Monday, November 14, 2011

The Desires of Desiree Fauchon

Part One  
    Light broke in mottled patterns through the trees outside their window, where Roget lay on the rumpled bed with his girlfriend, Desiree. He lifted his rumpled tousled head to the outside world. Somewhere, a dove cooed. He turned to gaze upon Desiree’s lithe body, slumbering on in oblivious wonder. Yes, he had done well, but Desiree was quite the handful, wasn’t she?
     They became lovers, as many do, in a fit of passion and infatuation. On the second day of their friendship, Desiree had introduced him to her best friend, Claudine. Claudine was every bit as attractive as Desiree, perhaps, but somewhat less possessing of street-smarts. Roget was always attracted to those with an independent streak. On the third day, Desiree had called her father, and introduced Roget by way of the telephone.
     Her father’s thick, country-Gallic accent barked out through the handset. “What do you want with my daughtair? Cannot she can cook, non cannot she can sew, eh, what possible good can she do for you, citee boyee?”
   “But Monsieur Fauchon, your daughter has made me very happy indeed-”
    (Indeed, what could an old fart like Fauchon know of the joys his daughter materialized from simply being? Apparently he had not learned the appreciation of brilliance. For Fauchon had seen his daughter many times as not but a millstone, a vain drain upon his meek resources, simply a mouth he fed for many years and was relieved to be sending out on her own, at last!)
     “Happy! What do young men know about happy? All you care about is to get it wet and runaway! I swear, if you so much as harm a hair upon her head I will come to you citee boy and strangle you weeth my own bear hands!”
      Roget chuckled inside. His “bear” hands? What, this dumpy suburban clerk, Roget imagined, handily stuffed into a maple armchair in the office of the Province Telegrapher? Fauchon would need to be swift on his feet indeed, and Roget knew this could not be.
     “Zo. Eef you think you cain handel my daughtair, zen you must take her! Take her, ziss good for nossing young upstart, with all of her tantrum and perfume! I loved her mozzair dearly- and yet, all she shows me in return is her lust for la cite grand and les lumieres neon! She will see, she will see, when she comes back hanging her haid in shame!”
   The shame of it, thought Roget, was that her father could see no good in her. For as he looked upon her, stretching with the first rousing of morning’s awakening, he looked upon her with eyes of love. What was it Claudine had told him?
“Desiree is the only woman I know who can blend desire with spiritual innocence.”
Surely this innocence was lost on old man Fauchon! Surely, her desires existed in a world beyond him, a generation’s timeline and a half, perhaps… nothing an old dumpy father could get a handle on, believe him or not.
      Desiree’s eyes opened blinking.
     “Ah, mon cher Roget, please fix for me un coffee si vous plait?” Roget was out of the bed in a flash, wrapping swiftly around himself his sleeping-robe, dancing into the tiny kitchen and setting up the coffee machine. Humming  rather offhandedly the melody of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”- the riff from which was dominating his mood. And just at the point where David Gilmour’s barbed-edged lead guitar breaks out of the gathering dust of forgotten stars, he stumbled over  the chair Desiree had left impertinently out in the center of the floor while changing last night’s dead lightbulb. “Mais non! Desiree, I have stubbed my toe on that ridiculous chair! Come and make it better, would you?”
     Desiree began laughing. Her laughter, thought Roget, surely could destroy a thousand police cars. It could pull down temple walls, set free the captive slave, set a thousand doves off in a flutter of new hope and courage. Rising from the bed she came to the kitchen and approaching him from the back, wrapped her arms around him.
     “Oh, my Roget, you really have me this morning. I will try to be kind to you- Look, the chair it is already out of our way!” She kicked away the chair with a flourish. Still holding him tightly, she pulled him closer, and before Roget knew it, she had raised his mainsail once again.
     They collapsed on the floor as the coffee machine bubbled.
