Short Story Collection 1.0
Travel and romance fiction by Adam J. Cheshier
Lonely in Paris
Six months had passed and the man hardly realized. Soon, he’d be heading back to America for the winter. Leaving the Eiffel Tower and all the morning cafes he frequented during the warm months of the year behind. He faced the woman he’d been seeing solemnly. He didn’t want to have the conversation.
“I’d rather not stay so serious after I leave,” he said.
“What does that mean?” she asked with an unlit cigarette between her lips.
“I’d rather not think of this as a relationship after I leave is all.”
“Is that what you believe it is now?” she asked in her French tongue.
“Isn’t that what it is?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Well, then, why wouldn’t I think that?” he asked.
“I’m just asking,” she murmured. “Don’t you want to write me letters while you’re in America? Please, write me letters.”
“Sure,” the man said. “I will write you letters.”
“Then, what do you mean, darling?”
“I’m being quite complicated, I think,” the man explained. “Just let me see.”
The woman opened the shutters to puff the cigarette. The apartment was quite small, nearly 30-meters squared and on the sixth floor of a tall building, for Paris. The woman waited for an answer.
“I hope you don’t think I’m being too problematic. You see, I just don’t like the thought of being away from you while still together. You see?”
“No, I don’t. Go on,” she said.
“Don’t go thinking I only want to sleep with other women, please.”
“If it’s not that, then can’t you explain?” she asked again.
“No, I don’t believe I can. I can’t come up with the words.”
“When will you have the words for me?”
“I will think about it, darling,” he said.
“Don’t call me darling if you want to sleep with other women.”
“Oh, why are you being like that, darling?” the man asked. She turned her back to him and leaned out the window with her cigarette. The traffic from below covered the silence that befell in the studio apartment. It started to smell like a cigarette.
“Please, darling, you know I don’t like the smell,” the man said.
“I know,” the woman said and she kept smoking.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” the man asked, though he knew what it was.
“I won’t speak another word until you explain yourself,” she said.
“Can’t you just believe me? I don’t care about sleeping with other women. I just want to have my space.”
“Moving back to New York isn’t enough space for you?” she asked.
“That’s not the kind of space I’m referring to.”
“You’re being far too complicated. I think I’m leaving,” she said as she put out her cigarette. She began to put on her shoes and gather her purse and other necessities.
“Where are you going? Don’t go.”
“I think I will spend the night at my sister’s. Matter of fact, I will spend the week at my sister’s. And when you have the words to explain, you call me — but not until then.”
She left. The door swung close behind her and he could hear her footsteps as she started down the stairs to the ground floor. He was alone now. His own space. And, yet, he felt lonely.
Saturday Night Fever
In their four-story home, the man and woman sit in bed on a Saturday night. Alone in the house, quiet, with the television mumbling. Their lights are dimmed to a comfort-orange, the rest of the rooms are dark. The woman with her reading lamp and glasses closes her eyes, throws back her head, and rests her book on her lap. She’s laying with one pillow behind her and one on her lap. The man, with a half-full beer at the bedside, falling asleep slowly to another tiresome college football game playing late. He has been watching games all day.
The woman speaks.
“Why don’t we do anything anymore?”
The man jolts awake and turns his head toward her.
“What?” he asked, coming awake.
“Why don’t we ever go out anymore?”
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“Oh, honey, we used to be fun and go out with friends and golf and remember when we used to go to the Davidson’s house every weekend — why don’t we do that anymore?”
“We do have fun. Just last weekend we went to Jenny’s graduation. We took her out to dinner and celebrated and had a great time.”
“Yes, but I mean just for us. Why don’t we do things we don’t have to do anymore — like the Davidson’s. You know, Ann Marie still invites us to have drinks every year. Several times, even.”
The man made some distracting remark about the football game on the television.
“You don’t even care,” she said.
“No, frankly, I don’t, honey. We are nearly sixty-years-old and you still want to fit in with the ‘cool’ crowd?”
“No. It’s not that. It’s not that at all. That’s only what you want to think.”
“Well, then tell me, what is it?”
“We don’t do anything! I come home from work and make dinner and we get in bed at half-past seven every evening. Even on the weekends, you don’t leave the bed, you just watch football until all the games are finished, and I stay downstairs. We don’t even spend the weekend together and we stay in the same house.”
