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A Flirt too Far


Laundry days suck. Always have. You can’t go anywhere; you can’t do anything but wait. Maybe have a seat outside on a rickety chair, lean against a wall, and watch the morning trickle of traffic in an isolated Parisian neighborhood.

The Metro Station-Denfert Rochineau-was about a 1/4-mile away so Hector was about as cut off from Paris as you could be while still being in Paris.

Only having been in town a week and already Hector had managed to soil every article of clothing in his pack. He and Billy still had another five days to go before shoving off to London, then, parts unknown, but Billy, being the German-Austrian taskmaster that he is, had already waken early, got his shit together, and was off to the Luxemburg Gardens.

Fuck it. Might as well get it out of the way. Hector brought down from the room a liter-sized bottle of Beck’s, a pack of smokes, loaded up the washing machine in the launderette-which was damned conveniently located directly across the tiny street from the Mom & Son operated hotel they were staying at-and relaxed.

The usual early morning rain shower had dissipated into those high, wispy, Monet skies with the sun filtering through the clouds to make it feel hotter than it actually it was.

Hector leaned back, beer in one hand, smoke in the other. He saw the young Pakistani who ran the Gyro shop across the street sweeping the sidewalk in front of his storefront. No customers. Just making up work to keep himself from going mad. Hector waved. The young man waved back. Lunch was usually a Gyro to go. Step out of the hotel, turn to the right, and there he was. Again, damned convenient…

At first it was the basic Gyro: slab of greasy beef sheared off a rotating carcass-and god knows how long that fucker was hanging around-then it’s slapped into a half warmed over slice of pita bread, add a stale salad with watery dressing, and top it off with a pinch of stringy, greasy French Fries.

But after going there day after day, and, seemingly, being the only return customer, the servings became more substantial: double portions of beef, fresher salad, thicker dressing, and soon steak-cut fries were overflowing the take-a-way bags.

Not to everyone’s liking, but goddamn, what a treat after the all night boozing, the morning self-flagellation & curses at God, the shakes in the shower, then the slow crawl to the front door at half past noon.

The Paki made another pass in front of his doorway, then, with head down, stepped back in. The faint echo of Mariachi style Mexican music coming from around the corner at the neighborhood Brasserie caught Hector’s ear next.

The busboys were cleaning up from last night’s drunken reverie where they had made quite a mess of it. A surprising number of French have a refreshing taste for things Latin: Salsa clubs, Mexican restaurants, and many speak more Spanish than English. Which is something The Man from America doesn’t know.

Sure, everybody has their prejudices-The Vichy Government comes to mind-but all Hector cares about is that when he’s in Paris it is absolutely the best he has ever been treated. Well, Scotland is a runner up. And the carnival of souls they call Amsterdam. Maybe Dublin too, but not Cork. Fuck it, it’s just a sweet and noticeable change of pace from L.A. is all…

The Brasserie around the corner was a place he and Bill said they would check out, but never did. The need to dash over to the metro and shoot off into the rest of the city was overwhelming. But they should’ve, really. They sometimes got into that habit. Say they’ll do this and that, but because they can be bad drunks, and have the attention spans of monkeys, the this and that usually falls by the wayside.

Halfway done with his beer now and from his spot Hector could see the park where he ate his lunch.

The park was divided in two. Across the street children played pick-up games of football. On the other side, their grandparents sat and waited. Or nibbled on their lunches. Or played checkers on the benches themselves, with their legs crossed, their bodies supported by the high comfortable bench backs, one of their arms slung over the top.

Hector, sitting on a bench of his own, munching away on his Gyro, listening to his Discman, his head bopping up and down, must have been a bit of a shock to the old Parisians; but, like most things, they got used to seeing him everyday.

One or two even nodded and smiled at him, and how could they not? Hector sat there with a big ‘ol the-condom-ripped-and-she-doesn’t-even-know-it-grin on his face, happy as all hell to be in the middle of Paris, having lunch, locals around him. Why shouldn’t he be happy? Very few get this tranquil opportunity, away from the tour buses, away from the mobiles, away from the sonorous gaggle of demanding Americans.

Up the street from the park there was the Boulangerie. Quick-stop bread. Baked fresh every morning and he could smell it coming in through the balcony of his hotel room. That was the last stop before hitting the main drag. A genuinely sweet “Bonjour” from the mid-40s Husband & Wife proprietors started off a day the right way.

Hector soon discovered that buying one long loaf of bread was cheaper than buying two shorter halves. His daypack was compact, and simply breaking the larger one in two was the ticket, and a few Euros less. Screw it, he budgeted on the road and it always paid off.

Then, there was the Egyptian girl-must there always be a girl?-he saw standing outside her doorway, holding on to the doorframe for balance. She and her mother ran the shoebox-sized market to the left of the hotel as you walked out.

Talk about convenient. Jesus. Anything you wanted, from high-end hooch all the way to the brown baggers. A true godsend because every night before heading out for the evening, a stop and grab was made by Hector and Billy for the cheapest of wines and the most bitter whiskey.

Suddenly, Hector caught a quick glimpse of the Young Man as he reappeared at his own doorway again. Broom still in hand, looking over at the girl too. He looked back at Hector and ducked inside without acknowledging him.

“You perfume is pretty, yes.” Those were the first words the oddly attractive 13-year-old Egyptian girl said to Hector as he put his purchases on the counter for checkout a few days ago. The mother sat heavily on a stool guarding the register. Shawl over her shoulders; unfocused light in her eyes.

“I’m sorry?” Hector smiled back, flattered. “It’s cologne.”

“Oh yes; okay. Mother say your perfume smells very nice.”

“She does, huh?” Hector looked at Mother. He doubted she even knew he was standing there. “Well, thank you, Mom.”

