“Dawn, we have to talk,” they were getting dressed to go out and Casey was fiddling with the buckle of her money pouch round her waist trying to make it more secure.
“You have to talk, you mean. I’m not sure I want to,” Dawn was standing in front of the full-length mirror pushing her hair into place.
“Alright then, I want to talk,” Casey took a deep breath, “I’m not happy with the way things are going...” she faltered. She was about to say between the two of them but decided that wasn’t quite what she meant or rather she didn’t want to bring it up right now in case Dawn agreed, “with Nicola here in Paris as well,” she amended.
“What about it?” Dawn stepped back to admire the final result of her efforts.
“Well, for starters, do we have to see her every single day? Can’t we have some time to ourselves for a change,” Casey would have been admiring the very elegant sight Dawn made too, dressed in her new outfit, except that she was too caught up in her own misery to notice.
“We’re by ourselves now, aren’t we?” Dawn pointed out reasonably as she turned to face Casey.
“Overnight we are, yes,” she decided not to mention the fact that they hadn’t made love since they’d arrived in Paris a week ago. An irony not lost on her in this ultimate city of lovers where every which way she looked there seemed to be one couple or another, their bodies entwined on park benches kissing their heads off.
“We’ve slept together every night since we left Melbourne which, as you know, has been rather difficult for me on occasions,” at least back home they both had their own beds when they needed a break, “I haven’t complained, have I?”?“No, that’s not what I mean,” she was fast losing track of what it was she was wanting to say.
“What do you mean, Casey?” Dawn made it sound as if she didn’t care one way or the other.
Casey stood quite still blinking back tears. Then realising that not only did what she want sorted out need a lot more time and effort than they had right at that moment, but that Dawn was obviously resisting any criticism of this menage a trois (another irony) as she saw it that had developed since Nicola had met up with them in Paris, she merely said, “Let’s try and not do too many things today, alright?” Sometimes it seemed as if Dawn hadn’t had her second mastectomy last year, the way her lover had been going the last few days.
As they wandered slowly arm-in-arm up Rue Mouffetard they drew in the different sights and sounds and smells of the marketplace, taking in Paris with all their senses. The stalls were neatly piled with a colourful variety of fruit and vegetables, the vendors were loudly selling their wares, the butcher’s and the baker’s shops had extended out onto the footpath with a range of delicacies they’d never seen before.
“Oh look,” Casey pointed, “cooked beetroot, fancy that,” on one of the stalls in amongst the fresh lettuces and tomatoes.
“Ah, here we are,” Dawn said, as they paused before a fairly formidable selection of soft cheeses of all shapes and sizes. They’d already bought a baguette at the boulangerie on the corner, which Dawn had tucked under her elbow for safe keeping, ‘What about this one,” she picked up a piece of camembert that was oozing out of its casing at the sides.
“Just right,” pronounced Casey, as they headed towards the Seine with their purchases.
“That seat looks as if it has our name on it,” Dawn observed, as they were crossing Pont de Sully from which vantage point they could see that one of the seats down below was unoccupied, “What do you reckon?”
“Looks fine to me,” Casey agreed. It was in the shade, too.
They walked through Square Barye, where a group of Jewish schoolboys were playing a game of soccer with their bearded teacher, and down the steps to where the Seine was lapping against the stone wall of the path.
“What more could we possibly want?” Dawn asked, as she held out her arms to embrace the day and the view out over the water towards the Left Bank.
Casey didn’t say anything as she broke off a hunk of baguette. Dawn opened her Swiss army knife and began cutting into the camembert. They covered the crusty pieces with the soft cheese and bit into them.
“This is the life, eh?” murmured Dawn between mouthfuls. The weather was warm, the Seine was a sparkling murky green a few feet away with black flat bottomed barges gliding past and most of all she was in Paris. “What do you feel like doing this morning?”
“Before we meet up with Nicola, you mean?” Casey tried to keep the dryness out of her tone but wasn’t very successful. And hurriedly added, “I wouldn’t mind seeing the Impressionists at the, what’s it called again?” the exhibition had been moved from the Jeu de Paume so they’d discovered the other day.
“The Musee d’Orsay, I think,” Dawn pulled the map from her pocket to check, “It’s such a beautiful day though that it would be a pity to spend all of it cooped up inside.”
“You’re right. We’ll leave the Impressionists till another day when it’s raining perhaps,” they had all next week to go yet, “Let’s go and see what the rest of Ile Saint-Louis has to offer,” just strolling beside the Seine with Dawn was more than enough anyway.
As they crossed the Pont Saint-Louis they were riveted by the sight of the busker throwing and catching not one but two diablos one after the other, “Oh, will you look at that!” breathed Casey, a diablo thrower herself and therefore totally in awe of his effortless skill.
