three sleepless nights in paris

As my face lay against the concrete, blood and water splashed on my eyes, mixed with my tears and left me chilled.  But I didn’t care.  Police continued scouring the cement clean with fat fire hoses, washing the blood around me down the street and into the sewer.  I shielded the chalked outline with my body, lying perfectly within the lines, crying inside Danielle.

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On any day, Gay Paris is home to a thousand merchants and honeymooners, gypsies, writers, sketch artists…other artists.  In the city, beneath the crooked little streets etched from hillsides that were once farmland, sits Eiffel, La Seine and its antique bridges and the Cathedrale de Notre-Dame.  See them all through the eyes of Renoir and Monet. Feel their presence.  You can’t help but feel creative in Paris.

But despite the rich history and all its cosmetics, Paris has a secret.  Sacré-Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe, the Panthéon and Versailles Palace are all beautiful icons symbolizing grand victories and royalty, earning never-ending tribute to their creators.  But they serve a less known purpose as well.  Only the locals know that the lures of Paris are thin stitches in a swelling chastity belt that harnesses another part of The City of Light, a less savory part.  They stretch by day until, at sundown, the strands burst open and Paris starts to ooze.

Over the years, the city has undergone various attempts at moral gentrification, without too much antiseptic though.  Part of the allure of Paris is the city’s insatiable gluttony for eroticism.  Deep inside the red light district, its hungry epicenter, Place Pigalle, has been a mainstay.  Coined “Pig Alley” in World War II, Pigalle is a connection of capillary streets clogged with sex shops, cabaret and a salty variety pack of inhabitants that varies wildly from day to night to late night to early morning.

At 8 a.m., the streets are safe.  Tourists caffeinate on espresso and nibble on croissants.  They practice making their French sound more nasally and laugh as they snap through rolls of film, unaware that they are stepping over the freshly sutured gash of a permanent accident scene.  Though unrealistic, they’ll capture a taste of Pigalle, will hopefully be successful in avoiding the pick pocketers who try to lift a little more life out of them than the city plans to take on its own.  Scantily clad prostitutes and boasting sex shops are just decadent enough to romance the foreigners and make them blush, but not too much.  Pigalle wears the daylight well.  The artists are there too, usually further into Monmarte, and usually poor – feeding on the shared validation that dipping themselves into the blackened Paris subculture is immersion training of sort; it is the same creative meal that once fueled Picasso, Van Gogh and Henry Miller…some of the greats that, in the past, have called Pig Alley home.

But unless you come at night, and hopefully you won’t, you’ll miss the carnage, the exchanges, the decay, the decomposition, the disassembly and the unbridled quenching of impulse; you will miss the painful reciprocal of Darwin’s Theory – the consummate devouring of the weak.

As the sunlight depletes, eventually being pulled entirely beneath the skyline, the thin layers that separate night and day evaporate and the streets of the red light district begin to fester and pulse like an infected lesion.  At dusk, the streets of Pigalle salivate, moistening like a widening vulva.  The underbelly of The City of Light prepares to feed, devouring the weak spirited and digesting their morality before they are excreted onto the concrete with a new found, insatiable hunger for excess.  Before the sun rises, the night will erupt in frenzy.  Neon lights soften the street, color coding the sex shops and back alleys for the hunters that only come out at night.  The performers from the Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergere make direct paths through the avenue and move briskly without making eye contact.  Though world famous for elegance and show quality, these cabarets are wedged in perhaps one of the most dangerous blocks in all of Europe.  Drug dealers and their clients conference while prostitutes spit at each other between customer reviews and blistered youth hustle the tourists that failed to read up on places in Paris to avoid.  The mentally ill bicker between hallucinations with the tired and jaded sex shop proprietors, bargaining about panhandling, about witches and candy and urinating in doorways before rifling the trash for edibles.  Place Pigalle is a struggle at night, a constant barter for self-preservation.  Unsurprisingly, there are no winners.

