Liquor drips like charred oil from her eyes as she looks at him in the rearview mirror. I hate that look. I turn and look out across the bridge, all dark blue sky stretching across the streetlamps and the rumbling waters below melting into the jazz wafting from the sidewalk bars. If they ever tell you that jazz is comforting, or peaceful, or inspiring, they’re all lying. Probably to themselves, too. Jazz will seduce you like the city itself and then you will have nothing left but a hangover and a bag of half-filled dreams and no idea what to do with either.
Bar lights flick by the window, one by one, orbs of yellow swirled into the midnight purple. They are stars you can touch if you want. Isn’t that the spirit of Paris, the spirit of these roaring twenties? All these damn Parisians, playing God, fooling around with booze and cigarettes when the rest of the world is still nursing its wounds. A jangle of screeching laughs bursts from an open doorway and a raspy saxophone from another as the cab rumbles by. Rain beats against the windshield. All I can smell is Mr. Castle’s whiskey and cigars. I cough.
She shifts slightly and nudges her beaded heel along his calf, playing coy. Her hair spins around her finger, gold sparks across her puckered, painted lips, but his eyes never leave the newspaper. I can never tell if he doesn’t notice or notices but just doesn’t care.
“Driver, take the Rue de Rivoli and stop at the Hotel de Ville.” His voice is like ash crumbled into a guitar.
“Oh, honey, the Rue de Rivoli! I’ve been wanting to try that new bistro on Rue de Renard, it’s only right down the street—”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Marie. I’m stopping on business and you’re staying in the car. Now move your leg before I have to.”
Mrs. Castle’s lips purse and her eyes narrow, but when she angles herself away from him, she props her legs against the door, arching her back and releasing a small, sensual sigh of contentment. Her crimson skirt slips up her thigh, exposing creamy white flesh disappearing beneath her garters, but she’s made no move to retrieve the strap of her dress that has slipped from her shoulder and I guess her skirt isn’t any different. I blink and glance again at the water. Mr. Castle ruffles his papers; Mrs. Castle puffs her lips and stuffs her skirt around her knees.
When we arrive Mr. Castle opens the door and pours himself out. Mrs. Castle busies herself playing with her fingernails and biting her bottom lip. If she chews any harder it will burst like a berry and the rich purple juice will splash over the cab and she will wail about her ruined dress and demand another cocktail. I miss Delilah.
A couple moments pass. She shifts around and coughs. I think of Delilah and watch the waves roll beneath me, melting into the night.
“Catch? Catch, that’s your name, right?”
“Oh, good heavens! Please, darling, call me Marie.” Her lips curl into a smile in the rearview. I turn to look out the window. The lights outside look a little murky, like a child’s grubby finger has smeared them across a half-dried watercolor. My eyes begin to water.
“You know, Catch, you’re a right handsome man. Did you know that? Why, yes, you are. Look at those big blue eyes. You’re a looker. Did you know that?”
“I, uh—I guess I hadn’t thought about it, ma’am.” The lights seem to burn a little. They’re still murky but I feel a sort of burning and I don’t know if it’s the lights or the memories.
They’re wobbling now. I blink rapidly.
“Catch, I was thinking to myself—and don’t let anyone hear that I asked you this, mind you, or we’ll both be in trouble—but—well, I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure how to say this—but what do you think of Mr. Castle?”
“Mr. Castle? Well, I—I’m afraid I’m not sure how to answer that, ma’am.”
“I mean, well…” She giggles and stretches across the backseat, legs extended, skirt trailing behind, eyes locked on the rearview.
“I’m afraid I’m not sure what’s so funny, ma’am.”
“Well it’s just a little funny, that’s all. It’s just all a little funny. Here I am, out in the car with you, and he has no idea what I could be doing. That just seems a little—hey there, what did you call me?”
“Anyway, like I was saying, he’s left me out with you and he has no idea who you even are and he just waltzes inside like I don’t know where he’s going. Of course I know.” She leans forward and lowers her voice conspiratorially. “I always know. Everyone knows. And I don’t even know if he knows that we all know—and we both know he wouldn’t care if he did.” She throws me a look in the rearview and turns to light a cigarette. Her long fingers stretch white in the semi-darkness.
I settle for a half-committal nod. Her voice is softer, blurring from ashy scarlet to half-melted indigo, when she speaks again.
“You want to know why I married him?”
I do not.
“I married him because he had money. Daddy died in the war and I don’t know how to run anyone’s life and I wanted kids to fill up the spaces that Daddy left. I don’t know how I ever thought that this wouldn’t happen. How could I ever believe that he would love me?” Her voice begins to bloat. “How could I not see this coming? How could I expect him to love me, how could I ever hope he would when he never did—“
“Excuse me, ma’am.” A passing cab screeches and swerves as I stumble into the street. The lights of the city engulf me. I feel my heart choking. Icy cobblestones suck the warmth from my body and I want grass tickling my ankles. I want mud squelching between my toes. I want Tommy’s laughter chiming in the sunshine. I want—
“Catch? Catch, come back!” Her shriek rips through the night air. Her heels clatter against the stones and she staggers into the night. She has trouble with the streets.
She comes chasing me. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I let her, either, but I do. She clatters up to me, hair sprawling across her shoulders, ribbons trailing from the remnants of her curls. Her makeup is cracking and smearing in the rain, glittering black pools dripping into broken rivers down her sunken cheeks and leaking into the cracks around her eyes. They are not laugh lines. Delilah always had laugh lines.
“Catch, are you okay? What happened? Are you ill?”
Her eyes are wide with concern as she reaches up and tries to touch my face. I shrug her off and turn away, skulking into the darkness.
“Where the hell are you going?”
“Not nearly far enough.”