by Kateryna Khinkulova
Translated from the Ukrainian by Oleksandra Gordynchuk
Edited by Hanna Leliv
I did not bury Tanya – I scattered her ashes in Paris. All this romantic appeal – dying somewhere but not in Paris, bridges over the Seine, whatever – really got under my skin. I stood on one of the bridges, Bolik sleeping in his stroller. It wasn’t the Mirabeau Bridge, but I could see the Eiffel Tower and the Musee d’Orsay from it anyway. I didn’t have enough courage to do this during the day, so we came late at night when it got completely dark.
I stood there leaning on the rails, looking at the lights reflecting on the water’s surface, and then I quickly pulled out a plastic bag of ashes from my pocket: gray, fine like face powder, with a few larger chunks of sponge-like bone. I was looking at the magnificent beauty of Paris at night and thinking about the even more magnificent beauty of Tanya’s body, whose remains I had in my plastic bag. Which of these chunks did her hair, her green eyes, her thin fingers, her legs turn into? I was thinking about her pink lips that she licked with her wet tongue, her white teeth smudged with lipstick, her hair wet after a shower. The look of those dry gray ashes made me think of the colors and the wetness of her former body, of her former self.
That was also when another colorful memory came to my mind, of tango – we left Bolik with Jeremy and went to a dancing class together at the Pineapple club. I got a partner – a Frenchman with a stinking breath and a bit oversized nose, but with a decent sense of rhythm and even a better one – of humor; Tanya found herself in the arms of the teacher himself, a short Brazilian man.
We all danced to a slowed-down melody, our reflections on the dance room walls crowding around us. I caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror – the Brazilian with his palm on her back, her head thrown back, eyes half-closed, smile on her lips, her legs in black Mary Jane shoes and knee socks with grey and orange stripes stepping on the floor and, from time to time, on the teacher’s narrow shoes. She bit her lip and couldn’t keep herself from laughing – she was being clumsy and not good at dancing, but she was perfectly beautiful and young, so it didn’t matter.
Everyone was looking at her, admiring only her, and I stopped along with the rest, the Frenchman’s hot hand still giving my waist an uncomfortable squeeze.
It got cold and somewhat scary on the Non-Mirabeau bridge, but I wanted that moment to last. Not then, now. Not now, forever.
I started crying uncontrollably because Tanya’s ashes were already scattered, the Seine swallowed them, I recalled that tango class and all I had left to do was to come back to London and keep fighting for survival. (I didn’t know back then that I got a job at a bank, although even if I had known it wouldn’t have brought me any joy, because my first salary was ridiculously small and my loneliness huge.) Bolik was peacefully asleep, and I stood there, sobbing, holding my head in my hands. The lesson that “life is unfair” seemed to be accurate more than ever, the only right reflection of the world.
Then I hear a voice behind my back saying something to me in French. I turn around and see a young woman, very tall, in very extravagant clothes, who, when I get a closer look, turns out to be a transvestite man. She has a white wig and a white boa around her neck, perfect skin, and a huge mouth, gorgeously painted with lipstick. She’s telling me something, asking, begging, pointing her finger at Bolik, and I understand – she thinks I want to commit suicide by jumping from the bridge and tries to persuade me not do it, at least for the baby’s sake.
I gesture that I’m not going to jump, I’m just burying someone, my dearest friend, and as a proof, I show her the bag, all gray inside. She clearly can’t understand what I say, so I get a handful of the ashes that I left for myself, reach out to her and open my fingers. She can’t see what I’m showing her in the dark, but she probably understands that it’s something incredibly important to me. I am still sobbing. She walks up to me, puts her large hands on my shoulders, and draws me close to her.
That half a second, when her painted lips are getting close to mine, lasts an eternity, and our kiss – two eternities, or even three. That kiss was, for sure, the best in my life, both for the dramatic romanticism of the occasion and for the kisser’s skill. At that moment I stopped calling her “she” in my mind and began thinking of her as “he”.