     Now, as it happened, Roget was not of such bad circumstance as to need the assistance of anyone to get a handle up on things. He had begun his career, as an architect, with one of the finest prestigious firms in all of Paris. Crouvet & Garconteaux were well known for their planned neighborhoods, with a full attention to green systems, and a high premium set on “walkability, livability, and sociability.” In fact, he had coined the phrase itself in a moment of inspiration- on an afternoon when there had been absolutely nobody left in the office- they had all gone down to the riverside to watch a naval reproduction of the invasion of Rollo The Hairy take place- and while he was sure nobody could do better to encapsulate the goal of the company, the managers made sure he was well paid off for it. The slogan now appeared on each and every of their business cards, and Roget as fond of passing as many as he could to the different city planners he encountered. He had a hope he might one day convince old Fauchon of the sincerity of Crouvet & Garconteaux and get them a contract for renovations in Fauchon’s little backwater. But that could wait. First, Roget thought, he must conquer Fauchon’s daughter. Already it seemed, he was off  to a good start.
    And when the machine ceased its relentless bubbling, he was up off the floor pouring the first cup for Desiree. “Aux sucre, ou sans?”
     He dumped a tablespoon of the stuff into her cup, and put a packet of stevia into his own. He liked it that way. The sickly taste of sugar had corrupted his young mouth- corrupted it to the tune of several thousands of dollars of his parent’s dental insurance- he wanted as little to do with it as possible, nowadays.
    “Roget, what is your agenda du jour?”
    “Desiree, I must be at the firm by eleven-thirty. Several of the city engineers wish to speak with us about renovations to important buildings. When we are done with them, we have to go over the plans. Several barge-loads of blueprints. It’s the headache.
     “I find your work so interesting! I wish I had studied archtecture more.”
     “Study is natural. Have you never been moved by certain buildings? Do you not think sometimes, I wonder why they did it that way? Well that was my young life in a nutshell. I was always affected by the grand façade of the palaces, the struts of le Tour D’Eiffel, the intestinal gaucheness of Le Pompidou. And so, one day, while wasting my ink in drawing class, I decided that the next year I would become a draftsman. Le discipline involved! Just what my stupid, anarchist mind needed. No more of this, dreamy clouds in my coffee, thinking I can overdo Piccaso and Matisse! It was then that I knew…”
     “I often wished I could have had a mission in life like that”, said Desiree. “All I seem to be able to do is break hearts. And I have never had mine broken, not yet. People tell me, well, just you wait, someone will do it! I am not in a hurry to know. But Oh, Roget, please, never to break it for me? I only wish us the best of health and living. I know you can do it. I know you will have a hard time with Papa, but I can show him, too.”
     Roget had no clue what the next few weeks would bring, of course, but he would find Desiree to be certainly more than the comfortable handful he could help himself to, in the course of time.

     Desiree was on the telephone with Claudine.
     “How is your man made of words, Desiree? That man whose very name speaks syllabus, syntax, and simile?”
    Desiree laughed. “Oh Claudine, mon Roget c-est le grand bachelor. If I can get him to succeed where others failed, I know he will make me so happy. I am already halfway there.”
     “Mon cher Desiree, I think you are missing something. Surely you cannot let him win you without a test?”
     “A test?”
   “Mais oui- a test. What man could ever hope to hold a woman’s heart, lest he break his balls upon the rocks of her fickleness.”
     “Don’t give me ideas, Claudine. Or, do. But Roget is so easy-going, I hate to think I can stretch him on the rack, or, guillotine his ass, or –as you say, ‘break his balls upon my fickleness'. He satisfies me, Claudine. What more can there be to l’existence?”
     “Mon cher Desiree, your naivete is so all-consuming. Do you not know there is no man worth his salt would not willingly take on a great quest, to win one he loves? What man respects an easy roll-in-the-hay? I tell you, in order to gain him, you must test him. Make it easy, make it difficult, whatever. You must make him think he is grand by virtue of his winning you. Make it a diamond, make it a duel, whatever you must do, you must never seem so easily pleased! For only then will he devote heart and soul to you. Otherwise, like all the rest, he will keep his eyes out peeled for his next easy ride.”
