Published Work and Honors:
- Split, The Write Launch (2019) – Second-Place winner of Wesleyan University’s Herbert Lee Connelly Writing Prize
- The Whispering Magic of Sufjan Stevens, Reverberations Magazine (2017)
- Alone à Paris, The Vignette Review (2017)
- The Living, Short Fiction Break (2017)
Alone à Paris
I don’t know why I went to Paris alone for a month.
I had never been completely alone anywhere other than Long Island, so I knew it was an awful idea from the moment I clicked proceed on the Air France credit card confirmation screen.
But I couldn’t have backed out. Those haute-couture bastards already had my money.
* * *
I don’t like to describe myself as a “Francophile”. If I had to, I could name a dozen philes that would be grounds for arrest. That said, I have been obsessed with everything French since junior high, and over the past nine years, I’ve watched hundreds of French YouTube videos and films. I’ve befriended French people, eaten countless plates of garlic-cured escargots and crunchy baguette wands, and learned to pronounce pretentious French brand names and phrases I’ve been told make you seem intriguing at dinner parties.
“Where’d you get that cardigan? Ah, from Comptoir des Cotonniers? How . . . à la mode.”
Of course, I’ve even honed that nasally, phlegm-filled, I’ve-been-smoking-since-I-was-ten accent to the point where it now sounds near-native.
I guess I do know why I went to Paris for a month.
* * *
Absorbing the city of love, alone, was more disheartening than it sounds. I would often find myself dining behind young, attractive Parisian couples who believed sloppy kisses at quaint street-side cafés were more enticing than the beautifully garnished dishes of confit-de-canard sitting untouched below their chins.
“Vous désirez, monsieur?” waiters would ask as they slipped up to my table.
“Une petite amie et un verre de Bordeaux,” I would respond, cupping a hand in the air, swirling it like a pint of sweet red wine. I’d then wave them off before they could tell me that they didn’t sell girlfriends by the glass like they did their Bordeaux.
* * *
Perhaps profligately, I decided to spend hours locked in my hotel room, plucking the oily strings on my acoustic guitar, accruing the admiration of a polite cleaner with a lisp and a long facial scar who passed through the hall every so often. After he complimented my dexterity for the third time, I realized I wasn’t making great use of my time.
So I chose to venture out of my comfort zone and headed to the Sacré Cœur, a sprawling limestone basilica overlooking the city. Upon arrival, I found a comfortable spot on the stairs out front and watched the cloudy afternoon sky give way to a brilliant orange sunset.
It took me a while to really notice, but all around me were people – French, German, Italian, Spanish, British, American – interacting with each other. Some danced and sang along to the bass-thumping rhythms of Belgian rapper Stromae that streamed out of a beat-up nineties jukebox. Some posed for pictures on the marble balcony overlooking the distant buildings scattered along the horizon. A few shared passionate French kisses.
Others pecked. Many hugged. Talked. Some were alone like me.
The tension in my neck loosened. I closed my eyes and lay back on the steps and focused on the hum of everything. Tranquil white noise, like rain. Then I sat back up, opened my eyes, and let my head bounce to the ebb and flow of the music, the laughs, the click of handheld cameras. I melted into the city. That little microcosm.
I know why I went to France alone for a month. But I guess feeling alone is a matter of perspective.
Works in Progress:
First name: Nunzio. Last name: Romano.
“Middle name’s Nico,” he declares, clasping his stubby, calloused fingers around my hand. “Yes, my parents are assholes.” He scowls. “My twin’s named Anthony. He got the longer end of the stick.”
We’re at the end of our dorm’s first-floor hall. Freshman orientation cleanliness shines on the dark blue couches and spotless windows overlooking the muddy baseball field outside. In the air is the vague nip of lavender and the sweat-laden stench of anxious first impressions.
“AJ,” I reply, half-smirking, half-nodding. I recline into the couch and rest a hand on my temple.
“Everybody just call you Nico?”
“Yep. Nunzio sounds like the name of the protagonist from a shitty Italian rom-com.”
I snicker. “I don’t-a think Nunzio is a bad-a name-a,” I gripe in an obnoxious accent, thrusting a pinched hand back and forth in stereotypical fashion. “Fuck it. That’s what I’ll call you.”
He grimaces and gnaws on his lower lip. Then his expression softens, and he rubs his palms together as if plotting out a scheme. “Do whatever you want. My logic is bend, don’t break.” He points to the ceiling. “Miss you, Tupac.”
Looking for Color
God, what a shit weekend.
Woes started two nights ago. I was sifting through bills in the kitchen when Natty burst out of his room screaming like his balls got snipped. Figured it was just another ordinary night terror but didn’t expect he’d be running around and beating his head with his fists. I didn’t really know what to do, so I chased him through the house, trying to call out reassurances over his yells, until he tripped and pounded his knee on one of the floorboards in my bedroom. At that point words didn’t much matter so I carried him to his room and held him close and rocked him till he woke up.
He cried for a while. I spent the time smoothing his hair. When he was done he wiped his face and looked up at me with these terrified wide eyes. He said this time he saw a giant made of shadows. It was slow and it growled and when it moved the world shook. It was trying to crush him with its feet. He said he kept calling for me but I didn’t come. Maybe because I just couldn’t hear, he tried reasoning with himself. Maybe because I just couldn’t answer.
I. On October 30th, 1970, he was born in a hospital that no longer exists. He had pale blue eyes, was handsome like his electrician father, and was small-framed like the God-fearing woman who birthed him. He was given the name Andrew, after the saint, and the middle name Angelo.
A week later, he was escorted to his grandmother’s house in a rickety Chevy. Over the next few weeks, Daddy worked daylight hours, but Mommy was home. Andrew would reach for the light brown beehive atop her head while she changed his diapers and recited sorrowful prayers over his body.
Grandma Jane would sometimes sneak in and speak to Mommy in a low voice.
Have you been crying, Pat? You just had a kid. Be happy, for God’s sake. And don’t put most of the baby powder on his front. Put it on his bum, or he’ll get a nasty rash.
Sometimes, Grandma Jane’s voice would rise, and Andrew’s ears would rattle. When she left the room, Mommy would fall to her knees and burst into tears, demanding the Lord for strength and guidance. Occasionally, Andrew would sob with her. Other times, he would stare at the stains on the bedroom ceiling and try to stroke them with his plump fingers.
He was tall, straight-haired, and lanky from the time I met him until I last saw him two years ago. To anyone who didn’t know him, and this was most people, he was soft-spoken, bashful, not too far from invisible. To me, though, he was none of these.
We met on the afterschool bus when we were ten, when I’d first started to grow my hair out. It was the beginning of a new year at Hillman Park, a puny brick elementary school in my equally tiny hometown of Pallassett, and all the September trees were thick with their annual oranges and reds and golds. Over my two previous years at school, I’d come to learn that it was a sin to sit past your predetermined bus row; the front few were designated for first and second graders, the vast middle section for third and fourth graders, and the cramped back slots for fifth and sixth graders, at whom the bus driver would have to jeer to prevent them from jumping seats and belting out dirty song lyrics in the midst of their younger peers. As a new third grader, I chose a seat in one of the middle rows, expecting the upgrade to bring with it some sort of spiritual revelation.