Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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His Other Life

On Boul Miche
Idling at the curb
In a rented car,
Ready to go.

But I have forgotten something!
It’s my hat, of course:
“Of all things
Why should Daddy forget
His darling hat?”

I leave the motor running,
Bolt through the great doors
And past the concierge.
Horns are blowing
Out there where I left them
With the motor running,
Wife, au pair girl, children —
Toys bigger than life.

Up, up the brown stairs I go
— The brown, swerving, unsupported stairs —
Up I go two at a time.
How often I have thought they might collapse
Under our weight,
Mine plus the stroller’s
And the carriage’s and the groceries’!
But I go up light as a feather this time,
Up, up for the last time,
Those uncountable brown steps
Of our Left Bank walk-up
For the last time.

My big key slips into the lock.
The heavy door opens so easily.
But something has happened.
In the few moments since we departed
Since we set out
For Southern France, and then Italy,
And then home to America.
The furniture is rearranged.
Chairs are lined against the walls in the French way.
It isn’t the same at all.
Something French is cooking in the kitchen.

Suddenly she, a total stranger,
Black hair parted in the middle,
Is on the settee between the windows.
She is saying, “Entrez,” — I think.
And I go over and kiss her casually,
Removing my overcoat
Just as though I had planned to.

How quickly ten years can pass!
My life in Paris with my French children
Getting to be school age, drinking wine!
Perhaps they too attend L’Ecole Pere Castor.
My American children are getting quite grown up.
They behave like strangers with me
When I rarely go to see them.
My wife has another name, in Chicago,
And is ever so happy.
Her second husband only laughs
At her foolish first marriage.
Ten years!

But my hat!
I didn’t count the steps.
I didn’t count the floors.
I have come too far.
Without a word —
And without anyone out in the kitchen’s
Hearing or seeing me —
I slam the door behind me.
Down one flight
And everything is real again.

My hat is where I left it, one floor below.
Everything is the same there,
Neat as a pin. The chairs are arranged in our cozy
And when at last I am in the car and tell my wife
She is struck with horror.
“To think that all the time the keys
To all those flats were interchangeable.
We might have been murdered in our sleep.”

But we are safe.
On our way to the wonderful fields and trees
Of America.
Back in Ohio
With our right names
And our right children!
And no one will ever know.
For what is there for anyone to know about us?
Our life is an open book.    

[Editor’s Note: The preceding story is what Peter Taylor referred to as “broken line prose.” It was first published in Ploughshares in 1975.]

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