Paris Was Good
Directions for moving into a new apartment as a couple:
1. Find a living room that has a lot of light, big windows facing south.
2. Find hardwood floors, preferably cherrywood because that’s the only color you can agree on.
3. Frame the photograph you took, sitting together in your Paris loft in front of the foot-tall Christmas tree you decorated with Vittel water bottle caps and cut-out snowflakes.
—the rest of the furniture is ready; it has been sitting in your storage space all this time. Of course, there are two of everything, two sofas, two toaster ovens, two sets of dishes, two beds. You’re sad to see your own furniture go, but this is compromise, this is love.
At work, your desk has been waiting for you, just as cluttered as you left it six months ago. Dudley and Aimee seem to have missed you, but they also seem angry that you’ve been gone so long. You give them souvenirs: figurines of the gargoyles of Notre Dame, chocolates wrapped in colorful paper—This appeases them. You check in with your boss who is too busy to look up from her computer screen.
In Paris, everything else was so far away. Now, your ex sends you an email in elementary French.
Voulez vous manger chez moi?
Non, pardon, you reply.
But you can’t put it off forever; your guilt is too strong. You meet at a diner and share fish and chips. You realize this is really over—that it actually never started. The next day she sends you a thank you note. She writes “mercy” instead of “merci”, “poison” instead of “poisson.”
May. June. July. August. Sepember. October. November. Time really does go by fast, just like everyone warned you it would. You see this ex about once a month, and each time is as equally strained as the others. In your new apartment you tell your lover you want a puppy, a small one that will sleep in the crook of your arm. When she asks if it wouldn’t be better to wait until you had a house you say, “I dreamt about Paris again last night.” It’s true, you’ve dreamt about it once a week since you came back. She kisses your forehead.
For Christmas, you get a small tree. You buy each other water bottels with red caps. You make snowflakes out of paper, but it doesn’t feel the same.
“But, what’s that?” she says, pointing to a box with holes punched into the sides, something scratching away inside.
“How long has the little guy been in there?” you ask.
“Since last Monday or Tuesday. I wanted it to be a surprise.”
Of course this is a joke. The puppy pops out with a bow around his neck. You name him Olivier, but somehow this turns to Oliver, sometimes Ollie. You take him on long walks where he sniffs every single rosebush you pass. You show him off to your friends, coupled friends, friends who invite you to box seats at the Hollywood bowl as a foursome.
By the following April, you’ve forgotten how to conjugate French verbs. You forget the pas after the ne. You wash your clothes at the laundromat where white-haired ladies whisper to you about which dryers get the hottest, and for some reason this delights you.
And then, one day, you realize that you think of the Sherman Oaks apartment as home. You are at work, staring at your computer screen, when you decide you want to share the rest of your life with this woman you have been living with for two years. You keep this to yourself, preparing for the announcement at some later date. Your dreams of Paris stop, replaced by long and peaceful sleep where you dream of nothing at all.
You might have noticed right away that “Paris Was Good” was written with a second person point of view—this alone nabbed my attention at first. It’s just not a POV that is often done. To be honest, it was a brazen, risky thing to do. Second person POV, when attempted, is rarely done well, but I think Davin pulled it off as it reads very naturally—smoothly. It doesn’t feel jarring, even though he’s slipping the reader into the main character role.
The language of the piece is, of course, well done, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the story to me was the subtlety of the plot shift within the story, reflected in the language and the vivid, well-chosen imagery. We see a sharp contrast in the oysters and the fish and chips, the two settings, and even the gifts (again the oysters versus the puppy). But the best contrast, in my opinion was the shift in the use of the French language.
She writes “mercy” instead of “merci”, “poison” instead of “poisson.”Very clever, no? Ultimately, these contrasts in language and imagery portray a subtle deterioration of a romance—with a woman and with a place. It seems that the love of a character is dependent on the memory of a setting. Out of sight, and all that….
Overall, the story is poignant, bittersweet—real. It's a settling into life, not entirely sad (there's Ollie, of course), but certainly wistful.
Many thanks to you, Mr. Malasarn, for submitting your story to our contest. Well done all around. Please be sure to contact us with your address and choice of books (Lamott, Bradbury, or Maass) at carolsimoncontest AT gmail Dot com. If you are interested in five-page critique(s), those will also be available to you.
If you would like to see more of Davin Malasarn, please be sure to stop by his personal (science) blog, The Triplicate, and his group blog on writing, The Literary Lab.
Once again, thanks to all for your remarkable support.