THE APARTMENT IN PARIS
ROOFS AND BUILDINGS AND STREETS OF PARIS.
Citroen DS cars and Renault vans slowly rolling by. People going about their businesses crossing the road, avoiding motorbikes: it’s still quite early here in Passy, 16ème arrondissement, but the city is very much alive. Smell of coffee and warm bread waft in the fresh morning air, the tarmac glistening from the customary washing of shopfronts.
In an open phone box outside a café, a woman is talking nervously, kicking her square-heeled boots as she speaks, carefully keeping her feet out of the rivulets of water streaming downhill.
“… Jane, I had to do it! I have my own place now and Jean-Luc kept our… Yes, I found one in the 16ème... Now all I want is to think about the new film.”
“...I don’t know. This thing has been going on for years, but when I won the prize it became worse, I guess he never wanted me to go back to acting…”
“...quite bad actually: Hervé is with him at the moment. I think he blames it on me. ...Oui, c’est ça: freedom for everybody, it’s the 70s! But when it comes to your own family… Voilà!”
“Bien sûr, you can come to see me, just give me some time to settle in the apartment… I’m moving in, these days I’m here, figuring out the furniture and decorations… Yes, it takes my mind off it...”
“...Ok, Jane. See you at the studio, next week… I’m reading the script already, I have it with me...” she says, her hand on the shoulder bag dangling by her side.
She hooks up the receiver and looks across the street and upwards, to the windows of the dernier étage of the building in front. A penthouse, as the French say, terrasse. Then she takes a quick breath and heads to the other side.
In the apartment now, some time later. She is looking around, planning the décor, the wallpaper, the curtains…
Curtains could wait, it’s so beautiful up here, she thinks, sitting down on her folded coat.
There’s nothing to sit on just yet, but freedom feels quite comfortable, and solitude a relief from the pain of her recent family struggles.
Finally looking for a life on her own, today she came to see what it feels to be free in Paris. Free to think about her future and study the script of her new film: a story about angels.
Right now she is sitting by a tall window, the script papers in hand, the sun flooding in and lighting up the empty rooms and the polished wooden floors.
Her youth may be gone, but not her beauty. Actually, something in her is mellow, so charming and knowing and mysterious. She has cinematic eyebrows and a rueful smile she secretly smiles for herself, as she reads.
She wears her dark hair soft, framing her face, and when a lock escapes from behind her ear she tucks it back in while reading, without even registering her gesture.
But now she looks up. What’s that? A glimpse of a movement in a window of the opposite building. Someone at the window right opposite hers: that could be the face of an angel.
Oh, but do angels really exist?
She leans to her side and lets her gaze wander upwards. Feeling so weary today... So many things have happened. How good it would feel to shed your past like you let a coat drop on the floor...
As she catches her reflection in the glass, how come all those memories don’t show on her face? All that life built and then tore down? In her own eyes she only sees the desire for change.
Do angels bring change? But they don’t exist, do they? Well, if they do, and you could actually meet them, maybe that would be up here, with a view of the roof, just below this vast sky, now full with clouds that climb up to the heavens which are the home of such creatures of lightning, and meaning, and poetry, because…
Suddenly, he’s there before her: that angel, framed in the door space of her room. She freezes, a hand on her mouth, her papers falling, scattered on the floor.
“Désolé, je ne voulais pas vous faire peur! La porte était ouverte... Excusez-moi! Sorry, sorry, sorry! ...But I believe these are yours!”
The angel puts his palms up, and those are her keys in his left hand. And as he speaks, it’s obvious he’s no angel. Those only speak to deliver messages, and they never, never say they’re sorry for anything, she babbles to herself, her heart still pulsing in her throat. True, she had left the door open, and with the key in the lock: how foolish! She remembered that now.
This here must be a man, strange as it seems. And with an English accent.
She should be scared, or angry, maybe... But other words come easier to her: “I think I saw you, you were on the other side...”
He’s picked up her papers and he hands them to her now. He doesn’t even look surprised at her English, when he just replies: “Yeah, I’m looking for a house here in Paris. My assistant arranged for me to see that apartment…” His elegant hand gestures towards the building in front, then he turns his stranger face to her, with a stranger’s smile: “But I got terribly bored. And somehow, from what I saw through the windows, I liked this one better...”
So this… man seems accustomed to the world speaking his language, to letting himself in through doors left open, to chasing whims? Look at that hair! And how long had he been watching her?
Still astonished, crowded up by the shadows in her soul, she can’t say the words she should say. She can’t say anything actually, she has no time for that. In a smooth movement, he sits down on the floor right in front of her, like a child eager for play, just out of the window space. Then he slowly leans to the wall, looking at her, a strange smug look in his young eyes.
What is happening? She feels herself blushing. This is… unexpected, and unwise. But the man is incredibly handsome, a stranger, yes, although his face holds something familiar... His clothes whisper he’s rich, international, artistic, and he’s so near that his cologne…
Involuntarily, she turns to look towards the door she left open. She came alone there, because she’s independent, a woman with her own, huge backstory, that’s why it hasn’t occurred to her that she’s just alone in there, because she feels surrounded, encumbered by presences clinging to her from her near-past. But actually, she’s just a woman who is alone in there, with this visiting stranger.
