Chapter Five: Lightening Crashes
If Ginny thought that Liège was crowded on Sunday, Monday showed her different. Tourists and partygoers packed the streets, and in the Outre-meuse quarter, a person could only move by being swept along in the crowd. “Le Quinze Aout” festival was in full swing, complete with marching bands and marionettes, folk dancing, contests and prizes. Vendors opened their doors with pèkèt and a hearty smile and Ginny was charmed.
She met Eric for coffee and a croissant at a little café near her hotel, and together they explored the city. For the first time since she had embarked upon this trip, Ginny began to forget about her situation with Michael. She began to forget her lackluster life. She even began to forget her self-pity. It wasn’t yet noon and already she and Eric hit up the second pub in their pub crawl. They tasted lambics and white ales, dark browns and summer reds.
“Are you having a good time?” Eric asked her as they clinked glasses.
“Excellent,” she nodded, though she noticed it was getting a little harder to form words in her mouth.
They decided to take a break and wander the city a bit more.
“Look!” said Eric. “It’s the Montagne de Bueren!”
“What’s that?” Ginny squinted in the bright sunlight.
“It’s a long set of stairs leading up to the Citadel. Come on, let’s do it.”
Ginny surveyed the mountain of steps before her and planted her fists on her hips. “That’s a lot of steps,” she said.
“Yeah. It’s 373.”
“Three hundred and seventy-three? Are you kidding me? No way.”
“Aw, it’s nothing.” He tapped her encouragingly on her shoulder. “You can do it. Plus I hear the view is great from the top.”
“Oh well, if it’s for a view…,” Ginny grumbled, but she gamely started walking with him.
As they climbed the steps, Ginny’s head began to clear. As Eric had predicted, it wasn’t as cumbersome as she had thought and the lush greenery along the way cheered her. The view at the top was even more stunning. She could see the whole city below her, with the river running through it. Even from the distance, she could dimly hear the crowd and marching bands parade through the streets.
“There it is!” said Eric, pointing to the mini fortress at the top of their path. It stood tall and proud even though parts of it had fallen to ruin.
“It is indeed a citadel,” said Ginny, though she couldn’t help being drawn to it. The walled fortress had a tower and it surrounded what looked like to be a modern-day hospital. So typical of Europe: the new filtered in and around the old. It was a patchwork quilt of modernity atop history.
“There was a Duke here,” said Eric. “Charles the Bold. He pissed everyone off when he made his cousin the prince-bishop and he was hiding out with his troops in a tent here. The people staged a revolt. Six hundred of them. And they made it all the way to his tent, intending to kill him. But then he turned it around and massacred every one of them, down to the last man.”
Ginny shuddered, imagining all the men and passions flying around in the very spot on which she stood. She could practically feel their energy coming up through her feet. “Wow,” she breathed. “People back then were amazing, weren’t they? I’m not sure I could imagine myself doing that today, just for a principle.”
Eric looked at her. “You wouldn’t? You wouldn’t try to combat wrong, even if it really mattered to you?”
“I’d like to think I would. But if I’m being honest, I just don’t know. I don’t know if I’d really lay down my life for politics.” Eric dropped it after that and they moved easily onto other topics, but Ginny felt nettled. They had touched on a truth about her she didn’t feel comfortable with, but she didn’t know what to do about it either. So she did the only thing she knew how: she put it away to examine later.
They resumed their drinking and when it got to be dinner time, they asked their bar-mates where they should eat.
“Have you tried the mussels?” asked the matronly woman behind the bar.
When Ginny and Eric shook their heads, everyone around them became excited. “Oh you must try the mussels!” With lots of slamming of glasses and flurried gesticulation, their bar-mates pointed them to Au Parc de Moules, a restaurant tucked away in a tiny alleyway and renowned for serving over fifty different varieties of cooked mussels. Ginny wasn’t sure how much of a mussels fan she was, but she was ready to try just about anything. She ordered the moules mexicane, mussels cooked with tequila, figuring that would just about top off her day of drinking. She prayed her stomach wouldn’t revolt.
As they waited for their meal to arrive, Ginny heard a vaguely familiar tune coming from the radio overhead. The words were in French but she was certain she had heard it before.
Then it hit her. “It’s Live!”
“What’s live?” asked Eric. He was busy downing water like a desert escapee.
“The song!” Ginny beamed widely, gesticulating at the air above her. “It’s Lightening Crashes! Oh my God, I haven’t heard that song in years. Not since high school.”
