A Montmartre tableau, I: “Stars Spill Out of Cups” – Sweet Billy Pilgrim (68)
When beauty falls it finds me here
In summer's bright and dusty smear
It breaks my heart like photographs1
“There you go,” I say to my youngest, licking thick swaths of pink all around a soggy ice cream cone. Slurping, I divert a vanilla and strawberry plop just as it is about to hit the side of my tired sandal. The sugar cone is quickly dissolving into Sunday wafer softness; my fingers are sticky with a pale glaze of rose-colored ice cream. The sidewalk radiates the baked weariness of thirst-dazed tourists in their shorts and red-scarved Toulouse-Lautrec t-shirts, and in this heat, even those rare August Parisians have relinquished their usual king-of-the-deserted-capital smugness. “All good, now…” I say to Max, handing him back his treat. He protests my clean-up efforts; his reaching arm tugs at the stroller straps, rubber band rolls of fat embedded with sweat and summer city grime.
The children and I have just escaped from finalizing our registration obligations - a painfully stilted interview with Madame la Directrice, at the elementary school. For an hour and a half, the five of us tottered between starched countenance and restless squeaky chair catastrophe in her office. She guides us back through the stillness of long parquet hallways lined with cotton sweaters stranded on hooks since June, past an empty refectory, all chairs feet to the ceiling on the worn lunch tables, and down again to the dark neon coolness of the echoing tile lobby, where the gardienne buzzes us out from behind her glass cubicle.
We are released into the heat unscathed, save the previously crease-free paperwork, now hastily stuffed under a tired soccer ball and a warm sippy-cup in the stroller basket. Behind us, rue du Mont-Cenis dead-ends onto a series of steep staircases leading up to mobs hungry for something quaintly unique to take home from Place du Tertre.
After our stop at the boulangerie, we take refuge from the dusty blaze under a deep cluster of mature plane trees, in front of a neighborhood café. Resting against a bench, I can hear customers clink lemon slivers in Schweppes glasses, yellow plastic rods and ice cubes in emerald glasses of Vittel-menthe. The sidewalks are spattered with white pigeon droppings; steel grids fan out over the tree roots in wobbly concentric circles.
As the children finish their ice creams, I watch for drips, dabbing faces with a paper napkin. I lean forward to check my phone for messages, out of the glare, and my sunglasses slide down my nose. My hair is a solid coil of warmth knotted at the nape, my face powdered with dust and breeze. Taking in the contentedness of chocolate-stained cheeks, I marvel at the perfection of now – in this moment, Laurent’s call can come or not. The hot wind billows my princess sleeves, hugs the thinness of plum linen to my thighs, and I close my eyes.
The air is thick with needful things
Alive with final reckonings
And shaken trees drop memories…1
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1© Tim Elsenburg, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, “Stars Spill Out of Cups,” We Just Did What Happened and No One Came, Wonderland Avenue.