Author: Paulita Kincer
Publisher: Oblique Press
Genre: Women’s Fiction
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There are worse places to wait, I thought as I heard a louder crack of thunder from outside. The sky had been threatening rain all morning, and apparently the clouds now delivered on their threat. I imagined myself standing outside the gate without buttons to push as the rain soaked me through the t-shirt, jeans and thin cardigan.
I assessed the landing where I could be waiting for most of the day. A thick wool rug covered the floor and a small table fit flush against the wall with a flat back. The other half curled out in a semi-circle. On the table sat a round fishbowl with aqua-colored rocks in the bottom. A goldfish swished back and forth in the dim light. How strange, I thought, as I became entranced watching the fish make his circles, pausing to open and close his mouth in my direction a few seconds before swimming around again.
I sank to the floor with my back against the wall, like the little table. I would be able to hear or see either door if it should open. I might as well rest my tired feet. I debated undoing those ankle straps. But I decided to simply rub at the sore spots while leaving the sandals buckled. Who knew when I’d have to make a dash to catch someone?
I sat where I could gaze at the fish, and his endless rounds made me feel calm. I could feel my breath becoming slower and deeper. I knew I’d find Scarlett today; I just needed to be patient. Slow and steady, I told myself as I became more mesmerized with the striking orange fish.
Suddenly the fish ducked inside one of his faux coral hiding spots. I hadn’t moved or startled him. I glanced around, moving only my eyes, and I saw the reason for the fish’s abrupt disappearance. A handsome black-and-white cat crawled stealthily up the stairs. His front paws perched on the top step, and his nose and eyes just peeked between the paws. The rest of his body must be poised on the stairs below, ready to pounce on the table and snatch up the fish.
The cat moved only his eyes too, but they found me, and he froze. I was going to ruin his attempt at breakfast. I smiled. I missed my own cat Puck. His warmth on my lap, the way his purring could put me into a trance of well-being. This cat on the stairs seemed to have accepted the fact that an actual person sat in the stairwell. His eyes locked with mine, and I saw his body relax. He would not need to pounce after all. He turned to look at the fish bowl, but the wise goldfish remained hidden.
“It’s okay,” I said. I held out my hand, palm up, toward the cat. “Here, kitty. Come see me.” I didn’t have anything to offer him, but if he smelled my hand, he might let me pet him, rub my hand over his soft fur, gain some sort of relief from contact with another living creature.
“Come on, boy,” I said, making an assumption about his gender. It didn’t matter because the cat probably didn’t understand English anyway. My voice was soft and soothing as I tried to coax him. Suddenly, a desire overwhelmed me to hold a cat on my lap, stroke his soft back, and feel his purr kick in and vibrate against me. Even a cat that didn’t understand English must sense distress and want to comfort a human. To feel some sort of release from the past two days would be such a respite.
“It’s okay; you’re safe,” I said. “Come on.” I had moved from sitting on the floor to perching on my knees as I held my hand closer to the cat. Suddenly, the cat streaked past me. I expected it to stop abruptly at the closed door of the apartment, but it continued to zoom through the legs of a man and down the hallway beyond. The door stood open now when it had definitely been closed the whole time I waited.
I looked up from the floor, drinking in the man whose brown leather Lacoste shoes stood before me. The little alligator near the heel marked them as Lacoste, and I couldn’t decide if I would adore or detest the pomposity of the shoes.
Brown jeans encased the man’s long legs, and he wore a white broadcloth shirt unbuttoned at the top. A loose cotton scarf with blue and gold draped loosely around his neck.
“Are you trying to seduce my cat?” The timbre of his deep voice, still thick with sleep, mixed with the French accent on the English words sent a quiver through me. His words sounded like a promise and a warning.
“Seduce?” My voice rose at the end of the word and came out like an irritating crow’s caw, in comparison to his smooth accent.
I jumped to my feet, feeling the blush rise from the v of my t-shirt up my neck to my face. “Bonjour,” I mumbled, not quite meeting his eyes. I couldn’t believe he’d seen me talking to the cat – so naked and vulnerable. This man observed me being, well, me.
I remembered why I sat on his doorstep as I turned toward him. “I’m looking for Monsieur Rollande.”
“That is me,” he said, in his slight French accent. A little thrill and relief suddenly washed over me.
