:: Article

Saint Briac

By Jacqueline Feldman.

We were at the beach, I had been begging to go, to come along, and it was after a long lunch—your grandma wanted to talk to me about the Liberation—that we went for a walk along the coast.

We didn’t have a lot to say to each other; the lunch that had just transpired had done a lot, I think, to associate talk in our minds with obligation. We had been of course performing in some way for your grandmother, and while it didn’t bother me, personally—in general I don’t mind, I never mind that kind of thing, my curiosity outweighs it normally, and I was extra-curious about your grandmother—still, I could feel that it was getting to you, getting tiring. It’s like she said: even though we’re not a couple, I would be upset if you had to go off to the war. Also, it was for me a special novelty to speak French to somebody nearly deaf and have my accent overshadowed by that other difficulty. I had, at her expense, a little bit of freedom.

You’re going to be strict with me, I can tell, about this idea of freedom obtained at somebody else’s expense. You’re right, as always, so we can move on: to everything its cost.

The weather was ambivalent but pretty, gray clouds. I was wearing your grandmother’s gardening jacket. I’m remembering now how you were tyrannical, the morning after, about which clouds exactly you meant, as you made your demonstration of appreciation, to point out. You called the sky beautiful, which was not characteristic, and then you wanted to control for which part you’d meant, and of course I’d started off looking at the wrong part. This is a big difference between us, by the way. Your way seems like it’s more about the outside world, more developed in its objectivity, but finally, if you try and control your words as you are always wanting to, you end up with less meaning, not more. I don’t have your hangups, as we know I have my own but I really don’t have yours, and as we were walking I was designating as beautiful just everything—a tree on the horizon, a field of grass, the ocean on rocks eh oui, je faisais ma bête. The flowers!

You did manage, as we walked, a remark that seemed to satisfy you, about the inadequacy of the golf course, a characteristic you seemed to appreciate as, to your mind, pleasingly hostile, sending up a barrier. “People come here who have played on these courses in Dubai, or the United States, and then they’re like, this is pretty ratchet.” I think I appreciate about speaking French one of the things you do in speaking English, a declassing I of course mean déclassement that it achieves, though I don’t have quite so far to fall.

We spoke a lot of French that weekend generally, much more than we usually do entre nous. And all at once came to a wall, a pretty flimsy one of chicken wire that managed, still, to block entirely the trail. It was the doing of the owner of the mansion at its back, you thought; we had a kind of leftist moment, but there was nothing to be done with our resentment.

You had started down when we were, of course, accosted by one of those old French ladies who are, I find, always materializing right in time to scold you, to scold me. Wearing hiking gear, with her friend. When we reacted with what must have appeared insufficient alarm to the report she made there had been falls, she elaborated on her warning with a lot of relish. “Three falls this week,” she said. “All of them in Saint-Malo hospital,” as if they were acquaintances she had checked in on personally; and possibly—if you want to hear one of my foreigner’s conspiracy theories—they were.

I actually was a little scared, but you said it would be fine and it was. You went ahead, and every once in a while, when I had to use my hands, I gave you my tote bag. Occasionally a little drop was necessary, more than a hop down a surrender. I was wearing a bathing suit under my sundress and thought of it, stopping from worrying, when I found myself in one of the awkward positions. Those big rochers, I love that word, were black and grooved, with amazing stuff growing in the crevices, yellow flowers, pink flowers, snails hanging on. I think I even called them beautiful. I thought it, anyway, thought it very loudly, and in fact remember telling myself to stop, you know, stop that, you have to concentrate, don’t get distracted as you always get distracted, I do get distracted, keep moving—it was dangerous, right? The funny thing was I couldn’t; I couldn’t stop, as I was moving, noticing the beauty of the rocks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacqueline Feldman is an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and recipient of that school’s Delaney Fellowship. Her writing has appeared in Triple Canopy, The White Review, and other publications. Her last work of fiction for 3:AM was “Rosie.”

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, March 30th, 2021.