Fire & Glass
The floor was cold. Marguerite skipped across the slippery slate tiles in thin black socks, trying to get a word in with her mom on the phone. She wasn’t having much luck.
“Maman, maman, wait — ”
“Maman! Listen to me. I — ”
“He’s a nice boy — ”
“Of course I’ll be coming home again.”
“No, I don’t know when.”
A warm gust of exasperation escaped Marguerite’s lips and blew at the fringe of hair that dangled in front of her eyes. She knew she couldn’t please everyone, no matter how hard she tried. Someone was always bound to be disappointed.
She placed her hand against the glass of the window and projected her thoughts east across an ocean, back to her childhood home. Through the transparent pane, she could almost see her mother nestled under red woolen blankets she had knitted herself, set beside her father, who was wearing slippers and a robe and trying to watch TV. The lingering aroma of dinner, that creamy texture of melted Reblochon cheese. Snow-capped mountains in the distance and the muddled memories of once wanting to run away. The sound of a jackhammer on the streets below rattled her from her reverie.
“I miss you too,” she said. Her breath frosted and she traced the shape of a heart that quickly vanished. “Give my love to papa. We’ll talk again soon.”
She ended the call and collapsed onto the couch. Her head spun and she realized she’d had too much to drink for lunch. Eventually, Alex ordered a plate of crudites during their rendezvous, and they snacked on celery, broccoli, and baby carrots. But by then the wine had already traced the lining of her empty stomach and circled to the point of no return. Their conversation was a blur of yearning, punctuated with false starts and the smeared kiss of regret. Alex was ready to drop everything to be with her.
At least he said as much. Who knows what he’d really do. It’s not that she distrusted him, or his intentions, but she knew how intractable relationships could be. She felt bad for Evie, who had only followed her heart. Or at least that was the impression she got. Marguerite felt like she owed her somehow, even if she could never find the words to explain. Only Alex understood, but how can you find gratitude among the detritus of broken love?
Marguerite closed her eyes and could see Alex looking back at her from across the table. The pictures she’d seen of him before were those ads straight out of a soap opera that his legal firm had used him for. They made him look like Ben Affleck, she thought. In person, however, she found him lithe and laid back, with a disarming smile. She decided his was a face she could fall in love with. She already loved his soul.
Still, she mulled the obstacles keeping them apart. Was it worth the heartache and pain to see this through?
The phone on her belly vibrated. An unknown number. Probably spam, she concluded. Then, a few minutes later it rang again.
“Hello?” She answered tentatively.
“Stay away from him.”
“You heard me.”
“Listen. We’re just old friends, okay? Nothing — ”
“Watch your back, bitch.”
The line went dead.
“Hello? Hello?” Marguerite called. Silence filled the room. She stared at the blank screen, her heart pumping like mad.
The door buzzer knocked her off the couch. She swallowed heavily and made her way to the door, first checking to see that the security bolt was in place. To the left of the door was a screen that showed video of the entrance many floors below. Burton stood there gazing skyward, hands clasped behind his back.
Marguerite picked up the interphone and said, “Oh, it’s you.”
Burton took a step towards the microphone and smiled. “I can hear the joy in your voice.”
The stress of the phone call dissolved like a dream. Her feet were warm for the first time since she’d come back to the apartment. Alex had offered to give her a lift back, but she declined. She touched the spot on the top of her hand that he had kissed. If she focused on it, it seemed to burn.
She opened the door to the apartment, waiting for the telltale sound of the elevator to ding. A minute passed, Marguerite tapped her toes. Then, the stairwell door swung open. Burton emerged, winded but none the worse for wear. Her mother called him un renard d’argent, which made her laugh at the time. She observed his face, the well-trimmed beard speckled with gray, the aquiline nose, the inquisitive eyebrows.
After he tried to kiss her the night before, she decided to take a more dominant tone.
“Ah, at last, my benefactor has arrived.”
Burton stood at attention and swiped back a silvered lock from his perspiring face.
“My lady,” he said, bowing at the waist.
There was something about his perpetual pomp that made Marguerite regret her red dress was in the dirty clothes pile. She felt considerably underdressed in soft blue lounge pants and a beloved loose t-shirt that had been washed a thousand times before. The vast majority of her hair was pulled behind in a jumble.
“What brings you here at this hour?” She turned to re-enter the apartment, leaving Burton to follow in her wake.
“I was wondering if I might be able to entice you to dinner.”
“Hrm.” Marguerite bit her lip. She weighed the risks and rewards of such an undertaking.
