Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #15 (“Two candles burned on the sink”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Today’s post is the fifteenth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).

You have all the previous installments HERE.

And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.

Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!

#15: “Two candles burned on the sink”

Present day, nine years later. “It appears I have a new job,” Anca said to Alice one day in August 2002 when they met near Romana Square at the French library of the Arte Educational Center. “I’ll be teaching here,” she whispered excitedly.

Alice, who was poring over a Beaux Arts magazine, got up and embraced her friend.

Anca pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I didn’t know you considered teaching again,” Alice said. Anca had taught French for a few years before turning to translation work.

“Well, the pay is much better here, and the students more appealing,” Anca said. “Actually interested in French and French culture.”

Alice hugged her friend again. “Happy for you.”

“I have to go now,” Anca said, pulling away from Alice’s arms and getting up. “Have to tell Marcel the good news.”

As they said their goodbyes, one of Anca’s pals, Alain, entered the library. He saw the two friends and walked up to them.

Anca made the introductions. “My friend Alice, a travel and fiction writer—and a poet,” she said as Alice extended a hand.

“I’m not much of a poet,” Alice told Alain.

“And Alain, the best French teacher ever,” Anca said, smiling.

C’est très gentil à toi, Anca,” Alain began in French, “but that’s probably your teenage excitement still lingering somewhere,” he continued in Romanian.

“You speak very good Romanian,” Alice said.

“I was married to a Romanian woman. She came back to Romania after December 1989, and I came with her,” Alain said. “Cigarette, anyone?” he asked.

Before they had a chance to respond, Anca and Alice followed Alain outside. They walked to the side of the building, and Alain invited them to partake of his Gauloises pack. They both declined.

“Didn’t Jim Morrison smoke these?” Alice said, eyeing her new acquaintance, who seemed to be skinnier than any man she knew, including Haralambie.

“I think he smoked Marlboros,” Alain said, his gaze flitting to Alice’s generous bust. He lit up a Gauloise.

“Actually, he probably smoked a lot of different cigarettes, just as he did with drugs,” Anca said, smiling at Alice. “I read that sometimes he took all kinds of drugs in succession. He believed he could only get inspired if he got severely intoxicated. Certainly not pleasantly intoxicated. But most of all, I think he wanted to push his mind to the limit.”

Alain puffed away on his Gauloise. “You girls still busy here at the library?” he asked, flicking the ash of his cigarette.

“I was looking over some magazines for an article,” Alice said.

“Can’t you borrow them?” Alain asked, taking another drag.

“Yes, I can, sure.”

“Then borrow them and let me invite you both to an early dinner.”

A few minutes later they were strolling up Dacia Boulevard to a small restaurant.

“They make a good Provençal stew here, with all kinds of seafood,” Alain said as they sat down, Alain on one side of the table and Anca and Alice on the other.

A busboy stopped by with menus, followed by a waiter who greeted them and listed the specials.

Alain put his menu down. “What will you have?” he asked, looking in turn at Anca and Alice.

“We decided to try that stew,” Anca said, having asked Alice for her input moments earlier.

“Good choice,” Alain said with a smile. He ordered the same for himself and then asked for a semisweet white wine from the Loire Valley.

“From the Loire Valley?” Alice asked in surprise. “Wouldn’t it be better to pair it with a wine from Provence?”

“Maybe,” Alain said with a smile. “But I prefer this one.”

“Alice writes travel articles,” Anca reminded him once they had ordered.

“That sounds like a great job,” Alain said, enveloping Alice in a warm, luminous gaze.

“I haven’t traveled that much,” Alice said. “I spend five percent of my time traveling and ninety-five percent of it reading and writing about my travels,” she quipped. “I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the idea.”

“When do you have time to sleep?” Alain asked with a wry smile.

“Sometimes I sleep on my travels too,” Alice said, mimicking Alain’s smile. “It’s not all work.”

“Travel is not work. It’s inspiration,” Alain said brightly. “And it’s so good to have inspiration in life.”

Alice smiled back. “It is, yes.”

Anca looked wistfully at them as they talked.

Their waiter came back and poured them all some water.

“Have you always had this job?” Alain asked. He took a sip from his glass.

“No, not really. There was a time when I wanted to be a university professor.”

“Which field?”

“Art history.”

“Ah, that explains your interest in the beautiful things of life,” Alain said.

“If you wish,” Alice responded, amusement coloring her voice. She cooled her hands on her water glass.

“So what happened to art history?” Alain asked.

“Ah, that,” she muttered. She paused and started to play with a napkin. “I use it in my writing,” she eventually added. She then turned her gaze back up to Alain. “What about you? Have you always been teaching French?”

“I taught literature in France,” Alain said. “And here I’m teaching a bit of everything. French, French literature, French culture.”

