tagRomanceUnlike So Many Carousels

Unlike So Many Carousels


The night she arrived in Paris, before she unpacked a wilder, freer, dimension of herself, Daija had a dizzying notion: "What if he wasn't waiting, as promised, at the carousel on Quai Branly?" she mused. She shook off her doubt as easily as the fear that no longer imprisoned her, now that she had traveled across an ocean from repression. If his love proved to be real, in the flesh, becoming an expatriate would be a revolution worth fighting, even if she was her only adversary.

Daija first learned of the carousel on the Left Bank, near the Eiffel Tower, from a long-distance postcard he had sent her three months prior. Arriving at her five-floor walkup from the supermarket on that spring afternoon, she stopped in the foyer to check her mail. After banging the tiny metal door shut, she clenched the postcard between two rows of crooked teeth as she ascended three flights of stairs carrying two plastic bags of groceries.

Once at her condo unit, she stood on the rubber mat long deprived of visitors to greet with "Bienvenue" and shrugged a sigh as she maneuvered her door key from the only ring on light-brown fingers. At least the cat is happy to welcome me, she mused as she balanced one bag on a cocked hip and let the other dangle from her left wrist.

Possessing the agility of a tanguera, she easily managed unlocking her front door -- which was as impenetrable as the fortification stone walls high on the cliffs in Eza -- by kicking her well-heeled foot behind her standing leg, shutting the heavy door with a thud. Where God must have been distracted in sculpting her asymmetrical face, He or She more than compensated when chiseling her lower extremities, as if sourcing them from the rocky ochre shores of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. She looked down at her meowing kitty, "Punzie," short for Rapunzel, and gently persuaded the tabby to step aside, which for any stubborn pussy meant budging no more than two inches in any direction.

The postcard that she carried into the kitchen like a trained pooch was starting to taste bitter, so she set down her grocery bags filled with the culinary items that reminded her of the postcard's sender: among them, a jar of the finest strawberry preserves, a wedge of bankrupting Gruyère cheese, three pounds of thinly sliced good-quality ham, a pound of butter, and a sorry excuse for a baguette. Her postcard was stamped at a post office on Paris' Left Bank near the Latin Quarter, where her ex-cyberlover, Thierry, lived above a low-rent café that lacked the people-watching glamour of Café de Flore in the adjacent, sixth arrondissement haunted by the inseparable ghosts of Sartre and de Beauvoir.

At first Daija winced and chortled through Thierry's murdering of the English language in the confined space to the left of her Philadelphia address. Then, her thunderbolts of laughter quieted down and tears began falling wherever the phrase "Je t'aime" rose up from the postcard's matte paper in three-dimensional sentimentality. She was happy and puzzled at the same time. After all, it was Thierry's decision to break up with her several months before, when his wife, fifteen years his junior, re-entered his life after a difficult divorce that separated him from their two young children -- and his civil-engineer's salary, which had financed her swanky getaways to Deauville in spring, Biarritz in summer, Venice in autumn, and Zurich in winter.

Nearly a year had passed from their first cyber exchange, when their Trans-Atlantic alienation intersected in the "lonely hearts" zone of a dating forum. An English major, Daija immediately was attracted to him before she could finish reading his first reply to her private message. His response began: "Mon anglais is verry poor, mais ..."

Now, as she held the postcard from Thierry tautly and felt heat rising up into her hands, his sprinkling of emotions came down hard on her fragile state of mind like an unexpected summer shower. She sought shelter from the tear-blotted words and card, flipping over the postcard with damp, trembling fingers a safe distance from her quaking heart. On the front of the Paris postcard, illuminated horses with faces frozen in ecstasy seemed to gallop out from the glossy photo card's minimalist nightscape and whinny their chorus into her ears. The caption read: "Carrousel on Quai Branly par nuit."

As a young girl, she had always searched for the merry-go-rounds when her family would visit amusement parks. Seated on the wooden horses, she would fantasize that she was traveling somewhere -- anywhere -- to a distant place from bickering parents, to a safe place within a mind budding with enchantment, where every day was a carnival waiting to be tasted and savored, like wisps of cotton candy clinging to the sides of a spinning steel pan moments before crystallizing on warm, wet lips and melting on the tongue.

She still loved carousels, and bringing the edge of the postcard up to her lips for a kiss, she allowed thoughts of reconnecting with her gallant cyberlover, Thierry, to trot through her mind.

Three months later, she did a three-sixty in the huge bedroom of a hotel suite. The stunning suite, in a hotel of Thierry's choosing -- the venerable Crillon -- had been paid for in advance with a credit card account that his aloof wife didn't share. He confided this information to Daija, which she believed only when he further disclosed that his wife had control of five other credit cards with steeply ascending credit limits that left him with a case of vertigo upon each monthly payment.

