It felt strange sitting there on the couch next to Amber. And it wasn’t because the air inside the living room felt like steam. It was because I felt as if were an actor who has rehearsed his lines so many times and then, when he has to utter them in front of an audience, the rest of the cast change their lines.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” I asked her.
“Because I flew all the way to Paris just to see you.”
She laughed. ”Don’t be silly. It’s a sweet thing what you did.” She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “Do you want something to drink?”
I nodded. She stood up and went to the kitchen.
This gave me the chance to look around. The room was colorless and dull; the walls were a washed up shade of grey, and stains covered the corners of the ceiling. There wasn’t much furniture, only the sofa I sat on, with a small coffee table in front, a plasma TV resting on a glass table, and a small bookshelf filled chaotically with books of various sizes.
Amber came back with two glasses filled with a rainbow colored liquid. She handed me one and I took a long swallow.
“This is delicious,” I said as I watched her fall back on the couch.
“My invention. I haven’t figured out a name for it yet…”
Amber seemed happy in such a peculiar way. There was something simple about her smile, infecting me, making me smile as well, the same way we do when we see two elders holding hands.
“How come there are no flowers here?”
Amber stared down at the floor for a while, then looked up at me. “I had some, but I couldn’t take care of them. I have plenty of flowers at work though.”
She smiled and curled her legs beneath her. “David called. He told me about this lunatic standing in front of my apartment building.”
I shook my head. “I thought he wanted to get rid of me. Taking me to such a –”
“I know this is nothing like New York.” She did a quick gesture with her hands. “The neighborhood, the apartment.”
“Well, life in New York hasn’t been…”
She stared at me for a while, her lips shaking as if she were struggling to keep her mouth closed. “William.” She took a long drink from her glass, then stared back at me.
“Because of William, we’re going to have to file for bankruptcy.” I groaned.
“I’m… sorry,” Amber said staring blindly at the floor. She kept rubbing her hands together in a frantic manner. There was a delicate illusion of sadness that engulfed her face. “That’s why I left. I thought he’d stop.” She bit her lips. “Do you ever feel sorry for what we did to him?”
Before I got a chance to answer, someone opened the front door. Amber stood up. The saxophone player, Jacques, walked into the living room and kissed her on the lips. He then noticed me sitting on the sofa, staring back at him. He looked at me with a dumbfounded expression on his face. “Is that you, Chris?” He grinned. “Qu’est-ce que tu fais à Paris?” He walked over to me, and I stood up. He kissed me on both cheeks. He scratched his thick beard. “C’est magnifique,” he said and turned over to Amber. He began to walk around the room like a child searching for hidden Easter eggs.
I didn’t know what to say so I kept smiling nervously at him.
He was wearing a black leather jacket over a white shirt dirty with grease stains and a pair of black trousers. On top of his head he wore a flat cap, and every time he moved around, the cap quivered, ready to fall on the floor.
“How are you, Jacques?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful, and patted him on the back.
“Très bien, très bien,” he said quickly and grabbed me by the shoulders. He shook his head in disbelief. “Très bien, mon petit ami, très bien…” His pale face contorted into a smile, he looked me in the eyes and said, “This calls for a celebration. No, Amber?” He headed for the kitchen in a hurry and began opening drawers and cabinets, pulling out bottles from the fridge.
Amber and I sat down on the couch. I felt relieved that Jacques was busy, because I had time to gather my thoughts. I looked over to her. She didn’t say a word, nor did she look back at me. She had turned on the TV and was lying on her back with her arms folded across her stomach.
“I’m sorry,” she said so softly that I could barely hear her over the murmur of the TV.
“You could have told me.”
She didn’t bother to answer.
“Unbelievable! It was him, it was him all along.” I shook my head. “My cousin was right.”
“About what?” Amber glanced back at me.
“What about me?”
I leaned back on the couch. “I didn’t come here for this.”
“Why did you come? What do you want?”
Jacques came out of the kitchen struggling to hold on to three large glasses filled with what resembled a nuclear explosion in liquid form.
We sat there drinking for a while, Amber saying nothing and Jacques doing most of the talking, in a confusing mixture of French and English.
All of a sudden, he got up and said, “Let me show you something.”
I lay down my drink and followed him into the bedroom. He turned the lights on. There was no need for words, there was no need for him to be thrusting his arm in the air and pointing his gun finger at what he wanted to show me. The wall behind the bed had been painted.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A picture to tell a story.
At first you would notice the piano keys, waving in the lower side of the wall, just above the bed frame. Then, slowly, your eyes caught the next detail. Notes flying out and around a golden sax like smoke from a cigar, as if carried away by a lazy gust of wind. Then you would undoubtedly notice the red pickup truck, with plate numbers reading “Jazz.” After a few moments, or maybe longer, your eyes would dart around once more and notice Jacques and Amber, both of them sharing the same ambiguous form that seemed to melt together as to create a sense of a whole, a sense of fragile perfection.
I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t see anything else but that wall. I was experiencing what some might describe as a Stendhal Syndrome reaction. I turned toward Jacques, who was breathing inside the same moment of quiet surrender, and said, “If you’re going to move out, you’ll have to take the wall with you.”
“Yes, yes,” he murmured. He looked over to me and smiled. “I can’t leave this here,” he said. “This is my story, my life.”
This is Genesis, I thought. This is how each and every one of our stories begins. With a woman and a man. But there was something elusive attached to this moment. And I tried and tried to find the feeling, to pin it down and find its source and meaning. But then the entire room faded to black as Jacques hit off the lights.
“Come,” he said. “Let’s have another drink.”
Excerpt from my debut novel, Jazz.