She looks up and meets his defying eyes. Well, what do we have here, a… boy. She’s much older than him. She is about forty-five, how old could he be? He’s hardly... Let’s give him a Bonne journée and…
She has to refocus on him, as he sighs softly through his nose and gives her a long look, frankly too long. Crazy-coloured eyes, also. Eyes practising the art of insincerity.
Does he know I’m someone famous?
Is he… someone famous?
But no more thinking now. Reality flashes back: what is he doing here, and sitting so near? She reverts to her language, fastening a button on the front of her blouse. Trying to make a retreat.
“Qu’est-ce que vous cherchez ici?”
“I... seek… trouble… I guess,” (said exhaling, and approaching her, as he slides closer).
Her brows go up: should I feel outraged? Should I feel in danger? She gets up a little too fast. Better move slowly.
She opts for speaking frankly, so frankly that it is like speaking to herself:
“You’re very wrong with me, then! I’ve had so much trouble, I want none of that now! I want… nothing. Look around: empty! Trouble-free!”
She throws out her hands in a circling gesture, but when she turns back, she sees him regroup quickly, behind the windows of his eyes, suddenly so serious. Maybe this is no boy, after all.
He’s looking at his fingertips now, like searching for words. Then he runs a hand through ashen-blond hair and resumes speaking:
“Let me explain… I’m… sort of drawn to trouble, I seem to... create it, actually. But I’m rather tired of being such a trouble-maker. Really tired of being… myself. This... self.” He looks up again: “I seek peace, maybe?”
Peace. Oh, she can react to that. THAT is easy: “Well, you should really go back to your apartment tour, Monsieur,” she says, “There’s nothing for you here… I’m no fucking cemetery keeper, if you were looking to rest in peace!”
Words spoken in her wonderful French English, wanting to sound rough, but coming out like coated in velvet, caressing his ears, as he looks at her nearly blushing, on the verge of a smile.
“No. No! Sorry...” The smile flowers on his lips, and he stands up, unfolding his lithe body. Then he adds, almost under his breath: “Forgive me. I’m just… stupid. I should go.”
Slowly, he turns a little and starts to walk towards the other room, like he’s making his mind up to really leave. Then he pauses briefly, and faces her again, with a different look in his eyes: now those crazy eyes are distant, eternal… He looks at her, keeping eye-contact, but he’s like looking through her. Then his hand comes up to his left shoulder, slips under his coat, lets it slide down his side and drop on the floor. “Oh Lord,” she hears him murmur, “I can’t make it more obvious...”
“Well, I guess... you can’t.” her voice echoes, curiously toneless.
Then his powder-coloured shirt also slides down his shoulders and joins the coat on the floor. His eyes never leaving hers.
She looks at him nearly horrified. At them both. What! What is this… boy thinking that he can do? That he can give me…
How can I take it from him?
How can I take him...
Let him play his hand?
Earlier that morning, she’d had words ringing in her ears, as she was going up in the lift, turning the key to the apartment: Beauty. Silence. Life. Another life. Silence. Beauty, still. New beauty. Observe, let it bloom. Don’t touch, don’t own. It will fade, it will flee, it will get tainted. It will turn back and bite you. It will become a story. Again.
So, sex is what this is about?
Certainly not what she had in mind coming here today.
Certainly, it was there already, in what she felt when she saw him, on the other side of the street.
And now he’s standing naked in front of her. A risk, a danger, but the only feeling she can manage when she sees his erection is a sudden, giddy, grateful joy, as if he had shown and offered her a wonderful bouquet of fresh, rare flowers.
He reaches out to her cheek and touches her for the first time, and she should say no, she should say something.
Instead, she thinks: when he came in, did he close the door behind him, at least?
Like in a silent dance, he keeps trying to peel her clothes off, and she tries to put them back on. But he begins again, patiently, inexorably, kissing his way from her neck to her mouth. One after the other, her clothes drop to the floor,
The feel of his skin under her fingers makes her dizzy, nearly sick, lost in a whirlpool of life. Is this the flesh of a boy? Then he puts a hand at the nape of her neck and looks in her eyes, no smile now, but a cruel mouth, his hair disheveled. Pitiless, inhuman as an angel, only fleshed out to deliver a message that can’t be stopped.
Cruel as a flower. His sex is perfect, like in the Garden of Eden. Only, he’s also The Tempter.
“Who are you?” she mutters breathlessly from the soft prison of her hair.
He looks at her, a different, older expression on his young face, and smiles a sad smile, showing teeth.
I think I saw you with another face, she thinks. I don’t know you, but I do know you.
She stops him before he can speak, putting her fingers on his lips: “No, don’t say anything. No words now.”
“Exactly.” He sighs in relief, as he takes her hand, kissing her fingertips, then slowly pulls her in his arms and down with him as he sinks to the floor.
And now he’s trembling with what could be desire, or the deepest concentration. His gestures are slow and beautiful, all of them, as if he had rehearsed them a thousand times, with an absolute interest.
