Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing a story based on Peter Pan has its origins in convincing my younger sister and her friends that I could read the secret messages that PP left in the sidewalk in front of our childhood home. My short stories have appeared in a local literary journal, Contexas, and I have received prizes in several writing categories presented by the Greater Dallas Community of Writers. I no longer receive and interpret communication from Never Never Land.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Paris Diary: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I am up too late and have drunk too much. Those were my first thoughts on the Rue Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris on the last night of my trip. Could it really be Robert Pattinson on the street corner ahead of me, drawing slow breaths that illuminated the tip of his cigarette? I blinked. Surely only someone with an uncanny resemblance. I walked on.

I needed to turn on the Rue de la Cite to reach my hotel, yet he stood in the way. As I approached I could see that the stranger’s clothing was disheveled. Perhaps he was only a good looking clochard, but without the troublesome mental illness. I turned the corner giving him ample space.

As I got closer, he stepped out of the shadows and I stopped. He extended his hand, offered me a cigarette. I refused. “Je ne fume pas,” I told him in my limited French. When I noticed something dribble from the side of his mouth, I dismissed the crimson color as anything sinister. Perhaps a bit of ketchup? The McDonald’s isn’t far from there. I pointed out the place on my own lip and he reacted, dismayed, then wiped it away. His fingernails were longer than I would have expected.

In heavily accented English, he asked, “Are you alone? Perhaps I can escort you to your home.”

“Non, merci.” I was unusually calm and tuned out the panic screaming from someplace deep in my subconscious. Perhaps I had consumed far too many vodka shots. “I’m fine.”

“Are you certain?” Deep ridges formed between his eyes and a large piece of skin flaked away from his forehead.

I narrowed my eyelids and looked more closely at the peeling skin with unexpected ease. A few moments before he’d appeared taller than me. “I can find my own way. But I appreciate the offer.”

He smiled and his cheeks puffed slightly, though his gaze seemed more severe. He stepped aside, stretched out his hand and motioned as if he were ushering me forward. “Mademoiselle.” As he turned, I noticed the pillowy lump between his shoulders.

“Merci, beaucoup, monsieur.” I kept my eye on him as I walked by and occasionally looked back at him as he followed me. This alarmed me until I realized that he appeared to have problems keeping up. I picked up my pace, reached my hotel, and slipped through the front entrance.

The clerk handed me my key and I scaled the stairs until I reached my room and hurried inside. After I prepared for bed, I turned off the light and peered at the street below. Across the street, a dumpy figure looked up at me, drawing in another drag on his cigarette. I pulled the laptop from the bedside, turned it on, and watched the figure lumber toward the Notre Dame Cathedral in the thin strands of light from the street lamp. “Paris Diary 13,” I typed. “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”

My head was groggy as I had definitely drunk too much and was up too late. The figure in the shadows came back to me and this time I shuddered. I erased the title of the blog and changed it to “What I Avoided on My Summer Vacation.” As I closed the laptop down, a howl sounded somewhere in the distance. The blog would have to wait another time.

Something called my attention back to the view beyond the curtain just as the figure dropped his cigarette on the pavement. He ground it with one foot, then jumped up onto one of the buttresses and lithely scaled it to the roof. There he took his place amongst the other gargoyles. He caught my eye and waved

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In The Early Days

In the early days, I wanted to know physics and cell biology. After a short time I realized that no expertise could save us, because it seemed that even the experts never knew what was happening or why.

One morning five weeks before this day, I noticed the odd shape of one leg of the kitchen table, but didn’t think much about it. By the time I got home from work, the table leaned from lack of support on one side. Running from room to room as eight-year-olds often do, David eventually claimed my attention, so I propped the table up with a chair and went on about my evening. When Gabriel got home he studied it as he did every problem and came to bed with no conclusion.

Two days later, David hunched down to fixate on a small hole in a corner of his bedroom and how a few ants trailed through it. We called the building maintenance man. He shook his head and scratched his scalp and promised to return to repair it. He never did; the opening expanded but the ants disappeared.

Two weeks ago, all the animals followed. We had no pets, but the silence resonated throughout the neighborhood as if it were its own sound. No barking or loud shrieking in the night. No birds singing or crickets chirping. The accelerated pace of their lifespan must have taken them before us.

When two other holes opened up in the ceiling, we stopped ascending the stairs out of fear that the second floor wouldn’t be safe.