First and foremost was the throbbing swim of her head. She’d taken a nap and woke up an hour later on the couch with an insatiable thirst. She raided the fridge of the rest of orange juice and then reused the same bag of Darjeeling tea until the liquid looked like brown dishwater.
Food had felt out of the question, but suddenly she was famished. She did a quick mental inventory of the fridge. It was barren aside from condiments and three eggs.
Marguerite made a show of displaying herself and said, “I’m in no condition to go out, as you can see.” She clucked her tongue and said, “Voila.”
Then, almost as an afterthought, she added, “And what of the flowers you bring?”
“Brought,” Burton corrected, revealing a cloth bag from behind his back instead of flowers. “Bring is the infinitive.”
Marguerite blushed in spite of herself. “And no wine either?”
“I’m afraid not. I don’t drink.” Burton slipped into the kitchen and deposited the bag atop the marble countertop.
Marguerite raised an eyebrow. “No?”
“No,” Burton said earnestly. “I found it dulls the senses.” He withdrew a baguette and several smaller objects wrapped in deli paper. “If it pleases you, I’ve instead brought dinner. But it will require some preparation. Do you mind waiting in the salon?”
It had become too easy to forget this wasn’t her own place. Burton moved around in the kitchen with a graceful ease.
He spoke a command and the lights came on. He said another and music began to play. She supposed she was supposed to feel flattered. The music wasn’t exactly to her tastes, more classical than jazz. But she didn’t want to feel ungrateful, or complain.
“Do your thing,” she said. “I’m going to go change.”
Marguerite went to the bedroom and immediately noticed the unmade bed. For a split second, she saw a vision of a shirtless Alex standing at the window. She haphazardly grabbed a few items and then shut the door. Her heart raced, a triumphant gallop of blood pumping through her neck and down to her legs.
The stark luminosity of the bathroom convinced her to brush her hair and put on a spot of makeup. While she was at it she added some color to her lips and added a silver necklace to complement her navy blouse. She wrapped a flowing long scarf several times around her neck until she felt secure and complete.
The phone in her jeans vibrated. There was a notification from Alex. He had attached a picture she had once sent him when photography was still her passion. A bell jar atop a table was filled with a vivid orange-gold flame. She remembered creating the composition, the time and effort it took to create the illusion.
Alex remarked below, “You’ve caught my heart, Marguerite.”
Not knowing how to respond, she chose an enigmatic emoji, and then put the phone in her back pocket.
Burton whistled while he worked. It was a delicate thing. Marguerite’s spine tingled when she heard the knife saw through the bread. There was something inexplicably erotic about it. He had arrayed thick slabs of foie gras and dabbed them with a touch of fleur de sel. A plate was outfitted with a terrine of duck, another with a pungent mix of hard and soft cheese. This man knows how to seduce through food, she thought.
He poured a clearish liquid into champagne flutes, prompting Marguerite to snark, “I thought you said you don’t drink.”
“This is pear juice,” he said. “It’ll go well with what I’ve prepared.”
Marguerite wondered how she got herself into this situation, stuck between the affections of two very different men.
Burton brought her a small plate and a glass, seated on the leather sofa.
“I’ve never really had an opportunity to thank you,” she said, “for everything you’ve done for me. I’m very grateful.”
“Je vous en prie,” he said, with an accent more John Wayne than Jean Reno. “It has been my distinct pleasure having you here, Marguerite.” He sidled down beside her and added, “I recommend you start with the terrine.”
The bread was warm and fresh, the terrine smooth and divine.
“Ahh,” she cooed with pleasure.
“You’ve been here a few weeks already. I thought you might be missing the comforts of home.”
He looked at Marguerite with expectant eyes.
In that moment, she resolved then to tell the Silver Fox everything, about Alex and heartbreak and everything else in between.
His phone rang. He answered it calmly, muttered a few words, then hung up. He reached for a napkin and dabbed at his lips.
“I’m afraid I must cut our evening together short.” He kissed her hand and rose to head for the door.
“The gallery, I’m afraid,” he said, pulling on his coat. “It’s been set ablaze.”
Thanks for reading! This is part of an ongoing collaboration with Anna Breslin. It’s preceded chronologically with “A Leap of Faith,” “La Vie en Rose,” “The Corner of 18th & Amour,” and most recently, “A kiss to build a dream on.” That’s not to say you can’t read this on its own, but isn’t it better to view the tapestry as a whole?
It continues with