“Oh, Monsieur Rollande, I’m so pleased to meet you. I’m looking for your son, Luc. I think my daughter Scarlett is with him, at least, I hope she is. She ran away from home. In Florida … in the United States. She said she was going to stay with her dad, but then he called, and he hadn’t seen her, and she had these strange charges on her credit card, and we found out she had flown to Paris to follow Luc, and I hadn’t even ever met Luc, so I had no idea. I just got on a plane and came right here, but I couldn’t find anyone at your wife’s apartment, I mean, your ex-wife, I guess, and I’ve been so afraid.”
Monsieur Rollande reached a hand forward and put it on my arm to stop my ramble. His firm hand against my bicep steadied me, like the vibrating cat purr I had imagined. I took a deep breath. I couldn’t collapse.
“Come inside,” he said. And if the situation were reversed, I didn’t know if I would have invited this crazy lady in, the one talking to cats and watching goldfish and then chattering a mile a minute about sons and flights and runaway daughters.
But he led me into his apartment. We stood just inside the entrance in a hallway that had doors to the left and right.
“It will be okay,” he said. And his words buoyed me, making me think that maybe it all would be fine, as if I had shifted part of my worry about Scarlett somewhere else. And then, before I could blink them away, tears started to drip from my eyes faster than I could keep up with them.
“I’m so sorry,” I said mopping at my face. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I’ve just been so worried, and I haven’t had anyone to help me find her.” I took a deep, shuddering breath and resolved to both stop talking and stop crying.
“Come. Here is the toilet. Go refresh yourself, then we will talk.”
And his description was literal. The long narrow room held a toilet and a sink along with a mirror on the wall. No windows. No decorative pictures. No ornamental doilies on the toilet tank. I blew my nose into some toilet paper and dabbed at the tracks of tears along my face.
I inhaled deeply to get control. “I am getting closer to finding Scarlett,” I told myself in the mirror.
She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her three children, two cats and one husband.
Her latest book is the women’s fiction, Paris Runaway.
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In my novel, Paris Runaway, I tell the story of a mother who chases after her teenage daughter who has absconded to France. But, in truth, my husband and I are the ones preparing to run away.
We aren’t sneaking away, like the teenager in my novel. We’re being upfront about it. Our own children are 24, 22 and 20. My husband is nearing retirement age, and we plan to live our dream. Rather than simply vacationing in France every five years or so, we’ll sell our house here in Ohio and buy a house in Southwestern France.
Immersing ourselves in the lifestyle, we’ll buy groceries at the markets and ride a scooter from town to town, admiring the lavender fields and waving sunflowers. We anticipate listening to concerts in the town square and lining up along the road to watch the Tour de France as the riders race through the villages.
We promised our children that we would pay for them to visit us in France once a year and that we would return to the U.S. for a visit every year, as well. Still, they are nervous about their safety net vanishing.
We might let our children throw a wrench in our plans. When we picked a specific date to move to France, a hard deadline, our children reacted negatively. Suddenly, they felt like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the movie Sisters as their childhood home is sold. Our oldest has graduated from college, and she supports our decision to move to France. Our second child, who will graduate from college in December, also encourages us to follow our dreams, but he has hinted at some trepidation, with worries like, “the family will be scattered” and “someone will need to help pull it together.” The youngest, without compunction, accused us of abandoning him and leaving him homeless. Now, granted, he has moved into an apartment of his own, so technically, he abandoned us and the family home.
The allegations of our youngest son didn’t sway me nearly as much as those tentative concerns that my middle son expressed. His worry about the family pricked at my heart and made me wonder if we are doing the right thing.
We could wait to move across the Atlantic – wait until they all are settled down with homes and spouses, but then they’ll start having babies, and we might not be able to tear ourselves away from our grandchildren. I’ve seen it happen to other sane adults.
So we’re left wondering if we can leave our children to live their own journeys while we pursue our dreams.
In Paris Runaway, the teenager gives her mother no clues that she plans to run away, and maybe we should have done the same, to save our kids the angst, or at least to avoid the guilt that we’re feeling now.
It’s a lot easier to decide what my characters will do than to make the decisions myself. Would you pursue your long-time dream or stick around longer to help launch kids into older adulthood?