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French Girls

Posted on Tuesday, September 9, 2008 in Stories

He looked across the train track and saw the girl. She was wearing a long brown raincoat. Straight brown hair. Pretty. Innocent eyes. He knew she was looking at him, and right then for the first time he knew he was in France. He felt young, strong–free of the muck and the sickness of California. He knew he could go over and talk to her, or maybe just take her hand and walk away with her. The magic was there. But he wasn’t ready to start the adventure yet. No, he wanted to feel what it was like. Wallow around in it for awhile. Like enjoying the previews before the main feature started.

He could hear the train coming now. Not far away. He looked up and caught her eyes for a second, but she looked down. It was too late, and just then the train came rushing in, all powerful and steam and smoke and it came between them (just like in the movies). And he got on feeling, OK, OK, this is good.

You get a sense of direction when you’re in a foreign place. Something else takes over, and your guts and your blood and your feet just know where to go. So when he got off at the Gare du Nord he didn’t even bother to look at a map or ask for directions. He just started walking, feeling all his senses growing more alert, smelling the air.

Turn the corner…that’s right…now, down this one…picking up the pace a bit. It was getting nearer, yes, I can smell it and…there it is…34 Bois Du Bologne. The magic was working.

Looks just like I imagined. Up the staircase now. Jesus, lots of stairs. Pant, pant pant. Damn, got to get in shape. There–33B.

Knock, knock, knock.

A girl with a rather plain but pretty face opened the door. Great FRENCH eyes and straight blonde hair. She was wearing a red sweater.

“Bonjour,” she said. She looked a bit frightened.

“Bonjour. Est-ce que c’est la maison de Beatrice et Veronique?”

The girl just looked.

“Je suis un de leurs amis de Californie.” He knew his French was pretty bad but he thought he’d gotten that out OK.

“Oh! You’re the American! Come in…please.”

She pulled him in and kissed him on both cheeks and gave him a little hug, such a nice little hug, and he could tell she really meant it. She was so FRENCH, in fact she even smelled FRENCH. It really killed him. What a wonderful smell!

The room was small. Just one chamber with a bed in the middle and a tiny frig and a record player. A poster on the wall of Jimi Hendrix. There was a book on the bed. She’d been reading. And waiting.

She told him her name was Emanuelle, but he could call her Manu. She was Beatrice and Veronique’s friend and was staying in their apartment until they came home from work that afternoon. The funny part was, he didn’t really know the two sisters, Beatrice and Veronique, let alone Manu. He’d met them only briefly a year ago. But they’d written and said, “You must come and stay with us.” And now here he was in FRANCE, in their house. It was quite odd.

Manu was looking at him. “You are tired?,” she asked. “You want to sleep a little bit?”

Somehow it seemed OK, so he lay down on the bed and she covered him with a blanket. And he was in FRANCE and this strange girl was next to him and she was warm and he was tired and pretty soon he was asleep.

When Beatrice and Veronique got home they began hugging and kissing him a lot. Somehow he could feel Manu get a little jealous–just for a second. “Oh, it’s so great to see you,” Veronique said. “We’ve been missing you so much!” She wasn’t lying either.

Veronique had cut her hair shorter, and gained quite a lot of weight. She was still pretty, but he already knew there’d be no sex here.

Beatrice, on the other hand looked harder than he’d recalled. As she’d told him in her letter, the left side of her face had been scarred from the car accident. The scars looked pretty, he thought. One of them made Beatrice’s mouth pull up just at the corner. But he knew she felt scarred and bitter and not pretty.

Still, he was in a strange room with THREE FRENCH GIRLS, and Veronique was making coffee and whistling this funny little song. A bad French singer was on the record player and out the window he could see the top of the Sacre Coeur above the rest of the buildings, and the sun was pale red and he was really there.

Later that night after listening to more bad French singers and some Dylan, Manu went back to her own house. She looked a little sad as she left. Then, he took off his clothes and plopped in bed. Both sisters put on their nighties and got in on either side of him. It was crowded, but nice crowded, and they snuggled up to him and he put one hand on each of their heads and patted their hair. This was something that he enjoyed doing a lot.

They talked awhile, and he put his hand on Beatrice’s breast, just sort of lightly. And she was breathing heavily and they were both breathing now and soon both girls were asleep and he lay awake in bed with TWO FRENCH SISTERS just listening to the breathing.

Early in the morning he had to shit. So he went down the hall to the crapper, which was just this little cement room with a hole in the floor.

He squatted down and plop! plop!--let go two fast turds down that hole. And then all of a sudden he really started laughing, because he realized that Beatrice and Veronique both plopped their turds down that hole too.

Could it really be? Two French girls squatting and plopping their French turds down, down down to…where the hell did they go anyway? He imagined that there must be a giant sewer underneath all of France with the Scarlet Pimpernel and Scaramouche and the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and all those guys running around down there. And those turds would come sailing down, and the old Hunch would be swimming around and splat!–one would just miss him, and he’d curse a little and go back to reading his book. You know, he was on a little raft or something, maybe.

