la baleine | The New Engagement
La Baleine story art

la baleine

By Jyoti Arvey

Dear Anna,

I was pleased to receive your message in my inbox.

Since you requested a reply, I figured I would take some time to write you about myself. It has been a long time since we've spoken. I signed up for these updates on a whim, seeing your Facebook post on a particularly lonely day, and smiling at the thought of receiving e-mail devoid of any coupons. Before I write about my current situation, I do want to apologize for losing touch. We wrote each other with such frequency and passion for a brief moment, and then I met Diana, and I stopped replying to your messages. I didn’t offer an explanation. Our correspondence held such meaning to me, even if it disappeared with time, and I want you to know that.

Diana has left me. She is now living in New York with three other ballet dancers. They are apparently all romantically involved. I have many dreams of what their lives must be like, but I try not to dwell on them. Sometimes I dream of them in pink costumes eating red velvet cupcakes and steaks with their hands. Other times they all look out at me from a TV screen, as if in a staring contest, wearing dark suits and serious glasses. I never win these face offs. Last night, I dreamt that I visited the Louvre and all of the paintings were of Diana and her three lovers. In other circumstances, I would thoroughly enjoy such a museum visit, except that Diana won't answer my calls, and I awoke weeping.

I still work at the local history museum, and have been promoted to senior curator. This means that my salary has been raised, and I have been treating myself to many more fancy meals out. I have discovered butternut squash ravioli, and again feel that life is worth living indeed. Have you tried this delicacy? If you happen to come to Maine, do let me know, and I would love to treat you to a meal. I shall also offer you a private tour of the museum. We have acquired three new fragments of a whale skeleton. It took me three days to polish them and prepare them for display, but they are finally available for the public's benefit, and this fills me with pride.

I want to be up front with you that I do not intend to rekindle our romantic passions, however, I still value your presence in my life.

Congratulations on your teaching fellowship and your continued success as a French translator. I am happy to hear that you still enjoy sipping tea on the porch, and that your mother will be visiting you next month. The joke at the end of your message about craving brownies did make me giggle, which is a rarity these days, and for that I wish to thank you sincerely.

Until next time,

Josephine

***

Dear Anna,

I am continually inspired by your skill with words. I will try to describe to you my current surroundings in a manner as intriguing as you did in your last message.

The chair I am sitting in is yellow. I acquired it from my grandmother's estate when she died. I have sat in it so many times that I believe it remembers the contours of my bottom. A silly thought, that a chair remembers, but so it is. My computer sits on my desk as I write this, and my feet rest lightly on the wood floor below. I am nibbling on a cookie that I bought from the bakery in town. They have produced quite the selection for Valentine's Day, and this particular cookie is in the shape of an arrow. Only the point remains, and soon I will eat it. Now that you are acquainted with my surroundings, I will begin to share some information.

I have met a woman named Caroline. She is a waitress at the Italian restaurant in the next town over. I often eat there on Sunday nights, and stay at the table long after closing. Caroline brings leftover tiramisu, sits next to me, and we discuss many things. Last night, we debated the health benefits of fermented foods. She is fluent in Italian, and sometimes teaches me new words. Fermented, in Italian, is fermentato. This is not too difficult to remember.

I have told Caroline about you, and even showed her some of your messages. She is very interested in reading your translations, and was enthused to hear that you will be visiting. I hope that you will join us for one of our Sunday night conversations and teach us some words in French. For example, how does one say “whale” in French? Perhaps you will even read us a poem. We can drink the wine that you have mentioned you are bringing. Since Caroline works at the restaurant, they won't mind that we drink our own wine.

I am pleased to hear that your partner will accompany you here. This assuages any suspicions I had about your continued interest in being romantically involved with me. I will be delighted to meet Lucia, and I hope she will find comfort in Maine for her short visit as I have in the past five years.

The sheets for the guest room are now drying on the clothesline outside in preparation for your arrival. I washed them by hand. They are white with a yellow flower pattern on them. I hope you will enjoy their softness and visual tranquility.

Until we meet soon.

Your friend,

Josephine

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