At 5 a.m., police and city workers begin to work against the sun.  In the light, blood and semen can be seen on the sidewalks.  They use industrial hoses to wash the night’s leftovers off of the cobblestone and into the gutters, working quickly to cage the beast and scrape away the foul remains from the night.  By 6:30, the streets have fallen quiet and Pigalle begins to sleep beneath its façade.  But in just a few hours, Pig Alley will again grow restless.

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As a child, I hated Paris.  I hated it because there wasn’t an ocean.  I hated it because I couldn’t understand the cartoons.  And I hated it because there was a McDonalds there, where my parents wouldn’t let me eat – because it was in Paris.  Both my mother and father were teachers when I was a child.  During summer vacations they would chaperone student trips to Europe and, on some vacations, my sister and I would travel with them.  Experiencing other cultures exactly as they existed was important to my folks.  Even more important was experiencing other cultures independent of the gross, international over-commercialization of America.  For me, that meant no McDonalds during the summer of 1981.  Paris made me miserable.

That summer, we spent a few extra days at the cliffs in Dover.  Spending extra time in England meant our visit in Paris was limited to just three days, which was fine with me.  I had been there before.  The less time the better.  I was eager to move on to Italian beaches and ravioli.  Aside from another three day struggle over french fries and foie gras, I didn’t plan on Paris having anything else in store for me.  But in 1981, I was wrong.  That was the summer I met Danielle.

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We met my first day in Paris.  After agonizing through a sweaty line in front of the Louvre for nearly an hour, and then spending half the day inside looking at splatter art and misshaped noses, I was able to convince my parents that we should get pizza from a nearby bakery.  In a turquoise, mesh, fully see-through body suit, Danielle walked to and fro like a cat on a ten foot tightrope between the bakery and Le Chaton Timide, an adult amusement park of sort.  As we approached the bakery, I walked behind her, eye level with her virtually bare backside, watching her behind swivel and listening as she solicited a German tourist and his wife with drippy French.  Danielle’s French didn’t sound like anyone else’s I’d heard.  Her words had an edge to them.  They were cigarette-singed and her mouth ovulated each syllable… sculpting language from pornography and carefully carving each word with ruby red lips.  Vous êtes une femme de beutifu! Je rentrerai avec vous et vous montre quelque chose spécial…

We were packed tightly into sidewalk traffic and, at first, no one noticed her in front of us.  She walked the German couple to the end of her ten feet of sidewalk with us in immediate tow.  But apparently the Germans weren’t buying what she was selling.  At the curb, she let them go and Danielle turned back towards us and she stopped.  The moving traffic parted around her.  Two shiny tiger eyes looked down at me and instantly I felt my insides set fire.  Playful seduction raised her left eyebrow and pushed those ruby red lips into a smile leaving just the tip of her tongue teasing between her teeth.  I started to shake just about the same time my mother realized a completely naked woman was a mere six feet from both me and my father, and she was smiling at me.  The hand that had been on my shoulder guiding my direction slipped up and around my head and I was pulled tight to her hip.  We sped up.  Danielle seemed entertained by her discomfort, maybe more at my paralysis from seeing her naked; she reached out to allow a lock of my hair to flow through her fingers as I passed and I could smell gardenias.  Au revoir beau homme. My mother jerked me out of reach.

During dinner that night, I nibbled through a crusty basket of bread without even a distant dream of a Happy Meal.  My thoughts were elsewhere, snagged somewhere between sheer mesh and skin.  I could still smell gardenias.  It was then that I named her Danielle.  I actually don’t know her true name.  Danielle was the only French name I’d heard so…I named her.  Only my dad seemed to pick up on my preoccupation at dinner.  He leaned over and whispered in my ear.

“She was advertising.”

“Huh?”

“That’s why she was wearing that…thing.  The thing where you could see… everything.  She’s advertising.  She’s a prostitute.”

“Oh,” was all I could think to say.  I hadn’t really been wondering why anything.  I was just thinking about what I had seen.

