Janalyn Guo

When I was a young woman, I existed in possibility, just outside of experience. I studied Time. I lived in a small apartment outside of Paris with my dachshund. I enjoyed the company of older men, like Cazenave. We ran up and down the Coulee Vert in the mornings. He'd wait for me by the Jardin de Reuilly wearing his white sport suit, shiny and freshly washed, reading a newspaper. In the summertime, gnats multiplied and flew in thick clouds along the running path. Breathing through our noses, we jogged toward the Bastille, past the police station and the apartment trellises full of potted flowers, past the rose gardens and the smells of baking bread below. I ran slightly behind Cazenave because he was taller. My legs were short and the dachshund was getting old; I had to sort of drag it. The gnats would swirl around us and get tangled in my eyebrows and in Cazenave's mustache, because he was taller. We'd have to sit down on a bench afterward and pick the tiny gnats out of our hairs.
When the air moistened and the gnat population grew gauzy, we knew this was a sign that it would soon rain. And when it did, the cooler weather cleared out the gnats for a day. Even in the rain, Cazenave waited for me in the same place, umbrella in hand. He was a very skillful runner, hovering his umbrella over the both of us without ever losing his stride. But under the umbrella, I had to cleave. I was slower (shorter) and my dachshund tired easily in such weather, so on rainy days when we had to move synchronously, I imitated Cazenave's breathing pattern, dragged the dachshund, and picked up my speed to stay under the umbrella, which was always just on the verge of departing. This was the stressful thing about Time, that critical point when it departs.
It was on those days that Cazenave talked to me the whole run (about weather, about politics, about his favorite places to vacation -- Italy, he said, you must go to Italy) unthreatened by gnats, as I breathed heavily beside him. When we returned to the bench where Cazenave usually waited for me, I sat doubled over myself catching my breath while he stretched his limbs. Sometimes he'd take out his wallet and show me pictures of his wife and children neatly arranged in a plastic built-in photo book. They went on many trips. They took advantage of free time.
When the gnats returned to power, we designed experiments to study their movements against ours. One day, I brought two pieces of fly paper with me to the Coulee Vert. Cazenave and I each taped a piece onto our forehead to see if we could catch gnats (many). The next day, Cazenave came with empty wine bottles. We ran holding one in each hand (none). Though, they made a wonderful whistling sound against the wind. And even after that, we wanted to understand the effect of a repellent I'd found at the pharmacy, the strongest they had. Cazenave and I rubbed the entirety of the repellent over our limbs until we shined. It was a lazy summer morning, humid as if a rain was due but had not yet come. The gnats were rampant everywhere, so thickly clustered and widely spread that they darkened the environment. Cazenave and I ran into the swarm holding our noses, but we soon realized, due to none other than our repellent, that the gnats were parting for us. Our bodies created tunnels through them -- tunnels of light, tunnels in the shapes of our bodies as if the world had frozen, as if Time stood still but had allowed us passage all the way down to the Bastille, as if a curtain were opening for us to begin.


When you look at a bright star through a telescope, you see it as it was when it was young. Your eye traverses through the darkness of Time. I suppose I was very aware of Time in those days, being its student and Cazenave's apprentice in the lab where the experiments were performed. Even when we ran together in the rain, I thought about the multiplicity of Time, in which the bright red umbrella hood hovering above us acted as a symbol of our synchronicity. My Time would slowly fall further and further behind Cazenave's Time, in the usual manner, while he remained constantly on top of a more common Time, or under it, I suppose, if we were to liken it to the umbrella that I had to keep up with, because I had a tendency to be late in more ways than one. I wondered whether or not Mr. Cazenave would ever leave me, that over time, there would be a critical point at which he would begin running without me.
Autumn came. Winter came. Seasons spun. The dachshund grew old and blind. Cazenave kept running but I could no longer meet him for this or that reason. I may have been terribly late once and now that he'd reached that critical point, I no longer tried to meet him. But our friendship continued. On sunny days, he left something on the bench to let me know that he'd been there: photos of his aging children, another of a family vacation to South Africa. I persisted in solitude.
I saw Cazenave again, years later, in Florence at the Piazza del Duomo, climbing those steep spiraling steps up to the tip of the giant Cathedral dome. Of course he was there. In the doxological space beneath the dome, an intercom switched on after specific intervals of time and a voice spoke: "Shhh! Silencio Por Favore." I suggested that the Italians had designed an experiment to deduce how many minutes, on average, sound crescendoed to a noise level that was deemed to be too loud. Mr. Cazenave shook his head. Where is the contact with people? he said. Experiments in a vacuum, he said. That was always your problem. He suggested that there must have been some sort of sound monitor in the space, either a machine or a person, where if the noise level exceeded a certain judgment, it triggered the recording. I thought my explanation the more beautiful one. His hair was entirely white. At the very top of the Duomo, where we could see all of the city, I told him about the art at the Uffizi, where he had not yet gone, and spoke of the old Byzantine style paintings that decorated the cathedrals of old, how the artists loved gold paint and flat bodies, whose impossible proportions defied Time and space. We considered all the narrow alleys and side streets that led the people of Florence to the open piazzas of light. We declared to each other, what bravery, what devotion, what grandeur the human against Time. The bell in the campanile tolled the hour, but I've forgotten its sound. It was future before it sounded and could not be measured because it had not yet happened; and now it cannot be measured because it is already past.