For three weeks I lived across the street from it. They were the only three words I said every day, multiple times a day, because I could never remember my street number but I remembered the cemetery, so when the taxi drivers asked “Adresse?” I responded with “Cimetière du Montparnasse.” Because I said those words often, I said them well. After hearing where I wanted to go, typical taxi conversation would suddenly burst into an opportunity to connect with the young alone American girl who spoke beautiful French. But the conversations would quickly plummet into nothing once they realized “Cimetière du Montparnasse” were three of twelve words in my French vocabulary.
The flatmate I lived with is nameless today. I only remember how the morning light would spotlight the freckles on her upper back, shoulders, and neck. They were a part of my waking ritual. The first thing she’d do in the morning was walk over to the stereo to turn it on. She didn’t have the best grip on the knobs and it’d take her a long time to find the static-less sweet spot between two stations.The sound would wake me up and after the ceiling or the wall, I’d see her back. I’d keep my eyes open until she’d leave to go into the bathroom then I’d close them again.
We did not connect in our three weeks together the way girls often do. Sneezes were blessed and television commercials were laughed at, but there was no joint triumph in discovering hidden spots during late night walks or finding the simple joy in sharing each other’s makeup. I would sit on my bed and watch her read on hers. I wasn’t smart or interesting enough to pierce through what I assumed to be her genius and it saddened me.
I could make the eyes of men widen and I could attract stray dogs even without offering food, but I couldn’t get her to look at me. Ever.
One night, during sleep, I felt Robert at the foot of my bed. He put his hands around my ankles and squeezed them a couple of times. I knew he was time zones away and I knew I was dreaming, but I opened my eyes anyway. As clear as a person can be in a dark room in the middle of the night, I saw him, standing there in the same outfit I left him in, and cried. He smelled close. Kamel Reds. I was upset at myself for telling him to not join me when I knew how badly he wanted to. It was a school trip. I was studying. I didn’t have time to arch my back and pulse for him. I only had time to shut him out. But I missed having a union and my flatmate wasn’t helping.
Robert stood at the foot of my bed and did not go away, even after I closed my eyes again. His hands drifted from my ankles up along my shin and back down. I cried quietly, not wanting to wake her.