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After the Flood

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Marriage is not what she expected, is both more and less than she could have hoped. Alexander is by turns a stranger and the man she loved, distant and tender, and she knows that sometimes there is another woman that he sees in her, in her things hanging beside his, in her hair on the pillow at night. Perdita is, in so many ways, blind; she can't imagine what it is like, to have memories sharp and clear as knives. Everything she remembers is blurred at the edges, softened, faces indistinct and the lines of bodies, the lines between bodies, invisible.

The city is a ruin, beautiful only because it is indistinct, and even a blind woman can smell the Seine, and the sewage. They are staying at Dotty's, and not in the lavish hotel suite Gilbert offered them as a wedding present. Alexander is proud, too proud to take money from the Knights-- or too afraid of what it will mean. Perdia tries not to mind.

Perdita minds desperately. She wants her little house in the suburbs, her bed with the quilts she chose herself. She wants to cook for her husband, the way a proper wife would. She wants her own piano. She wants peace and quiet, not only to practice, not only to learn to be a married woman and not a girl, but to learn to love the thing that is changing her body.

Dotty shops. Dotty makes calls, and receives them. She has her charities, her son. She is never still, and she will not let Perdita be still, either, and the worst of it is that it is well meant. She is trying to help, Alexander says, and Perdita knows that he is right, and hates it.

And Alexander is so busy with Jouvet. The records were saved, and the people, and everything else the Seine spoiled. He has to be there to supervise the planning, and afterward the rebuilding, and he is still healing from his injuries.

At night he falls into bed beside Perdita, and is asleep before his head touches the pillow. There is no time for words between them, and no place for touching, not in Dotty's house. Perdita lies beside him in the dark, thinking of the baby growing inside her, and listens to him breathe until she, too, sleeps.

“This is for you,” she tells the baby sometimes, and she does not know if she means the loneliness, the waiting, or the home that Alexander is designing for them. “All of this is because we love you.”

“Je t'aime,” she says to Alexander, like a proper young Parisian wife, but she speaks to their child in English, always. She loves them both so very much, and surely, if Paris can be saved, if Jouvet can be reclaimed , so can her marriage be built from the ruins of the flood.