2 June 2003 | Vol. 3, No. 2
Sofia and Jules
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed…
A crucifix hangs beside the travel poster, which shows snow-capped Alps in Switzerland. Both are artifacts left by the room's previous tenant. A third artifact is newer, the silver-framed photograph of Jules's mother. She smiles beside the dying Jesus. This wall is the first thing I see when I awake.
Today is the three-hundred-and-sixty-second morning Jules and I have awakened together in this room. He is up early, sitting on the edge of the bed, and I must tell you this before I tell you anything, if you were here, you would know I am not exaggerating… Jules is beautiful. Not handsome, but beautiful, in the way angels in stained-glass windows are beautiful. Golden curls lie like coins against his snow-white back, and a shaft of morning light gives him a halo. If you were here, you would think that Gabriel, the messenger of God, has just arrived to bring me some news.
But then I hear the voice of Estrella. "Maldita!" she whispers, "He's got no stinking message, and he hasn't just arrived—He is leaving! Remember?"
Jules thrusts his arm into a shirtsleeve, and his fingers push buttons into their holes with an air of finality. The cuffs of that shirt are stiff, and the points of its collar very sharp… unlike the soft camisas he has worn every day of this, as he calls it, his Año Mexicano. Only yesterday he pulled the stiff shirt from its trunk and took it across the street to Senora Imelda's Laundry to have it washed and ironed.
When he sees I am awake, he takes it off again, then slides back under the covers next to me. This is unusual. The continent of our bed is comprised of two distinctly different territories, his and mine, with invisible but well-marked boundaries. The reason for this is that Jules Joliot is a man who does not liked to be touched when he sleeps, nor is he one to permit an arm to drape him, a man who probably could not even suffer a butterfly's wing to rest against his spine. "Poca distancia, cherie? Por favor? S'il vous plait?" he will say, unless he wants to make love. "Otherwise…" he once asked, smiling, "what's the point?"
It is only after we make love that we are able to lie close, my cheek to his chest, my leg entwining his waist. This is when I am the girl from the legend, the one who rode the dolphin, whispering her stories into his ear. But soon I awake, and there is his back, and when I turn my back to him, there will be the cinder block wall with the crucifix, the travel poster, and his mother, and I know I do not sleep beside one wall, I sleep between two of them.
This morning Jules presses his belly against me and whispers, "Adeiu… ," and his touch still carries that self-assurance which belongs exclusively to men who resemble angels. I drift to the other place, the one I hold inside for myself… and suddenly, I am in the sala of Doña Antonia. She is sitting next to me at the piano, adjusting her metronome… her thin hair parted in the center and twisted into coils on the sides, just as I remember. Her coffee cup—she was never without it—balances on the flat surface at the top of the treble keys.
"Por favor, mi corazone," she implores in that husky voice, her withered hand resting on the back of my small one, halting its efforts, "How many times must I tell you, Nina?" She taps my hand for emphasis, "… you must never pound. Never, tap, never, tap, pound! Remember this, and you will do better than most." And so… I have never pounded at anything.
But often in life, especially in love, especially in the most heated parts… Jules pounds. With passion, with anger, with fear, with terror, he pounds, and his peak, when it comes, is never more than a grimace, which barely disturbs the composure of his perfect face.
So on that last morning, the angel with no message—who is not arriving but leaving—pounds. And when he stops, his mouth buried in the nape of my neck, his fingers flat and empty on my belly, he says, "I must go now, cherie," and leaves.
I lie still, listening to water—Jules flushing the toilet, Jules turning on the shower again. I try to return to the room with Doña Antonia, the room where I learned things… but it is too late.
Such an ordinary morning this might have been—making love, taking showers, getting dressed. We might have been going for breakfast at La Tortuga, then headed for the plaza where we would argue with Jules's friends over coffee. We might be preparing to cruise the road south of the village on Jules's motorcycle, to a place of thick trees, where we would lie among the ruinas of the Mayas and I would tell him my stories. And yet this morning is most extraordinary. I stand in its center, tucking my blouse into the waistband of my skirt, amazed that Jules and I now seem completely extraneous to one another.
He is soon back on the edge of the bed, putting on his shoes. But then he stops and reaches into his jeans, "… the keys to my bike," he says, and hands them to me. "The doctor from San Diego will come this afternoon, remember Dr. Guizot?"
"Give him the keys—the bike is in the shed, of course—and he will give you the check. Here…" He opens his backpack and takes out an envelope. "See? I have stamped it for you…" He points to the postage, "… Air Mail Special Delivery, addressed to me in Paris. Just slip his check inside the envelope, and take it to the post office." He hands it to me, "You will do this, cherie?"
He rests his hands on my shoulders. "How nice it would be, if the envelope and I arrive in Paris at the same time!" He laughs and kisses the tip of my nose. I toss the envelope on the nightstand, slip the keys into my pocket.
Now he's putting on his other shoe. "I'm sorry, Sofie…" he adds, nodding toward the white-sheeted continent, still warm from our bodies, "I know it… well, it shouldn't have been so rushed, but my plane…" He looks at his watch. "Merde!"
