“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong
to this notebook and this pencil.” — Ernest Hemingway
Calvin and Max were standing at the end of the hallway, awaiting me, side by side, like the twin sisters in The Shining. Before I reached them they continued around the corner and for a moment I was moving completely alone down the narrow passageway, the muffled sounds of sex coming through one of the nearby walls.
When I finally caught up with them Max was pounding on Phil and Con’s door furiously. Calvin standing over his shoulder impatiently.
“Jesus, keep it down. You’re going to wake up the whole hotel” I said as I approached them.
“They won’t answer the door” Max said, pointing out the obvious.
“What are they doing in there?” Calvin asked, in a disgruntled tone.
A door down the hall swung open. We all looked as a short grey haired Woman in a long pale pink nightdress with thick, round glasses appeared though the doorway to her room. She started waving a long crooked wrinkled finger at us. The smell of her stale perfume hit my nostrils before she spoke.
“Ta gueule. Garder le bruit vers le bas. Je vais dire au propriétaire” she yelled, phlegm flying from the corners of her mouth. Calvin turned and took a step towards her, lowering his hands from his hips.
“Je vais te casser les doigts. Ferme ta gueule” he barked at her. Her eyes widened, and then she swung herself back through the door and slammed it behind herself. At just that moment the door in front of us opened. Phil was standing sleepy-eyed in his boxers.
“What’s going on out here you animals?”
We bundled past him into the narrow room and shut the door quickly.
“What did you say to her?” I asked Calvin, taken back by his sudden aggressiveness.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s going on here? Who’s this?” Phil protested, pointing at Calvin. Con was rousing from his sleep in the corner; he sat up in the double bed wrapped in a thin white sheet, fixing his white boxer briefs around his bulge. The room was dark, only a small lamp lighting the scene from the corner, the soft, sweet smell of sweat hanging from the old floral wallpaper.
“Max? Gray? What’s going on?” Con asked with a foggy bedhead, his strawberry blonde hair pointing up towards the heavens. He stood up out of the bed and let the sheet drop to the floor, passing into a tiny bathroom. At that moment I heard a noise come through the door from the hallway, I moved over to the peephole and looked through the fisheye optic.
“This is Calvin” Max explained already moving over to their window and opening the shutters. “Him and his friend are locked out of their room, we’re helping him get back in”.
Through the eye hole I watched the Old Woman make her way back out of her room and slowly down the hallway towards our door, the sound of her slippers dragging softly across the carpet. I looked over my shoulder, biting my bottom lip. Nobody was paying me any mind.
“Oh my god, Max!” Con protested, yelling over the sound of his streaming piss hitting the toilet bowl. “The reason I’m sharing a room with Phil is so I could avoid this sort of malarkey.”
I looked through the hole again. She was right outside inspecting the door number. I threw my head back and looked around myself in a moment of quiet desperation, when I noticed the cardboard “Do Not Disturb” sign written in French on the inside door knob.
Con and Phil’s window faced out into a small internal courtyard, buildings towering up around i on all sides. Calvin and Max climbed out to inspect, Phil following them over to the window ledge and lighting a cigarette, still in his underwear.
“Unless its one of those bottom windows your fresh out of luck buddy” he said between puffs. The smell of cigarette smoke and pigeon shit wafted over from the window.
Without much thought I took the sign off the knob and slid it out the bottom gap in the door frame, “Ne pas déranger” side facing up. I quickly looked back through the peephole. The Old Woman glanced down between her feet then looked straight up into my eye line.
I covered my mouth and continued to watch her until she felt inspired enough to waddle back down the hall and into her room. Her footprints still visible in the fuzzy carpet for a brief moment in time, until one by one they faded away, following her back to her door.
I exhaled with relief and rejoined the others by the window. Con was now sitting next to Phil at the window ledge, smoking, as they watched Max and Calvin in the courtyard.
“Want a puff?” Con asked me.
“Sure” I took the cigarette off him and inhaled. “Well, any luck?”
“Nope. This ain’t it man, my room faces out onto the main street” he admitted.
“The main street? Well, why didn’t you say so? My room faces out the same side. Come on, lets get out of here before that old lady calls someone up to the room,” I told him, watching the smoke rise off the end of the cigarette. The cigarette was making my finger tips feel dried and chalky.