Alice smiled by way of a response.

“And you, Anca, will you give up translating now that you have a new job?” Alain asked.

Anca drank from her water glass before responding. “I think so, yes. At least for a while, until I get settled.”

“You’ll be fine,” Alain said encouragingly. “And you can always come to me for tips.” He gave her a ready grin.

Anca smiled back affably. “I took classes with him when I was in high school,” she explained to Alice.

Alice looked at Alain, taken aback. “Really?”

“Yes,” Alain responded, amused. “But not here. At another educational center close to University Square, where I’ve been teaching since 1990.”

“Then we met again in 1997,” Anca said.

The waiter came with the food and the wine, filled their glasses, and left them to exert their taste buds and imaginations on wine tasting, looking for different aromas and flavors.

“Let’s eat,” Alain said mirthfully after ten minutes. “The food is wonderful too. Bon appétit!”

Bon appétit!” his fellow diners echoed.

“Yum,” Alice said, impressed by the stew.

“It’s the orange zest and the fennel,” Alain said.

“And you taste all that?” Anca asked in feigned amazement.

“Why? They’re easy to spot,” Alain said.

“I’m always surprised that you can still taste things,” Anca said with a smirk.

“Anca thinks my palate must be ruined because I smoke,” Alain told Alice between small mouthfuls of food.

“I would expect that too,” Alice said, her soft brown eyes smiling at Alain. “But you seem to be doing really well on that front.”

“I don’t smoke that much,” Alain said in mock defensiveness.

“I’ve never asked you before, but why do you smoke?” Anca asked, her sly smile attenuating the severity of her question.

“Teaching makes me do it,” Alain quipped.

Anca laughed.

*

“I was expecting you sooner,” Marcel said, opening the door for Anca, who was fumbling with her keys in the darkness of their floor’s hallway.

Anca wrapped her arms around him and heaved a sigh of exhaustion.

He put his arms around her. “I ran a bath for you.”

“Oh good. Although I imagine the water’s cold already?” She put her purse down and took off her sandals.

“No, I ran it fifteen minutes ago,” he said, slipping his hands underneath her blouse.

“Let’s go take a bath, then,” Anca said with an impish grin, peeling the shirt off Marcel.

A minute later, they were both in the tub, in near darkness.

Two candles burned on the sink.

*

“Anca?” Marcel called from their kitchen the next morning.

Anca was searching through the closet for something to wear. “Yes . . .”

“Let’s have a party this weekend.”

“This weekend? Okay.” She decided on a black pencil skirt and a fitted indigo office shirt with abstract floral patterns.

He stepped into their bedroom and watched her get dressed. “And invite Pamfil too.”

She turned and gave him a questioning look. “Why don’t you invite him yourself?” she said playfully.

“He’s your special friend, not mine,” he said.

Anca chuckled. “You can be quite something.” She put on her lace bra and her shirt.

“Is that all you have to say about it?”

“Why? You expected me to say something else?” she snapped.

“I expected you to be honest. With me, with yourself . . .” he said.

“I have to go,” she said, picking up her purse. “Don’t wait for me tonight,” she called from the doorway. “Alain and I are taking a journalist friend of his around Bucharest, and then we’re having a late dinner together. The guy is visiting Romania for two weeks.” She walked out, closed the door, and immediately came back.

“I’d forgotten. We’re going to Phil’s concert first, and then to dinner.”

She rummaged in her purse. “Do you see a program anywhere? I can’t remember what he’s playing.”

Marcel walked around the living room and spotted the program notes on her desk. He took a quick look.

“Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio.” He gave her the sheet. “He certainly likes women. Although I have to admire her for her piano artistry, which apparently was up there with Liszt’s and Anton Rubinstein’s.”

Anca put the program in her purse and looked straight at Marcel. “You’re right to admire her. She was a talented musician and a promoter of the music she believed in. See you tonight.”

And with that she turned on her high heels and left their apartment.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #14 (“Be creative with your life”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Today’s post is the fourteenth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).

You have all the previous installments HERE.

And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.

Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!

#14: “Be creative with your life”

Bucharest, September 1993, almost nine years earlier. Marcel’s mother had baked two trays of small sandwiches to serve at her son’s seventeenth birthday. The aroma of melted cheese, ham, and tomato slices wafted through the large living room, reminding the alcohol-happy guests that they needed to eat as well.

Marcel set out to find his girl, whom he had last seen busying herself in the kitchen. She was now sitting down with her friend Maria on the back steps of his family’s floor-wide apartment. He looked at them seemingly at a loss and then made to get back to the dining room.

“You want me to help with something?” Anca called from behind.

He turned back and smiled. “No, it’s okay.”

