tagIllustratedFinding Rene

Finding Rene

byeclare©

This is a copyrighted original work of fiction. All rights reserved. All characters featured herein are at least eighteen years of age, even if not expressly stated. Any resemblance between actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. Artworks presented herein are for reference purposes only. Their images and the works themselves remain the exclusive property of the corresponding institution as listed. Song lyrics contained herein remain the exclusive property of the original artist. All other photographs contained herein are the exclusive property of this author. This work may not be copied or distributed without the exclusive written permission of this author.

Many thanks to Jim K, Michael B and BlackRandl for their fine editing work. Thank you BlackRandl for working tirelessly to include me in the Siren's Song event.

*****

"Such perfect nipples," she said in a proper British accent.

I wasn't sure if she was even aware that I was standing next to her.



I had just stepped up to view The Assault (L'Attendat, 1932) by Rene Magritte in the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, Belgium.

What at first I thought was a teenage girl, but turned out to be a woman, was also viewing the painting. The gallery was almost empty.

It was an awkward moment. I wasn't sure if I should say anything.

"And breasts," she added.

"Yes, I agree," I said quietly, still studying the canvas. "Almost surreal," I added smirking.

She turned to smile at me. She was short, slight, with straight light brown hair just past her shoulders. Several strands of grey hair framed her face, or maybe it was blonde streaks. Her fine, delicate features were accented by crinkles and dimples on her chin giving her a mature, wise appearance, or perhaps she tended to have strong opinions or was a little prone to worry.

She wasn't exactly what I would call gorgeous— mousy was probably more apt a description. She was certainly not ugly. Plain. Early forties, I guessed, if that. Pretty well flat-chested. Thin waist. Her hips didn't flare out. She had almost the body of an adolescent.

She had piercing grey eyes though. A fine nose, thin, yet expressive lips with just a hint of lipstick. She wore very little make-up, maybe a bit of mascara.

She was dressed as a tourist, t-shirt and grey jeans of a sort. A bag slung over her shoulder. A thin red nylon jacket was tied around her waist. Her shoes were flat sandals.

She smiled at me but said nothing.

"I love Magritte," I said trying to gauge her reaction. There wasn't one.

After a few silent moments we moved off in separate directions. I didn't think any more about her after that encounter. I thought about the painting though. That I loved. And I certainly agreed with her assessment of the nipples.

A few minutes later an announcement came through in Dutch, French and, thankfully, English. The gallery was closing in ten minutes, at five o'clock. They flicked the lights. I slowly made my way out of the gallery to the glass enclosed lobby.

It was pouring rain outside.

Nipple lover and an older woman were hovering at the glass front door as I approached. The staff was behind us with keys in hand. No one was going anywhere for a few minutes until the deluge eased up.

"Ah, it's Magritte lover," she said turning to me, the lines on her chin flexing a little as she spoke.

I could have rejoined with "nipple lover," but I thought best not to. "Looks a bit wet doesn't it?" I answered lamely.

"You're American."

"No, I'm Canadian. You're British?"

"Yes we are," she answered flatly. Her grey eyes bore into mine. "It seems we're stuck here for a few minutes."

We?

It really was a torrential downpour. I wondered if it was typical Belgian weather. I regarded the older woman for a moment. She simply smiled at both of us. The older woman was sixty plus with bluish grey-white hair in a big bouffant. Fairly tall and a bit heavy.

I smiled back. "Well, I suppose that if I must be stuck in a rainstorm somewhere, I'm certainly fortunate to be stuck with two lovely ladies." I could put on the bullshit with the best of them.

Nipple lover's smile was eclipsed by the older woman's.

"I'm Laura Berger," she said holding out her thin hand to mine. I reached for it and took Laura's slender hand into mine. It was warm in spite of the cooler weather from the downpour. French manicured nails, in white, adorned her graceful fingers. "And this is my mother, Georgette."

Georgette held out her hand. Like the twit that I am, I dropped Laura's hand, turned to face Georgette, clicked my heels together as I picked up Georgette's hand, bowed down and kissed the back of her hand and said, "Madam, I'm so pleased to meet you, my name is Bill Wycliffe."

Georgette grinned at me for putting on the old world charm. Laura was delighted, too.