“I like watching football,” the man said.
“Yes, I know. And you like a bag of potato chips as you watch. And you like to shower each time you leave the house. And you like when I cook fajitas but with extra meat and no veggies.”
The man lowered the volume of the television.
“It seems our expired invitation to the Davidson’s isn’t what is bothering you,” the man said.
“You don’t say,” she snapped.
“What is it?”
The woman turned over to face the wall and then rolled back to face her husband. She sighed and grabbed the remote to power off the television.
“It’s just that I think our lives are becoming too predictable. Ever since the kids moved out, we have nothing to break our routines. We have no excitement anymore. I don’t want to grow old like this and it seems you have no problem with it.”
The husband sat still and stared ahead at the dark television.
“Is that what you really think — that we have boring lives and we are destined for boredom for the rest of our lives in this house?”
“That’s not what I said, you’re exaggerating my words. I simply said I don’t want us to continue to trend that way.”
“Well, what can I say?” he asked.
“Just promise me we can do something new this week. Like this weekend. Sherry from work said there’s a new comedy club downtown and it is really funny. I think we could use something new, don’t you suppose?”
“Alabama plays Clemson next Saturday,” the man said.
“Oh, honey, it’s just a game. Can’t we go out?”
“Yes,” he said begrudgingly. “We will go out. For you.”
“For us,” she said. “
“Yes, for us.”
Saturday came around. Though the afternoon was routine, when the evening came, the couple got cleaned up and went to the town for a night of comedy.
The club was small and crowded. Before the show began, there was a lot of chatter around the room. But the couple sat quietly, not even facing one another. The man’s legs bounced, the woman looked around the room like she was looking for someone.
“The wine is expensive here,” the man said.
“Yes, eleven dollars for a glass.”
“I could get a whole bottle for that price. Quality wine, too. Not the cheap stuff we used to drink in college.”
“Shall we order two glasses?” she asked. “I think the comedians will be much more laughable with a glass of red wine.”
“Yes, as you wish. I’ll have a beer,” he said.
The woman threw up her hand and the usher hurried over to their small table. The next table was pushed against their back. It was the kind of place you had to speak softly or else the next table could hear you, but you had to speak loud enough to hear over the crowd’s chatter.
“Can we have a glass of house Merlot and whatever beer you have on tap?”
The usher nodded and maneuvered his way to behind the bar and brought the drinks to their table.
“The wine is cold. Who serves red wine cold?” she said to her husband.
“Yes, the beer is dark. I don’t like it.”
“Hey,” the woman said, grabbing her husband’s knee and motioning toward the other side of the room. “Isn’t that Jerry from the office?”
“Ye — I reckon it is,” he said.
“Whatever happened to him? You guys used to be best work friends,” she said.
“Honey, that was nearly ten years ago. I think he moved up to corporate.”
“Don’t you still talk to him?”
“I never liked the guy. He’s full of himself,” he said. “Look, I think the first act is coming on.”
The audience applauded as the first comedian took the stage. For the next twenty minutes, they all laughed. Everyone but the man and woman, that is. They looked at each other and the woman leaned over to whisper.
“I saw a sports bar down the street. It’s not too late. Alabama and Clemson should be in the third quarter by now,” she said.
“You’re not enjoying yourself?” the man asked.
“It’s not funny. Do you think so?”
“No,” the man said. “Let’s go.”
Between acts, the man and woman slipped out of the room and out onto the street. They started walking down the pavement to the sports bar. Five minutes later they were in front of the television with a beer.
“I suppose this isn’t too bad,” the husband said. “We can go out more often.”
Coming to Terms
The whole family sat around the woman’s bedside. It was the first time they had been together in many, many years — and this for rather unfortunate circumstances. Even the grandchildren were there whom the man and woman hadn’t gotten the chance to see for many months or even years.
Son Jake was there, but he was often out of the room on business calls. His mother lay terminally ill of cancer in her French hospital bed. The man received the call from the doctor that morning. Said she didn’t have much longer — maybe four or five hours. This, after confirming two weeks prior she only had a week left at the very most. She was a fighter. And she still fought with every breath. She held onto life even when she fell unconscious a few days earlier.