The place was abuzz. More uninvited—and mostly unknown—people were showing up every moment. Marcel felt he was too cool to send them packing, and so his home quickly filled with an unwanted crowd. Most of the ones who crashed the party had already been drinking, so they didn’t need any warm-up time before feeling at home at Marcel’s. His mother was beside herself with concern. She kept looking for Anca and Maria, hoping to ask them a big favor. Eventually she thought of trying the steps to the back door.

“There you were!” she said when she spotted them. The girls turned their heads to look at her. Marcel’s mother brushed the palms of her hands on her linen pants. “I need your help.”

Anca and Maria sprang to their feet.

“A lot of people showed up. Far too many. Not all of them invited.”

“When?” Anca asked, surprised. When she had left the living room, only a few people were present, and Marcel was making the rounds talking to them.

“In the past half hour. I don’t think there’s enough food for everybody. But that’s not a problem—I can send one of the guys to the twenty-four-hour store to get some snacks.” She paused for a moment to catch her breath. “No, the problem is . . . I would like you to watch over things in Marcel’s bedroom. Make sure these guys don’t open drawers and so on,” she added with distinct apprehension. “It’s happened in the past.”

Anca’s disposition changed somewhat. She’d been rather buoyant that evening, happy to spend time with Marcel and his friends on such a joyous occasion. She hadn’t expected waves of unwelcome guests.

When she reached Marcel’s bedroom, some of the guests were throwing beer bottles out the window while a few others were cheering them on. Anca made her presence known by quickly turning on the lights and introducing herself with a pasted smile to the company present. The people in the room, largely indifferent to her gesture, continued to chatter among themselves. A girl and a guy sat splayed on Marcel’s bed in their tall lace-up black boots, propped up by his large sleeping pillow and two decorative ones.

Anca and Maria decided to place their bottoms on the desk, thus impeding the riffling through Marcel’s papers and notebooks. A few moments later Marcel’s mother appeared as well, carrying yet another tray of sandwiches, and smiling nervously from ear to ear as her gaze met the girls’. “Everybody feeling good here?” she voiced, looking hastily around to appraise the damage.

The girl and guy on the bed, whiskey and martini drinks in hand, didn’t even deign to turn to look at her. Maria and Anca nodded imperceptibly. Two guys on some chairs next to the desk got up and dived in on the sandwiches. “Great, thank you for the food!” one of them said. Marcel’s mother left, a little more at peace. The guy who had just spoken addressed his buddy, “She could have also brought us some more booze. I’m gonna go into the living room, see what’s left. You stick to beer?” He got his answer and left the room. After a moment’s hesitation, his friend followed.

Maria turned to Anca and grabbed her hand, tacitly asking her to come out of the room for a minute. As they explored the living room, a couple exited Marcel’s parents’ bedroom, tottering left and right. Maria turned to Anca, stunned. “The parents’ bedroom?” With a nod, Anca indicated something else. Maria looked in that direction. A guy and girl were at it in the middle of the living room, tongues sticking out, loins rubbing, and hands moving underneath their black shirts. Maria stared at them for a long five seconds. Her daze was interrupted by Marcel, stepping back into the house after having appeased some of his neighbors concerned with missiles flying down from his bedroom. He was having a hard time and was rattled.

“I think I might have to pretend the party’s over. But I can’t until Mother brings out the cake. So we’ll have to wait till midnight. It’s only half an hour away.” He turned to Anca and touched her on her left arm affectionately. “You okay?” Anca muttered something. She wasn’t fine at all. Then he looked at Maria. “Thank you, Maria. Thank you both.”

Maria went into the kitchen to see if she could help with sandwiches or anything else. She came back following Marcel’s mother, who was in a tizzy at not finding the key to lock her bedroom and somehow dragged Maria there too. The forty-something woman first looked in the nightstands’ drawers, apparently indifferent to the fact that her bed had been given a workout. Next, she gathered the silky gowns that had been pushed to the side on the bed and threw them on a chair on top of other clothes. They fell down. She picked them up and stuffed them in a closet. Then she remembered the key to the room was in the top drawer of the TV chest.

Maria watched her, amazed.  

“Surprised at the mess?” Marcel’s mother asked with a smile and a glint in her eyes as Maria stood there frozen, taking it all in.

Maria smiled back and gave another glance at the wrinkled satin sheets. She couldn’t believe that couple had used Marcel’s parents’ bed.

Marcel’s mother woke her from her reverie. “I’ll change those sheets later.” She winked at her.

“Those are beautiful sheets,” Maria said.

“They feel good against the skin too,” Marcel’s mother said with another wink.

Maria gave her a rather cold stare.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. You’ll get to be my age, and then you’ll understand. Hopefully, you will afford to buy satin sheets sooner than I did.”        

