StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter One)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 10, 2013

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

(c) 2013

Image

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

First chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)1112)

CHAPTER ONE:

Montparnasse Overture

There are over 300,000 bodies buried in Montparnasse Cemetery and right now Simon Minshew is wishing his could be one of them. He’s looking down from a third-story window of an apartment building. He’s thinking, if he cranes his neck enough, he could spot Sartre and Beauvoir’s grave. He knows where they are. He went and visited them yesterday, as he has done at least a few times a week, these past two months in Paris, sometimes with a bouquet of daffodils and daisies in his arms. But today is gray and rainy and a flock of mourners, attending the burial of someone Simon does not know, have their black umbrellas opened up, high above their heads, forming a raven-wing pattern that plumes and ruffles as the mourners shift their weight from side to side, blocking out all the best tombstones that side of the graveyard.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir rest in the same tomb, though they were never man and wife and believed even less in any kind of afterlife than they did in the bourgeois convention of marriage. And Simon knows that Beauvoir was wearing Nelson Algren’s ring when she died. Still, comme c’est romantique! Afterlife or no afterlife, their ashes are interred together. Simon used to have this picture that’d be him and Pascal someday, if things had gone according to Simon’s daydreams, if Simon could have cut the figure in the world that Sartre and Beauvoir or even Pascal cut, or maybe if he’d had a college degree to boast of—then maybe Pascal’s love might have blossomed instead of withered. Was that it? Not having a degree? Or a good enough job like Pascal? Or any job anymore, for that matter? Or was it that Simon doesn’t know French? Or that he corrupts what little French he does know with innocent but egregious American crassness and a southern drawl, to boot? Pascal never narrowed it down to any one specific thing, so Simon hasn’t known what to fix or how to fix it.

Just yesterday, Simon had made a visit to Balzac’s grave in Père Lachaise. Of the over 90 or so novels Balzac wrote, Simon had stayed in nights or gone to coffeehouses and read at least 20 of them while all the other aspiring types he’d come to know back in Brooklyn and on the Lower East Side were out hitting bars or getting into whatever the latest craze was, according to Gothamist or New York or TimeOut, that month. Shouldn’t he get points not only for knowing the names of, but also for knuckling down and reading, 19th Century French novelists?

And poets! Baudelaire’s bones are right outside in Montparnasse too. In fact, Simon had to point that out to Pascal. Turns out, for Pascal, Baudelaire is just another stone in the bone orchard he yawns and looks out over while reading Le Monde and drinking un café before grumbling his way off to work with that indigenous French sour puss that Simon had come to see so much of on his own flâneur promenades and Metro rides around the city.

Too bad Georges Simenon isn’t on the list of the dead outside. If he were, then Pascal and Simon really could find something to bond over. After all, Simenon is the one who brought Simon and Pascal together.

~

Pascal wasn’t wearing a sour puss the night they met, but Simon kind of was, educating himself while everyone around him was having fun and unwinding. This was four months ago, when it was still summer in Manhattan. Simon had gone to Métier on Mercer Street after work and settled in on the patio with a liter of Stella Artois—Stella Artois, no less. It was ceremonial, a Belgian brew, custom-made for poring over a Belgian author’s work. He had brought with him a paperback copy of La Folle de Maigret, the original French-language version of a detective novel he’d read in English by Simenon, Maigret and the Madwoman. He’d bought the French version at Idlewild Books and had planned to write down the words he didn’t know (which were practically all of them) and translate them with the help of the Larousse translator app on his new iPhone. He figured, since he already knew the story, this would be a way of learning French from the ground up until such time as he could meet one or the other of his faraway goals: to take a full load of college courses, including French 101, or go live in France and gain life experience like Hemingway and Gauguin. And he had his nights free for these autodidactic pursuits now that he’d given up on love, something that had never once lasted for him, not even into months, in all his 27 years of life. He’d learned to settle for hook-ups instead, which is why he’d also downloaded a Grindr app. But he wasn’t going to troll the west-side streets for fellow Grindr users that night. For the next two or three hours, he planned to make it just himself, Inspector Maigret et Larousse.

