One for the Road
by Jefferson Hunt
She spread herself out like honey on white bread. Just a hundred more dollars, then she would have enough to leave all this. A tall, languorous man nearly a boy with long, brown fingers pulled his silk tie through the button-down collar of his white shirt and undid the front buttons. She watched him from under half-closed lids. His eyes; dark, just flecked with brown, came down to drink her up as he lay his money on the dresser top.
It was time for her to go away. Her wings spread like doves’ and flew her to where he’d be left far behind.
The morning sun touched here and there among the branches in the atrium, lifting a finger occasionally as a tropical breeze sashayed through, twirled the paddle of chimes, and playfully pushed in through the lace curtains.
"Isabella," he asked. "Are you listening? Where have you been to now?"
Bean, she thought. His British accent was so full of the flavor of chalky cliffs and boggy moors and musty castles. She looked at him with his collar points jutting up from under his chin with the pale, almost white-blonde little beard.
"I’ve been right here," she said drawing out on the "been" as though it felt good to touch.
"I’d thought you’d left me," he said squaring up the knot under his chin.
"But, you are leaving me."
"I’ll be back. You’ll see."
"Where are you going?" It was not as if she trusted him.
"To pick up a Times and some coffee. I think we are out." He lay down next to her in the late-morning-warm bed.
Looking up into his eyes like the beautiful placid blue spas at Reims, she asked again where he was going, "Narbonne?"
"I’ll go with you."
"You’re not dressed."
She rolled over him and off the other side by the closet. She pulled on a summer dress with skinny straps as she would try on a man, something sleek and elegant with his natural, comfortable love to be done for. She picked up her clutch at the door, "Coming?"
That feminine power she had with the toss of her head was inscrutable to a man.
He groaned his resignation, "Really, I’m just going for a paper."
"Let’s take the convertible." It was like plucking the strings of a guitar the way she played him.
"Ah," he sighed to himself rising like the moon at dawn and grabbed a fist of Francs from off the dresser top.
"Isabella," he called.
Her legs took her in long, easy strides through the atrium without waiting. She cut through the veranda on the sea side and slid into the driver’s seat of the Fiat not even looking back for him but wrenched the key in the ignition. The engine jumped to her touch. Just as he slid in beside her, she roared off throwing up a plume of sand. The man-toy, she thought. The man - the toy. The wind blew back her pale hair in streamers that lashed across her forehead.
"This road just isn’t suited for this speed," he said in his most perfect British gentleman.
"Au contraire, mon cher. It suites me just fine." She pressed on the gas. The little car skittered down the narrow curves of sea road. "I love this car. I love to take it fast." She pressed the gas to the floor. "Can you feel it? We are practically flying."
"We don’t have wings."
"We will." She turned to look at him, his tanned face, his pale-streaked hair perfectly pressed against his head. She leaned over to kiss him.
"Damn it. Will you bloody watch where you are going!" He took control of the wheel while she laughed with her head in his lap and her feet out the window.
"There go my sandals," she simpered.
"Sit up, will you." He tried sliding over to the driver’s seat, his left leg angling around the stick shift as she floated on his lap. He missed a curve, squealing into the soft sandy shoulder, groping for the brake and gripping the steering wheel till his knuckles whitened.
"You’ll get us both killed," he said settling into the driver’s seat.
The little blue car wandered down the seaside road like a fish in the crystal water. She leaned her head against him where the beige ramie fabric draped over the angles of his shoulder and just set off the pink of his skin. "Let’s go for a swim."
"Oh, you men and your stomachs." There was a tremulous breeze rustling her dress. "But, isn’t it hot out already?"
"Already? You’ve slept the morning away."
"Then, we will swim after we eat, won’t we?" She drew a finger around his ear and along the close-cut hair at his nape. They had gotten their hair cut and colored blond alike yesterday in a parlor with a woman barber.
"I don’t know."
She looked at his face, expressionless. He was just a man and a car and a beautiful woman at his side, therefore just a man and a car.
"You don’t care, do you?"
"No," he sighed, "I don’t care. We’ll swim if you like."
"I do like. But...." She sat back in her seat and pressed down the dress blowing around her thighs. "I won’t if you are going to be so...."
"I’ll swim with you. Where do you want to go, our cove?"
"No, I won’t go."
"Uhh," he groaned. "Do you want to swim or not?"
"No." She folded her arms across her chest and looked out to the low cliffs rushing by. "And, don’t talk to me that way."
"We’ll go if you want."
