There are several threads started in this fragment. I had intended to develop them in the book – or perhaps books – but here they languish having been left out of The Story of Adrianna.
The one thing that did get into the published work is an idea, albeit in different form: the familiar.
“I came out of reverie with a start. The sun was well down toward the rue August end of the Jardin. Although September, the air was beginning to chill. For me the air always seemed to have a tinge of chill. With the exception of one time in June when I had been there when it was actually hot, I always seemed to be cold in Paris. To me it had quickly become part of the charm of the place. I had once even spent an entire month of August there during which, if I hadn’t just always had the habit of travelling in a navy blue blazer, I would have been chilly to the point of winter time. Numerous times that trip I thanked some providence for fostering in me that blazer habit when travelling. “Ou est l’été?” had cried out from the front page of Le Monde one morning of that August as I had leaned at the bar of my favorite tabac with my morning express and had been trying to see what if anything I could understand as I side glanced at the paper the guy next to me was reading.
So I wasn’t surprised that, as the sun descended that late September afternoon of 2002, the air was beginning to cool. I was surprised that it had gotten to be that time of day in such a short time. I had, after all, only terminated my run moments before: the September Eleventh Memorial Ceremony had been proceeding only moments before.
But my moments had moved differently on the solar timepiece now descending. And the shorts and tee shirt that had been right for a late morning, sunny day, run were not much shelter from the advancing chill of an advancing Parisian early evening.
I hadn’t had breakfast. I had been going to run, shower and go to Café du Metro for sustenance. As I passed Café du Metro, crossing rue de Rennes at rue du vieux Columbier, I had twinges of onion soup craving but I needed to get showered and changed. Perhaps dinner would be early. Perhaps a wine stop would suffice for that temporal interim necessary to yield a more acceptable Parisian dinner hour. I entered the code and returned to the apartment.
As I entered my apartment the gathering gloom of the lateness of the afternoon seemed to envelop me in a friendly fashion. It was a familiar and welcome feeling, and one I hadn’t felt in a long time. The light outside was still of enough strength to backlight the still green serrated leafy beauty of the chestnut tree that occupied a good portion of the enclosed center of the building. Down below, in the little garden of the zero floor resident a few shiny brown jewel-like nuts were beginning to be in evidence. Two rock doves sat in the limbs pretty much at the level of my first story window. They seemed to be interested in what I was doing. It was an extremely soothing time of the day in an extremely soothing place to be. The upwelling of wishing that I could be there forever, or at least longer than the four weeks that I had, two of which had already been spent, began to darken my feelings.
And so it had always been for me. I always had looked out at that little enclosed garden, sometimes at dawn, sometimes later in the day, sometimes, as was happening currently, at dusk. But I always had the same feeling of belonging there and of wanting to always be there.
The first time I had lived in that building had been in 1968. Instead of being on the first floor, that first time I had lived in the apartment directly below, the one currently occupied by Madame Greene, an ancient British expatriate. She had taken the apartment several years before, several years after I had left it, after I had left Paris. Madame Greene, knowing of my previous occupancy always invited me for a glass of wine and a conversation in English when I took – which I did yearly – the apartment above. Those conversations were the high point of my annual visits: she always started speaking English with a heavy French accent, and gradually migrated to an English accent. We took mutual joy in the interplay of the idioms she remembered from Britain and the television-talk derived ones of my west coast American heritage.
So when I had lived there in 1968, I had been living in what would later become Madame Greene’s residence.
One day in 1968 I had been out in a small garden with a grove of chestnut trees near the Musée Marmottan. It had been a sunny early November afternoon. A number of young mothers with their infants in strollers and nannies with their charges in strollers were out and about. Some of them had second and third young children with them, gamboling about among the piles of golden brown leaves, and occasionally finding a shiny new-fallen chestnut. When they found one they would shout joyously to their mothers or nannies and they would show their treasure to their siblings and then pocket it with ceremony. I picked up a particularly shiny one myself. “Sad,” I thought. “These things are always so beautiful when they first hit the ground, but then they shrivel and get dull.” Nonetheless I put it in the pocket of my jacket.
Several days later I was out in the little enclosed garden that fronted my apartment. The overall garden was sort of a “common” shared by three other ground floor dwellings that formed the base of the building. However, each portion directly in front of each apartment’s double French door was the private domain of that unit. We were all gardeners, or in the case of Monsieur Le Blanc, farmers; he grew tomatoes and peppers. The rest of us were satisfied to have geraniums, chrysanthemums and a rose bush or two.