Hours later, I was sleepless and my mind was churning overtime, trying to reassemble the picture of Danielle’s nude body and wondering what a prostitute was.  I was sharing a room with two other kids my age whose parents were also chaperones.  But I didn’t know them well, and wasn’t clear enough on what I was feeling to tell them about her anyway.  Instead, they were asleep and I lay awake, covered in the pink light from the street and staring at the ceiling.  My bed was the closest to the window.  Even with the curtains pulled tight, the lights outside created a pulsating pink frame that would, every few minutes or so, throb exactly in time with my pulse.  Eventually my conscious brain wasn’t thinking about her anymore.  I began to fade in and out, entertaining light dreams that would ebb and flow with the pulsating neon.  But something was still not allowing me to drift into a deeper sleep.  Around 2 a.m. I stopped the struggle and rolled off the bed and into the space between it and the window.  I dipped my head under the curtain, next to the glass so, I could look down onto the street.  It was late for me, but below things were just revving up.

Pigalle seemed to be out of breath.  Cars were screaming at other cars and pedestrians.  The sidewalks were stuffed with people and moving slow, like a partially blocked artery.  It was fertile ground for the gypsy pickpocketers who would hover in doorways and then join the stream, working their way through the pocketbooks and overcoats of the unsuspecting for two blocks or so.  They would then step into an alley and discard what they didn’t want before smoking a cigarette and joining the flow back to where they had begun.  It was interesting to watch hell from the safety of a balcony seat.  Too interesting to make me tired.

My eyes bounced around for an hour or so until, just after 3, a light clicked on in the 3rd floor apartment directly across the street.  It was a sterile looking flat with cracks in the wall and not much more in the way of decorations – a bed and an electric radiator.   A suit jacket flew into frame and landed on the bed.  Following it walked a burly man in a rumpled shirt and tie.  He had wild hair and was scratching his stomach, fast, like a flea bitten dog.  His mouth moved as though he was talking to someone I couldn’t see.  I watched him itch for a few seconds, and then surprised myself by yawning.  The blue liquid crystal on the travel clock my mom had given me read 3:18.  It seemed like a good time to try and rest.  I started to duck back under the curtain, but stopped when I saw her.

Across the street, in the cracked apartment with the itchy fat man who had wild hair, Danielle stepped into view.  She pushed the big man onto the bed and stood over him at the footboard.  Seconds later, the mesh suit fell to her ankles and she collapsed on top of him.

My breathing accelerated.  I looked back at the other boys in my room.  They were sleeping soundly.  Back in the flat, itchy had risen to his knees.  He was throwing Danielle across the bed, grabbing her arms and legs as if she was made of clay, shaping and re-shaping her.  He would raise one leg here, bend the other one there, and move her hands to places on his body where he wanted them.  All the while his pale skin was growing a darker shade of pink.  They tumbled like that for an hour until Danielle was sitting atop him, arching her body.  Throwing her head back, she ran the fingers from her right hand through her hair while kneading the man’s meaty belly with her left – all of this visible through the third story window.  I thought about what my dad had said.  She was advertising.  There was no way I could hear what they were saying, but I closed my eyes and remembered the drippy French.  Je rentrerai avec vous et vous montre quelque chose spécial… My face got hot.  I opened my eyes, and Danielle was still rocking atop the fat man, and her fingers were still running through her hair, her body still arching.  But when I looked back into the room, my face went from hot to clammy and the ground floor of my stomach collapsed.  Across the street, Danielle was watching me back…and she was smiling.

Our eyes met for only a split second because I slammed myself to the floor…loudly.  The other two boys sighed and adjusted in their beds.  I stayed on the floor, between the wall and the bed, until I could again hear the rhythmic pushing and pulling of breath from them.  Then I slid back into bed where my heart was pulsating much faster than the neon lights.  Too many feelings… shame … guilt … nervousness … pleasure.  I pulled the covers over my head and leaned close to the crack where the two curtains met.

