It feels like I have been gone for a very long time. A very, very long time, though in fact I’ve now been back in Tucson for almost as long as I was in France. In fact, I haven’t counted the days, so maybe it’s longer; I spent the first several afternoons home feeling cottony, like dry pieces of my mind were sticking together and pulling my focus away, away. Twelve-point-five hours on an airplane will do that to you; thirty-six total hours of travel will, even if eight of those hours were spent sleeping in a hotel in Madrid.
When we stepped out of the airport in Tucson to wait for our car, it was cool—almost cold, in fact, since the hurricanes thrashing the east coast have been arriving here as rainstorms. Last year, it was 90-ish on Halloween, so the fact that our highs are already down to the 70s & 80s is a welcome surprise.
What can I say about France? I love it there. It bends my brain to try and recapture my high school conversational abilities. We got by on my rough French and Dave’s navigational skills, and though it was tiring to be the social vector for both of us, it was a fun challenge, too. We called me The Mouth. Dave was The Eyes. Sometimes I would say a Russian word in the middle of a French sentence, my mind reaching for whatever felt comfortably foreign—this only got worse when we left Paris for the Mediterranean coast, where there were quite a few vacationing Russian families.
We saw my friend Kate—the first person with whom I ever visited Paris, back when we were 18—and her mom, and we walked all over the city, and saw the stained glass transform from the gothic beauty of Notre Dame to the neo-Cubism of Sacre Coeur. The first day, we arrived at 10am, and since I knew we needed a reason to stay awake all day and beat the jet lag, I bought us tickets to the opera for that evening. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to check the opera’s runtime; it was 5 hours long. We were very glad when, at the end, a huge number of the characters died in terrible, bloody, tragic ways.
I’m telling this out of order.
The first day of the walking tour, we left a tiny town called Breil-sur-Roya, and walked through a mountain range that smelled of wild thyme and rosemary; we walked through olive groves into Italy (briefly; we were there about an hour). Our train to Breil-sur-Roya from Nice left from a station that no one we met in Nice had ever heard of; not the woman at the hotel, not the cab driver. It was a small commuter line with an outdoor, concrete waiting area, and we barely found it, but we did.
The second day of the walking tour, I had a cold coming on, and I was slamming cough drops, and the first thing we did was climb a small mountain, which was a bit much for me. About halfway up, some mountain bikers were so arrested by the image of my effort that they stopped and told me, meaningfully, “I hope he’s buying you dinner for this.” At the top of the mountain, there were butterflies.
I swam in the sea. We both swam in a very cold mountain river. The third mountain town we walked to appeared early on as a small pink cleft in the hill, like a vein of granite. We sat to read in a ruin above the town, which contained a tiny topiary garden. We had tea overlooking the coast, and the waitress pointed out the small black-and-white forms of cows on the hillside. “The farmer bought them as veals,” she said, and though that is probably just the French word for calf, it sounded extremely charming.
When we left for France I declared it my mission to eat every pastry I could, and I think I lived up to that dream. The last day, it was raining and our hotel was abandoned; we were supposed to check out at 11, but there was no one at the front desk, there was no one in the halls. I felt feverish, and we stayed in our room until about 1pm, and we never saw anyone except the lady who poured us coffee at the lavish, empty breakfast. In fact, when we checked in the night before, our key was just sitting on the reception desk with a note. The note disappeared from our room in the night.
Now I’m home, we’re home, and Paul’s eyes are so much better. Not 100%; one of them is still ghostly, and apparently has little blisters which I’m treating by putting in drops of saline to dry them out. He doesn’t like that very much, but he does like sleeping with his head butted up against things, now that he’s not in the cone of shame. He likes being able to judge distances, to jump up on curbs instead of walking into them or off of them; he likes being able to sniff things without suction-cupping the cone onto the ground. I like being able to hug him and tell him he’s a good boy, the best boy, the very best. My friend Molly stayed with him while we were away, and she took wonderful care of him, and by a terrible coincidence, her own lovely dog Zia passed away a week after we got home.
So the world keeps spinning, and here we all are. Spinning with it. A little dizzy.
A small final note! Invitation to a Bonfire was selected as a 2018 WNBA Great Group Read, which is very exciting!
Oh, and my story “Big Boss Bitch,” which was originally published in Zyzzyva & was named a Notable story in the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2017 anthology, is now available online as a reprint with Lightspeed magazine. Hooray! You can read it!