Everyone stopped going to work and we never left the dissolving house. For several nights we drank the liquor from past parties and duty free purchases from trips we would never take again, never sure what would be around from one second to the next. Gabriel and I ate some of what we found in the cabinets, reserving the rest for our son more finicky than usual. He fitfully slept between us. I felt the shivering that enveloped him when he wasn't expressing his fear in tantrums and whining like a toddler again.

My terror accompanied the recent thought that Gabe and I would leave David alone to fend for himself, untethered to anyone, grasping at what was left of the world and alone. I forced myself to hope that he would survive what the adults couldn’t and would rebuild the world with us, or without us.

Who knows why atoms come apart leaving empty spaces. Or why beings and objects dissolve into an oblivion that in its first moments flare like an image from a telescope in space, as these words dissect themselves until I cannot even think them anymore. Nothing is left to say, except that the three of us have entered this new world together.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paris Diaries, Conclusion: Retirement Home for Gargoyles

Didier raised his creaky and stiff body from the bed, opting not for a stretch but a scratch to the belly instead. Craving a smoke, he got up, lumbered outside to the balcony, and turned to see in the creeping sunlight his former workplace. “Pfft,” he spit out in his morning ritual of disdain.

“Didier, comment ça va?

“Ed. Bonjour. I didn’t see you there.”

A willowy and pasty man stepped close to the edge of the shadows. “Is it jour already?”

“Yes. Can’t you see the sun? I would have thought you’d be back in your room by now. Do you have a cigarette?”

Ed took a pair of sunglasses from his pocket and put them on. “Sorry. Not today. I’ve given them up for the last time.”

“Not that girlfriend again.”

“Bella? Mais non.” He drew in a breath as if he had a cigarette perched on his lower lip. “I haven’t talked with her in months. Or has it been a year?” His face slackened into his infinitely ruminating expression.

“Too bad. So, how’s your roommate?” The image came into Didier’s mind of the elderly canine, incontinent one minute, farting the next. Hard to believe that there was a time that those two actually had to fight off the ladies.

“He had a bad night. Lots of skin discomfort, I guess. I requested an ointment from the attendant, but Jacob refused to use it.”

“Why would he do that?” Didier looked around for a stray butt.

“He wants to suffer.”

“Oh, I see.” Mon dieu. For the months that he’d known them, he’d never understood l'angoisse existentielle of those two.

Didier peered over the side of the balcony to look at the gargantuan Notre Dame de Paris where he’d spent the first 700 years of his life perched on its roof, fending off challenges from the elements, torch-bearing head choppers, and ambitious rivals who’d lusted after his job. After all that time, he was forced out by mandatory retirement rules.

Ed had moved along the waning shadow to stand closer to Didier who startled at the sound of his voice. “At least you don’t have to do that anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t imagine centuries spent as a drain pipe.”

Didier resisted his urge to strike the papery chauve-souris, largely because he didn’t have the energy. “I realize that my life wasn’t as romantic as yours. Although I did get more than my share of female attention.”

“I hate to say it, Didier, but having hundreds of disposable cameras take your photo does not really constitute female attention. What?”

Didier felt the steam rise from his hunched back. “Why are you out here, Ed?” He reached into a crevice between the bricks and discovered a half-smoked Gauloise Blonde. The find took the edge off of his growing annoyance.

“Waiting for Roger. He promised me he’d bring me breakfast. Ouch!” Didier glanced over to see Ed pressing his palm against his forehead. He’d moved a little too far out of the shadow again and the sun had singed his scalp under his thinning hair.

Didier leaned over further to look down at the street. “That’s Roger there, and he’s brought someone with him. Now she’s a looker. Not that I’ve ever paid attention to that sort.”

Ed showed some definite interest. “A red head. She appears imported.”

“Um, c’est posible. “ Didier slapped a hand on Ed’s shoulder. “Come, my friend, let’s get you back to your room. You have a busy day ahead of you.”

Ed pulled a match from his pocket, struck it against the brick wall, lit Didier’s cigarette, and smiled. “Something to look forward to.”

* * * * *

Bridget pulled the catalog from the seat pocket and thumbed through it, waiting for the final few people to board the plane. She grew impatient for the electronic devices announcement so that she could get back to the book on her e-reader, one of several books she’d planned to finish over her time in Paris. Who would have known the trip would have been so eventful? Find love, lose love, find love again, then realize that she had nothing in common with the museum ticket-taker and finally getting creeped out at his insistence that she meet his elderly uncle in some retirement home. The latter put an end to the doomed love affair.

