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Authors: Cara McKenna

Curio (13 page)

BOOK: Curio
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“Yes, I hope so. Maybe Friday?” I held my breath, wondering if Fridays and Saturdays were, I don’t know,
reserved
. For premier clients.

“Friday is fine.”

“Oh good. I was thinking…and forgive me, I don’t know if you have policies about dates or anything. But would you ever be interested in maybe meeting for a meal or a drink somewhere? On me, obviously.”

His smile faded and my heart sank.

“Sorry. Are public things against how you…operate?”

“It’s not quite that. And trust me, I would be happy to be seen with you at a restaurant or a bar, on a date.”

“Oh.”

Didier’s lips quirked in the tightest, saddest smile. “My hesitation has nothing to do with you.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself. I was just curious.”

“No, I owe you an explanation, for that question and others. And please believe me, I’d very much like to go out with you somewhere for one of our dates, but I can’t.”

“Okay.”

Didier swallowed and met my gaze squarely. “I haven’t left this flat in nearly three years, you see.”

I stared at him for I don’t know how long, struggling to make sense of what he’d said.

“I’ve lived in Paris for two years…” I trailed off.

“Then I was already a year into my exile by the time you arrived.”

How on earth was that possible? The time since I’d moved here had been the most vibrant and exciting of my entire life. All those months and more, and he’d not set foot outside this apartment? I pictured him here, snow falling past the windows in the dark winter, sun beating the panes at the height of summer. Generations of pigeons marching past and Didier never leaving these walls.

“Really?”

He nodded.

I remembered what he’d told me about the pet shop and the fish. What was he really, aside from an isolated, pretty distraction, anyone’s to possess for the right price? Was this flat just Didier’s ocean, reduced to a tiny tank, his meals bestowed by kind acquaintances? Did he fear he’d die here, some routine inconvenience for whomever was in charge of handling such unpleasant inevitabilities?

“You look upset,” he said.

“I’m… I’m surprised. Okay, and upset. It’s a very sad thing to hear.”

“Apologies.”

“What set it off? Or was it gradual?”

“Gradual, throughout my life, but then all at once I couldn’t leave at all. The last time I left, something terrible happened.” He emptied the last of the bottle into his glass. “I was waiting to cross the street, a half a block from here, and so was a woman and her small child. Before the light came on to tell us to walk, a friend passed by and I started talking to her. And when the woman and her son crossed the street, they were struck and killed by a car that didn’t stop for the red light.”

“Oh my God.”

“Yes. It was very…graphic.”

“I’m sorry. That’s horrible.”

He spoke to his glass. “It was also barely a week after my mother passed away, and for a long time, checking on her had been one of a very few things that got me out of the flat. I’ve always been anxious about being outside, in big spaces, with traffic and busy sidewalks, in the Metro… The accident took everything I feared and avoided, and multiplied it so greatly, I simply haven’t been able to leave. Even talking about it now…” He held up his free hand and I could see it trembling.

“How do you get the things you need?”

“I have friends and clients who pick up groceries and other things for me, and take my laundry out, go to the bank. On a good day, I can make it downstairs to collect my own mail. Every other day, perhaps.”

“What if you need to go to the doctor?”

“I pay a steep surcharge to have my doctor come to me.”

“No offense, but that’s no way to live.”

He met my gaze. “No, it’s not. But if you don’t have that fear, it’s impossible to understand it.”

I considered that, and my own fears. “I sort of understand. I mean, I’ve got social problems. With men, obviously.”

“But you’re braver than I am. You’re trying to change.” He smiled. “Perhaps that makes me your therapy.”

“Actually, yeah. That is how I’ve thought about it.”

We were quiet for a minute then Didier asked, “Do you pity me?”

I stared right into his eyes. “No. Well, maybe. I’m not sure. But is this what you want, to never leave these four rooms?”

“No, of course not. All the time, I try to leave. I make it halfway down the hall, maybe even to the front door, my hand shaking on the knob…then an idea comes into my head, of seeing someone robbed, a car crash, an animal being hurt, simple rudeness. All these injustices and disasters, things I have no control of. Though of course at the time, I think nothing so rational. I feel as frozen and terrified as I might with a train speeding toward me. But I don’t even fear for myself, really. I don’t fear death. I fear helplessness, of being in the midst of a bad situation, and being unable to do anything about it.”

