Jeanne and I are now fully moved into our new apartment; from here on out we are happy residents of Bitch Street, Strasbourg.
Life on Rue de Bitche is going better than I ever dared imagine. The area of the city we’re based in is German-made, which means the buildings are weighty and grand and the streets are broad. Not a hundred metres from our front door we have a bakery, a grocery, a pharmacy and several eateries. A little further along there’s a supermarket and a fancy place that serves coffee and cake and ice cream, and around the corner you’ll find the park, and kids in mittens throwing leaves at one another beneath the boughs of sycamore trees.
Our flat is beautiful, with high ceilings, large windows and pleasant wooden floors. Empty when we first signed the lease, it’s now decorated with a mixture of furniture from Jeanne’s parents’ attic, plants acquired from various florists around the city, and the obligatory white bookshelves from IKEA. We built a bed and a coffee table out of wooden pallets we collected from a construction site after schmoozing the labourers; we lugged them to Jeanne’s parents’ place on the day of the move and spent hours sanding them down before heaving them into the van we’d hired.
Moving day was thrilling. It’s the first time either of us have ever lived as a couple. Jeanne and I lived together in Bristol and Melbourne of course, but it was always in sharehouses: forever subjected to the smells of other people’s cooking, forever having to daintily lift other people’s foisty underpants out of the washing machine when they’ve been left in there for three days and you desperately need to put a load in.
Because she is both braver and more capable than I, Jeanne drove the removal van. The skies above Strasbourg were clear blue as we chugged through the city, wincing at the occasional clatter of furniture in the back when we were forced to brake by zipping Deliveroo drivers. Moving the furniture into the apartment was a bastard. Along with Jeanne’s dad, Jean Luc, we carried inside six wooden pallets, a massive oak desk, a sofa, a mattress, a fridge, an oven, a washing machine and several bookshelves.
Jean Luc’s English is about as comprehensive as my French – that is to say, not very. This meant that while humping great lumps of wood and steel into the apartment, we had to rely on what little common language we could muster. “Attends! Attends!” I would hear Jean Luc call, his face and body obscured as we staggered beneath the stiff corpse of an unplugged fridge-freezer. And, of course, during the ten or eleven seconds it took my brain to illuminate with the recollection that ‘attends’ means ‘wait’, my insistent blind pushing would have shunted him backwards into the middle of a duel carriageway or open manhole.
The good thing about performing tedious and stressful tasks with people you don’t know very well is that you tend to remain courteous even when the washing machine you’re carrying between you lurches suddenly to the left and sandwiches your head against a lamppost with a reverberating ‘clunk’. Jeanne dodged the heavy lifting, instead busying herself with putting bedsheets on the mattresses and placing cutlery into drawers. This is a good thing. I love her very much, you see, which means I would have absolutely no qualms about calling her a stupid bell end if she were to drop a television on my little toe. Being my girlfriend’s father, however, Jean Luc could reverse over me in the removals van and I’d simply wave to him from beneath the back wheels and chuckle “Not to worry!” with whatever breath I had left in me.
The first evening we spent in the apartment was strange. We’d talked about it beforehand and both anticipated that it would be strange, but knowing it would be so didn’t lessen the strangeness. The feeling can best be summarised as ‘now what?’ We sat on the sofa and arranged the pallets just-so to craft our new coffee table, and then we looked at each other, and we looked around the cavernous living room, naked without curtains or decorations of any sort. We thought about what it all meant for us as a couple and as individuals, and we pondered aloud where our lives might be heading, and what life might look like in a week or a month or a year, and whether we would find jobs here, and whether we would be okay, and whether we could be happy, and after a mutual shrug we resolved to do the only thing you can do in such a situation: to switch off the lights and head out for a beer.