A Man of the World
He had come to Paris to broaden himself as a scholar, to spend days in the sculpture gardens of Rodin and nights in smokehouse art cinemas. This he was doing when she called and broke him. She would not visit him, and she would not be around when he got back to school. Thanks for the romantic thought. Click, gone.
After that he split his time between high culture and rain-soaked Parisian sleaze, both regional specialties. Depending on the exact route taken, the walk from the church of La Madeleine to the Sacré-Cœur cathedral surely had the most opportunities to be waylaid in peepshows, pornographic bookstores and assorted spermy alcoves of any holy pilgrimage in Europe. He grew desperate to get his rocks off abroad, a tattered flag to plant on the site of his leveled pride. In time he would recover naturally, but only after sliding back a step or two.
A dive called L'Ange Bleu advertised hôtesses aux seins nus, but the wispy ashen women clinging to the bar were not really topless. They wore bodices awkwardly scant around their uniformly weathered nipples, and dared him with their flinty eyes to complain. The barmistress was an aged baritone austerely draped in sackcloth. Her razor-cropped hair and a forbidding manner made her the just the type of woman to run a fallen girls' convent in a novel by de Sade. Her bullying stare chilled whatever lustful optimism he had brought in the door. Perishing with embarrassment, he put down two glasses of (warm) gin out of equal parts politeness and terror. Under its thin saucy veneer the operation was nothing but a shakedown, and a shabby one to boot. He marveled that even desperate men preferred such humiliation to loneliness.
His hostess fussed over him tolerably, though her drinks cost twice as much as his. He banished shame, and was collecting himself to ask how much attention the outlay might buy him when she leaned in for a kiss.
Her breath was unspeakable, even by Continental standards, and the reason was plain. Her teeth were the jagged brown of smashed bottle glass. He could not avoid the first touch of her lips, nor the coy sweep of her dry tongue, but rather than risk a second helping he grinned, laid down several times the value of the drinks, and ran across the Seine to a proper Left Bank bar, where honest working folks welcomed him. He had one filthy note of change left, a scrap he had held back from the covetous barmistress in lieu of his dignity, but they let him get drunk on credit. When the hour came to lock the door, they set him gently on the pavement to sleep. He hummed a sweet gavotte as he drifted into dreamlessness, never happier to spend the night alone.
Dan Fields is a graduate of Northwestern University living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He has recently published fiction with Kudzu House Quarterly, Beyond Borderlands and Sanitarium.