I HEARD THE CLACK of the gate latch and went out to the courtyard to meet the carpeting expert.
“Super VUE!” squealed a young woman in tight jeans and a gauzy blouse. She dropped her sample books and clapped her cheeks. “Votre petite maison est très, très belle!” She teetered across the pebbled surface in impossibly high heels.
I suddenly forgot what little French I knew. I was expecting a slightly older, slightly more male carpeting expert, someone who would grunt and scowl and probably work in complete silence. What I got was Marion Cotillard’s younger, sexier sister. I rummaged around for a snippet of vocabulary that might resemble French.
“Mais oui,” I said, resisting the temptation to add “my little chickadee.”
She tossed back her head and stuck out her hand. “Je m’appelle Jacqueline. Je viens pour mesurer vos chambres.”
“Je m’appelle Marty,” I replied. “Enchanté.”
It must be said—and I’ll be the one to say it—I’m a bit of a flirt when it comes to women. I consider women to be the superior race—superior without having to act superior, which is something you can’t say about men. And, unlike many men, I’m not tongue-tied in their presence. But I never expect women to go on the attack as they do in France. Here it seems like a sanctioned sport, a sort of social combat for which American men have had insufficient training.
“D’abord,” she said, “montrez-moi votre chambre.”
I wasn’t sure what I’d heard. It sounded like “take me to your room,” but that couldn’t be right. She stood facing me with her head tilted, hips forward, slowly pulling out the tab on her tape measure. Pull, snap. Pull, snap.
“Oh, you want to start with the bedroom. La chambre.”
I led her into the house.
“Oh la la la la,” she said, looking around. “C’est horrible! Quelle catastrophe!”
That much I understood. “Oui, je sais,” I said, trying to sound as French as possible. I ventured a small shrug, aiming for a brave note of nonchalance, perhaps a blasé lack of concern.
“Alors,” she said, “vous tirez une extrémité,” and gave me the tab end of the tape. “Je vais tirer l’autre.” She walked over to one side of the room, and I pulled the tape to the other.
“Quelle GRANDE CHAMBRE vous avez !” she said. Her blouse fell open slightly as she leaned over to make some notes in a small red book. I suddenly flashed on Little Red Riding Hood. Was I supposed to be the Big Bad Wolf here? What were we talking about? The size of the room, or something completely different? Clearly, I was out of my league, going hand to hand with a black belt in innuendo.
“Jacqueline,” I said, raising one finger like a small white flag. I indicated with a sideways motion of my head that I needed to go outside for a minute.
She offered a slight pout and shrugged. “Bien sûr.”
I walked out to the terrace and drew a deep breath. What am I doing? I’m middle-aged, I’m married, and I can’t actually speak French. My dream of owning a carefree vacation house has just turned to mildewed dust. My wife is holding down the fort in California, and I’m here matching wits with a teenage femme fatale.
It’s one thing to be a flirt. It’s another thing to lose sight of everything you hold important. My overriding vision in coming to France was to bring our family to a higher plane of happiness.
I stared across the fields and tried to slow my thoughts. The house is a wreck, okay. Our dreams might be in shambles—are in shambles. And while I’m spending time here, our business could be tanking back there.
On the other hand, I do have a view. I’m not without a view. Isn’t that worth something?
Jacqueline came out when she finished measuring. I walked her to her van and asked her if she got what she needed. She held up the two sample books.“Quel tapis voulez-vous?”
“I don’t know. Je sais pas. Can you—vous—pick out the carpets?” I said, pointing to the samples. “Just email me.”
She smiled broadly. “I will make you very ’appy.”
I packed my bags for California. The other furnishings could wait.
I knew what I had to do.
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