By Jody Swift
I live in Paris, the city of lights, home to the mythic French lover, a place where sex and seduction are historically correct and the older woman is pursued and desired. Sex is partout, everywhere! Married people do it -- to other people's spouses. There are even special hotels called Cinq-à-Sept where lovers rent a room one day a week between 5 and 7 pm, this arrangement often lasting for years, discretion assured.
It was a Friday in a cafe on the corner of Rue Lévi at métro Villiers in the 17th arrondissement. It was raining cows and I was hunched over, correcting English papers, when a tall man sat down at the next table and set his briefcase under his chair. I noticed his Italian suit was wet, that he was older, slightly graying with a prominent nose and olive complexion. You might ask why I noticed so much? That the cafe was empty would be the logical answer, but his sexual aura -- pure male animal -- would be the honest response.
The waiter brought my bill; the man picked it up, and we began to talk. Yes, I am American... Yes, I have lived in Paris for 13 years, married to a photographer. No, I live near Belleville, and you? On the Isle St. Louis, one wife, three kids... they are at the country home in Brittany, must catch the 8 o'clock train...You teach English? Yes, and you? I work for the government... no elaboration. My husband is on a shoot, yes... I am happily married, and you? Yes, moi aussi, but ... but what?
"Come with me," he said, touching my wedding ring.
"Why should I?" I asked.
"Because I can make you feel things." His finger drew a circle on my palm.
"Things?" his hands were beautiful. What things? One precarious moment: no logic, no reason. I got up and followed this stranger out into the rain.
We walked for about 15 minutes until we came to the Parc Monceau. Stopping in front of a black iron fence with gold leafing, he punched in a code, opened the gate, and led me up the cracked marble steps of a run-down 18th-century townhouse.
"This way," he ushered me up a brick path winding around the side of the house. I was questioning my sanity, standing shivering in darkness. He opened the door using a church key.
Chandeliers threw a soft, sensuous light on peach-colored walls adorned with Japanese panels -- a series of erotic images of two women and a man in various positions. Over the Carerra marble fireplace, a majestic gold-leafed Spanish mirror reached up to the ceiling, a masterpiece of woodwork. "This is beautiful, vraiment extraordinaire!" The simple bed stood several feet from another gilded mirror propped against the wall. "Comment vous vous-appelez?" I asked.
"C'est pas important." He threw his coat on a Queen Anne chair, poured us each a whiskey out of a crystal decanter and then, kneeling in front of the hearth, slowly built a fire.
"Vous êtes belle, très jolie." He sat down on the bed, leaning back on his arms looking up at me. "Take off your clothes." Dropping my coat on the carpet, I methodically undid each button of my shirt, feeling the silk slide off my arms, wondering how many women had stood here before me.
I unhooked the skirt. "Like this?" I bent over to step out of my shoes under the steady gaze of this man I would probably never see again. My nipples hardened against the lace. I let the bra fall.
Two arms pulled me in front of the mirror. His starched shirt and belt buckle were cool against my back. Our images in the ornate frame changed, with the fire casting shadows. He undressed quickly and efficiently, pulling me down into a mountain of goose down. "Venez ici, come here," his hushed voice whispered. I had never felt linen sheets that swiped my legs like scissors. I was apprehensive, feeling a small, nagging doubt, but I had already come too far to court predictability and convention. I would think about my marriage later.
Feeling the weight of my breasts, his hands slowly circled, grabbing them up like fruit, fingering the tips, then starting again, around and up, at the same time keeping his eyes on the mirror. Scanning my legs, searching my breasts. "You have a strong body, très sportif," he said, and with one quick breath in, his hand swiftly lifted my underpants up and to the side, exposing my sex, while the other hand gently laid it open.
"Face the mirror." His hands felt like fine sand against my skin, prying my legs apart, holding me open as his mouth came down at the soft part of the thigh. He took the skin between his teeth, biting and kissing; the heat rose up to my chest. Music began pounding in my head: saxophones, Arab drums, a string quartet, my body bending and gliding in the silver glass.
My mind watched while my body responded; I had never seen myself making love before. His head coming down in the mirror, a tongue flicking, breathing, quick gasps of air going into the wonderful wet sensation of being sucked, particles of light like dust with the warmth of his moving mouth. Lips grabbing, holding, releasing -- the intense liquid pleasure of being licked overwhelmed me. I lifted my hips, pushing and searching. Sinking deeper towards that perfect place, I closed my eyes to pinpricks of color and the fast sound of blood rushing up past my ears.
Up and over, onto my legs and arms, back pushed down, quickly positioning me so he could see my face in the mirror, he entered on my wave. Thrusting deeper, my body splitting apart, a rolling heat working up from our thighs, perfume and sweat rose up off the sheets, I was swimming, willing my body to meet his, tensing each muscle to ride the sensation. His face in the mirror, creased brow of concentration, shimmering sweat on his upper arms, muscles taut and sinuous -- then I saw nothing as he fell on me, bringing us both down .
I lay stunned beyond words in the tangled sheets. Time suspended, the rain lightly tapping the windows, a far away car, the chiming of the clock on the mantle. Seven bells, 7 pm. No expectations, no tension, I didn't know where this was going. I imagined him on the train. I didn't care; my body was pliant, each cell springing with exhilaration, and at the core of me I was satisfied.
His back was to me, but I knew he was smiling. I ran the brush through my hair. He turned around and said "Cinq-à-Sept... next week?"
That was two years ago, and we still don't know each other's names.