À La Carte: Picnic at the Champ de Mars

[flash]

We had arrived in France two days before, and it was already our third croque monsieur. We bought it at a little Carrefour store, where we also got two cans of Dr. Pepper. Look, Joanne had said, didn’t Melissa say Dr. Pepper was impossible to find in Europe. So we just had to get that beverage we both hated, and a few minutes later we were sitting at the Champ de Mars, feeling so exotic as we took grotesque swigs from the burgundy-colored cans. Joanne chose a spot far away from our tour companions. Just as I was about to sit across from Erin and Tom—the couple we stayed close to because they were the least embarrassing—Joanne noticed what I had noticed three seconds before, namely that Erin, who was wearing a short skirt, sat with her legs crossed in such a way that whoever chose to sit across from her would have an unimpeded view of her panties. They were white lace, and I even got the impression that her bush could be seen through them. Joanne, who always shaved her bush, grabbed my arm and said, Let’s sit over there, where we can see the tower better. I sat with my back to Erin, to avoid trouble.

Next to us, two women talked while their kids kicked a soccer ball. They spoke English with an American accent. Expats. Did they use that word, I wondered, did they think of themselves as that? It would be so wonderful to live here, Joanne said, you could come hang out here every day like it’s nothing at all. The two women would switch from English to French. I caught words like maison, alors, voiture, expressions like ça va and d’accord, the question que c’est que tu veu, directed at one of the kids, the one wearing a blue baseball cap. At one point the soccer ball hit my arm lightly, but I pretended not to notice. Pardon, monsieur, said one of the kids as he picked up the ball and went back to his game. I felt Joanne’s head against my shoulder. Isn’t it beautiful, she said. I think she meant the tower.

At one point I stretched out on the grass, on my side, and my hand fell on a piece of coarse cloth. It was the kid’s blue baseball cap, which had either fallen from his head or been tossed aside. On an impulse, I placed my backpack over it, as if by accident. A few minutes later, when all of us had finished our food, the expats left. There was no indication that the baseball cap was missed, so I put it in my backpack as Joanne took a picture of Erin and Tom—holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes—with their mini Polaroid. We all waited with our heads together for the image to emerge. Oh my God, that is the cutest thing ever, Joanne said. Hey, let me take one of y’all, Erin said. So we stood on the grass, my arm around Joanne’s shoulder and her arm around my waist, the tower in the background. The picture came out alright. Not as cute as Erin and Tom’s, but then, Joanne and I simply weren’t as cute as they were.

As we began to leave, I noticed the expats had come back. They were walking around the place where they had been before, and the owner of the baseball cap was crying, pointing at a spot on the lawn. I told Joanne that she was beautiful and kissed her hard.

Back in the bus, I took out my copy of Hopscotch, which is what I was reading. It would be a crime not to read Hopscotch while in Paris, I had told myself.

I love it, Joanne said.

She was looking at our picture.

Here, she said, you keep it.

Are you sure, I said.

Yeah, Joanne said, you keep it.

I put it inside my copy of Hopscotch, where it has stayed, between the same pages, for the past twelve years. Sometimes I imagine my son or my daughter finding it, long after my death, and wondering who the girl is.

The baseball cap I kept for a couple of years, until one day I cleaned my closet and decided to give it away, along with a skirt, a blouse, and a scarf that Joanne had left behind.

 

A native of Buenos Aires, Jorge Iglesias moved to Houston in 1998, and has lived there ever since. He holds a BA and an MLA from the University of St. Thomas, as well as a PhD from the University of Houston. He has taught at Rice University and at the University of Houston. His work has appeared in Literal Magazine and The Chesterton Review, and he is the author of an introduction to Outlaw: The Collected Works of Miguel Piñero (Arte Público Press, 2010).