For here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. -- Rilke
In his dreams he can remember her name. From the shadowy first glimpses when she was peripheral, on the edge of a crowd or morphing into a friend or family member, to the day the plane lifted off from Memphis Airport bound for London and her face and body finally synchronized in mid-flight slumber. Upon waking, her image remains sharp and clear, but her name slips into the ether of his subconscious.
She is older, but stunning, like a French movie star; her mouth down-turned at the corners, dark eyes, hair long and blonde. She has a place now, too, not just random locations in unrelated dreams, but a balcony over a street. She appears, a palm raised in what seems like greeting, until she begins tracing her life line, a delicate finger circling the pad under her thumb, the mound of Venus. I don’t know what you mean, ------, he says with frustration. She smiles and rests her hands on the railing, their whiteness shocking against the black metal, and on the back of her left hand, between the thumb and index finger, is a tattoo of small interlocking crosses. He knows this marking, knows it like the back of his own hand, because in the summer of 1995 as Martin Page stares at himself in the mirror of his London hotel room, he can see the same tattoo inked into his skin – a South American symbol meaning “equal but opposite” – and her name is on the tip of his tongue.
1. The Dreaming
Martin sat at a dressing table in the Metropole hotel on London’s Edgware Road. He was twenty-two that year, but looked older. Tiny lines were forming around his eyes, while closer inspection revealed the beginning of a furrow in his brow. His skin was unblemished and pale, like so many blondes, eyes large and blue. Not fat or thin, just in between. When people noticed the tattoo, there was a momentary pause, a summing up of character, a re-assessment. They would notice he wore all black, that his eyes were often hidden behind bangs, that he spoke with a calm, detached voice. But their gaze would eventually flicker back to his left hand. Peter had the same tattoo when he was alive; inked in the same spot on the same day as Martin’s, when they decided they were familiars. At his parents’ insistence, the mortician covered Peter’s tattoo with make-up, so that when his hands weere crossed over his heart in the long coffin, it would be as if those dark lines never existed. As if Martin never existed.
Earlier in the evening, Martin went downstairs to the large indoor swimming pool. He lost his way in the maze of hallways, and then emerged into a glass corridor that overlooked the pool below. He saw David McLaren alone in the pool doing laps. David was eighteen, athletic, tan and aware of his looks. When David began his backstrokes, he caught a glimpse of Martin looking down at him and felt a chill pass through him in the warm water. Like the first time they met, like he had suddenly caught his breath. But Martin did not see this moment of panic, for he was in the elevator, filled with both a dread and excitement he had not felt in years. When Martin came into the poolroom, David swam to the edge and smiled up at him.
“Why don’t you come in?” David asked.
“No, we have to be ready for dinner in an hour,” Martin said.
“Stop playing chaperone. Leave that to Lady Diane. Loosen up.”
David climbed out of the pool. The water ran down his lithe body, making his bathing suit cling to his narrow hips. David stood there running his hands through his wet, dark hair. Martin and David stared at each other. They had been in similar situations before, when something unspoken was palpable, a third person whispering, but the words were unclear.
“Let me make you as wet as I am,” David said opening his arm, water glistening.
Too late for that, Martin thought, sidestepping David, who laughed as he grabbed a towel and walked toward the changing room.
Back in his room, Martin remembered the evening four months ago when Diane Jacobs, his best friend, called and said she had been asked by her principal to fill in as chaperone for a group of students from the high school where she taught English on their graduation trip abroad. We need another chaperone, she said, I can finagle it so you can go. She badgered him into saying yes – it’s cheap and we’ll be there for over three weeks and they swore to God the hotels would be decent – and, after relenting, he went to bed and the woman, whose name he could almost recall, made her first appearance.
Martin sat at the mirror in a trance, and for the third time since he arrived in London, he could see her in the reflection, as if the glass did not exist. There were dark circles around her eyes, highlighted by her pale skin, and she wore her hair pulled back away from her face. The hands, in which she cradled her chin, showed her true age, and there was the tattoo…
There was a knock on the door. Both Martin and the woman in the mirror turned to acknowledge it. For a moment, Martin stared at the door.
“I’m coming. Just a second.”
Martin stood up and moved toward the door. He took a deep breath and went out into the hallway where Diane, David and the others were waiting.
In the mirror, the woman turned back to look at herself, unsure of what she had heard or where it came from. Her trance broken, yet feeling that something was in motion, the fluidity of time and space. She reached out and put her palm against the mirror. Over her shoulder, the reflection of her own city, its distant cacophony of traffic and voices like a second heartbeat slightly out of sync. There was a name on the tip of her tongue, had been for months, and an image becoming clearer by the moment. She tapped on the glass, intoning the mantra she used in place of the name that only came to her in dreams, sending it like a beacon into the unknown: Paris, Paris, Paris.
* * *
Diane Jacobs had met Martin four years earlier at an all-purpose grief counseling workshop for the bereaved, divorced and lonely hearted. She read about the workshop in Memphis’ daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, and decided to attend out of morbid curiosity. Diane also thought it would mollify her mother, who called constantly to express concern over her only daughter’s mental and spiritual welfare.
“Oh, my God…see a rabbi,” her mother screeched. “What do you wanna go to a grief counselor for? A divorce is private business, not something you tell everyone. Only a rabbi should know these things.”
“Mom, you rarely go to synagogue yourself. Why the hell are you pushing it on me?”
“Don’t curse, Diane.”
“You didn’t answer the question, Mom.”
“I go when I need to, that’s all you need to know. I go. It’s your father who doesn’t go.”
“That’s because he doesn’t want any reminders. You know that. You missed the whole concentration camp experience.”
“He should be thankful he’s here, with a nice home and a nice wife and a nice daughter, who rarely calls and never visits and should be going to synagogue. Why don’t you find one of those nice teachers to talk to? You need more friends. They have a singles night at synagogue…”
Diane felt alienated from the other teachers. They were all prim and proper, dedicated to their profession, with perfect children and husbands. She wanted to put nails through their heads. She half-heartedly tried to befriend one of the teachers, and told her she planned to attend the counseling workshop. The teacher was enthusiastic, telling Diane she might meet her next husband there. Instead she met Martin.
Although Diane was almost twenty years older, she and Martin had an instant bond. They watched impassively as the others poured out their grief in a sterile room at the downtown community center. Then one night Diane laughed out loud as an overweight woman declared her independence from the devil known as chocolate frosting. Diane slapped her hand over her mouth and caught Martin’s eye and he began to laugh as well. Little snickers he couldn’t control, the first time he had laughed in months and months. He put his chin on his chest and tried to breathe deeply, but he could feel Diane’s eyes on him. When he glanced back up, their eyes met and they began laughing so hard they were asked to leave the room.
“I knew coming here was a mistake,” Martin said once they were on the street outside.
“Well, at least you got a laugh at the expense of somebody else’s misery,” she said. “How often does that opportunity come along?”
“Besides, that woman up there doesn’t know what misery really is. Her satanic pact with Betty Crocker ranks rather low on my misery meter. I bet you’ve got bigger problems than she has.”
“I don’t know…maybe,” Martin said hesitantly. He wanted to go home, but then she started digging through her purse for cigarettes.
“I should give them up, but sometimes you just need to fill your lungs with toxins.” She pulled a rumpled pack from her bag but it was empty. “Shit.”
Martin reached into his pocket and handed her the rest of his pack. “Keep it. I’ve gotta go. Nice to meet you.”
“Oh, I see. I lift your dreary spirits and then you run away.”
“I just need to go.”
“So, why were you up there?”
“Why were you?”
“Quid pro quo, Dr. Lecter,” she said, lighting up. “If you’re going home to drink alone, you might as well invite me. Are you even old enough to drink?”
“I’m eighteen. I live in Germantown with my parents.”
“Oh, baby, then you definitely don’t want to go home. There’s a diner up the street. Let me buy you coffee and you can tell me your life story.”
“You do know that I’m gay, right?” Martin asked.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“If you’re trying to seduce me, it won’t work.”
Diane laughed loudly, choking on the cigarette smoke. “You’re young enough to be one of my students. That’s not my bag.”
“Good to know. Nice to meet you, Diane.”
Martin walked down the street, but could feel the woman shadowing him. They walked to the diner and Diane stopped at the door. Martin kept walking. “Was it a car wreck, cancer, murder or suicide?” she called out to him.
Martin turned to look back at her. “What do you want from me?”
“Just to talk,” she said. There was a tone in her voice that Martin wouldn’t hear again for a long time—a hint of desperation. Martin nodded and walked through the open door she offered him.
They began to counsel each other during weekly sessions at the diner and never went back to the grief workshop. Over bad coffee and greasy food, Martin learned Diane was Jewish, divorced, unable to have children and growing to detest her job as a schoolteacher. Diane had come home early one day and found her husband in bed with someone else. She told him on the spot she wanted a divorce and moved out of the house and into an apartment the next day. She often liked to imagine the look on her husband’s face as he opened the door and found their home completely empty, save for their marital bed.
Three months after their first meeting, Diane found out Martin was in the hospital after he missed one of their weekly sessions at the diner. She sensed there was more to Martin’s past, but she never pushed for more information. There was something unsaid in Martin’s emotionless recounting of Peter’s suicide. Often, they just talked about theatre and films and books they had read. During their last few meetings, Martin seemed more withdrawn. He was lethargic and unresponsive to the sarcastic comments she whipped out regularly to make him laugh. She asked him if he was taking any medication, but he smiled thinly and said, “I wish.”
“You’re not making any plans to join Peter are you?” she asked, half jokingly. The look on his face made her pause. Her dormant nurturing instinct kicked in. She had mixed emotions about Martin, most of which she pushed out of her mind. If he were straight, if he wasn’t damaged, she might have seduced him to boost her ego. God knows she could have used it.
She sat in the diner for nearly an hour waiting, a small panic beginning to blossom in her stomach. She went to Martin’s house and his embarrassed mother said he had gone away for a few weeks. The way she said “gone away” instantly tipped off Diane as to his whereabouts.
“What hospital?” Diane asked, and Martin’s mother went scarlet.
“He can’t have visitors, other than his family.”
“Why don’t you do me a favor then, Mrs. Paige? Why don’t you call over there at the loony bin you committed him to and tell them I’m his aunt. Tell them Aunt Diane wants to come and visit her nutty little nephew.”
“Who are you?” Martin’s mother demanded, and shouted back into the house for her husband.
“I’m a counselor at the grief workshop,” Diane lied. “We meet every week, you know. Wasn’t the workshop your idea?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Paige said, flustered, as her husband appeared in the doorway behind his wife. “This is the counselor at the grief workshop Martin was attending.”
Mr. Paige looked Diane up and down. “Damn lotta good she did,” he said, and walked back into the house.
* * *
London’s streets were bustling on the last night before Diane, Martin and the teenagers departed for Paris. Everyone was going home, going to dinner, going to the theatre or cinema.
Diane had a bad feeling about the attention Martin was giving to David, who had been in her English composition class. He was a typical jock, played baseball and was captain of the swim team. He was going to college on a full athletic scholarship. But her fine-tuned radar indicated there was something not so typical about him. She watched them walking together, huddled close in some intense conversation, as the other teens ran ahead toward the Underground station. She came up behind them and tapped Martin on the shoulder.
“Run along, Mr. McLaren…the chaperones need to have adult talk.” David rolled his eyes at her, winked at Martin and ran ahead to catch up with the others.
“You two were practically humping each other. Are you fucking him already?” Diane asked as Martin fell into step with her, but he didn’t answer.
“Don’t give me the silent treatment,” Diane persisted. “You hardly know him.”
“I know him. You know we’ve gone out a few times. Movies and driving around.”
“Golly-gee, did you park and neck, too?” Diane deadpanned.
“You’re not funny.”
“I’m a laugh-riot. Remember the night you met him at the mixer? What did I tell you?”
“You made some joke about him being Michael Jackson fodder and I should use him as a jack-off fantasy and find someone my own age.”
“Bingo. You met David when he was still my underage student. Are you trying to get me fired?”
“He’s an adult now. He can make up his own mind.”
“Or you can use your super homo powers and make it up for him.”
“You’re implying that I’m seducing him, which is flattering...”
“Look…I don’t even want to have this conversation. I don’t want to know anything about it. I’m the oblivious, harried spinster teacher who doesn’t know about the urgings of young boys. Hell, I didn’t even want this gig. If their mealy-mouthed French teacher hadn’t gotten preggers, we wouldn’t even be here.”
“Is that what you’re going to say in court?”
“I hate you so much.”
“Be happy for me, Diane. I haven’t felt this happy in ages…as you well know. Be supportive.”
Diane grabbed his arm and pulled him up short. “Don’t do that. Don’t accuse me of not being supportive. Six months ago, you wouldn’t look twice at the guys I introduced you to, now suddenly you’re after one of my kids.”
“One of your kids? You don’t even like him. You said he’s a dumb jock…”
“I never said he was dumb.”
“You implied it…you got that dismissive tone in your voice.”
“David is smart, but if he has an inkling of queerness, it’s buried down deep. Do you really want to devote your energy to this?”
“I’m not devoting energy. We’re in Europe; I’m having fun. If something happens, it happens…”
“Hey, hey…do not blow that much smoke up my ass. I know you well enough to know that if ‘something happens, it happens’ is a big bunch of malarkey.”
“Let me put it in plain English for you, then…you’re after this boy because he reminds you of Peter.”
Martin was momentarily speechless, then turned and walked away. “Fuck you, Diane. That was uncalled for.”
“It was very much called for,” she said walking behind him, nipping at his heels like a dog. “Tell me one good reason for pursuing David and I’ll shut up.”
“He does remind me of Peter. Is that wrong? He’s funny and he’s interested in what I have to say. Damn it…how much longer are you going to have me on suicide watch? It’s been…”
“Okay,” Diane said, putting her hands over her ears. “Fine. He reminds you of Peter. I think that’s sick on about eight different levels, but you answered the question. Just do me a favor. Be discreet. These kids would love to see me out of a job and homeless. He may be of age, but I’m still culpable.”
Martin kissed Diane on the cheek. “Always thinking of yourself.”
The teenagers ran into the entrance of the Underground, some trying to jump over the turnstiles. “This isn’t New York,” Diane yelled. “We pay to ride the subway.” They were normal teenagers, wild with being away from their parents, wanting to go to pubs, wanting to go to Soho and look at the freaks.
“You are the freaks,” Diane told them.
The bane of Diane’s existence was a student named Beth. Very gothic, dyed black hair, too much white makeup, nose ring. “I want to get a tattoo,” she said sullenly, as they waited in line.
“And why would you want to do that, dear? You’re such a lovely girl.” Diane rolled her eyes at Martin.
“My mom said it was okay.”
“I’ve got three words for you: dirty foreign needles.”
“You’re so xenophobic, Ms. Jacobs,” Beth said as she slouched away.
“Get hepatitis and die then,” Diane called after her.
“I will!” Beth shouted back. “And it’s not the subway. It’s called the Tube.”
“Whatever. Fucking little ghoul.”
On the escalator down to the platform, David was standing so close to Martin that their hands brushed together. The Underground station echoed with the voices of passengers and the roar of the trains. Martin allowed himself the small thrill of pressing his hand against David’s. It would be an accident, too many people on the escalator. Martin froze when David took his hand. He looked at David, who was in his own little world.
“I didn’t know we were at the hand-holding stage yet,” Martin whispered in his ear, trying to make a joke of it, the same way David always played off his little come-ons. But David didn’t react the way Martin expected, never did.
“That’s so gay,” David laughed nervously, snatched his hand away, balled it into a fist and punched him on the arm hard.
Martin had never told David about Peter, had sidestepped questions about the past and the tattoo on his hand, which David thought was cool in a prison sort of way. One night before they left for Europe, David had come and picked him up in his Jeep, and they drove for over an hour, not speaking, the radio turned down to a low hum.
“Thanks, man,” David had said as he dropped Martin off at his apartment. “I just needed to get out and drive and think about some stuff, but I didn’t want to be alone. You know.”
Martin had smiled and nodded, but he didn’t know, not really. David was a moody boy, and that drew Martin like a moth to flame. Just like it had drawn him to Peter.
There was a commotion on the platform, someone shouting, but Martin wasn’t paying any attention. He was looking at David again, searching for an answer in the boy’s unfathomable gaze. They were almost at the bottom of the escalator when Martin heard the word “bomb.”
In an instant, Martin and David were being swept back up the escalator by a crush of bodies. A computerized voice announced evacuation. Martin’s feet slipped on the escalator steps, which were going in the wrong direction. Someone at the bottom hit the emergency stop, the entire machine lurched, and everyone on it fell forward screaming. David was on Martin’s back, trying to help him up. Somewhere behind him, Martin heard Diane calling his name.
David had Martin around the waist, pulled him up and back against him. Even in the chaos, Martin wanted to go weak in his arms. David was urging him up the stairs; Martin could feel the weight of the people behind them.
At the top of the escalator, David guided Martin toward the exit where people were streaming out like ants. There was the sound of sirens converging on the site. A large man pushed David and Martin out of the way, almost making them fall, but David pulled Martin close to him.
“Are you all right?” David asked, his eyes fixed on Martin.
Martin nodded. David reached up and pushed the hair out of Martin’s face, then pulled his hand away. He had gotten too close. Checked himself emotionally.
“I’m sorry to break up this tender moment, but let’s get the hell out of here,” Diane said as she ran past them.
David stepped back, looking at Diane then back to Martin. For a moment, Martin saw the insecurity, the uncertainty.
They wound up eating at a McDonald’s across from the hotel. Diane confined everyone to their rooms, which was an unpopular decision. Martin heard some of the teens sneaking away in the night. He had already undressed for bed when there was a knock at the door. Diane wanted him to go downstairs to the bar for a drink. “I need to take the edge off. Get dressed and come down,” she said.
David, whose room was just two doors down from Martin’s, stepped into the hallway and wanted to know what was going on. He was shirtless and wore a pair of sweatpants low on his hips.
“We’re going downstairs for a drink,” Martin said, amazed that David had not slipped away with the others.
“Cool. Hold up and I’ll come with,” David said as he disappeared back into his room.
“He likes to show off that bod, doesn’t he?” Diane said. “Maybe I should get drunk and make a pass at him and see what happens.”
“That would certainly get your teaching license revoked.”
In the bar, David downed a succession of screwdrivers until his head was lolling around on his neck. A bus was picking them up at eight the next morning and taking them to Waterloo Station to catch the train to Paris, Diane reminded them.
“Don’t get drunk,” she admonished David. “You’ll be too hung over and I’ll leave your ass here without any hesitation.” David giggled and slapped his hand over his mouth, eyes darting between Diane and Martin. “How many of those have you had?”
“I lost count,” David slurred.
Martin was working steadily on his fourth drink, waiting to feel the slight dizziness that always overtook him when drunkenness was setting in. “I still have feeling in ninety percent of my body. They must be watering them down.”
“I’m just waiting for that nice warm feeling to overtake me so I can go to sleep,” Diane said, snuggling down into the plush chair.
“You know what they say about single women who drink alone,” Martin said, as David began to snore. He was lying face down on the couch, drool running out of the corner of his mouth.
“Oh, yeah, that’s sexy,” she said, stirring what was left of her huge margarita. “I can certainly see the attraction.”
“I thought we weren’t going to talk about this anymore. So you wouldn’t be…what was the word…culpable?”
“Don’t be pissy. Have another drink.”
“I’m not being pissy.”
“Yeah, you are. You have that tone.” She saw the notebook tucked between Martin’s thigh and the armrest of his chair. “Are you writing?”
“Read me something. You haven’t done that in ages.”
“I can’t,” he said, nodding toward David.
“You’re ruining my drinking experience, Diane.”
She turned the glass up and drained the contents. “I’ll leave you to it then. Make sure you get lover boy upstairs and tucked in.”
Martin leaned his head back and looked up through the atrium. On a balcony above him, a woman had come to the edge. She was elegantly dressed and held a champagne flute. When she noticed Martin looking at her, she raised her glass to him, and it brought on a goose-bump inducing sense of déjà vu. He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them, prepared to raise his glass in return, the woman was gone. Maybe it was his imagination; he realized he was very drunk and slowly made his way back to his room, passing out in his clothes on the big, empty bed.
The dream comes and goes, ebbs like a tide. Martin is on the stairs in Peter’s house. It is so perfectly quiet. There is the sound of gunshots so deafening it makes Martin stumble and clutch at his ears. Martin is running back up the stairs to the landing and Peter’s room just beyond. The stairs are like an escalator going the opposite direction and Martin cannot gain any ground. The woman is at the top of the stairs, reaching out a hand to pull him up. He lunges and misses, tries to call her name, but like a horrible childhood dream, he has no voice.