The house was too big for her. Too big even for the two of them. Well, what to do when he inherited it? His parents didn´t die; they were fine and fit and living most of the year down in the Provence. When they came to town to visit, there was the whole first floor of the house ready for them. Zoe and her lover slept in the second floor: many, many stairs to get there. When and how did she fall in love with a rich bourgeois Bruxellois? What a good luck!
Zoe spent lot of time alone in the house. A narrow, oblong parlour downstairs included a grand piano, an old harpsichord, a black leather sofa, and a big table for formal dinners. Neither the street window, nor the French door to the garden and an immense sparkling chandelier were able to bring enough light in. The room, or more a sequence of rooms, stayed dark most of the days, though the light was sufficient to show peeling stuccos and wet walls. There reigned a sad charm, if such a thing existed. Her boyfriend gave private piano courses there, impressing his clients and the little clients´ parents with the old-fashioned grandness of the place. But the clients did not have to live there, in the monster house!
Zoe sighed, gathered her drawing set, slipped into worn sneakers and took the back door to the little garden behind the house. Another door hidden by the rhododendron bushes led to the big public garden, a real jewel, he told her, as if he ever was around to enjoy it! And as if the weather in the town allowed many park moments! Not true, only partially true, the weather was not so bad in Brussels, no, no, no, one must love the northern summers, and autumns, for the matter.
It was a fine early summer day. Her second summer in Brussels. And they will stay all through June, July and August. He promised little trips to the sea side, a trip to Lille, maybe even Paris – he was offering promises like free candy treats. His eyes focused and firmly locked with hers, only for a moment, though, then they began to drift away. Oh yes, she knew that: concerts, rehearsals, networking… All that took time and energy. Plenty of time. For Thanksgiving, he would fly to the USA with her, it was already agreed. But again – will the travel really happen?
“Why, you find an occupation here for you, my dear. Better now, then, when we have kids, you better have already a bunch of friends to hang around with. Do you want to study? Or work?”
The thing was – she didn´t know what she wanted. Never finished a university, and had some hard summer jobs back home in Chicago. It felt so right to take a sabbatical to settle well into all that is new: the relationship, the city, but mainly the relationship. She opted for a public language school where the chance to meet nice new people was pretty obvious. But Tuesday was the day without language school and structured hours.
With another sigh she looked around; it was little known that the garden was open for public. Only neighbourhood people knew and came. The foreigners almost never – they sat in Leopold´s Park rather: with their sandwiches, hopes, loves, worries.
“Buff. Huff, huff, huff!”
That´s Buddy, no other dog she knew could put so much intensity in its barking. Zoe looked around to see his master, Madame Scoufflère, she was surely around. This was Buddy´s wilderness; the only place the terrier went wild, unleashed, was this garden with a single pond, a few paths and lawns and bushes. Yes there she was by the pond, Madame Scoufflère, lingering in the sunny patch, face turned to His Solar Majesty, she had a little summer hat on. She lived right next door from them. Zoe waved from the distance, patted Buddy the Terrier and walked to the bench from which she could see the main building of the Manoir occupying one third of the property. Empty, waiting for a reconstruction, waiting for a new purpose to exist. Like, like – herself?
Did the Universe count the number of her sighs? Did it matter? She sat on the bench in half shade, half sunshine and opened her folder with fresh white sheets. The pencil case was adjusted to the folder. She opted for a medium hard one. The idea of drawing the park mansion was fresh, after having it observed on numerous walks, it occurred the very same morning during breakfast.
Buddy jumped up and installed a fresh muddy paw-print on the sheet Zoe had prepared.
“No, no, no.” Zoe forced him gently down, to stay on the grass where he belonged, where dogs belonged, protecting the folder with her folded torso.
“Buddy!” Madame Scoufflère shouted, and walked in their direction.
“Excusez-moi,” she said to Zoe putting Buddy on leash.
“C´est rien.” The sentence Zoe learnt in the language school. Sometimes simple sentences slipped off her tongue almost accent-less, or so she thought.
“Je suis desolée, a-t-il détruit votre dessin?”
« Non, non. » Zoe´s favourite word in French. “C´est rien.” She repeated again the sentence that felt appropriate. People didn´t have a clue how difficult it was to find words in a new language.
“Je n´ai pas encore commencé. »
Madame Scoufflère didn´t know what to add, though French was her native tongue, then wished her a nice drawing session. People in this city, wished each other something all the time. Why not a bonne matinée-dessiné? She said something like that.
Zoe tore off the muddied paper, she didn´t think of including Buddy´s print into her creative outcome. Non, non, on commence!
By measuring proportions, as she was taught. No wind or person came to disturb her. Certainly not him. He would come home early evening, and then they are invited at some of his friends. The cloud passed the sun and a sudden chill filled her neck and shoulders. She took an old grey sweatshirt from her bag and put it on, pulling the hood so that it covered half of her head and face. First lines appeared in the white surface, some more, some less hesitating.