Actions

Work Header

Fallen Leaves

Work Text:

1963

The Olympia is not a building that inspires her, plastered as it is with garish lights - names spelled out in glowing neon. It is a feat of electricity, but not a feat of architecture, nor a feat of romanticism. It is nothing like the Paris she clung to for so long - still clings to.

But it is where Juliette Greco is playing and someone had once told Jenny she should see her in Paris.

Somehow it is a little heartbreaking to be there, a little overwhelming – she is caught for a moment suspended between the world that she has built for herself and the one she awoke from. There are times when the memories are still so vivid that finding herself anywhere else feels as if she has been startled from a dream.

Though at least it doesn’t hurt anymore.

She watches Juliette Greco for a while, watches the other musicians, half judging them and herself against them but in the end the lyrics overthrow her. She has to close her eyes and let the music wash over her, fill her up where she is hollow and it is then that she feels it. The sensation. The prickle of someone else’s eyes upon her.

She opens her eyes slowly, trying to scan the crowd surreptitiously for who may be watching her. Everyone’s eyes are fixed upon the stage, though one man gazes down at his hand laced around a girl's in some sort of wonder.

It’s not until she looks up that she finds her culprit. Danny. In a box, of course, not even facing the stage but turned to her, intent, a smile on his face. And despite everything she smiles back.

The song changes, drifts into another. Les Feuilles Mortes. Fallen Leaves.

Des jours heureux où nous étions amis,” Greco sings. “En ce temps-là la vie était plus belle,
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu'aujourd'hui.”

And they watch each other. If eyes could converse they would have spoken lifetimes. And it feels like lifetimes to Jenny.

“C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi, tu m'aimais et je t'aimais
Et nous vivions tous les deux ensemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
les pas des amants désunis.”

As the song ends, she turns back to the stage, a consciously difficult choice, knowing that he is still gazing at her. And knowing as well that it is inevitable he will be waiting for her as they leave. Her only choice is whether to amble or rush, whether to leave by the front door or a side exit. It is not much but at least it’s still a choice.

****

“I went to Oxford, after all. Last year. Reading English. Books as well.”

They have moved to a cafe, one Jenny is incessantly fond of. The coffee is terrible but the view magnificent. Montmartre rises above them as the people hurry past, brushing against their table. The street is tiny and winding and overcrowded and utterly Paris.

Danny is watching her over his cup. “Helen would be pleased; Oxford hasn’t spoiled you.”

“Where is Helen?”

“Married,” he tells her. “I finally found someone worthy of her, someone to dote on her. That’s the problem with having taste: sometimes a search can take a long time.”

“I’m sorry you’re not together anymore; I always thought you complimented each other. She made you softer.”

“Most people just thought she was there to look pretty.”

Jenny smiles at him, not sure if her next words will wound or tease or salve. “I always thought she was the tattered remnants of your conscience. Well, not always.”

“She was I hope and a reminder. She’ll be in Paris tomorrow; if you’re here then I’d love you to see her.” 

Jenny’s surprise must have shown even if only for a moment, though she was not sure why she should have thought marriage would change anything – it hadn’t for David.

“I was never good enough for her or kind enough,” Danny continues. “But finding someone who is, hasn’t made it any easier for me to lose her. Now we are having a torrid Parisian affair. And how about you? How are your torrid Parisian love stories?”

 “Not Parisian,” Jenny tells him. “But there have been boys.”

“And you have broken all their hearts,” he says it with a smile. “How couldn’t you?”

“I had a good teacher.” It comes out bitterer than she means it to and for a moment they both look away from each other, staring at the people as they pass, neither yet ready for that conversation.

****

“I have missed you,” Danny tells her in a moment of rare sentimentality as the waiter pours their wine. “It was nice, if only for a while, to have someone who loved it all as much as I did – the art and the music and the cleverness.”

Compared to her cafe nestled in the heart of Paris, the restaurant Danny has chosen is all made of glamour and wealth. Paris lies spread out before them, laid at their feet like a field of gold – sparkling lights and beautiful buildings.

“Helen never really understood any of it, though she loved it for my sake. David always sees it half as an opportunity.”

It is the first time either of them have mentioned David by name, though he has lingered on the edges of their conversation, lurking in the shadows of doorways.

“What would you like to eat?” he asks, a chance to deflect the conversation.

“I never understood why he proposed to me,” she replies instead, “when he could never marry me. If he hadn’t done that, I would have been less scarred.”

“Would you have been, I wonder? I was so angry when he asked you.”

“I knew. I couldn’t understand why you weren’t happy for me.”

“I was angry for me,” he tells her. “Because it meant the end was near; it was always the first sign.”

It’s an acknowledgement that he’d known about the others, though she’d always supposed he and Helen would have had to.

“Then why did he do it?”

