Prose: Aaron Hellem

You and a French Man

Bees, even though they use the sun to navigate, can find their way around on a cloudy day. You left me in a cafe in the middle of New York City and I didn’t know what to do. You were going to live with a French man and stop wearing underwear. I wanted you to come back to Michigan. There was all the culture you needed at Ann Arbor. People with different colored skin speaking different languages. I was sure there were plenty of other girls there who went without their underwear, too. Why did you have to come all the way to New York City to denounce your bra and panties?

The French man’s name was Michel. I remembered it the first time you told me, though that didn’t stop you from reminding it to me every time you mentioned him. Michel lives in the village, you said. Michel plays the piano, you said, and feels angst. What did I know? I thought angst was a cut of beef. Michel knows art and classical music, you said. Doesn’t recognize property, and, oh yeah, Michel doesn’t wear any underwear either. Is that how you wanted to live? Michel cooking eggs benedict with his genitals hanging out over the stove? Did you want to go through life having him stare at your crotch every time you tried to sit down to read the newspaper? Michel doesn’t stare, you said. He’s more comfortable with his sexuality than that.

Two weeks of you walking around without your panties on and I guarantee it he’ll be comfortable with yours, too, I said.

Michel said you wouldn’t understand, you said.

Michigan was enough for some people, a lot of people actually, and if it meant that much to you I’d help you burn your panties. Every last pair of them.

You’d lost weight, I could tell from your hips and your breasts and your cheeks, lost the curves that softened your expressions. I noticed it in the way your neck jutted out, too, and made your silver crucifix dangle to the side. You probably didn’t even wear it anymore and only put it on because I was coming. You didn’t ever have to do anything for my sake. It was probably something you and Michel laughed about when you two walked around the house naked, having to arm yourself with it to come and see me. Michel probably didn’t even believe in God, one of those people who looked down at those who did and thought he was superior for it because he wasn’t going to let himself get duped like that. I didn’t care about the crucifix, and only saw that you’d lost weight. Saw it in the edges of your face, hard and tough, like you’d already been in fist fights with other girls since moving to the city. Maybe Michel was the kind of guy who enjoyed making you jealous and didn’t stop you when you charged the bar and slammed that girl’s face right down into her vodka Gimlet. You’d always been tough, and it was the Midwest that taught you that. Michel should’ve known where you came from.

Michel says, L’homme fait lui-meme, you said. It doesn’t make it sound better because you say it in French. Michel knows what time it is in Hong Kong, you said. Michel knows how to pair a red wine with beeftek and a white wine with poulet, you said. Michel knows how to compute the hypotenuse of any three random points, you said, and knows what the heck a hypotenuse is. Knows what complementary colors are, too. You were pissed off because I wasn’t falling in love with him, too. I wished he’d been there and we could’ve really tested the man’s mettle. Michel doesn’t believe in violence, you said. Of course he doesn’t.

Michel’s a very knowledgeable lover, you said, knowing that would hit below the belt. You’d always mocked my insecurity. Michel knows how to properly perform cunnilingus, you said. Knows not to use his teeth. There was a time when you would’ve blushed at the word and never would’ve said it out loud. The first time I suggested kissing you down there—that’s right, I was the one who suggested it first—you had a fit of giggles and peed in the bed. I never held that against you.

Look at what the city has done, I said, and you used to be such a good girl, too.

That’s when you stood up and left. Walked right out the door and disappeared into the crowd. I paid for our coffee and your croissant. Sat there and cried because I was in the middle of New York City and didn’t know how to get back home to Michigan. On top of that, there were strange French men and women who looked just like you walking around without any underwear on.
The waitress came over and asked me if there was anything else she could get me.

Yes, I told her. Can you tell me how to get back to Michigan?

She must’ve thought it was a joke because she started laughing at me. The guy at the table next to mine said that announcing I was a tourist and lost on top of that was a sure fire way to get my ass rolled. I didn’t even know what that meant. I stayed there in the cafe all day, in the same chair at the same table. The city was a scary place.