Every day was the same. The girls would get up, and Beatrice would lie around and show her breasts and ass, and Veronique, ashamed of her fat, would put on a robe and make coffee and whistle those funny French songs. Later, they would get dressed behind a little sort of shade. He really liked that part because it was so FRENCH. After they’d go to work he’d sit and look out the window. In the back there was a little schoolyard where a bunch of kids were playing. They were all so damn pretty, all these real FRENCH kids. The nicest part was that they weren’t yelling or fighting. They didn’t look like they’d grow up to be mean, shitty people like normal American asshole kids.

During the day he’d walk the streets, just looking. He’d walk and walk and walk. The faces of the street people were wonderful. Sometimes he’d even sort of forget where he was. It was strange. Then all of a sudden he’d remember that he was in FRANCE, living with TWO FRENCH SISTERS, and that he could go back to them at night and sleep with them. And this fact never failed to amaze him.

After a week it was time to go. He had to go visit Anne and her family in the little town of Bethune. Anne was this quiet, skinny girl that he’d met the summer before. She’d written him lots of letters on thick French paper, in handwriting that seemed very masculine for such a thin girl. She was only 15, and he thought maybe he loved her but he wasn’t sure.

He’d never made love with Beatrice but they’d kissed a lot. He liked to kiss her face, especially the scars. He thought if he kissed them enough he could take some of the hardness out of her, but after awhile heknew it was there for good.

“Bye, bye. We love you,” the two sisters said. They looked so nice.

“So long,” he said. Then he closed the door and, off in search of new adventure, he flew down the stairs.

———

He met her in the train station two months later. Her name was Monique. She was wearing a white tennis sweater. Straight black hair to the shoulder. A great face. A model’s face, but not without feeling. She looked as if she were about to cry.

To the rescue (always to the rescue), he said “What’s wrong?” Aand she said, “Oh damn, I can’t find my friend, and I’ve no place to stay,” and then she really started crying. And he patted her hair.

They walked in the rain, holding hands sometimes, until they found the address that Beatrice had given him. It was this house where her boyfriend, some English turd named Tim, who wrote rock operas or something, lived. He was on tour so they had the place to themselves.

Inside, the house was a mess. Crap all over. No heat. Rotten food in the frig. Stink stink stink. But they went to the market and cleaned the house and made a big fire and sat in front of it and drank wine and it wasjust romantic as all getout. And she was the prettiest one of all.

That night they got in the big bed upstairs, the one with the quilt on it. God, it was freezing. She was wearing a nightie and he wanted her to be naked

No, no. I…can’t,” she said. Finally, she admitted that she was ashamed because her breasts were so small. But he told her it was OK, it was OK. And he pulled it off over her head, and they were small but really pretty. She started crying and said, “No, please…don’t.” After awhile they just turned their backs to each other and went to sleep. It made him feel really lonely for some reason.

And the next day it got worse. She told him she was leaving. After the cleaning and the shopping and all the romantic stuff, she just up and left. And he was alone.

Worse, he had gotten very ill. He was coughing up lots of green stuff. Even a bit of blood. He went to the doctor who said if he wasn’t careful it would turn into pneumonia. It was a week before his plane left for California, and there was nothing to do but wait and be sick.

So every day he lay in bed and watched the one channel on TV and filled gobs and gobs of tissue with green stuff. He lay there and thought about all kinds of things. About Anne, and about Beatrice and Veronique and their turds plopping down that hole…down into the Hunchback’s house (did the Hunchback have a wife?).

Sometimes it sort of seemed like he’d made everyone up. He couldn’t seem to touch them with his mind.

In the downstairs room there was a piano where Tim, the rock opera asshole, wrote his stuff. Then one day, underneath the piano, in an old cardboard box, he found a whole shitload of love letters that Beatrice had written to Tim, the rock opera turd. They were all scrunched up and torn and there they were, stuck under the goddamned piano.

And all of a sudden he just felt so damn sad and lost and lonely–it was really horrible. The worst part was there was no reason to go back home. He was sick and his body was rotting, and yet there was no reason.

And he couldn’t figure any of it out. Why the pretty girl with the straight hair had to leave, why he didn’t care about Anne, who he was supposed to marry, why the fucking letters had to be all stuffed in that box like that, why people had to get hard and bitter and old and sick. And he knew there were no answers.

But he was growing a new moustache and this made him feel better. Something had been dulled in him, but it was hard to say what. Oh damn. That fucking house was cold.

Still, the bed had that nice quilt on it. And the piano sounded good in the empty room downstairs. So he put on the white tennis sweater–the one he’d stolen from the girl with the straight hair’s suitcase–and climbed in bed and pulled the quilt up around his neck and turned on the TV to the one channel.

And there he waited.

(c) Stuart Goldman

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