• Broadkill Review

"Jocelyn's Romance" by Carl Parsons

Jocelyne knew her husband Roland quite well, she thought, at least in most respects. That is to say, she knew his habits, his movements, his routines. She knew the foods he preferred, what he liked to drink, and how much and what he chose never to see on his plate. She knew he took no risks with their finances and that he was at the very least an adequate provider. She knew he possessed no harmful habits. And she knew that, when motivated, he was a more than adequate lover.

What’s more, motivating him was an easy matter for her, and always had been. When she wanted him, as she often did, she needed only to become slightly flirtatious, to smile, and appear before him in anything that showed her slender figure to advantage. Whether a short dress or a negligee, it didn’t matter to Roland. Soon enough he would guide her to the nearest privacy, not always their bedroom, and begin to embrace and kiss her. Now that both their children were away at college, this behavior had become more frequent—her signals, his responses.

Their romance began in college. She was just a freshman and he a junior when they met, seated beside each other, purely by chance, at a Bach piano recital. He came to the recital that Sunday afternoon in a dark grey suit with a bold blue and white tie; she, in a pale blue gauzy dress graced along the neckline with a white scarf cinched below her throat by a gold fleur-de-lis. His manners were very reserved and most respectful, though she noticed he glanced repeatedly at her legs, especially when she crossed them. During the brief intermission he inquired without prelude, “You must like classical music?”

“Yes, I do and always have,” she remembers replying and then, wanting for other words, said, “Especially Bizet and Berlioz. And you?”

“I like Bach very much,” he told her, “particularly the Goldberg Variations, their precision when played well.”

As they exited the auditorium he asked her name and then asked if he could call her. She was flattered and gave him her dorm number but wondered why he hadn’t a girlfriend already, for he was a handsome boy. He had intelligent blue eyes, but his thin face was placid when he spoke, even when he complimented her.

After three dates he asked her to date only him. She agreed. The next year he asked her to sleep with him. She declined, then, with precautions, agreed. The year after that, he asked her to marry him. She said yes. By then his asking was only a formality.

Along the way he managed to tell her how pretty she was, how he liked her warm brown eyes and her long chestnut hair with its spiraling curls touching her cheeks and its bangs flirting along her forehead.

All of this was important to her, for Roland rarely offered opinions about anything else.

Their courtship progressed with very little drama from their chance meeting at the recital to a May marriage three years later. She had learned that Roland preferred neither to encounter nor create drama. In the first three years of marriage, they had two children, a boy and then a girl. Both their families were very pleased with them. They both worked hard and saved their money—he as an accounting manager, she as a librarian.

Yet after nearly twenty years of marriage, two children, countless meals together, and many hours of satisfying intimacies—Jocelyne did not feel that she truly knew Roland in anything but superficialities. Mostly he was quiet. His initial reserve did not disappear after marriage as she had hoped. Instead it deepened into the passivity of a stone Buddha seated at the center of a courtyard with life flickering around it, observing everything but saying nothing. It’s his work, she thought at first. Then, No, it’s just his way. And perhaps it was just his way, but his silences disturbed her nonetheless. She feared they indicated some concealed problem that would erupt without further warning to ruin their marriage, though none ever had. Still she tried always to beat the silence down with her own words.

When the children were still at home, their chatter filled the air. But now she felt a deep cistern of silence separated her from Roland. Almost compulsively she poured into it her own words—a torrent of them, anything that came to her mind—people she’d seen at the library, a child’s tantrum that had disturbed the reading room, a utility bill that hadn’t been paid, a checking account statement that she couldn’t balance. Anything, no matter how trivial. She even repeated herself; she knew she did. And he would only say: yes dear, no darling, really, perhaps, who’s that you’re speaking of? And the day would end.