The tarmac glistened from the glaze of rain that fell all afternoon. Bridget watched the ground crew prepare in the dark for the plane’s departure and decided that she was truly happy to finally be going home. Not so happy when the credit card bills finally arrive, but she already had an email evite from friends for happy hour at Dave and Buster’s later that week to distract her.

“Excuse me, Miss?”

“Of course. I’m sorry.” Bridget pulled her purse from the seat next to hers.

“No problem.” A very debonair man took his seat beside her. He seemed to notice where her gaze had settled. “A little too much sun this morning.” He arranged his hair to cover the red spot on his forehead.

Bridget shifted nervously. “I’m sorry, that was rude…”

“Are you going home or leaving?”

The man’s English accent mesmerized her. As she watched him now, he seemed to be much younger than she’d originally thought. “Going home. Back to Texas.”

“Texas.” He said the word as if it was the first time he’d realized where he was going. “Yes. I hear it’s a very nice place.”

Bridget thumbed through the magazine without paying attention to what was on the page. “Very nice. I like it there.” She extended her hand. “My name is Bridget.”

The man hesitated for only a moment as his ears detected the muffled sound of canine claws frantically scratching that came from the cargo hold of the plane. “Edward,” he said, extending his own hand. “My name is Edward. Enchanté.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paris Diaries Part III: Centre Pompidou

The cup and saucer clattered loudly as they dropped onto the wrought iron table top. Bridget lowered her sunglasses to glare at the unapologetic waiter who had deposited them there. He slipped away with a scowl.

Bridget immediately stopped mulling over what she’d done this time. Or, more specifically, what she’d said or how she’d said it or how she’d said it incorrectly. She doused the coffee liberally with sugar and trained her gaze on the parade of people walking briskly down the boulevard St-Germain. As much as she didn’t want to let the rudeness of her waiter mar her sunny afternoon, she was steamed. Here it was, the halfway point of her long-awaited trip to Paris. She’d been stuck for hours in Gander, Newfoundland when her plane was diverted. The man she made the trip to meet, her lover Guillaume, turned out to be named Gunnar and was not French at all. And now her careful use of the language after weeks of study brought her nothing but grief.

No matter how hard she tried to speak French, her efforts were met with disdain. The ticket taker at the Musee D’Orsay. The waitress at the Indian Restaurant. And worst and most discourteous of all, the gelato dipper at the Rodin Museum, an insolent teenager with one flared nostril that accentuated her disgust.

Bridget mulled over her strategy for the next time this happened. And there would be a next time, she was convinced. Perhaps she would greet the snub with a loud guffaw. Or a sneer. No, too derivative of gelato girl. Suppose she threw herself on the floor and flailed about, overcome with emotion due to her inadvertent error in accent or word choice? Certainly something to consider.

The waiter returned briefly to rip off the check from the pad and drop it on the table. And a fine day to you, too, Bridget whispered to herself. She drained the cup, picked up her bag, and set off for the last stop of the day: The Centre Pompidou modern art museum.

On the street between the café and the metro stop, a van disgorged a family of escapees from Eurodisney, the children coiffed with Mickey Mouse hats and character balloons bumping against each other over their heads. The parents, a grumpy and clearly unpleasant pair, shouted orders to the driver in English as they corralled the children massing around them. Oh, to be so uncaring of the world’s opinion.

Once on the metro, Bridget got off at the Rambuteau stop, walked up the stairs and easily found the distinctive building. She purchased her ticket on the ground floor, then found the escalator encased in Plexiglas that ascended up the side of the building. She looked over the brochure and planned to start at the top with a special exhibition on hair. She checked the dictionary to make sure. Yes, an exhibition on hair.

“This is not the ticket for this exhibit,” the ticket taker with a shock of maroon tresses said firmly as she clicked her tongue, immediately speaking to Bridget in English. “You must go downstairs and buy the correct one. This is to the third floor.” She reached over to the person behind Bridget, pushing Bridget aside with her elbow. “Downstairs” she said again firmly without looking at her.

