By: Elissa Russell
I couldn’t recognize your accent as foreign any more than I could my own. Each muddy ‘R,’ each forced vowel we produced hung in the air unacknowledged, suspended like mobiles in the damp atmosphere.
It was your eyes that first betrayed you—those flame-gold eyes, the color of honey exactly, fixed always toward the East.
We met at a neighborhood party over hard punch and galettes and too many glasses of Muscadet. Rain swelled the clouds overhead as the fluid language swirled around us. I was dizzy, drunk, still ticking on Central Standard Time. The Atlantic-soaked air had long ago swept my pride and my verb conjugations out to sea.
You commiserated with each awkward bisou, heard each garbled syllable, pulled me aside:
“Yolaine and I met twenty years ago,” you told me in her language: smooth, yet biting. “Elle est ma marie,” you emphasized, the bitter ‘R’ accentuating the phrase’s harshest word. You paused, downed the contents of your glass in one sharp gulp. The closer you drew in, the faster my heart beat. “I hate this rain, this place. I want to learn English. I must. It’s so… beautiful.” Flickering amber eyes, now locked on my blue ones. “Let me walk you home. It’s dark.” You squeezed my bare knee, hard, and stood. The walk home was neither dark nor far, but you knew that. You’d been here now for eleven years, after all.
Upon reaching the yellow house with the blue door, you braced my shoulders and brought your nose within an inch from my own. “Sweet dreams,” you exhaled at me in English, your breath forming a sea-salt cocktail with the night as I dumbly watched you stumble back up the path.
I fished out an ornate house key, which seemed to belong more to the Victorian era than in my Jansport. I winced as it turned loudly in the heavy door, fearing to wake the members of this house, this family that was not mine.
From the peephole, I glimpsed your brown peacoat. You disappeared past the stone wall, back toward your home, where your wife was washing our dinner plates.
Elissa Russell holds an English degree from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating, she worked as an English teacher in Calais, France. A theatre educator and administrator, she now lives in Colorado, where she continues to explore her passion for writing.