Just as visiting Paris as an adult sprung her fifteen-year-old self, meeting him as a full-blown woman springs someone even younger.
“You foolish little girl,” he chides her, on occasion, which fosters this rejuvenescence even further, and sends her back to a time when, like now, he played the role of her shepherd.
“This is a list of adjectives that one might use to describe you,” he tells her, sitting down next to her at the table. “I want you to read them aloud and tell me what they mean.”
“You’re kidding,” she says.
“I am not.”
She puts down her book and examines the piece of paper, a showcase for his capital letter scrawl.
“Jocund,” she reads, choosing one she knows. “That’s like when I hid behind the shower curtain and scared you.”
She laughs, remembering. Completely unaware, he stood in front of the toilet and unzipped his pants. And at the very moment she heard the distinct splash of water on water, she threw the curtain back and screamed.
“You should have seen the way you jumped!” she says now.
For her, it’s a highlight of their relationship.
“Start at the beginning, though,” he redirects, tapping the piece of paper in front of her with the rubber end of a pencil.
She looks at the first word. Ebullient.
“Ee-byu-lent,” she tries, looking up at him.
“Uh-buyl-yent,” he corrects.
She scrunches up her nose. She hates being corrected, especially by him.
Once, she overheard him telling a colleague that he and a girlfriend had a meeting of the minds. Normally she wouldn’t care about something like that, but it was the way he said it. With such unadulterated fascination.
A meeting of the minds. She can’t decide if that sounds more passionate or fraternal. But from time to time she is unfairly tormented by it regardless.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” she tells him.
“Uh-buyl-yent,” he recites again. “What do you think it means?”
“I said I don’t want to do this anymore,” she says. She takes his reading glasses from his face and climbs on top of the table to put them on the upper sash of the open window, where he can’t reach.
“I can’t be so serious all of the time,” she says now, climbing back down, knocking over a chair with her clunky boots in the process.
He raises an eyebrow at her.
“What?” she asserts, “I can’t. Not everyone can be a stodgy academic like you, you know. Some people need to have a little fun!”
He smiles, squints his eyes at her.
“Are you acting by design right now?” he queries.
“Are you?” she throws back, having no idea what he means.
“Your relationship to language is curiously alive,” he admires, sliding the piece of paper across the table towards himself and adding a word to the bottom.
She broils in her cotton dress, aware of the way he is perhaps placating her with false compliment.
“Don’t be stupid,” she argues.
He smiles again, taps the paper. She looks down at the new word. Recalcitrant. Another one she doesn’t know.
“I want you to go get in our bed,” he tells her, twenty years later. “I’ll join you in a minute.”
Technically it’s not their bed; she has her own bed, in a very girly room that belongs only to her. But she gets scared sometimes by herself. So she does as she is told, walking on tiptoe down the hall.
Knowing his concept of a minute is always much longer than a normal human minute, she closes his bedroom door behind her and surreptitiously takes the bookmarks out of everything he is currently reading. Something in the deviousness of the act offers her solace.
Then she climbs under the covers and contemplates the man she saw leaving the market today. Five years ago – was it five? – she drank wine with him in a graveyard and they almost had sex.
Tony, she remembers now. His name was Tony.
When she saw him today, her first thought was, “What a handsome man!” And her second thought was wishing she were in a position to pursue him.
But then as he got closer, she realized the pursuit had actually already happened, five years since. And then her interest in him hit a wall, and she changed direction to avoid being seen.
“What a thing to happen!” she thinks now, and wonders if there is perhaps a lesson there about attraction.
“Are you coming?!?” she screams out to the stodgy academic eventually, unable to decipher it herself.
“Hush woman!” the stodgy academic calls out to her.
She smiles. She likes it when he calls her woman.
She has long since settled down by the time he finally joins her, bringing her a bowl of fresh raspberries and a small plate of thick, broken chocolates.
She likes the way he breaks apart the chocolate bar by holding it centered in his hand and slamming it hard into the countertop. He doesn’t know it, but when she thinks about leaving him, it’s on the list of things she would miss. The strangely aggressive grace of it.
“Do you want to read to me?” he asks, setting the bowl down on the nightstand. But she doesn’t.
She shakes her head and positions a raspberry carefully atop her pinky finger.
“You do know how much I like it when you read to me?” he asks.
She shrugs, then examines the raspberry’s texture carefully with the tip of her tongue before thrusting her pinky all the way in her mouth and pulling it off.
He takes a raspberry and tries to fit it over his own pinky, which scarcely works. He has far larger hands than she. But once it’s kind of precariously positioned, he holds it out for her.
“Stick out your tongue,” he directs.
She has a nice tongue. She knows this. Even she likes the clean triangular point she can make with it, which she does now.
He watches her. She smiles, growing a tiny bit warm, and happier.
Sometimes, in his presence, she experiences herself as a flower. Delicate and pristine, the kind of beautiful that can’t be captured.
A lily, to be precise, his nickname for her when she was young.