When it was his turn to webcam, he told his Philly princess that he would do anything for his "petite Daija" -- his choice of adjective all the more endearing considering that she made sure not to hide her voluptuous physique when it was her turn to webcam. In fact, she delighted in liberating her mind before the camera, emphasizing her curves in black lingerie that played off her light-brown flesh and strained against pendulous breasts, a Rubenesque belly and flared hips.

On those steamy nights, when a webcam would bridge their different worlds on either side of the Atlantic -- her life the graytone patterns of a Philly copy shop clerk; his life the brightly lighted, scripted illusions of a reality-TV producer -- as his wife slept soundly, a one-woman snoring symphony, on bedding purchased during the divorce on credit at Harrods, Thierry provided Daija with the kind of feedback at which Frenchmen of his class excelled. For example, he begged to see her hips sideswiping café tables, rattling salt and peppers and bottled condiments, and leaving tablecloths wantonly askew, as she struts toward him in dimly lighted corner perilously close to the rear exit that leads to a narrow alley where the acoustics of furtive lovemaking are second only to hallowed stage of l'Opera Garnier.

Daija found herself in uncharted waters, like a row boat rocking in the wake of yachts cruising the Mediterranean. She hooked on his lines faster than a sea robin hastened to its fate by a Marseilles angler equipped with a spin reel. Whenever she would splay her thick legs on the webcam at Thierry's urging, the alarm clock on her nightstand would be hovering near nine o'clock at night. It was as if time stood still for them and as if their erotic longing penetrated the glass of their computer monitors.

She, a woman once impervious to romantic promises whispered from behind while her moans echoed into the wilderness high up in the Pennsylvania mountains, had dismantled her fortress for a man who seemed her emotional equal in a country where blood spilled from craggy peaks to downy meadows and out to grief-swollen seas.

Daija eventually became proficient in front of the webcam, imagining her virtual lover's eyes pinned to his computer screen, his hand freeing his generous penis and groping languidly at the burning staff that he wished could torch her bush, while he stroked her wild fragrance into his nostrils until he could taste her bouillabaisse: the cream spread on her earthy thighs like smooth rouille dolloped on toasted-brown croutons floating in broth "comme des fruits de la mer."

Frames of her reflections of those webcam nights, with enough footage to fashion into a documentary worthy of a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, spun Daija forward to the present in the well-appointed hotel suite. Leaving her unzipped upright on the Queen-sized bed, she prepared to dash off into the Paris night.

After stepping off the train at Bir Hakeim, on Ligne Numéro "6" of the Paris Métro, and carefully making the long descent to street level, Daija was momentarily frightened by the empty dark pockets along the winding street. She couldn't see the carousel of Thierry's postcard but quickened her pace as she made her way around the sharp curve, the tiny Parisian cars whizzing by her on the highway. There in the distance, on Quai Branly, she saw the bright white lights spinning slowly. As she approached Trocadéro, her heartbeat outraced the horses on the carousel.

Now, before her eyes, marigold, fuschia and jade saddles bobbed atop les chevaux de bois on the spinning, empty carousel. It was after ten o'clock on an August night, too late for children to be riding, and just about the time that Daija and Thierry would be sexing each other down via webcam. The carnival-like melody played in the humid night air. Vivid saddles seemed to speed past, creating impressionistic swaths of color. Repetitious music and wooden horses' frozen grins transported her to childhood, when she would never pass up a chance to ride the go-round. Life felt safe then.

Standing before the illuminated carousel, she discovered a truth. The freedom that she had savored before meeting Thierry on-line was but an illusion. She had fastened herself to a series of men, laughing and pretending to enjoy the ride. Yet in reality, unless that first part of her adult life was a waking dream, she was like les chevaux de bois personified -- spinning on the same, sickening, carnival theme but going nowhere. Rather than accepting that she should get the run-around from casually single men, she sought the comfort of a securely married man, who advised her to start up a revolution in her mind. Although he supported her desire to be liberated, she needed more convincing on just where to seek new carousels. She believed him when he said that she should begin her search in Paris, where he could sweep her off her feet and, if she ever felt dizzy, he could catch her before she fell back into the trap of repression.

When the carousel operator stopped the ride for her, Daija climbed up on the platform and then strapped herself into the sturdy saddles. "They sure don't make carousels like these anymore," she thought to herself. Once the merry-go-round cranked up to speed, she grasped the pole and prepared to gallop with abandon.

Just as she began to let herself go was when she spotted Thierry standing five feet nine and with a pugilist's build. He wore all white in contrast to the dark background of Quai Branly, and he seemed to glow like an angel with the headlights of cars flashing by behind him. He beamed a smile at Daija, holding out a bouquet of flowers that matched the colors of les chevaux, and every time her laughing horse sped past him, the carousel lights diffused the colors like a Degas painting coming to life. And when Thierry shouted "Je t'aime, ma cherie!" she felt no dizziness at all, but all the same, she couldn't wait to leap from her horse and straight into his arms.

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