Eric laughed. “Dude, what year did you graduate from high school?”
“Ninety-five,” said Ginny, absent-mindedly. She was caught up in humming the song. But then she caught herself when she saw the mirth in Eric’s eyes. “Wait a minute. How old are you?”
“How old are you?” He grinned back at her.
“No, tell me. How old are you?”
Ginny planted her face in her hand. She peeked through her fingers. “Twenty-four. Really?”
He nodded. “So come out with it. I showed you mine, now you show me yours.”
Ginny blushed. “Thirty-three,” she grumbled. “Oh God, I’m with a man nine years my junior.” Dee would have a field day with this, she thought with chagrin. And then a totally indecent thought occurred to her. I’m with a man nine years my junior! Her glee was totally inappropriate. Sincerely wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But then she couldn’t wipe the grin off her face.
Eric looked at her cheekily. “Well I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.”
And that’s when a dose of reality hit Ginny and the grin slid off her face. What was she doing? Yeah her marriage to Michael was over, but it wasn’t totally over. The documents still had to go through. She had to wait until everything was finished, right?
Seeing her reaction, Eric asked her what was wrong. She explained to him her divorce situation and about Michael cheating on her, and he was quiet for a while after that. His silence made her feel even worse.
But then he took her hands into his large, warm ones. “Look, so you say this thing with your husband is over right? There’s absolutely no chance of reconciliation?”
“Not a lick.”
“I’m not in the business of breaking up marriages, but if you’re a hundred percent straight about this being over, I’ll trust you on that.” Seeing her sad eyes, he continued, “Look, I like you a lot. I normally don’t chase women like I have with you. I travel a lot and I keep things light. But you, I want to get to know.”
“I want to get to know you too,” she admitted.
“I think we’ve come into each other’s lives for a reason. I’m not saying we’re in for anything serious. But I think we could be good for each other right now, just for this moment.”
Ginny thought about his words for a while. He seemed so genuine. Different from what she had assumed of him, and that intrigued her. And his words “for this moment” had oddly reassured her. She hadn’t realized she had been carrying around this pressure of having something serious, something long-term. To suddenly release it felt freeing. So she nodded. “All right, then,” she said.
“But no sex. I don’t think I’m there yet.”
He raised his hands in a shrug. “No sex.”
They ate their meal in easy companionship, and when he walked her back to her hotel, he was true to his word. He kissed her good night, and as hot and heady as the kiss was between them, he stepped back and promised to meet her in the morning where they would get back on the bus.
Her lips tingled and her skin burned where his hands had held her waist, but she smiled as she said goodnight.
* * *
She went up to her room and downloaded a copy of Lightening Crashes, feeling happy as she listened to the old familiar lyrics. She jumped up in front of the mirror, and belted out the tunes, knocking her hips from side to side to the beat, head banging and circling her arms like a rock star until she collapsed, out of breath, onto the bed. She laughed at herself, but continued singing with her eyes squeezed shut, just because she liked the feel of her mouth and lips as she enunciated and pursed out the lyrics; it was cathartic, like a scream across a chasm.
Her intentions fall to the floor
The angel closes her eyes, the confusion that was hers
Belongs now, to the baby down the hall
Live was not ever one of her favorite bands, but it felt familiar like the posters on her old high school bedroom and it reminded her of driving PCH with Dee after school let out. She had grown up on a steady diet of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Sublime, but she realized she hadn’t listened to these songs in more years than she could count – and she missed them. She missed their sincerity. God, she loved that music. It might have had some idealistic notes, but at least it was earnest. Where has all the earnestness gone?
Past generations were angry; this generation was just ironic. But Ginny was absolutely tired of the irony because, she realized with a jolt, what it masked is anger and a deep sadness at the falseness of life. She desperately wanted something real. We’re a country too sad and tired to be angry anymore, she thought, and so we opt for comatose. Except even the comatose state is ironic. In a true coma, your body wouldn’t function. It would just lie there, consuming to live. But her generation was constantly running, constantly moving, constantly buying, even though the head and heart had long ceased to function.
Maybe that’s why Eric felt so important to her. Here was someone who was real, and here, with him, her feelings, however messed up and jumbled they were, were real.
She might not be the type to live and die for her ideals, but at least she might begin to have some. And where better to confront one’s ideals than such a historied place as Europe? And you know what? Next stop: Germany. There was a place with a crisis of conscience if there ever was one.(to be continued…)
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part I here.
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part II here.
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part III here.
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part IV here.
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part VI here.