Calabrian Corner

by Dominic Spano, Ph.D.

Nicky Meets Mireille

(an excerpt from the novel In the Twilight of the Moon)

It was in the Arbor Room that I met Mireille in my freshman year as a U of T student. She was of French descent, and the same age as me. How we started hanging out, I am not really sure, but she told me I amused her, and I began to seek her out regularly. I never thought it could ever become anything more because she was stunningly beautiful, and girls who looked like her had always been out of my league. But I kept running into her, and we started chatting more and more often, usually at the expense of my study time. After a while, I felt very comfortable speaking openly with her about most things, and she seemed to feel the same way. I assumed it was the lack of sexual involvement that allowed us to be so open with one another. Indeed, I was less guarded with her than I had ever been with anyone else. Furthermore, she started telling me things like: "I can't remember the last time someone made me laugh like this." Naturally, I was elated to know that I could make her feel that way. And she was so unbelievably beautiful.

Eventually I started thinking that I'd like to ask her out on a date. But nothing in my life up to that point had convinced me that girls who looked like her would ever give the time of day to guys like me. I was afraid that if she were to reject me, then we could no longer hang out the way we had been. Then again, she had been giving me much more than the time of day for several weeks now. So, nervous as hell, I started planning a strategy for asking her out. In the end, however, it happened quite by accident.

During our afternoon gabfest the week before Valentine's Day, a couple at a table adjacent to ours was talking about Valentine Cards. Out of the blue Mireille let fly with the perfect opening.

"Nicky, you and I are probably the only people who not only are not going to get a Valentine Card this year, but who will end up spending Valentine's Day alone."

My heart started thumping to the point that my hands began to shake.

Never looking directly at her, and half in jest, in order to leave myself a way out, I blurted a facsimile of what I had been practising over and over again in my mind.

"Actually, uh ... if you don't mind being out with me, uh ... we could still end up having a nice lunch tomorrow nevertheless."

She didn't take her eyes off me for a long while, even as she took a lengthy drag on her cigarette, which made me even more nervous.

"Okay," she eventually said.

We smiled at each other for an awkward moment then continued our chat as though the previous couple of minutes hadn't taken place—from one irrelevant topic to another. I asked about her sociology essay on ethnocentrism, she told me about a trip her sister was planning, and we even talked about the female Varsity field hockey team.

More than two hours flew by and she eventually had to leave. I walked her to the door and reached out to hold it open for her. As she passed in front of me, brushing her body near mine, she turned to face me and her hair fell across her face, reminiscent of a femme-fatale from the Hollywood of the 1950's. She focussed her blue eyes squarely onto mine and I froze in my tracks.

"Why'd you wait so long to ask me out?"

I looked at her sheepishly but was tongue tied.

"Ah Nicky, Nicky, you and I are going to end up hurting each other," she said nonchalantly. Then she took a drag on her cigarette and walked out the door, leaving me wondering as to what exactly she meant.

As Valentine's Day approached, I found that I could not get Mireille out of my thoughts. But I dared not let on. We continued to meet each afternoon for our daily chit–chat and, oddly enough, neither of us brought up the looming lunch date later in the week. That lunch date linked us and kept us apart at the same time. As much as I anticipated our rendezvous, it made me nervous and anxious. I didn't even want to allude to it for fear of jinxing it; and I wondered if Mireille felt the same way.

Instead, we spent most of our time talking nonsense, including a stereo system her sister, Susan, had purchased recently. Mireille referred to it as her new toy and a sudden inspiration came to me. The moment we parted company that afternoon, I went to the Robarts Library and drafted a poem about her new stereo system in various roles as toys of some sort. In my new, emboldened state I gave the poem a raunchy tone, shoved it into an envelope, and scribbled her name on it.

The next day, we met for our usual combination of small talk, laughter and cajoling. Still, however, not a word was uttered about our pending date. When we got up to leave, with palpitating heart and shaky hands, I reached into my satchel for the envelope. It hit home just how important an event this was going to be for me, and that made me feel vulnerable.

"Uh, Mireille—" I stumbled over my words, careful not to change my mannerism in any perceptible way, but I was unsuccessful. "Um, Mireille ... um, remember how you said you wouldn't be getting a Valentine card this year? Well, um ... I, uh ... well I just don't think Valentine's Day should pass without you getting a card, so here." I raced through the words, and even Billy the Kid would not have been able to whip that envelope out faster than I did. I couldn't wait to get it over with.

She put a hand to her chest. "Nicky!" she said in her perpetually relaxed demeanour, her confidence contrasting sharply with my tentativeness a moment earlier. "For moi? How sweet! Thank you."

I wasn't sure if she was planning to kiss me on the cheek or what, so I just stood there like a robot, afraid to make any move that might elicit a reaction.

"No don't!" I didn't want her to open the envelope. "Read it later. I was just trying to make you laugh. I hope I didn't put anything in there that might offend you, because that certainly was not my intention."

"Ooo, this sounds so mysterious. You've really aroused my curiosity," she said, winking at me.

But it wasn't her curiosity that I was trying to arouse.