I am still clenching the plastic bag. Bolik's still sleeping; only a minute passed, but I feel like a different person. I am extremely aroused because, after the kiss, he puts one hand on my breasts, undoes a button on my jeans, unzippers them and pushes his other hand inside my panties. The impossibility and the shamefulness of the situation are just ridiculous – I, a mother of a three-year-old boy, am kissing a transvestite in a white wig on a bridge. At night, in Paris, knowing only five words in French and not knowing his name. Out of the blue, I recall my aunt Asya sharing stories from her youth and telling us how a boy invited her to go to the movies and she said to him right away: “Ok, I’ll go, but I’m not going to marry you, keep this in mind”.
“What’s your… name?” my husky voice breaks forth; I concentrate, trying to recall how to say it in French. “Comment tu t’appelles?”
He doesn’t reply, only keeps kissing me silently, his white boa sliding down to the ground. My arms are free from the sweater, which already dropped down to my waist, and my bra is gone. I don’t have time to realize what’s going on. He is indeed a transvestite, not a transsexual. We are just doing it like rabbits or caterpillars. Or, maybe, like butterflies. We are right in the middle of it.
Somehow, he pulls down my very tight jeans and draws up his skirt. Freeing my leg from a pant, I put it up like a hook on his arm – the one he perched on the rail behind my back to keep himself steady. “What about a condom?”, a late thought flashes in my mind, not too late, though, because he tears a square packet with “strawberry” written in French on it with his teeth. It smells like artificial jam and all I hear is the murmur of water under the Non-Mirabeau bridge.
It starts to drizzle. The rain is not cold, but warm and sweet, even though it’s winter.
Then I can hear our breathing and our voices. I am a bit uncomfortable, but our harmony is evident. He has only one free hand, which completes the harmony. Both of mine are free. I have no idea how long it lasts, but, probably, for a long time, because the inside of my hip gets tight, and my bare ass pressed to the bridge gets cold even though he squeezes it from time to time. I throw my head back and see the stars above the nighttime Paris. Blackcurrant balls explode inside my body.
(INSIDE YOU INSIDE YOU INSIDE YOU INSIDE YOU)
A man’s face with make-up is an incredibly sexy sight. Eyes, highlighted with black, long fake lashes, dangly earrings – this memory alone makes my knees weak from lust – and lacy stockings pulled up to the middle of his thighs. Of course, he is not wearing underwear.
We hear a clock clanging. Bolik is still asleep. We get dressed and stand face to face. It suddenly occurs to me to ask him if something like this happens to him often, but then I decide against it. I don’t think it does. In one of my pockets, I have a handful of Tanya’s ashes, in the other – an empty bag. As inexperienced as I am, I still realize how unique that was. He wipes his lipstick off my face with his thumb and kisses me one more time. He leaves first. I wait for some five minutes and leave, too.
The hotel is already locked for the night, and a sleepy concierge sulkily answers the bell. I cover my face with my hand in case it still has some traces of my lover’s lipstick. I climb up the stairs to my room and put Bolik to bed: he wakes up at first but quickly goes back to sleep. I sit down on the bed and laugh. I keep laughing and laughing. Paris, night, and a transvestite. Tanya would have liked such a funeral.
If some loser of a psychologist tries to explain to me that what happened that night was a realization of my latent desire to have sex with Tanya, he better gets lost. We tried to have sex once when we were teenagers and we didn’t like it – so no cultural or moral retrains there. It’s just we really love(d) men more.
What happened to me that night in Paris was just a weird coincidence. I might as well have been raped or killed. But if I am to explain what this or that event means or what sign it sends, I would say this: looks can be deceiving. Never say “never”, even if you see a person in a white wig.
I will never meet him again; even if I walk Paris streets at night and stand on all non-Mirabeau bridges imaginable, he wouldn’t appear before me. Maybe he died from AIDS or, maybe, he got married and lives, say, in Provence. Or, maybe he’s now wearing a wig of a different color.
You know what he smelled of? A mixture of a men’s cologne, cognac, and tobacco. I found out the cologne’s brand – Aramis, I’m just not sure about the series. I don’t know about the cognac – the smell was quite light, and it is too hard to determine the brand of a half-digested alcohol. The same with tobacco – I don’t know, what kind, but I am quite sure it was mixed with hash.
Why did I remember him so well, apart from the fact that he was the only transvestite in a white wig I had sex with on a bridge in the nighttime Paris (or the only transvestite I had sex with, period)? Here is why. He was the only man in my life who made me less lonely exactly when I needed it the most.