by Julian Gallo
Luz stands on the balcony, holding the rail and leaning forward, a shaft of the fading sunlight illuminating a strand of hair which billows in the breeze. A few autumn leaves spiral upwards from the street, rotating in the air before catching another updraft and fluttering away. She leans her elbows on the railing now, her big ass protruding outward, revealing just a hint of her panty line beneath the linen fabric of her pants. She’s lost weight, perhaps twenty pounds since the last time Max had seen her, which was months ago, a chance meeting along Fifth Avenue in New York. He should have known then they’d wind up together somewhere, somehow, perhaps cloistered away in his apartment, or even a hotel room, but he never imagined it would be this small apartment in Paris.
He lights a cigarette, watches Luz’s robust ass as it shifts back and forth with her alternating movements. The breeze blows her hair over the shoulders of her flower print blouse, one he doesn’t particularly care for, but it suits her. At least she dresses appropriate for her age, which is a quite a few years his senior. She turns her head to the left, her eyes hidden behind her designer sunglasses, catching the full force of the breeze, which now blows her hair away from her face, revealing the march of time. She looks older now, her true age revealed in the fading autumn sunlight. Luz had taken to touching up her face on the photos she posts on her social media page in a desperate attempt to stave off her steady march towards senior citizenship, which she is on the cusp of, a journey Max himself will soon embark on.
Luz turns her head to face him, the breeze now blowing her hair across her face. She pulls a few strands away from her face and grimaces.
You’re not supposed to smoke in here, she says.
Max doesn’t say anything, takes one last drag from the cigarette and walks over to the window, flicks the half-smoked cigarette onto the leave strewn Rue Lepic. He looks at Luz as she again pulls a strand of hair from her lips. She leans over the railing to get a better look at the street below, her eyes focusing on the discarded cigarette burning between two cobblestones.
You could have flushed it down the toilet, she says.
He doesn’t answer her, then he leans his arms on the railing beside her, takes in the view.
How did you find this place, he asks.
Online, she says. It’s beautiful isn’t it?
He looks at her, a smile pulling at the corners of her lips, revealing the now deeply etched laugh lines and wrinkles she works so hard to conceal behind her make up and filters on her photo apps. She’s a very attractive woman. She needn’t do such things but vanity often prevails. A woman isn’t allowed to age the same way a man is, for he makes no attempts to conceal the grey in his hair, in his beard, nor does he try and hide the crow’s feet around his eyes, which are now much more pronounced than they were a few years ago. Nor does he bother to work on his gut, which he long ago accepted.
He parts the hair away from her face, his eyes dancing across the laugh lines, wrinkles, and crow’s feet.
Why are you looking at me like that?
No reason, he says. You’re a very beautiful woman. I always thought so.
She turns away with an embarrassed smile. She can’t remember the last time someone told her she was beautiful. Not her husband, who long ago lost interest in her, in her body, in her once ravishing beauty. The march of time kills more than one’s appearance.
She looks at him, a smile still tugging at her lips, then touches his face.
Thank you, she says. I needed to hear that.
Last night wasn’t enough for you to realize that?
She hadn’t been touched like that for a long time, nor had anyone been so attentive to her body, nor felt so desired as she had when she was a much younger woman, back when men twisted themselves into knots in a desperate attempt to receive her attention.
She leans in for a kiss. Max kisses her, touches her face.
I bet you never expected this, she says.
Have you ever thought about it?
Then why didn’t you ever try?
You’re married — and because of Lucila.
Lucila? Why should Lucila matter?
It would make things kind of awkward, don’t you think?
You’ve never been interested in Lucila, why should it matter?
You know how Lucila feels about me. What I think of her is of no importance. We’re still friends, right? How would it look?
It shouldn’t make any difference as far as Lucila is concerned, she says.
She stares off towards the distance, the fading sunlight now reflecting off her sunglasses, illuminating her forehead and the tip of her nose. It’s a picturesque moment, but he doesn’t have his cellphone on hand. He looks back at it on the coffee table, considers retrieving it, but then loses the moment when she stands upright and starts back inside the apartment.
It’s getting cold, she says.
Yeah, winter’s around the corner.
He watches her walk towards the couch. He’d never been with a woman so small.
She sits on the couch and looks towards the kitchenette.
Is there any wine left from last night?
A half a bottle, he says. Plus there’s another one. We bought two, remember?
I’d like some, she says.
He steps back into the apartment and fills two glasses with wine. He hands her her glass, then sits beside her. They silently toast one another, then kiss before taking the first sip.
This is good wine, she says.
She places the wine glass on the coffee table, the rim of the glass now coated with lipstick. There’s something sexy about it, so he leans in for another kiss, this time holding his lips to her’s before pulling away.
It’s all going kind of fast, he says. A few days ago, I had no idea I’d be in Paris, particularly with you, of all people.
What does that mean, of all people?
You know — we’ve known each other for a long time but we never really socialized all that much. Only when Lucila decided to bring you around, which was hardly ever.