Laura didn't look anything like her mother. Nevertheless, in spite of her adolescent like body and her plain-Jane mousiness, on my second encounter with her, there was something that made her seem a sexy little package. I hadn't seen it before. Maybe I had some latent pedophilia in me. That was the first time I actually had a good look at Laura. There was just something about her, maybe her eyes, maybe her mouth or quivering chin, I couldn't place it. Something about her just hit me. I found myself off kilter. It was weird. I had to stay cool and be a gentleman.

"Are you here on holiday?" Georgette asked. I had to snap out of it.

Laura couldn't keep her eyes off me.

"I am today," recovering, I answered smiling, "I'm in Belgium on business, but that finished this morning, so it's a bit of quality time for me now. I'm flying home tomorrow. How about you two?"

Laura explained that she was visiting her mom who lived in De Panne, a nearby seaside resort town. Georgette was Flemish originally but married an Englishman and moved to London where Laura, their only child, was born. Georgette was now living with her sister in De Panne.

Laura was down for a weekend visit and they decided to visit Bruges for the day. Gallery and dinner then off to her mom's in the seaside town, whatever it was called.

"What kind of work brings you to Belgium?" Georgette asked. Laura still couldn't keep her eyes off me. Why was she looking at me like that?

I explained that I had been working on a project in Oostend. I told them that I was renting a small apartment for four nights here in Bruges, it's only thirty minutes away from Oostend. That way I had something to do after work and better restaurant choices for dinner.

In spite of the fact that the sun came out, the rain had only lightened up a bit. Luckily the staff was busy talking amongst themselves. They didn't seem in a hurry.

I stepped away from the two of them and started peering out at various angles through the lobby glass. Laura and her mom wondered what I was doing.

"If it's raining and the sun is shining, that means there's a rainbow somewhere. And there it is," I said pointing behind them.

They turned around and followed where I had pointed to.

"Oh how lovely," they both said in unison. Mother and daughter. Cute little bum on the daughter I realized now that she had slipped her red nylon jacket on. My gaze moved to her fingers. Was she wearing a wedding band? She wasn't, I determined.

Bruges is a quaint little town. A UNESCO heritage site, it's preserved in more or less a combination of late mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque conditions. The inner 'town' is ringed by a canal. Canals pop up throughout. It's a tourist town, but it thankfully lacks the gaudy souvenir shops, McDonald's, Starbucks, tacky wax museums and all the rest. It's like a grown-up's theme park, a hundred and eighty degrees from the Disney, Busch Gardens experience. Bruges is in-your-face history. It's the History Channel incarnate.

In Bruges, one is immersed in Flemish culture. Not just the old stuff. It's fantastic and so different from the North American experience, yet so old world.

"Is there a restaurant that you recommend?" I asked the two of them, (not really) innocently.

Georgette answered, "Yes, Chagall's. We're on our way there now, once the rain lets up. Would you care to join us?" Georgette was studying Laura's reaction. So was I.

Laura managed a smile, forced, or otherwise, towards me. She fired darts at her mother. That was very odd, I thought, because I had the impression just a few moments before that Laura was checking me out. Perhaps I was being delusional all along.

"I'd love to," I answered noting Laura's displeasure with her mom's invitation to me, "but only if I'm buying," I added.

Hmm...

"That's so generous of you," Georgette answered, "but we can look after ourselves, we'll just go Dutch," she added giggling.

"Please, I insist. It'll be my pleasure." Laura was still not particularly happy.

"Laura, this young man would like to treat us to dinner," she paused to size up her daughter's reaction, grinning the whole time.

Laura broke into a broad smile, I was sure, to maintain her politeness credibility, "Thank you, that will be lovely."

I had nothing better to do that evening, and I had to eat. Eating alone at home is easy. I just watch TV or read something. Eating alone at a restaurant, I find uncomfortable. I still have to have a book, my phone, a magazine or something, but I always feel as if I'm a loser on display to the world. The reality was that I jumped at the chance of having dinner companions, especially Laura.

