Le Petit Pont

Do you remember, darling, how you broke my heart?

The pieces of it, lying in the street, swept into the gutter on the remains of the afternoon’s cloudburst?

It was there, on the bridge, right there. Where you see the young Algerians roller skating for the tourists, scissoring their legs and flying off the curb so reckless and graceful.

It was Friday, and the rain had washed the air of its late summer smog and heat. The sky was marbled yellow, pink, gray, and purple as the sun set behind the storm. Above us it was clear, and we sat and watched the cool dusk come over the city; watched the umbrellas collapsing all at once, and the tourists emerging from beneath grocery bags and newspapers.

You held my hand, cherie, your perfect fingers aimless and fidgeting. We talked as though it hadn’t been so long, in quiet voices, smiling. You glanced across the river at the great church. There were children standing frozen – pigeons lined their outstretched arms – in Our Lady’s plaza. How many times did we kiss under her watchful gaze?

I wanted to ask you so many things. I didn’t understand. Not long ago everything between us was so perfect, so pure. In spring, it seemed we were just babies, remember? We played, blithely, like we didn’t know what we were doing.

Then came Pablo. Bastille Day, at the park. He just showed up, a bad dream in denim shorts. And bald, cherie, bald! You didn’t care; you were carried away. His lines of Baudelaire, crudely recited, had the intended effect. His Neruda, my dear, I’m sure of it, was all invented on the spot. But what could I prove? I don’t speak Spanish.

You said he was mature; I said he was old. You said he was worldly, but I had never heard of these places. I looked them up and found nothing; granted, it was a place mat map, but it seemed complete.

By August I saw you less and less. The last time, you said you were going away for a while. The rage I felt then. A sick jealousy occupied my soul. Jealous of Pablo, of all things, and his shiny skull. The twisted fates.

And then you were gone. Oh, I asked around a bit, acting casual with your friends; they all said they didn’t know. Until one day Maria said she thought it was Disney World. Orlando, she said.

I found it on the place mat. I tried to imagine you there, with him. I lost my appetite.

Finally the wind changed. The highest leaves in the trees started to lose their color. The children went back to school, and I could see their uniformed bodies packed into city buses and coming up from Metro stops gasping for air.

I was preparing for the damp and cold, knowing I’d be alone throughout the worst of it, wondering if I could once more bear to watch the city put on the sour, empty costume it wears in winter.

Until this morning, at breakfast, mother said you were back; that she thought you might like to see me. I scowled, but she continued. She’d run into Pauline at the market and my name had come up.

So, like a fool, I let her drag me down there to the Seine, to sit over it with you and watch the rain and the sunset, believing perhaps my fortunes had changed. Believing – idiot! – you had come back to tell me your heart was not with him, there, in Orlando. That it was with me, always me, and that we’d spend the winter together, bundled against the chill, exploring the city of lights.

Instead we talked like old friends, as I said, smiling, watching the world go by. And you touched my hand, but you didn’t hold it. You let me go, cherie, and the sun went lower, and the streetlights flickered on.

And then my mother said goodbye, and Pauline pushed you away. And I watched you, in your stroller, as she took you down the Petit Pont, and you disappeared into the crowd.

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