A patch of blue can be seen through the doorway at the far end of the room… the corner of the table we painted together last summer, and behind it, the edge of the sink. I cannot see into the sink, where plates from last night are soaking, and I cannot see the leftover traces of Jules's Hollandaise sauce congealed on the outer edges of the plates, which will require someone to scrape them, before she washes them.
"Don't bother with the dishes," he had said.
"But it will only take a moment…"
He pushed my hair aside to kiss the back of my neck.
"Jules," I say, "if you help, it will go faster."
"But no, no! Come… don't you understand? Plates have more patience than men!"
"Oui! Do that later… Let me ask you, who has let you drive his motorcycle any time you wanted, all over Puerta Linda? And who had the patience to teach you how to drive it?"
This was how we met. His offer to teach me how to drive his bike.
He continued, "You know, Sofita, I have never let anyone, not even Marco, my best friend, drive my bike, only you," he nuzzled my ear. "And cherie, didn't you enjoy it?"
"Enjoy it?" I ask.
He pulled me away from the sink, "Didn't you enjoy your ride?"
"Are you sure you won't come to the airport?" Jules gathers his hair into a ponytail.
"No, forgive me, I don't like airports."
He reaches for my hand, "You are so sweet, my little one, what will I do without you? But you understand, yes? You must understand… if I am to finish my book, I have to go. You know how easily you distract me!" His smile is the one that makes me feel like his mother, even though he is seven years older.
Then he turns, and hurries to take his mother's picture down from her place beside Jesus and the Swiss Alps. "I almost forgot!" he says, "The most important thing," and his eyes shine as he moves to the wardrobe on the far wall, and retrieves a thick spiral notebook. He holds it solemnly, as if it is a sacred object. "As long as I have this," he announces, "we are not apart."
A year's worth of nights lie between the covers of that notebook, nights in which Jules stretched naked across the bed, writing. And me, on my side of the bed, sitting cross-legged, my back against the wall, fingering the satin ties of the gown Jules had bought me the day I moved in. This is how I would spin my tales, every story Abuela ever told me, every cuenta that ever bubbled up inside me. His pen seized the phrases as they fell and fastened them to the paper in purple ink. Often he asked me to wait while he caught up, and at the end of each story, he would turn to a fresh page and say, "Magnific, cherie! Give me another!" As long as I would talk, he would write. He was insatiable.
Now he holds the notebook between us, "Your soul is here." He pats the cover with his fingertips. "I take it with me."
Ask him, what does he intend to do with your soul? Estrella hisses, but I am listening to Jules, "After my book is finished," he says, "You are coming to Paris… I will send you a ticket." He takes my face in his hands and gazes into my eyes. His breath is minty, "You will join me!" Then he presses my head against his chest and whispers, "Don't forget, the movers come tomorrow, cherie. Everything needs to be packed, you must start tonight, and get up very early…"
And now my skirt is moving up my thigh, and his smooth hands are on me, "… tonight, while you are alone in our bed, you will remember the one who loves you?" He is kissing me, and I am breathing his hair, which always smelled yellow, like lemons, but suddenly we are interrupted:
It is Estrella, always inserting herself into strange moments. SOFIA! she yells, What do you think are you doing?
I pull back, "It is her!"
He removes his hand, allowing my skirt to fall, and I smooth it as he opens the door to a wide view of the market and the blue bay beyond.
He raises two fingers, like the Pope giving a blessing, and blows me a kiss from them. Then, notebook under his arm, clicks his heels, "Au revoir, ma cherie!" and bows.
When he straightens, I am amazed… because suddenly, he is no longer an angel, but just a man with a crooked smile. "Tell Estrella I said good-by!" he says through his crooked smile, then he is gone.
Five minutes later, I step into the sunlight, my belongings in a bundle beneath my arm. Gently, Dona Antonia says, gently.
I go gently along the path to the shed, which is lined on either side with pink geraniums blooming in coffee cans. As I walk, I trail my hand along the outside of the wall I have slept beside for the past year… a much nicer wall on the outside, no travel posters or foreign mothers, nor dying gods. Only an open wall, ready for anything, covered with earth and dried to a comforting color.
I come to the shed and am happy to find my bundle will fit perfectly into the saddlebags of Jules's motorcycle. I climb on and start the engine. Gently, Doña Antonia says, and Estrella nods in agreement. The bike rumbles, full of power. I check the tank. So nice, Jules has left it full.
About the author:
Excerpts from Gwyn Henry's novel, Tales for the Dolphin, have appeared in Lynx Eye and the Santa Barbara Journal. A third excerpt won 1st place in the San Diego Writers' Cooperative Fiction Contest in 2000. Gwyn's stories and poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Tattoo Highway, the Poetry Conspiracy, Driftwood Highway Anthology, Blue Planet, Cattle Call, and the Artful Mind. She is the publisher of The Horse Might Talk, a poetry broadside featuring local poets. Her performance art has been presented at Sushi Performance Art Theatre in San Diego, and at San Diego State University. She performs her songs in San Diego area open-mic nights, and teaches dance at the California Center for the Arts, as well as movement for meditation classes at the Philosophical Library in Escondido. She lives in Escondido with her husband and daughter.