This week’s Tuesday Tale:
Natalie didn’t open other people’s diaries. She respected their privacy. Not the privacy of the person exactly, but the sacredness of secretly written words. Natalie had spent many uncharted hours logging away her own secrets in a notebook similar to the diary that sat abandoned in the seat next to her on the flight. It was a small, pocket-sized journal, the kind you could carry in your purse and scribble in when you had a spare moment. It wasn’t a cheap one, though — the diary was bound in leather and appeared well used. The owner would miss it for sure.
Natalie slipped her bookmark out from the folds of her copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was her fifth time with Ms. Bennett, but that never stopped her enthusiasm to read what happened next. Elizabeth Bennett was sitting with Lady Catherine when the abandoned journal caught Natalie’s eye again. Who leaves their diary on a plane?
Natalie was flying to visit her sister in France. Joan was the extravagant sort. The kind that studies abroad and decides, rather rashly, as their father put it, to become an artist in France. It worked out well for her. Not the artist gig, but France. Joan met her future husband within two weeks of moving into a little apartment. He was Spanish and quite charming from the pictures Joan had mailed. Neither Natalie nor her parents could afford plane tickets to the wedding, or at least that’s what her mother said. Natalie was pretty sure it was her parents’ way of disapproving, but that never bothered Joan. She was her own counsel and she was happy. Three years after the wedding, Natalie was bound to see just how happy her sister was.
Natalie stole a glance down the aisle. Good. The stewardesses had yet to start their agonizingly slow distribution of snacks and drinks. She didn’t have personal experience with these things, but she had watched enough movies. She wasn’t sure why it mattered, but she did not want to be caught reading a journal that wasn’t hers. She slid her hand along the seat and acted startled when she made contact with the journal. Natalie was easily unnerved. Her palms would get sweaty and her heart would throb. This is why Kyle never noticed her. She always acted like a fool when he was in the same room. But that was high school; she wouldn’t see him again. He had gotten into one of those fancy colleges in New England. Natalie tried to forget the name as soon as she heard someone say it, but Dartmouth was a hard one to shove out of your memory. Natalie would be taking classes at the local community college because of finances, which frustrated her. She had earned good grades in high school, graduating with honors, which made her mom cry a little as she watched her daughter walk across the stage. Aunt Tiff had told her that later. And her mom had told her that Aunt Tiff, who never hoarded tears, had bawled.
Natalie stole one more glance behind her. The stewardesses were slow on the job, but maybe that’s the way they were on transatlantic flights. She opened the front cover of the abandoned journal. Her eyes scanned the page. Left to right. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. The writing was eloquent in sweeping cursive and evenly spaced. Natalie was suddenly grateful that she had enjoyed her studies in French class. Correspondence with her sister had helped, too; they’d written each other in French to improve their grasp of the language. Now all those studies paid off as she greedily read the mysteries of a stranger’s life, the little thoughts that had run around in this woman’s head until they spilled over in hysteria on the pages of her private diary. The composition was spellbinding and Natalie hardly noticed when the stewardess asked whether she preferred peanuts or pretzels.
Marcelle, the diary’s author, was quite the diarist. She described her first kiss with Laurent so intimately that Natalie blushed. She wrote about her heartbreak when he did not return her call and her joy when he finally did. Natalie found herself liking Laurent, even if he seemed aloof. She wasn’t sure why Marcelle continued to see him, but what did Natalie know of love? They seemed to have a marvelous affair, filled with Hollywood drama. There were surprise roses, charming dinners, unbearable fights over betrayals and misunderstandings, and there were disarmingly detailed descriptions of make-up sex.
Natalie went bright red and her palms soaked the leather. A person should not write about such things, but then Natalie remembered that this was not written for anyone to ever read. She should have stuck to her policy of never reading diaries. She set the journal down, leaving the mysterious Marcelle and her Laurent to their lovemaking in private.
She picked up Austen again. Elizabeth had quit Lady Catherine’s and Darcy was now standing unannounced in the quiet home of Mister Collins, a letter in hand. She never realized how bland this couple was. Elizabeth and Darcy spent an entire book in a misunderstanding. If they had been French, they wouldn’t not have allowed their intellect to get in the way of their love. Natalie tucked the book back in her bag. For some reason, she had lost her appetite for reading such a dull story.
Natalie fell asleep over the Atlantic Ocean and awoke only when the pilot announced their imminent arrival in Carcassonne, France, asking everyone to fasten their seat belts for the descent. Natalie didn’t have to, she had never unbuckled hers. The landing was smooth and Natalie smiled widely as she thought of seeing her sister. They had been apart for four years.