In talking with other wives she knew, at least those with whom she could share intimacies, Jocelyne gradually acquired a context in which to judge her relationship with Roland and found it, in most respects, to be better than those of her friends with their husbands. These men were without exception marred by at least one serious flaw, sometimes more, flaws far more definite and consequential than Roland’s silences. Many of them drank too much, some demanded too much from their wives or expected too much from their children. A few treated their wives and children harshly, even abusively. And one or two were unfaithful, or so their wives suspected. Several women in Jocelyne’s circle were divorced by age forty. And though she cautioned herself not to be—for one can never be certain what life will bring—Jocelyne began to feel superior to her friends even while still being uncertain of Roland’s love for her. Without exception, they told her how lucky she was. Roland’s the perfect husband, they’d say. Good looking, steady, never gets upset. Are we wrong, Jocelyne? Please tell us if we’re wrong. Their opinions of Roland made her feel more fortunate and helped make the silences more tolerable. For even if she had done nothing special to deserve Roland, wasn’t their chance meeting arranged by Divine Providence, which takes charge of such matters as we ourselves cannot know to do? Surely, it was so in their case. Still, she doubted.

Men noticed Jocelyne’s beauty and frequently responded to it. When they did, she enjoyed their adulation even as she rejected their advances, for even lascivious praise is praise nevertheless. There was, for example, Gavin Gaines, the husband of her friend Edith. He was the manager of the local country club, Pine Grove. An athletic man in the past, always darkly tanned, with a trim light brown moustache that nearly disappeared at a distance—he had grown portly over time but was no less self-assured. Most of the time he dressed in a brass-buttoned, deep green sports coat with the Pine Grove emblem on its breast pocket—golf clubs crisscrossed below a small pine tree. The wives regarded him as a roué and with good reason. Some of them could base their judgments on personal encounters, though they never confided these to Edith. Jocelyne was one of those wives.

At a Christmas party five years ago, Gavin had asked Jocelyne to dance. He had been staring in her direction since her arrival on Roland’s arm at the Gaines’s home. She had chosen for the party a close-fitting red dress with white ruffles at the sleeves and neckline. While the hem of the dress nearly touched her black pumps, its slit exposed her right leg to just above the knee. Roland liked the dress very much. So did Gavin.

Without waiting for her response, Gavin snatched her by the arm and, clasping her tightly to himself, danced her beyond Roland’s earshot. He was in conversation with another guest. That accomplished, Gavin began to declare his admiration for Jocelyne’s beauty, whispering to her his specific observations and desires while maneuvering her away from the other couples and nearer and nearer the French doors that led to the patio. Jocelyne began to wonder desperately where Edith might be.

“At the country club,” Gavin cooed to her, “I have a private office.” His words were drenched with scotch. “The office has a couch, and only I have the office key. It could all be very discrete,” he promised her.

“Stop!” she said and leaned back from his embrace just as Roland appeared beside them. But before she could say more, Roland, who was well aware of Gavin’s reputation and suspected his lust for Jocelyne, intervened with “May I finish this dance with my wife? You don’t mind, do you?” Gavin released her at once.

As Roland held her, Jocelyne thanked him. “You saved me, Darling.”

“I know,” he said softly. “But we must not allow this to happen again.”

Then there was Tony Galante, the impetuous son of her husband’s barber. Tony worked at the local grocery store where Jocelyne and most of the other wives shopped. Just a boy really, barely half her age, Tony was an amateur boxer with a sculpted body and careless regard for propriety. The other wives loved to talk about him, especially Edith. They even looked for him when they went shopping to enjoy the soft dangers of flirtation.

Tony declared his love for Jocelyne one day while loading her groceries into the trunk of her car. He offered to leave work immediately in order to unpack them for her at her home, where he guessed they could be alone. She declined, telling him that such action would only bring shame on both of them.

“You should go back into the store right away, Tony,” she advised, “before your manager misses you.” In the rearview mirror she saw him glumly pushing the grocery cart back to the store. She wondered if he had made the same offer to any of her friends, perhaps Edith.

At work in the city’s large public library where she was the research librarian, Jocelyne was normally safe from such advances.

The library’s visitors were mostly women with their young children. Mothers came to her desk to ask for recommendations on what books to read to three-year-olds and where to find the latest Dora the Explorer activity books. As a joke children would ask where she was hiding Pete the Cat today.

The few men who came, at least during the weekdays, were retirees, there to read the newspapers, use the public computers, or just look for pleasant ways to pass their day. Encountering a lovely woman at the information desk was an unexpected bonus for them, except for Simon.

