Flights on the Hour
Micaela Maftei (University of Glasgow, Scotland)
It’s true, I think, you never forget your first time in Paris. I’m in Paris. So is she. Paris can go to hell.
The hotel I’m in is on some boulevard – who can remember these names? It looks an awful lot like a street I know pretty well, but I’m not supposed to say that. Whatever it’s called, it can go to hell. I left for Paris three days ago, a total of seventy-nine hours ago, in a big rush, forgetting my essential hooded sweatshirt and bringing only the secondary, less ideal one. My hiding these past three days has been, therefore, imperfect. Three days and seven hours. My girlfriend is lying on the unrented hotel bed. She is nineteen years old and over the past month and a half has gained about sixteen pounds. Her head is rolling around on the pillow, unable to find a comfortable spot. I have just come out of the bathroom.
“I can move things with my mind, you know,” she says to me.
“Why don’t you move your bra?”
“No, I really can. I was doing it when you were in the bathroom.”
“Lydia, let’s go. Let’s get out. See the city.”
“Why? If you lived here you could see it any time of day. Every day. Every single second.”
“Use your mind to move off the bed and let’s go take a walk.”
It’s ten-thirty in the morning. We’ve just had the hotel breakfast, where I eat sausages from the freezer and scrambled eggs poured out of a bag and Lydia eats four bowls of yogurt and granola. We both drink three cups of coffee, hers black, mine with one cream, four sugars. That’s not how they really do it in Paris, but that’s how we do it in Paris.
Lydia starts to roll off the bed reluctantly.
“Where will we go today?” I ask her.
“Anywhere you want. Anywhere you want. Anywhere anywhere anywhere you want. You decide in Paris. This is your Paris.”
I drop onto the bed and reach out with my neck to trap Lydia’s thigh under the back of my head. I roll into her lap, crushing her, my eyes tight. Her new gut rubs against my forehead over the waist of her jeans and I roll my head again, pushing into it, a blanket, new, soft like an unwashed sweater. She smells like towels. I rephrase it in my mind – she smells like the hotel towels. We are going to go broke in this hotel, I think, laughing inside my mind. I will pay them with Monopoly money. She strokes my head, twirls her fingers in my hair. I want to undress and destroy her and then buy her a cheap ring at the stand on the street. That seems like the best way to spend today.
“There are flights every day. Every hour. Break the bank some more. Go home,” she says to me.
“Lydia, make me leave this room and go for a walk. Let’s go the museum, the fucking… the fucking palace museum.”
“The Louvre?” She says Lew-Vruh.
“That one. Take me.”
“No. Not today.”
“Take me to the arch. Let’s see what a triumphant arch looks like. ”
“No. Not today.”
“The river. Just the river. Take me to the river.”
“No. Not today. Anyway, the water is dirty. And green. And drunks sleep there. You wouldn’t like the river.”
“Please. Take me for lunch.”
“It’s ten-thirty,” Lydia says. “I thought we just ate. Did I have four bowls of granola? Or three?” I am silent for a moment. “Three,” I decide into the top of her thighs. Then she says, “It’s not morning yet at home.”
I stand up, uncertainly at first. I have an erection from Lydia’s knowing fingers and it makes me sick to my stomach in an unsatisfied way. I hate it. It can go to hell. It’s only half an erection anyway. Who cares what half an erection thinks anyway? Lydia stands up behind me and we walk out of the room the way we walked out yesterday and the day before, and we shut the door carefully. We close the door on the unmade bed and the two dollars laid out for the cleaning lady, the same two dollars from yesterday and the day before, the wrong currency. We close the door on the piles of clothes, on the smell of socks and tears and unwashed curtains.
My mother died eight months ago. She had lung cancer and lay in a hospital bed waiting to die so that she could light up on her way to heaven. One of the last things she said to me was, “Robbie, don’t forget my silver lighter from your dad. I want it right here,” and she tapped the right side of her chest, with difficulty because it was painful. It was a ridiculous gesture since the only thing she was tapping was her deflated right breast with her grey-yellow old hands. She was sixty years old. I met Lydia three weeks before that day. The day before she died, I sat next to her bed and pretended she wasn’t repulsive and grey, victim to her own stupid habit, bought and paid for her own hurting death and taxed handsomely on it. It ended up that I forgot the lighter from being so messed up in general and when I came home from the funeral and saw it lying on top of my dresser I just about lost it thinking of all the dirt standing between her and the last real thing she asked me for.
“I know this girl,” I began. She nodded her head and flicked her eyes, the only part of her body she could move with ease, over to me.
“Her name’s Lydia.”
“That’s what your name was going to be,” she interrupted me. Her lungs hurt so bad that she couldn’t speak properly anymore. I could only understand because I sat by her bed most of the days and was used to it. I had learned her language. Most of what she said sounded like this: husshh-eroooo but I usually knew what she meant.
“I know. You told me,” I said. I did know. She had told me hundreds of times. My
mother shrugged her shoulders, painfully.
“What does she do?” she asked. Only it sounded like this: husshh-erddoooo.
“She steps on my shoes to make them dirty. She steals my bacon when we eat breakfast. And she listens to loud music.” I said wearily, listing Lydia’s three favorite habits.
“Sounds like a keeper,” my mother said, and laughed, wincing at how much it hurt. I jumped up at her wince and told her to stop laughing, which made her laugh harder and harder. I went into the hallway to take a walk.
I went to Paris with Lydia because she told me I could take her whenever I wanted.
“You’ve already been,” I said dully.
