L’Exposition Universelle: a short, short story



He began to understand that where he was going was not important. Where he had been was irrelevant. His name, M—. He had forgotten all he left behind, if there was anything to forget. Was it a wife, three kids? No, there was never anyone. He could not be branded, herded— the pictures stuffed in the worn, brown wallet he must have taken earlier in a cafe. It was nice to meet other Americans.

18th floor. Short walk from the elevator. He slid the card into the mechanism on the door. the green light flashed so he coulf enter. This was supposed to be a non-smoking room.

He remembered the long train ride and regretted never learning French. No need for regret, he thought—bookstore in the lobby. He mused, surely someone in the past must have urged him to learn French. I am now an American in Paris with no functional vocabulary. How scandelous. Pointing and nodding can get you certain things—but not far. The plan, in this room of stained, piss-color walls, was to hang up the overcoat. The plan was to open the dingy curtains of the observatory, throw the briefcase onto the chair, watch the bright city from a fishbowl. Where are you going, she asked.  But the future doesn’t depend on his knowing.

The contents of the briefcase were scattered on the bed. Two small, hand-carved dummies, a cigar, some flyers and pamphlets. A postcard in French. He had retired to the hotel bar. She was there, as usual, sipping a cocktail. She had the bartender water it down a bit. It’s mostly water, she told him. He stared for a while at the lipstick on the rim. The color of her dress.

From the hotel window—why is a search light spinning in the sky? I used to believe they were witches of some kind. Who are you hiding from, she asked. But she was not there to receive his answer. She must have gone to the toilet. He stood solemnly still admiring his reflection, handsome guy, against the black backdrop of night over the city. He thought he would duck as the searchlight made the circle toward his room, but didn’t. Finding himself content, he turned inside. There was the postcard: a tiny white tent on the edge of his bed.

A black and white photo of the Eiffel tower on its cover. On the bottom left it reads L’Exposition Universelle. Paris. Inside, in scribbled writing:

In silence, in steadiness, in severe abstraction, let him hold by himself; add observation to observation, patience of neglect, patience of reproach; and bide his own time—happy enough, if he can satisfy himself alone, that this day he has seen something truly. —R.W. Emerson

And he knew there was nothing to be forgotten. Nothing had arrived until that very day. This was the beginning of time. He would have chicory and chocolatinas the next morning. That would not depend on her presence.