Trying, in French. by Beth Hunt

Trying, in French.

  1. Sylvie said, if you want to make a baby, you have to break some eggs. It never became entirely apparent what she meant by that, but, in the manner of people desperate for a solution to an unsolvable problem, we returned to her time and again nonetheless. In the corner of Sylvie’s office was a blood red couch; a pouting mouth under the window, looking out onto the street where heavily pregnant women in dressing gowns drank Lucozade and, occasionally, smoked cigarettes. We were never invited to sit on the couch. Instead, in the centre of the room, there was a round, glass table with four uncomfortable plastic chairs and this is where our discussions took place. Sylvie took notes as we spoke. She seemed to write more when I was speaking, or maybe it’s just that I spoke more than you did. We were encouraged to bring non-sexual touch into our relationship. Holding hands. Who holds hands, I said to you after. Try massages, Sylvie said. Then maybe some romance, date nights. Sylvie liked to talk about making friends with the penis. I was encouraged to imagine my vagina as a rose, blossoming. Comme une fleur, she said, spreading her hands out in front of her chest. The petals would open, and welcome the penis. There was no floral metaphor for the penis. The penis is not a flower.
  2. I made no effort during the trip to speak French, not even a s’il vous plait or a merci beaucoup. I had studied French to ‘A’ Level, but I had no particular affinity for languages. I scraped a C in my final exams, a testament to my mother’s determination not to let me fail by sending me for extra tuition. Your French was no better than mine, but you were willing to give it a go, unafraid of being misunderstood. That was my problem, is still my problem, a fear of being misunderstood. When you say nothing, people will put words in your mouth regardless. We had moved hotels after the one we had originally booked was not as advertised. I can’t recall why exactly. Likely, the rooms were small and dirty, or it was next to a nightclub which stayed open till 2am playing Europop. We didn’t like to stay up late. When we checked into the new hotel the receptionist asked for our passports. I still had an English passport at that point, and the receptionist went on to direct all her conversation only at you. Wasn’t Ireland fantastic? Didn’t she love Irish people, so friendly. I stood to the side, smiling blankly, desperate to be liked by this woman who clearly hated me. You said you didn’t notice. I curled up on the cold tile of the hotel bathroom. Salle de Bain. I hadn’t been expecting my period to arrive this early on in the trip. I was hoping it wouldn’t arrive at all, of course. I had no provisions, so I sent you out to the nearest Pharmacie for pills and tampons. Merci beaucoup. Pour ma femme, elle est tres mal.
  3. Sylvie worked out of an office next door to the maternity hospital. I thought it was irony, but from here I can see that of course it was a very deliberate juxtaposition. She was French, and very attractive. It seemed inappropriate, to be talking about sex with such a beautiful woman. You said you didn’t notice. She spoke quickly, but clearly, and every three or four sentences she would ask, do you understand what it is I am trying to tell you? Oui? Not in a way that indicated she thought she had miscommunicated, but rather that she thought we were morons incapable of understanding the basic tenets of human behaviour.
  4. We ate dinner in a restaurant on the promenade on the other side of the bay. We had driven for hours to get there. We sat outside at a place which was identical to the ones we had eaten in on previous nights back on our side of the bay. We watched people get off the ferry, which had taken twenty minutes to make the same journey we had laboured over. People threw scraps of food to the dogs who lay curled up at their feet. No one seemed bothered by the dogs. Except me. Dogs don’t belong where humans are eating, sue me. We ate shellfish. L’aphrodisiac. It was my first time trying oysters. I hated them. By this point neither of us were drinking, to optimise conditions, but I found driving on the wrong side of the road challenging, and I also hated driving at night, so it was normally you who drove. On the road back, your face began to change pallor. Slightly pink from the sun – you never tanned – it was now whitening at pace. We pulled over into a layby, you flung open the car door, and inevitably – violently –  vomited. We had to clean the remnants off before we returned the car to the rental company at the airport. I hated you for vomiting. I wished it were me. I didn’t even know that pregnant women weren’t supposed to eat shellfish.
  5. I walked along the main street of the village every day on my way to work. It was lined with renovated cottages hosting a number of businesses and services, colour coordinated begonias in the window boxes. Charmant.  A dentist, hairdressers, one of those shops that sells trinkets to place around your home if you’re someone who likes clutter – Live, Laugh, Love. An acupuncturist; Anxiety. Irritable Bowel. Stress. Fertility. The room was cold, but efforts had been made to warm it up, without going so far as to turn on any kind of heating system. Soft lighting, rugs, large scatter cushions on the bed and several blankets. I generally would avoid this kind of situation, being touched by a stranger. And I had no understanding of how it worked, or claimed to work. Another solution to an unsolvable problem. I lay on my back whilst the practitioner stuck needles in my hands, arms, legs, stomach, and left the room. I’ll be back in half an hour, she said. At the end, when she was removing the needles, she said I should come back twice a week, for maximum effect. Sure, I said. I’ll call tomorrow. Your hair looks nice, you said, when I got back. I had lied about where I was going. Water off a duck’s back. Thanks, I said, raising my hand to stroke the back of my head. I hadn’t even washed it that day.