“So? That didn’t count.”
“Everything counts,” I said.
“Well, you’ve never been.”
“So I’ll take myself.”
“We leave in a week,” she said. Then she fell asleep in my bed in my mother’s house. I lived there with my sister, who was twenty-nine and in charge of everything my mother had been in charge of with the exception of being a lousy bitch, which my mother never was. Melanie, whose name was going to be Thomas until she shot out of my mother without a penis, was never home and was always leaving me notes with exclamation marks. Do the dishes!! they said. And your buddy Nick called!!! and read this book it will make you feel better!!!! on top of a copy of a book I’d read years ago. Whenever she got home late at night I’d pretend to already be asleep. The day before we’d left for Paris, there was a note with big, unafraid, bold writing on the kitchen table. It said your girlfriend is stealing my shampoo!!!!! I’d shown it to Lydia, who narrowed her eyes.
“That’s it. We leave tomorrow,” she said.
“We don’t have plane tickets.”
“How long does that take? You go to the agent, you buy a ticket. Who has all day?”
“We don’t have money,” I said.
“You go to the bank, you take out some money. I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“That’s supposed to be for the future.”
“The future is in ten seconds,” she said, patting my cheek like a Mafioso. She had started gaining weight already. I put my hand over her stomach and said, “We don’t speak French.”
She stared at me. “We’re going to Paris. They speak English there. You think they live in the past there?”
“Are you stealing her shampoo?”
“Oh, sure, you think this hair cleans itself?” she asked, waving a handful of straw-colored hair in my face. I leaned down. It smelled like my sister.
“You ask me, it’s low-class to say that. But you didn’t ask me.”
“I can go tomorrow.”
“I know,” she said.
I follow Lydia down the hall, looking outside the window at the sun. “Paris is cold,” I complain.
“Culture doesn’t come easy,” she says.
“Where do we go today?”
“Today I’ll take you shopping,” she suggests. My eyebrows rise. She hears them.
“Don’t look so shocked. You don’t have to buy a thing. Today I take you window shopping. Ok?”
“I’m not a girl.”
“You are today. Oh, I’ll take you. This is where they shop, where I’ll take you.”
“Where who shops?”
“Everyone. The Queen. This is where the Queen comes to shop. The Pope comes here to shop too. They fly over and shop. Rue de Faubourg St Honore,” she says. Only it sounds something like Rude-Father Stray.
“Do you shop there?” I ask her.
“Do I. Oh, I do indeed. I buy all my unmentionables from there. Where else darling?”
“When do we go home?”
“You go home whenever you’re ready, mon cher.”
“Please don’t speak French to me, Lydia.”
“That’s not French. It’s German. Don’t you know a thing?”
“And we’ll eat at that place?”
“Place du Tertre? No. That’s only for tourists. And it’s the completely other part of the city.”
“Please. I love the name.” For a second it actually mattered. When she was describing it yesterday, I loved the sounds and the idea of eating somewhere called Plaster Turtle.
“Not a chance. You’re no tourist. Don’t even joke.”
We walk out of her front door. We are on our way to eat breakfast at her father’s diner, over on Thirty-Second Street. The sun is trying hard but the wind is cold and I bury my face down into my imperfect hooded sweatshirt and let her lead me, blind. While I am submerged like that, I say, testing it out, “I think I might go home tomorrow.” It muffles into the cotton and it sounds like this: Ithikmy Ghom-Row.
I hear her nodding. “Or you could just call. Test out the waters. Maybe catch her before she calls the police.”
“You don’t have a long distance plan,” I object, poking my eyes out of the sweatshirt. She looks for cars while we cross the street. Without her, I would be flattened by a stream of wheels. But for her, miraculously, there is a break, a lull, an opening big enough for the two of us. She lifts her eyes over to me.
“For you? A hundred long distance plans. We call when we come home, so the time difference is right.”
I watch her eyes, looking for an explanation. Lydia grins.
“Paris,” she says theatrically, “is not for everyday. You go, you see, you walk, you shop,” she says, with a broad hand gesture on the last word, “you have un café, and then…,” she pauses, with another gesture, “you go home.”
“What about the people who live there?” I ask as we cross another street, four blocks away from Thirty-Second.
“You think they don’t go home? They go home. Where else do they go? I tell you, never envy Parisians. They have to go home every day. We, at least, had three days. Never ever ever envy a Parisian. Bring your sister an Hermès scarf, all is forgiven, she asks to see your pictures.”
“A scarf?” I couldn’t get the word even though she’d taught me. I still said Hair-May.
“They have beautiful colours this year. Not like last year. Yechh. A person couldn’t be seen in it. What were they thinking? And the way they had them displayed? They’re trying new things, you can see but it looks….awful. Inappropriate. As though they wanted to be new. Not ….not at all comme il faut,” she said. Caaaaalm-Flow.
Then she turns her head to me, her little elf head with blue eyes sitting on top of her blooming, rounded, newly soft body, the one she was still growing into, the one I felt magnetically attracted to like a baby to a flashing light.
“We’ll go to Paris in the spring. You know what they say about Paris in the spring,” she says.
“No. What do they say?”
“Oh my. You need some reading,” she says. “I will give you airplane reading for your flight home.”
And we walk into the diner where I can see her father making hash browns behind the counter, a smile before we even get in the door, her fingers laced in mine like a corset, unforgiving, supporting, desirable.
Micaela Maftei lives in Glasgow, Scotland, where she is currently pursuing a Creative Writing PhD.