a Friday evening in late May in Paris when our hero's pacing back
and forth in front of the main entrance of the Père Lachaise
Cemetery, at the intersection of Boulevard de Ménilmontant
and Rue de la Roquette—frequently glancing north towards the
Père Lachaise metro station, scanning the sidewalks of the
boulevard, in the hope of sighting the two young women for whom
he's waiting. No matter that he's arrived a good ten minutes before
their meeting time of 5:15 PM: he continues to wonder whether his
friends have failed to counter the influence of jetlag and overslept
or become lost in the metro or run into complications regarding
their mission to purchase two bottles of champagne. At the same
time, he's literally tingling with exhilaration, gazing at his surroundings
with unconcealed delight: the high white stone wall, curving away
from him concavely in a semi-circle, of the cemetery's entrance;
the view of the cemetery's interior, its jumble of sepulchers and
greenery, through the gate; the buildings across the street, their
architecture markedly different from those back home; the shimmering
brightness of this sunny spring day. Again he glances north; still
failing to detect his friends, he consults his cell phone for the
time and laughs, saying to himself, It's not their fault I'm
let us describe our hero: although of twenty-three years he's often
mistaken for a teenager, primarily on account of his fresh youthful
appearance but also due to his playful and mocking disposition—persistent
refusal to admit he takes much of anything seriously. His height
measures at six feet one inch and his weight's never far from one
hundred fifty-five pounds. He has a higher than average forehead
on a handsome face of even features, fine light brown hair just
long enough to betray its tendency to curl, dark brown eyes, a fair
complexion, and long tapering fingers. At once quick and graceful
in gait and gesticulation, there's often an air of being lost in
daydreams about him; this quality of abstraction somehow carries
a mood of intentness with it, as if it's maintained out of defiance
or reflects a simple desire to be in possession of a vantage point,
deal with others from a position of once-removal. He's wearing a
black cotton dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, the untucked tails
of which flutter in the lively gusts of breeze, and blue denim pants
and black hiking boots. He's an American, born in San Francisco,
who's been a resident of Manhattan for over six years, where he
attended New York University and is currently employed. His name
is William Bergen.
not William's first visit to Paris; he's been here twice before,
for a week when he was fourteen and for three weeks during March
and April of the previous year. He doesn't recall many particulars
of Paris from his first visit, when he accompanied his father on
a business trip, because he was far more interested in getting to
know the Italian girl who was staying with her family at the same
hotel. Paris during that visit was but a blurred backdrop to an
adolescent infatuation happy to content itself with flirtation,
kisses, and light petting—a stirring chapter of his emotional
education. He feels he came to know the city fairly well, though,
during his last visit: he rode on virtually every metro line, exited
at stops in each arrondissement and went for lengthy exploratory
strolls. He was bound and determined to map out Paris in his head
because he'd decided to make it his second city—his fling-responsibility-aside-and-surrender-to-frivolity
city. Most importantly, he'd befriended a number of the locals and
had several memorable adventures in their company.
here he is in Paris for the third time, breathing air he's never
breathed outside of carefree-mode; that carries no reminders of
regularity of routine, any variety of commitment. How removed his
frame of mind is from the work obligations he put on hold less than
twenty-four hours ago—when he exited the office early, picked
up his luggage at his apartment, rendezvoused with his two friends
at JFK, and caught a flight to Orly: goodbye New York work-grind,
hello Parisian giddiness. Such is William's lightheartedness it
almost as if the force of gravity's been altered: he feels as if
he's floating about instead of pacing about; it's as if basic self-propulsion
requires less energy. It's amazing how quickly an alteration of
geographical location has caused the inanity of office politics
to vanish from his thoughts, and no longer seem real. Not that William
has a bad job—far from it. If anyone ever had a cushy job,
he does. He works at a large law firm, ranked in the top thirty
worldwide, and his official title is Corporate Resources Specialist—a
fancy way of saying he performs searches in legal databases for
specific documents or samples of legal phrasing at the request of
attorneys. As the searches are generally easy to perform and there's
never a backlog of requests, his primary responsibility consists
of padding his billing. His job, in fact (despite the description
in the firm's official literature, which includes the phrase, "increased
efficiency for fulfilling the needs of clients in an expeditious
manner"), exists for the purpose of padding billing. He's essentially
being paid very well to do nothing half the time: as long as he
bills for that idle time, his salary's more than covered and the
firm turns a tidy profit from his employment. Good work if you can
get it and William knows it and isn't lacking in gratitude, even
though he often mocks the setup.
