Sunday, May 30, 2010

Paris: Getting Lost

First: nothing.
Darkness, void of consciousness.
Only the rabbit hole descended through, only the empty space itself.
Then, shimmering up from the depths arises the sense of touch: skin upon stone. The sensation is tremulous, though, and slinks with its back along the borderland between thought and suspended animation. It does not trust me. It skirts around the periphery of my mind, reveling in freedom, resistant to my ownership. I will have to sew myself back to this sense like Peter Pan to his shadow.
I call gently, coaxing it like a wayward kitten, extending friendship and assurance. Reluctantly, it creeps back to me, wraps me in its touch and becomes my skin once more.
I am cold and damp against the floor. Cold, damp and afraid to move lest I might scare myself away and become again an empty ghost.
Eyes still shut I observe the darkness around me. This is not a place of my choosing. My cheek is smashed flat against the limestone. The air smells like tomb. For a moment, I consider the hopeful notion that this may yet be a nightmare, something horrible and unreal that I can wake safely from, too hot beneath my mound of blankets with drops of sweat heavy like gazpacho across my scalp.
No such luck.
I am in this subterranean place.  I walked into the mouth of the bear and felt death bubble up cauldron-like inside me. The distance between daylight and me weighs a a million pounds, and though I am now sure I am awake, I cannot rouse myself.
“It’s not like a cave,” he had assured me, “It’s like a basement, or a wine cellar, just with more bones.”
“So, like the wine cellar of a deranged serial killer. Hold on just a moment, I have a lovely ’77 you’ll just… die for.”
“Exactly. Now drink this.”
I frowned. “It’s green.”
“I was told to lay off the green stuff. It’s danger.”
Tap-tap, he insisted, bringing his glass down quickly in front of mine, a challenge to a game. I could not resist.
We drank the neon Absinthe and for a moment I was invincible. Or insane. Or in love. I fancied myself Dante, ready to brave all seven circles of my own personal inferno in pursuit of this man. Fill me full of liquid courage and I’ll jump right into the deep end of spelunking, never mind the panic I feel underground, never mind the twisting miles of neatly arranged bones. I will follow you into these catacombs, just let me bury my face against your shoulder and breath your scent into my soul.
Still prone, I test one finger. It seems to work.
I open only my left eye, the bad one, the one for whom I wear glasses. Before me a blurry grayness persists. I return to a moment from childhood: the one in which I have just started awake from a bad dream. Is it better to turn on the lights and see that there are no monsters there, or is it better to remain encased in darkness, just in case there are monsters there.
My flashlight is still on, though it rolled out of my hand when I hit the floor and now sits just beyond my reach. I trace the line of light still only using my bad eye. The light fans out in long lacey shards like the sharp edges of broken glass, alive with a shimmering spiral of dust.
I raise myself up onto my elbows and the glass gathers around my skull. Realizing that I may have hit the back of my head a bit harder than I generally like to, a new panic sets in, a real one. What if I am seriously injured; what if I am bleeding internally in the back of my head. My brain is swelling up subtly, dragging me unwilling into my final chapter.
Where is he? I try to call to him, but my voice does not make it past my teeth.  I am dying.
Everything grows cold and a stillness descends upon me, painless to my body, though my mind cries softly for its own demise. Will I be noticed down here amongst the dead? Will there even be a need to carry my body back to the surface, or shall I remain forever locked in this tomb of history, stacked up with the other skeletons, unnamable and impossible to put back together with my skull-head stacked up over here and my femurs in another room entirely. Would I boogie down below the streets of Paris with the countless others, unnoticed by the living world above, or would I simply disintegrate into dust, to catch in the light of a flashlight, the particles of myself dancing utterly without self. Would—
“What are you doing?”
Dying. If you must ask.
“Crystal, are you okay.”
“Is so cold,” I shiver out imperceptibly between numbed lips.
“Well, you’re lying in a puddle.”
“It’s blood.”
“It’s rain water.”
“It’s not blood?”
“No. Wait let me check for sure. No.”
He reaches down a hand and lifts me up. The world spins around me a few times and then settles still. Paranoid, I press two fingers against my wrist and count thirty heartbeats.
“I think I’m okay.”
“What happened? Did you slip?”
My mouth fills with a cotton feeling. I don’t want to tell him. There was nothing brave in how I wound up prone beneath Paris, there was nothing even comical. I wished to tell him the story of how I chased the demons back, brandishing my cutlass ostentatiously. I even wished I could report that I was so drunk a wall of pokey ribs blindsided me and I slipped back with a woozy boozy bump.
“Fntd,” I tell him without using any vowels.
“I… fntd.”
“You fainted?”
He laughs, and I want to not join in, but I can’t help it.
“It’s like a cave,” I notify him, using his strength to pull myself back to standing.
He smiles and returns me to the light.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kiribati: Getting There

