Is Paris Burning

SHORT STORY | IS PARIS BURNING

When I finally hitchhiked half naked out of the Bitterroots and dragged my freezing butt back to our little white house in Iowa City, Jade was gone. But a few days later, I received a letter from Paris that may as well have been a coffin with dead leaves in it. The photograph I found inside looked nothing like Jade; it looked more like an old grainy black and white photo of a woman staring through a fence at Auschwitz. It could have been Jade, but the air had been sucked out of her cheeks and she looked lost inside a white lace dress that was at least a size too big for her. The solitary rings around her eyes seemed to melt into her face like candle wax, dripping wet streaks of hot, black charcoal into the soft, melancholy furrows around the tiny lines beneath her eyes. The heat rising from her body seemed to burn my fingers and I dropped the photo fast, looking for a way out of the house before the whole place went up in smoke.

Apparently, Jade had gotten married to some kind of plastic, ballet-dancing, wedding- cake doll boy in a bathhouse in front of a gay priest who looked suspiciously like the devil standing next to a smirking midget who held the ring. Standing next to him was a flower girl who was right straight out of the worst Fellini film ever made. It made me wonder what kind of heroin they must be pushing over there because Jade looked less than human, her once perfect skin turned moldy bread green and her Energizer Bunny smile gone missing, jolted flat and slack, her eyes as empty as a Civil War tomb. But what struck me dumb was how perfectly happy she looked.

After inhaling a half bottle of Jose Cuervo a week later, I gathered my emaciated body out of some muddy little nothing Mexican river of piss at dawn, and stared out a window that looked suspiciously like it had bars on it, trying to orient myself. I could have been in Kansas for all I cared but the calendar on the wall was in Spanish, so I guessed I'd missed the turn somewhere and had to figure out how to get back across the New Mexican border without a car or money or one rational thought to my name. I only got one phone call, and as hung over and generally demented as I was, of all people, I called Jade:

When she answered, she sounded as if she'd been sucking on a helium balloon, “Just kidding about the wedding thing," she giggled in a quivering falsetto, "I changed my mind and called it off. You know I'd never marry anybody but you. Oh, by the way, I've got a plane to Paris to catch, so I'd best be on my way.” Then, before she could hang up, having apparently been distracted by one of her many acid flashbacks, she dropped the phone on the floor and padded off barefoot down the Yellow Brick Road like she was late for a date with the Queen of Hearts.
Having just been arrested for vagrancy, public drunkenness, and assaulting a police officer with a tortilla, I didn’t find any of that particularly amusing. I had enough to worry about, although how tough could it be to get out a bum charge like that? Two months later I found out. Not so fucking easy.

On the plane to France, I began thinking up creative ways to strangle, mutilate, burn, and dispose of Jade's body once I got my hands on her. I had been enjoying that little daydream immensely when the nasty little French hooker from Marseilles sitting next to me shook me awake and said, "Fasten your seat belt, you leetle asshole, we’re landing at de Gaulle in ten mineets".

I walked the streets of Paris with not one sane thought running through my stewed brain, talking to myself. God help the other suckers in this world in love with a hedonistic, self-centered, sadistic deviant in high heels and pearls with a monkey on her back who sliced across the frozen October moon on a broom. The fact that it was raining big cats and dogs never even dawned on me, and the black cloud that hovered over me seemed perfectly capable of protecting me from World War Ten.

Stopping back at my hotel near the avenue de Friedland I slammed down a couple Pernods at the Le Petit Tambour bar and went looking for Jade. That part was easy. Soaked clear through I got half plastered, and after shaking myself awake by getting blasted on espresso, I tried to strangle an arrogant, puffed-up maître d at the snobby little café called Fouquet's near the Champs-Élysées after he wouldn’t let me in without a shirt and tie. Feeling by then like a thoroughly ticked-off Napoleon looking for his cheap little cheating tart of a wife Josephine, I crashed through the swinging door. Surprisingly, not one of the appropriately placid and existentially detached French diners found my behavior at all unusual and I got nearly to Jade’s table before being tackled by Conan the fucking frog Barbarian. He wore a sissy little black tie but good God, he had a grip of steel, and we hit the ground gauging and flailing and swimming around in the mussels and leeks and sturgeon grease, and if I could have gotten my hands on a steak knife, I swear to God I would have driven it into his Goddamned beefed-up cannibal neck. And then, when I looked up, there she was, little Miss Mother Superior Jade, lording over us all, thoroughly bemused, sipping champagne like the Queen of fucking England, and, as if making a pronouncement to Parliament she had the nerve to say, “Now boys, don’t you be fighting over little ole me."

If I could have right about then, I would have set Paris on fire and sung God Bless America as she burned to the ground, if that’s what it would have taken to wipe that smug grin off Jade’s perfect, bone china white face. By then, I couldn't decide for sure if I'd rather kill her or marry her, but then, in Jade's world, hate, love, and fucking each other half to death pretty much came with the territory. Sure enough, I soon found myself forgiven, lying in our bed at the Chamberlain Morgan Hotel on the rue Keppler, adrift in the fog of her sweet, cunning sex, tongue tied and snake bit in crazy love again. The harder and deeper we dug, the more desperately I looked for just one good reason why we shouldn't just end it all right then and there in an explosion of blood and guts and ludicrously expensive Bordeaux. We both knew that whatever could have kept us apart would have by then, so we just caved in and gave into the lunacy of it all, and in no time flat got our sorry selves sucked down even deeper in the muck and brine, and only the roar of the ocean could have drowned out the horror of a love gone so deadly dangerous and strange. We screamed and cried bloody murder and dropped right off the face of the earth into a hole so wet and dark and bewilderingly sweet that we could have gladly died like that, had not a metallic slice of moonlight stabbed us in the back and left us there breathless, scared half to death of each other. Jade lay beside me, languid and still as a stone, her skin too hot to touch, and with a breathless sigh, the sleepy little lost girl that she kept locked away inside her hundred pound elf of a self whispered in my ear, “Is Paris burning yet?"