Tables kept filling up around him with all kinds of other harried office, gallery and boutique workers shaking off the stress of the day, though it was only a Tuesday and most of them still had three more workdays to go before they could shake off all or even most of their stress. Still their dull roar made Simon feel less alone and didn’t disrupt his self-inflicted studies enough to make him want to reach for the headphones in his Brooklyn Industries satchel. He had his iPod all queued up with a classical playlist, just in case he’d need to drown everybody out with the kind of music that would keep him focused. Good thing he didn’t put on his headphones and press shuffle or he wouldn’t have heard: “Jules Maigret, a-t-il arrêté la folle?”

Now, even if those words had appeared right before his eyes in print, there’s no way they could’ve actually sounded off the pages of his book, not even if this were one of those French surrealist novels he’d heard about but hadn’t looked into yet. He looked up and found they’d come from the table to his left. As Simon took in the figure across from him, he wondered how he could have missed such a marvel coming in and sitting down (and, for a moment, he even congratulated himself: missing something so spectacular must mean he’s a good student, albeit of his own curriculum). “Simenon?” the man continued, “Es-tu un fan de ces livres?” The man’s skin was swarthy, bordering on dusky, and his frame was broad with hale muscles undergirding a gray soft-cotton dress shirt. Simon’s hand flopped away from the page it was keeping. The evening sun was shining hot onto Simon’s forehead and he hoped his skin had bronzed past the point where the sun’s rays could still brand him as the redneck he’d always be, no matter how tan he got or how much he studied up on French and haute culture. It also didn’t help that Simon replied in a honeyed twang, “Sorry, I, I don’t speak French,” which was no lie because, if he’d even known enough to say, Pardon, je ne parle pas français, he sure as hell would’ve said it. Still the man didn’t give up on Simon. He merely chortled, “Alors, pourquois lis-tu cela?” Simon’s face appeared about as mystified by the question as by the gentleman himself. This somehow charmed the Frenchman who, after pausing to smile, extended his hand, “Pascal de Brienne.” And that’s how Georges Simenon squared the deal for Simon.

Simon gripped Pascal’s hand and took note of how it was a different quality handshake than he’d ever felt, strong but somehow supple and altogether different, somehow. In fact, he took so much note, he forgot to give his own name. Pascal had to ask him for it outright. Simon apologized and said, “My name is Simon.” Pascal leaned in, “Your zurname?” Simon couldn’t remember ever being asked his last name by someone he’d just met in a bar but he gave it (must be a European thing, saying your last name, first thing, outside a work situation), “Minshew.”

Main-chou?,” Pascal nodded, “Iz zat French?”

“I don’t know,” Simon said, “It’s my stepdad’s name. I don’t know what he is.” (And Simon wasn’t about to add that, if Pastor Menard Jake Minshew ever found out he had a French last name, he’d be the last to admit it. Oh, Simon could hear Menard’s vituperations now: “Sissified…godless…with churches that’re nothing but pansy-socialist-papist-idolatry art museums, not anywhere’s near mmmyyyyy blood!”)

Et your real fazer, vat ethnic, er, origin vas he?” asked Pascal, “Pardon. I am…I am always intrigued by, er, cultures of diversity, like yours, ’ere, in, in America. I am, er, curieux to know people’s origins.”

“I understand,” Simon said, “Well, as far as my biological father, I don’t know. I never knew him.”

Pascal smiled, “He vaz a sailor?”

“No. No. He was a teenager. It was a mistake. At a keg party. After he found out, he just skipped off to some relative in Mississippi. Left my mom holding the bundle. She was a teenager too.”

“Ah! Zo you’re not from New York, you’re from Miz’ippi?”

“No. Georgia.”

“Atlanta?”

“No. Wizard’s Stone.”

“Vizard’z Stone?”

“It’s a small town. Between Atlanta and Savannah.” That’s where Simon always says Wizard’s Stone, Georgia is, even though it’s light years away from either city, both in terms of miles and savoir vivre. Population 578, it never gets so much as honorable mention, not even on the most thoroughgoing state maps. “My real dad’s last name is Wright. I guess that’s English. Prob’ly Mayflower English. But everybody’s pretty much the same in Wizard’s Stone. Scotch-Irish, English. WASPs. The south, you know. ’Cept my mom. Her maiden name’s Muller. That’s German. Guess that makes me mixed.”

“Moi aussi,” cheered Pascal, “I’m mick’sed! My mozer’s Algérienne. My fazer’s French.”

“And you’re from…Where? Paris?”

“I live zer now, yes, for many, many years. But, er, I am origin’ly from Toulouse.”