       There seemed to be a sinister logic in Claudine’s words, thought Desiree. So- perhaps she may be right. Surely there must have been something Mother did to get Papa’s devotion which compared. But their life was so long ago and faraway now. And there was no way of knowing, now that Mother was gone, of just how she had gone about it.

     Roget spent that afternoon at the flat of his best friend Trixeme. (Also known to most of his friends as Tricks, or as he more preferred, T. Rex, as he was an insufferable Marc Bolan fan). It was a humid afternoon, slightly seeming out-of-season, but made pleasant by the atmosphere of hope that had been sweeping the city. It appeared one of the scandalous city fathers would soon be getting a comeuppance, and the populace was almost impatient in their waiting. Not every day could they grasp the broom of fairness and give a clean sweep to the general corruption that usually set in when things became too staid.
     And so it was they laughed away the better part of the afternoon. Trixeme had been wagering on the European Cup (Roget enjoyed football, but not enough to place bets on it)- he was picking Barca over Roma, although it appeared Prague was going to make a strong showing this year as well. They discussed the discovery of a ship off the Channel Coast which seemed to offer a promise of diver’s treasure- there must be dozens of these across the North Sea and North Atlantic, not to mention the Med. But now, Roget’s fascination with treasure focused on one thing, and one only- how could he obtain a diamond for Ms. Desiree?
     “Trixeme, I not knowing what I am to be doing. You know they have been telling me that the diamond should cost a month of my salary! A month! And this you must toss away on a stupid little lump of crystal carbon, on a band of gold. Otherwise, is to say, you do not value the love of the woman. I say this is stupid! Think of the practical things might be done with that money, it could found a bank CD, it could keep a man and woman housed and clothed for a month, but non! You must spend it on a pretty stone to make the woman feel she is owned. More like she is owning you! I say, why not they should let us just give them rocks, like les penguins! That is much more practical- and the money can still go to where it ought to go!”
     "My dear Roget, you must understand the thinking of the woman. It is not because she does not believe in your love. She needs to feel that she has found someone who shall cherish her enough to represent it with the most indestructible substance known to man.
    "So, unfortunately, you must go and bring home this rock, so that the one who loves you will know somehow you will not run astray.”
      “Bah! All men run astray with time! It is only fair, for being locked in to this unnatural thing, which we know as monogamy. We all get bored, even the woman, she will get bored. You know what it’s like.”
      Trixeme frowned. Indeed, he did remember what it was like. But he felt he should not discourage Roget. Desiree was the sort of woman any man could be happy to be her arm-ornament, so he thought Roget should man up, take the bait, do the deed, just get on with it. Of course, he also wanted Roget’s happiness, but then again, if Desiree loved him, she would hope for that even more. Making Roget happy wasn’t Trixeme’s job.
     Roget blathered on. “She want a ring, she wants a ring, how in hell can I afford such a thing?”
     “Your job?” queried Trixeme.
     “My job? Bah! I am barely affording the payments on my little hole, I have money I owe on les auto, I have money I am investing in our company’s new project- I am strung by my hams and I am tied by my hands! Non, in order I may make the room to afford such a thing, I must play a game of shells with my investments and my portfolio. A month! That is only a doable thing if I might have a month off from responsibility!”
     “Then may I suggest perhaps you think on a smaller scale?”
     “How so?”
     “Well,  you need not spend the entire month salary, nor should you necessarily tell her how much you spend. You go get a ring, such a thing is easily enough found, and you bring it to her.”
     “She wants the fun of shopping! You know how they are.”
       Trixeme frowned again. Indeed, this was sounding more difficult than he first suspected.
