12

Where the author visits her sister Veronique in Paris.

I go see Veronique in Paris. She and her two teen-age sons have been living for a few years in an apartment building belong- ing to my father at the Porte de Choisy in the 13th arrondis- -sement. The idea is to have lunch out, talk, drive around Paris and meet Mother in the evening at V‚ro's place after Mom has seen a certain Guignard and, hopefully, got back some of the money that he owes.

When I arrive at V‚ro's apartment, she opens the door wearing one of my jackets which had vanished from my wardrobe in New York at least two years ago. I'm so taken aback that I can't speak for a few seconds. It was not exactly a jacket, it was a hooded wind- breaker made of cotton in a beautiful, ethnic-looking print in colors of ocher and greenish blue. This garment had belonged to my mother and she never wore it so one day after many years of seeing it unused in her wardrobe I had asked her to give it to me.

V‚ro acts surprised when I tell her that this jacket belongs to me and that it has disappeared from my home in New York. She says that she didn't know that it was mine, she has found it at our parents'house and nobody used it so she took it but if I insist, she will give it to me. She makes it sound like she believes that I'm just making this up to appropriate something that does not belong to me, but at the moment I'm too glad to see my jacket to understand what my sister is implying. She takes it off and puts a wool jacket on and we go to lunch in her car. She chooses a chinese restaurant in the 5th arrondissement, she doesn't ask me if I have a particular fancy. We make idle talk while we eat. After lunch she asks me to wait for her, she's going to check if one of her friends is there, and she crosses the narrow street and enters a bar. I forgot if we paid, or she paid, before she left. After ten to fifteen minutes she hasn't returned so I join her. She's talking with the bartender and a waitress. V‚ro introduces me as her sister and we have a drink on the house, I believe.

In the afternoon she drives around the Place de l'Opera and other classy areas. I wanted to walk in the chic rue de la Paix, but I'm slow and get tired fast, so it isn't a long, leisurely stroll.

At the end of the afternoon we make another stop I forgot what for, but when we come out, V‚ronique says that she has forgotten where she parked her car. I'm tired and don't see myself walking around the parking lot checking the cars, so I say to my sister that I'll wait for her where we are, and I just find a chair outside a bar waiting for me. I sit down and see her walk away. I wonder how long it will take her to find her car. It's getting dark, cool, and I'm pooped. When she returns two minutes later (had she really forgotten where her car was parked?) I climb in eagerly while she holds the door open from inside, an amused smile on her face. It didn't take her long but still I've had the time to feel alone and lost in the big city, and wonder, just for a split second, if she would actually come and fetch me. When we get back to her apartment she makes us a whisky and we smoke her Peter Stuyvesant while waiting for Mother. I see a jazz guitar in her bedroom and ask if she plays jazz. She says that the guitar is actually a copy of a Morris guitar. To hear that the guitar isn't what it appears to be discourages me from speak- ing about music any more with her.

Now Mother is forty-five minutes late and I have another whisky. I'm getting a bit nervous but V‚ronique is very calm. Finally Mother arrives about an hour and a half late, all smiles. V‚ronique is not upset at all but I am. I am both relieved that the wait is over and angry at my mother that she has not kept her engagement and shows no regret. But she has a very good excuse for being late. She says that she did not get out of the subway car in time at the end of the line and was taken into the depot and other places forbidden to the public. She mimes very effec- tively the jolts of the body when sitting in a train that is passing switches. The only problem is that there are no switches in the subways.

She says that from the depot she's had to cross over to a departing train by using iron ladders and narrow passageways in a dimly lit tunnel but with the help of a big black man. All the while carrying a load of cash in her backpack. When I ask if Guignard has given her any money she says that he hasn't. OK, no cash in her backpack.

She saw Guignard four or five times during my stay and every time she said that he had not given her any money. Guignard this, Guignard that, Guignard Guignard Guignard. She does not apologize for being late. Besides, what was she doing at the end of that subway line, which was at the opposite end of Paris from where she went to se Guignard? She doesn't say. When I leave the next day, V‚ronique gives me the jacket with a tentative smile, like she's hiding a vague fear of unpredict- able behavior on my part.


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