Maria was puzzled. Marcel’s apartment, spacious and decorated with modern Romanian paintings and furniture from the first half of the twentieth century, spelled “rich.” She managed to smile, though.

Marcel’s mother stretched the bedcover over the unmade bed. “You seem to be such a nice girl. Be careful whom you marry. Have you heard that phrase, ‘Appearances can be deceiving?’”

Maria nodded.

“Good, then. Remember it,” advised Marcel’s mother as she straightened up. “Men nowadays seem more enterprising than ever. And then you live with their parents for a long, long time. Who may be nice people. My in-laws are.” She smiled at Maria. “Try not to become a professor or an artist, if you can. It robs you of your independence. In this country, at least.”

“What if you have a vocation?” Maria asked.

Marcel’s mother sat down on the bed. “We’re complex creatures, Maria. Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one thing in this world for you. Be creative with your life. Learn many skills. Don’t ever get complacent or lazy. You never know what life may throw at you, and you have to be prepared. We don’t live under communism anymore. You have to be ready to change paths if one vocation doesn’t pan out. Or a certain job. Don’t wait too long, either. Life is so very short.” She got up. “I think we’re done here,” she said, looking around the room. “Oh, let me just grab this.” She picked up her jewelry box from her closet, covered it with a scarf, and took it to the kitchen, where she dropped it into a drawer. She then retrieved from another drawer stick candles for Marcel’s birthday cake, seventeen of them plus one for good measure.

She arrived at twelve midnight sharp with the cake, closely followed by Marcel’s father. One of Marcel’s friends turned off the music, and everyone started singing “Happy Birthday” enthusiastically, the people who didn’t know Marcel even more so, as they were more inebriated. Parties were fun.

Some ended sooner than others, however, as some guests were to find out soon after they finished their slice of cake. They left the scene grumbling that the party was lame, and that it was all for the best, they might as well try two others taking place the same night. They would have left anyway, they said, taste a bit of everything. Marcel saw everyone out, including his friends.

Fifteen minutes later, about twenty people were back in Marcel’s home, the large apartment now free of unwelcome visitors. Marcel headed to the tape deck, put on Depeche Mode really loud, walked up to Anca, and, in a burst of feeling that surged through them both, wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up.

A few moments later his hand slipped into hers, and he waved to his friends as he headed into his bedroom with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend.

“Shouldn’t you play the host?” Anca ventured as Marcel turned off the lights.

“No, they’re big kids, they can hold the fort for a while,” Marcel answered. He sat down on his bed and stretched his hands out for her, inviting her into his arms. Then he eased her down on her back and started kissing her.

“Let’s go back to the living room,” Anca said after a short while. “Who knows what they think we’re doing in here,” she added with a hesitant smile.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #13 (“Pretty excited about the cherries this evening”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Today’s post is the thirteenth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).

You have all the previous installments HERE.

And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.

Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!

#13: “Pretty excited about the cherries this evening”

That summer many conversations turned around food in George and Ela’s household too, as in the first phase of her depression Ela had experienced a loss of appetite, and when she started to enjoy food again, in the winter of 2001–2002, she commented often that the extra treats helped her focus better on her work. So after a while George found himself thinking about cooking more interesting meals—despite the fact that Ela was now gaining more weight than she had previously shed.

George’s intentions, however, encompassed broader concerns: he wanted to make Ela consider embracing more variety in her life. If he could reach her that way through the medium of food, then he’d turn into more of a chef. He would have liked to take her on walks too, but she was adamant that she needed the comfort of their home rather than the hubbub of the city.

“May I join you?” he asked one day upon entering Ela’s room and seeing she was engrossed in a movie. He sat down on her bed. “What are you watching?”

Ela turned off the TV and rolled onto her back. “A movie about teenagers. I’ve seen it before.”

George stood a moment watching the blank TV screen and then walked to Ela’s bedside table. “Psychology,” he said, sweeping his gaze over the covers of her books.

“Yes.”

“Anything interesting?” George asked, picking up a paperback.

“Have you cooked anything tonight?” Ela asked, changing the subject.

George put Ela’s book back on her nightstand. “You hungry?” he asked, a smile spreading on his face.

“Very,” Ela responded, getting up.

George gave her a peck on the lips. “How are you feeling today?” he asked, encouraged by how warmly Ela accepted his gesture.

“Oh, same, not that great. If only that pain and sinking feeling would disappear at all. It may take a while, though. It still takes me hours some mornings to get rid of them. I’m glad I have the books and my poems to give me a feeling of purpose strong enough to beat the ache out of my system. Or maybe it’s the concentration that does it. I’ve been able to concentrate better lately. Hard not to, with your cooking,” Ela said as they moved into the kitchen for a late-night meal and occupied their spots at the table. “I’m glad you’re here,” she added, getting up to hug him.

