Authors: Shannon Bell
THE TRAIN EVENTUALLY stopped in Paris and I breathed a sigh of relief. France. Things would be better in France. There was no symposium or anything to bring me down. My time here was all about sightseeing and relaxing. Maybe now the inheritance I got from the death of my parents six months ago wouldn’t be completely wasted. With luggage in tow, I found the terminal to be busier than expected.
A thirty-something year old woman was struggling to open a stroller for her screaming child. I tried to go around but her wide hips, the stroller, and the diaper bag left no room. I saw a bathroom and figured that it was a good excuse to let her do her thing without getting me too upset in the process. I shoved past a few more people with bags and stood in front of the sinks to splash cold water on my face. I needed to wake up. Staring into the mirror revealed a tired version of myself. My light skin was slightly red as my makeup had faded from the long train ride. My freckles were more visible without the foundation. Lines formed under my eyes, too, and my eyeliner was smeared.
I cranked out some paper towels and dampened them in the sink to wipe the smudges. My blue eyes were usually the first thing people complimented me on. Today, however, they looked faded from sheer exhaustion.
With a few elbows and a few “
” I was on my way out of the bathroom and attempting to get outside of the terminal. After finding a quiet corner, I pulled the map out of my back pocket to see where I needed to go.
My hotel wasn’t that far away, but it wasn’t really in walking distance. The phone showed that I could take a bus and then the metro, so that’s what I did. God I loved technology sometimes. The bus took me to the metro station and from there I went to the
My hotel was finally in sight. Although it was hidden within a much larger building, the purple doors made it stand out. Flags from over a dozen different countries hung from the top of the awnings and invited me in. I was hoping one of them was from an English speaking country in case my how-to CDs weren’t as good as they claimed to be. The hotel wasn’t much to look at, but it was close to everything.
I stepped through the heavy wooden double doors paneled with glass ovals and was thrilled to see the website didn’t lie. A faint jazz piano quickened my step and the airiness of the lobby greeted me. It was paneled with dark mahogany and there was the scent of fresh-baked cookies in the air.
The man at the front desk stood stoic and watched me lug my bags across the lobby floor. I guess he had no intentions of helping me. I hoped I was putting on a good show for him.
After a few words in French and cheating with some English thrown in, he was able to find my reservation. “Dylan Monohan?” The male clerk, Jean, sounded out each syllable ever so slowly.
“Yes.” My tone was probably a little angrier than it should have been but the fatigue was spilling over. I wanted nothing more to get into my room so I could land face first onto the bed.
“Is that your husband’s name?”
I sighed. I was in no mood for this. I was tired of people assuming I was a guy all the time just by hearing my name. “Non.” I couldn’t translate the rest of what I wanted to say so I opted for a smile and asked, “Do you want to see my ID?”
He shook his head and pushed my room card at me. I reached for one of the cookies on the counter and headed towards the elevator with cookie in mouth and bags in both hands. The man at the desk obviously wasn’t going to help, though he did seem amused. I didn’t care. At this point, all I wanted was a clean room, a hot shower, and a bed.
There was no alarm clock in the room, which I was actually happy about. I took the next morning to sleep in, catching up on the deprivation of the past few days. Twenty-six hours on trains wasn’t the way I wanted to spend part of my European vacation but at least it wasn’t Romania. So much of my childhood and early adulthood was spent fantasizing about what Romania would be like – after all, it was the land of vampires. Until the symposium, it had lived up to it. All the talk there of creating Dracula Land, a vampire-themed amusement park blew those images to hell. Vampires had always held a curiosity for me. As for Alin, well, I had hoped that he was the real deal. I wanted him to be in such a huge way that I found it hard to explain, even to myself. But in the end, Alin had disappointed me worse than Romania had.
The room I was in was worth the money. It had some stunning features that I did not take the time to notice yesterday. The windows were covered with a pale gauzy material and gold and cream paisley curtains hung ornately at the sides. Peering out the window, I noticed there wasn’t much of a view – unless you counted the stone gray commercial building across the street, which I didn’t.
The main thing I wanted to do today was to see the Eiffel Tower. Cliché? Of course it was, but it wouldn’t change anything. Before leaving the hotel, my body craved another shower like the one from last night. I savored every moment the state-of-the-art shower head beat rhythmically over my body. It was just what was needed. Paris, here I come.
I had to stand in line for two hours just to get to the top of the Tower. The view was worth it but the locals weren’t very friendly in the gift shops. This meant that I still had to find somewhere to buy postcards. If I didn’t, friends back home may never talk to me again.
After that it was on to the Panoramic Tour of Paris. I cheated a little by opting for the English language selection on the tour. I sat back in an air-conditioned bus instead of walking everywhere, relaxed, and watched the sights pass by. During the ride there was so much to see including the
Arc de Triomphe
and a few other sights the city had to offer.
When the tour came to a stop at the Square des Innocents, I chose to hop off and take a walk for a while. The
Fountaine des Innocents
was a gorgeous fountain that had a lot of ornate decoration. I made a promise to Jen to take a photo of it for her and I have to admit that it was worth seeing in person.
From there, it was a short walk down the Boulevard de Sebastopol where I headed into a little patisserie for a few chocolate truffles. Indulgent, yes, but it
Paris, after all.
After leaving the patisserie, I wandered the streets and came face to face with the Church of St-Merri. With its stained glass windows of the nativity scene and the crowds of people worshipping the sacred ground, I stood numb. My efforts at avoiding a church for the past nine months came crumbling down.
