The girl in the brown pyjamas shuffled through the closet, flinging aside hangers, plucking out pants, blouses and belts, biting her lip the whole time. It was as if she were a mad composer, intensely focused, with her arms gliding through the air. It was as if she played a giant, stringed instrument with her two small hands – an angel at the invisible harp, playing jazz.
“You’re going to get me killed.”
She slid open the mirrored door and began to dig through the closet.
“Can’t you just wear what you had on last night?”
“Stop worrying man. You’ll be fine.”
She tossed over a few pairs of heels on the bed – black, red, cream; spikes, blocks, open toes – then stood up to prospect her mountain.
“She’s back in a few days.”
She glared at me with a cocked head, and a hand on her waist.
I complied, turning away to face the window. I could faintly see Jane getting undressed in the reflection. Seconds later, I felt the silk garment land on my head and all turned black.
I laughed and took the pyjamas from head, keeping my eyes down and feeling the fabric between my fingers. I could hear the sounds of zippers, of shoes on the wood floor, of her sighs, the wind in-and-out her body in the feat of putting her self together. My fingers ran across something different on the fabric. I stared down to discover three initials emblazoned on the breast pocket in royal blue: “M.K.R.” And I said nothing to the woman I was calling Jane.
“Hand me my hat, would you?”
I picket up the green fedora and handed it behind my head.
“Alright man. Let’s go.”
I turned to see her posing with her arms at her sides. Her lips, painted the same Lolita red as before, pouted below the small nose. Those tiny curtains of her eyes opened wide, framing blue puddles of glass and light. A sleeveless white blouse turned translucent in the sun, three or four buttons left undone. Gold hair brushed her naked shoulders. Charcoal hounds-tooth bellbottoms traced hips that curved like a Picasso “s”. Down at the feet, square-pegged pumps revealed her toes, those little things that had been in my mouth — painted to match her lips.
Outside, together in the sun for the first time, we walked down Lamarck and up Tourlaque, retracing the rainy, nighttime steps from a few hours before. She led the way, taking my hand as we crossed streets, then dropping it just as soon as we’d get to the other side.
We turned onto Rue Lepic and passed the red-painted bar where we had met. I saw the bar tender inside, wearing a black shirt again, busy getting ready for the rush of noon.
“Where we headed?”
“To my place, to grab my keys for my other place.”
“You have two apartments?”
“One’s his. Ours. But he bought it years ago. The other’s my old place.”
“You kept it?”
“My sister took it after I moved in with Jacques. With him.”
“Your sister’s here?”
She stopped walking and turned to look at me.
“She came here a few years ago to follow in my footsteps, you know. Do what I was doing.”
She started walking again and I caught up to throw another question at the back of her head.
“And what did you come here for, your man?”
She stopped again. This time she looked up at the blue-white sky.
“Study at the Sorbonne! Fall in love with a French man! Live the life!”
She was practically jumping, flourishing her arms at every point.
“You know, every girl’s god-damned dream.”
She led the way again as we passed Café Le Nazir. I saw the table where I sat the night before, with Allisón, where I had chatted about all the things two strangers in Paris chat about, before the goodbye at the door of the Metro, receiving the thwack of failure that sent me tumbling into the bar and onto that stool, to order that first beer, next to the blonde girl, with the leather pants, and the green hat.
As we walked, we were like two dancing magnets: coming closer one second, my hand cruising onto her waist. Then she would push ahead, leaving us apart. A few steps later, she’d slow down, to point into an antique shop, to comment on a cracked wall, over growing with weeds – she spoke in French in these times. “Regarde” she’d say, a finger outstretched at the anomaly, the heavy “e” as always. We passed a boy, no older than four, who had determined to push his own stroller, to the amusement of his mother, and Jane messed up his hair and said “mais regarde toi,” laughing and looking back, with a smile I hadn’t known she possessed. I would be compelled in these moments to get close again, and her hand would fall into my hand. Though an instant later, she’d unbuckle my fingers from hers, and move on, coursing ahead as if no one was there alongside her.