He embraced her tightly.

She walked over to the stove. “What have you made?” she asked, lifting a lid. “Oh, shrimp? What’s the occasion? And do we even have money for shrimp?”

“We do and we don’t,” George responded with mirth in his eyes. “You spend all your time here, so I thought I’d surprise you. And as it’s hard to create something special indoors, I thought I’d vary my cooking.”

Ela sat down and George handed her a plate.

“How did you prepare the shrimp?” she asked admiringly.

“With cornstarch mixed with garlic and sugar,” he responded, all the while thinking he was feeling light, blissfully relaxed.

Ela tasted the shrimp stew, and her eyes glimmered with excitement. “Where did you find the recipe?”       

“I bought a cookbook with foreign recipes,” George said. He was amused at how much a new dish could lift his girlfriend’s spirits.

“Wow, George, you’re becoming adventurous,” Ela offered playfully.

George gave her a small smile, knowing that she was both complimenting him and picking at him at the same time. “Perhaps one day we’ll travel to see these places,” he said in a pensive voice, looking into Ela’s soft yet sparkly chestnut-brown eyes.

“What have you used for the sauce?” Ela asked.

“Soy sauce, sesame oil, and Chinese rice wine,” George said, leaning against the kitchen counter, enjoying the sight of Ela’s happiness, the beauty radiating from her face. It was a different beauty now, with her weight gain and her broken spirit, but to him it was as beautiful as the songs of his favorite musician and poet, Leonard Cohen.

“You bought all that?” Ela asked, taken aback.

“I kinda had to,” George responded with light in his eyes, still reveling in the wake of the spine-tingling sensations from their earlier hug.

Ela ate some more of her food. “It’s good. I approve of this recipe.” She flashed George a ready smile.

“I’m glad you do,” George responded, and then, before he could stop himself, he walked up to her and ran a smoothing hand over her tightly curled hair.

“You could try it with meat next time,” Ela said, seemingly absorbed in her meal.

“By the way, I’m now reading psychology books too. They’re quite interesting,” George said, waking up from his reverie and turning back to the stove to ladle some of the stir-fry for himself as well.

“Are you trying to make sense of what’s happening with us?” Ela asked in between mouthfuls. Her voice was a little shaky.

“With us and other people,” he said, sitting back down at the table with her.

“Somebody upset you?” she asked, raising her eyes to meet his.

“No, it’s not that,” he said. He moved his spoon about in his stew. “I want to understand why people do what they do.”

“Then you should read more fiction too,” she said distractedly.

He looked into her velvety brown eyes. “I’m interested in the science of it, though,” he said. “Have you heard from anyone today?” he then asked, keen on communicating more with Ela now that he’d caught her in a more expansive mood.

“Just Alice,” Ela responded between mouthfuls.

George got up to retrieve two mugs, filled each with water from the water filter, and placed them on the table next to their plates. “How is she?” he asked as he eased himself back into his chair.

“Always trying to get in some exercise and never quite succeeding,” Ela said with a smile. “She says she’s gained some weight. She complains that as much as she loves to write, she dislikes living the kind of unbalanced life that she does, being stuck at the computer all day. Well, except for the occasional walk in town on errands, or in the park with one friend or another.”

George drained his glass. “Have you two seen each other at all this year?”

“No, I’m not ready yet.” She pulled at one of her curly strands, looking at it as she did so. “I noticed the other day that I’m getting gray hairs,” she said with a forlorn, rueful smile.

George laughed softly. “It happens. Have you seen mine?” He tilted his head forward so Ela could have a better look.

SEVEN

After a protracted bout of bickering, slowly but steadily Anca and Marcel worked out their issues regarding Pamfil to a degree where they decided to enjoy together his July party, with its many cherry pies and cherry ice creams.

They were in such good spirits that evening, that when they arrived at Pamfil’s at ten, Annie Lennox’s multilayered voice, weaving about the place, made them leave their dessert gifts on the kitchen table and start dancing on the spot, Marcel placing his hands on the small of Anca’s back under her jacket, and Anca wrapping her arms around his neck. Pamfil, who had greeted them at the door, shot them glances with a knowing smile, all the while keeping himself busy with the food so as to grasp more of their couple dynamics.

Marcel caught Pamfil’s smirks and faced him with an impenetrable gaze now and then as he danced with Anca and whispered self-consciously in her ear. They swayed together through the next slow song too and then took off their light jackets and started to put away the sweets they had brought over—only to find that Pamfil’s freezer was almost full. When they approached him about it, Pamfil laughed, made a joke about how the tree alone is worth his rent in June, laughed again, and then stepped out to offer some of the ice cream to his landlady.

On his return, he was all smiles.

