.  Jean looked over at her, inquiringly, then looked back at his emails.  Stacey didn’t dare look back, didn’t dare speak.  Her body was immobile, while her mind raced. It imitated an Olympic runner, sprinting from hurdle to hurdle, but one who just couldn’t stop after 100-yards, 200-yards, 10,000 meters, the marathon.

How could he?  When did they meet?  Who was she?  What was she like?  These thoughts made sleep impossible and the night very long.  As the hours dragged on, she realized that listening to Jean sleep peacefully was almost as devastating as his infidelity.

Why should he sleep when she couldn’t?  It was all his fault.  She should confront him.  She should deprive him of sleep until he confessed. She should…

More than anything, she should have known.  There were signs, even at dinner the night before.

2 - Dinnertime

DINNERTIME WAS THE ONE moment of the day when the entire family reunited, to break bread together, share their day, discuss current events, expound on their dreams and desires.  Every day Stacey, wife and mom, spent the better part of an hour preparing a home-cooked meal (no ready meals in this house) with fresh vegetables, free range chicken or hormone-free meat, a bubbly cobbler or fruit pie out of the oven just in time for dessert.  Dinner was the glue that kept this family, and all families, together.

She looked across the table at her loved ones: her husband Jean, her son David and daughter Laura, 15 and 17, although in her heart Stacey still saw the little girl and boy they once had been.

Her daughter Laura wore only red and black, at the same time, often in ways her mother didn’t understand.  Those red and black striped knee socks, no, not “knee” socks since they covered half the thigh and stopped just low enough to expose an inch or two of bare flesh below the red and black plaid mini-skirt.  Which raised another question:  when did it become OK to wear stripes with plaid?  And when did red and black start going together?  If only that were all, she thought, as she eyed the make-up, considering it more of a slash job than merely make-up, besmeared over what was, when freshly washed, a lovely face.  The French had a saying, “maquillée comme une voiture volée.”  Painted like a stolen car.  That pretty much described her daughter this evening.

The clothes, the make-up, the piercings.  And the earphones, little bitty ear buds, jammed squarely in each ear, buzzing intently with a music which was just as aggressive as her outfit.  The entire ensemble was calculated to say “Don’t ask me how school went today.”  No, not to say, to scream, “DON’T ASK ME…”

Stacey sighed, knowing the uselessness of any conversational foray in that direction.  She looked over at her son David, a gentle soul, dressed more normally in jeans and a t-shirt.  As much as his sister’s accoutrement was calculated and painstakingly executed, his was negligé, unkempt.  Too much so.  Those jeans and t-shirt were the same ones as yesterday and, if memory served, the day before that as well.  Hair unbrushed; there was a good chance it was unwashed too.  Day-old beard.  Or, it would be a day-old beard if he were older and the beard, more hardy.  Next to his plate lay his tablet with its mini-keyboard.  Eyes glued to the screen, he typed in something with a gun-burst of tap-tapping, distractedly took a forkful of meat before snorting at whatever just appeared on his screen and fired off another round of key-rattling.  Whatever was happening on that screen was a thousand times more real to him than the people sitting around the table.  She probably could have filled his plate with sawdust and set it on fire without him noticing the difference.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to expel the negative thoughts with the air, as she learned in yoga class.  A cleansing breath, the instructor had said.  Properly cleansed, she turned to her husband Jean.  “Would you like another piece of gratin?” she asked, holding the serving spoon over the baking dish in readiness.  In expectancy.  She knew how much he liked her gratin dauphinois, thin slices of potato layered in a cream sauce, baked until the potatoes practically melted and the top became a browned crust.  Things had been tense between them recently, she didn’t know why, so she had made the dish as a sort of peace offering.  He scowled at her, then at the potatoes, at her readiness to appease him.

“No.  That’s really the trouble with you,” he said. “You keep making all this heavy stuff.  I need to lose some of this waistline.  Do you have any more salad?”  Both of them looked at the empty salad bowl, then looked up at one another, his eyes with a certain challenge in them.

She looked away.  “Sure, let me prepare some more.”  She got up, leaving her own plate half eaten, to wash and prepare more greens.  Angry.  Thinking, Any fool could have seen the bowl was empty.  That gratin took me ages.

If dinner was the glue, the family was coming unstuck.

The evening did not improve as it moved on.

Au contraire, Stacey thought.

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