StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter Four and Five)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 5, 2014

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

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I know I’ve only been posting these chapters sporadically. It’s been a stressful time: my father died a couple weeks ago, less than a year after my mom – also, I sometimes forget I have a blog. Here are a couple more chapters of A Sorcerer on Montmartre. – Kyle

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

Chapter Four:

A Rogue and Peasant Hamlet

Do they even have hardware stores in France?, Simon wonders as he turns away from the window overlooking Montparnasse Cemetery and fixes on an iron hook that is screwed into Pascal’s ceiling. He can’t remember ever passing one on his desultory walks through Paris’s arrondissements, but he suspects the French must have hardware stores or else how could whoever-built-this-place have found things like Pascal’s cabinet hinges or the whitewashed screws on his doorknobs? And where else could the real-estate developer, even it was eons ago, have obtained that hook he’s staring at, in addition to all the other nuts and bolts and sticks and bricks that make up an apartment building? They must have purchased them locally. Simon can’t imagine everyone in France has these things imported to their doorsteps from England or Connecticut or wherever. Yet Simon has rifled through Pascal’s drawers and closets like Sherman rifled through Georgia and hasn’t found a single tool, not even a hammer or a Phillip’s-head screwdriver, much less the stepladder and rope he’s been angling for. It looks like Simon will just have to Google “Montparnasse hardware stores” and hope someplace nearby pops up.

Simon supposes he could always stand on a chair and use his shoelaces or any one of Pascal’s designer belts, but the ceiling hook is for hanging plants, not a man, and what if Simon’s dramatics go awry and he winds up bringing down the whole fourth floor? Apart from the obvious embarrassment, Pascal’s landlord would slap him with a big French lawsuit that Simon couldn’t even begin paying off on his zero-Euro a year salary. Lest he forget, Simon is an illegal in these parts, as undocumented as so much of the kitchen staff at Desiree’s was, and a jobless one at that. Does he want to get shipped back to New York if he doesn’t succeed in dying? There’s no job for him if he returns and his roommates aren’t about to take him back, rent-free, especially now that they’ve gotten someone new to take his place. So, then, without a roof over his head at Pascal’s, if someone from the French Ministry of the Interior were to find him alive and without papers, they might catapult him right back to his place of origin, Wizard’s Stone—which begs the question, does Simon want to hang himself here and now in Paris or there and then in Georgia?

Simon marvels at how there is no plant on Pascal’s ceiling hook, and there never has been, not even a nice fern. Why hasn’t Pascal ever hung a damn plant? The hook is there, it’s available. Simon guesses Pascal just never had much interest. And would he bat an eye if he found Simon dangling from the hook when he gets home from work? Or would he just…sigh…throw his keys on the bureau…sit on the couch…polish off the International section of Le Monde and a glass of that Bordeaux he likes so much before getting off his derrière, cutting Simon’s body down and calling the police in rivulets of crocodile tears? Pascal might not have tools but, in the vegetable basket, he has plenty of onions for opening his lachrymal ducts if he needs to.

Simon considers that Pascal does have strong-enough knives for cutting a man down from a ceiling, though. The knives give Simon some other ideas for how to shuffle off the mortal coil, options that do not entail a trip to the hardware store. But Simon would have to stab himself too many times, it wouldn’t be as fast or as efficient as a hanging, and the thought of slashing his wrists seems an even grislier, more drawn-out business. He had thought of throwing himself out the window, but Pascal’s place is only on the third floor and Simon remembers all too well the story of an alcoholic in East Harlem who did the same thing over a breakup, and from only about as many floors up, and that guy ended up surviving—with eight fractures and a world of pain. To make matters worse, all the drunk could do afterwards was take Vicodin with scotch while soiling his couch and watching schlock TV, which is how TV Guide became his bible, which is where the drunk found an ad telling him to call toll-free for a free copy of The Book of Mormon, which being broke and bored he did, only to find the book hand-delivered to him by Mormon missionaries, who said they wanted to talk to him about salvation and since the drunk had no one else to talk to anymore, much like Simon in Paris, he let them stay and chat. Now that the Latter-Day Saints have taken over payment of his hospital bills, the now-teetotaling drunk has found himself back on his feet and in a thrall to the Mormons. He is currently putting body and soul back together by hectoring other callers of their toll-free number, oftentimes finding them far less receptive to Joseph Smith’s message than the drunk himself had been. So, no, Simon will not be throwing himself out Pascal’s window into Montparnasse, not as long as there are Mormons on the other side of the river in the 16e arrondissement. He had done too much door-knocking for Calvary, when he was younger, to want to be on the other side of that transaction now. And, yes, he has thought of falling from higher up, but he has already tried for roof-access on the huitième étage, only to find it dead-bolted and backed up by an alarm system.