The family, coming from America when they heard the news, stayed in a hotel across the street from the hospital. Every morning and night, they waited with the man around their mother’s (grandmother’s) bedside. She clung on hour after hour and they had secretly held hope she’d pull through at 77-years of age.
A phone rang in the solemn room and son Jake excused himself to the corridor once more. Sister Jenny rolled her eyes each time her brother stepped out to take care of business as their mother struggled for air more each hour. This time, the man followed Jake to the hallway.
“Hey, Jake, can I talk to you for a second?”
The son looked at his father with a rush in his face.
“Richard,” Jake spoke into the phone, “Give me a few minutes. I’ll call you back.”
He put down the phone and looked up to his father.
“Thank you, Jake.”
“Of course — what is it?”
“It’s just — I wanted to talk to you about this business of yours.”
“Dad — can’t it wait? This doesn’t seem like the right time for that.”
“That’s the thing son — it can’t wait. I have to talk to you now. Before you end up like me — sitting in a hospital room with the most important person in your life living on borrowed time and you with many years of regret.”
“I realize I’m being an ass, Dad, but this is a crucial time for my business. I didn’t intend to take two weeks off in France.”
“I know this. I know you want your business to succeed and I want to see it too. And I’m sure your mother wishes her dying days came at a more convenient time for all of us, but the fact is, some things are unpredictable.”
His son looked at him silently.
“I know your business is one of the most important things in your life and rightfully so — you’ve worked hard to build it to where it is today — but I want you to be sure that there are some things that can’t be overshadowed. Your family is one of them.”
“I know this, Dad.”
“I want to be sure you know this. Be certain to know it. Because I once thought I knew this but what this thing has taught me — your mother in there on her dying bed — is that you can’t let life get in the way of what’s most important. I spent far too many years doing this, Jake.”
“This will just be really quick, Dad,” he said as he redialed and put the phone back to his ear.
A pain shot through the man’s heart — what had he done? How did he raise his children?
Inside, the woman still gasped for air. It was getting late now. The grandchildren, who were restless hours ago, now slumped in their chairs and dozed.
“I think we need to get the kids home, Dad,” Jenny said, picking up her seven-year-old.
“Yes. They’ve been so good today all cooped-up in this room. It has been a long day for all of us.”
His son-in-law began waking the two other children.
“Jenny — can I talk to you?” the man asked. She nodded and moved to a more secluded corner of the room.
“I’m not sure how much longer your mother will go on like this. It’s getting sadder each day — her just clinging to her last breath like this,” the man said.
“Yes, I know.”
“You need to get back to America. The kids need to be back in school.”
“Yes, Dad. I know.” Jenny’s eyes hit reality. A tear appeared in her eye and streamed down her cheek. And then another one.
“I think it’d be best if you said your goodbyes tonight,” the man said.
Jenny nodded with her head down and sunk into her father’s armpit. He hugged her and rubbed her back for a long time until Jenny lifted her face.
“You’re right, Dad. I’ll wake up the kids.”
One by one, the children woke up and gave an emotional last hug to their grandmother. The little granddaughter consoled her mother who wiped a tear off the brim of her nose.
Jenny asked for time to be alone with her mother and the whole family joined Jake in the corridor. Ten minutes later, she opened the door and gave her father a hug. Jake, seeing this, put away the phone and took his turn alone in the room with his mother. In five minutes, Jenny and the man joined Jake in the room. They hugged each other and the woman all at once. The man murmured.
“I know I haven’t always been there,” he began. “I know there are times I could have been a better father or husband. I was constantly burned out on life. I lacked feelings and emotions. But I don’t want to make excuses now. I realize there is no time for excuses now. There’s no time for any of that stuff I put between us now. Your mother was always there for you two and she was always there for me even in my absence. And now, she doesn’t want to leave us yet but I can’t stand to see her struggle like this any longer. Please forgive me, Elise.”
Jenny and Jake tightened their hold around each other and their father. They kissed their mother on the forehead and said one last goodbye. They left the room and all of a sudden, the man felt lonely. The room fell quiet, only the sound of Elise gasping for her next breath — any of which could be her last. He whimpered tears that rolled slowly down to her chest he laid on. He cried the rest of the night until he had no more tears left and clung on as he slowly let his body drift asleep.
Five minutes later, he was awakened by the nurse who rushed in when Elise’s heart stopped. She held on until no one could see her die.
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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **