Thursday, November 28, 2013

Everyone Deserves A Happy Ending, Part 2

(Continued from the previous post!)

His hesitation lingered for several minutes until Neighbor heard a woman’s voice - not loud but firm; well modulated, and with agreeable undertones of gentleness. He couldn’t immediately place the accent: it didn’t seem as if she was from Canada, the American South or Midwest, or Europe, or Texas, or Philadelphia or Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest. She had a sort of Everywoman vocalization, and right away, that pleased him. He liked the sound of it.

The movers finally slid the couch through and the doorway was cleared. The woman moved into his line of vision, her head turned toward the movers as she directed them to the living room. Brown hair grazed her shoulders but parted to offer him an inviting view of the back of her neck. The rest of the back of her was appealing, too: she was petite but not really thin - healthy looking, he thought. Not someone who lived on ramen or couscous, it would appear.

Now that he was edging toward the condo, Neighbor could hear music playing inside. If she’d already unpacked and set up a stereo system before anything else, chances were good that music was very important to her. He liked the implications of that.

And the music he heard was Sting - one of his true favorites. Be still my beating heart, indeed, Neighbor thought. This is positively serendipitous.

She turned to face him and a large smile graced her countenance. “Oh, hello! I’m sorry I didn’t see you there,” she said.

Neighbor was a little stunned so he didn’t respond right away. She had bright blue eyes whose loveliness could not be minimized by the rectangular frames of her glasses. A small, chaotic gathering of bangs drifted over her forehead. Her skin had a slight olive tone to it, and he’d bet she wasn’t at all afraid to go out in the sun. She was not a classic beauty, but it didn’t matter. She radiated happiness and good humour, and Neighbor knew without knowing that she was kind. This mattered to him a great deal, for he believed that kindness nurtured all sorts of other desirable qualities in a person.

“Ah…hello. I’m your neighbor across the hall. I wanted to come by and welcome you,” he said, extending his hand. They exchanged names, and it was fortunate that Neighbor possessed above-average intelligence, otherwise he might have forgotten it the moment they touched. Once she put her hand in his, he could feel his future in their clasp. It was as if uncertainty had dissipated and the rest of his life had become corporeal. (Coincidentally, it took the shape of a brunette woman.)

But she was talking again, so Neighbor pulled himself back to reality. “Thank you. I’m glad you stopped by. I have a feeling I’m going to be buried in a hobbit hole of boxes for a long time. I don’t know when I’ll get out to meet anyone,” she said warmly.

Neighbor noted that she held a cup of coffee from Tim Horton’s. We’ll have to do better than that, he thought, promising himself that he would bring her a mug of fresh-brewed real coffee the very next morning. He was warmed by this impulsive commitment, and somehow he believed it would be well received.

“Do you mind talking while I work? I don’t want to be rude, but it won’t be very long before living among boxes will drive me crazy. I need to keep moving,” she said, hefting a carton and heading toward the kitchen.

“Not at all. I’d feel the same. Let me help you,” he said, grabbing another box marked “kitchen” and tucking it under his arm so he could keep his coffee mug in his other hand. He followed her out of the foyer and saw that the counter had a small assortment of snack food.

“Would you like a s’lore?” She handed him two graham crackers that were stacked sandwich style, with something in between.

“A s’lore?”

“Yes - it’s like a s’more, but with chocolate and peanut butter, instead of marshmallow.”

“Wouldn’t that be a s’pore, then?”

“Probably,” she said impishly, “but I like the word ‘s’lore’ better.”

She’s into neologism. Sweet.

Oh, Neighbor was falling hard.

“So, if you don’t mind my asking,” he said as he licked the last of the s’lore off his fingers, “what brings you to the Manulife Building?”

“I’m new to Toronto. I just took a job with an importing firm.”

“Oh,” he replied with even more interest. “What do you import?”

“Almost everything, it seems,” she replied airily. “Argyle and high-quality whisky from Scotland. Wine, art and food from Italy – oh, and leather as well. Mangoes from the Caribbean. We export, too. We sent out a lot of maple syrup from Canada. I have a feeling that’s now going to be one of my major responsibilities.”

Normally, it took awhile before Handsome Neighbor’s teasing nature made an appearance, but something about this woman brought it out easily. “Well, then. You’re the one who’s responsible for our maple syrup shortage?”

She laughed, a bright, glorious sound of happiness. “Guilty as charged, I suppose.” Then she lowered her voice. “I’ve learned French to try and smooth my path. J'ai appris les subtilités de la production de sirop d'érable. A ton avis, pense tu que je maîtrise la langue française assez bien?? *

The sounds of those elegant, rich Gallic words rolling off her tongue did something to the already off-kilter Neighbor. He tugged at his collar, which was suddenly uncomfortably tight.

”Tu m’étonne, oui tu te débrouilles très bien. J’aimerais continuer cette conversation à un moment qui te convient.’’ ** he said, slightly above a murmur.

Suddenly self-conscious, she looked away, as if she’d detected the shift in temperature between then. “How long have you lived here?” she asked, deftly changing the subject.

“Several years. It’s really a good place to be. The location is convenient, and the building is well maintained.” He disliked the way he sounded - like an ignorant trunk monkey, or one of the real estate types she’d surely had her fill of.

But her warm smile returned despite his dry words. “Did you know the previous tenant?”

Neighbor involuntarily stiffened his shoulders. “Not well, no. He was a professor at the university.”