Of all the options on the table, hanging still seems the best, but now Simon is thinking that’s too much of a Judas way out and if anyone has betrayed anyone, it’s Pascal. He was the one who had kept the billets doux coming via Facebook and email and he was the one who had sent for Simon when his chips were down, only to end up showing about the same level of interest in being with Simon as he has for putting ferns on ceiling hooks.

And, as of last night, Simon has discovered Pascal’s communiqués with at least two other guys, one a 23-year-old Albanian trick from FastCupid.com, who emails Pascal in what looks to Simon like good French and whom (according to Google Translate) Pascal has been seeing in his office for nooners every Tuesday for the past several weeks. Others are from his ex, Raphaël, in absentia for seven years, who now keeps writing réunissons-nous et parler.

Simon does not feel the least bit bad about hacking into Pascal’s emails. Pascal had been dumb enough to leave the smoking gun on Full Screen while they were eating the tuna niçoise that Simon had prepared for him last night. Halfway through dinner, Pascal had gotten up to take what he had said was a business call on his mobile and, while he was out of the room, Simon crept over to the computer screen and read: “Je me suis amusé. Tu es un homme sexy. Je ne peux pas attendre pour la semaine prochaine…” Pascal came back and caught Simon snooping. “C’est privé!,” he shouted as he logged out. They did not speak another word to each other for the rest of the night. Simon simply washed the dishes, Pascal simply dried the dishes and they both went to bed in a dummied-up muddle. Simon lay awake all night and only fell asleep about half an hour before Pascal had woken up for work, leaving behind a note that read: “Buy milk.” Pascal was long gone by the time Simon woke up wishing the Albanian’s email had been a bad dream. So, was Pascal indeed dumb or, on some level, did he want to get caught? Either way, Simon had been clever enough to guess his email password, “Mignon,” which yielded a tree of knowledge he now wishes he had not picked from. The truth shall set you free or make you wish you were dead. If things between them were going to end in tears anyway, why couldn’t this have been one of the great romances like Heathcliff and Catherine’s in Wuthering Heights? Why did it have to turn into some trashy talk-show episode about a hackneyed email hacking? None of this was the stuff of great lives.

And what are the chances of Pascal seeing the error of his ways when it’s all over? Could Simon ever count on Pascal to arrange a plot for him in Montparnasse, preferably one within shouting distance of Sartre or, better yet, Beauvoir? Or is Montparnasse all booked up? Do you have to buy generations in advance? In the end, would Pascal just haul Simon out under cover of the night, dump his corpse in the Seine and go have a rapprochement with his ex or, better yet, a booty-call with his Tuesday Albanian? Simon determines that, far worse than being melodramatic and complicated, his suicide could prove downright anticlimactic. Yet his packed suitcase in the bedroom, which Pascal’s black cat Mignon is sprawled out on now as he licks his paws, could prove even more fatal.

Simon walks into the bedroom and begins petting Mignon. The cat, the password’s namesake, so sleek, so self-assured, so up for a petting at any moment is the best part of living chez Pascal. More than a few times, they have spent all day together while Pascal was ostensibly out-of-the-country on assignment (“Nozing happens in Ystad,” “You’d be bored if you came,” “I would not be able to passer du temp avec toi”) or pulling all-nighters in the editing room (“I could be un nuit, I could be zree. It’s okay, I have a bed et toiletries là-bas.”). As Simon strokes him, Mignon purrs and his front paws start strutting up a storm even while he lies on his belly with his nose upturned. Every night that Pascal is in town, Mignon sleeps between him and Simon. Many were the times Simon would reach over to touch Pascal and Pascal would rustle, as though Simon had stirred him from the soundest sleep, even if Pascal had been wide awake with his eyes open the whole night, worried about his film projects or what he had gotten himself into with all the emails he used to exchange with this American boy whom he now found living in his apartment and with whom he now had a joint bank account. Simon would end up pulling his arm away from Pascal and down to Mignon, who no sooner would wake up with a start than he would start rustling up a purr louder than a ringing alarm clock, to Pascal’s even greater dismay.

Pascal has 3,000 Euros in savings. Simon runs the numbers and decides he will take 600 as severance. He also tells himself he will keep the debit/ATM card but not use it unless it’s an absolute emergency. Besides, he also expects Pascal to rescind the account once he finds him gone, so 600 Euros seems fair. It’s about as much as Simon showed up with when his plane landed at Charles de Gaulle and Pascal greeted Simon in a swarm of people, while holding up a cardboard sign with Simon’s name on it, as though there were any danger of Simon not remembering what Pascal looked like after that week they had spent together, months before, in Manhattan. In dollars, 600 Euros is about the amount of his severance check from the August Strindberg Theatre. He would only be taking what he came with, Simon told himself, he’d be playing aboveboard.

Simon has learned that it’s always best to keep a weather eye on karma, especially in a pinch, something he had become well aware of after he had taken leave of his scruples so many years before on the road to New York with Belinda. He had come to find that, if you walk a narrow path, your chances of having it easier later dramatically appreciate. He had also come to see the opposite as true.

Unknown

Chapter Five

SAW-TOOTHED MONSTROSITY

Again, Simon and Belinda had to make their five grand last, so they dined-and-dashed in restaurants and diners all the way up the east coast. Belinda already knew how to beat a check. She had been doing it ever since she had first left Whimbrel Creek. She even did it when she wasn’t hurting for cash, just for a prank, a dare, shits and giggles—pretend to go to the restroom, wait until the waitresses’ and managers’ backs are turned and scuttle out the door. It wasn’t rocket science.

The first time they did this together, though, in an A&W Family Restaurant in South Carolina, Simon felt the presence of Jesus and the flaming sword he said he’d come back with in Revelations. Not even Sartre could have defended what Simon had done when he squinted and told the waitress he had to go get his glasses (lie #1: he had never worn any) from the car so he could read the check; from there, he’d gone out and sat waiting for Belinda in the passenger seat until she could abscond on the pretext that she’d had no idea what was keeping her young husband (three lies, plus theft, plus conspiracy). Sartre’s ethical paradigm dictates that, even in a godless universe, it is nonetheless incumbent upon each and every one of us to behave in such a way that we would wish for our actions to be those of all humanity. Did Simon want all the world behaving like a den of thieves, even in A&W Family Restaurants? When the flaming sword lanced him for this first violation, he had felt his soul becoming a towering inferno. He couldn’t speak a single word for the next couple hundred miles of their trip to New York and he couldn’t bear to look at himself in any of Belinda’s car mirrors either.

It got easier the more they did these things, though. The sword and the burning became bearable. Simon had even begun to swagger into roadside restaurants (swaggering being yet another thing he had never done before and that Menard never would have allowed, though from his first touchdown, his football-star brother Key had made a science of it and Menard had lauded Key’s every strut). Simon had even begun developing new moves for the duo’s post-dining experiences. Once at an Applebee’s outside of Roanoke, after the waitress had brought the bill, Simon had instructed Belinda to go out and start up the Mustang while he sat and enjoyed an after-dinner refill of Coke. Once he had jangled out and chomped down the last ice cube from the bottom of his gold-tinted soda glass, Simon approached an old-timer who was sitting alone, reading The Virginia Gazette in the booth behind him. “Excuse me, sir,” said Simon, “I have a friend who’ll be joining me and I want the waitress to know we’ll be needing another setup. When you see me go up and talk to her, would you mind waving and pointing at the table, just so she’ll know which table I’m talking about?” The old man said he’d be glad to and so, when he saw Simon walk up to the front and talk to the waitress, he waved and pointed to Simon’s table, not knowing that Simon was telling the waitress, “See that gentleman over there? The one waving? He says he’ll pay our check.”