when people are confined to offices for hours at a time day after
day and month after month they often begin to bicker over nothing,
form alliances and rivalries, trade gossip incessantly, start rumors
and/or assist with perpetuating them. Some fling themselves wholeheartedly
into office politics; others are pulled into office politics against
their will; virtually no one's immune because nonparticipation has
a tendency to incite all parties against one: it's a case of either
bond with a clique or suffer the consequences of having no allies.
William, who's never breathed a word of gossip about anyone in any
building he's ever lived in, is—we regret to admit—a
primary player in the politics at his place of employment. He's
told himself he ought to seek to minimize his participation in office
politics, for fear it might blow up in his face, but has never been
able to resist going at it full throttle: he always winds up considering
it a game. He and his cohorts have concluded that the root cause
of office politics is the tedium of office life: it's a means of
introducing adventure and uncertainty into an otherwise nauseatingly
predictable environment. If there's no real adversity, people will
create some; if the unexpected has gone into hiding, people will
lure it into the open; when faced with boredom, people create tension:
it's an instinctive form of protest.
humble narrator apologizes for the aside concerning office politics.
Again, the point is that William's been cut loose from the influence
of the office and is as free of care and dizzy with delight as it's
possible for a person to be. Factor in the fact his employer's granted
him a six week leave of absence and the reader will understand the
amount of freedom he's relishing in advance. I'll be scamping
about Paris for a month and a half, he thinks, smiling, while
continuing to gaze enrapt at the scenery; continuing to dwell upon
the upcoming night's adventure, which he conceived of over a month
ago and has fondly anticipated ever since.
to attend to the two bags he's placed on the cobblestones at his
feet—weigh down the lighter one with items from the heavier
so it won't be shoved about by the breeze—William hears, "Hey
Billy!," glances in the direction of the voice, and sees Christina
Alari on the traffic island in the center of the boulevard.
Chrissy," he answers with a wave as she scampers to his side
of the street, the wind swishing her long blond hair, flattening
the front of her dress against her slender frame. Her movements
radiate the natural poise of a dancer. "Where's Pas? Isn't
left her outside the metro," laughs Christina. "A pebble
slipped inside her shoe and she's getting rid of it. She dared me
to walk off without her, so of course I had to!"
girl," he smiles, spreading his arms in anticipation of encircling
her with them.
not like I left her on Mars—she'll be here any second,"
she responds as they embrace and exchange greeting-kisses. Born
into a second generation Italian family and raised in Bay Ridge,
Brooklyn, Christina's recently turned twenty-one, has just completed
an internship as a translator at the UN, and resides in Manhattan's
East Village, diagonally across the street from William, close to
the all-night cafe where they met. A part time job awaits her at
the UN in September; while using it for an income, she'll be continuing
to attend voice and dance classes and answer casting calls, with
the aim of breaking into Broadway. She's a size two, five feet six
inches in height, has hazel eyes, a perfect oval of an alabaster
complexioned face, and—as mentioned—long blond hair,
wavy in texture. She's wearing a sleeveless indigo knee-high silk
dress, a jumble of silver bangles on each wrist, and black hiking
their embrace Christina backs a step away from William, flings her
hands up so that the bangles slide down her forearms, and asks with
mock solemnity, "And how are you, sir, on this lovely-enough-to-die-for
for love of it, of course," he answers. "As happy as your
bangles are as they jingle and jangle on your lovely arms! Such
a cheerful sound, like the pinging in my senses—my springtime-in-Paris
senses, racing at the speed of light! Chrissy, we're going to have
so much fun—my head whirls into a zillion beautiful
pictures at the thought of all the stuff we're going to do!"
we're in one of those go-wild-in-a-foreign-place adventure stories,"
she says. "Cliches can be a thrill if they happen for real."
who wants to be in a story?" he says, making a face of mock
aversion. "Patterns of ink on a page that only come to life
in the minds of readers can't reach out and do this." So saying,
he caresses her neck.
she purrs, tilting her head in the direction of his hand while closing
her eyes and lifting her chin.