“And it doesn’t make you feel helpless, not being able to leave?”

“Of course it does. But it’s far worse feeling helpless in the face of other people’s cruelty or carelessness.”

I know what he means. Every balanced, empathetic human knows that frustration and shame and anger, witnessing assholery. The shame of not challenging it, or the powerlessness of knowing your actions won’t change anything fundamentally. I tried to imagine multiplying that nauseating, worthless sensation by ten or fifty or a hundred, and having to endure it. I’d hide in my flat too. Probably under the covers. With a bottle of gin.

“Do you feel like the bad people are what keep you in here?”

He shook his head. “I know it’s only me. It is my fear of experiencing those ugly feelings that keep me here. It’s a terrible, suffocating fear that maybe I’m right. Maybe the world is as senseless as it feels, and if I go outside, I’ll find proof of that. I fear the potential of what
could
happen, if I left.”

“Oh.”

“But of course, locking myself in this flat proves nothing. But I cannot explain it any better than I have.”

“You don’t need to.” My goodness, how did he stay in such fantastic shape? Sit-ups? There was a rack of iron weights in the corner of the living room, but sex wasn’t enough cardio for a man in his thirties, was it? So many questions… “Were either of your parents that way? Agoraphobic, or whatever it is?”

“It did not occur to me until recently that my mother likely was, but not the way I am. Like me, she hates the unknown. But the space she called familiar and safe was all of Paris, whereas mine is merely these few rooms. But yes, take her away from the streets she knew and loved, and she got very mean, very edgy and snappy. When I was growing up, I thought she was just spoiled and demanding. Selfish for not taking me traveling. Now I know better. And she always loved men from other countries. That must have been the only tourism she knew how to indulge in. Men and books and films, and her foreign language tapes.”

I nodded.

“But I don’t blame her for the way I turned out. This is just how I am. Who I am. I’ve always liked going inside, more than out, to explore. Inside objects. Inside people, in whatever manner you wish to take that—emotionally, sexually.” He sipped his wine. “It feels safer inside.”

“I’m sure.”

“This flat is almost like my body now. The idea of leaving…it would feel like walking around without any skin holding me together.”

“Yikes.”

“Being exposed, outdoors… It’s always done something to me. Made me so poor with direction, because I can’t focus outside. When I am out there, there is just
so
.
Much.
It is like being barricaded in a room with fifty televisions turned on, all loud, all on different programs.”

I remembered my first visit to New York City and the anxiety attack the crowds in Times Square had given me. I’d wanted to run back to the Met and spend the rest of the trip hiding in the relative quiet of the galleries, where the frames and plinths and soothing-voiced docents herd you, guide you, instill order.

“I think I understand. It’s an awful shame though. You’re really quite an extraordinary man. It’s sad so few people get a chance to know you.”

Didier’s nostrils flared with a tight, harsh breath, his gaze darting around the floor and our legs.

I leaned forward to touch his knee, offering a kind smile. “I’m glad to be one of the lucky few though.”

“I’m glad you are too.” He looked up, glancing around as though just realizing where he was. “Well, here we are again. On a date that I’ve dampened with my stupid rain clouds.”

I laughed. “Not at all. You’re far better company when you’re imperfect. And much less intimidating.”

“No one should be intimidated by me,” he said with a crooked grin. “I am just some strange, broken man born with my mother’s good genes. And her bad ones. I’m one of those watches, fine on the outside, but my gears…”

“Someone put you back together wrong?” I offered.

Didier covered my hand with his and gave it a squeeze. “Yes, I think they did.”

“It’s okay. That’s how my mother was too. How she is, I mean.”

“She’s still alive? The way you spoke about her before, I thought she was not.”

“She is. But we rarely talk. On Christmas, basically. For a while she was doing well, living at a residence. But she left and went off her medications, and she’s back to how she was when I was a teenager. She’s living alone in New Hampshire, probably raising hell for her neighbors.” I drained my glass.

“That’s very sad.”

“It is. I have an older brother who lives two towns away, where I grew up. If he wasn’t keeping an eye on her, I’d be worried. But he’s always been good with her. Plus he’s a
gigantic
guy. He can handle her when she’s in one of her really dangerous moods.”