"Or not go if I don’t want? Is that it?"
"Isabella." He sounded hurt and reached out his hand to touch her face.
She pushed him away then grabbed his hand and brought it up to her cheek. "I’ve been bad again, haven’t I?"
"I have been. You are angry with me. I . . . I don’t know what I do to make you so angry with me." She pressed his hairy hand to her cheek. "Something must be wrong with me."
"No, don’t talk that way."
"No. We are almost in town now. We’ll talk about it later."
He downshifted as they drove down hill toward the clay-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls lazing along the narrow streets. They passed a young man wearing a gray beret with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine in the basket of his bicycle as he pedaled along the street. He flicked at his cap with two fingers toward Isabella, and she rose up on her knees to turn and wave at him.
"Such a nice young man." She turned back around smoothing out her skirts. "I wonder if we’ll see him in town."
"I’m sure not," he said blandly.
"I’ll look for him."
"You’ll not. That is ridiculous. He was just a boy with a loaf of French bread."
The Fiat purred through the narrow streets with balcony’s lined with wet washing hung out to dry and busty women leaning over the rail, mooning over Isabella, with their own dreams of Fiats and fancy escorts and freedom to fly wherever they will. And, the French men in little cafés drinking wine watched her purr by and toss her new pale blond hair with the roll of her head and wondered where their wives
were. Such dreams they had.
The Fiat parked along the Esterel side of la Napoule and the two got out to go to their café with the stones of the street cold on her feet. Their waiter came with his white apron on and a tablecloth draped across his arm. "Madame et Monsieur, ont fait decolorer les cheveux. C’est bien."
"Merci, Monsieur. On le fait toujours dans le mois d’aout."
"C’est bien. Est tres bien."
"Take my arm," she said to the waiter. "I want to sit out here in the sunshine."
"Of course, Madame."
"Mademoiselle," she corrected.
"Of course." He took them to a table along the street and flicked the new, white cloth over it.
"Monsieur, some wine?"
"I’ll have coffee and. . ."
"I’ll have the wine."
"But, we haven’t eaten yet. You really should have something to eat first. The wine will go straight to your head."
She tossed her head and turned her chair so she could look down the street where they had come to watch a bicycle trundling up.
"Monsieur," the waiter said in his best servant voice. "I’ll bring coffee, and bread and cheese and wine for Mademoiselle, no?"
He sighed. "Yes, bring that. And," he said drawing out a twenty Frank note, "Would you bring the Times of London?"
"Of course, Monsieur."
The waiter left them alone. "I think I see his bicycle."
"Surely not. They all ride bicycles here."
"And, I see his French bread."
"They all ride bicycles and carry French bread. Why are you so interested in him?"
"Are you jealous?" She turned to him and stroked his chin. "Are you jealous?"
"Of a boy on a bicycle?"
"Monsieur, your Times of London, coffee, bread, cheese." He took them one at a time off his tray and placed them on the little table.
"Mademoiselle, your wine." He poured a sparkling red glass that teased from the mouth of the bottle tied up in a bib.
"Merci." She downed the glass and turned back to the street. "Monsieur," she called out waving to the young man pedaling with the French bread. "Monsieur, where are you going?"
"I am going to my flat just up the street, Mademoiselle."
He stopped his bicycle just on the other side of the iron fence, and she plucked the bottle of wine out of his basket.
"Let me carry this for you."
He smiled a big, white smile and nodded, "Oui."
"Isabella!" the other man said suddenly standing.
"Sit down," she said throwing her legs over the fence and sitting on the bicycle with her arms around the young man’s waist, the bottle dangling in front. "You men use me and toss me out like yesterday’s news. It is my turn."
The young man turned to her with his big, dark eyes and tightened the knot of his tie under his chin. "One more kiss?"
"How much did you leave?"
His forehead wrinkled, unsure, and he smiled. "A hundred dollars."
"One for the road."
Copyright ©2002 Jefferson Hunt. All Rights Reserved
Jefferson: “Since publishing poetry and newspaper articles in the student publications at Taylor University and Ball State University, and except for writing articles for a small South-central Illinois newspaper, these are the first two pieces I have had published. Most recently, I have been writing for on-line workshops such as A Novel Approach 2 Writing, the Critters Workshop, and Orson Scott Card’s web site. In my ‘spare time’, I write and produce a newsletter for Epworth Church, take masters classes in education and English, am looking for a full-time teaching job, and raise, with my spouse of 15 years, our three children.” Contact Jefferson.