Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oil & Hay - 15

After Jürgen retook the wheel I lay on a bench and slept fitfully as the sober world, full of purpose and authority, circulated about me and cast its shadow on my incoherent dreams. When I awoke the car was already loaded in the lorry.

I changed back into my civvies and was about to bid farewell to the crew when Anja, our communications director, came rushing in from the track office bearing a Telex.

"Urgent for you, Mal."

It read as follows:

AM IN PARIS ON STOPOVER TO BERLIN. MEET ME AT THE SPOT. FLIGHT LEAVES ORLY AT 915 PM. WILL WAIT TIL 730. HURRY! DRIVE SAFE!

KISSES

MEL

It was nearly six-thirty now. I could make it to Paris in less than an hour, flying on the A13. But there would be traffic coming into the city.

I took a moment to will away the hazy torpor in my brain. Then I shouted my goodbyes, strode out to the parking lot, and got behind the wheel of my blood-red Cavallo Nero spider.

The trip to Paris was quick and uneventful. I roared down the left lane of the motorway with my headlights on and the speedometer hovering at well over 200 kilometres per hour. I reached the Porte Dauphine at a little past seven and that's when the trouble started: There was a long line inching up the exit ramp. The Avenue Foch was a little better but the Étoile was an inferno: crisscrossing rings of chaotic, clamorous traffic, scooters darting in and out, taxi drivers shouting at lorries, every horn ablare. I dared not glance at my watch as I sped down the Avenue des Champs Élysées, weaving between the other cars and burning lights. I tried to heighten my peripheral awareness, to become unconsciously aware of any looming hazard, any old lady crossing the street with her dog.

I zigzagged past the Place de la Concorde, nearly striking a cyclist, and raced along the Tuileries. When I saw that haunted-looking building to my left that signaled the beginning of the Louvre, I thought I'd make it. Honestly I did. A city bus emerged lazily from the Place du Carousel and I darted in behind it, into the square—regal, open like the sky—then under the opposite arch, up past the Opéra and finally off the boulevards and avenues and into the belly of Paris, real Paris, where the statues give way to the masses and the streets run red with wine.

It was mad: to get around a rubbish lorry I had to drive halfway on the sidewalk, past an elegantly dressed woman with her back against the wall. The workers derided me: "Sale con, eh!" "Enculé, va!" I nearly killed a man in a white suit walking across a little square who stared impassively as I swerved around him, tyres squealing.

Melanie was up there waiting for me, I thought. It gave me tremendous satisfaction to conquer each obstacle, great and small, that stood between us. My heart was aflutter now, not for the treachery of my journey but for the glory that surely awaited me at its end. What could be more romantic than to defy eternity to meet one's beloved for a quarter of an hour?

My ultimate travail arrived on the ancient cobblestones of Montmartre as the evening sun shone goldenly on the white façades. A gaggle of tourists, possibly Japanese. I waited, fuming, revving the engine in brusque bursts to vent my agony. Finally they'd all crossed the street. I drove around the basilica and screeched to a diagonal halt atop the hillock overlooking the crepuscular city. I knew she would emerge like Venus, in a diaphanous robe, radiant, her arms outstretched. Now. Now! Now?

My watch read seven thirty-two. The sun was setting and she wasn't there.

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