The first time Brenda went over to Jéréme’s place she was impressed. Compared to the chaos of her apartment, everything was in such military order. But then she noticed his art hanging all over his apartment. Not her style but nevertheless they were in frames and had signatures which Jéréme told her were important painters. She’d not heard of one of them. There was not a single painting she liked. If she ever married him she though or moved in with him these paintings would be a real problem for her.
“These are worth quite a bit,” he said, “Especially since this one died.” Brenda stood before a painting of men fighting each other with swords.
“Did he die fighting?” Brenda asked. Of course it was a joke but Jéréme took her seriously.
“No, this is history. It’s worth a lot of money.”
“How much?” asked Brenda.
“Lots,” said Jéréme. “All my paintings are worth a lot of money. When I divorced my second wife my art dealer told me which paintings to take along. I left her all the crap.”
He was proud of that.
“A victory for humanity,” Brenda said.
He seemed not to hear what she said and started to put in a video. They settled on his sofa. It was a war movie. Already, after having seen the paintings, Brenda was having second thoughts but then she thought about what was awaiting her back home. An apartment that desperately needed cleaning. The further she was from it the more she’d be at peace. Except all this fighting on the screen wasn’t very peaceful.
“Let’s play a game,” she told him in the middle of a bloody scene. He didn’t hear her at first. He seemed mesmerized by all the blood and gore so she had to poke him.
“Let’s get to know each other,” she said. “Let me guess what’s in your fridge.”
Jéréme put the movie on pause.
“There isn’t much in my fridge. I always eat take-out. But I do have some stuff. Go ahead and guess what kind of cookies I have.”
Brenda said the first thing that came into her mind. “Whippet’s,” she said.
He was impressed. “No kidding. This is really interesting. Okay, now tell me what kind of soft drink I keep.”
Yesterday she’d gone to have a smoked meat with a cherry coke and so that’s what she said, “cherry coke.”
He couldn’t believe her. Right again. Brenda could tell that he was liking this game as much as the war movie. “Now what kind of candies do I have in my pantry?” She’d never seen anyone get so red-hot excited over junk food.
Again she uttered the first thing that popped into her head. “Jujubes.”
He rose from the couch like an erupted volcano, grabbed Brenda’s hand and led her into his kitchen where he flung open the pantry door. There alone on a shelf sat a giant-sized plastic jar of jujubes. Chips. Saltines. Instant popcorn filled the other shelves. It was a pantry of a ten-year old.
“Come see here,” he said whisking Brenda towards the fridge. He opened the door and pointed to two boxes of Whippett’s. She watched him straighten the boxes so that they were perfectly aligned. Next, he touched one of the cans of cherry coke and smiled at her as if this was absolute proof that they were made for each other. Brenda turned and walked back into the living room.
She was on the verge of leaving when he touched her. To her grand disbelief, in spite of his horrific paintings and his taste for crap there was still some chemistry left over between them. How could this possibly be? There was far too much about him that needed changing and she adhered to the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And Jéréme was well over his prime.
Still. The chemistry.
At first, she put up with the war movies and sitting around watching golf and basketball because they always made out during this time. It seemed that Jéréme needed something on the tube to get his sex drive moving.
She decided to invite him to her place to spend the night.
“Okay,” he said, “Do you have any left-overs?”
She told him she had a slice of leek quiche. “Why?” she asked.
“I’ve got some from take-out that I need to eat before it spoils. So I’ll bring that over and you can heat your own.”
Brenda felt her heart sink. Left-overs was hardly her idea of romance.
“Do you have any vodka?” Jéréme asked.
Brenda said she didn’t. “But I have wine,” she said.
“I’m not much of a wine drinker. You can have your wine and I’ll bring over some vodka.”
Vodka. Maybe she’d have a bloody Mary or a martini. The idea perked her up.
Jéréme arrived with his sports bag and his left-overs.
“Do you mind if I change?” he asked.
She didn’t know what to say so she said, “Sure. Go ahead.”
He came back into the kitchen wearing his sloppy jogging pants and a t-shirt that had stains on it.
“Ah this is much more comfortable,” he said.
Brenda thought he was getting much too comfortable for her taste.
He reached into his bag of left-overs and took out his take-out. “Here put this in a dish and just zap it in the microwave,” he told her.
She felt like telling him to do it himself but then she changed her mind. It was no sense being mean. He must be hurting enough to be so inconsiderate.
Jéréme removed a flask from his bag. “My vodka,” he said. “Do you have a glass I can pour this into?”
He’d brought only enough vodka for himself. Brenda inhaled severely.
She gave him one of her favorite glasses that she’d once got in Cuba at The Havana Club. When she told him about the glass all he said was “Havana does rum, don’t they?”
They ate their different meals together, watched more sports on television, made out and went to bed.
The next morning Brenda got up early and let him sleep in. She had gone out of her way to buy croissants from a bakery shop known to make the best ones in town. She wanted to use them for her special French toast recipe. As she was pouring a teaspoon of Jamaican vanilla into the mixture Jéréme came into the kitchen.
He bent to kiss her neck. She could smell morning breath on him.
“French toast,” she said. “There’s some fresh orange juice I just squeezed for you on the counter.”
“I never drink orange juice in the morning,” he said.
“Just not a habit.”
He ate the French toast but without the maple syrup. “I can’t stand that stuff,” he said.
At that point the words I can’t stand you were sitting at the edge of Brenda’s vocal chords ready to be ejected. Again she drew in another severe breath. Be calm, she old herself. Nothing lasts forever.
Jéréme liked her coffee. He asked for a second cup and then a third. After that he was so speedy that he practically flew out of her apartment.
A week went by when Jéréme called asked her if she wanted to sleep over at his place.
“Okay,” she said.
“Bring your own breakfast,” he said. “I don’t have the kind of food you like to eat.”
Brenda hung up on him. It was the first time she’d ever hung up on a guy before. At first she felt quilt for she believed in always being nice. She’d been brought up that way. Now there was a limit to niceness.