Subject: ABG: Break of Day (short story)
Date: Thu, 25 Jun 1998 14:22:52 +0200
From: Simon Besteman <email@example.com>
Organization: Demon Internet Nederland
BREAK OF DAY
It is so much easier for her to be a bird!. When I enter the room
in the early morning she is lying on her belly on our narrow
mattress. It is dark still, my eyes need to adjust for a while. She
sleeps naked and has thrown away the sheet, as even at night
our room, just under the tin roof, remains an oven. During the
night the metal retains the heat it has soaked in during the
long, suffocating summer day. Her hair covers most of her face,
the little beak like nose protruding from the black mass. Her
arms are wide open on both sides of the mattress. She is a little
seagull flying over the universe of her dreams, ever so private,
ever so scary nowadays. When she'll wake up she'll tell me about
her dream. She'll say she dreamt she was a bird. I'll nod. She
always dreams she is a bird when she's lonely. And nowadays
she's always lonely.
I am not sleepy, I am slightly drunk. I work as a night porter in
a tourist hotel. After four o'clock, when the last British couple
finally makes it back to their room, my colleague Gilbert and I
have the place to ourselves. There's only the two of us. We always
raid the bar. Nobody ever checks anyway. Until six, when the day
shift arrives, we drink gin and tonics and argue about politics. At
six I take one of the first metros back to Belleville. The day
breaks as I walk the last stretch from the station. The upper
floors of the buildings come slowly alive with colour and light. The
sky becomes pink over the roofs. It is fresh in the street. The
Tunisian butcher downstairs grins at me. He is putting
sheepheads on a rod. All day they will roast in the see-through
oven in front of his door. By ten the stench of mutton will be
unbearable, a strong nauseating smell of burning fat that slowly
invades the whole street. For a small fortune I buy a tin of
grapefruit juice and a loaf of fresh bread.
Coming from the street, the heat of our room is overwhelming.
Without turning on the lights I go into the tiny "kitchenette", a
cupboard with a sink, an electric 2 pit stove and a built-in fridge
that, together with the equally diminutive shower, gives this ex-
chambermaid room the status of "Studio", and allows the landlord
to add a thousand a month on the rent. There, carefully, I mix
Gin and Blue Curacao liqueur in a tall glass. I add some ice
cubes and fill the glass with grapefruit juice. I stir. This is what's
called a Blue Lagoon in the better bars of this city. It costs
anything from ff. 60 ( in the Bus Palladium, hopelessly passé) to
ff.120 (in the American bars of St. Germain des Pres, where I
only go when I'm drunk and have my checkbook with me).
I sit on the windowsill. It is a big window, looking south. There
is a small platform in front of it, a meter in length. Enough to be
able to sit in the window, have space enough to put your drink,
your plate and your book without feeling uncomfortably
dangerous. We eat here most of the time. It is almost light now. A
few weeks ago I would site here, in the same position, at the
same hour, in full daylight. Out of the blue September has come,
and the days are becoming shorter. The summer is coming to an
end. I am trying to postpone this end. So does she, but we know
we're fighting a lost battle. Inexorably, time is running out.
What has happened to this summer I don't know. It was May
and we both had exams. Then I found a job, working nights for
good money. She talked her way into the editorial staff of a film
magazine; small money but good connections for the future.
Smart little bird she can be sometimes. Then it was June, then
July and I turned 21. Then August. It feels like I have spend most
mornings of this hottest summer in years sitting on this
windowsill. One of the few perks of this most wretched of rooms is
the fantastic view over the city. Belleville is a hill. If you are
some way uphill, and have a window facing south, you can look
over the roofs for miles on end. I can see the Eiffel tower to my
right, far away. In front of me are the gas factory tubes of
Beaubourg, the erotic booby with its sharp nipple of the Pantheon
roof. I can see a silver glitter at the point where the Marne and
the Seine meet, far to the east. I like these early morning drinks
looking at the city. My city I feel strongly.
My drink is empty. I slide off the window for a refill. Usually she
sleeps soundly through the first drink, but my messing with the
bottles a second time rouses her. Shortly I will hear familiar
noises from the bed. With hindsight, I have been stupid. I have
been a child. Not seeing what was happening, not understanding
what I was doing, even less what she was up to.
From my side, there has been Barbara. I met her at the Bus
Palladium one night when Gilbert and I went out for a last drink
after work. She would go out every single night until the last of
the all-night places closed. Barbara would sometimes call me late
at night at work and I'd join her in whatever bar she happened to
be. I'd sleep at her place. I wouldn't even bother to call home. I
thought Barbara was leading an interesting life going out all the
time. I wanted to be part of that. And in bed she'd do things the
little bird never wanted to do. Kinky stuff. I would show up at
home the next morning, and my bird would look at me sadly, but
not dare ask where I'd been. Then one night Barbara called me
and I went to the Bus to meet her. But the bartender said she'd
gone already. Not alone, he didn't have to add. She never called
after that. I never called either. I never discussed Barbara with
From the bed I hear a soft croaking. I don't move. I smile
broadly, but she can't see my face from the bed. The croaking
starts again. Louder this time.