“I like it too,” the girl said and fidgeted with her fingers.

“Glad you like it.” Great, the first local female to notice him and it’s a kid.

“It’s Tommy.”

“Oh, yes, I know the Tommy. It is expensive.”

“Not really.” She smiled at him while ringing up the booze.

“Dude,” Billy nudged Hector in the back, “We gotta get going. The women are waiting.”

“Yeah, yeah,”

“Okay. You are all good.”

“Yes, we are. Merci, Mademoiselle.” She giggled at that.

“Merci, Monsieur. Bonsoir.”

“Bonsoir.”

Oddly arousing indeed. Sure, Hector had his fill back in Amsterdam, their first stop on this mad dash across the continent, two whores a day for five consecutive days, but this was a local. All right, not from Paris exactly, but Christ, take a look around, who was? Despite the looming shadows of resurrected Nazis, this was still the place to see half the world.

“And exactly what are the statutory laws in France these days anyway?” Billy prodded Hector as they hightailed it to the metro.

“In England it’s 16. The Czech Republic is 15. I’ve done my homework on this one, but France…I forgot.”

“You didn’t even notice she had a handicap, did you?”

“What?”

“Didn’t think you did after raping each other with your eyes.”

“What handicap?”

“Dude, her leg. Her left leg is crooked, like, bent in at the knee; turned inward almost. Pretty fucking nasty looking.”

“Underage and handicap, huh?”

“You sick fuck.”

Hector saw the girl the next day, and the next day, and everyday the conversation grew. Where are you going now? Do you like Paris? How was the museum? How were the catacombs? Have you met any girls? Do you have a girlfriend in America? Things like that.

Then the coy, blank, yet curious gazes into his eyes. And always the mother was at the register. Never said a word. Never moved. She could have been dead for all he knew. Hector wondered what would happen if he leaned over the counter and planted a big ‘ol wet kiss on her daughter’s pouty, desperate-for-affection-lips.

A girl will always steal a glance even if she is with her mother. Flick her hair back behind her ear, put her hair into a braid, or maybe pretend to adjust her sandals. Fathers are tougher though because they’re always looking around, they know the dogs that are out there. A boyfriend though doesn’t notice. He actually thinks he’s the only one. Now that’s funny. A husband half cares, does/doesn’t. He simply takes comfort in the fact that he’s the one she’s going home with.

It takes a gigantic pair of balls on a wife if she’s going to stray, but eight times out of ten she usually digs the attention, then she’ll brag to her girlfriends on the phone all about how some dirty little so-and-so was leering at her at the local Starbucks.

But if they’re a young married couple, you’ll make them both regret being married so young because in truth they’re bored with each other, but, feel it’s too late to do anything about it. That sense of duty or it’s what you gotta do is programmed into their being. Anything but love…

But how could Hector think of this girl with such pathetic desire? No, it’s not right. Weeeeeeell, once, passed out on his bed after an all night romp through the city, he did rouse himself back to semi-consciousness and tried to masturbate; under his blanket, thinking about bringing her up when Billy was out somewhere in the middle of the day, but he was just too goddamned tired to finish.

The next morning Billy dashed off to another museum, but Hector wanted to be outdoors, maybe do some writing by the Seine. He saw the girl as he was about to run down the steps of the metro. She stood by the entrance, near the curbside of the busy boulevard. “Hey!” Hector shouted too loud, too enthusiastic.

The girl stood as tall as she could despite her handicap for she straightened up when she saw that it was Hector. She ran a hand through her sloppy curls, adjusted her eyeglasses. If there were a mirror nearby she’d put on more of the lipstick she was forbidden to wear in her household.

Her clothes, faded, flare leg jeans, pajama-pattern-top, and tan, suede boots were the norm for most young European kids. Not because they tried to copy the so-called retro movement of The States, but because that’s all many could afford, the thrift store fashions.

Go to the middle of the Czech Republic someday. Take a bus out of Prague to anywhere, make it an hour’s ride, then, get off at whatever town you come across. Hector had chosen Terezin: sideburns, wide collars, polyester jackets, elastic waist slacks. Paris, London, Munich; sandals and black socks, tennis shoes and pantyhose. Fashion capitals of the world?

And then there was her leg. Her left leg was just as Billy had said. All this time Hector had saw her standing behind the counter. So how did Billy know? Who cares? Anyway, the girl stood with her hands at her hips, and she balanced herself, like a person does when he or she sprains an ankle.

They favor the foot, lift it, and let it hang, and they try to balance themselves in spot if they have no crutches or a cane to use. That’s what she was doing there in front of him, but trying not to do it at the same time. Her knee looked to be slammed over to its side, like somebody stepped on it, hard, at birth, and permanently maimed her.

Hector remembered handling his new puppy, Pokey, a thousand years ago when he was four, then dropping her onto the kitchen floor by accident. She landed on one of her hind legs, forever slightly pushing that leg of hers in a little more than it should. And if you looked at her from behind as she ran, you could notice the limp….

There was nothing slight about this girl’s malady though. And it aroused Hector. Just like fucking a pregnant woman, and then getting to milk her before her own baby does…

“Hi,” she finally answered. You have any money?”

“What?”

“My mother gave me a little money for school, but I want to go be with my friends. You have forty Euros?”

Hector was startled. The fucking nerve! “Um…no.”

“Twenty then?”

“Honey, I need that to tour.”

“I see how you spend the money on liquor in our shop. You must have a little something.”

Shit, no getting around that one. She had him there.

Then, Hector, caught between rage and arousal-is there any other place to be?-heard the girl say what Hector hoped he wasn’t thinking: “I can earn it,” she said.

Oh Jesus. Is it written across my forehead? Does it say WHOREMONGER? DEPRAVED CHILD MOLESTER?

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