Simon knew all along these were the kinds of things people like Barabbas do, but some little devil or other on his shoulder had reminded him that, on that fateful day in Jerusalem, Jesus was the one who got crucified, Barabbas was the one the crowd spared, and besides it’s common knowledge that you have to learn to cut a few throats if you’re going to make it in New York, which Menard used to refer to as “American Gomorrah” and which Aunt Gloria had called “Babylon at its best and worst,” based on things her daughter Connie had told her.

Connie had been to New York twice for trade shows when she was working for Dazzle Razzle Fashions in Savannah and she never, but never, stopped talking about it. She had made both trips in the eighties. She was even wearing a stonewashed denim jacket with detachable white-wool lining (the one that had made her the envy of her swinging-singles apartment complex), a passel of pinchbeck trinkets and a mane of fluffy blonde hair, all immortalized in the pictures her coworkers had taken of her on their night on the town in Times Square and a little ways up the street, outside a theater called Winter Garden on Broadway. The pictures had held a time-honored place on Aunt Gloria’s picture stand throughout Simon’s childhood. He remembered a show called Cats was advertised on Winter Garden’s marquee. Connie and her coworkers had bought tickets to it and Connie said she had never seen anything so spectacular. All the actors were dressed up like alley cats and had clarion voices with which they sang songs that were based on a book of poems about cats in a faraway fairy-tale city called London, where everyone speaks like Malcolm Muggeridge. The very idea was enough to send Simon’s green mind into imaginative transports in which he envisioned cities abroad and stories that included singing cats and things other than deeds done by those who incurred the Lord’s wrath or those who pleased Him by smiting those the Lord didn’t like.

But…speaking of fairies and faraway cities…how was it that Menard could have called New York “American Gomorrah” while Cousin Connie had said it was the toughest town she had ever seen? In fact, Connie had said she was scared to death walking through it. Weren’t fairies the kind that, again, back in the eighties, on into the nineties, Menard’s deer-hunting buddies would take special Saturday night trips out to Atlanta to go beat up in Ansley Square? His friends had always made them out to be namby-pamby cream puffs, who ran from them like loping hinds, which always had made Simon confused as to why Menard’s buddies had felt the need to load up their pickup trucks with baseball bats and feral teenagers if fairies were so easy to take down. Still, there was Menard on one side, saying fairies were all over New York, and Cousin Connie on the other, saying it was the toughest town in creation, a lot tougher than Wizard’s Stone, she insisted, which did even more to scare Simon, who wouldn’t have walked through his hometown at night on a bet. If the toughest town on earth was lousy with fairies, then even its fairies must be pretty tough. But he couldn’t square this logic with how everyone he knew in Wizard’s Stone had made it clear that anything fairy is the opposite of tough.

So how would it be for Simon to walk a square block of New York at any hour of the day? Would people stop whatever they were doing and target him like they do anyone who seems like easy pickings in Wizard’s Stone? How many times did he have to haul ass out of the way of bottles hurled by knots of dirt-head hicks, declaring Main Street their street, when he was, say, just on his way home from picking up a peach cobbler pie for Sunday dinner from the General Store? Did it get even worse than that on the streets of New York?