“Fucking A!” Calvin exclaimed. Exiting the courtyard they both jumped back through the window into the room.
“What old lady? What did you do, you morons?” Phil blurted at Max.
“Just some fossil down the hall, don’t get your panties in a twist”.
“Easy for you to say. What are we supposed to do if that crazy manager comes up here?”
“You know. Tell him to go fuck himself or something. Nothing’s going to happen. Go back to bed.”
And with that I handed Con back his smoke and we left the room. As we closed the door Max noticed the “Do Not Disturb” sign sitting on the purple carpet facing us.
“Hey, I didn’t notice that. What were they doing in there?” he scoffed to himself. I picked up the sign and left it on the door knob, debating with myself for a second on which side to leave facing out.
I led our brigade back down to the central hallway stopping momentarily as Calvin listened down the stairwell, his friend was still fighting feverishly with the hotel manager below.
Soon we were at my room, I didn’t bother knocking to give Ginger a heads up; he’d only protest and complain, better to give him no choice in the matter. Less hassle. I unlocked the door and we waltzed in. There he was, as I’d left him, lying on the bed, his Game Boy nestled in his hands.
“Gray? Max? What’s going on?” he was looking directly at Calvin and expecting an answer.
“Oh this guy? He’s a hooker we found on the street. Okay if me and Max spit roast him in the toilet?” I told him, keeping my face as flat as possible. Max instantly burst out laughing.
“Fuck you guys, I ain’t no queer” Calvin grunted, none too impressed with my gag. And me none to impressed with his response. Ginger just sat there with a perplexed look on his face. This was getting awkward fast.
“What’s going on?” he asked again.
I started to move over to the window, “He’s locked out of his room, we’re helping him get back in.”
“We lost our key and the manager won’t let us back in. This won’t take a minute” Calvin told him.
Opening up the shutters I looked out our window. It was long way down to the pavement. The street hustlers and bums were already gathering together below, the gutters full of trash. Calvin wedged himself in beside me. Grabbing a hold of the rail he leaned this upper half out over the side and ran his eyes over the windows below us.
“This is it man, my room is right under yours.” He grinned with delight.
“Shit, how are you going to down? This isn’t really ideal man,” I told him.
Moving one leg over the rail he straddled the bar; Max looked to me and I looked to Max, a shared nervousness in our eye contact. Calvin cleared his nose into the back of his throat and let a wedge of phlegm fly from his mouth. We leaned and followed its decent down the side of the building until it splat in between a woman of the night and the kerb.
“It’s a long way down, lets be careful,” he said as he threw his other leg over the side. His body now completely over the drop below, each hand firmly on the bar between us, his feet resting on the bottom bar between the vertical railings.
“Guys what are you doing? This is insane!” Ginger protested, pacing back and forward around the room full of anxiety. Calvin, moving each hand in turn, gripped the rails and began to lower himself down from the window in a crouched position, pushing his feet against the brickwork between our window and his for leverage.
As I stared down at him, a moment of realization surged up through my bones. The drink, the weed and the excitement of the last few hours faded away in a second and suddenly my heart was thumping in my throat.
“I can’t go any further, it’s too far. Grab my arms and lower me, I’ll be able to reach the top of our balcony with my feet” he said, no discernible panic or worry in his voice. He was being as cool as a cucumber. Max moved in next to me instantly and we both hooked our feet under the bottom railing, then leaned over the top and took a hold of a wrist each with both hands.
“You got me?” he asked.
“Yep,” Max confirmed. My heart was racing. At any moment it felt like it was about to jump from my chest and down the side of the building. I could feel sweat gathering on my forehead. I squeezed my hands tighter on his arm, they too now felt sweaty and clammy. I opened my mouth to answer him but nothing came out. My tongue was as dry as sandpaper. My breath quickened, the smell of popcorn hit my nose, the jumbled murmur of the people talking below us on the street raced into my head, all my senses surging.
Then Calvin let go of the rail and I could feel his weight pulling on my joints. We were holding him in mid air. His shoes scrapping against the wall as he shimmied his hips, gradually lowering himself.
