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.