There was something about that little woman that I couldn't quite figure out. Normally, a short thin woman with basically the body of a twelve year old wouldn't appeal to me, but somehow she had my mind racing. The word 'nubile' came to mine, but nubile is always associated with young. Laura had to be almost forty. What the hell was I thinking? Still, it was as if some sort of circuit was completed, electrons or something were flowing between us. I knew it and I knew she knew it, too. Or at least I thought I did.

The rain quickly eased up to just a slight drizzle.

"Lead the way," I said to them as we stepped out through the doors. As a gentleman, I held the door open for the two ladies to go through. Off the three of us went down wet, narrow cobblestone streets towards the central Markt square.



"My apartment is this way, too," I commented once I got my bearings.

"Oh?"

"It's on Moerstraat, I'm sure it's straight ahead. It's a charming little unit. It backs onto a bit of a canal."

"How lovely," answered Laura, her grey eyes twinkled at me. Or was I just reading too much into the situation?



Within the inner city of Bruges, there is no parking except for a very few exceptions for the locals. There's simply no room. Every nook and cranny has been occupied for centuries. If the space isn't occupied by a building or a cobblestone street or path, a well maintained garden will fill the remaining void.



Bicycles are the order of day. Everyone, young and old, rides their bikes.

Chagall's was indeed just around the corner from my apartment. It was just one of many restaurants that ringed the central Markt area, albeit down one street a bit. The building itself was probably a couple of hundred years old. The few tables inside were ignored by all of the patrons; outside on the wet cobblestone street the tables were crammed together, each with an umbrella above, almost every one laced to the next, the whole space held in place by a little iron rail. We found a table for four although we were only three. I sat across from Laura; Georgette sat next to her.

There was an ashtray on the table. How strange.

The Bruges skyline is dominated by an old belfry which stands a hundred and eighty feet tall. The original building dates back to 1240. The bells started ringing, echoing throughout the entire town centre as the waiter approached, picking up menus on the way. He was a young man with a scruffy light brown beard. He had an accent but spoke perfect English.

Overtop of the clanging bells, we all ordered 33cl of Brugge Zot, a local beer.

The bells were still ringing as the beer arrived at the table.

"Cheers," we all said raising our big tumblers and clicking them together.

It was a cool, almost fruity, hoppy beer. Perfect.

Then the ringing stopped.

It was only then, when we were all seated together, that I noticed that both Laura and her mother had similar dental patterns, although the mother's teeth were larger. Definitely mother and daughter, but aside from that, one was petite and the other fairly tall and heavier. Strange.

"Thank you so much for inviting me along to dinner."

"It is our pleasure," Georgette answered with a rise to the tone of her voice. Laura was just staring at me. I picked up the menu to break away from Laura's laser-like gaze. I felt as if I was squirming a bit.

Several people around us had red ceramic pots in front of them. Each pot was about eight inches diameter, with a lid and marked 'Chagall's'. They were eating mussels.

"They've just come back into season," Georgette said, "I'm afraid I won't be able to resist."

"What are you having?" Laura asked.

"Meat," I answered while trying to figure out the menu.

"Tell us about yourself Bill," Georgette started as I found what I wanted on the menu.

Picking up my beer glass, I said, "I'm forty-two, single..." and took a sip.

"Single?" Georgette interjected, her back shot straight up at the revelation. Laura's chin twitched in reaction to her mother's reaction, or maybe she reacted to me being single.

"That's correct, I never married."

"How can that be?" Georgette asked. "You're a good looking man, successful, cultured...oh," she paused, "you have a partner?" It was the way she said it that insinuated something evil or untoward. I put my beer down.

Laura seemed embarrassed with her mother's affront into my personal life. I sensed that she was cringing inside. I wondered why her mother's question made her so uncomfortable. I rationalized that it was the inflection on the word 'partner'.

"No, I'm not gay," I answered smiling, "and I don't have a partner."

There was relief in both of their faces. Georgette's because I wasn't gay, I guessed, and Laura's because I didn't appear to be fazed by her mother's intrusion.

Could Georgette be homophobic or was there something more to it?

The young waiter came by. Laura wasn't ready to order yet.