Will he put me in his collection? He may not have my type of woman filed away. Not... yet.
Stealing the sighs from her mouth, drinking in her perfume like a long story of her own, he’s sampling the smell of her class, eyes fixed in her cinéclub face.
As to him, he’s impossible to read, undercover even naked. Now he’s only wearing a scent, but it’s neither a man’s or a woman’s. Although, over her he’s a man, a young male: his sex is aggressive, hungry, and he moves as he wants to dominate her. Claim her body, for reasons coming a long way, that he won’t tell her.
He’s slow, white-hot, like an angel of fire. He’s got a final look in his eyes and he bottoms out easily, she’s so ready for him, more than she ever was for her husband. When the moment comes, unstoppable but like suspended in time, he sucks in breath, his face half-turned and a displeased look in his eyes, like a capricious star in a stolen picture. As she feels him pulsing inside her, she joins him up there and everything turns white in her mind. She feels herself become one with the empty, free space all around.
He traces her belly with his young hand. Finds the ancient scar of her caesarean section, looks up at her with open mouth: ”You’ve got a child?”
“A son. He’s twenty now… I shouldn’t tell you this...”
“Why?” he frowns, his voice almost angry. “I want to know!”
“Oh no, you don’t.”
They’re lying on her spread-out coat. He rests his head on her shoulder, her hand in his hair, which feels like a child’s, although now he is the one telling a fairy-tale, in a lazy voice: “You could keep me here, locked up in this apartment, and only come to have sex with me. No-one would know. They would go looking and looking for me, but they wouldn’t be able to find me, because you would hide me away in your castle, under your... wicked spell...”
She raises an eyebrow: “Me, wicked witchy woman?”
“Oh yes, would you want to do it?”
“I tell you, I want… a cigarette!”
She rummages inside her handbag for cigarettes and it falls over, spilling some of its contents. He lifts his head, looking interested, like a boy in a garden observing a trail of ants. He picks up a newspaper, a lipstick, a perfume bottle: Opium, she recently took it up. A new perfume to get lost in a new life.
“Oh! Opium! I like it so much!...”
He goes on talking, while she sees their future love story. Café-au-lait mornings, candle-lit dinners. Hours in the apartment, but never a house. She sees him rolling between rumpled sheets. Smoking, reading.
She sees him pace those rooms, his clothes now on, not naked anymore. How long can it last?
Suddenly, she realizes that silence has fallen between them. No good. This will lead to words. Let’s act instead. She’s an actress, after all. She knows gestures that can build stories.
So she takes the handbag-sized bottle of perfume, fishes out a silken scarf from his discarded clothes and sprays some on it.
He takes the scarf from her and presses it to his face, closing his eyes: “Impossible to forget! This will bring you to me… Until I cross the road again, to see my neighbour...”
She looks at him clutch the scarf, wearing a closed-lipped smile that takes a moment to reach her eyes:
“Yes, until you cross the road again.”
There’s trouble on the other side:
“Look at them! They’re coming for you…”
“But they don’t know where to look… for now.”
“You’d better go, don’t let them discover my castle! I can’t put them all under my wicked French spell, you know?”
She smooths down her clothes, then helps him button his shirt, embracing him from behind. Now that he put the scarf around his neck, her perfume is on him.
All too soon, he’s there again, on the door, like he had appeared. Only, the light is different, like the expression on his face: not an angel anymore, but rather… some young successful artist, overworked by fame, looking for a spell of peace in Paris, maybe?
Incredibly handsome, and no less a stranger than before. She looks at him and suddenly what happened between them feels unreal, although she can still feel him inside. And now they’re facing each other, just looking at each other with space in between. In silence.
This scene, she thinks, a proper American shot, like a duel. …Ah, putain!
Their staring contest crumbles in nervous laughter, and they walk to the door. He says: “Watch the window! I will wave to you on the other side!”
With a kiss, and another and another just out of the big old-style door of the apartment, they say goodbye. For now.
She turns and leans against the wall, listening to the old lift slowly going down and finally reaching the ground floor, then its door clank open and then shut again, followed by steps faintly echoing in the hall. So she presses the button to call the lift up again. When it’s back, she opens the wood and glass panel, like expecting to see him again, but no-one’s there, only the lingering perfume of herself.
Back to the window, she looks down and sees him now across the road, smoking, talking with a distressed-looking girl and boy, then entering the opposite building.
She shakes her head, then looks at the sky, just deep blue and empty now.
And here on Earth?
There, in the window opposite her, she sees people coming and going, but she can make out the smile and quick gesture when he waves at her: she knows it’s him, so she gives a wave back. Soon after, the windows become empty, and the lights go out. She gets up, takes a deep breath and looks around: there’s no mirror yet in here. I need... a mirror.
CAMERA MOVES GRADUALLY BACK
AND UP AGAIN
Her voice over now:
I never made my film: the director changed his mind about angels. But I made another, and then many others.
While he, he actually never rent the place on the other side.
I knew he wouldn’t, after all.
And I have to say, that is one of the reasons why I kept mine, and I still live here, in my apartment, in Paris.
STREET AND BUILDINGS AND ROOFS.