The room across the street was dark, but the shutters were still open.  Danielle was leaning out the window, naked and smoking a cigarette.  I could see her breasts clearly, full and colored pink from the neon.  The tiger eyes were pointed directly at me.  She knew I was watching her.  When she finished her cigarette, Danielle blew the final smoke filled breath above her head and flicked the butt off the balcony using her thumb and forefinger.  She leaned further out the window and smiled before pursing those ruby lips and blowing a lonely kiss across Pigalle and into my room.  She disappeared inside, pulling the shutters closed behind her.

The next day, I told my parents I was sick.  My plan was to try and stay in the room all day, where I might catch another one of Danielle’s shows.  After my mom felt my head, she made me drink tea and told me to stay in bed until they returned for lunch.  Once they were out the door, I knelt beneath the window and peered through the curtains at the room across the street.  The shutters were drawn tight, and they would stay that way the entire day.  I stayed at the window until the sun fell and never saw a glimpse of Danielle.

Later that night, after the others in my room had dozed off, I positioned myself at the window and fell asleep waiting for her…exhausted from not sleeping the night before.  But the ledge was uncomfortable and I didn’t stay asleep long.  When I awoke, I saw that Danielle had come home, and she’d brought with her a different man – a hairy man.  She couldn’t see me this time because she was tied to the bed with four silk scarves, faced down and spread eagled.  But the shutters were open again and all the lights were on.  Hairy stood above her, naked, looking like a thin, menacing bear.  I could see his mouth moving as he paced around the bed and talked down to her.  He seemed angry.  Without notice he would smack the fleshy parts of her back side with an open hand.  Next, a stiletto crack from a weathered belt burned into her back.  I began to get uncomfortable, jumping every time the belt slapped its mark and pinkened more of her milky skin.  Hairy was a bad man.  He pushed the back of her head deep into the pillows, suffocating Danielle until her body began to shake before pulling her head up by her hair, leaving her gasping.  I watched the entire show again, but that night, it was without pleasure.  When Hairy was finally satisfied, he pulled the knots loose that were securing her wrists and ankles, and then he left with no goodbye.  Danielle didn’t move until the door closed behind him.  She sat up and I moved back into the shadows.

After retrieving a glass of water, she came to the window, naked again.  She lit a cigarette and sat with her eyes closed.  From the cigarette’s red tip, smoke floated up and around her, stopping above her head where it lingered like a shroud.  She seemed sore and began to massage her shoulders and breasts.  It was slow at first, but soon grew more rapid and frantic until Danielle looked like she was hurting herself, scratching and pulling at her skin as though she was smothering and desperately needed it off of her so she could breathe.  She began to shiver and clutched herself with her arms, quickly rocking back and forth and shaking her head violently, as if trying to empty it.  Sobs followed and I could see she was murmuring under her breath.  For several minutes she cried like that and I watched the entire time.  She looked very young sitting in that window crying.  I felt sad for her, wanted to hold her and cover her bruises in white linen.  I wanted to replace the brown hollows that were spilling onto her cheeks with the precious tiger eyes from before.  I wanted to take the shame and give back the seduction.  I was ashamed that I was watching her, but I didn’t leave.

She continued sobbing until one breath she took in and held, listening.  Her eyes moved to my window.  I didn’t want to move for fear of giving myself away.  She couldn’t see me, I knew that.  But I couldn’t help but feel that Danielle possessed a higher perception, something I didn’t have.  Maybe it was something she’d honed by navigating through the unbridled emotions of a thousand men.  She knew I was there.  She could feel me.  After a minute, she picked up a bottle cap and threw it across the street.  It clinked on my window, startling me, but I didn’t move.  She threw another, this one missing its mark.  Je sais que vous regardez! The tears on her face had begun to dry and were replaced by a smile of girlish frustration.  Sort et jouer! One more cap hit the window just inches from my face.  After waiting several seconds to see if I would answer, she shot a sly look across Pigalle, through my window and curtain and directly into me.  Danielle closed one eye and waved a playful finger, letting me know I was a bad boy.  She blew me another kiss and disappeared inside.  I didn’t sleep at all my second night either.

