When She Showed Me Her Legs

The woman hung the laundry out the window while I pissed hard into the sink; I’m outta here, she said, and slammed the door behind her

Morrison woke suddenly from the all-too-vivid dream. Dolores was, in fact, gone. With the hangovers they usually had, first thing they craved in the morning were those shots of espresso firing out of the machine, so they would slip out the door of the Grand Orient fast as they could and up to a counter, any counter, and ordered up two doubles to get it started.

In Paris there was no shortage of cafés. Half the city was employed running them, and some of them even made good coffee. They slipped out fast from the Grand Orient because they were behind on the rent by on average a month or two, though Mrs. Mustard was generally lenient with artistes, as she called their particular chaos, since she herself was a retired opera singer who nowadays gave exclusive private lessons in her salon. Morrison went once and was almost defenestrated by the raw power generated by the singers.

At that time, broke, living on odds and ends, scooping up whatever they could, they were happy for small bits of good fortune. They learned which brasseries to frequent and which to avoid, particularly since they depended on their toilets – in the Grand Orient there was one common toilet per floor and it was so brutally stopped up you could count on the maids screaming and cursing when they had to clean it. The Grand Orient was a seething kaleidoscope of hallucination, poverty, and madness, with a dash of profit thrown in to justify it all.

Dolores had gotten out ahead of Morrison and he knew the risks of leaving her at the bar unattended. He high-stepped it down the last of the devastated stairs of the Grand Orient and glimpsed a man talking to the concierge. But the concierge looked up as Morrison tried to hurry by and she cut him off at the front desk.

Monsieur Morrison, attendez une minute!

Morrison waited, thinking about his coffee.

“I must ask you to please help this man to arrive at the Post Office so that he can cash heez assistance check.”

Morrison’s relief that she didn’t ask him for money showed in his crooked grin.

“But what about Dolores?” he thought. An impeccably dressed man in a red pin-stripe charcoal suit stepped forward, hitting his shin with a cane as he put his arm on Morrison’s, ready to go. Light reflected off of his dark glasses. He wore a priest’s collar and cheap patent-leather shoes, which were splitting on the sides. He’d stepped in something with the left shoe.

The man took Morrison’s arm as they set off on this journey of goodwill, the unlikely Samaritan and the blind Vicar. Dolores would just have to wait. Morrison tried to guide him through Paris’ shit-strewn streets, gutters filling with stinking water and little lakes forming at street corners where rags blocked the drains. They advanced fitfully, stopping to scrape dog shit off their shoes, ready to be swatted down by the next speeding milk truck. At the post office they waited on a long line of pensioners, come to cash their checks, as the Vicar recounted his catastrophe.

“I went blind and she took everything I had. Me, they threw out onto the street like garbage, onto Martyr Road, the very street of pain, my sight like a gutter running through all these deathly Parisian streets. Me! Coming from a tropical island, from the proud Caribbean. Exiled from my own son – by my own wife! The only time I can see the kid is when I bring around my check. Otherwise she won’t let me near him. You never saw a woman so vicious,” he said, poking Morrison’s chest angrily.

The Vicar looked like a Caribbean Ray Charles, and had a temper. His wife may well have been a killer but it wasn’t too hard to see that enduring the Vicar couldn’t have been easy. But who would want to walk Paris’ shit-ridden streets in pinchy patent-leather shoes, with only a candy-cane for eyes? The blind Vicar, for he had indeed been ordained, blessed Morrison for his help, repaying his patient service by inviting him to share some Calvados, the fine Breton apple liquor he called Queen Calva. Morrison tried to protest.

“I have to meet Dolores. She’s waiting for me.” The Vicar turned to face him. He leaned his face in close.
“Beware,” he hissed sharply in Morrison’s ear. “Give the women lots of room,” he warned. “You’re no different than any king – or pawn.” And he sealed his biblical advice with apple brandy and the hair on his palms.

It was late morning before they reached the hotel again, chatting drunkenly. Dolores was waiting there, sure enough, interrogating the concierge, debt or no debt, and Morrison saw her shoot forward like a mad hornet from the front desk. She headed right for him, knives drawn, until suddenly, she noticed his blind friend. She stopped – blam! – dead in her tracks, like Wiley-Coyote, spittle and venom flying from her flapping lips. She was, indeed, shocked into silence.

Hallelujah! thought Morrison. There it was already, a miracle and praise be to the good Queen Calva!

“I’ll drink to that,” said the Vicar as if reading his thoughts.
Dolores burst out laughing. “You lucky bastard,” she said, putting her arms around Morrison and stomping on his foot as she hissed “Bastard” into his ear.

But sharing a room, a sink, and a can of corn only added a degree of difficulty to the relationship. So did living on the edge in a 7th floor walk-up, their meagre earnings as teachers barely keeping them afloat.

How does the song go? Morrison wondered.
without finance
is a nuisance…”

One night, in the gaping maw that was the week between Christmas and New Year, when everything stopped and they searched through their pockets for a lost coin or two, Dolores was out somewhere scavenging for food, for drinks, for attention, for survival. Morrison went looking for her. It was better than waiting in the room watching time die slowly like a fly trapped in the window. He knew he might or might not find Dolores. Would she have flown the coop with the millionaire with the yacht she’d met in England when he was her English student, whose old-fashioned invitation by mail Morrison had intercepted? Would he have to search for her in the late night brasseries of Montmartre, having to ‘save’ her from the drunken suitors she’d made crazy with the wild fires smouldering in her eyes or the Gitane perched so lightly between her lips? Would she throw her arms around his neck as if she missed him? Dolores was an actress at every turn, even when she was sincere. With her, every night was opening night.

