Paris is Raining
Water is raining down Montmartre, rivulets leaking to the Seine. Josep feels like a martyr, the slow torture of wet feet. The stitching of his leather shoes is rotting; that’s the kind of winter it has been. Paloma hugs his left elbow with her two impatient hands and leans her head on his shoulder like Suze Rotolo as they go freewheelin’ to déjeuner. Little birds scatter from a puddle, a flurry of wings, les oiseaux she says under her breath, in kinship. She could live on bread and butter, and strong coffee, bien sûr.
Paloma and Josep sit silently, side by side in a black car, each watching a world blur away through tinted glass. Her hands worry in the nest of her lap like brood mates. His spine is a ramrod. The world is desultory, patches of olive and dun and abandon. Her ring is a dew claw — functionless, prone to catching on things, to getting caught.
Josep Is Away
Paloma is crossing the Pont des Arts. They took down the iron grillwork and the thousands of love locks. The brass Abloy with J+P scratched into the side. Last fall they locked it beneath the third streetlamp and tossed the key in the Seine. It is too hot for September, 30 and humid. Paloma stops, scratches at the bandage wrapped around her left wrist and hand, pokes her fingernail under the flesh-toned wrap and rakes at the skin of the back of her hand. A pigeon flies off with something in its beak. She is staring into the water, how it flows around the footings in ripples that are never urgent. Beyond the shadow, the surface of the water is too bright, full of sky and clouds.
She runs down the slope into the greenhouse and pulls the door behind her with one fluid gesture, a blind demi-pirouette. Click of latch. Warm moist air on her flushed cheeks. On the surface of her eyeballs. Breathe. Breathe. Life should not be a battlefield. Life should be a garden.
They debated the most trivial questions just to fill the spaces: Is enthuse a legitimate word or an awkward contrivance? Is it possible for a woman to fully appreciate Sometimes A Great Notion? Is true love verifiable or merely theoretical? They met at a party in Newport Beach on the longest day of the year. By midnight they were lying on the slant of wet sand above the ebbing tide, pants around their ankles, half-numb from beer, he was on top of her, and all she knew was the smell of rotting seaweed, the sound of surf, and something hard and rough scraping the skin of her lower back.
Today’s the last day of summer. They spend it riding buses, criss-crossing patterns over the length and breadth of L.A. on a single fare, taking another transfer chit each time they get off, then boarding the next bus going the other way, riding on and on and never arriving, until finally, as the sun sinks into the Pacific, a perfect red kickball, they say goodbye and walk their separate ways.
He is flying east again, thinking about his ex-girlfriend. She was a perfect cupcake, just the right size, with frosting. Toenails like tiny fire engines. Watching the little screen, no sound, noticing the way the actress enunciates, the way she flips her hair. He thinks of her naked with her hair pulled back off her face, her cheekbones and pointy chin. No free pretzels anymore. The woman in 22D has trail mix. She used to bring him cookies, little treats, let him finish her meals. The pills help his anxiety but don’t stop the sadness. The turbulence is smoothing out. The flight attendant glides up the aisle like a dancer, away from him. He can’t bear to watch them do those hand motions indicating the locations of the overwing exits. From 22C he cannot see the famous skyline, the oil tanks like a field of ripe watch batteries. He looks at the models in the magazine ads. He will continue to age, but she will always look the same in his memory, except smaller and farther away.
They say biting your nails is a kind of O.C.D., the good kind, I’m sure, he says out loud, surprising himself with the momentary unfamiliarity of his own voice. He would trade his kind in a heartbeat, that of counting the tiles on the floors of unfamiliar bathrooms, measuring with his eyes where he would put a cot if this space enclosed a simple cabin.
He drinks more than three cups of coffee a day, elevating his risk for blindness caused by exfoliation glaucoma. If this were his cabin, seven by eight feet with a bed opposite the sink and paper towel dispenser, he’d have no trouble navigating it blind.
They say that Michigan is a pleasant peninsula, but he knows it’s nothing at all like Florida.
He drove the rusty pickup west, cooler on the passenger seat and spit can between his knees, past all the towns that start with B, to her cabin on that little trout stream west of Missoula. The had met last summer on a fire crew. She could swing a Pulaski like nobody’s business. She went maybe a buck-ten soaking wet, but she had the timing, knees and wrists like cracking a whip. This would be their first time since.
The dry snow crunched underfoot like fresh celery. Inside, his glasses fogged up, but he heard her voice, sweet as sorgo, and felt her hands on his shoulders and chest as she helped him out of his coat. They sat by the wood stove, reacquainting. She pulled her sweater over her head in one neat motion. He saw the fine hair in her arm pits, golden like prairie grass after the first hard frost.
Of course he needs specially tailored clothes, but at least he can pay for them now, not like when he was a child wearing crude home-sewn pants. He waltzes, but can’t two-step. He never learned to ride a bicycle, but now he’s a Formula 1 driver, with one foot each for the gas, brake and clutch. He is banned from the three-legged race at the company picnic for having a leg up on the competition.