Natalie did not like crowds and chose to wait until most everyone had wrestled their over-sized carry-on luggage out of the overhead carriers and walked off the plane. She pulled her backpack over one shoulder and stepped into the aisle. Natalie hesitated. The dark leather binding of Marcelle’s journal blended into the the navy blue seat from this short distance. She didn’t want it. It was tantalizing, yes, but it made her uncomfortable.
As she exited the plane a stewardess rushed up to her, Marcelle’s journal in hand. “Please don’t forget your book.” Natalie smiled at the stewardess and tucked it under her arm. This was an intimate book that should be preserved and protected from other’s eyes, she reasoned, wondering where Marcelle was now and how she could have so carelessly left this sacred book on the airplane. Was she worried and embarrassed someone else would read her most private affairs?
France suited Joan well. She was dressed to fit her personality, bright and colorful. Señor Barros, her husband, was out of the country on business, Joan said, but promised he would return in a couple days. Natalie smiled; she was happy to be alone with her sister. The house was lovely — gargantuan, but lovely. Neither Natalie nor her parents had ever asked what her husband did. Joan only said “business” like it was something so elite that it was trivial to discuss. Whatever he did, it made them rich. Rich fit Joan well.
As Natalie lay in bed that night under her sister’s roof, thoughts of Marcelle and her lovely green eyes that Laurent so adored plagued Natalie’s thoughts. Natalie had no intention of reading the diary again. She had tucked the journal in her backpack between Austen and a new release she had picked up in the airport. She couldn’t reach her backpack from the bed. Against her better judgment, Natalie caved to her curiosity and retrieved Marcelle’s diary. It took a moment to find the place where she had left off, and then Natalie sacrificed a night’s sleep to finish the lovers’ tale.
Marcelle and Laurent had married. They had three children and a good life, though Laurent maintained his aloof nature between his fits of passion. Marcelle did not seem to mind, she was a content wife and mother. She wrote about their life in quiet terms, but Natalie could tell they had become people of importance. They attended great parties and Marcelle noted that Laurent was associated among France’s best. She was proud of her husband. Natalie was glad for the woman. She must have known something of love.
Natalie thought about Kyle and sighed, he could have his Dartmouth. Now that she thought of it, Kyle was unpassionate, smug and lazy. She would find her own Laurent. Maybe even a French one. Natalie giggled at the idea. She read on.
In the next entry, dated only a few months back, Marcelle’s tone changed. She was hurt and worried. Laurent had landed a business deal that upset her. Natalie reasoned it was the woman’s lack of business sense and read on. Marcelle continued her lament as she told of the party she had endured at this new associate’s house. Natalie stifled a gasp when she read her own sister’s name so delicately written in Marcelle’s hand. What unbelievable coincidence! Joan knew Marcelle! Natalie could never have dreamed of a better ending. This unfortunate business, as Marcelle called it, was the very relationship that would reunite her with her precious diary. Natalie held the journal to her chest as she thought about meeting Marcelle. Would it be embarrassing for Marcelle or both of them? Nevertheless, the woman would be glad to have it back in her possession. There were still a few entries to read so she quieted down and sat crosslegged on the bed to finish.
At dawn she stared blankly at the last page. It was written in the same gentle curves of Marcelle’s penmanship. Natalie read the words again, it couldn’t be Marcelle who spoke of such things. Natalie’s palms were sweating and she thought the pounding of her heart would wake her sister.
Natalie jumped up, but stopped at her bedroom door. She didn’t know what to do or if she should do anything at all. Maybe she should find Laurent first; she knew their home from Marcelle’s telling. She got a nauseating feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She picked up the diary. She could not leave this for Joan to find. Natalie opened the back cover again and stared at the scrawled words on the page just to be sure.
Señor Barros was not away on business, and Marcelle… Natalie shook her head, but the image held sure in her mind’s eye: two strangers, one her sister’s husband and one Laurent’s beloved, tangled in bed linen – just the way Hollywood would film it. Natalie stood wide-eyed. She stayed that way for awhile translating the passion of Laurent to Barros, and then she didn’t want to think about it anymore. She didn’t want to touch the diary. She stashed it under the mattress, planning to figure out how to dispose of it later.
Within the hour, she emerged from her bedroom, freshened by a warm bath and clean clothes. Downstairs a maid ushered her to the dining room where she was greeted by a masterfully arranged breakfast that Joan’s cook had laid out for the sisters. Joan joined her momentarily. Her sister was still in a robe, but her face was powdered and her lips glistened with gloss. She smiled as she lowered herself to her chair. Natalie thought she looked royal.
“Ahh,” Joan sighed delicately. She sipped her juice and her lip gloss imprinted the glass with sparkling pink. “So what do you think of my little country? Isn’t it just romantic?”
Natalie forced a smile. She opened her mouth to speak, but the secret of the affair lodged in her throat.