There was no sign of Dolores anywhere. He gave it up and followed the river for as long as he could. The rolling and rocking of the water was soothing. He climbed to the cathedral and then followed Martyr Road down through Montmartre. Everything was closed. The garbage trucks were banging and shrieking along their routes, drawing stray dogs in their wake. It was just before dawn. Morrison was still walking the tightrope of night, wandering lonely along empty Boulevard Sebastopol. He’d outlasted the streets themselves: gone the gamblers, gone the tourists from the sex shops, gone even the whores at this sad hour, and there, through a crack in this empty universe, was a panel lit up bright, advertising Cassavetes’ masterpiece, Opening Night. There was a vision truly: Gena Rowlands ten feet tall, in a long white gown, arms to the heavens, long-suffering, overwhelmed by the passion and beauty of it all, struggling for acceptance. Morrison stood in the pool of light and gazed at the sight. The vision like an avenging angel come to fly him back to his squalid room, where he was caught in the inferno of desire, the purgatory of fear, foreboding in his bones.

Love in Paris – certainly! But chthonic love, in the sewers, in the abyss of the seventh floor walk-up, in the sadness of the surreptitious cinq-à-sept love hotels where, literally, kisses were stolen, and in the claustrophobic underground mausoleum where millions of skulls lay like stars in the dank earth, bones sweating a cool sleep in someone else’s century, lost and free in the serpentine catacombs – where, incredibly, Morrison had once overheard Dolores laughing intimately with another man, and then convinced himself that he hadn’t.

For Morrison, Paris was best in the imaginary lands of its famous dead, with Villon hanged and Eros riding through like a plague, sidesaddle stubborn on a mule, packing another dose of the daily apocalypse. Love in the ruins, in the shadows, the very town a mausoleum gilded in shit and gold and sweat like the walls in Orpheus’ basement room, where he lay suffering the worst kind of highway blues over sweet Eurydice. Love in Paris was a bouquet of flowers of evil blooming in the cadaverous bowels of the city, like they had once in Baudelaire’s coal black eyes. It was a desperate eroticism born and decaying in the same putrid breath. Meanwhile, up on Boulevard Saint Germain women prowled like demons, demons prowled like young girls, and the girls themselves wore short skirts like fig leaves to hide themselves from what was to come. They were saints of the underground, sisters in survival, mistresses of the broken heart.

As Morrison ascended the cobblestone streets to the Grand Orient it began to rain, but all he was aware of was his vision of Dolores burned bright into his head and drawing him back like she was the North Star. He climbed the stairs to his room that dawn like they led to the gallows. Morrison forced the feeling away as he slid his key into the lock and opened the door. When she showed him her legs, Morrison felt he was on the first deadly page of his own obscene narrative, complying, willing, not really wanting to squirm off the hook that Dolores was taunting him with. She stood on one bare leg, the other raised, knee bent, her foot under the tap in the sink, a look of joyful contemplation on her face as the rainbow of water flowed over her foot. She gazed at Morrison, Mona Lisa smile, her hair lit in sunlight that had broken through the early morning clouds. Without turning her gaze away she said, “Why don’t you wash my feet? In a kind of ritual … of devotion.”

In that moment she was no longer his woman. She was no longer in time. What she said, and the way she said it, had by-passed any mental or verbal blocks Morrison might have put up, and the soft, quizzical sound of her voice and the words “ritual of devotion” had gone right to some sort of electric button he kept hidden from his daily self, a switch that was still right there ready to be tripped.

Happily, in those days they didn’t have digital cameras around to record every move. Reality loses too much when it passes through the machine. Since Morrison didn’t have a camera at hand, his mind composed a much deeper tableau of the scene, burning the sound of her voice, the light in her hair, the water pouring over her foot, into a potent emotional memory; in his mind the halo of light shining in that shabby room around the sunlit Madonna figure and the rainbow that flowed over the foot offered up to him … for devotion, remains as vivid as it was that lost morning. Everything around them was gritty and worn but that moment burned transcendent in timeless, fragile beauty. There was time yet for the fire and the fury, the deception and decay.

Two weeks later, on the summer solstice, Morrison came home to the Grand Orient and found Dolores putting on her makeup in a mirror on the table. There was a small travelling suitcase standing under the window. Her face looked fierce.

“I’m leaving,” she said. “Leaving on a yacht with a rich man. I’ve had enough of this shit.”
That was all Morrison heard. There was a great roaring silence in his head as he watched Dolores’ legs moving with nervous energy as she meticulously applied kohl to her eyes. Then suddenly, like another channel had been plugged into, he heard his heart pounding and filling up his skull. Without deciding, he was out the door, taking the stairs two at a time till he reached the street where he collapsed against the doorway like a man whose world had just fallen away. There was a hinge in his heart flapping like a broken lever, making a dry, dead sound, and he felt the blood pouring into his shoes. He crawled behind some trashcans and curled up. He wanted to disappear, that was all. It was the longest day of the year and he dreaded the night to come.