In September of last year, my fiancé, Chris, had left me at the altar. Decked in a strapless white gown that had cost my parents a fortune, I stood before friends and family to marry my high school sweetheart. We’d been dating for twelve years. As I stared down the aisle through the open doors and waited for him to walk in, I could still hear the pianist playing the music over and over.
Only Chris never arrived. Jen, my maid of honor and Chris’ sister, was worried that he had been involved in a car accident on the way to the church. After about an hour of frantic calls, his best man called from a local bar and told us that it wouldn’t happen. I spent the next few days waiting for an explanation from Chris but one never came. I moved out of his apartment in silence. He never even gave his sister a reason for calling off the wedding.
Staring at the church reminded me of how much I hated Chris and would never get involved with someone to the point of marriage ever again. Why suffer heartbreak when I didn’t have to?
I left St-Merri as I did the church in Florida – in tears. I couldn’t step inside one yet. The emotions were still too raw. Chris was the only man I had ever loved. He had his flaws, yes, but he was all I ever had.
Hunger drove me out of my hotel room later in the evening. I found a little bistro with a menu written in French and English, which was a plus. I was hoping to get a better dinner than the stale croissant I had for lunch.
I knew a good meal would fuel me for my late evening walk, where I would finally enjoy peace. Everyone had either hit the city center for the night clubs or retreated to their hotels. I laid out a map of the city across my table and traced my finger along the different routes while making mental notes of the street names and necessary turns. I read the captions of the different buildings and thought about my trip.
Visiting the symposium was something I had wanted to do for years. It actually prompted the entire vacation. But the idea of vampires existing was what pushed it a little further. Before meeting Chris, I had fantasized about vampires and their real existence because there was too much literature and film out there about them for them
to exist. As Alin said, there are truth seekers who have dedicated their entire lives to finding the truth. While I wasn’t about to give up my existence to find them, it was worth a few weeks to entertain my fantasies.
Vampires and their seductive powers, strength, and immortality captured my attention more than anything else did. Between the lectures by various “experts” in Romania and then Alin, though, I knew they didn’t exist...not in the way I had always hoped, anyway. It stung, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin my vacation.
The waiter delivered my Cassoulet, a chunky stew that made my stomach growl with the thick beef smell wafting from it. I grabbed my spoon and dug in.
In a way, a part of me wished Jen had gotten her way and came with me. Then again, this trip was about me and it was important to remember that. I remembered my promise to call her every few days and realized we hadn’t spoken since before Alin entered the picture. Now it was Friday and I knew she’d be worried if I didn’t call. I reached into my purse and grabbed my phone.
I got her voicemail and realized why when I glanced at my watch. It was eight in the evening here, which meant that it was only two by her. She would be at work.
“Hey, you’re probably working. Just wanted to let you know I’m in Paris early. I’ll explain everything when I can catch up with you in the next few days. I promise to pay attention to the time change when I call again.”
I waved my waiter over for a check. He dug in his apron for a few seconds before he produced it for me.
,” he said as he set it on the table.
With my messenger bag slung across my shoulder, I tossed a few Euros on the table to take care of my bill and the waiter.
Some light traffic buzzed by and the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower flashed back and forth like a disco ball. It reminded me of the light shows at the Magic Kingdom, which led to thoughts of home.
Since I lost my parents last year, I find myself constantly second guessing who the
is anymore. With no family left to speak of and most of my friends starting their own families, I was becoming a drifter without a true purpose in life. My only constant was an obsession with vampires. It kept me going when nothing else would.
I walked along the
, through the
Passage des Marais
. Posters over posters lined the reddish walls. I squinted in the dim light to make out the advertisements on the curling and plastered papers but they were hidden amongst layers of graffiti. It looked as if they had been there for quite some time because many were faded, too. It’s a shame because some would have probably been cool events to attend.
The sounds of the city faded the further in I traveled. Even the sirens I heard in the distance drifted away.
A rustling of old newspaper stopped me in my tracks. There was no wind blowing through this street. Turning around did me no good because no one was in sight to justify the sounds. I stopped and so did the noise. I walked a few more steps and it returned. At last, I turned around again and waited. Still, nothing came.
I turned the corner and sped up towards the Boulevard de Magenta, where my hotel lay only a few blocks beyond. Tall, black iron streetlights lined the boulevard, cascading light and shadows across my path. A shadow appeared behind me and disappeared just as fast. I turned again to look, to search, but there was no one in sight.
I told myself that it was just the exhaustion talking. It’s nothing that a miracle shower head couldn’t cure. I entered the hotel with a yawn and pushed my paranoia aside. The scent of cookies calmed me down. This time it was a macadamia nut cookie in my mouth when I stepped into the elevator.
The next afternoon, I walked the banks of Canal St. Martin. A small gift shop had its glass doors propped open, where a carousel of postcards stood calling out to me. It made me remember my promises to send them to several people back home.
Shelves of trinkets, jewelry, and stationery filled the tiny shop. An older woman stood behind the counter, drinking coffee and staring at nothing in particular. I spun the carousel back and forth and listened to it creak as I selected a few postcards and walked to the counter.
She smiled at me but said nothing. Maybe she didn’t think I spoke French or maybe she just didn’t want to talk. Either way, I also stayed silent so as not to interrupt her thoughts. She let the register tell me the total and I handed over my money. Even after she handed me my change and slid the postcards across the counter, she remained quiet. I forced a smile in her direction and left.