Finally, she stopped, she looked up, she pointed to the balcony on the top floor of a tremendous white stone building, and she said: “That’s me.”
“He’s supposed to be.”
“You want me to come up?”
“He’s not going to do anything with you around.”
She entered the code to open the door.
“…at least I hope he won’t.”
She walked in before I could say a word. It was a beautiful, old building, with ornate black and cream marble floors leading to the antique elevator. The mirrors showed me with Jane, and I wished I had shaven, or worn better clothes. We took the small lift up to PH and, exiting, we walked down a hardwood corridor to the last door on the left. Jane’s place.
“If he starts anything, just stay cool and say nothing. He’s not usually the violent type but he’s got a short fuse, you know?”
Jane went in and I stood looking at the open door, just as the breath that belonged in my chest seemed sure it wanted to be every else. I walked in and saw huge floor-to-ceiling windows bending in light onto dark wood floors, antique couches, chairs, and armoires. A rack at the entrance with at least 20 pairs of men’s wingtips shoes, all different colours, all polished recently and sparkling in the light. That’s the last thing I remember before seeing him come into the hallway, and looking up to meet his eyes.
“Who the ‘ell’s dis? And what the ‘ell you wearing?”
“That’s my friend – these are his wife’s clothes. Apparently I couldn’t fucking get to my closet this morning.”
“Hey, how’s it goin’?”
That wasn’t how I wanted to act, but the words, so pointless, came out anyway.
He was clean shaven, hair slicked back and fresh. He wore a suit, thin tie, and a brilliant hazel pair of wingtips. I looked down at my shoes. Old Chuck Taylors, totally destroyed, dirty. My shirt, unironed. I brushed a hand over my hair trying to pat down a cow lick that I had seen in the mirror. He glared at me a second then turned to face Jane.
“Can I talk to you in there?”
He said something to her in French, which I couldn’t hear.
“Take a seat man – just going to be a few minutes.”
I walked into the living room at sat on the large leather couch. I heard them arguing behind the door of a bedroom. He was angry. She was unapologetic. I couldn’t hear their words but that much was clear. One loud deep voice, full of incredulity. The inability to understand the situation. The woman’s voice – vengeful. The woman’s voice full of “you mother fucker.” Not disbelief, but patronizing. How can you be so wrong, it said, how can you be so blind, it impressed.
But there was no way to hear exactly what they said without standing from the couch, which I dared not do. So there was nothing to do but look around. Clearly a place kept by a maid. Beyond those uncommonly tall glass windows – windows you’d only see in a painter’s studio – was a terrace the length of the flat, stuffed with plants, vines and iron. One wall was dedicated to photos of the two of them, revealing a love of ski (goggles and white suits and the white peaked Alps), beaches (Jamaica, coconut drinks, boats and bikini), and New York (central park, Fall, black peacoats and naked trees.) Huge canvasses hung from other walls – modern, abstract, no landscapes. It was the place of the rich in their 30s – young enough and yet powerful enough, style and yet cold.
The door opened from the bed room, and I was not happy to see it was only Jaques to come out, and Jane no where to be seen.
“You want a drink?”
He poured us two whiskeys into crystal glasses, and came to sit across from me.
“Santé,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Women are fucking crazy, guy.”
“They can be.”
He stared at me from above his glass as he drank. I drank mine and felt the whiskey come into me hot, and I drank again, and felt my chest relax.
“So you married, guy?”
“I don’t believe dat for a second.”
“Look, I’m just here as a friend.”
“And why ‘da ‘ell she need a friend?”
He put down his glass.
“What she tell you?”
I drank again hoping the whiskey wouldn’t end, but I finished the drink and I stared at the naked bottom as I spoke.
“Whatever it was is a fucking lie, I tell you dat much, guy. Everything she do is a lie.”