Simon was not a retiree but rather a scholar, a young man with spikey blonde hair, a round friendly face, not always clean-shaven, and a graceful body. Probably thirty or thereabouts, Jocelyn guessed. He wore casual clothes, usually in shades of brown, with cordovan penny loafers and beige socks below his corduroy slacks. On his first appearance in the library he marched up to her desk and offered her his business card. A professional researcher of genealogies it declared.

“I’ll need your help rather often,” he stated with a faintly French accent. “I’m just now establishing my business and will use the library for much of my research, to save money, you understand.” Then after a slight pause, he added, “You’re French, aren’t you?”

“Why yes, I am, partly. How did you know that?”

“Your appearance. The nose and the beautiful slope of your cheeks, the eyes, and perhaps the hair a bit also.” He studied Jocelyne’s face more closely, leaning from side to side to take in the full effect of her chestnut curls distressed here and there these days by spirals of silver, before declaring, “Yes, the hair as well. Southern France, I’d guess. Perhaps Provence?”

Jocelyne had never thought of herself as being obviously French but answered, “Well, that’s quite good. You’re right again. My paternal grandfather emigrated from Provence.”

Then in grandly serious tones Simon declared, “Your grandpère must have known severe hardships, for no one would willingly leave Provence,” before adding much more brightly, “But now you’re here.”

“I am,” Jocelyne conceded with a slight blush. “How may I help you . . .” she looked down at his card, “Mr. Brûlante?”

“Oh please, that’s too much. Just call me by my first name.”

“Very well . . . Simon.”

“No, no, not quite right. It’s “See-mon,” as one would pronounce it in French.”

“Very well, Simòn, how may I help you?”

“First, tell me your grandpère’s name. As a genealogist I’m perpetually curious about such things.”

“His name was Marcel Trésor.”

“So you are Madmoiselle Trésor?

“Well, not any longer. I’m married, you see.” With that, Jocelyne held up her left hand to show Simòn her engagement ring and wedding band.

“Well, of course, you are. A woman—un trésor exquis—as beautiful as yourself could hardly be expected to remain single. No one would believe it!”

Jocelyne blushed more deeply this time but quickly recovered to say, “Surely you want to know more than my grandfather’s name.”

“I do, indeed,” Simòn replied and then paused again while looking at her hair and eyes, as if to confirm his earlier judgment.

“Today I need to research Nahuatl names.”

“The Aztec language? Is that what you want?”

“Yes, yes, that’s it. Very good! Very few people would know that. You must be an excellent research librarian.”

“Just a lucky guess, really.”

J’en doute sérieusement, Madame!” he said, looking into her eyes again. “It’s for a client I’m doing this, you see, one who is a recent immigrant from Mexico. He thinks his family may have been related to Aztec royalty.”

“Wouldn’t he have been wiser to stay in Mexico to investigate that himself?”

“Yes, he certainly would have, but here he is asking me to do it for him. I’m grateful for the work, of course. And I’ll do my best, but resources of the type needed to answer his questions are rather limited here.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, but let me show you what we do have. Perhaps I can at least get you started in the right direction.”

“I truly think you can.”

Jocelyne signaled to one of her coworkers to watch her post for a moment. Then she led Simòn up the stairs to the second floor where the nonfiction materials were shelved. As they walked up the stairs, with Simòn following directly behind her, she had the sense that he was staring at her legs. At the top of the stairs she turned to the left and proceeded to the history section.

“Now let’s see . . . We’re looking for 972 items, Mexican history,” she said while scanning the shelves.

“I’m so glad you’re helping me, Madame,” he said, tagging along behind her through the stacks. “The Dewey Decimal system has always been an utter mystery to me.”

She knew he had to be exaggerating since a genealogist would surely know at least the history classifications, but she replied, “Oh, it’s not so bad if you work with it every day. . . Ah, here we are.”

She stopped abruptly. Following too closely he bumped into her. As he did, he placed his hands on her shoulders to steady both of them and quickly begged her pardon.

“Sorry, I didn’t see your stop signal.”

“I guess I didn’t give one,” she laughed. “Anyway, here are three histories of the Aztecs together on this shelf, as well as several general histories of Mexico just below them. Will this do?”