"Okay, then," she added. "We'll talk about it tomorrow. Let's get out of here."

"Yes, let's." I couldn't leave the Arbor Room fast enough.

On Valentine's Day the plan was for Mireille and me to have brunch at a bistro on Yonge Street. I drove up to her house in my father's station wagon at about eleven o'clock and found her dressed casually in a sleeveless dress that looked great on her. She had a pimple on her shoulder, just short of being covered by the dress. A flaw! She was human after all. I wondered what other imperfections her body might have and I felt slightly less unworthy of her. Do other people think like this, I wondered. Here was the woman of my dreams and I was frantically looking for imperfections, just so I could make myself feel more deserving of her; or perhaps less likely to be dumped by her.

"I'll be right back. I'm just going to grab a sweater," she said, interrupting my thoughts.

"Sure, Mireille."

She returned almost immediately with a beige top and my breath caught. "Wow! You look amazing. If there is a more beautiful girl anywhere, then she must be in another solar system."

She grinned and told me I was sweet.

Her perfume, as it spread throughout the car on our way to the restaurant, was literally intoxicating. I couldn't get enough of it. I inhaled slowly and deeply. It was Mireille's scent, and I wanted as much of it as my lungs could handle.

At the restaurant, I lucked out again. We were given a table for two in a corner next to a window overlooking the sidewalk. It was sunny, and the people walking by gave me a sense of comfort. I figured they would be a distraction in case I messed up. So far she had made no mention of the Valentine Card.

When the waiter brought us our drinks, I had a toast prepared. My strength with Mireille had always been my ability to make her laugh, so I rattled off a rhyme I had seen on a plaque in someone's cottage up in Grey county, whose author, according to the inscription, was unknown. I told her I would start it and she would have to finish it when I prompted her to do so.

"When I'm in a sober mood, I worry, work and think;
But when I'm in a drunken mood, I curse and fight and drink.
And when my moods are over and my time has come to pass,
I hope they bury me upside down, so the world may kiss my ..."

I extended my hand in Mireille's direction, indicating she should finish the rhyme.

"My favourite lass," she replied.

"Aw you screwed up," I moaned, and we both laughed. I felt I was off to a good start.

She barely took her eyes off me as we ate—an alluring, confident, seductive stare. Part way through our meal, without any preamble, she alluded to the Valentine Card indirectly. "You're quite the poet," she said, her attention focussed on the pasta she was twirling onto her fork.

My heart began to race. "Not really. To be honest, I stole this toast from a plaque I saw hanging in a buddy's cottage on Georgian Bay."

"You know what I mean," she said in a mischievous tone. "I wasn't aware a stereo system could be so inspiring."

I felt my face flush. "I hope I didn't offend you."

"No, you cracked me up. I called up one of my girlfriends to read it to her."

"You didn't." I had intended it to be a very personal gesture from me to Mireille and I felt both embarrassed and disappointed.

"I had to. It's been so long since I'd been with a man—and then I get this." She fished the card out of her handbag and set it on the table.

"Like I said, I didn't mean to offend you; I only wanted to amuse you."

She locked her eyes onto mine, crossed her long legs, and began slowly rubbing her shin against mine underneath the table. I was both incredibly excited and extremely nervous. We were crossing a barrier, I thought, and I looked away, reaching for my wine glass as justification. I chickened out and thus relieved the tension that had begun to suffocate me. As Mireille looked away, I couldn't tell if she was feeling tense also, or if I had blown it and she was expressing her disappointment. I worried that I had just sealed my fate as one of those proverbial 'just a friend' types and a sickening displeasure in myself came over me. The remainder of the meal consisted of pleasant chit–chat and I was haunted by the suspicion that I might have sabotaged my own success. Pleasantries are what a beautiful woman makes with a pal.

My first clue that I might not be the only one confused at the table came while we were having dessert.

"You make me nervous," Mireille blurted.

My heart sank, having now been told something that in my mind amounted to a statement of incompatibility and my gaze fell slowly towards the table under the weight of resignation to my inevitable fate. I nodded and shrugged simultaneously, dejection guiding my every movement. Mireille must have picked up on my disappointment.

"That's good, by the way," she quickly threw in. "It's been a long time since a man was able to make me nervous. I'm usually the one in control."

It was like I had received an injection of a performance–enhancing drug that had bypassed the initial route through the digestive tract and went straight to the bloodstream. I was reanimated and felt there was still hope. At the same time, I wondered what she meant. It sounded like she was saying something good and it sounded like she might also be saying something bad. What did it mean?

Later, when the waiter brought the check, I placed my one and only credit card on it.

"Go ahead, write me off," she said. I knew it was only a tease but her choice of words rattled me. Wondering if I was actually the one being written off, I paid the bill then drove her home.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" she asked, as she stepped out of the car.

"Yeah ... sure ... tomorrow."

As I drove off I found myself analyzing the way she had said 'I'll see you tomorrow'. Had she emphasized a particular word? Did her inflection have a flirtatious tone to it? Had she kissed me off? I felt tortured. Her words were the noose and my mind was the hangman.

Note:In the Twilight of the Moon is available as an e–book through Amazon.