Kim Parker

You liked your steak tartare aller retour -- two quick flips for a brown outside, the center still raw. The Costes Brothers did it best with their fries cut in thick rectangles, like children's blocks, and stacked in a ziggurat. We had a constant roundtrip for that meal. I know you remember it: the huge Parisian skies that made me giddy, the golden tyranny of L'Hôtel Des Invalides (you try looking away), and the bent-over, cursing grandfathers playing bocce ball. Remember, inside, the cannonballs in lieu of chandeliers? A momento mori hanging above our heads, you cradled me at the bracelet, looking into my almond eyes ("So brown they're almost red," you said), saying, "You have perfect lips." They widened at you. It's a rare moment when life allows the quixotic: we were young and, for once, perfectly balanced, equally brimming. A high point implies the direction of down. You would tell it differently. You wouldn't mention the luxury: for you, it would be like mentioning breathing. You would walk past the memory, eyes averted. I used to eat dinner there.
You found our home, a chambre de bonne, an old servant's quarters hidden between the first two floors of a gilded apartment building. We lived behind a camouflaged door with no knob. It seemed magical, like a secret world in a children's book, a door that blended in with the wall. We'd race to reveal our keys. You'd always win, placing the key heavy with teeth into the door's mouth. It opened inward, revealing a U-shaped staircase, like a plaster cast of someone's jaw.
Upstairs, we'd smoke naked out of the window. At first, it amazed us -- our daring, and, later, the fact that no one looks up -- and then it was like our parents' furniture with permanent indents in the carpets. You said all things were like that: even our brains are programmed to ignore smells after a time. Olfactory fatigue. We walked past Notre Dame, and noticed only the tourists. Some days I'd barely see you, and you were around all the time.
Your hand was bleeding, and my mind was an autistic child's, and I repeated to myself,

"Cassé means drunk and broken.
Cassé means drunk and broken.
Cassé means drunk and broken.
Cassé means drunk and broken.
Cassé means drunk and broken."

Like finding the perfect words will save anything. I was crying, and you were standing there with your mother's eyelashes and the chest spur that always touched me so.
Closing the door was a bit of trouble because there was no doorknob. You'd use your strength to pull the door behind you, and it would slam from the momentum. For me, the ledge was key. I used my fingers, the tips, to coax the door slowly closed. My hands were shaking, and I couldn't. I left the door open. My legs took over, weaving in and out of the tourists. Their numbers were growing, and I knew it wouldn't peak until summer, and I wouldn't even be here. I promised myself I wouldn't be here. I was still crying, and anonymity was a gift. I didn't stop moving until I reached the Seine. Beneath me, men were fishing, and it reminded me of Hemingway, of our first dinner in Paris at Brasserie Lipp, where I ordered steak tartare, and it was brought to me -- a huge, jiggly lump -- and I didn't finish it. It tasted better in my mind. I wanted January again when each day brought only a few hours of dim, gray sunlight.
I remember my last night in Paris, walking past L'Hôtel des Invalides alone. Les casseurs, the breakers, smashed the bus stop to a pile of glass. Students threw rocks at cops' faces. Down the boulevard, CRS vans sat in front of the Grand Palais. I imagined it exploding, and how beautiful it would look in slow motion, like water droplets caught midair.