Teenage Memories: Two Girls

by Devon Pitlor First Story: Death at Thirteen
A brief and fleeting memory from a time gone by. Thursday, September 21, 1978. A magical day all over the country. No, not really. It comes every year. We have a special word for it, but let's just say that every school starts that day---and for those of us who love our liberty that day is, was and always will be perfidious and cruel because we must enter the sour instruction halls, still grimy with the dust of summer, and sit at wooden desks staring as it were at fading maps, hopeless diagrams and milky chalk boards. The first day of school is never exultant, nor is it enchanted in any way. It is dank and dreary. We stand in the courtyard waiting for the teachers to finish their cigarettes, wishing we too could smoke because we have been smoking all summer anyway. We are all thirteen. In something you would call middle school. A mixed middle school. Boys and girls together. We are seated in alteration, one boy, one girl, one boy... At the end of my row is Paulette Dérobain. A nice-looking but quietly intense girl with sandy Nordic hair that she can't keep from falling into her face. She has a pouty, well-formed mouth and full lips. But everyone is avoiding Paulette today. The word has spread very fast: Paulette is dying. She has contracted a disease that makes her shrivel before our very eyes. In last year's class, she was much more robust. More full of the very vitality that is leaving her now. She has a blood disorder. Incurable. Leukemia. She will be dead before Christmas. Everyone knows it. No one wants to talk to her. We are all thirteen and full of life. Paulette is full of death. Is death catching? We shudder. We squirm. We breath heavy sighs and avert our eyes. Guilty about being sick, Paulette does not return our furtive glances. We want to see what death looks like. She doesn't want to show us. She wants to hide it.

Why did she have to come to school that day anyway? Because of a law dating from Napoléon? Something in the Code Civil that demands all children be present every year until age sixteen. Even dying children. Is that why Paulette is there? No one knows. One boy starts to whisper..."If I were Paulette...." He does not finish his sentence. He is not Paulette. He is not dying. He has nothing to be guilty about. Information is dumped on us from all directions. Science, math, and now geography. The teacher, a chain-smoking scarecrow, drones. His words are like echoes against the time-worn wooden panels of the classroom. Geography. Where is Paulette? In the same place she started the day in like the rest of us. We do not change rooms in my school. The teachers do. They come and go according to the subject. The late morning sun angles through the still unwashed blinds. Large pools of captive light flow down between the rows of nervous, swinging feet. The benches behind the desks are all too high even for the tallest of us. Flies, deprived of their summer freedom, buzz hopelessly across the room. Geography lessons cascade into our ears: "The Loire empties into the Atlantic at St. Nazaire near the island of Noirmoutier in the Département of Loire-Atlantique, number 44 because all the départements have numbers that you will have to memorize, and the Département of Loire-Atlantique is aptly named because---as I have said---that is where the Loire drains into the Atlantic...." And blah, blah, blah... The teacher winds on, his words carried by slight breezes from the swinging casement windows. A hoarse buzzer makes a staticky electrical attempt to alert everyone to lunchtime. We toss books aside and dash trying to beat one another to the refectory. The teachers head for wherever their cigarettes are. In 1978, everyone smokes. Behind in the stampede is Paulette Dérobain, frailer than before, still dying of this blood ailment. Leukemia. She is whispering something to herself. I am closest so I stop to listen. "The Loire empties into the Atlantic at St. Nazaire," she repeats, as if in a trance and mesmerized by the teacher's concave words.

Annoyed at the dying girl, I say "So what?" "I will never see the Loire," says Paulette. "I will never see St. Nazaire, even though it is just a few bornes away." Something changes me. I am one of the biggest and toughest boys in the class. Even some of the teachers are starting to fear me. Or at least I hope so. On impulse, I take hold of Paulette and push ahead. "Yes, you will," I say, pulling her arched body through an open, fullfloor casement window and into the back courtyard. "Today, now." And before long the middle school is far behind us and we are fishing through our pockets for spare coins to pay the train fare. With student cards, it is only fifteen NF apiece for a round trip to Nantes and then a short carrier to St. Nazaire, where the Loire drains into the Atlantic, and where we arrive by late afternoon, unimpeded by teachers or sought by parents. We sit on a rocky embankment. Our sides touch. I put an arm around Paulette. She is prettier now than she will ever be again in life. Her unruly hair still falls over her face. He eyes become and remain watery. He smile broadens. Beneath our feet the undulating currents of the liberated Loire swirl into the swell of the salty Atlantic. A marriage of sorts. A union. She looks up at me and smiles. For a few minutes we are happy. Tomorrow both of us will be in trouble. There will be a police report. There will be a fine on both of our parents and some homebound probation time for both of us. But today we are happy. The words of the new teacher, whose name we have not yet learned, come back to both of us as we watch the blending currents. The Loire empties into the Atlantic at St. Nazaire. And for once, something said in school turns out to be true because it is under our feet and we can see it. And we can see each other. And in November, which comes all too quickly, there is an unfilled place at the end of the bench in my classroom row.

