Pigalle by Laurie Stone

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I was at a café, and a man began to speak to me. He was small with attractive, dark eyes. I was lonely, and he said he made films. I was attracted to the blond woman beside him. She sat up straight and before she left she wrote her number on a napkin and gave it to me. The man and I shared a bottle of wine, and he told me he was divorced and that his daughter lived with her mother. On the street he kissed me, pretending to desire me. He snuggled his face into my neck and made little sounds as I said good-bye. He said to call him. I didn’t think I would unless I had to.

I called the woman and arranged to meet her at a bar. We sat outside, and a tall young American came toward us, whistling. His walk was stiff-kneed and Chaplinesque. He had long hair and wore rimless glasses, and for a moment I thought he was my ex-husband. He stopped across from us and took our picture, framed in a green door, before continuing on. There were splashes of purple in the woman’s hair. While we were there, a curtain of rain came down and bounced a foot off the slick pavement. We sat under an awning as others moved inside.

I lay beside the woman on her bed. I was on my stomach, a foot dangling over the edge. She rubbed my back and bit my shoulder. When I kissed her, I tasted the orange soda she had had. Across the alley, a man leaned out the window and stared at us. His sleeves were rolled up, revealing the muscular arms of a tennis player. The blond woman and I changed positions on the bed, and when I looked out the window again, the man was gone.

I do not remember my dreams that night. Dreams inform us about our lives. It was an anxious time. In the morning, I blinked to remember where I was. The blond woman said, “Hello,” and started moving around her apartment, making coffee and speaking French to her cat. She told me to call her whenever I needed to. We may have dinner tomorrow night. If not then, soon. At the door, we kissed once on each cheek like old friends. We were not old friends, or even new friends. 

I walked to Cluny from her place, and who should I run into but the man from the night before. I was not relaxed or happy, and he didn’t seem to notice. One day when I was married, my husband and I were carried out to sea on a rubber raft. There were no lifeguards on the beach. A passerby spotted us and swam out with a lifesaver slung over his shoulder. The lifesaver was attached to a rope, and people on the shore pulled us back in. I had thought we would die. I had thought I could swim back but the man couldn’t and I wouldn’t leave him to drown alone. After we were saved, the man I was married to and I did not speak about what had happened. It was our bond.

The man from the night before insisted I sit with him and have a drink. He asked if we could meet later that day, and he gave me his number again. Why was he being so friendly? Maybe he thought I knew people in New York who could help him with his films. I thought about how people extend themselves to strangers who are traveling. They offer a hand to steady you and get you on your feet. I had coffee with the man. I didn’t know what else to do.


Laurie Stone is author most recently of My Life as an Animal, Stories. She was a longtime writer for the Village Voice, theater critic for The Nation, and critic-at-large on Fresh Air. She won the Nona Balakian prize in excellence in criticism from the National Book Critics Circle and two grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has published numerous stories in such publications as N + 1, Tin House, Evergreen Review, Fence, Open City, Anderbo, The Collagist, Your impossible Voice, New Letters, TriQuarterly, Threepenny Review, and Creative Nonfiction. In 2005, she participated in "Novel: An Installation," writing a book and living in a house designed by architects Salazar/Davis in the Flux Factory's gallery space. Her next book will be Postcards from the Thing that is Happening, a collage of hybrid narratives. Her website is: lauriestonewriter.com.

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