After he had confirmed that he calls Paris home, Pascal didn’t register that, despite Simon’s intent gaze, Simon’s mind had just spun off a thousand miles, not to Paris or Toulouse but way down to Wizard’s Stone, which he’d not gone back to once in the eight years since he’d first made his way to New York City, broke and barely legal. From Mercer Street, Simon alone was able to see Wizard Stone’s rickety shacks, pierced-and-tatted-up white trash, Confederate flags hanging in the windows of foreclosed trailer homes, possession charges, battered wives, Bible bangers, empty beer bottles, teeth lost to too much meth and mangy lawns of twice-dead grass. It only made sense that his daydreams had picked this as their moment to plunge him into his Deep South cesspool of origin. After all, Algerian meant Muslim, at least to Simon’s mind, where Pascal had already become for Simon the infidel paramour from Paris whom he’d love to bring down and show off, maybe even as his husband, to Pastor Menard Jake Minshew at the First Stone Mountain Calvary Baptist Church. So what if you’re only Muslim by paternal lineage and Pascal’s father wasn’t Muslim? He’d be plenty Muslim enough for Menard Minshew, who had snapped up Simon’s mother when she was knocked-up jailbait, coming into Calvary and asking if his catchpenny church had an alms closet with baby clothes in it; who had made her cast off her Metallica and Judas Priest cut-off t-shirts; who had told her to quit her cryin’ and shut her two-bit whore mouth while he jabbed in with a sewing needle a long stem of aqua-green ink at the foot of the cross tattooed on her hand, so that the cross would go from upside-down to right-side up; who had made her thank him for it once he was done; who had made her into a housewife straight out of some Southern Gothic horror movie, with eyes gone glazy from watching only PAX, CBN and maybe a little Fox News all day, who answers the phone by screeching “Praise the Lord!” instead of  just saying hello and who’d sworn off her own son Simon—the first of her four boys—the day he’d dropped out of Bible college after not even one year, with a beefcake magazine rolled up in his back pocket and the last black eye, fat lip and bruised set of ribs Menard will ever give him. Yes, Pascal would be plenty Muslim enough for Menard Minshew. And as this homecoming hallucination was Simon’s sole and exclusive prerogative, he didn’t even have to factor in the likelihood of Menard’s Klan buddies stepping in and gunning them down before the two lovebirds could even open their rental-car doors. Instead, in Simon’s vision, Menard and the whole of Wizard’s Stone would be forced to stand there, balking, while Simon and Pascal French-kissed and fucked and fucked and fucked and fucked on the roots of the southern live oak tree on Stone Mountain Calvary’s front lawn. After a post-coital cigarette or two, they’d zip up their jeans, flick their filters and drive away with laughter and lewd hand gestures. It made him hard just thinking about it—something Pascal did register, as Simon had been sitting crotch-out at him (that’s what happens when you wear boxers instead of briefs), and Pascal assumed that he alone had aroused all the enthusiasm he saw abounding in Simon’s trousers—and Pascal on his own, with his soft almond eyes, elegant accent and close-cropped hair, could have aroused it—but there was a more comprehensive fantasy at work in Simon’s mind. As Simon’s reverie faded to black, his mind reeled right back to where he sat on Métier’s patio. “Toulouse sounds magical,” Simon said, “I’ve read about it.”

By now, the sun had grazed off Simon’s face to go brand someone else’s forehead and neck and Pascal had come to join Simon at his table, where Georges Simenon’s tour de force was soon relegated to a coaster for Simon’s first, second and, in time, third liter of Stella Artois. Pascal would soon order one and then another for himself too.

Mais, Toulouse, c’est nodzing compared to Paris.”

“It’s a dream of mine since high school to go to Paris. Is it anything like New York?”

Pascal told Simon that downtown—from Chelsea to the Village to Soho to Tribeca to Wall Street—all of it has some resonance with Paris, mostly due to the cobblestone streets and the superabundance of art, both classic and modern. That’s why Pascal said he loves Métier so much. There’s a cobblestone street outside of it and, inside, Métier is top-heavy with crystal chandeliers and fading paintings of august gentlemen in cravats and greatcoats, who once had names, though not even the waitress, manager or even the owner could tell you what those names or the stories behind them are. Yet there they hang, as vintage as the chandeliers. Pascal said that’s why he always stays downtown whenever he’s in town. It reminds him of Montmartre, one of his favorite districts of Paris. Montmartre, a name Simon recognized from Simenon, but which sounds so much better coming from Pascal, the way the re trills off so subtly when you say it right, as it does with the name Sartre.