Paulette is but a muted dream now. But the Loire still empties into the Atlantic at St. Nazaire. And always will. _________________ for Paulette Dérobain, 1965-1978:
J'attendrai, par Rina Ketty, 1939 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIIYQd83gOI ******************************************************************************

Story Two: Crissy Faucheux, a strange memory from 1980.
I. The place, the people, the times More recollections. For a writer who aspires to develop the paranormal, I have had very few actual paranormal incidents in my life. I do not know if this qualifies as one, but I shall always think so. What follows is the story of Crissy Faucheux, a girl I knew when I was fifteen in 1980. Her arrival and the odd things she did intruded into the routine normalcy of my life perhaps more than any other from my youth. Her story is worth developing. But it is one of those stories that is nearly impossible to develop without a sense of place, time and character. Suffice to say that 1980, although only thirty-one years ago, was part of a pre-electronic world where kids like myself made their own fun outdoors and depended on one another for entertainment rather than on games and power devices hidden away in the dim corridors of one's house. Also suffice to say that I came into early adulthood in the serpentaceous, winding streets of one of the oldest quarters of my hometown. I grew up in a true neighborhood of the Old Europe, something left over from the last big war, something that probably needed to be torn down and rebuilt, but, as with most of Europe, was not. In my district, people knew one another. People knew the little knots of kids who hung out together on the corners, parks and

behind the church lots. We were, in effect, poor, but we didn't know it. It takes some measure of relativity to know you are poor, and we were far from starving, just dispossessed of the things kids have today, so we relied on one another for fun. Human capital. I think that is what they called it. The power of personalities. The various roles and interactions that one maintained with one's peers. That was what counted. Isolation and the homebound desolation of the electronic gamery of today would have been unthinkable in 1980. So there I was at fifteen. One of a pack of boys, and sometime girls, who hung out until sunset and then beyond at times. Our parents, blue collar, as the current idiom goes, did not particularly worry about us. Getting in trouble was part of the recreation of the day. Smoking cigarettes, finding discarded bottles of partly consumed spirits and fighting were part of our daily pattern. At fifteen in my country, one left what is commonly called collège (which corresponds roughly to middle school) and enters a lycée in what is called the second class. If one is lucky, as I was not, one remains in a lycée for three years, passes the required state exams, receives a baccalauréat and hopefully progresses onto university. As I said, this was not to be my fate. But I did make it through the classe de seconde until my sixteenth year, whereupon I was channeled into a trade school-which was equally unsuccessful. But my sense of place needs some flavor for the reader to fully appreciate exactly what Crissy Faucheux meant to us boys and how she may have been a door ajar into a world of strangeness that has never been totally explained, and probably never will be. You first have to see the tight narrowness of our quarter of the city. Narrow, twisting streets with small businesses lining the walkways. Above these in the towering stone habitations dating from before the First World War our families lived. We gathered in the mornings, caused random trouble, and walked to school as a group. School transportation was not provided for city children. In inclement weather, we took the trolley, but most of the time we walked. We walked down the Chemin des Remparts and across the Place du Reims, where the bums hung out with litres of cheap red wine and

