The Eau de Perrier was certainly sparkling and the white wine smelled like stinking piss, but was very French, a Sauvignon.
Wooden tables, crystal glasses, scarlet velvet curtains, red candles, an elegant and charming waitress, everything looked like and felt like France. But it was not France. It was just a French bistro in the middle of Eighth Avenue, old factories and large streets very unlike the little, cobblestoned streets filled with actual French people and French charm and her French man.
Her cell phone rang. It was him, as usual. Not sitting next to her, but still pretending to be there with her. As if he did not have a French wife and a French daughter who were fast asleep at this late hour in their French apartment near a real French bistro in Paris.
He was often in New York on business, and when they had met, he had forgotten to mention that Paris was not only his home town, but also his wife’s and daughter’s. And when he finally admitted he was not going to be able to spend Christmas with her since another family was expecting him to be on the other side of the world, it was way too late: with the oxytocin released after the umpteenth orgasm (they called it the hormone of love for something!), there was nothing she could do; she had already fallen for him.
“Hallo darling, what are you doing?” he asked.
She always wondered how he could stay awake ‘til 2 a.m. French time every single night, but she believed it was his way to be near her and make himself forgiven for not being there. And whenever she was not at home, he would joke about possible encounters, charming men who would fall at her feet and win her heart. It was his way to give her the same ambiguous option he had chosen for himself and to check if her love for him was true. He had not even mentioned he would ever leave his family for her, but her love had to be exclusive, of course.
“How is Miguel doing?” he asked. Miguel was the name he had invented for her imaginary Spanish lover.
“Let’s see,” she answered. “I have a nice Miguel right in front of me. Blond, cute, maybe a bit too young, but certainly experienced since he is a bartender.”
“See,” he pointed out, “there is always some Miguel, and it is implicit in human nature that you will find some Miguel of particular interest and that he will inevitably be interested in you. Why don’t you ask him out?” he added.
“Sure,” she answered mockingly, giving the same reassuring answer she would always give whenever he suggested she should find herself another man.
He felt relieved as usual even though she sometimes thought he would have felt better if she had been the one to actually cheat on him. Then his conscience would be clean.
He kissed her good night and despite his wish to keep up with two lives, he left her with yet another lonely night to spend.
She was eating her Gratin d’orange, sabayon de miel et thym as she started to watch the bartender. He was indeed very young, at least ten years younger than her. Yet he looked ripe and reassuring. He intercepted her glance and smiled at her. She would normally have looked away, but that night, in that French bistro, she smiled back with her brightest, Sauvignon-aided smile.
After a few glimpses, he walked over and started to talk to her. She might have discouraged him, but neither her words nor her body language were telling him that she was not available.
She took her time finishing her dinner, sipping her wine and smiling, pretending she was easy.
When she asked for the bill, she found a small piece of paper with a phone number written on it. She raised her head, looked at the waiter and started laughing.
Then she walked out of the door, that same smile still on her face. Eighth Avenue suddenly looked breathtakingly real, with its dim lights and the fog and a swarm of yellow cabs passing by. So unlike the bistro, which was not at all in France. It was just a French bistro.