Reversal:Curio Vignettes 03(19)

By: Cara McKenna

The warm granite steps are under my soles, then the brick and pebbles of the pavement. I stand before sixteen Rue des Toits Rouges and jam my shaky hands in my pockets.

Motorbikes and taxis fly past, shuttling simple people to simple places.

A Friday night. I used to go places on Friday nights, fancying myself a simple person. I used to drink and laugh and loiter on thick summer evenings like this one, and count myself lucky to bring a woman home. I took cabs then, to quell my anxiety, and smoked like a foundry. But my mother had been alive still, and visiting her kept me outside, in regular circulation. My refusal to ride the Métro and need to stand with my back to the wall were quirks to my social circle—to me too—not symptoms of a disorder. My curious hobbies were merely that, not yet vices to self-medicate with.

He’s eccentric, my friends said.

The beautiful are forgiven their shortcomings too easily. My looks brought me attention and the odd modeling job, kept my sheets warm and my ego stroked. I didn’t depend on my beauty then, as I do now. Now it means income and groceries, the simplest of errands run by my admirers so I needn’t suffer.

I draw my hands from my pockets, open and close my fingers, feel the grass between the bricks tickling my feet. My body is sore in the most private places and the seam of my trousers caresses my naked sex. There’s sky above me for miles, a jungle of streets stretching in every direction.

Two young women, clearly drunk, are swaying down the pavement toward me, and I move to the stoop’s bottommost step to give them room. My heart pounds as they near, as it does whenever another human is about to cross my path.

“Salut,” says one brightly, not seeming to notice my bare feet, my pale face, the way my hand trembles as I raise it in a little wave.


Her friend giggles, tugging her more quickly down the street.

My heart still thuds but I smile to myself, remembering how it felt to be this man. To leave girls giddy from having mustered the courage to even address me, as if I were someone special.

Someday they’ll even pay for the chance to fuck you, I want to tell that man. Don’t let them. The ones who coddle you now will pity you in time. They’ll pull the shades down and you’ll tell yourself it’s safer that way. It’s better. Don’t believe it. Wait for the one who presses your face to the glass. The one who makes your heart pound so hard, in so many unexpected ways.

I sigh, surprised to find I can take a deep breath. I gulp another, another. I glance at the sky, beyond the haloes of the streetlights. The moon is elsewhere but perhaps I’ll see it soon, see it from the roof where it can’t hide, Caroly’s hand in my clammy one.

My gaze drops to the windows of the tenement across the street, the building a twin of my own, only in tan brick, not red. There’s a human shape in one frame, silhouetted by a flickering, unseen television. Perhaps he’s watching me in turn. He backs away from the window and disappears into the private shadows of his own little realm.

You could leave too, I think.

He could be outside, smelling summer’s heat in every vehicle and body that passes, feel it rising from the street, hear the urban pulse in the music of far-off clubs and thumping from cars.

I feel it all, hear it, smell it, taste it, everything beautiful and ugly and vital that feeds this city. It feeds on me too. I feel bare naked out here, skinned and split open, but I feel.

I let the city drink from me a minute longer, then turn and mount the steps on watery legs. No threats leer at my back as I unlock the foyer’s inner door, only promises of what lies upstairs beckoning me. A soft body in my bed, soft lips ready with soft, sleepy questions about my absence. I mount the steps two at a time, as eager as I am anxious. Four flights, but five soon, perhaps next week.

Five flights, all the way to the roof, her hand in mine. And I’ll tell her, with all of Paris watching.

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