You See Her

You see her standing in the opposite queue, the one merging with the queue in which you stand. Radiant and shy, first smiling at you and then looking down, she is the sort of French girl for whom you would march to war. Hesitating a moment, measuring your timing, you make certain that you are immediately behind her as you mount the train, not following her but following her, you take a window seat facing her across a small folding table.

In your elation with the seating arrangements you congratulate yourself on succumbing to the impulse to purchase a first class ticket, even though your class warrior’s sense of guilty solidarity would normally place you firmly in the second class section.

She has a small stack of fashion magazines, a pair of stylish thick-framed plastic glasses, and a little black dress with which she struggles to keep her lacy black and green brassiere concealed. Her green eyes shine, reflecting the sunlight coming in through the window. She absentmindedly chews on a strand of golden hair. You try not to stare, looking down instead, but you wind up staring at her greenish gold toenails, which match the green metallic glint of the lace on her bra and the stitched highlights on her otherwise black shoes. You imagine her getting dressed in the morning, carefully matching design elements, decorating herself in shades of metallic green and gold like a painting by Gustav Klimt.

She is going through her magazines with a ruthless intensity, stopping occasionally to inspect a layout of the summer’s finest bikinis or a photo depicting some article of deluxe lingerie. In your mind, the story unfolds thusly: she works in fashion, probably as a model, always travels first class, probably to avoid the hoi polloi, and has the snotty, pretentious and under-educated air that you expect from those who live in that world; her father is rich and she was raised in privilege; she only dates wealthy heirs and professional athletes. In this way you justify your silence, whittling away her apparent perfection until your desire to speak is muted; cowardice is another name for rational inaction.

You open a book and hide your eyes in it.

She leans across the little table, touches your wrist, and asks “What time does this train arrive in the station?”

Consulting your ticket, which you are using as a bookmark, you answer, “18:05.”

“My connecting train leaves at 18:10.”

“So you’ll only have five minutes in the station?

“Unless my train is late...”

“Ah.”

“Yes.”

Turning back to your book, the words on the page are tar pits, flypaper, bowls of molasses, each one grasping you and holding you back as you attempt to forge on. Your eyes wander up to her face, down to her bosom, and back up to her lips, which are still sucking on a strand of hair. You take your journal out of your bag, but writing is no more effective—you are writing about her. You look at her; she looks at you looking; you both look away. In self reproach, you return to your book, but your eyes wander along the window glass, seeking her reflection. You find her reflection in the window glass, looking at your reflection, and you know.

She removes her glasses and begins to polish them with a paper tissue taken from her purse, displaying obvious disappointment with the results. You produce a cloth handkerchief, which she takes with a smile and quietly says, “Yes, this is better.”

The conductor takes your ticket, stamps it, complains that you forgot to feed the ticket through a special machine at the station. You apologize and explain that you are a foreigner. She hands a small laminated badge to the conductor, who looks at it for a moment, smiles, and returns it.

“Do you work in fashion?” you ask, indicating the magazines.

She blushes and replies, “Oh, no, nothing so glamorous. I just finished my studies at university, but they are much too boring to talk about.”

“I don’t believe that. What did you study?”

“I will receive my placement as a professor of physics and chemistry next month,” she says with a pained look, almost ashamed.

“I studied physics too.”

“Really?”

In this way you make small talk all the way to the station, once or twice convincing her to utter a few words of broken English in an impossibly sexy French accent.

As the train enters the station she asks “Will you stop here or change trains?”

“I must change trains to continue on to Paris.”

“Paris? We will be on the same train.”

She takes your hand and leads you to the next train, where you sit diagonally across from her, placing your luggage on the seat beside you.

“Are you sure you don’t want to face the front of the train?”

“Pardon?”

“How will you see if you sit there?” She vaguely indicates the window seat beside her.

“Oh, yes, you are absolutely right.”

She moves her things to the seat you just vacated, and, leaning close to you, asks “Do I need to fix my makeup?”

Her face is close enough for you to trace the pattern of tiny freckles that dot her forehead and cheeks. You hesitate a moment, startled by the question and her proximity. You shake your head.

“No, not at all.”

She smiles sweetly and says, “You know, for my boyfriend.”

“No, he should be quite pleased.”

You feel the onset of jealousy and disappointment, neither emotion justified, but both predictable.

“Okay. It’s our last night together and I want to look good for him.”

You look at her with your face bent into a question mark.

“I am breaking up with him in the morning.”

“Why?”

She looks off into space and speaks without affect.

“I have another boyfriend, but this thing started and this boy is wrong for me, all the things I hate: a motorcycle, tattoos, but I can’t stop—haven’t stopped—seeing him, even though I have tried to make myself.”

She turns to you and says, in English, “I am a horrible person,” completely eliding the aitch.

“No, you are just young. I did things like that when I was young, everyone does.”

“You think so?”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Yes, I am sure. In five years you won’t remember any of this.”

“You mean I’ll forget the second boyfriend?”

“No, I mean you will forget both of them.”

“No.”

“Yes. Write me in five years and tell me whether you remember any of this.”

“Okay, give me your email address.”

You give her your email address.

“You are the only person I have told. My friends don’t know about this.”

“Sometimes it’s easier with a stranger. Where does the boyfriend whom you won’t see tonight think you are?”

“My mother’s house, which is where I was until I boarded the train.”

She excuses herself, gets up, goes to the lavatory, returns shaking her head and gives you a look of disbelief.

“No makeup? You are crazy!”

She leans across your seat, hovering above your lap, and begins applying mascara, eye shadow and lip-gloss while studying her reflection in the window. You watch in mute adoration.

“What do you think?”

“I think that before you put on makeup you were very beautiful, and, now that you have put on makeup, you are still very beautiful.”

“Good answer.”

She pulls a piece of paper and a pen from her pocket book, writes her name and email address on the paper, and gives it to you.

“Can you understand my writing?”

“Yes, of course, it’s no problem.”

She leans close again, crossing the armrest and looking into your eyes.

“I wish I could come with you to Paris tonight. I—”

The conductor announces her station over the loudspeaker. She leans a little closer, gives you a lingering kiss on the mouth and then rushes off the train.

This entry is part of Jack Rusher’s journal, originally published July 26th, 2004, in Paris.