Mars Seafood part 2
a short story by George Kuchinsky
They returned in the middle of October. Hirsu saw the man walk in first, carrying expensive luggage made in Germany. When she followed, he shuddered at her changed countenance. The polite, careless frolicking expression was gone. It was replaced by a languid, searching gaze, suggestive of a feverish self-reinforcing anxiety. They nodded, took their keys and went to their room. For two days, they didn’t come out. There was little noise coming from the second floor where they lodged, except in the late afternoons when he heard unilateral shouting. It was her, and though he didn’t speak French, Hirsu sensed that she was explaining the same point, that she wasn’t angry with him, and that the emotion, however necessary, did not lead to catharsis.
What they discussed was Serine’s encounter with her classmate, Danielle. In France there is not the same tradition of high school reunions as in the US. But classmates do sometimes get together in a semi-formal way to gauge how they’ve changed in each other’s faces. And so in late September in a mid-size city in Auvergne, forty graduates of Lycee Henri Barbusse met in a restaurant closed for the occasion. There were little pieces of bread and butter with black caviar to start the evening, a little splurge by the middle class. They exchanged effusive greetings and went through the customary references to old teachers and follies of youth. Serine was glad Danielle was there, that she came at all. She somehow managed to speak with virtually everyone for hours without crossing paths with Danielle. Jean Paul the doctor drank viciously and made repeated attempts to hint that they should find each other in Paris, without their spouses. Clautilde the star of their school, because of her measurements and because of the mild villainy she displayed in traversing social permutations, lamented her divorce and unsatisfying career. When the gigot of lamb was finished, and coffee was served past the time that any of them ever drank it, Serine finally ensconced herself in an alcove with Danielle. In the first few minutes, she paid no attention to anything Danielle said. The decibels tumbling out of her mouth landed on the floor like crumbs. They were like random dots on a chart showing no evidence of correlation to any kind of narrative that could possibly interest Serine. She was usually a good listener, and had all the more reason to be attentive to a long lost friend. In that instance, however, everything that Danielle uttered carried no significance relative to how unfathomably beautiful she was.
She reminded Serine of a top model she watched on a television show that paired gorgeous women with poor indigenous locales. Except that there was nothing cliché about Danielle’s appearance. No, this was the most refined kind of attractiveness. The translucence of her skin, the openness emitting from her eyes, and her hair like the canopy of a forest heretofore unscathed by human exploration, stunned Serine. When the temporary paralysis began to lift and she began to actually listen the effect was no less striking. Danielle gave a brief overview of the political scandal then dominating press coverage, which was both adroit and humorous. When Jean Paul interrupted their conversation, Danielle, teased him in such a warm way that his vulgarity palpably dissipated. She went on to recount the accomplishments of her son, a second year student at Lycee Henri IV, Paris most esteemed high school. Her daughter was not academically successful and even had an eating disorder but she was fully recovered and much loved. Her husband had taken her to Georgia, for a week and a half, to look at faded frescoes in abandoned Orthodox churches. They made love in plein air, she confessed. Their privacy was abruptly curtailed when the the horde of classmates feigned distress at their sideline chat. The small crowd absorbed them and soon the wistful classmates were saying their goodbyes. Giscard, Serine’s husband wondered, as they walked to the hotel, just a block away, “Do you think we will see any of them again? Jean Paul was revolting, until he calmed down for some reason.”
She couldn’t speak. She just remembered the ball. The little girl holding the soccer ball during the recess-like break before the afternoon classes resumed. The ball and the girl could not have been more distinct. The ball was brand new, and emblazoned with a logo of a Spanish team. It was a picture of health, if that can be said about an inanimate object. And the girl was obviously small for her age, pockmarked with an air of want. It was Danielle, aged nine, she was standing in the courtyard of their ecole primaire with a soccer ball purchased by her parents, the poorest couple in the town. She had ridiculously counted on the ball as being an entry point into the group game from which she was always excluded, implicitly, without any declaration. She stood and waited. And the crowd of boys and girls looked at her as if she was not there. They continued to play with a much older ball. This memory, could have been multiplied a hundred fold. This indifference was habitual. The only mitigating factor, was Serine herself. Not extraordinarily popular, but well liked and well compensated with grades slightly higher than what she merited because of her pleasant disposition, Serine breezed through her school years. She was not a particularly dependable friend nor much of a help to her parents but she did consistently engage in one act of good will. She spoke to Danielle.
On a few occasions she walked with her in the neighborhood after school. She even visited Danielle’s meager birthday celebration on one occasion, embarrassed by the maddening gratitude of Danielle’s parents. More than that, Serine acknowledged her not as a protest but in sharp contrast to the rest of their classmates, now snoring in the slightly dusty rooms of a provincial hotel.
The metamorphosis that she now witnessed perturbed her. She didn’t hear the birds outside the window or her husband’s impressions of the evening. She just stared at the image of Danielle permeating her mind like a liquid seeping into every pore of the earth. A number of times she thought that the interaction hadn’t happened. Maybe Danielle didn’t come to the soiree. The imagined scenario was all the more tempting to be treated as reality because it made more sense. Why would someone as consistently discarded by her peers as Danielle even show up? Everyone there was transformed to some extent but recognizable! “ This is impossible, impossible…. “Serine proclaimed with less and less vigor as she succumbed to sleep.
The next week, their return home to Orleans, and a few days in the office were mundane by outward appearance. She had ceased to communicate with her husband. He was dumfounded but being naturally prone to acceptance and having a position of some responsibility at his office, delved perhaps even a bit more than usual into his work and small household activities. When the time came to fill their suitcases once again for the return to Iceland she suddenly began to disperse her emotions to him as emphatically as she contained them. “I don’t get it, I don’t get it. You know I was the only one who smiled at her. Who asked her to take part in group projects. I don’t think there was a single case of anybody asking for her opinion on anything. And she was so ugly. Oh, my G-d. It was like all the worst features that you could think of, like they were pressed on her face and body, by a painter who is making a joke of it, you know? Her parents could barely afford food or shaving razors. Shaving razors, what am I talking about?”
“You are just tired, my cabbage,” he responded using a common French term of endearment. “We were out and about in Stimidolur, then there was the reunion, back to work, and now we are repacking. And we have just gotten married, in case you’ve forgotten!” She looked at him like what he said had absolutely no discernible connection to what she talked about earlier and continued her tirade. “And now she is stunning. Danielle Rienly, stunning! And so wise and witty. And people didn’t even seem to notice there was any change. Like she was always a queen, like they were honored by her fucking presence” And as she pronounced the last syllable of that word, she threw their Limoges sugar receptacle, the most expensive thing they owned, a wedding present from his uncle, a very high-level officials in Brussels, into the window, shattering both.
George Kuchinsky is a writer based in Boston, USA. He immigrated to the US from Latvia, then the Soviet Union, as a child. He has worked as a foreign policy analyst, briefing US and European officials on global developments. More recently, he has taught history, geography, politics, literature and language to students of different ages. His debut poem was published in the Lyric magazine in 2017. His poetry can be read here. https://kuchinskypoetry.tumblr.com George is working on a book of short stories.