"Is this the duck?" I say without moving my head.
"Croak" she replies.
I hear a flutter behind me. She must be picking up the sheet to
wrap it around her. Tiptoe footsteps on the cocosmatting. My idea.
My mistake. I thought it would look nice, and there was a party of
the stuff on sale somewhere. It turns out to be horribly rough on
the tender soles of your bare feet when you just wake up. The
one time we tried to make love on it it became a wrestling
match, each wanting the other one to get underneath, as it hurt
our back. We gave up and I carried her on the small mattress.
She is against me now, her face puffy still, her eyes almost
closed; climbing up the window clumsily to sit on my lap. I turn
around and help her up. I can smell the sleep on her.
I love that heavy, familiar smell of her skin when she's still
drowsy, a bit sweaty, and soft, and so warm. I love it so much I
hurt when I smell it for fear of losing it. This is what I value most
in all of our love, the intense intimacy of her waking up and
coming in my arms. It's better than sex, it's better than all the
rest. One of her breasts is resting against my face, the smell is
overpowering. I feel I am getting an erection. She cuddles up
against me and we stay like this for a long time, without moving
We don't talk. I hear her breathing against my chest. It is still
the deep heavy breathing of sleep, she is not totally awake yet.
We are two statues intertwined in the light of the new day, we
look over the city like the obelisk of the Concorde, like the
famous marble soldier of the Alma bridge, who surveys the waters
of the Seine forever. I wish this moment would last forever, but
slowly she starts fidgeting. She's waking up. The smell is not so
"Hello the duck." I say. "You smell nice and duckly"
"You smell of booze you disgusting old drunkard. I'm cold. Why
don't you come to the bed?"
"Because you have to get up and go to work. It's over seven"
She says: "I dreamt I was a bird". Upon which I nod silently. "I
was flying over my parent's house. My father was working in the
garden. I tried to shout to him but he didn't look up. Then when I
shouted louder my mother came out of the kitchen, she said
something to him but I couldn't understand what. Then together
they put a big netting over the strawberry plants against the
birds, you know the ones, those big green nets. But this
particular net wasn't green, it had your photograph printed on it.
What do you think it means? My parents don't even grow
strawberries in the garden."
"I don't know." I say lamely. I'm tired suddenly. My erection is
gone. The magic is already fading. It is so fragile. "Shall I make
I brew an expresso on the little Italian machine while she
showers. I mix a third drink for myself. If I was stupid and
immature with Barbara, she is actually much more dangerous
for our love. Whatever I was doing, I never doubted her, I never
doubted my love for her. Barbara was an adolescent fancy. I liked
the idea of being a high flyer going to expensive all night bars
with a beautiful woman on my arm. I enjoyed the idea of having
kinky sex in a 6 bedroom St. Germain apartment. I never missed
it afterwards, when it was over. It wasn't my life anyway..
The little duck has made better use of her summer. At the
magazine she has met a lot of smart, rich people. Useful people to
know for a young student of journalism. While I have spent my
evenings checking tourists into their hotel, they have brought
her to receptions, openings, parties with the rich, the famous,
the interesting. As I have enjoyed a glance of a lifestyle that will
never be mine, she has had her first preview of what is to
become all of her life. The duck will eventually become an
integral part of the arty merry-go-round. She is irresistibly
attracted by the glamour of it, but she's beginning to realize the
bottomless loneliness of that life. Her days of innocence are
coming to an end fast.
Though I do believe her when she says she remained faithful to
me during that summer, the comparison with all her newfound
friends had cut me down to size. I wasn't' t anymore the centre of
her world, or of any world for that matter. I wasn't as intelligent,
nor as handsome, nor as ambitious... Sure, I was still great to
cuddle up against when the sun rose over the city, but over the
summer I'd lost much of my attraction to her. Women can be
immature too. I felt that she looked at me more and more as if I
was a cheap trinket, that would glitter nicely in the shop and for
a few evenings after buying it, but had lost its sparkle over time.
I belonged now somewhere near the bottom of the jewelry box.
Just another no-hoper.
I think she had started blaming me for the room too. For the
tiny one-person mattress, for the permanent heat, for the
cockroaches. The smell of mutton, the ghosts in the street
peddling heroin and speed to other ghosts after dark. I was to
blame for our youth. I wasn't any security anymore. Not anything
like her friends from the paper were. I had no money, I wasn't
very self-assured, I was just a boy. They were men.
She comes out of our mini bathroom. She dresses quickly,
efficiently. She looks good. As she drinks her coffee she starts
putting on her make-up. I'm not working tonight. We agree to
meet for dinner. Over that dinner we will break up.