Au Bar Le Matignon
The man stared at his glass in growing anger. She wasn’t there, of course she wasn’t. Never mind that she had promised. Time was a thing she had never been conscious of. And he was tired of waiting for her. He set the empty glass down on the highly polished bar with a snap, reached for the thick brown envelope which he had, on his arrival an hour before, placed in front of him, and raised his body from the stool with some effort.
A soft, husky voice spoke at his back, “Can I buy you a drink?”
He turned his head and started slightly; a woman, a beautifully stunning woman. Her rose hued lips were pursed ever so slightly, her hair hung in delicate curls around her white shoulders, and her dress, whose deep blue could only be matched by the blue of her eyes, was cut low across her breast. She smiled just a little as she followed his gaze. He had the grace to blush.
Her smile, and his response, irritated him. From admiring, he became severely critical. She had passed her first youth; her dark hair carried here and there, streaks of silver, around her eyes were unmistakable lines, and her lips—he paused—her lips were no longer so full as they had once been.
“No, thank you. I’ve had enough.”
“So angry, Henri?” said the woman. She took a seat beside him.
Some men across the bar eyed her appreciatively. He was gratified. And then he remembered that she had made him wait, that she had cheated on him, that she had taken the best years of his life and then left him for another, younger man. He pushed the brown envelope towards her.
“I won’t sign,” he said.
She opened her blue eyes very wide; it made him uneasy.
“I won’t,” he repeated stubbornly, like a child.
“But Henri, I’m getting married.” Her soft, low voice stirred up a thousand memories.
“You’re already married, Annette.”
The marquise solitaire on her left hand glinted at him balefully. He wanted to tear it off.
She began to chew on her lower lip. He remembered that she always did so when she was anxious. For a moment he thought of pulling up her chin and kissing her. He quickly, violently, pushed the thought away.
But she raised her head, and as he stared into her eyes the thought returned at once, teasing, tantalizing. He would pull her roughly into his arms and kiss her savagely, with all the passion and frustration and anger that had been building up over the years. And she would be unable to resist. She would remember that she had loved him once passionately, to the edge of madness.
He would whisk her away to Compiègne, to the tiny house on the hill in which he had bought in the first days on their marriage. In her neat little kitchen they would tear off each other’s clothes and he would cover her with kisses. They would make love on the floor just like that, and savor every moment. And they wouldn’t care—not about anyone or anything.
And then he was back in Le Matignon, Paris, staring into the blue, blue eyes of Annette Blanchard who was soon to be Annette Le Grande, and nothing was changed at all.
He bowed his head, his shoulders sagged. Slowly, like a man in great pain, he pulled towards himself the brown envelope. Slowly, he removed the papers; slowly, he signed his name at the bottom of the many sheets. He placed the documents back in the envelope and pushed it towards her. He did not look at her.
Her soft, warm fingers brushed his wrist. He jerked his hand back as though she had burned him.
“Garçon,” he called to the bartender, “Jack on the Rocks—and keep them coming.”
He looked at her then because he could not help himself. He saw the distress in her eyes; she was biting her lip. He looked away. The bartender slid a full glass toward him.
“Henri…” she said, and the sound her voice almost made him weep.
“Goodbye, Annette,” he murmured, and closing his eyes, raised the glass to his lips.