“You could do that,” Dawn said encouragingly, “It might take a bit of practice but it wouldn’t be impossible to get the hang of it.”
“What did you think of his clowning around?” Casey asked, as they strolled on to the Ile de la Cite.
“I liked that we could still laugh at what he was doing even though we didn’t know what he was saying,” Dawn answered. She’d already tucked some of his visual puns away in her memory for future reference.
They rounded the corner of Notre Dame intending to go in. Till they noticed the long length of the queue, “I had no idea there this many tourists in the whole of France,” Casey commented, as she gazed at the milling tourists with dismay.
“It might not be so crowded a bit later on,” Dawn reassured her, taking her arm again as they turned away.
As they were crossing the Pont au Double the bells started ringing. It was while they were leaning against the stone parapet of the bridge watching the artists down below and listening to the deep rough clanging sound that Casey noticed that Dawn was rubbing her hip, “Is it sore?” she asked. Now that she was reminded it did seem as if Dawn had been favouring that leg lately.
“Just the same old trouble with the sciatica nerve that plays up every now and then,” Dawn said, dismissively.
“We can sit down if you like, we don’t have to keep walking round if it’s bothering you,” it was silly of her, she knew, because it was well over six months now since Dawn had finished her post-operative treatment, but any ache or pain and she immediately feared the worst, “We’ve probably had more than enough exercise for one day.”
“It’s nothing, I’ve told you that already,” Dawn snapped at her, “Don’t go on about it.”
This was so unlike Dawn’s usually humorous and easy-going self that for a moment Casey almost allowed herself to panic. Giving herself a mental shake she merely took Dawn’s arm again as they strolled along to have a look at the books and souvenirs on display in the long wooden boxes attached to the top of the stone walls overlooking the Seine.
There was such a crowd when they got to the forecourt of the Louvre, making their way between the pools of water and being sprayed by the fountain, that for a moment Casey hoped that it would be impossible to meet up with Nicola after all.
“What an amazing structure,” Dawn was exclaiming over the incongruity of the newly constructed glass pyramid amidst all that gothic opulence and grandeur.
It was Casey who, because she was peering around anxiously, was the first to spot Nicola strolling towards them from the direction of the Jardin des Tuilleries, her hands in her pockets, a light jumper slung around her shoulders, seeming not at all concerned that Dawn and Casey were nearly an hour later than they’d said they’d be.
But then Nicola had been lovers with Dawn for a lot longer and well before she herself had, Casey recalled with some resentment, so she was probably used to the way Dawn regarded time as some a kind of flexible arrangement. It was this easiness between the ex-lovers plus the fact that Dawn was unwilling to define their relationship and had often been non-monogomous in the past, that was making Casey so uneasy about the undercurrents between Dawn and Nicola now.
“Isn’t this the most magical city in the entire world?” Nicola greeted them both with a kiss on the lips, “I’ve been up for ages and had lunch in the most marvellous little tabac on the way here,” she linked arms with Dawn and they began walking towards the queue, leaving Casey to follow or not as she pleased, “Early this morning I went to the Luxembourg Gardens to watch those little boats sailing across the water round the fountain. We could go there later.”
“You’re looking particularly beautiful today,” Dawn observed, “Isn’t she Casey?”
As Casey merely shrugged Nicola said, “I think I’m finally over the effects of jet leg. You two were lucky that you were in Europe earlier for the Games and only had to travel down from Copenhagen.”
“I was saying to Dawn, actually, that we could take it a bit easy today,” Casey said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Nicola answered, “the Louvre is far too big to do in one day, anyway, but we can’t possibly miss it altogether.”
This was Dawn’s first trip to Paris and she wasn’t about to be persuaded out of seeing everything there was to see, “I agree. We have to at least see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and...” she stopped to get out her wallet because they’d reached the head of the queue.
“I’m exhausted,” they were sitting out on the street in one of the cafes along the Boulevard Saint-Michel with their coffees on the tiny round table in front of them, “but it was worth it, wasn’t it? All that art,” Nicola was saying.
“Dead white males, for the most part,” intoned Casey.
“You didn’t say that the other day when we went to see Rodin,” Dawn rounded on her. “You have to admit that suddenly coming across paintings we’ve only ever seen before as reproductions and then there they were, in the original, was very exciting.”
“I just feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of it all, at the moment, that’s all,” Casey defended herself, “I’m not saying I regret going but you have to admit a lot of it was boring.”
“What I liked about it,” Nicola put in quickly, “was, as you say Dawn, being able to see the originals. But for me, it was also being able to see how much bigger or smaller they really are and how distorted an impression we can sometimes get from reproductions because they’ve made them a completely different size to the original.”
“It’s still so bloody hot,” Casey said, fanning herself with the handout from the Louvre.
