Wednesday, August 2, 2017

IN ABSENCE OF AMNESIA - Chapter 4 by Peter Nolan Smith

That night I stopped at a disco on Rue Montmartre, intending to wait out Brigitte’s early morning departure. Philippe’s previous girlfriend danced with a natural wantonness to WARM LEATHERETTE. Her partner was a famous French singer. My eyes x-ed him from the surroundings.

Honey-hued skin covered the teenager’s long lean limbs. Lisa had possessed the same boyish body. Candia noticed my staring and I turned to the bar. The cold beer in my hand was empty and I would have left, if Candia hadn’t accosted me.

“Your friend Che says you’re good in bed.”

“She was exaggerating.” Lying was more like it.

“She didn’t seem the type to joke about sex.” A finger toyed with a froth of golden hair. “And I saw the way you looked at me.”

"My cousin says you can tell how someone fucks by the way they dance.” I was trying to scare her from any entanglement with someone almost twice her age, but Candia simply smiled and said, “Long and hard.”

“Shouldn’t you be home?” She was still in high school.

“I’m no Cinderella.” A kiss led to my hotel, where she stripped off my clothes with teenage hunger. She emerged the victor. On sweat-damp sheets Candia said, “You weren’t half-bad.”

“Not the best?” My flesh was raw.

“My ex was huge.” She stroked me to a painful hardness and lay on her stomach with her ass in the air. “I like it from behind. It makes you seem bigger.”

I attributed the marathon to her half-Puerto Rican/half Jewish blood. As she got dressed, I thought that was it, instead she said, “You have no one and I have no one. Everyone else does. Winter is coming on. I don’t like sleeping in a cold bed. You want to live with me?”

“What about love?” Staking my heart on a teenager’s whim was a risky proposal. My other choice was more of the same of the months before last night. I plyed the long odds.

“I think you know the difference.” She kissed my cheek once and went to the door. “Most men do by your age. So what will it be? Me or a long cold winter?”

“Warm in bed sounds good.”

Candia went home to inform her mother, while I crossed the river to Brigitte’s apartment. She considered my moving as a betrayal of her dog’s love. As a friend she should have wished me good luck.

“What does a man want from a woman? To be his bride? The mother of his children? What can little bitch know about love?”

“About as much as anyone.” No formula predicted the paths of the heart.

“You think sex will help you forget that girl from Buffalo?” Brigitte’s jealousy was more deep-rooted. “Fucking is not the answer.”

“Neither is sleeping alone.” I packed my bags in five minutes. Angus whined his good-bye and Brigitte asked for the keys. One word would have saved my long train ride to the 15th arrondisement, except the door shut and the TV came on to the news. I walked out of the building and caught a taxi on the bridge.

The driver knew the address. Candia’s atelier was located across from Paris’ Lost and Found Bureau. Her airy 1930s artist loft contrasted with the quartier’s dreary buildings. My house-warming gifts were a stereo tape deck and an unspoken vow of fidelity. Candia slept in my arms. My French improved in bed, although the honeymoon period had a short shelf-life.

I stole books about love and sex. The millions of words failed to solve my dilemma. Candia sensed the malaise and suggested a psychiatrist, who prescribed pills. The downers offered more emptiness and I threw them into the gutter.

We ate boudin with her mother on Sundays and dined at cous-cous restaurants on Monday. We vacationed twice in Normandy. Our reflection in the store windows mirrored those of content couples as long as I didn't look in our eyes.

Bernard and I opened a dance club near Opera. Le Reve’s plush décor harkened back to the 50s. The young rich loved the mix of soul and classic French hits stitched together by Bernard’s world hits. We hired a young black bouncer to handle the voyous. Jacques had run with several gangs from the outer suburbs. A two-year stint in prison had not ruined his smile. The young girls from the good neighborhoods thought the muscular Martiniquean handsome and came in droves to try their luck.

These beauties in turn attracted men who brought them drinks. A glass of champagne cost $20 and Le Reve coined money. A week after the opening an older man entered with two dowdy women in fluffy coats. His nose was splayed across his upper lip like a wet sox. An argument ensued with the cashier about the cover charge.

“Give one reason you don’t have to pay and you can come in for free.” I could tell he had been someone once.

“We never pay,” the ex-fighter rasped in a punished voice. “Not to un putain Amerlot.”

“Fucking American.” The insult was rewarded with an immediate response. “Jacques, escort these frogs out of the club.”

Puzzlement mired on Jacques' face and the fiftyish blonde woman glared with disbelief. She looked very familiar and I ran out to say they could come in, except they had already reached the boulevard.

“So can you explain why you threw out Brigitte Bardot?” Bernard asked at the door.

“Brigitte Bardot?” The boxer’s companion re-assembled into the legendary sex symbol as would any woman who was Brigitte Bardot.

The story of her rejection hit the morning papers and I expected the Paris Police to institute deportation proceedings, instead the passage of time had rendered the animal lover’s beauty passé to today’s youth and our business doubled with their appreciation of my indiscretion, though Bernard suggested more tact in the future.

"We will be old one day too.”

At home the story between Candia and me was fraying at the edges, for the happiness of a relationship can be measured by the distance between a man and woman in bed and my arrivals near dawn earned Candia’s back. Our lovemaking diminished to a monastic stalemate and her silence indicted every man as a potential threat.