you see," he laughs. "We're living and breathing flesh
and blood New Yorkers on holiday, instead of the airy concoctions
of an author's imagination!"
make a crack about storybook stuff and you use it as an excuse to
pet me?" she smiles, pressing against his chest again. "Want
me to reel off more nonsense? For the love of sacred springtime
and the dizzying fireworks it births in our blood, I'll spout all
the silliness you want! I'll even..."
rude! No welcome!" interrupts a nearby voice. Up steps Pascale
Rosetourne, the third member of the party. "First Chrissy deserts
me at the metro, then you both ignore me!" Born in Asnieres,
a suburb to the northwest of Paris, Pascale relocated to Manhattan's
Upper East Side with her family when she was four years old. Having
spent many summers with relatives in various locations in France
during childhood and adolescence, she's as familiar with the language
and customs of her native country as she is with those of her adopted
one and considers herself a French girl, even though she's never
thought of leaving New York. A recent graduate of the Fashion Institute
of Technology, she's joined her friends for a final fling before
applying herself to a career in clothing design. Like William and
Christina, she resides on the 400 block of East 9th Street, between
1st Avenue and Avenue A; her building is three doors east of his
on the same side of the street. Pascale and William met as a consequence
of springtime sunning on their fire escapes: glances were exchanged
for a couple days; on the third day he suggested, via hand-signals,
that they descend to the sidewalk for a chat. Their chat, during
which there wasn't a single interval of embarrassed silence—not
a moment when either of them needed to pause to search for the right
words to say—ended up lasting for over seven hours, that seemed
to fly by in minutes, in her apartment. William, already close to
Christina, introduced Pascale to her and the two hit it off immediately.
Thus was born a special threesome chemistry, characterized more
by friendship than intimate relations (although the latter aren't
lacking), that has strengthened with each passing month, nearly
twelve of them now. Pascale has magenta streaks along the face-framing
portion of her straight raven black hair, cut at her neck in back
and longer in front, and is wearing a mid-thigh high black leather
skirt, scarlet silk t-shirt, and black hiking boots. About half
an inch taller than Christina, she's likewise a size two and shares
the same appealing shape of face; in fact, if the two of them wished
to do so, they could dress alike and dye and cut their hair alike
and fool many into believing them to be fraternal twins. Pascale
will turn twenty-two in September and has brown eyes.
we've indicated, Pascale's acting offended at not having received
a greeting. After chiding her friends regarding the oversight she
does an about face, makes as if to walk away.
Pas, we didn't see you there," laughs Christina, tapping her
on the shoulder and inducing her to turn around again, whereupon
she kisses her on each cheek.
sort of snuck up, if you want to know the truth," Pascale says
with a grin, kissing Christina in return while extending an arm
in William's direction, grasping one of his hands. "I wanted
to see how close I could get before you saw me! I got pretty close!"
prowling kitty," William says as he pulls her to him, frames
her face with his hands, lightly rubs her temples with his index
fingers. "Good to see you! It's been nearly three hours! I
was starting to forget what you look like!"
to see you too, sweetie," responds Pascale, giggling as she
kisses him. Then, raising the bag that's in her hand and shaking
it, she asks, "But what's the idea of making us cut our after-flight
naps short and traipse all the way up here, cross half of Paris,
with champagne? Your friends are having a big party later and have
a whole case of champagne! Aren't we going to their party?"
mystified myself," seconds Christina, winking at Pascale.
especially," resumes Pascale, "why am I wearing
clunky hiking boots when I have ultra-sleek slingbacks to show off?
Answer me that! What sort of girl clops around in hiking boots?
I feel like an outcast and a fool! And why haven't we had anything
to eat? Why the insane urgency? No time to nap, no time to snack!