“I gave her very few cherries this summer. Told her some of my friends are starving artists, and she was more than happy to let me feed them,” Pamfil said to Marcel and Anca, who were now seated on his bed. “She’s nice. Puts up with the violin and piano playing too.”

“I’ve never seen you play the piano,” Marcel said, intrigued because he had studied piano too as a child and teenager.

“I play it sometimes, but violin is my first instrument,” Pamfil said, a little uncomfortable.

“I see Vlad is in charge today,” Anca said, nodding toward Pamfil’s desk, where Vlad was manning the playlist.

“So he is,” Pamfil said, noting Vlad was playing a song about lovemaking. “He’s discovering our music.” He beamed at Anca. “Well, not quite, but still,” he added, drawing out the words, before heading over to Vlad.

Marcel narrowed his eyes at Anca and shook his head, fuming inside. In response, Anca rolled her eyes in mock despair and walked over to Alice.

Marcel stood fixed in place for a few moments, watching Anca pull away from him. Then he shook himself out of it and went to the kitchen to start exploring the pies and sangria.

Anca eased herself down on the couch next to Alice. She smoothed her knee-length, waist-cinched, strapless chiffon dress and turned to face her friend. “Hey! How are you doing?”

“Good! Pretty excited about the cherries this evening,” Alice said, sliding her teaspoon into her slice of cherry pie. “Have you had a piece of this pie?”

“Whose is it?”

“Mine, technically, but it’s actually Ettie’s,” Alice said through mouthfuls.

“Let me have a taste,” Anca said. Alice handed her the plate. “Better than mine!” Anca declared a moment later with a quick, expressive shake of the head.

Alice took her plate back, and as she did so her gaze paused a moment on her friend’s shapely bare shoulders. “Glad you like it,” she said unsurely, her mind elsewhere.

“It seems like tonight we’re in a cherry paradise,” Anca said, smiling warmly. “I don’t think anyone brought anything other than cherry pies and cherry ice creams.”

“Vlad brought a savory pie,” Alice said sternly, despite herself.

“Really?”

“Yes. He had shepherd’s pie at an Irish pub and was very impressed. So he made one at home but with top and bottom crusts.” She wanted to sound cheerful, but the bounce in her voice was gone. She shared with Anca so much about Henriette, and yet here was Anca, playing games with Pamfil. What other reason did she have to doll herself up like that?

“Wow. I’ll go try it,” Anca said, getting up. “Do you want some?” she added, turning to look at her friend, who, she thought, was gaining an inordinate interest in food, and piling up the weight along with it.

“No, thanks. I can’t after this,” Alice said, putting her empty plate on a coffee table and picking up the glass of homemade sangria she had left there a brief while earlier.

By the time Anca came back from the kitchen with a slice of Vlad’s meat-and-potato pie, he was playing Buena Vista Social Club. The upbeat music inspired Alice to tell Anca about Wim Wenders’s documentary about the Cuban band, mentioning their zesty joy of life and their childlike delight at seeing the skyscrapers of New York City. When the playlist got to a melancholy-tinged track about yearning for lost love, Alice, who spoke some Spanish, translated the lyrics for Anca.

“Seems like I’ve been stuck indoors at my desk way too much,” Anca said. “When was the movie released?”

Alice tilted her head back and took a seemingly longing look at her drink. “In 1999.”

“Ouch,” Anca said with a smirk.

Alice set her glass down on the coffee table and turned to face her friend with renewed vigor. “You know what I think? Some of us love some people once, and then we love them forever.” She watched Anca finish her pie. “Ettie made some really good ice cream too. Do you want some?”

“No, I’ve had this pie and would rather not overdo it,” Anca said. “I’m gaining weight if I’m not careful.” She gave Alice a sly smile.

“You are a sylph,” Alice said, dismissing her friend’s concern with a shrug of her shoulders, as if she were tired of pointing out the obvious. “You look as if you couldn’t gain weight even if you tried.”

“Oh, no. I watch my diet very carefully. Now that I’m twenty-five I can certainly notice a change in my metabolism. Been noticing it for two, three years now, actually.”

“Then exercise more!” Alice said.

Anca smiled and nodded her head. “That I should.”

Alice warmed to her again instantly. “I’ll put on some Etta James for you. It’s what Ettie listens to at home these days,” she said, before adding the song to the playlist. She put out a hand to Anca. “Dance with me?”

Anca smiled and got up. “Sure.”

“How about some Janis Joplin?” Anca asked from the computer when the short Etta James song ended.

Gotta loooove Janis,” Alice said, extending a hand.

They danced together to Janis’s raspy vocals.

Marcel watched them from an armchair, smiling to himself.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #12 (“as if it [the snow] were sprinkled with diamond dust”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Today’s post is the twelfth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).

You have all the previous installments HERE.

