Edgar applauds as
Charles carries in the chilled punch and sets it on the coffee table with
the four flutes and the bowl of peanuts and raisins.
"Lovely," says Luce. Tonight she is all leather, head to toe, and the
long gold zipper of her jumpsuit is open a third. A red bow sits on her
thick black hair like a butterfly.
"Eau de mer," Charles announces, giving it a brisk, clanging stir with
the silver ladle. "Now, its Saturday night and everybody has to get drunk.
"No argument here," says Luce.
"Yes, why not," Edgar agrees. "But what's in that exactly?"
Martine answers. "My sister Anne's mother-in-law made it for us a couple
of summers ago, and I liked it so much I wrote it down." She shakes a hand
as if it were on fire. "Strong."
"You almost fell in the pool," Charles reminds.
"I did not. Anyway, its got rum, pineapple juice and Curacao in it."
Charles serves everyone a glass and Martine starts the snacks around.
A jazz record is playing just loud enough to hear. The white table lamp
is on, the beige one, too, while the floor lamp casts a bright circle overhead.
The women sit side by side on the white couch and the men face them in
two pink wing chairs.
It is a scene repeated endlessly up and down the broad, clean streets
of their Paris neighborhood on a Saturday night in winter. There is no
strife, no war. The walls are white, and blank, too, save one that is covered
with photographs and empty frames.
"Is that you?" Edgar asks Martine, smiling at a large photo of a big-headed
baby on a bench in the sun.
Martine glances at it. "God I was ugly."
"Buddha baby," says Charles, raising his flute toward the picture. "I
married a Buddha."
"And who is that there?" Luce asks.
It is a black-and-white of an Indian brave wearing a single dark feather.
A snowstorm rages in the picture.
"Found that at a flea market," Charles answers. "Blood."
"Pardon?" says Luce.
"I have a little. A great grandmother. Pawnee woman who got married
to a tall Englishman way back when. I can feel it sometimes."
"The blood. I get cold for the longest times, then I flare up."
"Ill second that," says Martine.
"Great grandmother lived to be 110. She kept calling me Tom. That was
my grandfather. They had her in a rest home in Oklahoma and they'd leave
me to sit with her for hours. She had all these tubes running in and out
of her. It made me afraid to be old."
They all nod.
It is same scene, mostly, all over the richer nations. But a boy in
a slum awakes and dresses and takes up his kite.
They drink, look at the things on the wall, chew peanuts and raisins.
The record ends. Martine goes to turn it over and Charles refills the
"Its been one of those weeks," Luce says. "Insane."
Martine lowers the needle with a bump. "I know what you mean. And to
think we just got back from vacation. Already, we're exhausted."
Luce rakes her fingers through her hair, sending the red butterfly into
flight. "Hell, I can't even remember our vacation. Where did we go? Edgar?"
"You are kidding, aren't you?"
"I'll check the lasagna," says Charles.
"I know why we're so tired," Martine says. "It's these tiny boxes. Just
look at this room."
Luce and Edgar look around.
"If you had a film of this room that covered the years we've lived here
and played it high-speed, the furniture would spin around the walls. Like
"We do the same thing," says Luce. "Move the furniture "round and "round,
"The world is too small."
"Yes, it is tiny. Very tiny."
The red butterfly returns from its little flight around the apartment
and settles onto Luce's hair again.
The boy awakes in a tiny room where he sleeps on a mat while his mother
sews tennis shoes in a sweatshop one floor down and puts on his thin clothes,
takes his old kite and opens the door onto the stairwell. A sleeping drunk
slumps into the room like a sack of flour. There is vomit all over him.
Edgar says, "This stuff is murder, Charles."
Charles laughs, and they knock their flutes together.
"You got some on the rug!" Martine screeches.
Charles kneels, finds the offending spot, then rubs it in some with
a finger. "You can't see anything."
"You always say that," Martine says, rushing into the kitchen.
"Neatness maniac," says Charles.
"It does look like it will leave a spot," Luce observes.
"So," says Charles, "what's your attitude on this, Edgar?" He is speaking
like a man at a big public debate. "Should a man fold his own clothes?"
"Should a man have to be neat with his clothes twenty-four hours a day?"
Edgar looks to Luce for some help.
"Of course he does," she says for him.
"Where is the rug spray?" Martine calls.
Charles goes to help her.
Edgar and Luce reach out, hold hands over the coffee table.
"Not too late," she says.
"No, no," he says, checking his watch.
* * *
"A toast," Edgar says.
Glasses go up.
"To -- "
"Melbourne!" Charles shouts.
"No, no. This time, just to friends. Good friends."
They clink glasses, lean back and sip.
"Umm, I'm getting drunk," says Luce.
Charles forks his lasagna. "You're entitled to do what you want on this
earth is my opinion. Even move to Australia!"
"That's exactly what we told ourselves," Edgar says.
Charles rushes on. "I mean, what are we doing here? We work ourselves
ill, pray it won't rain on weekends, breathe all this pollution, fight
with millions of tourists to get into the museums, sit for hours in traffic
jams and worry all the time about taxes! May I smoke?"
The boy steps past the drunk into the dark stairwell saying to himself,
I will not throw up, I am a man now, I will not throw up. But he does,
there on the landing, and then plunges down the black stairs with his kite.