I could feel Max and I moving with him, our bodies leaning further and further over the edge. The pressure of the bottom bar on the top of my feet was tight and I pushed against it with all my concentration, as not to loose my leverage.
My waist now pinched against the top bar, I moved my knees gingerly against the rails to alleviate the squeeze. A breeze rushed around the side of the building and rustled my hair, Calvin’s jacket flapped in the wind behind him.
A thought shot through my mind like a bullet. I hope this railing holds. I imagined it all in a flash of my minds eye. The railing would give and buckle under the weight of three men, and we would all fly out from the window and tumble perplexed to the concrete below.
With any luck death would instant, my last moment spent watching the distant Eiffel Tower spin end over end until it disappeared behind the roof tops.
I studied Calvin’s face, and heard him say queer again in my minds eye. The tone in his voice had stuck to me like glue. Something in me raged. Now I imagined my sweaty palm loosing grip around his arm. Max would try to hold him for a moment but the weight would be too much and he would slip through his fingers. We would watch him float through the air in slow motion, his face dumbfounded. Until he crashed onto the pavement. Bones shattering. Rich dark blood pooling out from underneath him. The room would be a deathly silence, each of us exchanging horrified glances, until screams and hysteria from the street traveled up us.
My joints eased a little. Calvin had his toes on the railing below. We moved an inch further, then an inch further again until he took his full weight on the balcony.
“Okay good,” he announced triumphantly. We gave his arms a little swing in towards his window and let go. He disappeared for moment underneath us then stuck his head out, a wide-eyed grin across his face. “We did it!”
Max and I looked at each other and laughed. The relief was palpable.
“You good to go down there?” Max asked.
“Yeah man, I got the window open. Everything is perfect dude,” he gleamed. “Put it there you legends. You saved my ass. I owe you guys. Big time.”
With that he extended his arm up the wall towards Max. Leaning down, Max put his arm through the railing until it reached his shoulder. Their hands met halfway along the wall between our windows and they shook firmly. I lowered myself onto my knees and copied Max until I reached his hand.
“Best of luck man” I said with all sincerity.
“Same to you.”
And then he was gone. We stood on the balcony for a minute, laughing out the insanity of the moment and looking at each other.
“You guys are assholes” Ginger finally put in, “Do you know how dangerous that was? How stupid that was?”
This only made us laugh more. That’s all we did for a little while, sit around and let the events sink into reality. I walked over to the window and looked down to the street a few times, reestablishing the height in my mind. Max stayed with us until he had calmed down enough to rejoin Diageo. We said our goodnights and he left. Ginger turned in soon after.
I lay down in bed and looked out the window through the curtains. My mind spun round and round, landing on a moment in my past again and again, and I don’t know why.
Three years ago during a field trip Ginger had told me over lunch that he was gay. He’s the only person I know who has confided such information in me. It’s funny, he doesn’t seem like the rest of us. He’s confident in his sexuality. He knows what he likes and what he doesn’t.
In comparison I feel lost. I have no idea what I want or don’t want, what I like or don’t like. I’m only confident in that I want to try it all; I’m young and stupid but I know life is short, and the world is too full of wonders to limit yourself too early.
All of this is what I told myself until I dozed off and dreamt of falling over and over and over again, the dirty littered streets rushing up to greet me.
I woke at dawn, the sunlight sneaking in through a gap in the curtains onto my face. It was six o’clock, our group was meeting at nine outside the hotel. The day’s activities included a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery, the final resting place of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde amongst others. I decided to get up; something was making me feel uneasy. I took a shower and got dressed quietly, as not to wake up Ginger. For some reason I couldn’t face talking to him right now. There was a deep sense of shame in the pit of my stomach.
When I made it to the street the sun was shining down on me, warm and comforting. The sidewalk and the gutters where clean, damp with soapy water. I walked up to the nearest intersection and looked down a narrow boulevard; a huge street cleaner was driving away from me, a hose at its side spraying down the concrete.
All of the shit and waste from last night was being washed away for another day. I followed behind it slowly for some time, letting the hazy spray drift over on me, watching the fine moisture glitter in the air and create rainbows.