And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.

Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!

#12: “as if it [the snow] were sprinkled with diamond dust”

Present day, almost four years later. “Let’s go to Moieciu this weekend,” Anca said to Marcel one evening in November 2001. They were lounging on the bed watching a movie.

“Okay, let’s,” Marcel said, his attention focused on the action of the thriller on TV.

“And let’s invite Lis and Ettie as well,” Anca added.

“Let’s.”

They decided to go to the Prahova Valley again, the default weekend destination for many Bucharesters. This time Anca and Marcel picked the traditional mountain village of Moieciu de Sus (“Upper Moieciu”), a village some three hours’ drive from Bucharest, set between two mountains—Bucegi and Piatra Craiului—at some 1,100 meters altitude (3,600 feet).

The four friends arrived there to a boat-shaped settlement, its slanting sides covered in a blanket of snow that flickered invitingly in the mid-morning sun. They left their bags in their rooms at the guesthouse, packed their cameras in their backpacks, and went on a pleasant three-hour hike to Bisericuța (“Little Church”) Peak, a 1,322-meter-high plateau crowning a picturesque hill off the main road of the rural community. 

Anca wrote a poem about it, “Snow in Upper Moieciu,” waxing lyrical about crystals of snow crunching under their feet like so many tiny jewels; the warp and weft of post-and-rail fences surrounding log cabins and haystacks; and the sunlight flaring through scattered fir trees, whipping the snow, making it look as if it were sprinkled with diamond dust.

“Good, I’m all covered in mud now,” Alice said after Henriette lent her a hand to help her get up.

“How did you fall?” asked Anca. She was coming down the hill behind the sisters with Marcel when Alice slid on a slippery patch of wet ground—which was to be expected: she thought she could brave the challenges of the trip in running shoes.           

“I simply glided down,” Alice said, as she walked away from the path to clean her hands with some snow. “But I love how my muscles feel,” she added with a smile as she rejoined the group.

“My stomach is growling,” Marcel said, taking long strides in his sturdy high-ankle hiking boots. “I can’t wait to dig into those steaks.”

“Defeats the whole purpose of climbing up here,” Henriette said. Her tone was cheerful, but she was partly serious too. She liked to pick on Marcel that way.

“I’ve also brought beer,” Marcel said with a smirk.

“I wish there were some way to do this again,” Henriette put in as they approached the village down in the valley.

Marcel stopped to take a candid snapshot of Anca. “You sound like a child wanting to go down the slide again,” he said to Henriette. “No pun intended, Lis, but you could have gotten better shoes.”

“Well, they don’t fit me well anymore. I’ve gained weight.”

“It happens,” Marcel said congenially. “I suggest we go eat.” Marcel held out a hand to Anca. She grasped it and then reached into the right pocket of his jeans to pull him to her. He gave her a kiss.  

They were at the guesthouse in another half an hour, and soon after that in the kitchen for lunch. As they had traveled together in the past, the wheels of working together were well greased, and they fell into their tasks easily. Anca boiled coarsely ground cornmeal; Henriette made shepherd’s bulz for everyone, molding polenta into rounded lumps around pieces of soft sheep’s cheese aged in fir tree bark; and Marcel grilled the bulz balls, which they ate with fried eggs.

Then they resumed their cooking, Marcel stepping to the grill to make pork collar steaks, Anca julienning potatoes for French fries, Alice cutting strips of pickled gogoșari bell peppers, and Henriette slicing a drum of cow’s cheese, smoked with oak chips, which they had bought at a roadside stall on their way to Moieciu, together with the sheep’s cheese.

*

A few months later, in March 2002, Anca and Alice were taking a stroll together through Cișmigiu Park, a place filled at that time of the year with hyacinths, daffodils, and pansies, when Alice brought into the discussion her favorite topic of conversation: Henriette.

“She spends virtually all her free time sculpting,” Alice said. “She’ll end up hurting her back from it—like Silvia with her cello.” She glanced at people buying cotton candy.

“Doesn’t she get tired?” Anca asked, her hazel-green eyes glinting in the soft spring light. “I make the same mistake of working almost every day, but at least I stop around eight, nine o’clock.”

“I do too,” Alice said with a smile, “but she’s worse.” She stooped to take some photos of a bed of colorful pansies. “She often sculpts until eleven or midnight.”

“What is she working on now?” Anca asked, her eyes on Alice’s slightly heavy hips dressed in black-and-white striped denim pants.

“Breasts,” Alice answered, crouching to get a better view of the flowers.

“Breasts?”

Alice stood up again. “She’s making one pair for each decade.”

“Decade?”

“They’re made to suggest transformation over the course of a lifetime. So she starts with the buds of a preteen, and then she does them at twenty, thirty, and so on, ending with the greatly drooping breasts of a ninety-year-old,” Alice explained while she did a few side bends to stretch.