The next day was our last full day in Paris.  The following morning we would be moving on to Italy.  My mom, I think sensing a sabotage, wouldn’t let me stay in the room another day.  I would spend the morning and afternoon with my family touring the Left Bank.  We exited our hotel early to allow time for croissants and espresso before joining the other transplants in the street.  I was bleary-eyed from no sleep.  But still, she was on my mind.  I shot a glance towards the bakery, knowing that it was too early to see Danielle.

But surprisingly, she wasn’t up above in her flat sleeping off the daylight like I thought she would be.  Danielle was there, in front of the bakery, padding across the same ten feet of concrete.  She was working early that day and she didn’t look good.  Two of the three times I had seen her she had been nude.  The fact that Danielle had never changed clothes had slipped past me.  But in the hazy, early morning light, I could see that the turquoise was covered in dirt.  The whip from the night before had left bruises across her back that the mesh couldn’t hide as well.  Her hair was unsculpted, matted and damaged at the ends and the tears from just hours earlier had smeared the dark eye makeup to places on her face where it wasn’t supposed to be.  Her eyes had become deep black holes, and they seemed to be leaking.

Something was wrong with her.  Danielle looked like a vagrant animal that had been hit with a tranquilizer dart.  She wasn’t seductively wrapping herself around the gas lamps anymore, embarrassing women while captivating men with an alluring look of come hither.    She was fading in and out…twisting in circles with her arms held out wide, holding her eyes closed and spinning until she would stumble against the wall of Le Chaton Timide. Jolting herself awake, she would angrily lash out at whoever was noticing her.  But no one was noticing her.  The shuffling sidewalk traffic stepped around Danielle.  Some simply shoved her out of the way.

I was hoping that we would pass her from across the street, but we didn’t.  We crossed Pigalle and turned right – a direct path to the bakery.  My parents flanked both sides of me, each of my hands held by one of theirs.

As we approached, Danielle fell to the ground and began struggling to get up.

“Stay close to me,” my mother warned when she saw the stream of sidewalk traffic parting around her.  “She’s on something.”

I hustled past, trying not to see her, trying not to be seen, my eyes glued to the concrete.  But for one moment, I couldn’t stand to not look.  She was still trying to get up, pulling her knees underneath her while her eyes sagged shut and she pulled heavy breaths though her mouth.  During that split second, that singular moment that I had allowed myself to look down at Danielle struggling on the sidewalk, she looked up at me too.  Her efforts to stand suddenly stopped and she fell back to a sitting position on the concrete, transfixed.  She looked as stunned as her drooping eyes would allow.  My parents kept us moving.  We passed the bakery, reached the street and stepped off the curb.  I looked back over my shoulder.  She was still sitting, leaning against the gas lamp with her elbows on her knees, watching me walk away from her.

“I wait for you last night!” she called.  “Je qui sais vous êtes!”

No one in the world except for the two of us knew what she meant.

All day, and into the night, I was nervous, worrying about Danielle and consumed by pictures of her sitting on the sidewalk.  Her flat remained closed and dark.  As I again lay alone and awake in the pink light, I began to think that the pictures of Danielle, broken and sitting on the sidewalk, would be the last I would ever see of her.

The other two had fallen asleep hours earlier.  They were tired from the Left Bank and hadn’t so much as rolled over since their heads touched their pillows.  Below, the streets grew rowdier.  From my bed I could hear laughter and anger, sultry solicitation and drunken banter.  At 1 a.m., I slid my feet to the ground and kneeled in my space beneath the window.  I lifted the curtain just enough to look down onto the street.  It was wild, and Danielle’s room was still dark.  I climbed back into bed feeling very heavy and quickly fell asleep.

Several hours later my eyes pushed open without reason.  It was still dark.  I looked at the blue numbers.  5:15 a.m.  I rolled to the side of the bed and peeked beneath the crack in the curtains quietly, so as not to awake the other two.  Her room was still dark.  The street below was quiet.  The evening devils had returned to their resting places or carved out new ones and the sun was going to wait another hour or so before rising to burn off the night’s leftovers.  Pigalle was empty…almost.