wartime "mutilation" cards which established that they were wounded veterans and thereby entitled to complete protection and support by the state---thus enabling them with the idle time to drink, play endless rounds of pétanque, and harass the younger generation for small monetary handouts. As we trudged off to lycée each day, we would naturally complain about how much we hated school and its drudgery. Little did we know what awaited dropouts in places where bullets would fly over our heads everyday and dark-skinned natives often tried to either kill or kidnap us. But that is another story, one that will have to wait another year or so and is not part of the youthful reminiscences I put here. II. Le Lycée Jean Dautet, 18 rue Delayant One arrived, usually en masse, at the sprawling 19th Century edifice after passing through the Place de Reims. It was a cavernous two story brick building built under the Second Empire and dating from a time when very little architectural attention was paid to school buildings, which basically amounted to corridor after dark corridor of dim lit hallways leading to classrooms which had not been refurbished since the turn of the century. As with all large schools in my country, the lycée was built around a huge courtyard which served as a recreation area as well as a place to meet others, smoke, fight, sneak some occasional sex, and fantasize about more of the same. We were never watched by teachers or administrators, as it was assumed that we could take care of ourselves---and we did. The hovering that characterizes school today did not exist in the world of 1980. Every group has its frimeur, a show-off, as it were, and our gang was no exception. His name was Jean-Marie Painsec, a stupid name because it meant "dry bread," and his father distinguished himself from those of us in the working class by owning a bakery in the locality. Thus JeanMarie, who was already seventeen and in Classe de Terminale, had certain advantages that the rest of us did not. One of these advantages was his car, a Volkswagen "coccinelle," imported from Germany and very ostentatious in the France of my youth, where most families used the trains and trolleys and did not have cars, and, if they did, they were old Renault 4CVs or aging Panhards dating from before our birth. Like all frimeurs, Jean-Marie Painsec bragged about his car. In fact, he bragged about nearly everything. After all, he came from a higher

station in life than we did, which immediately accorded him the right to boast. And Jean-Marie was in the shade dappled school courtyard one day in November of that year bragging about his Volkswagen and how his father had bought it for a tune from a German who was passing through La Rochelle on a bread-buying mission of some sort, when out of nowhere came a lithe and curvaceous girl that we had never seen before. Her name was, we learned quickly, Crissy Faucheux, and she had attended a collège in St-Jean d'Angély, a town several kilometers from our city. It was evident, however, from the start that Crissy was one of us, which is to say blue collar. Her mother was some kind of seamstress who worked at home, and her father had a wounded veteran's pension and could have well been one of the layabouts who haunted the Place de Reims. Crissy, although quite striking at fifteen, was what we called un garçon manqué, a tomboy, and that fit very well with our crowd. She was also unimpressed by Jean-Marie's car, which was something that astonished him, accustomed as he was to impressing the younger girls with it. And so, if memory serves, what Jean-Marie did was up his volume and brag even louder. He intended to take his car to the Côte d'Azur the next year and run it down the beaches in impromptu races, etc. and etc. The louder he swanked, the less Crissy Faucheux paid attention to him, until finally she swung around, stared him in the eye and said "Shut up." Jean-Marie Painsec, baker's son, did not shut up. He carried on about his car and his family vacations in the Vosges and Pyrenees. He talked about his ability to drink huge quantities of armagnac without faltering. He talked about his abilities with girls and even with the prostitutes of the Quartier Noir, whom he had apparently visited several times already. And that is where the first part of Crissy's weirdness began. But none of us knew it. III. A day later. The "herd" trudges again to school.

The following day, we were all buzzing about Crissy Faucheux. Her slim build. Her taut body. Her cascading hair. Her huge black and aqueous eyes. Her pretty mouth. Her snug jeans. We all openly desired to make it with Crissy, and I had little idea as we walked amidst the vagrants in the Place de Reims that I would be the first, as she had given me very little indication of any interest other than as an appendage to a crowd that she had instantly bonded with. But that part of the story comes later. That morning we heard the sound of a noisy helicopter hovering above the plantains which surrounded the Lycée Jean Dautet, and that caused some degree of alarm. As we rounded the corner and entered the Rue Delayant, a strange and disturbing sight materialized: The municipal police, along with a tangle of Police Nationale of the elite CRS division had the street completely barricaded with their paddy wagons, big motorcycles and black cars. A crowd of spectators had already gathered, despite the early morning mist and the chill of the late November day. Among them was the portly father of Jean-Marie Painsec, still wearing his white baker's apron and swearing loudly. Readers who know France will appreciate that it is the custom of all branches of the national police force to overreact; therefore, some solemn-visaged, jagged chinned members of the Gendarmerie Nationale stood by watching the crowd armed with small submachine guns strapped over their shoulders. Nothing is feared more in France than a riot, and this was clearly a common reaction to the threat of some kind of riot. At the periphery of the commotion, Crissy Faucheux was sitting with her knees drawn up under her chin, smoking the stub of a Gitane and calmly watching the action. I think it was at that moment that I realized for the first time just how pretty she was. There is always a precise moment when a boy notices this and it imprints itself on his mind forever. Crissy was totally unperturbed and displayed a rather satisfied grin on her face. Instead of trying to cross the impossible barricades, we sidled up to Crissy as a group. "I warned him," she said nonchalantly. "Now let's see what he does." Jean-Marie Painsec was at his father's side haranguing a tough,

impassible CRS. Whatever he was saying was totally lost on the cop, who pretended, as cops do, not to notice and go about his business of making sure no one, including the teachers, came close to the lycée. The Painsecs, father and son, gesticulated wildly at the CRS, but to no avail. All schools in France are the exclusive property of the state, and ours was no exception. There had been an assault against the state. Hence the overblown police reaction. IV. The reason why On the flat, gray slate tiled roof of the ancient lycée was a car, a yellow Volkswagen "coccinelle," to be exact. Jean-Marie's car. Somehow it had been transported from wherever he kept it on the Rue Delayant to the second storey roof of the scholarly establishment, and there was, apparently no explanation. Without a crane or imaginary sky hooks, no one could have brought a car to the roof of the huge school. Yet it was there, and Crissy Faucheux seemed to know exactly how and why. She finished her Gitane and snubbed out the butt on the gravel next to the hedge where she had positioned herself. Then she stood up, stretching and displaying her flat abdomen and firm navel. Then she asked if one of us had another cigarette, which of course I did, and so I moved in closest to the astonishing girl, much to the envy of my cohort. Having a cigarette at the right time often does wonders. Crissy smiled at me and my heart churned. It was the beginning of something that would only end a few months later---and in a very strange way at that which I shall presently describe. For the moment the mystery of how Jean-Marie's VW had gotten on to the roof of the Lycée Jean Dautet was the focal point of all discussion. As the ragged mists of morning cleared, the car was eventually brought down by a helicopter and deposited on the plaza in front of the school. Jean-Marie and his father flashed some ID to the CRS, got in and drove off. The cops, all branches of them, were shaking their heads in wonderment. I noticed that what appeared to be a projection van from TF1 was turned away, so there would be no television coverage. Eventually the crowd dispersed, everyone shrugging their shoulders in incomprehension. What had begun as a mystery ended as one, and to tell the truth, it is still one to this day. There were no ramps, no cables

no way to put a heavy car on the slate roof of a building. In short, there was no rationalization to be found. "How did you do it?" I asked Crissy. With a true seductive charm already well-honed at fifteen, she replied "I just did. Don't ask. Serves the bastard right. Wherever he drives it now he will remember that it took a helicopter to retrieve it for him. He'll never forget that, will he?" "You some kind of magician or something?" asked one of my schoolmates. "No," said Crissy, walking away. I noted the shapely curve of her already rounded, womanly buttocks. I remember that much. Of course, I was a boy. But the enigma of Jean-Marie's car remains to this day. Because I am not writing fiction in this account, I can offer no explanation for it, even now thirty-one years later. So the reader should not expect any. V. L'histoire de l'enclume If casual readers are expecting any steamy scenes to develop now between me and Crissy Faucheux, I will have to disappoint them because it wasn't until just before my sixteenth birthday in April of the following year that Crissy and I finally did something with one another, not that I didn't want to before, but it never happened. What needs to follow now is the story of the enclume, which also contributes to the general incongruity of Crissy Faucheux. The word enclume in French denotes a heavy piece of forged iron that is used to pound steel objects on: an anvil in English. At the corner of the Rue Delayant and the Rue Enclume, a sinuous little alley going nowhere that has since been demolished to make a market, was an iron anvil bolted to a pedestal in honor of the original Delayant for whom the street was named. Delayant was, apparently, a blacksmith. The anvil must have weighed about twenty-five kilograms, a little over fifty pounds, and was etched with an inscription dating from 1888 honoring one Claude Delayant who had a forge in the area at the time. What passed for the Delayant family crest, a weird serpentine thing, was under the name and dedication. Thus Delayant's anvil was distinct and like no other in

