A GRIEVING TOURIST'S GUIDE TO THE CITY OF LOVE
By Dallas Woodburn
Go to Paris, because you promised you would. Cry while packing your suitcase. Forget to pack toothpaste. Forget to change your voicemail message. You will be phoneless for two weeks. Fuck it. The people who matter know where you are. The people who matter know what a huge deal it is that you are going to Paris.
Paris. Not Paris. Alternate-reality Paris. The real Paris is elusive now, shimmering somewhere in the distance. If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you travel to Paris to see her, but she is no longer living there because she is no longer living, is it still Paris?
She had a birthmark on her left palm.
She had the most expressive eyes of anyone you have ever met.
She had a bright purple coat and beautiful, thick eyebrows and a laugh like a burst of fireworks.
Five months and twenty-eight days ago, she was riding in a taxi. The taxi was broadsided by a bus. She died instantly. She was twenty-six years old.
Five months and twenty-nine days ago, you were excitedly planning a trip to Paris, to visit her. One year and thirteen days ago, you hugged her goodbye for the last time.
Your boyfriend comes with you to Paris. You are glad he is there so you are not alone. Except you stroll down the wide boulevards and wind your way through the narrow Latin quarter streets and climb the four flights of stairs to your cramped hotel room, and you feel alone. Very very very alone. Yes, he is right there with you. But.
But she is not.
Missing her is a corset around your ribcage, squeezing the breath right out of you.
It pisses you off that he never got to meet her. To him, there is only one Paris, and you two are there right now. He doesn’t know the real Paris. The Paris she showed you. The Paris she loved. Drinking mint tea in a mosque. Slurping ramen in the Japanese quarter. Going to that fondue restaurant where they serve wine in baby bottles. Running down the Metro stairs and transferring trains, following behind her, not needing to read the map to figure out where you are. She always knew where to go. How to get there.
Where is she now? She is everywhere, and she is nowhere, all at once.
Eat drippy-egged croque madames. Eat a dozen flaky macaroons. Eat Nutella-stuffed crepes. Eat filet mignon, rare. Eat ham-and-cheese sandwiches on fresh-baked baguettes. Eat so many buttery croissants you nearly make yourself sick.
The alternate-reality Eiffel Tower is as immense and sweeping as the Eiffel Tower you remember. There is a photo of her you love. She is leaping off the ground against a darkened sky. She is weightless, magical, pure joy. The Eiffel Tower a blur of light in the background.
Light a candle for her inside the Sacre Cour. Light a candle for her inside Notre Dame. Buy two bright daisies and rip their petals off and throw them into the Seine, for her. She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not.
She’s alive, she’s dead. She’s alive, she’s dead.
She’s dead, she’s dead, she will always be dead.
It pisses you off that she never got to meet your boyfriend. She met the other boyfriends in the past, the ones who didn’t end up mattering, but she never met this one, the one you feel deep in your gut is going to last. The one who will matter the most.
It is not until you leave Paris, airplane seatbelt snuggly across your lap and your boyfriend’s hand linked with yours atop the armrest, that you realize the truth. This visit was not an ending, but a beginning.
You will be going to Paris the rest of your life.
You will be going to Paris the rest of your life, but she will never be there.
She will never be there.
The plane rises from the earth. Close your eyes. Let yourself sleep. Dream scattered, hazy dreams, that you are with her, making lasagna for dinner. A bright kitchen. Two forks. Her laugh. The lasagna tastes delicious. Sunshine floods through the window. You have all the time in the world. You have so many things to tell her.
Dallas Woodburn, a recent Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University, has published fiction and nonfiction in Zyzzyva, Fourth River, Superstition Review, The Los Angeles Times, North Dakota Quarterly, and Monkeybicycle, among many others. Her short story collection was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Augury Books Prose Award, and the Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy, an organization that empowers young people through reading and writing endeavors: www.writeonbooks.org.