He returned to the bar, picked up the crystal whiskey carafe and walked over to where I sat to pour me another shot. He stood looking down at me.
“She’s gonna get bored. She always does.”
He finished his first drink and put the glass down.
“I say to you: Bon courage. More trouble den she worth, tu sais?”
I had seen men like him so many times. In Toronto at the squash club. The bankers at the bars after work. The men who worked until their eyes bled. The ones who brought in prostitutes, then went home to their nameless wives. What rage did I feel toward him had only some to do with Jane, with the woman I loved the second my eyes found her. But I thought more of these men, these men who’d I seen so many times, who I’d never understood, who I saw now, in front of me, in his kingdom. He was looking me over. His fine suit. My shitty, beat up shoes.
“I think you’re a fucking idiot.”
“I think you’re a fucking idiot, tu sais.”
I stood up from the couch holding my glass.
“Look around, mec, look how you live. Look at that girl, there, see her?”
I pointed to the picture frames. I saw Jane’s white teeth smiling beneath those ski goggles. Her tremendous joy and beauty in the autumn of New York, wrestling with her man, in love, with yellow leaves in her hair.
“And how the fuck you can treat a girl like that, how the fuck you do with a girl like that, what you did, whatever the fuck you did, I can never understand.”
I thought then of my girl. And of Jane. And the two of them were the same person at that moment. And to him, and myself, I spoke to at the same time.
I will never understand it, you coward. How the fuck could you?
He came close to me. He said nothing. But he was grinning. His head shook. I had the choice to stop or keep going, but really it was no choice. My head said to relent, but what ever fuel and booze was in my blood impelled me to continue.
“Look, man,” I placed my hand on his chest – it was strong, it was clear he worked out.
“I don’t know her. I don’t know you. But I can see you don’t have any idea what you have. I don’t need you to tell me bon courage, mec, I tell you bon courage. I don’t need your courage. You’re the loser here.”
He grabbed my shirt with both hands. He yanked me close. I could smell the whiskey on his breath.
“T’es rien qu’une merde. A piece of dirt. I fucking kill guys like you.”
He spoke with a low, calm voice. He never stopped smiling.
“You’re nothing but shit.”
He pulled me in very fast, and jammed his knee into my stomach. I reeled forward. He threw me backwards, sending me tumbling over the couch. The whiskey glass in my hand soared across the room and shattered on the floor. Seconds later Jane rushed out.
“What the fuck Jacques?”
Jane was dragging behind her a large suitcase. She stopped beside where I was on the floor. I shook away the hand she offered me to stand up. There wasn’t much pain. Just no breath. I stood up and felt the blood rush to my cheeks.
“You better get that kid outta ‘ere.”
“Keys,” she said.
He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a ring of keys.
“Just don’t come crawling back asking for my ‘elp. You’re not gonna get it.”
He tossed the keys like a piece of trash and they landed at her feet. She picked them up.
“Don’t worry about that asshole.”
"You’re just a fucking loser, tu sais?”
She looked at me.
We didn’t speak in the small elevator. Jane stared everywhere but my direction. I saw the profile of her jaw, her flitting blue eyes, her neck.
“Let me take that.”
I reached for the suitcase as the elevator stopped but Jane shook her head and grabbed it herself, and walked out into the marble hallway. I saw myself again, trailing behind Jane, in the mirrors, and smiled as I held my stomach. Outside, Jane hailed a taxi and she threw the bag in the trunk without the driver’s help.
“72 Rue Boursault,” she said as we climbed in. “Batignolles.”
The car took us racing away from the building. Jane wasn’t smiling but she wasn’t crying. From across the seat, with our two bodies not touching, she reached over and grabbed my hand. I placed my other hand on top of hers and that’s how we stayed, not speaking, driving out and away from the streets of Montmartre, with the taxi radio playing classical music, each of us, Jane and me, looking out our windows at the passing cafes, the tourists, the boulangeries and all the rest of the living streets of Paris.
“Thank you,” she said, and that was all she said.