the world. This will become important later in the story. The anvil was one of those neighborhood tributes that one finds all over France marking where someone once had a shop of some sort, and naturally us boys were interested in vandalizing it out of sheer boredom. Little by little, and with the help of some purloined wrenches, we managed to loosen the brass bolts which held the anvil to its pedestal. Finally one day, one of us unfastened the last stubborn bolt and set the anvil free. Then, like all boys do, we took turns lifting it. We made this a kind of sport of initiation into our gang, and we were careful to replace the anvil on its base after our games, if only to make sure it was there to test the strength of the next boy who came into the group. For all the world, it looked as if Delayant's enclume was still firmly in place, but it wasn't. One day in December, when a light snow covered all of the Charente valley, we stood around the anvil smoking and waiting until the last minute to enter our school. Crissy Faucheux, nimble as ever and ready for any sport, suddenly rejoined our group. I was still infatuated with her but said nothing. Instead, I pointed to the anvil and asked her to lift it. "It weighs about twenty-five kilos," I said, coolly trying to be as masculine at fifteen as I could. "Think you can lift it and hold it for a minute?" "Sure," said Crissy, always ready to oblige. "I won't be able to carry it very far, however, but I'm sure I can lift it." And she did. It appeared to be a little heavy for the slim girl, but she hefted it off its base and held it while one of us watched the tower clock. After a minute, she set it back down and said "Next." Next meant something like "What are we doing next?" None of us had any idea. The garçon manqué was rivaling us in nearly everything, and, after all, she had gotten Jean-Marie's car onto the school roof somehow, and that was something we never dared to ask her about again. Then she asked me for another cigarette. This gave me the opportunity to move in closer to her and breathe heavy or whatever awkward boys do at that age to seduce girls. "Dévon, I really like you a lot," she whispered quietly. My stomach flipped. I just continued to gaze at her stunning face. The face of an

angel, I thought to myself. She continued: "Christmas is coming. Three weeks off. I'm going visiting around the country by myself. I have relatives everywhere. I won't see you for a while, but I'll send you something in the mail at least every other day." The other boys overheard, and I immediately became the envy of the crowd. She glanced at the anvil on its time-worn pedestal beside us. "Yes," she continued, "at least every other day." Later, like a royal escort, we all accompanied Crissy to the central railroad station where she boarded the train bound for Poitiers alone and with very little baggage. Using her student rail pass, she claimed that she would do a mini tour of France to see family and friends and be back for the start of school. The thing to note is that she was totally alone, which in itself is not unusual. Only that which ensued is. Five or six days of heavy wet snow preceded the beginning of the Christmas vacation. Jean-Marie Painsec disappeared somewhere with his car, and strangely enough would never be seen at school again. His father inexplicably closed his bakery too. I do not have an explanation for that. I suppose it is not important. None of the rest of us were going anywhere over the break. Our families' situations did not permit it, so we hung out in the street and threw snowballs at one another, fought and climbed on the crumbling buttresses of the neighborhood cathedral which dated from the defeat of the Huguenots in 1628 by Louis XIII. We rambled around La Rochelle almost aimless at times, looking for trouble, looking for adventure, looking for girls. I thought of Crissy. I suppose we all thought of Crissy. It was another boring holiday. Then one day we passed a snowbank at the angle of the Rue Enclume and noticed at once that the enclume was missing. Where had it gone? It was, after all, liberated from its bolts. But who would have stolen a fifty pound anvil? VI. Le courrier It was a Wednesday after the cessation of classes. I remember it well. I

had a fever and was wrapped in a blanket and staying at home. Some of the boys in my gang passed by on foot, but my mother waved them off due to my sudden illness. I sat in the front room of our first floor family room and stared out the window at the slushy snow. Four days away from school and bored silly. My head was spinning with pain and heat. Then came the unforeseen in the person of the local postman riding his wobbly bike. Uncharacteristically, he dismounted in front of our tiny porch and deposited a brown envelope in the mailbox. My mother beat me to the door to retrieve it, but seeing that it was addressed to me, she gave me a puzzled look an dropped the envelope in my lap. In a neat handwriting I saw my name written across the front, which for me at fifteen was highly unusual because I rarely if ever received mail. The friends I had were local and had no reason to write me, and I was nearly bereft of relatives living outside the immediate environs of La Rochelle. There was no return address on the envelope but it was clearly postmarked from Orléans in the Valley of the Loire. I remember my hands shaking as I tore open the envelope. Inside was a brief note written totally in majuscule letters: AS YOU CAN SEE, DEVON, I CAN DO A LITTLE MORE THAN JUST LIFT YOUR DUMB ANVIL. MISS YOU! CRISSY Inside the envelope was a slightly bent polaroid photo of....well, you may have guessed it: the anvil, etched inscription and all, and it was sitting in front of the Hôtel de Ville of Châteauneuf in the Département du Loiret, as clearly marked by a huge green sign. Behind the anvil were the some of the longest icicles I have ever seen falling like daggers from the eaves of the municipal building. Crissy was nowhere in sight. It was probably her who had taken the photo. But how and why? She had boarded the train alone with only a backpack. How had she managed to get a heavy icon from an inner neighborhood of La Rochelle all the way into the Loire Valley? And what was her purpose? Day after day, as I recovered from my bout with the flu, letters containing photos of the anvil and the anvil alone arrived in separate envelopes postmarked from all over France. One day the anvil was in Metz from along the banks of the Moselle, the next it was in front of the