     And when he took her out for a stroll along the boulevards, to locate a suitable bauble for her finger, Desiree did not make it any easier for him. They stopped in one jeweler, and then another, and went through about six of the poor men before they located something that agreed with her. And by that time, of course, there was no secret remaining in Roget’s intention- no way that he could hold off, put off making his proposition to her in a situation of his choice. Once he had put the bauble on his credit card and the device was attached to her hand, he grabbed her close in the autumn air outside the jeweler shop and put it to her.
     “Marry me, Desiree. Marry me, and the future will be yours, it will be ours. It will be our turn, under the sun. Our day, our time, has come. We must seize the time”- he pointed to the rising harvest moon that hung above the city like the fat face of a clown- “and make it happen! Success does not come to those who will not seize the time!”
     Desiree had seen him this animated, at times, but usually only when he was speaking to their coaler over the phone, or to some misfortunate younger partner at the architecture firm, who might have misplaced some important blueprints.
     But she shook her head, yes, yes she would. And that made both of them particularly happy. They skipped the streets together, singing lines from movies they remembered fondly. It might well have been their happiest moment.
     After the proposal, Claudine was given to frowning whenever Desiree paid her social calls. Frowning, and pouting. Apparently, Desiree had given in much too easily. Where were the real tests, that showed he was a man amongst men, a tiger in her tank?
     “Oh he’s good enough that way” smiled Desiree.
    “Non, Desiree, you silly thing – that is not how I mean it even if that’s the sound of it. No, how I mean, you must put him up against some fellow he’s intimidated by, and watch him defend you! He must… he must how you say, grovel to your whim, before you can relent. You have already said he pleases you enough that you will give in to him. But before you get there, you must make things difficile! Difficile, do you hear me?”
     “But I love him, Claudine. If I push too hard I will push him away!”
     “Nonsense. You must be like l’marlin! La marlin that tugs and fights and gives all le’resistance before he flops exhausted on the deck! Or maybe, he grabs the line, and runs all the way off even with the fisherman’s pole! Aiyee. You silly, Desiree. I’m telling you. The man needs this because if not, then, all his fellows will think that he got what he wanted without any trouble at all. And when the fellows think their fellow is so easy, then they will play him for doormat! And that will be the end of your marriage, because- then, the fellows will be all over you! You watch, you’ll see!”
     Claudine was certainly not making things easy for her. In fact, at this point, Desiree wanted only to make things pleasant now. Surely things had never looked so good. Who was Claudine, to suggest, she must now riven their love just as it’s been pledged to troth?
     I am not to be listening to her, this is so silly, she thought. And then it happened.
     That night when he arrived back at the flat, Roget was quiet, obviously preoccupied.
     He shrugged off watching the news on television, and even sitting at his computer, to fix himself a hot chocolate and curl up in the bed with the latest book he was reading- Treehouse Architecture, by some denair over in the States. Claudine sat alone at the table, picking at the meal she had cooked for them both, rather embarrassed. When she was done she washed her plate and came to the bedroom. She cuddled beside him.
     He barely turned an eye to her, when she asked “Roget, whatever is the matter with you tonight?”
     “Do you really want to know?” he shrugged.
     “Yes, of course.”
     “The firm want to transfer me. Up to Normandy. In a month.”
     “Oui. How am I to transfer there, just all of a sudden, pick up my life and go- pouf!”
     “Not just your life, but ours.”
     “Mais oui. That is what is on my mind. How will we ever do it? I cannot refuse Garconteaux, he’s something of a monster when he gets it in his head to be shuffling desks. I like it here. Paris has been my home all my life! What would I do up in Honfleur, paint lilies and design dock lifts? Bah. It is given me a headache, cheri. And that is why you find me here, such like this. Curled up in my mother’s safe womb, blankets askance, entombing myself with silly notions of becoming Tarzan, again.”
     She giggled. “Well, Roget, I know some people up that way. We could make it work. They would refer us to places we might stay, until we locate what we want. And I always wanted to live by the sea.”
     “You did? I never knew that.”