After a while my nose led me away. I followed the smell of fresh coffee and bread until I stopped into a cafe and tried to order something to eat. The man inside wanted nothing to do with me. My lack of french seemed to irritate him immensely.
Finally I gave up and decided to leave after seeing that most of the chairs inside were still sitting upside down on the tables. I walked a little bit further until I found a supermarket and went inside, I fared much better in here and emerged with a baguette, a bottle of orange juice and pack of cigarettes.
It was a beautiful morning, it felt like the first morning ever and it could have been. Maybe I did fall to my death last night and smash my skull, only for my ghost to follow the street cleaner that washed me away.
Stumbling across a small park, I wandered in and sat down on a bench. I ate my roll, drank my OJ and smoked a cigarette, watching all the people in the world passing by and feeling like I had nothing to do with humanity, that I was somehow outside of it all, watching over everything objectively like an alien from another planet.
Time slipped by quickly and before I knew it I was running back to the hotel to catch the guys before they left. I rounded the corner at the boulevard and found my group waiting impatiently outside.
Diageo spotted me first. “Don’t worry! Here he is. All sweaty,” he announced to the group. I stopped in front of him and caught my breath. He just stood there looking over me sucking on pink cherry lollypop.
“Out of breath, huh?” he asked. Knowing this would irritate me.
“Shut up, hoe!” I told him.
“So rude! So I heard you nearly killed yourself last night. Thank god you didn’t. You would have ruined my holiday, scraping your dumb asses off the kerb. Think of your Mothers!”
“Yeah, I know. Not my brightest moment for sure. Where’s Max at?”
“You have a twisted idea of fun. He’s over there talking to your American in peril. Anyway, it was pointless in the end,” he told me. I straighten up, my lungs finally feeling normal again.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. He turned and pointed back towards the entrance of the hotel. Max was walking towards us. Behind him I could see Calvin and his friend with the red baseball cap, all their bags and luggage around them on the street.
“What the fuck?” I blurted out.
As Max drew closer he spotted me and smiled with a look a disbelief behind his eyes. I stood out and greeted him with a solid bro-shake. “Hey, good morning, man. What’s going on? What happened to them?”
“Oh man, you won’t believe it. Calvin just told me they got kick out of the hotel.”
“Why the fuck did that happen?”
“So he tells me he gets into the room just after we’re finished talking to him and he checks his bags and all his stuff. Everything good, he takes out cigarette and chills by the window having a smoke. Then the door opens. His friend and the manager walk inside.”
Max laughs then continues, “His friend persuaded the manager to let him back into the room. Then they walk in and find Calvin smoking by the window. The manager flips out. Completely looses it.
“First off, you can’t smoke in the room. Secondly he’s freaked that Calvin got in there. Like how did he get in the fourth-storey window? Scale the walks like Spiderman? Parachute in the window?”
“Shit! Did he tell the manager about us?”
“No, no. He kept his cool, he didn’t rat us out. But the manager has kicked them out first thing this morning. Apparently he went bananas. Threatened to call the police and everything. They’re waiting for a shuttle bus now; they had a trip out to Versailles already booked.
“They haven’t got a clue what to do, they’re going to have to drag all their gear around. And they ain’t got enough money to stay somewhere else and eat and move around until they fly back out. They’re up shit creek. Poor dudes.”
“Poor dopes,” Diageo put in, more interested in his lollypop.
“Jesus, that sucks man. After everything we went through getting him back into the room. Damn.”
I looked up above me to our windows, it was a long way up. Max followed my eyes and we stood staring for a moment. “Well, we all got away with it regardless, right?”
“I guess… come on. We better split, the rest are starting to get twitchy.”
With that our group left and headed toward the Metro station.
As we rounded the corner I stopped and looked back at Calvin and his friend with all their bags.
It’s weird, for a brief moment Max and I held his life in our hands.A moment of absurd stupidity.
Now I’ll never see him again, and I turned the corner and followed the others to the graveyard.
G.W. Bollard is a graduate of the Institute of Technology, Tallaght and NUI Galway respectively. Born in Dublin, where he grew up under the supervision of his beloved mother and aunty (having never known his true father), he currently resides in Galway City, on the west coast of Ireland.