Throw myself to the floor and flail about now? Bridget made a disapproving noise, the best she could manage, and went back down to the ground floor to purchase what she hoped would be the correct ticket. A long, long line greeted her. At the front and as before, the ticket seller insisted on speaking to her in English, even though she was sure she knew enough French to complete the transaction. She shoved the first ticket into her bag, then went back up again to the exhibition.

The maroon-headed woman no longer sat at the door and just beyond the turnstile. Instead, a man with wire-rimmed glasses and a blank stare had taken her place. He said nothing to any of those in front of Bridget, just took the tickets and allowed the next patron to pass. Then, Bridget’s eyes met his as he took the ticket from her. “This ticket…”

“What?” she snapped. “This is the wrong ticket?” She had never spoken English with such conviction. “I explained downstairs to the little toad at the ticket counter just exactly what I wanted. And I supposed you will say that my French isn’t good, that I should just stick with sign language and, hum, maybe semaphore? You know, flags? I don’t know just who you people think you are, but you could show some respect to someone who is trying very, very hard to communicate with you. Is that too much to ask? Huh, buddy? Too much for you?” She came close to mentioning how their French behinds were saved in the last world war, but stopped herself given that her knowledge of history was not great.

The ticket taker continued the blank stare, saying nothing for several minutes as Bridget, to her disappointment, felt the warmth of blood rush to her cheeks. Just as she was about to apologize and find out exactly what was wrong with the ticket she purchased, the ticket taker spoke.

“The ticket is the exhibition that close in fifteen minutes. We will go for coffee.”

Bridget’s eyes widened. “Coffee? Sure.”

He tore her ticket in two. “And what is toad?”

She smiled. “Nice man. Bon homme. I’ll be back in 15 minutes then.”

As Bridget walked through the door, she felt elated as she moved quickly from one bizarre hair display to the other. Her annoyance flitted away and she felt her fortunes change. Maybe this was the Frenchman she had really come to France to meet. C’est le destin.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Paris Diaries Part II: On the Banks of the Seine

We left our intrepid traveler as her plane detoured to Gander, Newfoundland. She has finally reached her destination.

From her seat on a bench not far from the Pont des Arts, Bridget watched Guillaume clutching a cell phone and tossing his arm around as he paced the bridge. His very dark sunglasses, feathered by his mussed but not really fashionable hair, concealed his once enticing and now beady eyes. How could she have been so wrong about him?

Her thoughts turned to finances. The only hotel she could find was the Ritz at $700 a night. Five nights would wipe out her savings. It was so worth it.

From the bridge where he paced, Guillaume waved, catching her off-guard. She waved back. He turned around and returned to the conversation. Did he suspect that she knew his secret? He didn’t let on.

Back in the United States, his presentation of flowers on bended knee had caused her to lose her every bit of common sense she possessed. His name: Guillaume Bongrande? How about “Malpetit” instead? More truthfully descriptive.

That morning, the day after she arrived in France, he’d left early with the suggestion that they should meet for lunch. She thought he meant at a cafe, not a lame picnic of half a baguette and cheese slices from the supermarché, accompanied by a half-bottle of wine. Beyond where he stood: the Tuilleries Garden. The cafes there probably had something she could afford to eat. Anything was better than this. She kicked the sack of food.

As he left that morning, the attractive young neighbor Sophie, whom Bridget vowed not to intensely dislike, passed Guillaume and whispered: “Quel abruti.

“Excuse me?”

Instead of apologizing to Bridget when Sophie realized that she’d overhead her, she instead added more loudly, “Idiot! He’s an idiot! And a fraud.”

“Why do you say that?”

Holding her empty garbage can in one hand and brushing away her unruly hair with the other, Sophie said, “Because I like you, I will tell you the truth.”

Bridget had expected to hear a tale of infidelity, of un tren sans fin of women coming and going from the apartment. “What is it?”

“Ah, what you don’t know about this man. Can’t you tell by the accent, everything about him?” She'd stepped closer, her face just inches from Bridget’s. “He’s not French. He’s German.”

All Bridget could do was gasp.

Finally, Guillaume was off the phone and coming toward her, ready to embrace and kiss her. She’d been waiting for that moment all morning. “Are you ready to eat?” he asked her.

“I’m not interested in lunch.” She looked at her watch. “And I have somewhere else to go. But I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

His face wore a knit of brow and a mouth slightly agape.

She got up from the bench. “Au revoir. Or perhaps I should say, Auf wiedersehen, mon cher. Dieter.” He said nothing more but simply watched her walk away.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Paris Diaries, Part I: Gander

In every group of strangers, there is at least one person who will not be quiet.