No one will know he is gone. No one ever knows when he is gone. Even when
they see he is not on his mat, even when they see his kite is gone.
"I don't mind," Edgar says, as if answering for the women, too.
Quickly, Charles gets one going. The first mouthful of smoke fails to
reappear. "No, were not doing a damn thing is what we are doing," he says.
"I mean, how many times did you promise yourself not to become a middle-class
idiot? Now here we are, stuck. Soft and dim and stuck."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Edgar says. "I mean, were -- "
"Don't get me wrong, please. I am very happy for you both. Australia!
Why didn't we think of that!"
Charles pushes away his plate and chucks his fork at it. It misses.
Martine picks up the fork and sets it beside hers.
"I don't think of myself as an idiot, Charles," she says. "Things are
the way they are. Who said we were stuck anywhere?"
"You've had too much punch."
"Not at all. Come on, Luce. Isn't is true? That if you don't remember
to get a move on, you die a stuck butterfly?"
"We've all had too much punch," Martine insists.
"Look," Edgar says firmly, "we'll get to see each other and -- "
"No we won't. You know what it costs to fly to Australia? Of course
you do. How long have we known each other, the four of us? Ten years, eleven?
But it will die now. It always dies when this happens."
"Melodramatic as ever," says Martine.
"I have to agree," Luce says. "Of course it won't . . . die."
Edgar starts to stand up, but fails somehow, and freezes half out of
"Then come with us."
"All right, you're on."
"I mean it."
"So do I."
"Charles," says Martine.
Edgar sinks to his chair. Charles stands and paces around the table.
"I can't tell if you're joking or not joking or whatever, but I don't
like this," Martine says. "I have lemon pie."
They all stare at her.
In his neighborhood, the streetlights are all off, so no one sees the
boy scurry along the urine-soaked walls in the dark with his kite. It is
only a few blocks to the treeless park with the broken cement benches.
He will climb up on one and look up out at the sky, at the brown stars,
checking for a breeze.
The guests leave around ten.
* * *
Late in the night, Martine whispers, "Listen."
A child is crying, no, screaming, at a great distance, no, it is a cat.
"Just a horny cat," says Charles.
"That is not a cat."
"Go back to sleep."
Martine gets up and peeks through the slits in the shutters. "Come here."
"No," says Charles. But he listens.
"Hear that?" she asks.
Charles sits up. There is something else, yes, a faint crinkling. Like
paper being wadded.
"The old bag's in the trash again," he says.
Their building attendant, a bored insomniac widow, was forever lingering
around the trash barrels, opening them, going through everyone's trash,
taking out things and storing them in her apartment.
"No, it's not her."
"Then what is it?"
"Shh. Someone's killed a baby. Now they're wrapping it up in newspaper
to throw it away."
"What? What did you say?"
The crinkling sound grows louder, clearer. Then fades. Only to near
again. Back and forth.
"No, but its coming from back by the dead tree."
Charles is sure its just a dog into a sack of something. But he gets
out of bed anyway. "O.K., let's look."
"You mean open the shutters?"
"Just a little. They can't see us since were in the dark."
"Are you sure?"
"Its four in the morning, Martine."
"Just a little, then. But don't squeak them. You know they'll squeak."
He lifts the latch and it squeaks.
He folds back one panel. The paper sound is loud now. Charles sticks
his head through the opening.
All the buildings are dark. There is no one down at the dead tree, no
one in the courtyard, no old woman, no starving dog, no crazed cat, no
He listens. The sound is coming from overhead. He scours the air. Nothing.
"I can hear it but I can't see it."
He pushes open another panel of shutter. "What the hell?"
Martine squeezes her head out next to his. Both start shaking from the
Suddenly, she points and knocks the shutters wide. "What's that?"
High up. A white dot swooping far to the right.
"An owl," Charles says.
"Way up there?"
Then it is gone behind a building.
"What would an owl be doing here?" she asks.
"A lost owl."
Then it reappears, rising much closer now, snapping and fluttering.
"A kite!" they say.
It dives, rises, turns, disappears, then shows up again over another
Charles tries to think of which park you could fly a kite from around
there. The nearest one was miles away. Had someone been flying a kite that
day, tied it to a tree at sundown and abandoned it? Or was someone really
flying a kite in the middle of the night?
"And I thought for sure it was a baby being murdered," Martine says.
"You had me going."
"You thought so, too?"
"I was beginning to."
"But it was only a stupid kite. How odd. Now I have a headache."
"Want an aspirin?"
"Will you get me one?"
Charles closes the shutters, gets an aspirin in the kitchen and runs
a glass of water. Then he looks out the window. The kite is still soloing
over the city. A little higher now, and farther away. As if a lot more
string had been let out.
She is covered up again over her head.
"Here's an aspirin."
"But you wanted it."
"I'm sleeping. Come to bed."
Charles takes it himself, then lies down. "Night."
The kite crinkles out there.
"Its talking to us."
"Go to sleep."
"You know what its saying?"
Martine doesn't answer.
"Its saying, Move to Australia. Fly, fly. That's what I think."
"I knew it."
"Can't we decide in the morning? I want to sleep!"
She balls up on her side of the bed, which means enough is enough, good
night. He wants to get up again and watch the kite. It sounds very close
now, right there within reach of the window.
Copyright © 1997 Blip Magazine Archive