“Too bad,” she mused. “I was hoping you could tell me what on earth he had hanging on the walls of the master bedroom.”

“Come again?” He said it before he could rephrase it.

“There are about six large pale markings on the walls in that bedroom, as if really big prints or paintings were hanging there. I wondered what they could possibly be. They must have dominated the room.”

He smiled at her. “Sorry, can’t help you with that.” Neighbor then noticed what appeared to be artwork on the floor, covered with sheets and propped against the wall outside the kitchen.

“May I look?”


He carefully moved the sheet off the frame closest to him. Underneath was a print of a woman taking a bath, shown from the shoulders up; her gaze was far off and contemplative.

“Alfred Stevens?” Neighbor said.

Everywoman’s eyes brightened even more. “Yes! He’s not well known, especially considering the other Impressionists...”

“...but he’s an important artist just the same,” Neighbor completed.

She blushed and her gaze dipped to the floor. “It’s nice to find someone else who’s familiar with him.”

“I like this painting very much. Do you like art?” He made his inquiry broad to see how she would respond.

As if on cue, she picked up on his phrasing. “That’s a wide-open question,” she replied, chuckling. “I like almost all forms of the arts. As far as paintings go, I’m a big fan of the Impressionist era.” She rolled her eyes self-consciously. “It’s pedestrian, I know.”

“No, not at all,” he said, trying to reassure her. “There’s a reason Impressionism is so popular. It’s wonderful.”

Her expression grew excited again. “Do you like the Impressionists?”

“Yes, but to be honest, my preferred era is Renaissance.”

“Oh? Who are your favorites?”

“Botticelli, Giotti, Brunelleschi, to name a few.”

She nodded in understanding. “I went to Florence a few years ago. It gave me a much greater appreciation for that era’s artwork. I was astonished at the beauty and complexity of the paintings.” can say that again, Neighbor thought. Who uses words like “astonished” in every day conversation? Everywoman was sounding more and more like a prime candidate for his soul mate.

He really wanted to keep her talking. “You’ve been to Florence? It’s one of my favorite cities. Sounds as if you enjoyed it.”

“I did,” she responded thoughtfully. “Initially, it was a business trip. But I stayed for weeks because I loved the art and architecture, especially Il Duomo. And the food and wine, of course, were fantastic!” He nodded in complete agreement. “By the time I left, I felt as if I’d gained a much better insight of that period in history.”

“That tends to happen to enlightened travelers,” he said quietly.

She regarded him for a minute, clearly understanding his compliment. Then she smiled, and while it wasn’t as brilliant as the grin she’d greeted him with, it was somehow more satisfying. More intimate.

“I’m not sure I can say I’m more enlightened. If anything, I began to see how much I don’t know about art or history - any of it. I gained a new respect for what the artists of the Renaissance achieved. I’d never thought before of how art was so crucial to the era. The paintings were not just created to pretty up someone’s home. They conveyed ideas, beliefs, political opinions, and probably most important, what was happening in the world. Not that artists today don’t strive for the same thing,” she said, frowning slightly in thought, “but the drawings and paintings back then were truly the multimedia of their time. It was the only significant way they had to convey thought, feeling, interpretation, opinion and faith to the masses...almost anything regarding the human condition.”

Handsome Neighbor was quiet because he was trying not to swoon. He didn’t even know if he agreed with what Everywoman said, but he loved that she said it. He loved that she thought that way.

She stopped, embarrassed again, thinking his lack of response meant he disagreed, or disapproved, or merely thought she was out of her mind.

“Well,” Everywoman said, shrugging her shoulders lightly, “I really have a lot to do here, and I’m sure you’ve got your own Saturday things to attend to.” Her smile faltered, and it broke his heart a little. He wanted to reassure her even as he realized she was speaking the truth about unpacking.

“Of course. But - can I ask you...” and Neighbor took the leap. “Can I bring you something for dinner? I mean, maybe we can share something. Nothing fancy. I’ll bring over some pizza from the best carry-out Italian restaurant in Toronto.” Her gaze was toward the floor again, so he tilted his head to catch her eye.

She looked dubious but hopeful, and his heart soared. “I don’t want to put you through any trouble,” she said.

“It’s no trouble. No trouble at all. I mean, you have to eat, right? And I have to eat. We can eat together.”

Everywoman’s genuine smile returned. “Okay. You know, that sounds nice.”

True epiphanies are rare; rarer still is the person who can recognize when it happens. Handsome Neighbor was no fool. He knew he’d just been granted entrance to a new world, with room for one other occupant. The memory of everyone else – the longing curiosity about Julianne, the lingering animosity toward Emerson – evaporated like fog in the sunlight over Lake Ontario.

That night, the writing came easy.



*”I've learned the finer points of maple syrup production. Would you say I've mastered the French language well enough?”

**”You're doing very well. I'd converse with you any time.”

Many thanks to our lovely Lady Fallow for the assistance with translating English into Canadian French.

I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it! ~Mango


Unknown said...

I hated to see this end! I love how you weaved SRisms (?) into this vignette...and with great humor too. Will there be more?? I hope so. Well done! :)

Elizabeth said...

This is such a cute back story about the neighbor (who I always imagined as SR). But you can't just stop here. We have to find out what happens with the neighbor and his new lady neighbor. Please write more!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this sweet story! S'lores, huh? Sounds familiar. ;) And yummy! Speaking of yummy, I wouldn't mind s'more N & E. :)

Diana C. Acosta said...

Excelente :-)

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