“You know, I was going to bring sneakers, but I decided instead to pack three pair of sandals and a pair of boots. You have to have a lot of room for boots, so I had to bring another suitcase for my sweaters.”

Bridget tried to bury her face in the pillow and pulled the airline blanket over her head in a vain attempt to silence the incessant chattering. According to the big clock on the wall, it’s 2:30 in the morning. “Two thirty in the morning!” she wanted to shout to Chatty Cathy. Alternate strategy: think of Guillaume.

Guillaume, who waited for her somewhere in the Paris suburbs. The possibility of soon being with him enriched her libido. In all their phone conversations and email exchanges, Guillaume insisted that the two of them would spend all their time together in his apartment, all ten days of her trip.

“And I went out and bought two new outfits. I know I shouldn’t have. But they were so cute, and 10% off.”

Tiffany. Chatty Cathy has to be named Tiffany.

Instead of being an hour away from landing in Charles DeGaulle Airport, she, Bridget Meyerson, found herself trying to sleep on an orange naugahyde couch in a large, bright room. She never expected to end up in the airport in Gander, Newfoundland where the plane was forced to make an emergency landing. The pilot had assured the passengers that there would be another plane along soon to pick them up and take them the rest of the way.

The airport staff was very cheerful there, but their courtesy and helpfulness couldn’t replace the fact that Bridget wanted desperately to be in Paris, in Guillaume’s apartment, where they would spend the entire ten days of her visit. Except that likely they would emerge to enjoy a lovely dinner in a bistro or drink a cup of café au lait or a glass of wine at a sidewalk table while they watched people going by, commenting upon them in whispers before returning to his apartment.

“You know, Brad wants me to send him postcards, but you know, I told him that we didn’t have that much free time and, besides, we’re broken up anyway. Do you like these shorts?” Tiffany again. So nice to hear her broadcasting her life from across the room.”

Bridget sat up and caught the view of a pair of strawberry milkshake legs wearing abbreviated black shorts, the legs lined with a pink ribbon. “I took the bow off this leg. Do you think I should have taken off the bow?” Another woman her same age knelt at her feet, a sleepy look in her eyes. Neither one of them appeared to be more than 21.

Bridget eased back down. It would be ridiculous to go to Paris and not spend a day in the Louvre. She wanted to see the Mona Lisa and the classical Greek statues. And especially the painting by Delacroix, “Liberty Leading the People of 1830” depicting a courageous bare-breasted woman urging a bevy of men into battle. She’d never forget how exciting that painting was when she first saw it on her only other visit to the city, on her senior whirlwind trip through Europe.

Bridget wished that Guillaume planned to meet her at the airport; instead he’d suggested that she take the subway to his apartment, only three changes of line to get there, very easy.

Bridget met Guillaume, a tall dark haired striking man in very tight jeans, who came into the restaurant she was auditing as part of her job in financial management for a mid-level food chain. He flirted with her mercilessly, and one thing led to another thing until, after two intense days together, she found herself taking him to the airport and engaging in regular email exchanges with him in preparation for the trip.

Bridget wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, to have a picnic along the Seine. She wanted to pretend that she lived there as she passed the cheese shops and markets.

“Glenn says he’s interested, but he only calls me everyone once in a while. He’s such a jerk. Do you like these gladiator sandals? These are my favorite pair.”

So why did Guillaume spend all of their last phone conversation asking her about her last day in Paris and how she’d get to the airport? He never once offered to take her. Once in passing he had mentioned how he might have a “work-related commitment” for a couple of days during her stay and would she mind a hotel during that time as his hours would be very erratic?

Bridget wanted to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. She wanted to eat an éclair. She wanted to turn “Liberty Leading the People of 1830” into a screen saver for her computer.

“Isn’t this great luggage? I got it for Christmas from my Aunt Madison.”

Bridget loudly beat the pillow and growled. Guillaume est un idiot.

Bridget wanted to visit the Moulin Rouge. She wanted to see Le Can Can. She wanted to go to Euro Disneyland.

A woman’s voice came over the loud speaker. “Universal Airlines passengers to Paris. We are sorry but the plane to continue your journey has been delayed. The airline wishes to express its deepest apologies. Unfortunately, there is no one here to help you. Airline staff never comes this far north.”