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