Pascal Roux felt the gleam of the morning sun as he rose his head to adjust the bridge of his Plume styled glasses. He found himself sitting on the edge of his old Matelasse sofa with inverted knees and an overwhelming stream of consciousness. The repetition of his tapping foot mirrored his thoughts. Margot, Margot, Margot. Tap, tap, tap. The sound had echoed but was quickly masked by the noise of the bike bells of the eager morning paper boys and the beeping of reversing garbage trucks. Pascal’s foot had come to a halt as he heard the tune of Louis Armstrong’s “C’est si bon” fill the narrow alley. He found his fingers mimicking the motions of the extravagant trumpet, as nostalgia imbued his mind. Pascal had searched for where the sound was coming from. It did not take him long before he found himself glaring into the window of the seventh story of an enfeebled apartment building, with squinted eyes and a broken smile as his fingers continued to dance. He watched the record player whirl on the edge of the window, and he could have sworn, he was looking into the window of his past life.
He recalled, Margot whispering to herself with the restriction of a lit cigarette between her lips as she squats flipping through a crate of records – “Where is it?” “Martin, Sinatra…AH, yes.” She places the record on the turntable and as the needle hit the record, the sound of the crackle fed her anticipation, then the sweet sound of the Rat Pack embodied her. Pascal had never viewed nor had known anything more heavenly than the way he viewed Margot. In Pascal’s eyes, Margot was the missing muse of any work of art. She was the glowing, brilliant, swirls of yellow in Van Gogh’s Starry Night and she was the surrealism of The Persistence of Memory. Without these details, the paintings would be incomplete, and that’s how Pascal saw their love. Margot completed all his unfinished art. He sat on the brown Matelasse as he watched his wife live vicariously through a flapper of the nineteen twenties’. Margot grasped the sides of her light summer dress and shook her hips. Her short black hair was wild, covering her face, and she swayed left and right. Between the strands, Pascal saw her semi tobacco stained smile, that still shined like the pearls on her necklace.
“Dance with me Pascal!” she exclaimed as she pulled her shoulder strap down exposing her shoulder in a humorous manner to grasp his attention. Pascal rose from his infatuation, took Margot’s cigarette out of her mouth and took a drag. His fingers interlocked with Margot’s and he twirled her so fast, the skirt of her dress could not catch up with her body. She is electric Pascal thought. Her yellow dress spun and she resembled an alluring blooming flower. In the midst of dancing, Pascal felt a jolt of pain shooting through his arm, which was not uncommon for him. He stopped twirling Margot, and sat back down on the couch, making a creaking noise. Margot stopped dancing, but the music kept playing.
“Why are you sitting on that ugly couch?” “You never dance with me anymore!” Margot shouted.
“I’m sorry my love,” Pascal said. He did not want to inform Margot about his chronic pain. He always feared that Margot would leave him. He’d been enduring these sudden muscle spasms for some time now. The Roux family inherits genes that identify with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it did not take long for Pascal to put two and two together. The thought of becoming a burden to Margot completely scared Pascal, so he quickly made an excuse.
“I don’t enjoy dancing anymore.”
The expression on Margot’s face was that of a young girl who had just been told, Santa Claus wasn’t real.
“Well, if that’s the case, I might as well leave you.” Margot stated, which at the time was a hollow threat to Pascal.
Margot was a fast paced woman. She was a petite girl with large dreams. She wanted to see the whole world, and climb every mountain peak before her time would come. She looked at everything as an adventure and was always seeking pure fun out of everything. She was so radiant, and her energy was contagious. With knowledge of this, it broke Pascal’s heart to feed her such lies. He loved dancing with Margot. Pascal looked at his watch and saw the time read 1:54 p.m. He quickly got up despite his pain.
“I have to run out.”
“Again? Where are you always running off to?” Margot innocently questioned, as she watched Pascal put on his coat and grab his old bicycle that he kept in their apartment. “Please Pascal, tell me”, Margot begged. She sounded tired. Pascal ignored her questions with good intentions and walked out the door without a care for what Margot might do or feel. He had consistently been riding his old Alycon to a physician who had been running tests to figure out exactly what his condition was. Pascal had been visiting this doctor two cities over to avoid the risk of Margot finding out the intentions of his visits.