Pascal asked Simon, “Do you like cobblestone streets?” Simon said yes. Pascal asked Simon if he’s seen the ones in Montreal. Simon said no. Has he ever been to Montreal? No. Has he seen the cobblestone streets of London, has he been there? No. Not even Boston? No. Where has he travelled? Nowhere, except that one time, up I-85 to I-81, from Wizard’s Stone to New York.

Simon asked Pascal what he’s doing in New York. Pascal said he’s directing and producing a program for French TV. What kind of program? Pascal said geography. Simon replied, “You mean like a nature special?,” but as soon as he said it, he wished he could take it back. Nature in New York City? What’s he supposed to film? Raccoons and possums in Prospect Park? Squirrels and pigeons in Washington Square? On the news once, there was this eagle that nested on a Park Avenue apartment ledge and everyone got their cameras. Pascal laughed and pinched Simon’s cheek, “comme c’est charmant!,” no, he explained, not nature, although the program does mention that Manhattan is built on granite, which is why it can support its skyscrapers. Mais, Pascal went on to inform Simon that geography goes far beyond the study of landmasses, landscapes, and maps. It goes beyond census counts and nation capitals and state capitals and everything that Simon had known as “social studies” way back when he was at Wizard Stone K-12, which he’d attended since halfway through elementary school, when the state had finally turned in a good verdict and deemed his mother unqualified to home-school. In fact, “géographie is poreux, c’est a lot like anthropologie,” it involves subtle analysis of cultures and their resources and the impact that climate has on local economies and the everyday lives and folkways of native populations.

The program he’s developing is a three-part series called, New York: Toujours une Nouvelle Amérique. It will study immigrant populations in New York City, from the 19th Century to today, and explore everything from immigrant life in the early tenements in Hell’s Kitchen and on the Lower East Side to life among immigrants today in places like Canal Street, East Harlem, Flushing and Jackson Heights. It’s all based on a collaborative study of the same name, which a team of French social scientists and historians published this year and from which a team of French TV writers has developed un scenario. Now it’s up to Pascal, le réalisateur, to bring it all to life on film. After he went into all this, Pascal chuckled at himself for being so pedantic. But his oration had the opposite effect. Simon couldn’t wait to get someone so learned and accomplished (French TV doesn’t hire just anybody to make documentaries) into bed.

By now, Pascal and Simon had looked in each other’s eyes enough to begin holding hands as they closed out Métier.

“Is Mount Martyr anything like Diagon Alley?”

Excuse-moi?”

“From Harry Potter.”

“Ha! Books again! Vy you read Simenon, all alone here at night, eh?”

“To learn French.”

“Vy you vant to learn French?”

“So I can go some day.”

“Let me teach you,” Pascal said, kissing a few of Simon’s knuckles.

Pascal picked up the beer tab, brushing off Simon’s halfhearted clamoring to pay for the three he drank. How their evening together ended may have been as predictable as last call at the bar, but their first kiss, which Simon received with his back up against Métier’s service door (before they hauled out the trash), brought him alive to the point where he could let the dead bury the dead back in Georgia. Right then and there, Simon would retire any exhibitionist fantasies he’d set in Wizard’s Stone and recast them on a Parisian dreamscape, where he and Pascal would do all their lovemaking tout seuls in some Left Bank apartment (he’d people the fantasy with furnishings and designs later, as no doubt he’d be replaying it for some time to come). A crescent moon hung high in a star-studded sky above the Manhattan Bridge as Pascal and Simon went arm in arm, nestled like two purring cats, down Mercer Street’s cobblestones to Pascal’s room at the Soho Grand.

In all his years in New York City, Simon had passed the Soho Grand countless times and had always wanted to go in. Now here he was, a guest, or at least a guest of a guest, and he couldn’t have planned his entrance better if he were Inspector Maigret lui-même. If nothing else, it beat the hell out of inviting Pascal to Simon’s sinkhole in Bushwick, where Pascal’s libido would never be able to withstand the sight of Simon’s three hipster roommates with their uncoordinated bodies and tacky t-shirts offset by trendy tattoos and high-end haircuts. Another thing Simon knew for sure: he’d be calling in sick to work the next morning.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010)He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.

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