  6. You were always home from work after me, so I had to deliberately leave the house in order to return surprised. I strolled around the suburbs for an hour or so and returned to a ‘Marks and Spencer’ meal deal for two. Soft lighting in the spare bedroom. (So much soft lighting, so you can pretend hiding is romance.) Petals strewn on the floor, and a small rose bush in a plant pot on the bedside table. Sylvie said we should try spaces that weren’t our bedroom. To ease the pressure, she said, do you understand what I’m trying to tell you? Oui, Sylvie. I lay down on the bed, began practicing my breaths, picturing the flower blossoming, the smell of wet soil drifting from the rose bush.
  7. The first time we ever had sex I got an awful UTI, and ever since it was my policy to go to the toilet immediately after sex. But the women on the chat forum upheld the belief that lying still on your back for at least five minutes was the preferred course of action. Give gravity a role in the proceedings. I stretched it out to ten, most times, for good measure. The women also said that you were more likely to conceive if the woman orgasmed.
  8. A friend said they thought you’d make a great dad. I don’t think anyone ever saw me as a mother. People thought it was hilarious how awkward it was whenever I was handed a baby at a family gathering. Or that I’d never changed a nappy. I mean which childless adults are offering to change nappies? I just knew I had some love left over, and nowhere to put it.
  9. I went back to the acupuncturist, in the absence of orgasms.
  10. At your most fertile, the women on the internet said, the cervical mucus should have the consistency of egg whites. I rarely ate eggs. One time, before we lived together, I had called you up and asked how to make scrambled eggs. You thought it was cute, at the time. You said you did. I bought a carton of eggs, and cracked one open on the side of the sink and pulled the two halves of the shells away from each other. The white stretched out between the cracked shell, slimy and impenetrable. I dipped my fingers in it and stretched it between my thumb and forefinger. 
  11. My period was only ever late once; when we were on a trip to New York. And maybe it wasn’t even late, you said to me, as I was sitting on the toilet, hope swilling in the bowl, maybe it was because of the time difference.
  12. Implantation pain happens when an egg has been fertilised and sticks itself to the lining of your womb. It must lodge in with quite a thwack, clinging on for dear life. There can sometimes be bleeding, light spotting. Implantation pain can feel like period pain. Ovulation pain, which takes place mid cycle, can also feel like period pain. It’s a lot of pain, basically, which all feels the same, but can mean the very opposite of what you are hoping for.
  13. I turned 35 when we were in France. Geriatric, in maternal years.  I got a text from my sister on my birthday to tell me she was expecting her fourth child. She was 43. At dinner, you presented me with a small box. My whole body felt hot and my heart was thumping. We weren’t going to get married, we hadn’t really talked about it, it was more of an unspoken agreement.  It was a horrible ring. It was silver for a start and I never wore silver.  I focused on arranging my face into an expression of contented gratitude, like I’d been given a nice cashmere sweater instead of confirmation that the person who was supposed to know me best didn’t know me at all.  It’s not an engagement ring, you said, quickly. It’s for your other hand, or wherever. You can wear it wherever. We were so confused.
  14. When the time finally came, I imagined my body as a blossoming flower, even though all the while it felt like an animal violently split open. The red of my blood stained the thread that repaired me, and brought to mind the couch in the building down the street from years ago. The midwife asked did I do antenatal yoga, what with the breathing. She pulled at my purpose bought nightie to expose more skin, and placed the baby, who looked like no-one I could think of, in my arms.
  15. My daughter takes ballet classes on the street where the acupuncturist was. It’s not there anymore. It’s a dog groomers now. I’m there every Wednesday and Friday night. Walking the streets, filling the dead hours of extra-curricular activities. I saw you coming for a while, contemplated crossing the road, pretending I was on a call. Then you stopped, bent down, and gently wiped the cheek of the roaring child holding the hand of the woman walking behind you. Pauvre bebe.
  16. We tried, anyway. Nobody could say we didn’t try. You said that once. You know, maybe we shouldn’t have to try so hard, you said that too.

Beth Hunt is originally from the North East of England, now living in Ireland. Beth writes mostly fiction and poetry and has been published in literary journals in the UK and Ireland.

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