Hortensio

He had amped her up for weeks about the engagement. At last, he had gotten them on the guest list at Hortensio, one of the few absurdly elitist places in Paris that L.A. and New York had in droves. Francine couldn’t say what held so much appeal to her about the place, and she had even been told by the few acquaintances she had made that it was unabashedly overrated. The type of place that only gets people talking about it solely because of its exclusivity. Then there was the “kitsch” element (by Parisian standards) of the establishment being tied to un certain director. Whose first name was obviously Hortensio.

He was a Spanish neo-surrealist, picking up where Dalí and Buñuel had left off. He had no actual affiliation to the club, but had sanctioned use of his name and the smattering of memorabilia that pertained to him there. He was, naturally, one of Francine’s favorite directors. Just as he was of many intellectual frauds such as herself. Including her boyfriend of the moment, Franz. Franz, whose moment seemed to be ever-dwindling when he came home one day from the tutoring center where he taught English with a frightful cough and a runny nose that put rivers to shame.

Francine was sympathetic, to be sure, offering to make him soup yet all the while terrified about how this newfound illness would affect her, for it was sure to spread into her own system by Saturday night–just four days away–the night they were meant to go to Hortensio. She did her best to put this prophecy aside as she slid Franz his bowl of soup to him on the table, where he had been blowing his nose ad nauseum for the past ten minutes. She pitied him and despised him in the same moment. For though he had been the one with the connection to gain them entrance in the first place, he was now going to be the one responsible for stripping that away from her. It was almost worse than if he had never finagled them an in at all. For at least that way, Francine wouldn’t have engaged in taking that most dangerous of drugs: hope. Hortensio would be a distraction from the humdrum affair of her existence. A blip of glitz in a life of chintz.

The next day, she felt fine. And the day after that, too. It was on day three, of course, that just as Franz was getting better, Francine’s own immune system was about to crumble. Break down and fall prey to whatever virus had run its own course through Franz’s body and was now bored with it, in search of new insides to fuck with. It began gradually, with a faint feeling of weakness. By the end of the day, she was bedridden.

Tomorrow was to be their grand outing. One she had even bought a more overpriced item from Bershka to attend (a testament to just how much she didn’t really belong in a place like Hortensio). She felt woeful. Powerless in the face of the old adage: without your health, you have nothing. Least of all a night out at Hortensio. And, try as she might to tell herself that she could pull it together by the moment it was time to leave, it seemed her fever only wanted to reach a crescendo as the bed held her in its clutches. As though the sheets were grasping onto her like a sick warden preventing any strenuous or alcoholic activities. As she lay dying, she could see Franz getting ready in the bathroom out of the corner of her eye. For some reason, throughout her struggle to attempt quickly overcoming her sickness, it never occurred to her that Franz would go to Hortensio without her regardless.

She didn’t know why she would assume there would be an all for one and one for all mentality when she herself probably would have done the same thing if their positions were reversed. Yet, from the position she was lying in, she was affronted. How could he leave her in bed to rot while he lived it up on the outside? It was unconscionable. But she kept this information to herself as he strode back into the bedroom gleefully adjusting his cufflinks. As though the torture of watching him leave wasn’t already bad enough without having to see him act so excited about it as well.

Of course, he softened his beaming expression long enough to place the back of his hand on her forehead and assure, “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

What good was tomorrow when Hortensio was tonight? she wanted to demand. But she also didn’t want to make him feel guilty for patently abandoning her. For blatantly declaring, “I choose ‘the scene’ over you.” Plus, Franz’s friends would all be there. They were not Francine’s. She had none, forever new in town by remaining primarily within the confines of their apartment. And, lo and behold, the one time she was actually ready to get out, she was cordoned off by destiny. Granted, destiny would have her own plans for Franz that night, too.

***

He had been smoking outside the entrance for forty-five minutes. The door remained ruthlessly and mercilessly shut to him for the past five slowly dragged cigarettes. He couldn’t figure out where he had gone wrong. He arrived only slightly after the invitation claimed the doors would open. So why, now, were they closed? This was Europe outside of Germany, surely they couldn’t be so staunch about arriving right on time. Yet, ostensibly, that is exactly what “they” were. And though he tried a number of times to message various friends who might be inside, presumably, no one seemed to have reception–just another vexing factor about the “exclusivity” of this club. So he kept smoking, one cigarette after another until the pack was gone. He walked back to their apartment in a haze, incredulous over what appeared to be a karmic coup.

When he arrived home, Francine had already fallen asleep. As he got into bed, she mumbled, “How was it?”

He replied solemnly, “Nothing special.”

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