Pascal stood idle in front of a medium sized brick building that read “Bouchardat Physicianry” on a rustic gold plaque. Pascal’s hands gripped the handles of his bicycle. He could feel his hands getting sweatier, and anxiousness in his fingertips. There were sharp injections of pain, tingling throughout his hand. His trance was broken as soon as he heard the bells of the office door jingle. An old man wearing a wool trench coat and a weathered chevron-patterned beret was escorted out by a nurse. The man proceeded to put his gloves on, as the young plump nurse held his shoulders and they descended from the stairs. “…on the other hand, my son Thomas is still on the market!” the man exclaimed.
“Is that right?” the nurse questioned in a tone you would speak to a child with.
“Yes!” “You have to find a husband so he can be out working, while you take a rest. “You do entirely too much!”
“Well, that’s very sweet of you Anthony…, I will see you next week…” she looks down at her clipboard for an exact date, “…the tenth for a checkup!”
“You just can’t get enough of me, can you?” Anthony said, as he winked and opened the door of his taxi that had been waiting for him.
“Until then!” the nurse said with a chuckle at the edge of the stairs, as she watched the cab drive off. Once the taxi had looped around the corner, she looked at Pascal trying to prop his bicycle against the metal fence that protected the building’s garden. She then looked down at her clipboard again. “Uh…Mr. Roux?” she said with curiosity. Pascal rose his head while fiddling with his bike lock.
“Yes, that’s me, uh, I believe I had an appointment at th-”
“Three thirty.” She interrupted.
“Yes, I’ll be up after I lock this.”
“No worries, you are twenty minutes early, you can sit in the waiting room.” “We have many newspapers and magazines, as well as a new water dispensing machine! “Oh, and the doctor has your results.”
“I will be up soon.” Pascal said, with an assuring nod.
Pascal sat on one of the seven seats in the waiting room. The room was small. The walls were poorly painted, and mediocre portraits were hung along the walls. There was a small wooden table with outdated magazines, and you could hear the sound of the gulping water of the dispenser, that the nurse had so humbly advertised. Across the room was a large woman trying to keep her three kids in check, who were running around in the small area. She looked exhausted. The thought of having kids with Margot always lingered in his mind, but he thought, how could I ever take care of them in this condition? Would Margot even want any kids? All these thoughts filled his brain, as he glared at the chipping yellow paint. It was three twenty five and in those spare five minutes, Pascal’s subconscious was filled with self pity. Kids would just slow us down. Margot wants adventure. I want what Margot wants. I don’t want to slow her down.
“Pascal!” a tall man shouted. It was Doctor Bouchardat. You could see the weariness in his eyes due to his long career.
“Hello, doctor!” Pascal says, as he makes his way toward the doctor. They both proceeded to the dispensary.
“It’s been too long.” Bouchardat said to divert the conversation, although, it had only been one week since Pascal’s last visit.
“The nurse tells me you have my final results?”