railway station in Besançon, after which it was in front of the town halls of Dijon, Grenoble, and Limoges, sites always clearly marked with the appropriate signs or landmarks that could not be mistaken for any others. In all, the anvil, like a magic dwarf, made the rounds in eleven cities in three weeks. In the last picture, postmarked at Montmartre in Paris, Crissy was standing beside it in front of the all too well-known Gare du Nord, a landmark that any French citizen could recognize without a sign. Had a bystander take this last one, ha, ha. ( The note read. )Total stranger. Probably a British tourist. See you on Monday. I love you. --Crissy PS: Dévon, your anvil has probably seen more of the country than you have, ha, ha. The "I love you" stuck in my chest like a dagger. Who was this strange and overwhelmingly alluring girl? How did she manage to drag a fiftyplus pound anvil all over France in three and one half weeks---and why? And did she really love me? I guess that was the most important question, at least when I was fifteen. VII. 1981 In the worst part of January of the next year, school inevitably resumed. Dirty slush and ice lined the narrow streets and bridges of my neighborhood. My drab family life as an only child remained the same. My mother still languished at home while my father spent the week away in Bordeaux working, as ever, on the docks. Each Friday, following classes, I would take the train to retrieve him from one or another of his favorite alehouses and bring him back to my mother, who cleaned him up, gave him something akin to love I suppose and then sent him back to Bordeaux the following Sunday. This was the dull march of the life I knew as a teenager, enlivened only by my friends and the promise of love from a girl that was beyond beautiful, yet foreboding in a magical and dangerous sort of way that I began to no longer want to explore. The "how" of her moving the Delayant anvil from town to town alone on the train was extinguished with a glance or two that told me that the

answer would never be forthcoming. The "why" began to haunt me more, and presently I shall attempt to make a feeble explanation of this as best I can. For the moment, I felt the "why" had something to do with me, as I was the only one to receive the photos. In many ways I was, however, deceived. In some ways not. By early March, the snow began to disappear for good from the sordid streets of my hometown, and abruptly without any mention or prologue, the anvil was back in place on its pedestal near the Lycée Dautet. Further, it was securely bolted down. It was as if it had never been missing. No one had noticed, I suppose. Everyone just took Delayant's anvil for granted. Whether it was there or somewhere else----like the Territory of Belfort----didn't really seem to matter to anyone. Since the restart of school, Crissy Faucheux had been somewhat cool with me. I found it bothering me more and more as the days went by, and finally one day I assailed her in the courtyard with what was for me a kind of bold question: "What happened to the I love you stuff? Or was that just something you wrote because you were carrying a twenty-five kilo anvil all over France in the winter?" "Forget the anvil." "I already have. But I never forgot the I love you. And I won't unless you want me to." "I don't. In fact, I want you to remember it right now." And so Crissy and I made a quick and precise plan to meet in a spare room under her mother's apartment on the Rue des Fosses that same day. And to round out Crissy's story, I really need to tell you about this rather lurid meeting. VIII. Sex Because this is a reminiscence of my real life and not a fictional creation,

