Ellie looked for home and she made one in the arms of a French man. His accent drove her wild, his cologne a faint promise that clung to her clothes, in her bed, on her skin. She loved him, in every way a 22 year-old red-headed stripper from Baltimore could love a client.
Years passed and she had a home but she did not want to return to it, to the empty arms of a French man who preferred work to her, to the smell of perfume on his suit, the dullness of his eyes when he looked at her.
Have I killed you? She questioned, silently knotting his tie but his hands brushed hers away, too slow, too clumsy. Did no spark survive?
He didn’t notice the plea in her eyes, the hesitant, almost unsure, curve of her lips as she stood on the tips of her toes to plant a kiss on his cheek. He half-turned away, so he missed the flicker of hurt in her eyes.
It was then a small voice, from the back of her mind, through the crack in her heart, told her all their dreams had died.
This was not how Ellie imagined her marriage. She did not want to be a bride growing up, didn’t dream of playing house with a pretend husband and plastic baby doll from Walmart. She wanted passion, adventure. She wanted love. Above all, she craved honesty and intimacy.
Ellie replayed the last six years over in her head, like a puzzle with too many pieces, like memories overlapping, words bleeding through to places they no longer belonged. She tried to recall the beginning of the end, to simulate all the ways everything went wrong and fantasize what she could do to fix it. This felt better than being helpless, inadequate, lonely.
Ellie and the Frenchman marry. They are happy, blissful but they both know this doesn’t last forever. They make love often, never have children, travel the world. Two years later, Ellie no longer enjoys her job, the French man doesn’t understand this. He calls her an irresponsible child, scolds her when she spends money, reminds her of her failings at cooking, cleaning, accounting. She wants to talk. He wants her to shut up. At first, Ellie says nothing.
They fight and fuck and forget these arguments. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Then, one day, Ellie applies red lipstick labeled Lust. Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes fixed on the vanity mirror. She pretends not to notice her co-worker, Max or Mark or Matt, smoothing his shirt, zipping his pants, the sound of it sending a thrill through her body. Whoever he is leans down and kisses her cheek, no hesitation, no uncertainty, and whispers something she’ll take to her grave. She will see him at work and pretend she doesn’t know him.
The Frenchman will come home. He will kiss her cheek, quick and thoughtless, and take his dinner into the study. He will not even notice what she is wearing or hear her ask about his day. He won’t know that, just hours before, a complete stranger nailed his wife. He doesn’t hear her cry herself to sleep.
Ellie and the Frenchman marry. It’s a small gathering, just family, and they are happy. They make love often, spend time traveling. Neither want children. Ellie leaves her job for another and he doesn’t like it. The Frenchman calls Ellie irresponsible. A crack is formed between them. Ellie is pregnant. Neither want this. Abortion.
The Frenchman works all the time. He tells Ellie this is how people in the real world live. This, he had said, is how responsible people act. They do not switch jobs on a dime. They do not get pregnant and then pay for abortions. Responsible people get on with life, he stressed, then he left for work. He doesn’t hear Ellie cry. He doesn’t hear her say, I’m sorry, my love. I’m trying.
The Frenchman never responds or acknowledges the email she sent. The one that said, we need to talk.
When he’s home, they make love but it’s quick and sloppy and when he’s done, he rolls over. He checks his work email. He takes a shower. He runs to the convenience store for a can of beer. Ellie stares at the wall, feeling the presence of the divorce papers like a paper cut. They’re in the bed side table but she doesn’t pull them out.
The Frenchman left for a business trip. Ellie hoped he cheated on her with a red-headed stripper from Baltimore. She hoped he made it easier by leaving first. She hoped he’d come home and say, I love you. We will get through this.
The Frenchman came home, took his dinner in the study, shut the door behind him. He didn’t notice Ellie standing in the bedroom doorway, didn’t see the redness of her eyes, the way she shifted from one foot to the other. The Frenchman didn’t know she’d packed a bag but couldn’t leave.
Ellie and the Frenchman marry. They do not have a wedding and instead, go before a judge. They make love often, fight often, forgive often. They do not have children and they travel the world together. Ellie trades one job in for another and the Frenchman doesn’t understand this but he loves her and encourages her anyways. While away for business trips, they text, email, and call.
Ellie finds out she’s pregnant. She knows the Frenchman doesn’t want children and though she’s not sure what she wants, she has an abortion. They make love soon after. He doesn’t understand why she’s crying. She doesn’t understand it, either.
A year later, the Frenchman gets a promotion. They both leave at 7:00 am and Ellie is the first to arrive at 6:00pm. He doesn’t arrive until 10:00pm. Ellie eats alone at the table, the Frenchman in his study. Before going to bed, Ellie leans down to kiss his cheek, hesitant and uncertain. The Frenchman flinches, annoyed, and tells her he’s busy. He doesn’t see the way she hugs the pillow, eyes lonely, body aching to be touched.
The next morning, Ellie tells him how she feels. They fight and fuck and forget the argument. Ellie forgets the dry cleaning and the Frenchman gives her an earful about responsibility. The Frenchman questions her about every purchase, donation, paycheck. It’s our money, he told her.
The word our felt good on her lips but Ellie learned our money meant money not spent. It meant saving every penny for early retirement. It meant quitting her visits to the Y and dropping two classes in college. They fight again and again, making love to make up for whatever things they couldn’t say.
This continues until there is no fighting or sex. The Frenchman doesn’t see the email that says, we need to talk. He tells Ellie he doesn’t have time as he rushes out the door. He doesn’t take her calls, doesn’t answer her texts. He doesn’t eat at the table or come to bed.
The Frenchman doesn’t hear the snap of the door, the swing of a bag packed with only what a single person needed. He doesn’t notice the loose, empty hangers in the hall closet nor the packet of papers on the corner of his desk.
The Frenchman doesn’t hear Ellie say, I want a divorce.