We needed time apart and Candia spent the summer modeling in Japan. I called Tokyo every night. Her rare pick-ups mimicked Lisa’s vanishing act in Europe and my imagination painted of a pantheon of Japanese men eating sushi off her body. Sherri came to perform a series of lesbian films in Versailles. This time she was alone. Che had run off with a man.

“Why are we unlucky in love?” I asked at La Coupole Brasserie.

“We are lucky in love. It’s relationships we suck at,” Sherri eyed a fresh-faced Sorbonne student, then her lids drifted across her irises. She was treating her pain with drugs. “At least long relationships.”

“Any time I’ve been faithful to a woman, it’s ended badly.” Most of my romances had ended like a 747 cartwheeling into an Iowa cornfield.

“Any time you have been unfaithful you’ve achieved the same result.” Her remedy for a broken heart was an orgy of women topped by heroin. It was an old friend.

“Meaning?” Mine was more wine.

“Meaning you shouldn’t worry so much.” Sherri autographed a waiter’s bill. “You can’t do anything about the things you can’t do anything about.”

”Nihilism.” Nothing meant sitting in your bed alone with the clock ticking out the seconds at the speed of a 45 spinning at 16 RPMs.

“No, some things you can’t change, because they’re beyond your power.”

“So I should do nothing.”

“Something will happen when you least expect it.”

”And if it doesn’t?”

“Then I’ll push your wheelchair down the stairs when you’re 80.”

“That a promise?” Earlier would be better.

”We’re family. Remember?” At least Sherri had Boo although parrots usually outlive their owners.

“Cousin and cousin.” At 32 I should have had a wife, a car, and kids plus a dog and bills.

Every time my father called, he would asked, “When are you going to settle down?”

“You mean move to Boston and live like everyone else?”

I wish I had a better answer and he did too, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that living with a teenager in Paris was as settled as I could manage. He was a 9-to-5 guy and loved my mother at first sight.

Candia returned in late August. We didn’t have much time left. The phone rang at odd hours. If I answered, the caller hung up.

Suspicions bred accusations bound by resentment and we would have probably broken up, except Middle East terrorists bombed Paris to gain the freedom of three imprisoned comrades.

A Sunday night explosion on Rue Faux barely scratched its target and no one had been injured, however the rest of the street got off less fortunate than the Israeli bank. The blast shattered every window on the block, charred a dozen cars, and shoved our nightclub’s ornate entrance onto the dance floor.

“On a la chance.” Bernard gingerly ran his finger over the blistered woodwork.

“Yes, we were damn lucky.” If Le Reve had been open, the casualty list would have topped a hundred. The possibility of a thirty-two year-old American heading the ‘dead’ list didn’t deter a police inspector from interrogating un estranger as the primary suspect.

“Merely a formality.”

“Do I need a lawyer?” I asked the policeman and he shook his head with a laugh. “Not unless you are guilty.”

Bernard agreed with this assessment and advised to do nothing until charged or arrested. As a French citizen he was familiar with the Napoleonic legal aberration of guilty until proven innocent. His nonchalance demeanor evaporated with the contractor’s estimate that the repairs would take at least a month.

“This is impossible.” He ranted against the sloth of French workers. A few glasses of cognac redirected his rancor to the real culprits. “C’est le guerre.”

And the war killed and maimed innocent people throughout the French capitol, while the socialist government played tough guy. Having escaped one bombing I imagined lightning wouldn’t strike twice and resumed my normal walks around the city.

Two days later I had a coffee at the Café Tartine in St. Paul. I visited the Eglise St. Gervais and lit a few candles. Old habits died hard. I walked across the courtyard of the hotel de Ville, thinking about how nice the spring sun felt on my skin.

A powerful detonation knocked me off my feet. The ringing in my ears was replaced by the cries and I ran to the post office to wrestle the wounded from the debris. At home I washed off the dust and decided to not give the terrorists a third shot and bunkered for the siege’s duration at my girlfriend’s apartment.

Candia’s modeling agency cancelled her bookings. The seventeen year-old was more bored than scared by this enforced confinement. Her phone conversations were conducted in whispers.

“We should go to America.” Only one hope existed for us.

“You think I can work in New York?” Candia’s career was in a state of stagnation, since the better-paying commercials and editorial work in France were reserved for girls with Caucasian roots.

“They love girls like you there.” A mulatto stood a better chance in America, plus a friend was the photo editor for Details and another comrade shot photos for Elle.

“New York has to be safer than Paris.”

“Fantastique. I want to visit Disneyworld.” She squealed with teenage delight.

“Yes, we can go see Mickey.” I didn’t explain Orlando was over 1200 miles from New York and reaped the benefits of that deceit in bed.

In the morning I opened the atelier windows. A soft breeze carried the traces of Africa. I listened for anything else and heard no explosions. At noon Radio Nova announced Mitterand’s government had freed the Lebanese prisoners. Hearing the news, Candia hugged a Mickey Mouse doll.

“What about Disneyworld?”

“We can go after the summer.” I had a business to run.

“You promise we see Mickey.” Her feet stamped on the floor.

“I have to check on the nightclub.” I dressed quickly. Dishes flying at my head would complete her repertoire.

“You can sleep at the club tonight, if you love that place so much.”

Her suggestion was an order to be disobeyed. Flowers and a nice dinner would earn a reprieve, but she wouldn’t forget my promise to visit Disneyworld until passing through the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom. Women have an unforgiving memory. I saw that a blessing as much as a curse.

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