There were two shadows beneath me, in the middle of the street.  Two dark figures faced each other, closer than strangers.  I couldn’t see what they were doing, and I really didn’t care.  My eyes felt like they had been polished with sand paper, and a headache from three nights of not sleeping was throbbing behind them.  I rubbed my eyes.  Danielle wasn’t awake and I was ready to get back in bed and drift away from her forever.  I would have slept too.  I would have crawled right back into bed and let the pink light beat me back into unconsciousness if one of the figures below hadn’t begun to take steps backwards, into the light of a gas lamp where I could see the dirty turquoise.

The man she was with was wearing a long trenchcoat that didn’t fit the rest of his style; he had on jeans and a t-shirt beneath it.  A baseball cap was on his head.  He was taking steady steps towards her and she was backing away from him.  The words they were exchanging weren’t audible to me, but I could see that she was in trouble.  Suddenly, the man snapped his wrist, unleashing a thunderous backhand that made me jump and flattened Danielle on the city floor.  She lay there for several seconds, breathing in the light of the gas lamp before rolling to her side and pulling her knees to her chest.  The man in the long coat pulled two gloves from his pocket and began stretching them onto his fingers.  When he was satisfied, he used her hair to pull her to a standing position.  Danielle didn’t resist, maybe couldn’t resist.  The beating continued.  He would speak a couple of sentences to her, pull her face close to his and then smash her to the cobblestone floor with a blow from one of the gloved fists.  And then she would get up, each time a little slower.

I trembled and wondered why she wouldn’t just stay down.  I wanted her to stay down so the man could feel accomplished and leave.  I wanted her to stay down and him to leave so I could run to the street and cover her with the white sheets from my bed.  Across the street, in the hotel where Danielle worked, I could see that other voyeurs had gathered, also twisting in the curtains, standing in the dark a foot back from the window to hide their faces.  Why weren’t they helping her?

The beating continued, quietly and methodically.  Danielle would slap the pavement, and then she would stand.  But the blows were beginning to weaken her.  She needed help to get back to her feet.  Clutching the iron base of the streetlight, she clumsily pulled herself up while her abuser waited patiently, a look of frustration on his face was growing stronger each time Danielle stood.  Like me, he wanted her to stay down.  Finally I saw her face.  She was facing the side of the street where I was, and I could see her.  The white and yellow light from the gas lamp made her appear cleaner than she was.  From where I was sitting, the blood that was trickling down her face was a growing black branch.  One eye was swollen shut.  She was bent, swaggering and bleeding, but she was not afraid.  Her open eye darted from her abuser to the darkness that unfolded in both directions and then above her, to the rooms where the shadows were watching her trade impacts between the man’s fist and the cobblestone beneath her feet.

A single tear sped down my cheek.  The swagger stopped and Danielle straightened.  Once again, our eyes met, mine filled with tears and hers swelling shut.  Suddenly, the look of obstinance, of beaten resistance began to deflate as a transformation began to take place, right before my eyes.  Moments later, the whore on the street was gone.  In her place, on the cobblestone below my room in the deadly red light district of Paris, there was only a small girl looking up at me, wide-eyed and trembling.  For the first time since she could remember, Danielle was embarrassed and humiliated.  And she was scared.  The bruises were darkening on her skin and in her eyes.  She was looking at me, remembering about the life she had missed, that had been taken from her.  She remembered books she had read when she was ten and going to black and white movies with her father, sitting in his lap, burying her head in his shoulder for safety.  She was shivering again and staring into my eyes as pieces from a forgotten life flurried across a canvas and begin to assemble into memories.

