Feeling French

( A true tale of a recent lunch break encounter)

She felt very French as she carried her journal from her work office to the park located on the next corner, her copper red dress whispering against her legs. She’d never been to France, but she imagined this is what it would feel like as she walked the uneven pavement, passing gardens full of pillowy pink and white blossoms cushioned by earthy fronds and noted the sun streaming in muted sheets of warmth between the branches of towering trees. 

At the park, she carved a path through the clover, careful to sidestep the honeybees kissing each and every pom-like blossom as she approached her favorite bench. As she settled in, she resisted the urge to reach for her phone, or even her book, opting instead to take in the world in front of her. Lately she’d been practicing mindfulness, just one of the many new characteristics on her quest to be enlightened and lovely and at peace and perhaps a little French. The process made her smile from the corners of her soul, and she marvelled at the blossoms dotting the unmowed grass, the circular trees skimming the sky, the birds gossipping overhead, and the various couples sitting on benches around the park. Her skin tingled in the sun, and she stretched her grateful muscles to better soak up the rays. The breeze ruffled her hair, tickling the back of her neck, and when she brushed the tendrils aside, her fingers touched the irritating scab at the base of her hairline. Despite her newfound joy of ladylike movements and flowing dresses, this scab had been a beacon to her curious fingers, and she prolonged its healing every time she picked at it—just as she couldn’t help doing now. It pulled away from her skin with a satisfying tear before she could stop herself, and she stared in horror at the deep red that now stained her fingers. It matched the shade of her dress, but that didn’t mean she wanted the neckline marred by her stupidity. 

She rifled through her purse, sure that a true French woman would carry tissue in her purse for more refined emergencies, like swiping away croissant crumbs at the corner of her lips, or dabbing at a single tear shed over a happy moment. Apparently she carried no such tissue, and every time she tested the wound, her fingertips came away with glistening red pools in the shape of Africa. In a moment of desperation, she plucked a petal from a nearby rose bush to press against the open sore and two things happened simultaneously—she moved the petals toward her neck, and a gray object dropped from the petal down the front of her red dress. She stared at the fat body of a spider resting between her breasts for a millisecond before dropping the petals and swiping at her chest. It did no good; the spider scrambled in the effort, hiding within the inner layers of clothing. 

The woman jumped to her feet and bent at the waist, her hands sweeping out the top of her dress while her hair hung in her face. Gone were the feelings of being French or the desire to be lovely and delicate on such a beautiful spring day. She only briefly cared what anyone thought of her as she flapped her clothing, searching the ground for any retreating fat-bodied creatures. The crows cackled in the trees and the bees egged the spider on, and the woman now resorted to patting her clothing, figuring if she couldn’t find it, maybe she could squish it. In normal times, she was the one who saved spiders and other crawling creatures from fear-induced murders. She knew every living creature deserved a chance to live, regardless of size or physical appearance, and ushered many a spider outdoors with a cup, sometimes even her bare hands. But this was different. This spider could be anywhere, ready to fill its plump belly with a mouthful of her skin. More than its tiny soul, the woman was aware of the spider’s tiny poison-filled fangs; this was a kill or be killed situation.

Eventually she had to give up. The afternoon was getting away from her, and the spider had to be gone by now . . . right? She settled back on the bench, but eyed the nearby roses for any of its friends as she pressed petals to the wound on her neck. The sun hid behind a cloud, and she shivered as the breeze exhaled its icy breath. Her skin tingled with imaginary spiders ready to carry out revenge for their fallen brother. The bees continued their flirtations with the flowers, though one took a side journey to buzz a secret in her ear. She didn’t wait to listen as she swatted the air around the flying creature, and decided it was time to leave. Gathering her journal, she brushed off her skirt one last time, no longer feeling delicate or ladylike or French. And she left the park, the ghosts of spiders trailing behind her.

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