‘Bret in Bordeaux’


Bret travels to Europe on the auspices of taking the continent by storm. His savings are stored in a bank account linked to the shiny, gray credit card in his wallet. He will be in hotels and eating in restaurants, not in hostels and assembling various avocado and cheese baguettes as he did during his previous backpacking trip seven years ago. He is in his thirties now. He is more accomplished and more deserving of spending his time with the best people or at least the best people his money can afford him.

It is a lonely opening two weeks. He is restless. One day he takes the train to Bordeaux, he doesn’t know why. Probably the wine, but he cares little for it and has already spent two weeks in Paris pretending he didn’t. At the train station he waits, hoping a sign will appear and tell him what to do. He walks behind a woman in heels he is vaguely attracted to until she steps into a taxi just outside. He imagines the gaudy American luggage he rolls beside him to be the source of humor for both fellow travelers and locals. Finally he gets into a taxi and goes to one of the best hotels in the city. With his paltry grasp of the language he whispers to the clerk to put him on the floor containing the most single women. Only the fact that the clerk is off in a few minutes stops him from shredding Bret’s passport in a small alcove behind the front desk.

In the hotel’s fine dining room Bret eats an extravagant meal of Boeuf Bourguignon with a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon. He is surrounded by mostly elderly couples. There is not even a woman below forty-five he can fantasize about. At his two person table he thinks of the opening scene in North by Northwest where a hotel attendant calls out Cary Grant’s name ‘Roger Thornhill’ in order to alert him of a false phone call sending him into high adventure.

Getting known, Bret mouths and looks into the expensive napkin in his lap.

A bus boy passes his table and places a small piece of paper by his breadbasket. Bret picks it up with his thumb and index finger. On the paper is an exquisitely wrought erect penis made from pencil. It is as if Bret’s jaw is no longer affixed to his head.

Quickly and quietly he pays his bill and leaves. He walks the streets. It is a very warm evening. An airplane with a red light blinking floats overhead. Near closing time he returns to the restaurant. Seeing the bus boy he twice uses his fingers to communicate his three-digit room number.

Sometime after midnight there is a knock at the door. Before answering Bret notes he wears a Baltimore Orioles tee shirt and frantically removes it, heaving in his wide, digesting stomach.

Wordlessly the bus boy, who is probably near 22, enters. He stands by the bureau, draws his hand to his face and wipes the side of his hair down. Bret offers him some bottled water but he declines. A car speeds by on the street outside.

The bus boy casually looks in the direction of the bed and quickly, as if there were a jump cut in the film of reality, is on it. After a moment Bret sits down as well, Indian style in the middle of the floor. The bus boy removes his clothes and kneels in front of Bret, whose shoulders he presses his fingers into.

It feels good, Bret thinks. It is not a commitment. I need to be touched. Yes, touch me more. Touch me there. Just don’t stop. Whatever you do don’t stop.

And he doesn’t until four o’clock in the morning. After the bus boy, whose name is Antoine, leaves he walks to his girlfriend’s apartment and climbs into bed with her showering kisses on her small, firm breasts.

Bret wakes up in the early afternoon. He peeks into the street a few stories below. There is no lunch served in the hotel so he buys a cheese and tomato pannini a few blocks away. He wants to buy a gift for the bus boy. He knows he will probably never see him again, not after he takes the train back to Paris and buys a plane ticket to the United States.

In a shop he sees an expensive silk shirt, purchases it and has it gift-wrapped. He explains to the hotel clerk he will be checking out and asks if he will give a package to the bus boy he describes. The clerk refuses and orders him to the kitchen to do it himself, as he knows the young man has just arrived for work. Bret nods and walks to the empty dining area being readied by the staff. The bus boy sees him and approaches. “I should tell you,” he begins in a crisp English before Bret interrupts, putting his hand over his mouth. He hands him the package, smiles and leaves.

In lieu of the TGV, France’s high-speed train, he takes a slower regional one with an eye to the money he will need to rebuild his life back in America. Shortly after departing a man born in Algeria with a stolen passport places an intricate suitcase bomb in the car before Bret’s, set to explode in forty minutes when the man will have debarked in Libourne some ten minutes before. The bomb detonates on time and the fireball in the car of origin throws all subsequent ones, four in all, off the track. No one in the car of or behind the explosion survives.

When the bus boy hears from a cook later that evening that the ‘fucking Arabs’ have struck again he winces, stares at the breadbasket he must deliver to a couple just arrived and then calls his girlfriend on his cell phone to tell her he loves her.