She never wanted me to join you, she says. I think she was worried.
Well, you know — she’s a jealous type, and there’s always been that competition between us.
She sips her wine, then places the glass back on the coffee table.
I was married when she was young, but whenever she was interested in a man, she always worried I would try to steal them away from her. It’s silly, I know, but that’s the way it was, the way it is.
I kind of figured that’s why she never wanted you around, Max says. I mean, not that I ever seriously considered…
But you did, she says.
Yeah, I did. I never thought it would happen, though.
But you did think about it.
She sips her wine, leans forward, her elbows on her knees, her fingers stroking the stem of the wine glass.
If Marcello was still as attentive as he used to be, perhaps I would have to —
What you do is your own business, Max says. You don’t have to justify anything.
Don’t I? What would Marcello say if he knew who I was with?
He doesn’t know me.
That’s not the point. He thinks I’m here alone. He hasn’t a clue.
No reason why he should.
No, I guess not.
She sips her wine, places the glass on the table, leans back on the couch.
Kiss me, she says.
He kisses her, his hand touching her face.
You really think I’m beautiful?
I do, he says.
Even though I’m old now?
You’re not old, he says. You’re only a few years older than I am. If that’s the case, then we’re both old, right? What difference does it make?
I sometimes get depressed over it, she says. I mean, whenever I see older photos of myself.
There’s no crime in aging, Luz. Some aren’t lucky enough to have that experience. We should both count our blessings.
Have you ever felt you were no longer attractive?
I never really thought about it, he says. I suppose so. I’m certainly not the same man I was when I was younger, but I don’t think about it.
She touches his face, kisses him. You make me feel beautiful, she says.
He doesn’t say anything, for he had not expected this either. He thought it would be a brief affair, a curiosity to be satisfied, a fantasy. Nothing more. He doesn’t say anything and kisses her forehead.
We still have a couple of days ahead of us, he says. What would you like to do?
Just enjoy each other’s company, she says. Take a walk, visit the cafés, make love. What better city to do that in? I’d like to walk along the quai, by the river. That’s always one of my favorite things to do in Paris.
Last night they walked along the Quai de Conti in the Latin Quarter, past the docked riverboats, the trees in full autumnal splendor, the breeze pushing the leaves along the wet cobblestones after a brief period of rain, and all he could think of was how he was walking hand in hand with someone he hardly ever saw, how they both wound up in that place at that particular time together, an impulsive excursion for sure, for each of them, but what else did they have to do in their lives other than go through the same routines day in and day out? By the time they were walking along the quai, he was convinced, and when they returned to her Montmartre rental, they opened the windows, sat on the couch and drank some wine. Then, without a word to one another, fell within one another’s embrace. As he kissed her, he half expected to wake up, that it would have all been another one of the dreams he had about her, but no, it was real, it was happening. What was perhaps a titillating fantasy for each of them, a fleeting scenario which neither one would expect to actually happen, had revealed itself as the fabric of fantasy was torn away. Her naked body now loomed over him, the warmth of her sex, feeling himself inside her, the soft, doughy skin of her hips, thighs, and ass under his clenched fingers. It wasn’t at all like the fantasy, nor was it for her. It wasn’t like a Hollywood movie, full of passion and quick edits of their undulating bodies in the darkness of the room. It was quick and frantic, their noisy pants and groans and rapid creak of the bedsprings replacing the musical soundtrack of their respective fantasies.
I appreciated how attentive you were, she says, reaching for the wine glass on the coffee table. My husband, he no longer pays attention to me like that. It’s sad, really, and I suppose if it wasn’t for our —
You don’t have to say anything about that, Max says. It’s not important.
You’ll never say anything to Lucila about this, will you?
Are you kidding?
I won’t say anything either.
It’s best to keep this between us. Besides, he says, then pauses to sip his wine, when we return home, everything goes back to normal, right? I mean, we can’t very well —
No, no, of course not, she says.
She looks at him and smiles, brushes her hair back with her fingers. We have three days, she says. I’m hoping they will be as fulfilling as yesterday and today were. I sometimes feel time is slipping away from me. It’s important to enjoy life, don’t you think?
It bothers me to think that I have less years ahead of me than I do behind me, that the best years of my life are gone now.
You make it sound so depressing, he says. What matters is now, right? This moment in time.
She looks at him and smiles again, her laugh lines etching deeper into her face, her crow’s feet more pronounced around the eyes. When he touches her face, he notices how much his hands have aged, the veins more noticeable, the wrinkles on his fingers more pronounced.
We live our lives, she says, but are we ever really alive? I mean, all this time…
Don’t think about it, he says. Think about right now, this moment.
A cellphone chimes and each of them look at their respective phones on the coffee table.
It’s mine, she says, picking it up. It’s Lucila. She wants to know how I’m doing.
She places the phone back on the coffee table, takes Max’s hand.
I’ve had enough wine, she says. Let’s go inside.
New York City, August 2022