When she invited me over for lunch I was expecting more than canned corn. We met at the University. We both were taking classes in the South of France, both were foreigners. I went to Montpellier to escape the harsh North Dakota winters and a manipulative boyfriend. She left her home and family for the promise of marriage.
The first thing I noticed at her apartment was the walls. Enlarged and matted photographs filled the living room. Unlike most enlarged photos I had seen of Europe, Luba wasn’t posed in front of some famous monument like the Eiffel Tower, the gardens at Versaille, or gondolas of Venice. It was just Luba and her body. Life-sized. There were photographs of her in short dresses: one black, one red and one where she was wearing a short jean skirt and halter top. Her blue eyes looked directly at the camera and she tilted her head to one side, showing off the mole by her mouth.
I wanted to ask Luba if those pictures made her feel uncomfortable but my French wasn’t that good. With English my native tongue and Russian hers, French was our middle ground. I was able to ask her who took the photos.
“Mon mari.” Of course, her husband.
I told Luba the photos were nice. I hoped that my poor French accent would hide the falseness in my voice.
When Luba finished her bowl of corn, she took mine with hers and washed them at the sink. The sun had dropped and no longer filled the living room with light. The couch, all of a sudden, felt dirty. I wondered if they had sex on it.
“Would you like to stay and meet my husband?” She reached under a lamp shade and a light buzzed, then flickered to life. I pictured the three of us sitting on the couch, Luba and I awkwardly filling the silence with our bad French accents while her husband stared at the photos of his wife on the wall. I knew the high cost of electricity.
“Oui, mais non,” I declined. Since I knew Luba took her studies seriously, I used homework as an excuse to go home. As expected, she understood but she insisted I wait until her husband came home and could give me a ride.
“No, really, I prefer to walk.”
“But it’s dangerous. So many men.”
I noted how she didn’t use the textbook French word, ‘les hommes” but the slang word “les mecs.” One word and she went from calling all men polite gentleman to dirty blokes.
A slight breeze rattled the leaves on the trees as I started my walk home. Men in the park were still playing chess. One man slept underneath a tree on top of its gnarly roots, his feet bare and black.