13

Where the author retains an estate lawyer and visits her brother Norbert in Paris.

I go to Paris another time, my brother Norbert having agreed to let me sleep at his place. I go see an estate lawyer recom- mended by a French lawyer in New York. I explain to her that considering the precedents, the unfair manner in which my parents have treated me compared to how they have treated my other siblings, and considering the existence of a valise full of cash that will not be reported to the tax authorities, I need help to protect my rights to the estate which, by French law, are equal to those of my siblings. She accepts to take on my case. I give her a deposit of five thousand francs and she gives me a receipt.

Because of the heavy traffic and dense fumes, it takes me only a few minutes to be exhausted after looking for a cab and walking in the Montparnasse terminal area. From there I go to Norbert's apartment. He is also living in our father's building, rent-free like V‚ronique, in a one bedroom apartment with his girlfriend. I'm appalled at how dirty this nice apartment is. In the bath- room, the sink and the tub look like they haven't been cleaned for months. Dirty dishes are piled on all the surfaces in the kitchen and in the living room, empty bottles of beer and over- flowing ashtrays assault the eye and the nose. A pair of beauti- ful woman's ankle boots lies on the carpeted floor. I don't look in the bedroom.

Norbert and his girlfriend arrive soon after me. The first thing my brother does after the introductions is to prepare a hashish joint. I feel like the wet blanket for declining a toke so after a few rounds I take a drag. My brother is speaking about a good deal he could have if several persons pooled resources to buy a quantity that costs too much money for one person. After I have taken a toke he said, as if stating the obvious, that I will contribute one hundred francs to the purchase and he makes a few phone calls. Then he says that he feels like eating pizza and calls to order. Like a spoilt rich kid, he makes quite a fuss about what topping he wants. Personally I don't care for pizza that day.

When it's time to go to bed the girlfriend goes into the bedroom and my brother shows me how to install myself to sleep. But first I have to make several trips to the kitchen to rid the room of our dinner trash plus the army of dead soldiers and over- flowing ashtrays. My brother makes small talk and waits while I limp between living room and kitchen, my arms loaded with his trash.

The mattress that lies half on the floor half against the wall will be my bed. He brings me a cover but neither sheet nor pillowcase. Once I'm reclining in the bed I notice that the bookshelf he's using belongs to me. I have bought it many years ago when I lived in Paris. I make the observation to him and he protests that he has fixed it because he found it broken. Al- though the frame is painted a different color, I observe that the large mirror leaning against a wall belongs also to me. He says that he didn't know, that this is the only furniture our father has authorized him to take out of the family house. He leaves me and after I have turned off the light I see that there are no curtains on the window and across the street is an ugly high rise. Still, I sleep, and wake up early.

In the morning Norbert takes me for a ride on his motorbike. He wants to show me a book that he thinks is excellent and that might be successful in the United States if I translated it first into English. A motorbike isn't the ideal means of transportation for me because I can't rest the foot of my injured leg on the footrest, due to the lack of flexibility of my knee. I could also freak out, finding myself in the thick of Paris traffic like I have been so recently in New York's but I decide to savor the irony instead. After all my brother is an excellent motorcyclist and I know that I can relax.

He doesn't find the book in question at Gibert on Place St Michel but we look around for a while and he buys me "Paris Pas Cher" (Paris on the Cheap) for the year 1991. How thoughtful.

My two or three trips to Paris get a little confused but I remember seeing in the lobby of the family building notices to the tenants written in my mother's hand, asking them from now on to write their rent checks to Madame Celestin Picart. I'm also present when Sophie's elder daughter moves into another one- bedroom apartment. She's going to study graphic arts at a nearby school. (AgnŠs'daughter Eleonore moves to yet another apartment in the same building after I have returned to the USA.) Everybody lives rent-free but me. At the same time V‚ronique is moving out, into a house she has bought just before our father died. She said that she had found a beautiful loft but Father had urged her to buy only something where she was a hundred percent owner, so she has bought a small house in Vitry, paid cash for it with Dad's money (one million francs, of which 350,000 francs come from a non-resident, tax-free account in the name of Elisabeth Geisel, our sister who lives in Germany but actually owned by my father).

I spend a second evening with Norbert. He gives me a small chunk of hashish and since I don't intend to smoke it it doesn't occur to me to pay him. This time he wants to invite us to dinner to a certain restaurant. Before we leave I ask him if it's ok to leave my money belt in his apartment. He says there's no problem so I leave it. He says that he's going to make two trips with his motorbike to take me and his girlfriend one after the other to the restaurant. So we do.

At the restaurant he and his girlfriend sit against the window, and I with my back to the room feel a blast of cold every time the door is opened because I'm sitting next to it. Norbert is eyeing the crowd, commenting now and then to his girlfriend on some people he recognizes. During dinner he asks me to pay him for the "shit" with a tone that shows that he's afraid that I'll renege on the deal, and I give him a hundred francs over the table rather than protest that he was twisting my arm, although I'm surprised that he's asking me during dinner.

I pay for my dinner too, I believe, although I first thought that my brother invited me. What I'm sure of is that when we leave the restaurant I decide to take a cab back rather than go by motorbike and wait either before or after my turn on the back- seat of the motorbike. And once in the cab I realize that I don't have any money left on me! All I find is a five dollar bill at the back of my diary and when I tell the cabbie that I have only dollars he is irate, although at the exchange rate he doesn't lose any money, except his tip, poor man. Still, it's a close call. What would I have done if I had not had this five dollar bill? Limped up to the fourth floor to get money from my belt? And what if my brother hadn't arrived yet? When I tell Norbert what happened he doesn't make any comments.

The only direct exchange I have with Norbert's girlfriend is a moment later, when she says that a set of keys that she keeps in a small basket by the entrance door had disappeared. I ask her how she thinks it has disappeared. She says she really doesn't know. The only explanation would be that I took the spare set of keys.

When I return to Normandy Mother asks me how my stay was, then with a voice dripping with contempt she says that last summer Norbert has worked as a motorbike messenger in Paris.


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