The grandmother said she’d once had a drink with a famous American writer, in a Paris cafe. It was La Palette, she remembered, which was known to be frequented by artists. This was after the war. The grandmother didn’t know who the woman was at first, but when she heard her speaking English, she was relieved.
She asked the writer what she was doing in Paris.
“Getting drunk,” the writer said.
Then she went into a long story about her husband, who was still in Germany, and how they hoped to spend a weekend in Paris before returning to Florida.
She asked the writer if she was married.
“Like I said.”
We passed Avenue Louise.
“Look there, whores.”
I was a bit shocked. Not about the prostitutes, but the fact this proper Belgian woman in her mid-fifties was saying the word whores with such, I don’t know, gusto.
I guess she just liked saying it. Whores.
I close the curtain on my basement room window even though the sun is out and the people walking by they must think there’s like a junkie down here or something.
She said Kinshasa, like it held some sort of resonance.
In Africa, I’m going there, maybe Monday.
I asked if she’d ever been to Africa.
No, not really.
I need to know what it’s like, to be a stranger, she said.
Isn’t it dangerous, Kinshasa? Warring tribes, machetes, that sorta thing?
Don’t be fucking stupid, it’s like a major city.
She handed me a photo, of her on a bike, when she was young, all slow and clean.
I told you I recognize him right away. He come in looking for liquor, but I say we only got beer and he says he got enough beer, but thanks anyways. Then he’s wandering round, outta sorts like. So I ask him, you lost mister? Well he walks right over and puts his big hands on this counter and say Ma’am, I been lost real good all day. We both just about died laughing over that one.
I went somewhere with you
In my mind last night
The story took place
In a wide open space
We were killing time in Tennessee
Drinking cheap red wine
Reading books about the sea
Living on our last dime
I’m shy with your eyes
Across the river there’s a place
Red buildings in the sky
Cars pass me by
White cloud lines
Then it occurred to me
You were standing right there
Right in front of me
I’m shy with your eyes
Without realizing it, I put everything I had against the wall. Nothing left for the rest of the apartment. Like a sad hotel room.
Is this the right place?