Tall Girl: A Delayed Valentine

Tall Girl: A Delayed Valentine

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God, she’s beautiful, a stunning girl. Gay men and straight women would want her. She was born—no talent or accomplishment of hers—to be admired because she is so beautiful and projects a kind of sexiness that cannot be ginned up, faked, or airbrushed. No pouty lips, no ersatz orgasm face, no birthmark near the mouth, just herself. Probably five ten in her stocking feet—and I would love to be with her like that. She’s wearing heels, nothing extreme, but she stands six feet or close enough. In his shoes he’s at best five eight. She’s got her arm around his shoulder, and his is around her waist, really tight. This is real for them: they are together, have been together, will be together. They’re glued, at least for now, tonight, all that matters.

The boys on the corner, not really punks or loubards, don’t say anything as the couple passes them, and the tall girl and her little lover probably wouldn’t have noticed, or cared, anyway. But after they are safely out of hearing, the boys do a little hooting. What a dweeb, quel falot, look at that runt, un foutu nain—even though they are no taller than he. They’re fifteen, sixteen, have a lot of growing left in their bones if all goes well. And what do I do? I go up, smiling, and say, “Well, yeah, but he’s going home with her when it gets dark and you, you, where are you going tonight?” No way to be popular: being right is sometimes dumb, and I’ve had too much practice in both.

Keep your wisdom to yourself, I think, as they wander off. But I also think I’m jealous of them, these boys brave in a group if still alone in their frightened teenage frustration. They’d have a better chance with the tall girl than I could ever hope to. They’re only a few years younger than she is—and she might like to use her goddess powers to teach them about love or at least about getting laid, and get in return the energy, if not the finesse, of a boy entering his bull stage. I know enough about being envoyé en l’air without a tutorial, but I’m out of the running unless she has some sort of daddy-complex, and I’ve been there with no plans to return. The afternoon is getting late and cheerless.

Maybe a cup of coffee will jolt a little brightness into me, and I walk into the first café I come to, three or four doors down the street. The room is very bright and at the far end I can see a couple just about to sit themselves down. They must have walked in a moment or two ahead of me, but I had distractions and didn’t notice. The man is elegant, lean, dressed in black, with an eye for textures: his shirt has a shimmer of silk, his jacket the dim gloss of cashmere, his pants matte, his leather shoes, with the dull polish that Frenchmen manage though I don’t know how, almost nubby. He is also three or four inches shorter than the woman. She is tall and big. I suppose there’s fat on her—and a fair amount—but she’s sleek, not bulgy. Fat is not the adjective that would come to anyone’s mind for her: big is almost right, big all over, large breasts, largely exposed, a broad face, a wide smile, and big red hair the way only the hair of parisiennes can be red. Anything or anyone can be big, but not everyone can be what she is—lush, generous… plantureuse. The French word suits her, filling my mouth and making me smile as I break it into its four zaftig syllables—plan-tu-reu-se.

And him, her little man, I want to think he is gay—so elegant, so carefully put together with two pins, as the French say or at least used to. But they too were holding on to each other, and as she sits, she runs her hand up the inside of his thigh and he carefully smoothes her left breast, which takes a while.

The tall girl I saw earlier was sublime. The redhead I’m looking at is not ridiculous, despite her proportions and the mix of bright blues, oranges, pinks, and yellows in her clothing. She’s like a ripe tropical fish or a bird in the canopy of a rain forest—utterly natural, native to herself, at home in her rainbow of abundance. I’m not the only one who has noticed the couple and with approval, not to mention envy. The redhead is not a goddess: there’s no distance, no sense of being beautiful beyond reason, nothing mighty about her except no doubt her thighs. You know by looking that she laughs when making love and heaves enough to launch the elegant little man up in the air when she comes and makes a wild racket that the neighbors can hear through the wall. I can’t imagine that he minds, nor can I imagine any man who would not like to take her to bed, at least once, to be enveloped by her, delve into her—and even taller men would prefer to be smaller than she, the better to get lost. You can picture falling asleep on top of her with a smile on your face. Having no chance of doing that—today or ever—I feel even glummer than when I arrived and I retreat.

And so does the sun, making Paris impressionistically murky and me feel it’s reasonable to have a glass of wine, and so I do in a nondescript joint after walking with my head down for a good ten minutes. I perch at the bar and ask for a glass of Bordeaux without looking up or around. God knows what I’d see, and I don’t want to know. But I do after a while because the barman is putting on a show. He’s alone and keeping up with four waiters who are serving inside and out—and the place is very busy. He pours wine, draws beer from the taps, makes coffee and chocolate, swings up onto the counter below the bar to reach glasses from an overhead rack, jumps down lightly, arranges used glasses and cups in their carrier, produces little ramekins of olives for the waiters to go with the drinks, and kibitzes with everyone at the bar, without waiting for an answer. Any minute I’m sure he’ll whip out a broom or offer me a manicure. He never stops and he’s grinning the entire time. He’s a small man—this I don’t need—with the craggy face that some Frenchmen seem to be born with, and wiry from all his swinging through the air. I find myself wondering if the goddess and the redhead would both like him, but I stop short of reaching the sour conclusion that they would because there’s something unreal about him.

He’s active, sure on his feet, but not graceful. He has the strange jerks in his arms and legs of a marionette, and I find myself saying Jumping Jack out loud. “Pardon?” a nice voice to my right says, “what’s that?” I turn and explain that a jumping jack is un pantin articulé. She smiles at me, but wonders where the Jacques part came from since she’s sure she heard someone call the barman Franck, and I figure it’s not worth explaining and might be too hard and maybe she’s not really too bright… no, I decide not to think anything. Nothing happens for a few minutes, just my luck today, when she says, “Do you think he’s the owner?” I don’t know. “Well, who else would do so much work without any help?” She has a point, but Jacques or Franck is busy at the far end of the bar, pressing grapes with his bare feet or harvesting hops or pouring old wine into new bottles: too far away to hear me, and I don’t like to raise my voice in public and anyway I’m heading for le pipi-room in the other direction.

When I return, the woman is looking at something off in a middle distance that I can’t see, but surprises me by saying, without turning her head toward me, that Franck—that is definitely his name, not Jacques, she says, because she asked a passing waiter and he told her—is not the owner and, according to the waiter, the owner is too rich to work or even to come into the bar except to take away some money from time to time. That seems about the end of it. Certainly, for her. She puts some coins on top of her check and stands up. She is tall, two to three inches over my head, but neither goddess nor mattress, and pretty enough. What the hell, I think, and ask, Would you like another glass of wine? She smiles and sits down next to me again.

© Joseph Lestrange

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Medieval Churches of Paris: Discover some of Paris’s most beautiful and lesser-known churches in the company of a medievalist.

Louvre French Masters: Escape the cold and the crowds in the Italian wing of the Louvre by learning about the evolution of French art from the late Gothic period to the monumental 19th century paintings of David and Delacroix, accompanied by an art historian.

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