“It’s an interesting concept,” Anca said, her gaze moving unconsciously to her friend’s bust, which seemed fuller than usual and pushed up, indicating a seriously padded bra.

“What can you say, right?” Alice snorted, amused that her friend was eyeing her chest.

They resumed their walking, heading now down a plane tree alley.

“I’ve never seen the breasts of a ninety-year-old,” Anca remarked, amused.

“Alice Neel painted herself naked at eighty,” Alice said, looking at the mottled bark of the trees. “The point being that in this youth-fixated Western world we don’t realize how invisible the human body becomes after a certain age. When I first saw two naked seventy-five-year-olds making love in a movie and enjoying their bodies together at the edge of the sea, I was shocked. And I had seen Alice Neel’s paintings and other images like that.”

“Such as?” Anca asked.

“Vanitas images, sculptural groups mostly, and then Dürer, Rodin, Otto Dix . . .” Alice responded, gazing into the distance at people pushing strollers and kids running about in a sandy play area.

“But isn’t she objectifying women if she’s showing only a fetish part of their bodies?” Anca asked, eyeing an elderly man handling an old bellows camera set on a tripod.

“I’ve thought of that too,” Alice said, taking a photo of the man and his subject. “She says she might do the whole body at some point. But I think those images would be too powerful and would take away from the emotional strength women get as they get older.”

“That’s true,” Anca said. She looked at kids on the playground swinging on monkey bars. “But on the other hand, if you show only the breasts, you don’t convey the notion of psychological strength, either.”

“Which is why I suggested she do the hands as well,” Alice said.

Anca smiled. “On the breasts?”

Alice gave a congenial laugh and invited Anca to a beer at the restaurant in the center of the park.

“I like that you found a way to Ela,” Anca said once they received their orders.

“Yeah, Ela . . .” Alice mused, cradling the glass in her hands. “I simply share with her what it feels like to be active. Remind her what you and I are living for, in the hope that the dialogue—or monologue—will awaken in her memories and the desire to get out of her shell,” Alice said.        

“Do you still write to her every day?” Anca asked.

Alice glanced up at her friend. “I do,” she said. “She needs to know that we’re thinking of her,” she added, taking a mental picture of Anca as she was then, with her perfect gamine cut and her dappled green eyes set off so beautifully by the dark mascara. “And she needs to be reminded of who she is.” She looked away, out the window, at two lovers walking along with their arms curled against each other. “She’s hurting because Phil wanted her before he knew who she was,” she said eventually.

“But that’s the definition of infatuation,” Anca blurted rather loudly, putting her mug down with a thunk that surprised them both. “Or does she imagine that Phil loved her?” she then asked more quietly.

“I have a feeling that she’s imagining she loves him. Loves, not loved,” Alice said.

“Hasn’t she heard of sexual attraction?” Anca said in a small voice.

Alice smiled slyly by way of a response.

*

“I heard I’m not invited to your next party,” Pamfil said, strolling by Anca’s side after running into her downtown one afternoon in June 2002.

“Well, you know how it is, jealous boyfriends and all,” Anca said, lifting a corner of her lips puckishly.

Pamfil didn’t respond to the jab in any way. They walked a few steps in silence. “How long have you two been together?”

“Nine years.”

“Nine years?” Pamfil reacted. He ran his gaze unconsciously over her slim body and then gave her a pasted grin.

Anca smiled at his uneasiness around her.

“I remember when we met at the beach. You were so young and beautiful with your long black hair,” Pamfil said as they stopped at a crossing. “So, you won’t invite me to your party?” he asked after a pause, as they started crossing the street.

“Sorry, Marcel has taken you off the guest list for now,” Anca said with a half-laugh. “He’s just being ridiculous,” she added once they were back on a sidewalk.

“Will I see you at my place?” Pamfil asked, casually reaching out for her hand and giving it a squeeze. He tilted his head at her. “Party is next Saturday.”

Anca smiled despite herself but then quickly regained her sangfroid. “So soon? It’s been a month already?”

“My cherries are ripe,” Pamfil said with a smile, releasing Anca’s hand. “Next Saturday’s theme is cherries and sangria. I give you the cherries, and you all make the desserts. I make the sangria.”

“Sounds like fun,” Anca said, slowly recovering from Pamfil’s touch. She waved goodbye and walked away. Then she turned around. “Remember not to come to my party,” she called, the jocular note in her voice disguising her concern.

“Will you come to mine?” he asked, his tone almost entreating.

Anca stifled a laugh. “I’ll have to convince Marcel.”

Pamfil watched her with twinkling eyes for a moment. “If you’re coming, stop by this week to get some cherries.”

To be continued . . .