“Welcome to Paris, where the local time is 9am and the current temperature is minus three degrees Celsius.
On behalf of Air France, I would like to thank you for travelling with us from Sydney today. We hope to see you onboard in the near future.”
I stroke Aidan’s soft curls. He stirs.
“Aidan, we are here, we are home,” I whisper in his left ear.
The little boy lifts his drowsy head from my warm lap and shakes off sleep. Drool runs down the right side of his mouth onto my jeans. I wipe his face with the end of my sleeve. He shakes his head in protest.
I turn to the gentleman seated to my right. I thank him for his advice. We spoke most of the night. My disclosure was raw and honest. I divulged everything, yet I do not even know his name. He knows Aidan and I spent Christmas with my family. He knows Philippe, my husband, stayed in Paris. He understands my confusion. He senses my emptiness. He suspects Philippe is cheating.
I scoop Aidan’s collection of matchbox cars from the sweaty grey carpet beneath his feet. We count them together.
“Mummy, the green one is missing!” He cries.
I hunt between the narrow seats and retrieve the toy along with a handful of dried spaghetti. I stuff the car into Aidan’s backpack. I slip my heels onto my swollen feet. Aidan slips his tiny hand into mine and we shuffle to the front of the aircraft.
We wait for our luggage to make its descent from the tarmac to the carousel. Aidan is agitated. He stands near the carousel and smashes matchbox cars into its side. I shift my weight in my shoes.
Forty-five minutes later, we struggle towards the exit. Aidan hangs from my right arm. I drag our suitcase with my left. I curse my choice of shoes. My toes protrude from the ends of my two-inch Gucci stilettos.
The shock of winter bites our bare skin as the sliding doors to the taxi line open. Aidan whimpers. He wears shorts and a light hoody. The heat of Sydney feels distant. I scoop Aidan into my arms and he tightens into me. He buries his head in my t-shirt. His hair smells of spaghetti. My toes ache from the cold.
The taxi reeks of Indian leftovers, but feels warm. “All I need” by Air hums from the radio. I fasten Aidan into his seat and search for my buckle. I give up. I snuggle close to Aidan. I warm his cold fingers in mine.
I announce our address to the driver.
“Oui, Madame,” he responds.
I search for my mobile phone and switch it on.
“Are you excited about seeing Papa?” I inquire.
Aidan shrugs. He looks straight at the back of the driver’s seat.
I dial Philippe’s number. It rings out.
The taxi veers onto the freeway. Dirty piles of snow line the sides of the road. Pigeons perch on the electrical wires. Dark grey clouds lie low.
I dial Philippe’s number again. No answer.
The taxi exits the freeway and slows as it hits our suburb. We pass the park where Aidan and I play each weekend. We pass his pre-school. We pass the boulangerie where I buy croissants.
I dial Philippe again.
“Hey babe, it’s me. We are a few minutes away. Can you meet me downstairs? I don’t have my key and the suitcase is quite heavy.”
“Babe, I’m tired. I got in late last night. Do you mind if I just leave the door open? I am sure the apartment building is unlocked. I think they fixed the elevator.”
“Sure.” I whisper.
“Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé plays softly as the taxi stops in front of our building. I unbuckle Aidan and open the passenger door. My feet sink into the dirty snow. My toes hide in my shoes.
Pretty icicles hang from the branches of the cherry blossom where Aidan and I sit during the summer. The walkway to the apartment where we play after school hides under two inches of fresh snow. I shiver and cross my arms.
The driver heaves our suitcase from the trunk. He dumps it in the snow. I scoop Aidan into my arms. I drag our suitcase up the walkway. The suitcase sticks as I tug. My heels sink as I stumble. My feet sting from the cold.
The elevator is broken.
I place Aidan on the cold marble floor and remove my wet heels.
The heavy suitcase clunks against the marble as I hoist it to the fourth floor. I descend and carry Aidan up the four flights.
The apartment door is ajar. The cat pushes through the crack. She purrs and rubs against my leg.
The apartment is quiet. The bedroom door is closed.
“Are you hungry?” I ask Aidan.
Aidan and I sit in the warm kitchen and dip stale brioche in hot chocolate as the snow falls gently outside.