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Memories That Haven’t Been Made

by Alex Pavljuk

Otis rolled over. He had awoken to the sound of a wailing siren in the near distance, maybe four or five streets away from his room on the second floor of a hotel on the corner of Rue Regnard and Rue Rotrou. The Place de l’Odeon was a small square which hosted a seemingly never at capacity theater, an approachable but often empty cafe, and a single bookstore which sat connected to the rival hotel across the way.

The sound of European emergency sirens always rattled around strangely in Otis’s American brain. He’d forget sometimes that he wasn’t back home, that this wasn’t his normal life. The sirens of foreign police vans and fire trucks always brought him back down to reality. Often, while walking through the nooks and crannies of 6th arrondissement, he’d lose perception of the vast miles of distance across the ocean which had separated himself from his past life as a faculty professor at some small Rhode Island university. In place of that world, he found himself here; in this self-imposed and lowly, but perceivably rewarding, life as a talented but woefully poor columnist. His French wasn’t good enough for literature, and the short stories he wrote in English weren’t translated well enough for print in the Parisian magazines. What he did manage to sell to the cheap rags didn’t go for much more than a few Francs.

Laying on his back, he looked up at the ceiling of his compact, long-term, hotel room. He didn’t want to wake up his partner who had made the trip across the Atlantic to visit him for the single month out of the two-year experiment that they had come to agree upon a little less than nine months ago.

Softly, he rose up from the mattress and twisted himself to the side of the bed facing the tall, curtain-covered windows which faced the facade of a slightly taller but much older building across the narrow street. His partner was still largely entranced by the lagging time difference and ongoing cover of night which kept the sun at bay until after eight in the morning this late into November. He rubbed his eyes before letting his hands collapse with open palms and unconsciously curled finger tips onto his bare thighs. It was just after five in the morning.

He stood up from the bed and reached for the door handle of the small powder room, the communal shower was down the hall. He pulled a brown bathrobe from the hook on the inside of the door and wrapped it around himself as he stumbled to the window. He pulled back the curtain and let the bleeding orange hue of the streetlamp outside of his second floor suite cut a line across the intricately patterned red and green rug before tracing up the molding of the narrow door to the small room. Slowly he twisted the iron hinges of the large storm window which had been covered by ages of dried white paint. They creaked and the coat cracked as the handle motioned upward and the hinge of the window came back into the room letting the chill of early morning seep into the small bedroom. His partner rolled over unconsciously as the cold reached her exposed foot at the edge of the tiny bed. She jostled slightly in her sleep and pulled her foot back under the comforter before rolling over and sinking into the worn out middle of the bed.

Otis watched her for a moment to make sure she hadn’t awoken accidentally. When he was certain she was still comfortable and asleep he pulled a small wooden stool from the tiny desk over to the window. The orange glow of the lamp post now covered his face and the sirens no longer wailed. Otis watched the reflection of the moon dance in one of the closed windows of an apartment across the way. Down on the street, Otis looked upon a sleeping man who laid on a foam mattress. The unhoused man’s sidewalk camp for the evening sat beneath the window of a jewelry store across the street. Next to his sleeping sack was a door which slowly opened. A young woman, maybe twenty five, guided her bicycle down the narrow stairs of the apartment building and out onto the ancient sidewalk. She stepped up onto the seat and pushed off past the man and turned down Rue de Condé towards Boulevard Saint-Germain. Her wide legged canvas pants and tightly bound neck scarf billowed behind her as she raced off down the one way street.

Otis watched her ride away. Her figure and thinly framed bicycle fading from view as she took a wide turn around the corner of the church down the road. He imagined that she was riding off towards some neighborhood boulangerie, the smell of charing flour and sesame seeds seeping from the large bread ovens, perhaps the same one that he’d visit on early mornings like this where sleep escaped him. Often, when the cool breath of morning filled the empty streets before dawn, and the city cats dug through the bags of trash, or the late night jazz performer slinked back to their apartment before doing it all over again the next evening; Otis would find himself in search of a warm stick of bread, and a café crème at some river-side café and try to work on the next great American novel.

But Otis snickered to himself. Alone on his uncomfortable wooden chair as the cool November breeze rose the hair on his arms, he wasn’t going to write anything here. He could tell himself he was, he could truly believe that this place would be, as it had been for so many before him, the place where inspirations abundantly flow. A place where experience, and life run rampant and rapidly despite the slowing pace of life. Sure he adored the café culture, and of course the city was unlike no other. There was beauty and wonder in Paris’s bones; Otis knew that well. What Otis couldn’t figure out was if this city was meant for him. Could he love this place? Surely. Yearn for it in years to come? Of course he would. But for what Otis knew to be true, is no matter how much he’d tell himself he’ll write or read at that small café with the red awning on Carrefour De L’odeon, or that he’d capture new book ideas or stories while walking the halls of the Louvre, or while perhaps strolling through Le Jardin Du Luxembourg, or people watching on the metro, he knew he was more likely to wind up in that old Irish pub in Montmartre again chatting away with the barkeep from Donegal who knew just as much English as he, and only a hair more French then he.

Otis could love Paris, adore Paris, and desperately need Paris, but maybe perhaps to find what he needed, or what he thought he’d find outside of the window which was still letting in the chilling morning breeze, would be for him to leave it.

Then, again, that foreign sounding siren rang out in the distance, its howls still rattling around with dissonance in his American ears, reminding him this wasn’t home. Perhaps now, looking back over at the woman who came all this way just to see if his dreams had been realized would set him straight. Maybe he’d tell her when she woke that he was ready to return or, more interestingly, he’d say nothing of these wavering thoughts. Perhaps instead, they could try to fall in love with this place together, not separate. Maybe, over a cup of coffee and shared loaf of bread from that boulangerie the woman with the wide legged canvas pants, and thin framed bicycle rode off to, they may find out if both of their dreams had actually been here this whole time. The dreams that Otis had may just have been memories which hadn’t been made.

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