Originally published in NYU’s BRIO Journal, Spring 2011.
The little boy sits upright cutting his boiled meat. Or, his father assists him and mostly does the sawing. He lowers his forehead to the tabletop. Time passes. His father twirls some of his strands, as if he wants to pull something out. The boy’s eye, slightly visible under his thick coiffure, wavers over to mine.
He is in love with me, with my high cheekbones. He traces the lumps of bone tucked under my skin with his one open orb, circling round and round to create a pattern unknown to me. I remind him of his mother, in a way; her soft loose jowls somewhat reminiscent of my youthful counterparts – of how they might have looked in a past life.
The boy appears to dream while the meat scent permeates his being – the hunger erupting within him for my face, his meal in front of him. The mother, probably out of a jealousy aroused by an only child’s lost affections, keeps her gaze in line with her husband’s. Methodically away from mine. He should chastise her for this behavior. His son’s ascension to manhood is on the cusp.
I’m not quite sure where I stand within this conversation. The calamity of body language is rankling the savory café crème billowing freely before my knotted palms. I sip the drink, safely cloistered in another body where the whirring of my thoughts reign impenetrable.
The boiled meat cools slightly, the pre-night air and the boy’s negligence equally responsible.
No longer does he pay attention to his mother’s subtle reproach – he realizes her unhappiness emanates from her own predicament. The boy knows that, at this space in time, between him and me under St. Eustache’s fading orange mosaic, he cannot trust any other. It is up to him to seek his desires, savagely cut off from outside voices, though he hitherto believed in their predictability. This moment is an anomalous experience, as far as those go.
This newfound feeling of abandon – of the ravishing danger concomitant with the discovery of an unknown presence – rises to his gorge and lifts him. His head unlooses itself from the cloth and balances according to its own sense of equilibrium. All in the salle climatesse evaporates. His mother and father’s court Russian looks dissipate within their ignorance – and he looks at me.
The boy’s eyes behind his perfect-circle spectacles see me in a manner that I erased, years ago, in an attempt to obliterate disappointments. Love as a “known” – a variable to plug into an algebraic symphony – makes my abstract musings dumb. Meaningless. It is the look of a love I had written about without ever really fathoming – of one in which no one could have actually believed. Up until now.
My café between weathered fingertips, I return my eyes to his. Locked in this trajectory, the world quickly oscillates from thoughts of a drive to puncture representation’s mask to the most fragile and confused moments in Parisian history. If he would just jump into my lap, we would undoubtedly transcend this plane regulated by mothers and languages and limitations of looks.
But he sticks his fork into the steer on his plate and forgets. He wipes all of his being fresh of the infatuation.
The conversation resumes in a lively drawl, father and mother patting and doting on the only son who has accompanied them to a new country. Tourists, they are. Certainly. One can tell by the peculiar collection of maps and the stubborn insistence to speak with the waiter in scant scrubbed English learned from Hollywood.
Maybe he never loved me. At this point it ceases to matter. I am but a separate entity in a chair pretending to read, unable to concentrate on an assignment. He is a boy, if one is concerned with definitions. With his family no less. Duly feeding himself boiled beef on Rue Saint-Honoré.
Is there any merit in striving to cup this kind of love and place it on a mantle for decorative declaration? To hoard a piece of empty memorabilia bound to cultivate dust and possibly a rare glance from some hardened passerby? It is better, I think, to see this sort of interaction immolated.
No dueling morsels of evidence to suggest defeat or infidelity.
No use for witnesses lined up to refute an improbable attraction.
Just an instant – to stow away – almost indistinguishable from any other within a patchwork memory.
His voice rings in jest. I finish my coffee and pack up my copy of Rilke.