     “Oh, yes, I wished long ago I could live in a little stone tower on some foggy, forgotten shore, and like some ancient nun, draw water from an old stone well and grow onions and beets and carrots and potatoes. And perhaps my prince would come to see me in my tower by the sea, and he would rescue me.”
    “Mon Dieu, who am I, the White Knight?”
    “Non, mon Cherie, you are the King. And only to my being Queen. But I know you, Roget! You could carve out your own stakes there! Here you live under the shadow of Crouvet and the whim of Garconteaux! You could be your own fish in the pond petit! Why, I think it would be awesome.”
    Roget shrugged. He had grown weary of the term, awesome, it was so awesomely over-used.
     “More like, I shall be awesomely miserable, but for you. Everything will need to be packed up, boxed, and sent on ahead, and the money I was saving for our wedding, we will need to spend on the movers and the new lease. How will this sit, too, with your father? He is the rock of stability. He won’t like me taking you even farther north, where he will need to take such longer trips to see you.”
    “Oh, Papa – Papa really likes you, you know.”
     “He does? I never knew that, either. Most of the time, he is like the old crab in the mussel shell, waiting for me to make one little slip so he can grab me with his pincers”- Here, Roget gestured and deliberately turned his face lobster red, in imitation of an angry Fauchon- “and once he gets me in his claws, then, he will – patoui!- spit me out again into the big wide sea, saying “Nevair again you shall besmirch mon faire daughtair!”
     “If you really mean that, Roget, of course, I will refuse him that. I only wish to be with you. You know? We have happiness. That is good enough, and to hell with the world and what it might think. Even Papa.”
     And so, Roget set about making the plans for the move he dreaded. It wasn’t much of a fight he could put up against the formidable Garconteaux, of course, who was Junior Partner to the –almost ever-invisible Crouvet- and as one of the new blood in the firm, after thinking about it for a couple of days, decided he’d better just go with the program.

     Then it was Claudine’s turn, again, to get to Desiree.
     She called her just as she was managing to get a stack of moving boxes organized. So much of their time in the little apartment had been spent enjoying each others company, actually, there was little between them that wouldn’t have been capably managed in one or two van loads- and that included all the furniture.
    Claudine was breathless and Desiree could hear the exasperation she was intent on inflicting as soon as she picked up the phone.
     “Desiree, what are you doing! You have not even been engaged for three months, and now, you are pulling up the roots and taking yourself away from –everything that is good.”
     Desiree didn’t share Roget's, nor Claudine’s, perceptions of their native city. Coming as she did from Limousin she was not impressed, necessarily, with the self-centricity of the Paris-born. For her, her childhood memories had been of apple orchards, lavender fields, and grapevines, and shady oaks and lazy rivers. That had been all good and well, yet when she moved to Paris, she had been heartened to meet Claudine as soon as she had. In fact, if Claudine was her longest held good friend in Paris, there were few others back at home whose sincerity she could trust in. For all of the friends back home had matriculated, themselves, to Paris while young. Desiree had held out, but the call was eventually too much to deny. And when she hit town, it was not with a splash, but the little ripples a pebble makes when it’s dropped by a languid hand.
     “You just listen to me, Desiree! I told you you are giving in much too quickly! A diamond- what is that, a rock! You must engage him on the field of blood. Give him some decent gentleman to compete with! Surely you have some- some creature out of the past you can use to confuse him?”
    “No.” She petulantly waited for Claudine to continue.
    “Oh, nonsense. We all have some ghost from the past we can dredge up if we need to, who can-"
     “Who says I “need to”? You? Surely you must not understand me well, Claudine, when I said, I have never been so happy. He is the one. What you are suggesting is just little girl games.”  And then she hung up.
    Of course, that was a rather brave move of itself, to hang up on her one solid city friend. But she knew her own heart. Roget was a good and decent man. Games like Claudine was suggesting would – confuse him. And she loved him more than enough to wish for that. Now she was walking on shakier ground. But it would have to do, for now.
 To Be Continued…

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