I haven’t heard from you since November. I know you’re not near a post office though. It’s hard to send mail out when you’re working so much. You live so far away now that I make myself understand these complications. I think about you when I walk out my door, every time I get in bed with the crossbar that digs into my back. I think about you every time I eat pain aux raisins and look at the opposite end of the Pont des Artistes as if from over your shoulder.
The Café du Loup across the street has finished redecorating. Large families of tourists clean dirty young mouths and noses with their handkerchiefs. Old locals are getting drunk, playing guitar, and philosophizing. As if it’s not special, no one comments on the blooming flowers, though it is hard not to notice when they have almost all opened within a week. The tiny pink petals swirl and make eddies on the sidewalk after falling from the heavy trees above.
I remember the way your skin felt – like the pavement in this rain. I slipped this morning when I left the apartment. For hours, something between mist and droplets moisten the world. With no plans to go anywhere, I found myself at this café by Montparnasse. Out of habit and sit on the terrace outside where it is warm and cold. They haven’t taken down the heating lamps for the wintertime smokers. The very warm-blooded come to smoke and drink a long verre of cassis. May wind upsets the napkins on the abandoned table next to mine, much colder than it should be at this time of year. The clouds heave overhead. I am relieved to feel a storm coming. Here there are no tourists, no babies, no tirade of languages. It’s no Café du Loup that bustles across the constantly clotted Boulevard.
You promised to come just for a few days in the spring to see the flowers bloom and feel the temperature rise day by day. If you had come it would not be raining every day like it has been. I hear the raindrops hit harder now beneath the plastic ceiling. Little rivers make their way through the gutters. Frantic Parisians take their umbrellas out avoiding high-heeled slips or wet clothing. It’s a hopeless attempt at staying dry, but they go through the motions anyway. A little girl in a pink peacoat jumps into a puddle soaking her little white dress at the lacey edges. Her mother waves that warning finger in the child’s face. A trim man with rough hands spills water on his lap and jumps up. My throat is dry and I cough. I am anxious or I am getting sick. Your father always told you that you were not good for anything but punches, but I thought you made wonderful paper airplanes and flew them well. You would fold your napkin into tight origami shapes. You made the most intricate planes with paper wings and tails and the one with the propeller in the front, though it didn’t fly well. You said if it had a little paper engine it would do just fine. But we knew that engines couldn’t be paper.
The last time I saw you, you stood before the judge with the gendarme behind you in the Cour d’Accuiel of the Palais du Justice. The officer wore a gun and thick black pants. A frown was stuck beneath his disinterested eyes. The lawyer had a long black cloak and a white toque. He conferred with you before the hearing, telling you what to say, but when it came time for you to speak you could not raise your voice above a whisper and it shook. You were about to cry.
You always cried when you were drunk. You came home quietly and would sit at the
table with a glass of water. You put your head in your hand like you were trying to think, but you were weeping, the table squeaked with your sighs. We never talked those nights. You were drunk the night that you fought the knobby Russian. You had a bulging lip and your hands trembled with adrenaline.
I came to visit you at the prison where you stayed the night. You said they called you a son of bitch – ‘putain:’ a slut, they called your mother. They shoved your hands behind your back, that’s when you broke your wrist. It was black and blue for almost a month. We made a cast out of cardboard that you kept dry with a plastic bag. You told me you would have to leave the country after this and those two thefts. You’d have to go back to Morocco and I should stay in Paris like I had never met you at all, living life as I had always done before. The streets become monotonous.
I figure you are busy with heavy work under that hot Moroccan sun now. I imagine you living where you can lounge on the roof of some bronze colored building in the evening and watch the moon turned sideways, with its toothy smile. Sitting in this Café makes me think of you and I remember when you said that you would come in the spring. I felt underdressed in jeans and white dirt stained sneakers spoiling the mahogany benches of the boxy courtroom. There was no need to get dressed up for such a grim event. I refused to give the day attention with silk stockings and high heels. All the people in the courtroom held an air of importance, writing words, peering through their heavy thick-rimmed glasses at your sharp dark face. They made you tell them everything. It all came coughing out like a pit in a child’s throat. And later with a clear voice that trickled in my ear, the way water sometimes does, “just tell me when the flowers start to bloom,” you told me, “and I’ll come.”
Irene Lee’s work aims to build strong and loving community through books, parties, and education, from the most intimate form of connection as reading stories to the most communal as music and dance. She has published the zine SETS, an art book, Lost Cities (that has a corresponding ebook), and Spells: Dreams. She is also part of a feminist publishing group, Fine Dress Press. Irene also creates programming and assists in directing the East Harlem site of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, serving children ages 9-13.