Just lunatical rush rush rush while tired and starving!"
bright girls," William answers, gesturing at the gate of Père
Lachaise. "Certainly you've surmised why we're here. Didn't
I say we're doing something we can't do in New York that neither
of you have done before and will love? I've brought food and water,
three headlamps, and climbing rope. Guess where we're spending the
other words," Christina laughs, "tombyards are good for
a good time!"
girl," William says, "you've guessed correctly. Père
Lachaise officially closes at six and we're going to unofficially
stay as long as we please. Tonight's agenda is play in Père
Lachaise until we're exhausted enough to swoon in a tomb, mimic
I wanted to be dead, I'd move to New Jersey and work in a mall,"
that's it," says William, with a light poke at her ribs. "Be
difficult for the sake of being difficult. You know I mean glorious
absorption in fun and games until we're blissful inside, at peace
with ourselves, happily spent. Such is the opposite of dead! Pure
shmoria," Pascale scoffs. "What's euphoric about grass
that's slimed with dew, getting our clothes soaked? What's euphoric
about swarms of insects landing on us and biting us, getting caught
in our hair? What's euphoric about spiders crawling up our legs?
Yuck! Why waste a Paris night, and a Friday one too, on running
around in a dismal park where corpses decay?"
what's become of the Pascale that I know?" William
asks. "What's become of the fearless, always-thirsting-for-a-new-thrill,
girl? The Pascale I know would never pull a frail flower
act, whine about wet grass and bugs! She'd never kiss a unique and
golden opportunity goodbye because she's afraid of breaking a nail!"
here, sweetie—is she ever!" Pascale says as
she wraps her fingers around the back of his neck, gently pulls
his head down and kisses him on the forehead. "And, believe
it, your Pascale's eager to play in a graveyard! I love
my hiking boots now, and to hell with pretty shoes!"
jolted out of a jet lag catnap—with half my dreams seeming
to linger in my head, blend with the waking state—and dashing
up here, with no time for more than a mere splash of a shower and
cup of tea, is priceless!" Christina exclaims. "It's
a swirly blurry half-out-of-my-body feeling, with my two favorite
people on earth! Am I in New York or Paris? I'm suspended between
the two! On New York time, but flooded with Paris vibrations! But,
boy, am I starved! And I'm talking about food!"
with you there, Chrissy," Pascale says. "I could devour
worry about that," William says. "I've brought plenty
of delectable provisions, as only the French can make them. Pate,
brie, baguettes, the best butter on earth, and those cans of tuna
with the vegetables and marinade—there's nothing remotely
like them back home. Plus celery and cherry tomatoes, fruit—blueberries,
strawberries, figs—and three liters of water."
I have the champagne," Pascale says. "So what are we waiting
one thing before we go inside," William replies, leading them
to the left of the entry area and pointing at the wall that encircles
the cemetery. "The gates will be shut at six so we'll be exiting
by coming over the wall, using the rope and gloves I've brought.
I don't think we want to wait until eight-thirty in the morning
for the gates to reopen. In fact, I insist Père Lachaise
be solely a nighttime adventure."
Christina says. "Aside from the nighttime factor, fifteen hours
would be too long."
course graveyard wanderings are best before sunrise," Pascale
laughs, "if one's looking for maximum atmospherics! And we
here's the deal," William continues. "Unlike elsewhere,
the wall here in front's only about four feet high on the cemetery-side,
thus sparing us having to ascend it. I'll stash the rope and gloves
in a nearby tomb and we'll retrieve them when we're ready to leave.
The rope has knots in it for foot- and hand-holds and the gloves
are to protect against rope burns and so we can get a better grip.
I'll climb down first, then help you do the same. I'll grab you
before you reach the ground to minimize your time on the rope. As
you can see, the wall's about fifteen feet high on this side. With
your aerobics training I'm not worried about you handling the descent,
but take a good look anyway and remember how it looks from here
on the sidewalk."
things we may be, but we're toned and muscular," Christina
says, flexing her arms. "It'll be fun climbing down."
say we're set, Billy," Pascale says, saluting him. Then, as
she turns towards the gate and glances up at its twin pillars and
perceives the hourglasses and torches engraved thereupon, she adds,
"How appropriate! It's spring and our torches are blazing bright,
but life's brief and our hourglasses are measured, so the thing
to do is use our time to have fun! Let's go!"
Chrissy—you can carry the lighter bag, with the headlamps,"
William says, handing her the said bag as he picks up the one containing
the water and most of the food.
why headlamps?" Christina inquires. "We're in a city.
Street lamps are all over the place."
lamps in the city of the dead," William laughs, gesturing at
the cemetery. "No lights in the sepulchers we're going to explore!"
let it be said you're not a fun date, Billy!" Pascale exclaims
as the three of them stroll through the gate.
Robert Scott Leyse
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