NO TORNADOS IN PARIS
By Miranda Steffens
I leave with the question, “Are you sure my hair doesn’t look like hell?” and he says, “no, no it’s fine, it’s fine,” in that matter-of-fact way I blame on his being German, and I say, “it looks like I’ve been up all night having sex and now I’m going out — at nearly noon — to buy eggs for breakfast.”
That gets him. He smiles, blushes at our night, at the morning that drifted by while we slept. “It’s true, isn’t it?” He backs me into the hallway mirror, kisses me as I open the door.
"Yes, and I suppose we are all so honest." I trust he will catch my jab at the immaculately dressed and groomed Parisians we are both displaced among.
He presses the key into my hand, "Your hair is on fire," he says, and releases me.
Last night, when he described the girl, I thought she probably looked like me. Dark hair, dark eyes, tan skin. He was over her, he said, but I could tell he wasn't. When another woman's name comes up in bed, he's not over her. True, I asked. I can never resist not asking, not learning of past loves, and I got my answer. She’d had to leave — not by choice. Her visa expired and that was that. The life of an expat. She was out of his life, and that had to be good enough.
In the tinted elevator mirror-walls I notice my hair grown light by the sun and see my skin is red, flushed, not tan. My eyes are dark but not as dark as hers. Not as dark as I imagine hers. I remove my hair band and smooth the staticky strands into a tighter knot, but there's nothing I can do about the flush. I thought it was last night’s red wine, but now I realize it must have been the sun. Or the sex. My reflection smiles.
So I don't look like her after all. She was from Bulgaria, he said, "where the gypsies came from." Far more exotic than Chicago. I look at myself again, this time in the hallway. Right now, I don't recognize myself. There are no mirrors inside my own rented room on the other side of Paris. It can be a good thing, not to look. I am not what I look like. I am quickly becoming someone else. She pushes the door open.
There is no one on the streets. The moped is locked where it belongs, a rusty blue landmark that is always there, never not there, marking each arrival to his place. There are no moving vehicles, nor any other stationary vehicles around. She turns back, look up towards his apartment on the third floor. It's Sunday morning, it makes sense, and yet, the silence fills her with mild fear. An empty street can be dangerous, she thinks, an empty street can suddenly be filled with a roar, a tornado can sweep through and pull a person off her feet and she will never be seen again. Or pick up a car and set it back down facing the other direction on the highway, as happened to her best friend’s father back home — disoriented, but otherwise, unharmed. But no, no tornados in Paris. He told her that. For whatever reason, no tornados in Paris. But other things.
She turns the corner and sees a girl pulling a suitcase on wheels over the brick street, looking up at the numbers on buildings. She lifts her heavy, dark hair off her neck and pulls it into a pony-tail, all-the-while continuing to gaze around, unfazed. It's as if she is lost, but has no particular place to go. The two pass each other at a distance of merely a couple of feet -- a meter, in France -- and they are the only two people on the street. Still, their eyes don’t meet.
At the store, she's contained some yogurt, looks through containers of yogurt, iceberg walls full of plastic cubicles, clocks, cubes, cups, plastic cups of yogurt. More than anywhere she's ever seen, been, more than anywhere she's been before, more yogurt, that is, there is more.
Lemon yellow, raspberry pink, orange, -- orange yogurt? Sherbet, orange sherbet-like, fluffy yogurt and also, cream. Orange and cream, peaches and cream, not yogurt now, this is dessert, yes, chocolate dessert, chocolate pudding chocolate mousse pudding chocolate cream pudding white chocolate raspberry mousse, mousse with whipped cream on the top, packaged and sealed with tinfoil lids, processed in factories with seven-hour, not eight-hour shifts, this is the country she is in. A country of mousse in the yogurt aisle.
Eggs. She's here for eggs, nothing more, that woman on the street, the one who looked lost, what could she have been looking for?
She passes bread, soft, white and sweet. No need for bread nor brioche, which is what this is. There are people in the store and she wants to stay a little longer, but after the fruit, les pommes, les poirs, she is at the register.
Un sac? Yes, please, a bag, and she takes her eggs, suddenly scared, out of the cold, yes, cold and she didn't bring a sweater, cold grocery store. Outside it is warm, and she allows herself to experience the sensation as she walks the block back to his place. Turning the corner, she spies the moped and speeds up, faster, a fast walk. Nobody now, nobody here at all, just the shadows of the noon-sun through trees.
At the main doorway, she uses the key he gave her to get back inside and she's in, past the mirror, fast. Hits the elevator button. Up. Up. UP goddammit! To his apartment where it will be just he and her, her and him again him and her, not the empty, entire outside. She bursts through the elevator doors, dark mirror splitting in half, her flushed face pulled apart, down the hall and his door stands ajar.
She stands at the stand-ajar door, mouth agape, open for air, suddenly, her breath is too loud. Her heart is too fast so she stands and waits to slow her heart, waits for breath. Her hair on fire. That's what he said to her: "your hair is on fire." Sometimes there's confusion, these expressions in English don't translate, and she doesn't know what he means.
There, his voice.
What are you doing here? I didn't think I'd see you again. Not to her. She pushes through the door and they both turn to look at her. In the kitchen, the counter between them and her, covered with the start of their meal. Meal. Breakfast. Eggs. She has eggs in her hands, it's the girl from the street with the suitcase. This neighborhood does not have people on the streets pulling suitcases Sunday morning, that was what was strange, that was all. She couldn't have known it was her, the Bulgarian girl, no.
The girl gives her a stare, like her own eyes in the mirror, like, this isn't me there. And this breakfast is theirs. She's walked in on a breakfast that isn't hers, wasn’t made for her. She puts the eggs down, next to the orange juice and bread — they will need eggs with their toast — and turns back towards the door, towards the hallway mirror. The light from the afternoon sun at the window is behind her and she sees: her frizzy hair in a halo around her, as if her hair is on fire.
Check out this collaborative sound piece from pioneertown contributors David Scheier and Miranda Steffens.
Miranda Steffens is a poet and essayist living in Chicago. She is the author of the lyric essay book, "Peripheral Vision," published with Meekling Press. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Entropy, South Dakota Review, Hoot Magazine, Apple Valley Review and Upstairs at Duroc. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Knox College and her MFA in Writing from The School of the Art institute of Chicago. She currently works as an ESL professor.