The doctor clears his throat, “uh, yes.” Bouchardat gathered all of Pascal’s files while gathering his thoughts simultaneously. He turned on the fluorescent light, and placed three X-ray photos along the display. “In this, you could see the increase of non-functioning nerves along your spinal cord…” Bouchardat stated, as he pointed to one of the x-rays. He continued to explain every single issue found in the x-rays after. He began to use language that the common person would not understand. He talked about Pascal’s body as if it was a cadaver for medical students. Pascal could not help, but to tune out the doctor’s voice, and just stared at the display, as the light reflected off his glasses. “Mr. Roux…Mr.Roux…” the doctor said, as he reached to touch Pascal’s shoulder to grasp his attention. His touch pulled Pascal out of his dormant state, and then he frighteningly asked, “What does all this mean!?” Doctor Bouchardat was startled by Pascal’s sudden burst of frustration. He quickly gathered himself. “I’m sorry Pascal, you have been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.” Pascal’s heart dropped. He had preconceived knowledge that this was his fate, but to actually hear the diagnostics come out of Dr. Bouchardat’s mouth, struck his heart like never before. He felt as if he had holes in his socks. He felt vulnerable, while trying to look put together. “Now before you start to worry, there are treatments that will help, but there is no cure.” “Now…” Bouchardat began, but Pascal then drained his voice out again. He started to notice the lights flickering on and off, and there was an uncomfortable draft that made him feel itchy. Pascal’s right knee was bouncing up and down with the pace of the inconsistent lighting. Up and down, up and down. The wooden chair swung back creating a screeching sound, as the legs scraped the floor when Pascal rose up from the chair. “I have to go now.” Pascal stated firmly, and he stormed out of the office. The nurse at the reception desk, the woman and her rowdy kids all watched Pascal busting through the room. Pascal fidgeted with the door and got frustrated quickly. The sound of the bells fed his frustration. He finally opened the door, galloped down the stairs, and quickly unlatched the bike lock. He could hear in the distance – Dr. Bouchardat and the nurse calling his name. He could feel the needles injecting again, this time through his neck and the bottom of his legs, which made his twelve mile bicycle route feel like the road to hell. All Pascal could think about on his ride home was how awful he had been treating Margot, and how he was going to tell her the awful news. The idea of becoming a burden in her alluring mind consumed him, once again. He then began to think about her perspective and her heart. The reason that he fell in love with her is because of who she was as a human being. She was kind hearted and accepting, taking on Pascal’s disease would be a new adventure for her. The whole ride home, Pascal dwelled on all the possible positive outcomes of him telling Margot the news. He finally built up the realization that she will accept me. He reached the apartment building, and began to bring his bicycle and himself, upstairs. He unlocked the door, and even before the door fully opened, he called, “Margot?” No answer. Maybe, she could not hear over the rustling of the bike and keys. He maneuvered his old bicycle through the door and propped it against the wall. While taking off his coat, he called out again, “Margot?” Still no answer. Everything was still. The only thing Pascal heard was the needle of the record player bouncing off the center of the record, creating an annoying scratching sound. Pascal looked left and right, and quickly into the bedroom. Margot always liked being in the living room, because of the large windows that filled the whole room with sunlight. But still, no sign of her. Where could she have gone? Pascal then approached the record player to turn it off to stop the annoying sound. As he reached for the knob, he noticed a beige envelope placed near the record player, that had neatly scribbled Pascal’s name on the top. Pascal quickly sat down on the old matelasse sofa, adjusted his glasses, and began to read the note.
I’m sorry, but I cannot live like this any longer. It’s not how it used to be. I crave the times when we’d be living for each other. I crave the times when you would read to me. I crave the times when you would dance with me. I crave the times when nothing seemed to matter, only your touch, your presence, and your being. You live for yourself now, you run off without telling me of your whereabouts and your intentions. Is there someone else? If so, I am so sorry, I was not good enough for you! I simply cannot spend my life dwelling on my insecurities. I wanted to see the world, and I wanted to see it with you. I wanted to climb the highest mountain peak with you and have a picnic on Mars. While you do have beautiful eyes, it seems to me, that we do not see eye to eye any longer. You are holding me back, and I seem to be holding you back as well. I love you so very much Pascal, but, please do not come looking for me. Just know that I will be happy on my own. I wish nothing but happiness for you too.
P.S. Please throw away that god forsaken uncomfortable couch, for the both of us.
5:54 a.m. The street was silent at dawn. The only thing you could hear was the dragging of the old couch along the street by Pascal. The injections of pain have never been so chronic, but Pascal felt numb. He finally reached the back of the apartment building, where garbage men pick up tenants’ trash. He took off his coat, that he had been wearing since yesterday and reclined on the couch. The ominous chill from the eerie morning felt like a stranger’s grip on his heart and mind, and the couch had never felt so uncomfortable to him before. He was empty. He sat there clenching Margot’s note in his fist until the noises of the outside world took away his perpetual love for a woman who craved nothing but the world.
(Written in Fall 2016)
Vishwa Chitnis (18) is a student. She participated in “Between the Lines”, International Writing Program for teens at the University of Iowa in summer 2017. She wants to become a music journalist. She loves writing stories, poetry and traveling. She is currently working on writing a children’s book.