Watching the dynamic between mother and daughter was amusing. The side glances at each other, the little turn of an eyebrow or lip. Laura's chin flex. Was Mom trying to match her daughter up with me? Was Daughter kicking back at Mom's interference? I wondered if that dynamic had been going on all their lives. I didn't think that Laura was uncomfortable with my presence; it seemed she was a little unsure about her mom.

"Laura, tell me about yourself," I asked staring into her grey eyes, fully realizing that I was winding things up. I still had the impression that there was more to that woman than meets the eye. There was a depth to her that I couldn't access. Yet.

Her chin twitched as she considered her words. Her eyes bore into mine. "I'm a solicitor, living and working in London. I, too, never married and have no children."

Georgette was beaming.

"How can that be? I asked, "you're a beautiful woman, educated, successful, cultured," I paused for effect, "you must have a partner." I recalled her comment about the nipples.

Laura smiled demurely, "Not currently."

Georgette grinned madly. There had to be something more than the sudden revelation to her that we're both single.

The waiter came by. Georgette ordered moules done the Flemish way. How was that different from just plain steamed mussels? Laura and I both ordered tournedos with peppercorn gravy, I assumed it was beef, the menu never specified. Frites, that is fries, all around, plus a salad bowl shared among the three of us. Georgette ordered a glass of Orangina, she was driving she explained. Laura and I split a bottle of Languedoc French red.

Excellent food, excellent wine and interesting ladies as company on a warm, steamy June night, eating al fresco under a big umbrella on a lively, cobblestone street in Bruges. No bugs. Could life get any better?

"So another Wycliffe comes to Brugge. I wonder what that portends." Georgette said almost to herself.

"I'm sorry?" I asked.

"Do you spell your name the same as John Wycliffe with a Y?" she added.

Even Laura seemed confused.

"Yes. Who's John Wycliffe? Wait I had a great uncle John, on the Wycliffe side." I must have looked mystified.

"Have you not heard of the Wycliffe Bible?" Georgette asked.

"Oh, uhm, yeah. I've heard of it." Maybe. I dismissed with a twist of my palm in the air. I didn't want to seem rude, but I couldn't see what that had to do with me.

"What does that have to do with Bruges?" Laura asked.

"I'm confused, is it Brugge or Bruges?"

I noticed the guy at the next table who had finished eating his mussels, lit up a cigarette and after exactly one puff was handed his main meal. That big pot of mussels was only his appetizer.

"Georgette answered, "Brugge in Flemish and Dutch, Bruges in French."

"Oh," I said.

The guy didn't have an ashtray on his table. I picked up ours and held it out to him.

"Merci." He took it from me.

The drinks came.

Georgette started, "In the late fourteenth century, I'm sorry I can't recall the exact year, John Wycliffe, a prominent English theologian and doctor of divinity from Oxford was sent to Brugge on behalf of the English king Edward III to discuss matters related to payments due to the Pope from the English Catholic Church and, if memory serves me correctly, to address the Pope's insistence in exclusively assigning the English Church's hierarchy. He met with a large papal delegation here in Brugge."

"Mum used to teach history."

"Oh okay... please go on." It's the frickin' History Channel sitting in front of me.

"John Wycliffe took objection to the Vatican's and I believe at that time Avignon's," she paused looking up in the air, "I'm not quite sure, I'm sure Marie would know, anyway Wycliffe took objection to the ostentatious display of wealth and the Catholic Church's position that the church was the sole intermediary between God and humanity."

"Who's Marie?"

"My Aunty, Mum's sister."

I sipped my wine. So did Laura.

Georgette continued with a joyous ring to her voice, "Wycliffe turned out to be quite the royalist and his teachings and writings, which were clearly at odds with the Catholic Church, earned him a papal bull, demanding excommunication."

"Okay," I said slowly, "I guess he had that coming to him." I didn't want to say the wrong thing, nor seem like I'm not interested in her history lesson.

"It was never carried out in England and in the end, he went one step further to antagonize the papal authorities, he published a bible in the vernacular English, thereby permitting lay people direct access to the scriptures and to God. That bible is now known to us as the Wycliffe Bible."

I watched Laura roll her eyes.

"His work was the foundation by which the Reformation took place," she continued, "and it all started here in Brugge by a man named Wycliffe." She paused for a moment, then added, "Well, there were the Waldensians before him."

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