I was out weeding my little area. The day was chilly and I was wearing my jacket. I had been pulling things that didn’t look like flowers and putting them in a little wicker basket for later disposal in the poubelle when I reached absently into my jacket pocket. I felt something which turned out to be the chestnut that I had put there days before. It was already shrunken and dull. I was about to throw it in the basket when a thought struck.
The center of the garden area was a sort of common area. It was common at least in the fact that it was separated enough from each of our doorways that some sort of law of diminishing domain was mutually felt by all of us to have applied itself to that little plot. It was at the center and it was round and it was ringed by a circle of cobbles that gave it a separate sort of existence. There were roses in it but it was not deeply planted. There was room for other things. There were no other things merely because none of us had ever thought beyond our own little curtilage.
I took my scratcher which had been the tool I had been using to loosen the soil around the roots of the weeds and found a fairly clear little patch nearly dead center of the common center. I prepared the soil to a level about six inches down and pressed the chestnut into the loose yielding soil and covered it up.
And then I forgot about it.
I had reason to forget. I had reason to forget because a major life-changing thing happened just a little bit later.
That was the day I had met Moustache.
After making my secret contribution to the common area, a contribution that I had really been thinking of not as a planting, but as a grave, I went back to finishing the weeding. I was not quite finished when someone said, “Want to meet somebody important?”
It was my previous neighbor from across Toy Ngoc Hau in Saigon.
She had been at the Alliance Francaise for an afternoon of French immersion. As always, she had stopped and bought a baguette which was still stowed under her right arm, additionally, this day she had bought a roast chicken which I smelled hungrily as it wafted its siren scent from the bag at the bottom the woven palm market basket that she had slung over the other arm, held in place by the crook of her elbow.
She was, as always, beautiful. The short hair of tropical Saigon had given way to shoulder length Parisian style tresses. They were a sort of shimmering mix of perfectly French looking blackish brown with auburn highlights. The green eyes were the thing that set her apart. Otherwise she was undistinguishable from the average beautiful young woman one was likely to see from time to time on the streets, in the cafés or on the Metro. The difference was that she was with me, and that was a difference that I still hadn’t reconciled as a possible part of my life. I still looked upon the whole thing with her as a dream that had started with a bottle of Bordeaux in Saigon more than a year before – a dream from which I had yet to awake, but from which I knew I must, needs be, awake.
I put the scratcher down, brushing from my hands as much dirt as I was able, and bounded toward her. She had crossed the threshold and was two steps from me when I engulfed her in a hug, being careful to keep my hands suspended outside the hug. I silently cursed the dirt that still clung to those hands, precluding the fully tactile sort of embrace that we both had come to savor when we first saw one another after an absence.
The way it was then, a few hours had constituted an absence.
As it was, I made up for the hands off necessity by making the encirclement a bit tighter than a baguette and a bag with a chicken in it would have indicated to be advisable. A little yowl pierced the air. I was in the process of wondering about the existence of the yowl, and had just about reached the stage of wondering if I had actually heard something, and trying to figure out what it might have been that I had heard, and trying to come up with some witty remark, noting the presence of something heard but not understood.
“Don’t smash him.” “Smash who?” “I think we’ll call him Moustache.” “Call who what?” “I said I wanted you to meet someone,” she said, disengaging and holding the market basket out and pulling its lips apart so the interior could be viewed. “Meet Moustache”
Inside the basket, astraddle what I assumed was the bag with the chicken in it was a really small kitten. He was fairly long haired and he had a kind of striped alley cat tone to his fur which I swore had a slight green cast to it. Otherwise he would be called a striped gray. I had always had trouble with colors. It had not been until early puberty that I had realized why I was always having confrontations with my friends concerning my descriptions of the color of things. As opposed to being color blind I possessed an acuity of color perception that exceeded normal human limits. With that in mind I didn’t say “you’ve gotten us a slightly green cat.” But I thought it. The other color aspect of this tiny new addition to our lives was harder to avoid mentioning. Moustache had eyes that were bright orange. I had never seen anything like it.
“He has orange eyes,” I said. “And he’s sort of green,” she said.
We put the baguette on the counter; we put the chicken in the oven on low; I washed my hands and we retired to the bed with moustache between us. He proved to be a non obtrusive third party. Later when we had finished we took turns scratching Moustache behind his ears.
After an extended period of silence, during which the petting and scratching behind the kitten’s ears occupied all of our apparent activities, she broke the silence.
“He’s our familiar, you know.” “I know,” I said.”