Subject: ABG: Break of Day (short story)

Date: Thu, 25 Jun 1998 14:22:52 +0200

From: Simon Besteman <simonb@nl.demon.net>

Organization: Demon Internet Nederland

Newsgroups: alt.basement.graveyard

  

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

the bird.

 

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

strong anymore.

 

"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

some coffee?".

 

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.

 

Simon