“Because David is his own worst enemy. Because he lies so much that he’s forgotten how to trust people and so it eats away at him. Eventually he had to take ownership, to convince himself that you were just his - all of you, that you belonged to him. He used to keep a ring in the boot of his car. Sometimes he’d forget to replace it, he’d hunt for it when he’d already given it away. But once he had you, there was no where else for him to go and then he’d leave the letters, somewhere you’d find them.”

Jenny has listened in silence as the pattern of her life is written out like a recipe. Well worn with age. The waiter has returned.

“Que désirez-vous, Monsieur?”

****

The music is soft - it sways them, bodies pressed together, moving them through the other dancers. Jenny had thought she’d found every jazz club in Paris and she is not sure whether this new discovery is more typical of her own shortcomings or of Danny’s ability to surprise her. It is small and intimate and it feels like years since she has danced with anyone, though truly it has only been a few weeks.

Their cheeks are pressed together and Jenny thinks, to anyone who didn’t know, it must look like they are deeply, youthfully in love.

“I always thought it was a sort of addiction,” Danny whispers into her ear. “That David wants the innocence of love so much that he can scarcely help himself. And he destroyed his wife’s so long ago.”

“And I was just collateral damage? A quick high?”

Although it is an argument of sorts, they hold each other, movements still soft within the dance.

“No. You were everything. I believe it breaks his heart every time.”

His hand is wrapped warmly around her own while the other rests softly against her waist. She can feel the brush of his lips against her ear as he talks.

“Once you all find out the truth, he can never make you look at him the same way again. He can’t bare it. It is hopeless and inevitable. Like David. Will you stay with me tonight?”

“Yes.”

****

It feels natural. Jenny had thought as they walked back to the cheap room she had taken, that sleeping with Danny might not – even though she has imagined it before, many times.

He is less impatient than David, pressing slow kisses down the length of her neck as he lays her on the bed, along her shoulder bone and down to her breast, to the edge of her dress. She cradles his face and he kisses the palm of her hand.

And when she tells him to wait, he looks up, almost apologetic already.

“What about Helen?” She asks him and he laughs, then stops.

“I’ll tell her.”

She finds she does not want to lose Helen’s respect and something of her fear must show in her face because he reaches up and strokes two fingers along her cheek.

“She won’t mind,” he tells her. “With us, it’s never been about ownership, only about enjoyment. And she loves you and knows I do. She’ll be pleased.”

Deep down her fear remains. This could be just another con; she has seen him convince people of so much more but, doubts intact, she pulls him closer and kisses him again.

****

Jenny is wearing red. She has pressed herself into the window to watch the sun rise and a cigarette dangles loosely in her fingers, smoke curling away into the sky. She hears Danny come into the room, but she doesn’t turn right away.

“I always thought I would wear black and quote poetry and smoke cigarettes.”

“Two out of three isn’t bad,” Danny, still-tousle-haired from the shower, tells her.

“I realised black was overrated. And it’s a tribute to Helen –she was wearing red the first time we met and she was the most glamorous woman I had ever seen. I was so impressed. So naive.”

“She did always make an impression. And I would have said innocent not naive.”

“You impressed me too. I thought you were so clever, so interesting, that night in the jazz club.”

“I was trying to impress you. I thought I might distract you, charm you away.”

“You were with Helen.”

“Yes eventually. Though she was David’s first.”

It surprises her. She had known, of course, that there were others before her, but it is hard to imagine that Helen was ever one of them. Danny squeezes onto the window sill beside her.

“I thought she was too sweet, too soft, not clever enough – so I told her the truth about his marriage.”

She waits for a second, though the question has sprung to her lips almost immediately. It has the feel of a precipice. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t think you were ever those things.” It is a glib answer and he knows it; he looks down at his hands. “Because when I told Helen, David wouldn’t speak to me for months. I couldn’t face it again and... I love him.”

It has the air of a confession about it.

“Do you sleep with him?” The question surprises her, not long ago she would not have even known to ask it.

“Yes. Though not while you were together. He is faithful in his own way.”

“But afterwards?”

“Yes.”

“And still?”

He can only nod. They sit in silence as she finishes her cigarette, smoking it to the bones of her fingers.

“We should go and get Helen.” She tells him when it is done and presses a quick kiss to his lips.

****

They walk to the train station, hand in hand and stay that way as they wait on the platform. Watching the crowds pass them.

“Do you regret it?” Danny asks as the train appears in the distance. “David.”

“Yes. No.” Jenny corrects herself. “I don’t regret knowing about the world and knowing about myself. I don’t regret finding out that things do happen all the time if you’re brave enough to make them – I don’t regret falling in love with Paris.”

“And you?” She asks.

“Every day.”

“But you still stay with him?” The train has stopped and doors are opening.

“We did always say you were the clever one.”

Danny smiles at her briefly, before he turns back to passing crowds.

Helen steps from the steam, like a heroine long past, once all the others have gone. She looks just the same, as if no time has passed. Her face lights up when she sees them. Engulfing them both in a hug. She is talking before she has let them go. Strings of joy and laughter.

And taking Jenny’s hand, she drags them back to Paris.