CHARACTER WRITING IN A FRENCH IMMEUBLE
A short character sketch based on James Joyce's Wandering Rocks chapter in Ulysses .
Inspired by the wandering rocks chapter from Ulysses, by James Joyce
I walked home from the Polish restaurant by myself. I wore a mid-length, black dress. The scratchy hem of the dress brushed my calves and swayed as I walked along the old, cobblestone sidewalks of Montmartre.
Montmartre is a neighborhood in the 18e of Paris. It is where I chose to live, not because of the Sacre Coeur, but because the Parisians seem to be a little nicer and a little weirder here. Something hard to find in Paris: kindness.
Having a heavy history of artists shacking up in shabby apartments to live "la boheme" over the last two centuries or so, Montmartre is different than the rest of Paris. It used to be its own village, separated from the mean streets of central Paris where the price of a croissant is extorted. I lived on the cheaper side of Montmartre, on the border of a neighborhood called La Goutte D’or. La Goutte D’or is a place that white Parisian women warn each other not to go after nine in the evening.
It is filled with recently immigrated Algerians and Senegalese families. It has markets on Sundays that display fresh fish still with their scales, placed delicately on a bed of chipped ice, mouths agape.
Men wearing joggers and hoodies sell discounted packs of cigarettes outside the metro stop, Barbès. Women buy fabrics imported from their home country from the "tissu" shops. They make beautiful dresses in tropical colors that they wrap around their bodies and wear under down coats. Children run free. Police officers stay close.
The old woman with the rotting fur coat passed me on the sidewalk. She lived in the area. She had a small corgi in tow, bits of dew crystallized on its whiskers. Humph, the woman thought as she hobbled along with her cane. We used to be tasteful artists. Not young people sticking metal piercings in their face and calling it art.
I noticed her staring at my nose. I adjusted the two small piercings nestled in my septum and my left nostril. They were cold and stung the inside of my nose. I adored them. A woman stubbed out a cigarette with her boot and hopped on her Vespa.
From the window of the apartment building across from me, Deborah Levant aired out her house rugs. She opened the little green shutters to her windows and took in the street down below. A piece of green sweater fuzz came loose from the rugs she held from corner to corner and drifted down to the street, landing in front of a girl who seemed preoccupied in her own daydreams as she walked along.
Deborah is in her early 40’s and she had recently gone through her second divorce, which was a family scandal of the juiciest kind among her staunchly Catholic lineage.
Deborah herself weathered through a sort of mourning process over the past few months. Mourning of the shape that no longer left an indent next to her in bed when she woke up. Mourning of the second man she had fallen in love with and lost. Mourning of the arms that squeezed her and ask her how her day at the office had been. After these months of mourning, Deborah rediscovered a feeling of lightness; of freedom that she had long lost after her teenaged years and following a slew of lukewarm relationships. She attends weekly Feng Shui meetings with a small group of open-minded women. Every Friday, she shakes out the dust from her carpets, inviting the new dust in.
The rat peeked black eyes above the grail in the road, grabbing a bloodied pigeon feather into its teeth. What is one creature's roadkill is another's dinner.
Sandra is a recently immigrated, single mother living two floors below me. She has a small boy and a small girl, three and four years of age respectively. She had given birth to them in Iran and moved to Paris in January. She had changed her name to “Sandra” as soon as she arrived but kept her original last name so that not all of the country she called home was lost. She speaks little French. At dinner time, when she set little bowls of saffron-spiced rice and curried chicken pieces in front of the children, the little boy wacked his cutlery off the table and cried, emitting a sequence of strained sounds. He isn't quite right in the head, and Sandra always knew this, but she loves him anyways.
I thought of Pa as I ascended the stairs. Pa was an oil engineer who had been posted to a job on a Russian island two hours by flight from Japan. Once inside my apartment, I set the keys on the kitchen counter, slid off my boots, and melted into the small couch that came with the apartment. Ma curled up on the couch in her and Pa’s small home that Pa’s company had provided, free of cost. Ma steeped a sachet of green tea into a large blue mug and dialed the number to phone her daughter in Paris. Hopefully she wouldn’t be out already. Dusk descended.