I have certain reservations about talking about sex because it is me I am talking about and not some fictional creation. Discussing one's own conquests can always border on swaggery, and I don't want to go there. Nor do I wish to become obscene in any way. So I'll just state flatly that by age fifteen and two thirds, both Crissy and I were not virgins. Although my experiences were not extensive yet, I was not inexperienced, and, as I learned, neither was Crissy. 1981 was before AIDS was invented, and in a liberated country like ours, sex among teenagers was more the rule than the exception. And so we planned it, or sort of planned it. At least we arranged to get together. That afternoon we both deliberately separated from the usual crowd and walked down a different street toward Crissy's residence. As we walked, we eventually joined hands and then waists and then shoulders and shoulders-heads-waists and so on. Most readers will remember what it was like. I don't need to go into details. As we tripped over each other down the Chemin des Remparts over the Charente Canal port bridges, we laughed at how clumsy we were and how good it actually felt to be so close to one another---finally. "We're both almost sixteen, you know," laughed Crissy. "Your birthday is next month, isn't it?" I assured her that it was. "How many?" she blurted suddenly. "About twelve or thirteen," I lied. Actually the number was more like three, of which one was a prostitute, something not uncommon for French boys. "How about you?" I asked with some trepidation. Male possessiveness manifests itself at an early age. "Same number," she said, "same lie." We both laughed again. Then before arriving at her building, Crissy became serious again. "Dévon, do you know why I haven't done it with you before now?"

"No." "It's because I know how you are. I could see it right from the start. You would have to think or say that it meant something when, you know, it really doesn't have to. You would attach some kind of magical importance to it. I don't like that." It had never occurred to me before that girls could feel this way. I thought the idea of mechanical and automatic sex was only for boys. I felt at that age that all girls attached importance to the act. And so, Crissy, who did not, taught me something. Then she kissed me, found a key, let us into a spare room under the place where her mother, oblivious to everything, was upstairs sewing clothes for people who lived on the other side of the canal, people who probably didn't even know her last name or care what it was, for that matter. In a kind of uneasy and curious stillness, we both undressed in front of each other. I hesitate here to describe the sensations I underwent upon observing Crissy Faucheux disrobed and standing in the blinding light of the afternoon sun. Most of these I shall leave to the imagination and/or experience of the reader, but I was overcome, overcome with passion and desire, and like the clumsy, inexpert boy that I was, I charged forward as if in some breeding fury, thinking of myself as an animal or whatever it is that boys associate themselves with at that age. Before I could put my hands on her sculpted shoulders, Crissy turned to me and gazed directly into my eyes. I felt a kind of electric flow course through my entire body and then---shock. I was totally and instantaneously immobilized. This was neither the product of love or lust. It was pure and simply an absolute and inclusive grip over my ability to move. I was paralyzed. In vain, I tried to escape whatever clutch the beautiful naked girl in front of me was exerting. Her dark eyes blazed over me like coals, making me even incapable of averting my gaze. I tried to move both fingers and toes to no avail. The immobility was complete and total, as if I had suddenly been turned to solid stone. After discovering that her hold, wherever it came from, was real, an authentic sense of fear invaded every fiber of my being, and even the fervent passion that I felt for Crissy drained out of me leaving

a fearful and empty desperation in its quick diffusion. In seconds which must have turned into minutes, I went from physical yearning to the pinnacle of the most palpable horror. Then suddenly it was over. Crissy looked aside at a dust streaked bar of light sifting through the gauzy curtains over the bedroom window, and her iron grip was released. I recoiled in both relief and tremor, free once again to move about. Trepidation filled me as the enchanted girl moved closer and sought my touch. I had never feared a girl before, but no girl that I had ever kissed or joined with had ever paralyzed me with her glance. Looking back through a window of thirty-one years, I feel that it is necessary to stress that my arrest and immobilization did not originate in my mind. It came from Crissy herself, as if directed by a kind of unearthly cerebral beam. It was both frightful and sobering, a sensation that I never once again would feel in my life. And regaining my scrutiny of Crissy's face, I realized that she knew exactly what she had done and had done it on purpose. Our fingers were all that were touching now, and I stammered "Why?" It was only one of the many whys that I had directed toward the magical girl, and I realized before I said it that I probably would never get an answer. What had begun as boy-encounters-girl in a thoroughly natural physical union had culminated in an almost unspeakable dread which bordered on the shadowy margin of absolute revulsion. She drew herself closer and tighter to me. A faint recorded music rang down from her mother's quarters above, bringing me back to reality. She had no answer for my question, only the warm serenity of her ever strengthening embrace which drew me into a state wherein I performed the desired act in an almost panicked sense of urgency. When we were done, she lay spread before me on a mottled quilt in a room that was rarely used, in a lodging that held only mystery. She seemed satisfied. She looked at me with gentler eyes this time and sighed "I can do it again, you know." I let out a strong breath and reached for my coarse corduroy pants which I had dropped on the floor prior to the outlandish and alarming

