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The Things That Leave Us Cold
Part 4 of 4(Audio version available to listen to; link at the end of page)
We’d been living together, the monsieur and the boy, for almost 3 months in our apartment when he first witnessed the illusion he’d created for himself of me being this mysterious, aloof, guarded kind of guy disappear beneath a laundrette and a lot of money. The phrase laundering money was never mentioned so literally before and I saw the shock of who I really was hit him, like the balloon falling back down to earth, like the mask had dropped and the man beneath stood revealed in his humble state. Somehow he’d formed this misconception that being a writer meant that I had this air of introverted, introspective, subdued magnificence, that my clumsiness was a charm indicative of my mind being elsewhere, dreaming up characters, scenarios, novels in the planning, when in truth I was just hiding out, settling into shadows, comfortable behind the door instead of walking through one and facing people and their complicated realities. Jesus, you know me, I was happiest sitting in my armchair, in my boxers with a book, although you quickly changed the boxers for fitted briefs, house pants and that ridiculous antique artist’s over-shirt which you thought bestowed me with a certain creative look while I thought it to be the perfect cover for a cadaver in a coffin. And yet I still wear it and the boy always laughs at me when I do as if I’m about to make a study of him for a portrait and I get suddenly defensive, can you believe it? I’m finally defending your choice, your taste, your shirt that I only grew to love grew when you were gone, as if that could somehow bring us closer together. He thinks I bought it for myself. Of course he does, because I told him I did. It was easier telling him that than telling him I wear it because you gave it to me and whenever I wear it I feel like a part of you is wrapped around me. I don’t sleep in it. He likes huggable sleeping positions and I don’t want him to touch you through the shirt. I know, I can hear myself saying it, admitting it to you, of course, not to him, never to him. We are monsieur and boy, sharing a little light on the edge of a life. One of us thinks this is real life while the other is just waiting it out. It’s not all the time, but I still see shadows and wonder, now and then, if they will become you, in time, in hope.
Anyway, back to the boy losing faith in my mystery. The washing machine broke. Saturday afternoon and you know how I like my routine, fresh bread from the bakery on the corner, newspaper, clean the house, do the laundry and head out while it spins to avoid the vibrations. So I went to the laundrette instead, Madame China was setting out her goods on front of her shop and laughed at me which was her way of saying hello. She’s still utterly incapable of speaking french so she just smiles and laughs, well, more like giggles but it still makes me uncomfortable. What do you say to a giggle?
Laundry loaded and left, I headed back to the apartment where the boy was waiting for a promised shopping spree for his birthday. I never have cash on me, these days no one does, its pin this, pin that but for some reason I’d taken out 500 euros the day before thinking it would be easier and fun to shop with cash. I was halfway into the bedroom when I realised, in the rush to grab the dirty clothes for the laundrette, I’d also grabbed my jeans. The jeans I’d worn the day before. The jeans I’d been wearing when I took out the money. The jeans which held my wallet. The jeans which were probably in the last stages of a rinse cycle, in the washing machine, in the laundrette, next to the laughing China woman. And in one single moment, everything changed.
He saw me that day, the real me, a mess of a man on top of a machine, looking more like I was trying to mount it than rid it of money, my money, now laundered money. He saw me and just laughed. I thought he would have panicked, turned and run but he just laughed. He laughed while I cried. The back at the apartment, our old home, his new one, he held me while I sobbed and then he listened while I spoke, broke down, broke it all out, told him everything. Can you believe it? I swear, if the machine hadn’t laundered all my money that day, that ordinary Saturday, I would have stayed, for the rest of my life in the shadows, waiting and wondering. Waiting for you, wondering if you’d ever come back.
But you never could, never would. It’s not possible. So, finally, I find myself here, standing on front of you. Finally back at the last place I left you. We were beautiful, sometimes a mess, sometimes a disaster, it’s true, but we were beautiful all the same. He knows me now. I let him in, can you believe it? I let him into the world I’d kept prisoner in the shadows and strangely, he, the boy, this creature has found a way to let the light in.
I’ll still think of you, I’ll still wear that shirt, sit in your chair, I gave him mine. But I might not think of you all the time.
Well, that’s it, that’s me. I hope you like the roses I brought you. They are white, they are in memory of the light that you once brought to me in a dimly lit bar. I gotta go now, Alex is waiting for me. It feels good to say that. To say that someone is waiting for me now. Alex, that’s his name. He now has a name.
“Au revoir,” he said as he turned and slowly made his way down the sweeping hill and out of the cemetery, feeling a weight lifted off him. Weight, wait, the waiting was over. Death would come for him one day too, just as it came for the others, even those we love and can’t let go of, but for the moment, death would be the one who had to wait because there was still more life to live.
All Words and Photographs of Paris by Damien B. Donnelly