Little German Bastard
Toni La Ree Bennett
“Little German bastard. I will kill him and take you to Paris.”
She was a pale, freckled woman and had chosen me out of the whole classroom of German 330 “The Contemporary German Novel” to befriend.
She knew what Paris meant to me. Why I didn’t ever want to go—to kill the dream of the Paris in my head. The affair with the five-feet-four craggy-faced professor lasted nine months and then he broke it off right before we were about to buy our tickets for Paris for spring break. His wife wanted him to go to Mexico instead. But Mariella and I did go to Paris. And I carried his picture with me everywhere, sobbing over his loss during long showers in our tiny shower stall.
She knew he was bad for me. She thought she knew what would be good. That assumption would drive us apart eventually. I still have the last smiling picture of us on a boat on the Seine at dusk. Her in her special little black “Paris” jacket she found at Le Printemps. Me with a red headband tied around my forehead (it was the eighties after all) and my red T-shirt cinched at the waist with a wide black belt.
Every day was filled with replacing the Paris of our dreams with the reality. We laughed conspiratorially when she took her bra off in the Louvre and stuffed it in her purse. I held my breath in awe as I witnessed her endlessly replicated image in the mirrors of Versailles.
The cracks started to appear in Sacre Coeur. She made fun of my attempts to take photographs of the cliché accordionist and wouldn’t stop talking when I was standing in front of the candles, praying for a miracle, although I didn’t believe in prayer.
At the end of a long day of walking, when we stood before the ultimate destination, she told me quite definitively she wasn’t going up the Eiffel Tower. Her feet hurt. And if I cared anything at all about her safety, I wouldn’t go, either. I didn’t go but sulked all through dinner at the little restaurant across from our hotel, where she deliberately ordered chicken even though she knows I can’t handle seeing people eat beings that had mothers.
I spent every night huddled over my notebook in the corner bar, nursing a glass of red wine, even though I hated the taste of alcohol. It was what one did in Paris if one was a writer. While I wrote in my journal all the things I hated about her, she was writing short stories about me in our hotel room, I found out later, putting me through all sorts of bad endings.
She was too afraid to go out at night and hated me for going out without her. But I wanted to experience Paris day and night. My time with the little German bastard, as she liked to call him, only took place during long lunches between his morning classes and his afternoon office hours.
On our last day, I tried to buy a ticket for a play for that evening. “Do you speak French,” the sales lady asked haughtily. “No,” I admitted. No tickets to the play for us. She decided we were going to a flute concert at the Ile St. Louis.
The church was built from white marble, now aged the color of sand, and gilding rubbed by a relentless stream of tourists to the dullness of antique coins. The flautist entered the main aisle from the back of the church, his heels clicking military style as he came to a precise stop a few feet in front of the audience. Only very powerful performers could turn an ordinary space into a performance space.
As soon as he began to play, I started to forget where I was, or who I was. I was the thin piece of metal in Foucault’s mouth, a flickering candle in the chandelier above, a priest saying Mass in the fourteenth century. When the concert was over, however, I turned into a tourist again and joined the crowd at the table to buy a tape of Gabriel Foucault’s Greatest Hits, knowing it was no substitute for the lived experience, but also knowing that every time I listened to the tape, I would be transported back to Paris. I bought a second tape and have always regretted not giving it to Mariella.
About the Author: Toni La Ree Bennett attended the University of Washington where she received her Ph.D. in English and a Certificate in Photography. Her work has appeared in Poemmemoirstory, Puerto del Sol, Hawaii Pacific Review, Journal of Poetry Therapy, and Viet Nam Generation, among other publications, and she has several poems included in the anthology The Muse Strikes Back. Visual work has appeared in Glassworks, Gravel, Grief Diaries, Stickman Review, Tryst, Pierian Springs, Gin BenderPoetry Review, Blue Fifth Review, and Atomic Petals. She is also a freelance editor and photographer and lives in Seattle with a flock of feisty finches.