Connie was married now with a brood of five quick-succession rug rats in Macon. Yet every time Simon would see her, she would retell the tale of “The V8 Incident,” something that had happened to her, all those many years back, on one of the couple jaunts that she and the Dazzle Razzle girls took to downtown Manhattan. In recounting the story, Connie always mentioned a place on Seventh Avenue called the Chelsea Night & Day Diner, which she used to say had all these scrappy Jewish waitresses. Connie was on a big health-and-diet kick back then, “her salad days,” she called that period when she was young and thin and eating lettuce for a snack and was wearing baby-blue legwarmers more for Richard Simmons’s workout tapes than for show. At lunchtime, which they call brunch on weekends in New York, while all the other girls were too busy shopping to go eat, she had dropped into Chelsea Night & Day Diner with her boss and ordered a V8 with an all-green vegetable salad from a waitress whose entire demeanor had made it known she did not have all day, a temperament utterly foreign to Connie and the folks back home. The waitress scribbled down their orders and rushed off from their table without so much as a smile or a thank-you. When she came back with the beverage, Connie couldn’t help but notice how pulpy her V8 looked. She took a sip and told her boss it just didn’t taste right. She signaled the waitress, who was meeting herself coming and going on her way from line cooks to customers. “I’d hate to bother you, miss,” she said, “But I asked for a V8 and you brought me tomato juice.” Of all things, the waitress started arguing with her, “Waddya tawkin’ ’bout? You said V8, I give ya V8.” Connie had already known she was no match for New York City but this was still her country and a southern lady must take a stand for hospitality in it, so she laid it on the line with the waitress, “I know from V8, miss.” At which point, the waitress called out to another waitress, who was carrying a four-top tray full of omelets and toasted bagels, “Hey, Lisa! Waddya say? Is this V8 or ta-may-ta juice?” Without even breaking pace or looking down, the other waitress scooped the glass off the table, took a sip, put it right back down in front of Connie and hustled on over to her four-top across the room, saying over her shoulder, “It’s ta-may-ta juice.” Connie did not know whether to be scandalized or honored to have stepped into the starring role of such a bona fide New York moment. One thing was certain, though: “The V8 Incident” was the kind of thing Connie was talking about when she said that, to get through a day of life in New York, you have to be one tough hombre.

Simon liked the thought of finally becoming a tough hombre after all these years of his head being in the sand. So, before they had even crossed into North Carolina, Simon had said the Chelsea Night & Day Diner should be the first place he and Belinda should go when they get to New York, betting it would be just the kind of total-immersion experience they would need to inure themselves to their lives-to-come. First, though, they had to brace themselves for entering the city itself.

Simon had been suppressing anxiety attacks the whole way east and north. He knew in his bones that nothing less than a complete change of both scenery and being would do from here on out. Yet even Baltimore’s high-rises looked to be well on other the other side of manageable as they drove past them and even America’s Comeback City looked like nowhere he’d ever come back to if it were left up to his small-town self—but that was the same self he had to shed now, and how did he expect to take on New York if he couldn’t even belly up to Baltimore? Downtown Philadelphia was an even more daunting vision, yet as they crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey, Simon also had a feeling that Philly was a mere shadow of what was coming next. He had read about all these places in Civil War lessons in school but he could not imagine any Confederate cadet feeling one iota more trepidation than he did upon entering them, but still he sat in silence with a rigid exterior as Belinda intermittently looked over and laughed at Simon’s pygmy attempts to bear up inside.

From I-78, above and beyond Newark’s smokestacks, Simon could see the saw-toothed monstrosity looming in a pollution aura above the Hudson. The closer they crept up to it, the more the cars and trucks bottlenecked. At the tolls, Simon and Belinda had to pay the better part of what they would have had to pay at Applebee’s, had they paid at all. When they came through the Holland Tunnel and drove up to Canal Street, the first thing Simon heard was the crushing barrage of a garbage truck bouncing down a gravel parkway over a multitude of car horns and Al Green’s “You Ought to Be with Me” on full blast in the cream-colored Cadillac in the next lane. For the next long time, no matter where Simon happened to be, no matter if a garbage truck was in sight or Al Green was even playing within a mile radius, this cantankerous symphony was anchored in his mind as the sound of New York. A stench he would come to know too well, the fetid blend of trash, gridlock exhaust and herbs and spices from hundreds of thousands of different cultures and their restaurants, seeped into his open passenger-side window. Smoke billowed out of two manhole covers over on Hudson Street. People of any and all colors and creeds bustled past each other, not casting disparagement on each other’s differences, but, it seemed to Simon, respecting each other’s right to the sidewalk. Simon had fully expected himself to shut down inside when envisaging this cacophony. Instead, it felt something more akin to a slough peeling off a tender but altogether new layer of flesh. Whether he would survive it all seemed beside the point. He had come this far and he was here.

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

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