Angela Jane Fountas
Lydia takes her hand and places it over the. She imagines an a in its place. One of many. There is no the, she thinks. Not even the Louvre is an only one. She's seen its shadow when the sun moves. She's seen its image in photographs. Everybody is always photographing it. Twins of itself appear in books. Birthed and rebirthed. "No the," she tells all Louvres.
But how to speak without it. "A quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog." Lydia is thirteen, a tourist, her parents' making. They walk hand-in-hand, a second honeymoon with Lydia in tow, an only child. There are others.
"The fact of the matter is that the French know how to live," her father tells her mother.
A fact, Lydia thinks. There are others. There is the fact that Marie Antoinette suffered the guillotine. The. It is impossible to lose.
If she could drink a glass of bordeaux. If she could hold a Gitanes between her lips. A smoke and blue box of Gitanes. A gypsy dancer with tambourine. If she could make the smoke come out in a's, an o with tail. If she could.
"Could you please keep up," her mother says.
Daydreamer. This is what they call Lydia. Dream. her.
A Louvre takes days to go through, whether in the flesh or via a virtual tour. Lydia has never been inside. Her parents favor smaller, more intimate spaces: Musée Auguste Rodin, Musée Picasso. They favor sidewalk tables at cafés. Lydia stands at the bar where un café au lait costs 5 euros less and nobody notices the wrapped sugar cubes she slips into her bag.
At the hotel—the hotel because it is the one that they stay in, not a hotel, although there are many—Lydia lines up sugar cubes, one by one, according to the date pilfered. Her sugar cubes. Her hotel room. Her dream.
The sugar cubes melt in the rain. Sweet puddles. Lydia arranged the small wrapped gifts on her great-great-grandmother's gravestone in the Cimetière du Père Lachaise the week prior. She sat on the grave with a Gitanes in her mouth and flicked ashes to the ground. She blew o's. A good-bye to childhood, the rest in peace.
Every twenty years since the birth of her great-great-grandmother's daughter another child is born.
Nineteen. A freshman in college. A semester abroad. A broad. A Gitanes forever in her mouth. Lydia doesn't know about the melting cubes. She is underneath him. He is not the one.
"I'll be your mirror. Reflect what you are. I'll be your mirror. Reflect what you are. I'll be your mirror. Reflect what you are. I'll be your mirror. Reflect what you are."
She sees herself in his eyes. She hears her oh.
"She's just a little tease. See the way she walks. Hear the way she talks."
Lydia reaches for the CD player, off. Rain taps against the window. She wriggles out from under and reaches for a Gitanes. O, o, o. She lies still like her great-great-grandmother. Flesh, muscle, sinew, bone. They lie still. Something will happen. Something always does.
Lydia props the book on her belly, Madame Bovary. In 2009, marriage is a convention rarely followed. A convention she will not follow. The rain taps harder. She slips into slicker and walks up the Boulevard Saint Germain, over the Pont de la Concorde, down the Quai de Tuileries, along the Seine, to the Quai du Louvre.
The Louvre stands still. Still there. The same place. A different time. Lydia remembers herself a child of thirteen following the parents who follow her now. Mark her place on the map laid out before them. Trace her through her postcards.
She moans oh to forget.
"Hush," Lydia says. Violet trails, doll dragging behind; she pouts. "I hate my mommy!" Mom. Me. "Lydia!"
Roses are red, Violets are blue. Sugar is sweet, And so are you. This is Lydia, thinking. Violet smiles, book spread out before her. She points and squeals. Lydia closes her ears from the inside. "Here," Violet says. She pats the spot beside her. "I want my mommy!"
Lydia pulls a blanket up over Violet's face. To keep out the light, rats. "Nap time," Lydia whispers. Violet stays with Alis while Lydia sells meringues on Bleeker Street. Alis watches all of the squatters' children. "This is how we make-do," Lydia tells Violet. Kiss, kiss, kiss.
A slow, rainy day at Greenwich Village Pâtisserie. Lydia builds a monument of paper-wrapped cubes: the Eiffel Tower. She would like to climb up, out. Part the sky. Step over. Fall.
From there to here, where? 2012 is not light years ahead. That science was a fiction. The same soft, hard, hot drinks. The same two-winged planes. The same dreams haunting. The Louvre stands, still, although Lydia cannot see it. Cannot touch it. Cannot feel, taste, smell it. Instead, a Violet shadow stretches.
Lydia closes her eyes. "Two café au lait." Open. She turns to face her parents, pure chance. An n, Lydia thinks, is all that it would take.
[Lyrics in II. from "I'll Be Your Mirror" and "Femme Fatale" from Nico's The Classic Years, words and music © 1994 Lou Reed.]
After talking to a friend about Lydia Davis, I pulled Break It Down from my bookshelf, reread it, and felt inspired. I typed "Lydia" and the first part followed. Parts two and three came later. I wasn't thinking about the fact that Lydia Davis translates French texts when I placed my Lydia in Paris. My Lydia is a fiction, but she's indebted to her namesake.