Kiribati: Getting There aka "The Lunatic and the Tiger Shark" has been published! Please visit her at her new home here: While you're there, be sure to read the other fantastic stories that I share the publication with. You can pick up a fashionable t-shirt with a beached whale on it too! Can't go wrong with that. =)

The second and third parts of the Kiribati trilogy are still available here:
Kiribati: Getting Hungry?
and Kiribati: Getting Back

Thanks for continuing to read and spreading the word about my adventure fiction!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Paris: Getting Back

Wilde dreams swept on throughout the night. I tumbled restless, captured by the sheets: my face on fire, my fingers frantic to rip the offending fabric from me; my skin in shivery icicle bumps, piling on blanket after blanket. Hot-cold-hot-cold commenced my first night in Paris, trying to find rest in the room Oscar Wilde died in. In the impression he left behind, I dreamt in satire.
Our shared love of language had drawn me first to Paris. I'd pined over her for as long as I knew the word "expat," reminiscing over high school English class discussions of authors gone rogue. That will be me one day, I'd decided: I will be like Hemmingway, like Pound, like Wilde. Paris was the welcoming arms of a public who loved my stories never mind that my books were not yet translated into French. To the city, to Paris itself, it only matters that I am a writer. In time I would learn to write in the language of the city of light. Until then, commence en anglais. T'apprendrait.
I'd received an advance for a novel I'd written some time ago and I flew to Europe to spend it all on a dream. It wasn't exactly a whim but neither was it my most carefully laid out of plans. I hadn't arrived on Wilde's deathbed by accident, either. No, the price was far too unreasonable for that. I'd arranged three nights to absorb the spirit of my childhood hero, before I moved into an apartment just over the hill and out of the tourists, across the street from Joyce's old haunt. I would surround myself with ghosts, suck their stories up against my consciousness. I was a writer living in Paris. The Greats had paved the way.
"How romantic," my agent declared, though I could tell from her distraction that she was answering e-mails while she pressed me for a word count, "Now, as to your next project, I'm going to need a proposal soon. Your publisher is interested in a multi-book deal, but we need an idea to sell them."
I dangled myself off the railing of the bridge and Paris held me up. I am in love.
"Hello? Crystal? are you there?"
"Mmm. Jetlag. What?"
"Have you started your new book?"
"Uh... yeah, well not exactly but I have some prewriting. It's about poker, look, can I call you back, le tour eiffel est.. lighting up. I have a desperate need to stare unblinkingly into it."
When I left America I had my cat, a healthy bank account, and a mind so full of stories that I was sure to have something written about soon. In time, the distractions of the city would dwindle and I would lock myself in for furious hours behind a writing desk. Paris was, after all, the perfect place to craft a new story. Writing and Paris went together like peanut butter and bananas, two things that, six weeks into my move I was dying to munch. You see, writing is hungry work. Personally I don't believe in writer's block, but I do believe in difficult passages that require hours of pondering and multiple snack breaks. And if that snack break takes one, two, three hours, all the better to get this ecrieuse back on track and working hard.
I push back from my desk, troubling over my main character's last name. Perhaps a snack will help me think of one, I say to ma chat. Twelve blocks, four courses and a bottle of wine later I'd be ready to get back to work. Paris facilitates extended snack breaks.
And then perhaps a nap and a bubble bath as well.