“You haven’t talked about your brother.”

“No, we were never super-close. He’s twelve years older than me and moved out when he was sixteen, so I don’t remember ever living with him. He’s a good guy, but I don’t think we’ll ever have that bond. What about you? Any siblings?”

“Three half-siblings. Two sisters and a brother, who all grew up in Portugal, with my father.”

“Younger than you?”

Didier pursed his lips.

“No?”

“Older,” he confirmed. “I suppose you might say that my mother was my father’s mistress for a summer, though I do not think she knew he had a family back home.”

“Oh my.”

“When she got pregnant, he told her everything. I do not know exactly why she had me… To spite him or perhaps to try to keep him, because I do believe he’s the only man she ever loved. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that our parents were ever as young as us, younger. She was even younger than you, when I was born. But needless to say, I was not welcomed warmly by my stepfamily those few times I went to visit. I did not even understand who they were. I thought this must be my aunt and my cousins.”

“God.”

He nodded. “It was all very confusing. But my father was a good man. I’m sure it was not his choice for me to be born, but he didn’t keep me a secret. He did his best to make things right, though there was really no right to be found, in that situation.”

“Well, my parents did everything the way you’re supposed to. High-school sweethearts, engaged while my dad was in college, married, bought a house, had my brother. They checked every box in the right order, and it still fell apart.”

“But they raised you, and you’re successful.”

“I guess I’m on my way. But the first twenty years of my life I was a real train wreck. If I hadn’t fallen in love with art, who knows what I’d have gotten into.”

“Well, I’m so glad you did. It’s brought you here, to Paris. And here,” he added, waving a hand to mean the flat.

I blushed. “I’m glad too. Everybody dreams of having some amazing love affair in this city. I did too. Then I started to think it’d never happen. But now it sort of has, just not quite in the way I’d imagined.”

He held his glass out and I clinked it with my empty one.

“What’s it like,” I asked, “being with someone as inexperienced as me? Do you feel any different about it than you would a woman who’s already had lovers?”

“Of course I do.”

“How so?”

“Well, I feel a bit possessive of you, I suppose.”

My body roused at the notion.

“And I do feel… What’s the right phrase? Full of myself.”

I laughed.

“I won’t pretend it’s not a thrill, knowing you waited so long, and that you picked me. And that I’m the only man you’ve known. I think that is engrained in a man, to wish his was the only cock a beautiful woman would ever want or ever feel.”

“You really think I’m beautiful?”

“I do. You do not?”

“No, I don’t. I’m less of a freak than I used to be, but I don’t think I’ll ever look in a mirror and see what’s there now. Only what I grew up seeing.”

“Well, I think you’re very beautiful. You have very soft hair.” He draped his arm along the back of the couch to smooth a curl behind my ear. “And this.” He traced my jaw and cheekbones with his finger.

“I hated that when I was little. I was always mistaken for a little boy, even when I had long hair.”

“In the art and fashion worlds, interesting faces are treasured. Androgyny too. Are people surprised to find you’re American?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded. “I was too. Surprised to see you at my door, after your postcard said you’re from the States. You look…I’m not sure. Dutch, perhaps. Pale and haunted.”

I laughed.

“Americans are so robust, we think. Soft and pink-faced and smiling and loud. You are none of those things. Although I do occasionally see the pink in here.” He leaned in and held my face, running his thumbs across my cheeks.

“That’s your fault.”

“Oh yes, such a scandalous man I am.” He let me go to sip his wine.

“Can I ask how you started…you know. It started with modeling, I imagine.”

He nodded. “It did. It always held much appeal, any money I could make at home. Even before the incident.”

“Of course.”

“It began as a favor of sorts. The line between posing for a photo for someone you’re attracted to, someone you might sleep with anyway… They blended together. A woman who paid me to model for her drawings came here every week, and things evolved, as they do. But some sessions, we did not get around to the drawing.” He bit his lip, his shyness charming me. “But she still paid me, those days. That’s how it happened. And once such a thing happens a few times with a few different women, those women become clients, and word gets around. And I won’t lie, I enjoyed the attention. Whether I’m wanted for a photo or a painting or in someone’s bed, the excitement to me is the same.”

BOOK: Curio
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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