Oh god… You can see me, can’t you? Vous pouvez me voir?  You’ve watched these men fuck into me the pieces of their lives they don’t want, that they can’t keep at home or find a place for.  The discards…the secrets…the anger and hate.  You’ve seen me, my prince, and you know.  I fuck married men who are perverts, fat men who no one else will fuck, soft men on a terrified mission to convince themselves they can still get a rise for a lady, young boys who want to practice on the whore before turning their cocks in the direction of women that they admire, that deserve love, that they want to be with for more than a thirty dollar throe in a three story sweatbox.  I get the discards.  I am a depository, built from the emotional debris of a thousand deviants and I fuck with the windows open so others know that I will take what real women won’t. You know these things about me.  But it isn’t me my love.  It’s not what you think, my sweet prince.  I am not a whore.  I’m a girl, younger than you.  I live inside colors, away from these black and filthy miscreants.  I spend every day sleeping in a bed of prayers.  I like your American books with pictures about children like me and things I can’t touch, like love and trust, safety and a future.  You know those things, don’t you?  You have them my young prince.  Can you see me?  Look closely, I’ll dissolve soon.  Surely you know that.  Can you still see me, my prince? Have I already become transparent?  Have I have thinned too much? You’re afraid.  I see.  I understand, and I am sorry.   I’m afraid, my prince, that I have become the discards.

In a flash, it was gone.  Danielle put that girl back in the box where she lived at the bottom of the ocean in the back of her mind and locked it forever.  Then, she turned to her punisher, threw back her head and bellowed with laughter, pointing at him, cackling so hard she began to bend at the waist.  The tiger eyes were back, and they were on fire.  He didn’t know why she was laughing, but I did.  It was time to empty her self of all the debris, of all recognizable emotion.  She was anesthetizing and returning to the familiar numb that would soften the next blow.  It took only moments before his frustration boiled over.  In one smooth movement, the man pulled out a two shot derringer, pointed it inches away from Danielle’s twisted face and he pulled the trigger.  The crack of the gunshot shook the window glass and ricocheted from wall to wall in the narrow street.  Her body snapped backwards, collapsing into a fruit stand and then sliding down to the sidewalk, where oranges and lemons rained on her dead body.  Danielle’s killer pulled his hat down, tight, just over his eyes, looked around, but never up.  He scurried away into the darkness.

I watched her body until the sun began to clear the shadows.  The silhouette’s that were lingering in other rooms had disappeared immediately.  All of the window shutters were tightly closed.  Her murder didn’t set off any alarms.  No police cars came, sirens wailing.  In fact, nothing happened.  Just before sunup, the owner of a newsstand stepped over her body, noticed the blood and calmly walked to the pay phone and made a call.  A few minutes later, a single police car arrived – no sirens.

My mother knocked on my door at 7.  It was time to check out and catch the metro.  Our train left for Italy at 11 and we needed plenty of time for a group of 40 to catch the metro and arrive at the same place on time.  We walked out of the hotel just before 8.

On the street was a collection of merchants, onlookers and city workers, cordoned off from the crime scene by nylon ropes.  Inside them, police appeared to be doing a scaled down version of investigative work.  Some tourists looked confused and shocked.  They hadn’t realized that beneath their feet lived a beast fiercer than anything they’d ever seen.  But the locals appeared unaffected and eager to restore Pigalle’s cosmetics.  They knew that, on some nights, Pig Alley’s bloodlust becomes messy and spills into the daylight.  For the most part, they were just cleaning up, hovering over a red and white shadow that lay on the cobblestone floor.

Seeing Danielle murdered in such vivid pornography left me numb.  I didn’t know what to feel.  Strangely, I missed her.  When we walked out of the hotel and I saw the white outline of her body beneath the fruit stand and a scarlet mask where her face had been, I burst into sobs.  My parents became worried, and knelt down to find out what in the world was wrong with me.  I tugged free, ignoring them, and sprinted to the fruit stand.

As my face lay against the concrete, blood and water splashed on my eyes, mixed with my tears and left me chilled.  But I didn’t care.  Police continued scouring the cement clean with fat fire hoses, washing the blood around me down the street and into the sewer.  I shielded the chalked outline with my body, lying perfectly within the lines, crying inside Danielle and hating Paris even more.