Excerpt from Book 1: New in Paris

            Because I had heard about it and read about it so much I rode a trolley to Montmartre and wandered for a bit along the narrow, cobblestoned streets. Of course this area was popular on a sunny day and it was crowded, so I decided not to explore the sprawling gardens below the white domes of the cathedral of Sacré-Coeur, or to join the long queue waiting to ride the funiculaire, the rail car that ran up and down this steep hill. The cafés were crowded and so were the sidewalks, and the only empty table I saw sat on a terrasse near an alleyway. Half-heartedly I started for the open seat and another man ran for it, plopped himself down, and grinned sadistically at me. He was a strange-looking fellow, with a round head and pointed, jutting ears and crafty eyes over a wide, ribald grin. He continued to gawk at me so I backed away from the table. A terrific crash sounded in the alley, and then I heard a man’s heated grumble. I ignored the chair-thief and glanced down the alley.

            A young man with very pale skin was standing in a wooden cart balanced on its hitch, and parked before what looked like the back exit to a theatre. Unlike the heavy-set character who still grinned at me from the terrasse this man was thin and lean, and with murderous rage he tromped across the inside of the wagon, stomping the length of it so that it teetered backward. The back end of it hit the cobblestones and made everything in it clang and clatter again. It seemed to be loaded with props—hats, wigs, a metal washbasin, seemingly part of a fake wall, a stool, and other objects that were durable in the face of this assault. Then he paced around and around the back end of the cart, kicking objects out of his path and glaring. He seemed to be looking for something but not willing to pick objects up and move them, but then a smile trembled at the edge of his mouth and I wondered if this was an act. His hair was thick and very dark, seemingly black, but in the high sun it flashed with brown and sometimes even a reddish sheen. I wondered if that was an illusion, for his face was red too from the effort of stomping around in this warm sun. Everything about him seemed to be moving, even when he stood stock-still and glowered at his hidden feet. I leaned against the nearby lamppost and watched him.

            “I can’t sleep, Georgia!” bellowed a voice from above me. Startled, I backpedaled from the lamppost and looked up at the man who was clinging to the lamp, arms and legs entwining it and grinning down at me. He too had black hair, and he looked somewhat like the searcher in the prop-cart with similar penetrating eyes, but they were darker and his skin was darker too, and he was perhaps a bit taller. A hand clapped on my shoulder and a third man shook me companionably, smiling into my face. He too was dark-haired, with arched eyebrows and high cheekbones. He was not handsome like the other two men; his lips and eyes were round and he had a rather unfortunate nose which, while prominent, looked like its slope had been peeled flat with a knife, but his smile was infectious and I returned it. From above us the man clinging to the lamppost recited some lines in a ringing voice.

I shoot arrows in the night Georgia
I’m waiting for Georgia
I think Georgia
Fire is like snow Georgia
The night is my neighbour Georgia
I hear every sound without exception Georgia
I see the smoke rising and seeping away Georgia
I creep along in the shadows Georgia
I run here’s the street the suburbs Georgia
Here’s a city that’s the same
and that’s new to me Georgia
I rush along here comes the wind Georgia
and the cold silence and fear Georgia
I’m leaving Georgia
I’m running away Georgia

            The lyricist slid down the lamppost to land before me like a fireman. “I say, you might be of some help to me, my fine fellow!” he exclaimed, and Knife-Nose with that grip still on me made closed-mouthed guffaws in his throat. “Please tell me, have you met a certain Philippe Soupault in your travels?” His face mugged in anticipation mere inches from mine.

            “I beg your pardon?” stammered stroppy me. The man in the cart stomped his foot and his angry expression carved my attention into a channel back to him again. “No. I do not know anyone in Paris.”

            The hand on my shoulder now landed on the top of my head and twisted it to face the speaker once more, and the eyes of the deep-eyed lyricist twinkled with delight. “Well, you’re in Paris. You know yourself, don’t you? So, you’ve never made the acquaintance of Monsieur Philippe Soupault? Are you sure?”

            “No,” I said, and then it came to me in a rush as the stranger lowered his face to give me an upward gleam from those intense, smoldering eyes. “Not…until now.”

            “Ah, Vitrac, my cover is blown in this city!” the man crowed in delight, and he clamped his hand on my shoulder then. The two men shook me heartily, then let me go. This Soupault turned to the man in the cart. “What in Newton’s nuts are you looking for, Artaud?”

            The man finally heaved himself out of the cart and looked beneath it. Bereft of his slight weight, the cart teetered once more and landed with a clang on its hitch, and everything inside slid and crashed again. Finally, he turned toward us. He stared at us as if in disbelief at our ignorance from almost unbearably blue-green eyes above his jutting, anguished cheekbones. “My cock!”

            Both men burst into laughter and my lips twisted upward, but I did not want to laugh at that insulted face that looked so young and flustered. I wondered if he was a teen-ager. “How very interesting!” harrumphed this flat-nosed Vitrac in an affected tone, as if imitating someone else.

            “Well, I hope you find it quite soon,” replied Philippe Soupault. After a final, mutual slap on my back, those two left the alley and walked down the street together, passing the round-faced man in the chair who was pressing his lips tightly as if against laughter, too.

            The youngster beside the cart heaved a heavy sigh. “I’ll write it again,” he informed me, launching his hands to the sky, and then he turned on his heel and stalked to the theatre’s back door. I passed a finger over my lips, contemplating the door through which he disappeared, and then I turned and left the alley. The jokester in the chair focused mischievously on me again and, as I passed him, parted his lips in a huge smile. Pressed against his teeth was a piece of paper with writing, the looping scrawl on it sitting jagged in his mouth in lieu of his teeth.

            Shaking my head, I found the trolley stop again and took it south. This time I rode it close to Notre Dame before I stepped off. As I neared the river, my solitary walk ended and I rejoined the march of people.

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