If You Want a Happy Ending

April 30, 2008
By Michael Blum, White Plains, NY

'If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story'
~Orson Welles

She was peacefully, slowly, gradually slipping farther and farther into the bathtub. A warm wet maroon towelette covered half her face up to the tip of her nose. He was directly opposite her, adjacent to the bath, sitting against the wall on the cold linoleum. Except, it wasn’t cold, and he was perfectly comfortable. Even the fact that the toilet was only inches away from his left arm and that his half full glass of champagne rested on the closed lid of this toilet didn’t bother him. The two of them were at peace.

These two, these two complementary souls, their heat and love dependent on each other, bouncing energy and warmth off each other like an old arcade game of feelings. These two were not a couple, but a pair. They thought of themselves as not an item subject to jealousy, contempt, disgust, animosity, or perhaps an occasional smile or glance of innocent and contented envy. They were actually not an item but two souls independent and exempt from all human commentary be it critical or complimentary- they were simply immune to it.

‘I want a divorce’ she said, almost in an inward gasp, as she removed the maroon towelette and through it at the wall directly in front of her. The two let out a grand exuberant, almost smug laughter. Drops of water from the smack of the towelette hitting the tile landed in his face and lips. He subtly moved his upper and bottom lips against each other, and ever so gently licked them. His heart felt warm and exploded like a wound at that instant.

His name is Brendan Costello and she is Emma Delon. Their ages are not important for they could be a couple of centuries old and they would have the same relationship, live the same, act the same, only they would not quite look the same. But that is the aesthetic, something that seldom concerns them.

With every exhale he took, with every time he dumped his insides of this amazing air and spirit, he inhaled and his chest and heart erupted with this great happiness that had left it only a second ago. Except it wasn’t a second, neither of them breathed in intervals of seconds- then again, does anyone? But these two, their breathing has been suspending, with every day they live in each other’s lives their breathing becomes slower and more drawn out. As if breathing has been coming secondary to this great happiness that they live in together, which is their true source of life.
‘Look, that towelette,’ she delicately uttered, ‘its still sticking to the wall.’
The towel that was once warm, wet, and glowing with her energy now looked dry, sad, and grotesquely plastered to the tile it had struck. A single bead of red dye dripped slowly into the bathtub guided by the canals of cement that held the pieces of ancient white tile together. It pierced the water and diffused in a cloud of pink and red mist, gradually becoming one with the water it was in, and then it was no longer visible.
‘You’re odd,’ he said, slowly as he exhaled.
She smiled back, as she inhaled, breathing back all of the happiness in the air, and then letting it out again.

1 year, 7 months, 2 weeks, 1 day, 5 hours, and 13 minutes later…

A loud and obtrusive honk screeches from a faded yellow Fiat on the Rive Gauche along the Seine. The machine of moving gears and cogs that was the city had stopped for a moment from this noise. Instead of just ignoring it like every other honk everything paused for a moment to identify the source of this horrible noise.

Then everything resumed.

Brendan was sitting at the chic outdoor Café Bleu, reading a copy of Descartes for Dummies. He had his elbows propped up on the table, holding the book with his hands about a foot off the table, appearing as if he wanted to be seen with this book. He had a nice maroon sweater and khaki tan shorts. He also had a blue umbrella with him as instructed by the attractive Parisian weather girl from the television. Out from an alley appeared Emma, looking gorgeous but unapproachable. She looked bitter yet fragile. She was wearing red stockings, a dress that was neither tan nor faded yellow nor white but in the middle and a light blue eyeliner. Brendan saw her through a crack in his finger as he turned a page in the book, but pretended to have not seen her. She knew he saw her, but she still approached him as if she had not.

She sat down to him without saying a word. After a minute she politely smiled and said his name. For the minute that passed between the time she sat down and the time she said his name, Brendan was thinking. He was thinking of first, what to talk about, and second, how to escape the table.

As he put his book away in his bag he noticed an Air France ticket slightly but not blatantly protruding from her tote bag- she was ready to go back.
‘Hello Emma, how have you been!’ he said.
‘Ok, just working around, I guess its been busier lately.’
‘Yeah, well…your deadline is soon isn’t it, the publishers are probably-’ He thought of what to say next. ‘down your back’, ‘up your shirt’, ‘in your face’. All those terms sounded so awkward, and so sensitive. He thought of the publishers doing all those things and he did not know why. He has not kissed her for a week and they have been slowly moving away from each other. He looked down and coughed and she saved him,
‘Yeah, its been getting difficult.’
‘So,’ she said as she picked her face up and tried to feign happiness or excitement, ‘I see you are reading.’
‘Yeah, I guess I’ve been getting into philosophy a bit. Rene Descartes.’
She cringed as he said Descartes, for he pronounced it Des-cart-es. She bit her lip and smiled looking down to the floor. The blood rushed to his face as he saw her reaction.
She smelled of lavender. In a hundred years, he may forget everything about her as a person, he may not even know her name, but he will always remember that smell. He began to think about things as they once were.

