Ac­ci­dents

Hello Mr. Magazine - - ACCIDENTS - text by Matthew Lowe il­lus­tra­tions by Michelle Eis­mann

When we park the bike, it makes a strange tick­ing sound that it wasn’t mak­ing be­fore. Luc takes off his hel­met, drop­ping to his haunches to ex­am­ine the dam­age.

“Pu­tain…” he curses. He drags a hand through his short dark hair, lets out a heavy sigh. “What is it?” I ask. “It’s scratched pretty bad. How’s your an­kle?” “It hurts a lit­tle, but I’ll live.” “I just don’t know how it hap­pened,” he says, reach­ing un­der the seat for his bike lock. He fas­tens the cool­ing en­gine to a post, then takes a step back to ex­am­ine his work. “I don’t think any­one would want to steal it now,” he says, de­ject­edly. “Come on. We bet­ter get in­side.”

We weave be­tween cars, still run­ning on adrenalin. We cross the rue de Ménil­montant and en­ter his build­ing through a set of tall grey doors. Luc’s apart­ment is on the top floor. We loop around the an­cient stair­well about five or six times past dark lac­quered doors and worn wel­come mats till the ban­is­ter peters out. “Voilà chez moi,” he says The en­trance is nar­row – it’s like walk­ing into a broom closet, but when the lights come on the apart­ment is as stylish as it is com­pact.

“Give me your coat,” he says. He opens a cup­board and it’s quickly con­cealed.

I wan­der about, get­ting my bear­ings, get­ting ac­quainted. The one small room is kitchen, liv­ing room, and bed­room. An empty fire­place keeps a tele­vi­sion hid­den, with black and white scenes of New York in frames on the man­tel. In the far cor­ner a spi­ral stair­case rises to a loft.

I drift nat­u­rally to the book­case. It’s an aus­tere li­brary: le­gal books mostly, though they look largely un­touched. On one shelf there is a set of red-spined Jules Verne nov­els, on another a framed por­trait of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton.

“Do you want a drink?” Luc calls from in­side the re­frig­er­a­tor. “Sure.” I glance through the win­dow. Out­side, on the bal­cony, a strung Christ­mas tree scratches at the glass like a grounded puppy.

“I’ve only got one beer,” Luc says, ap­pear­ing at my shoul­der. “You take it.” “I’ve taken half.” He hands me the can and we suck down our beer in si­lence.

“So, you don’t think that David will mind that I’m here?” Luc takes a sip of his drink. “No,” he says, af­ter swal­low­ing. “What are you go­ing to do about the bike?” “I’m not sure yet.” My hand is start­ing to throb. When I look down at my palm, there’s gravel un­der my skin. “What is it?” he asks. “My hand. I must have fallen on it.” “You weren’t wear­ing gloves?” “No. I haven’t bought any yet,” I say. “Do you have any band-aids?”

There’s a phar­macy be­low Luc’s apart­ment, so we head down for sup­plies. The hus­band and wife who run the store serve us with fine-tuned French dis­dain.

“Il faudrait la jeter votre moto, Mon­sieur,” says the phar­ma­cist. “Ah oui! Trop dan­gereux!” in­sists his wife. “I’ll tell you where the city’s mo­tor­cy­clists go,” the phar­ma­cist says and he raises a grim fin­ger to­wards Père Lachaise ceme­tery.

Up­stairs in Luc’s bath­room, I patch up my bat­tered palms with panse­ments, fill­ing his sink with the used back­ing strips. “Tout va bien?” he calls at the door. “Oui.” “Are you hun­gry?” “Maybe.” “Do you want to eat some­thing? There’s an Ital­ian restau­rant nearby. Do you like Ital­ian?”

At the restau­rant we or­der a large pizza and a demi-litre of red wine.

“I don’t think I’ll tell David about the bike,” Luc says, “It’ll only make him worry.” He looks awk­ward and em­bar­rassed. He drums his fin­gers on the table­cloth. Across from us a young cou­ple sit sullen and silent, look­ing past one another as they fin­ish two bowls of pasta. “How is David?” “He’s good. He’s gone home to the States to spend Christ­mas with his fam­ily.” “Yes, you told me in your email.” “So where are you stay­ing?” “Le Marais.” “Ah, pra­tique! Close to the bars… Les Halles…” “Yeah, it’s not bad.” A flower seller en­ters the restau­rant. We watch as he wan­ders the room of­fer­ing his roses with the feigned charm of a pantomime vil­lain.

“Don’t worry, he won’t stop at us,” Luc says in a whis­per. “In the Marais, per­haps…”

He smiles at me as the flower seller side­steps our ta­ble and ex­its to the street. For a while the room is draped in a kind of sad­ness. A waiter ar­rives with our food.

Back in the apart­ment, the si­lence is thick. Luc turns on the tele­vi­sion and we be­gin watch­ing a late night va­ri­ety show. He droops in his seat. His eyes are fixed on the screen, but he’s not re­ally watch­ing. Not even when I lean over to kiss him.

I draw back and he looks at me with doe-eyed sur­prise. His lips part and I wait for the ob­jec­tion…the gen­tle re­jec­tion – but it doesn’t come.

Why did you do that? My mind is field­ing the ques­tion he’s not ask­ing. He stares up at me sur­prised – but those wide brown eyes close when I press my mouth to his.

The warmth of him is in­tox­i­cat­ing. I bury my head in his lap and his fin­gers tum­ble through my hair as I lay kisses on the grow­ing firm­ness in his jeans. Sud­denly he plunges his hand be­low my chin, draws my face to his. I look into his dark eyes; the way they lap back like a jolted cup of cof­fee. “Should we go up­stairs?” he says. “Yes,” I nod. He takes my hand, his fin­gers rough against my palm. He leads me to the spi­ral stair­case and we climb – climb as one climbs a lad­der, or per­haps a tree – feet and hands in equal mea­sure.

In the loft there is room for a bed and lit­tle else. The night pen­e­trates through a roof win­dow. The sky is star­less. The bed is made.

He ap­proaches from be­hind. I feel him si­dle up; set­tle him­self snugly be­tween my but­tocks. His fin­gers linger at the band of my jeans, his breath col­lect­ing in my shoul­der blades.

We break apart, dis­card­ing our lay­ers in the dark. Luc steps for­ward and the light from the win­dow catches his torso. For a mo­ment we stand with threaded hands, not know­ing, not sure.

He leads me to the bed and we tum­ble over the bed­spread. His lips climb the crest of my neck. I run my hands over his thighs and my bro­ken palms twinge.

It seems so pri­mal. Up here on the roof, lick­ing our wounds like a pair of strays. My legs wrapped around his like a con­tin­u­a­tion of that ride through the city. His back steadily strik­ing my chest, the warmth of him be­tween my thighs and the world rac­ing by... Cars. Lights. The shadow of a bridge. The white­wash of a church. Streets done up for Christ­mas. Then, that sud­den blow that sends us hurtling into the night.

The next morn­ing I wake to a swollen an­kle and seized joints. For about fif­teen min­utes I sit on the edge of the bed try­ing to loosen my knee enough to slide my jeans on.

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