episode. I dressed and let myself out on to the Rue des Fosses, almost running across the bridges back to my own home and, surprisingly, my mother. IX. An answer to my question Yes, Crissy Faucheux and I did indeed see one another again, and, for what it is worth, we made love again, and this time there were no frozen moments of immobility, only a sort of wonderful but terrified passion. We passed and repassed in school as the days wore on. On my birthday, she gave me a hat, a sort of cloche that her mother had knitted up out of raw wool. She took my hand in the courtyard of the Lycée Jean Dautet on the Rue Delayant and told me not to worry. For once, she seemed to want to talk. "After school, " I muttered, still dominated and overcome by both her beauty and power. And so it was. We sat on a stone perch by the embankment of the port canal and kicked our heels against a wall that had probably been build long before Henri IV signed the Edict of Nantes which made our city a stronghold of Protestant rebellion for almost thirty years. And no, I did not have a tape recorder of any kind with me, so I will have to reconstruct what she said through the dim glow of vaporous memory, so do not expect a verbatim rendering. She pursed her lips, kissed me on the cheek and said: "It all means nothing. It is like life really is, absurd. Everything we do and say is illogical and has no real meaning except what we glom onto it. What I do, I do because I do not fear illogicality or the absurdity of the world and the people who live in it. That is why your anvil took such a long trip. That is why that bastard's car ended up on the roof of the lycée. That is why I froze you and didn't let you move. Everything we do or say is absurd, and there is nothing more enduring in this life or any other but absurdity. What we feel for one another is tender and fond, but like everything else, like the birds that fly in over the ocean, like the leaves that sprout before winter is totally over, like the dead fish in the harbor...like everything we touch, do or see....it means nothing but what we want it to mean, and in the end that is very little. Don't fear

the unfathomable because, in the end, everything is just that. When we try to explain, we wreck the delicious absurdity, and that is one thing that is never worth spoiling." Even today I have no idea exactly what her words meant. I appreciate the stark absurdity of life as ardently as the next prisoner on this planet, but I never totally understood Crissy Faucheux or her strange, riveting words. I could not explain them then, and I can't explain them now. Some things, some people, some events just are. And that is almost the end of my story. X. Almost After an absence of nearly two years for military training and service, I once again returned to the house of my parents in the old quarter of La Rochelle. The neighborhood looked even more aged and gray. Time was taking its toll on France---everywhere. A new life, filled with new loves, awaited me. Crissy and her mother had moved, for reasons unknown, to Geneva. Urban renewal had erased the Rue de l'Enclume as well as its quaint memorial to a long-dead blacksmith. I asked around but no one exactly knew what had become of the anvil. The Lycée Jean Dautet was still there as featureless and cob-webby as ever, but filled with the voices and movements of new and seemingly foreign spawn of fresh teenagers. Unbeknownst to myself, I was within two years of leaving France forever and returning only as a stark tourist to a city and district I had once called home. There was nothing left for me there. My father was by now dead, and my mother lived alone on a small state pension. She had, as usual, very little active interest in me. That was just the way things went in my house, and I had long ago accepted it. Moving away would be no great grievance. I was ready to go. With some sense of curiosity my mother asked me what on Earth I had had shipped here from the military barracks in Avignon where I had done my basic training as a para. "It's in the hall closet," she said. "Too heavy for me to move without your father, and he is where he can't help me anymore. It came in a wooden crate, delivered by two Basque workmen from the dockyards. Whatever it is, I don't need it here."

I examined the wooden box in the closet. It had arrived almost two years before, and my mother had just tolerated its presence all this time. With the claws of a hammer I pried it open. Inside, was the enclume of Delayant, looking as time-worn as it had once on a street corner that no longer existed. On it was taped a photograph of a pretty girl with large black eyes, long flowing hair and a pleasant grin. "I love you, Dévon" was penned across the bottom of the photo. It is a picture of a long-lost love of sorts, a picture I still have. As for the anvil, I sneaked out in the night and dropped it into the harbor from the Quai Maubec, where it sank out of sight with only a slight stream of bubbles rising to the dark water's surface and these putting the final timbre onto the extraordinary and haunting melody of Crissy Faucheux. __________________________ Devon Pitlor --- September, 2011

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