It was that smell of lavender that awoke him from his nostalgia and musings of her and their past and history and when things were good. He looked into her eyes for the first time since she came to the table. There was a sad understanding in their eyes. They knew nothing could change- nothing could improve. There was no point in bringing up their state or even a solution, it would be redundant. He knew it was futile to tell her how much he loved her because she would ignore it or being something else up. It was almost as if it wounded her even further to hear his affection for her.

‘I love therefore I am,’ Brendan said. Brendan knew Descartes wrote ‘I think therefore I am’ but in the recent weeks, Brendan’s cool taciturn cleverness has faded, replaced with a sort of sappy love obsessed ersatz sense of humor. He was already biting his lip in wishing to take back these words he had just said. But he went on in the shadow of his own embarrassment. ‘That’s what he said,’ pointing to the silly animated caricature of Descartes on his book. They almost both laughed under their breaths, as if it were one of their old jokes- but they didn’t- because to laugh was to mend everything, and they knew they could not mend anything. She quickly switched her mindset from her half playfulness brought upon by his ridiculous comment to a serious mood; the mood changed from peaking over to precipice of a misplaced happiness to a contempt worse than any that had existed between them in the past.

The tension was almost palpable; the maitre d’ did not come to their table.

Throughout the course of their conversation, the two of them did not bring up anything about their pasts. They spoke of nothing of any substance: a cricket match, a restaurant, a bad movie, and a union strike. They both hate cricket.

It was as if the whole world stopped to spectate a chess tournament between god and the devil; the game was something of a stalemate. They were waiting for something to happen, as two great, monumental forces fought and traded throws. But it was also as if this meeting between these two people was of no importance whatsoever. There would be no progress made, nothing would change, everything would remain static, because that is what was fated to happen, that is the way the story was structured. As their little charade of a conversation continued, Keaton and Chaplin popped into Brendan and Emma’s minds respectively. They thought of a little skit involving each of their comic actors in which they portray a doomed couple, once in love, but now unable to revive any past feelings for each other. Brendan thought of Keaton burning his tongue and spraying his soup into his onscreen girlfriend. Emma thought of Chaplin doing something ridiculous but could not specifically picture it.

For the third time that day, Brendan and Emma locked eyes. The city was filled with silence for the fourth time that day. They both exhaled at the same exact time, and they both knew together that the next breath, and every breath that followed would feel distinctly different from any breath that had taken in the last three years.

A drop of rain fell on the table. The sun was still out.
‘Let’s not do this anymore.’
‘What?’ he answered.
‘I mean, why are we doing this.’

He thought of something clever to say, something to redeem him and maybe bring her back. He couldn’t think of anything.
‘I won’t be able to live without you,’ he said looking down.
‘I know. But wait, that isn’t true, you will not remember this day in a year.’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘Because this is silly and it isn’t fun anymore and we need to move on and I’m tired and I’m bored and I don’t like the way things are going and I want to go home and it isn’t Des-cart-es its day-karrt and it isn’t a love therefore I am it is I think therefore I am, and stop telling me you love me, it only makes things weird. I’m going back to New York. Call me in a week or two. Au’revoir.’

She leaned forward and kissed him, slightly missing and only catching the left half of his lip. It should have felt warm but it didn’t. It was cold and rigid and the rain started to fall.

At that instant when she walked away into the cab he felt like everything he knew was shattered. This fairy tale world he had been living in was gone and far away. That great romanticism that had permeated his (and their) life (lives) was crushed and done with. Words became numbers, imagination became algorithm, and fairy tale became physics. This great music of happiness that was playing in the background abruptly stopped and was filled with the bleeping of cars and the yakking of Frenchmen wooing Anna Karina-esque French girls. This great lens of sepia and of quaint happiness that life was seen through was shattered and all the harsh grays, dark blues, and blacks were brought into the forefront. All the dirty pigeons sat perched on the grey stone and the clock struck 2. Brendan looked down on the horizon and the Seine. There was a single boat. It was tall. It looked as if it connected the strong blue green of the Seine with the grey blues of the Parisian sky. Like a thumb tack holding the two great canvases together.

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