The Hottest Week in the History of Europe
On trains in France you can still smoke. Though “still” implies a memory of a time when everyone was smoking, which I do not have.
Still, it feels like freedom, skipping school in the north of France to go to Paris, to meet a friend, on a train, a train where you can smoke.
“Freedom” is an American word.
George W. Bush is the President of the United States. This would probably mean more to me if I lived there. Which I haven’t since I was a child.
Still, in France, I pass as an American.
It is the hottest week in the history of Europe. Tens of thousands of people are dying, one just this morning on the platform at the train station, right in front of me. A small crowd gathered around her body and I rushed for the train.
I am going to a hostel, where my friend will meet me tomorrow. The building is a converted church. Boys’ dorms separate from girls’, curfew at eleven o’clock. In France there are many places like this.
That first night I sleep in a dorm, above a poli-sci major from Georgetown University. She gives me a book she has just finished, Song of Solomon. “Keep it,” she says. “But give it to someone else after you read it. It’s, like, the traveler’s code.”
The Americans I meet in France are like ghosts of myself. I repeat their words in my mind and imagine that if I had stayed in America, those same words would come naturally to me.
Years from now, Barack Obama will be President. In various interviews, he will mention Song of Solomon as one of his favorite books.
The poli-sci major is on a tour of Europe, paid for by her school. All she has to do is write a report of her experiences. She has been spending her time with important and influential Washington politicians. One paid for her to stay in an apartment by the Eiffel Tower, but cut her off when she refused to give him a blow job. That’s why she’s here, in this hostel.
“People made such a big deal about Bill Clinton fucking Monica Lewinsky,” the poli-sci major says. “But everyone does the same thing. Every single politician.”
George W. Bush does the same thing. Barack Obama does the same thing. The fact that George W. Bush does it is repulsive but not disturbing. The fact that Barack Obama does it is meaningless to me, as I do not yet know who he is.
When my friend shows up the next morning, we go to the reception desk to request a private room. The receptionist looks at us disapprovingly and I want to say It’s not like that. Though it’s none of her business, really.
That night, in our room, my friend has an “episode.” He says it is so hot he is going to die. He throws up in the sink. I stare, nauseated, at the chunks of pizza floating above the clogged drain, thinking why the sink, why not the toilet, or out the window, or anyplace but the sink. I speak French so I will be the one who has to call the maintenance guy, and he will come and give me a look that says fucking Americans, and I will look at him all Yeah, so what, but in truth I will be mortified.
My friend asks for a blow job. He demands a blow job. He says, “I need it, or I will die.” And I say I don’t really want to. And he says he really needs it, it’s not a joke this time, and he pushes my head down there, I think, or maybe I just do it because I can’t say no.
I wipe his cum from my mouth, which I can’t even spit into the sink so I spit into the shower drain. He says, “That was fucked up, I think I raped you just then.” And I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but then I start thinking, maybe it is true, maybe he did rape me, in a sense, in the sense that I am here with him against my will and I can’t say no.
“Thank god you are here. Thank god you are here to take care of me,” he says, and I feel sick all over again.
It is the hottest week in the history of Europe. Tens of thousands of people have died. It is, essentially, a natural disaster along the lines of an earthquake or Tsunami, but will never be spoken of in those terms.
I will never give Song of Solomon to anyone.
Karen Marron lives and writes in Tel Aviv. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University and edits creative nonfiction for The Ilanot Review. Her work has appeared in Drunken Boat, Hobart, Word Riot, and Blunderbuss. Follow her on Twitter @marronglacee.