I wasn't my most productive in Paris. I was not madly scribbling out a 55,000 word novel in six weeks, letting go of my friends, mon petit ami and my personal hygiene in the urgency that pressed my story onward. Ici, there was really no rush to continue working on the travel writing, or on that ever elusive poker novel: my own white whale. I started to let my agent go through to voicemail.
It was on my fourth month in Paris when the tens hit me all at once, like a gang of muggers in an ally. My agent had given me ten weeks to write a new proposal: time's up. Depressed by my lack of even an idea, I decided to console myself with, yes, food, and held my breath to squeeze into my black skirt. This same skirt had enough slack back in California that it sometimes slipped dangerously down close to my panty line when I danced. That was ten pounds, at least. I traded clothes, opting for a wrap around and stopping once more to consider the work I'd managed since the move. Ten journal pages, all of it useless ramblings on politics or my take on comparative world religion or something equally as non-salable.
Furthermore, I was ten days into an expired visa and not really sure what that meant.
Ever the pragmatist, my new friend Evelyn pondered my story of the tens over a glass of red wine. "Aren't you afraid to be deported?" she asked at last.
Deported? Deported was something that happened to illegal immigrants, hoping to find a new life in a new country but not willing or able to go through the proper naturalization process; refugees attempting to make the swim to Florida when the Coast Guard draweth near; high school English teachers with foreign accents in Arizona. Deportation was not on the radar for Euro-mutt Americans like myself. I told her as much.
"Yes, but you are not French. You are an illegal immigrant to the EU."
I hadn't considered that, as true and as stupidly obvious as it was. "I am an illegal immigrant." I said the words, made them real. Evelyn shrugged and nodded her confirmation.
Now what?
I play the role of the fearless adventurer. I jet off around the world to attempt daring feats. I come armed with equal amounts of pluck, open-mindedness and total ignorance. Well, at least, that's who I am when I return to my comfy office chair to type up the stories. That's who I am after I've picked all the bugs out of my hair and I no longer have to ride my bike through an African prison. In real life, my fearlessness is directly proportional to how safe I feel at any given moment. This was not a safe place to be and a thick, syrupy wave of panic coursed through my body. I had a vision of myself, the door to the warehouse kicked in, us illegals gathered up, forced at gunpoint from the country that we had grown to love, but who had not learned to love us back. I would babble a tearful goodbye to my friends, the ones with proper working papers. They would see me off as the police escorted me to the airport, forced me aboard an Air France flight where I would be crying too hard to taste the complimentary champagne through all the salt water spilling into my glass. France was abandoning me at LAX.
"I don't think that is what will happen."
"How then, Evelyn, how. How will your people deport me back to the US."
"I think, you will be simply asked to leave."
My plan to defect to Paris was drowning. I am not cut out to be a rule breaker, and I spent the next few days pouring over my fate on the consulate's website, where I learned that one couldn't just show up on France's doorstep without the proper paperwork. And this paperwork had to be delivered in person, in quadruplicate, in San Francisco. I also needed a letter from my mom saying that it was okay for me to stay in France and that she would give me $800 a month. Or, oh, wait, that was for the extended-stay-student visa not the extended-stay-writer-pretending-to-be-James-Joyce visa. It wasn't this hard for Laertes. Merde.
I'd arrived with an idea, a seed of a plan wherein I would appear in Paris with a round trip ticket and simply not get back on the airplane. Well, I did that part of it, and figured, who's going to tell me to go home.
The French government, it turns out.
And I had to pay for my own one-way ticket back.