They sat in silence for a minute, watching the endlessly passing and constantly fascinating parade of people and giving their aching feet, as well as their dispositions, a chance to relax.
“So, what shall we do tonight then?” Dawn asked as Casey and Nicola exchanged glances, “Now stop it you two. I’m not an invalid. I’ll be the judge of how much I can and cannot do. We’re in Paris, time to play. Lighten up a bit.”
“I noticed the other day that My Year Without Sex is playing at one of the cinemas not far from here. Have either of you seen it?” Nicola asked, suggesting an easy option.
“It was showing in Melbourne not long before we left,” Casey answered, “but I decided not to go and see it.”
“Which is no reason why we can’t consider going to see it while we’re here,” Dawn said, turning to Nicola, “Is it subtitled or dubbed, do you think?”
“I didn’t ask. I would imagine it’d be subtitled though, don’t you?” wishing now that she’d taken the trouble, her terrible French notwithstanding, to find out.
“There’s always the Australian Bar in Rue Jacques,” Casey put in.
“No!” both Dawn and Nicola immediately said in chorus and laughed.
“Just a suggestion,” Casey held up her hands.
“We could just sit here and watch the world go by,” Nicola had noticed that that’s what most people seemed to be doing in Paris anyway.
“Let’s find a seat in the shade,” Dawn suggested as the three lesbians passed through the gates into the Luxembourg Gardens. However, the first few benches were so covered in bird-shit there was no space to sit down.
They eventually found one and sank onto it gratefully, “I know Paris is best seen on foot,” Casey observed, “but I’m glad someone had the forethought to provide plenty of gardens and squares and places to sit,” she noticed that not only was Dawn limping quite noticeably but she also looked pale and drawn.
“The shade under these trees is so very deep, isn’t it?” Dawn observed. squinting upwards to admire the denseness of the leaves, no dappled sunlight here.
“I almost expect to see Gertrude and Alice strolling down one of the walkways with Basket,” Casey mused.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” Dawn said suddenly, turning to Casey and taking her hand. She paused. Casey held her breath, too afraid to prompt, knowing that she wasn’t going to like what Dawn had to say. Knowing. “I don’t want you to panic and this doesn’t mean that we have to go back straightaway or anything like that,” she paused.
“But...” Casey’s lips were stiff, the word forced.
“I’ve been having the same pain for quite some time now,” Dawn squeezed Casey’s hand, “but I didn’t want to believe it was happening quite so soon so I’ve been ignoring it.”
“What makes you think that...” she couldn’t bring herself to say the word cancer.
Dawn shrugged, “Only a CAT scan and a blood test will show for certain, of course, and I might be worrying about nothing.”
“Perhaps we ought to go back straightaway just in case,” Casey was surprised to find she felt somewhat relieved at the thought of going back sooner, as if she had been expecting this for some time.
“What’s the point? Remember what the doctor said,” Dawn reminded her, “if the cancer comes back again there’s not much more they can do.”
Casey started to cry, “But maybe they could postpone it for a bit longer, at least,” she didn’t want Dawn to die, not now, not yet, not ever.
“There’ll be plenty of time for that when we return, I’m sure. Besides,” she tried to lighten the mood a bit, “we haven’t been to Ireland and kissed the Blarney Stone yet.”
Casey still wasn’t entirely convinced but she nodded, “I guess another couple of weeks won’t make all that much difference but you’ll tell me if it gets worse, won’t you?” much as she’d been looking forward to Ireland it wasn’t as important as making sure that Dawn was being looked after properly.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you before,” and when Casey made an impatient gesture of dismissal, Dawn continued, “No, it’s important. I realised then that this pain has been praying on my mind and that I needed to tell you.”
“I’m glad you did,” Casey blew her nose, “At least, we made it to Paris together, didn’t we?” The tears started again as they hugged each other.
“I know it’s hard to take in all at once,” Nicola put in.
Casey froze. She knew it was wishful thinking on her part but she’d almost forgotten Nicola was there. Then she realised the full import of what she’d just said and pulled back a little, “Nicola’s known about this all the time we’ve been here, hasn’t she?” searching Dawn’s eyes for confirmation.
“Yes,” Dawn nodded, “Yes, she has.”
At first, Casey was so shocked and angry all she could think of was the pain she was feeling and how much she hated and despised Nicola and how little Dawn must think of her to betray her like that and.... But all this was astonishingly brought to a halt by first Dawn and then Nicola gathering her into their arms.
And there in the deep shade of the Luxembourg Gardens with the ghosts of Alice and Gertrude hovering nearby Casey understood this was not the worst of it, that would come later back in Melbourne. But as an opening of sorts it would have to do because she knew she couldn’t do any of this on her own.
© Jean Taylor 2014