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.”
“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.
“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 . . .