1994. Paris. 11th Arrondissement. Hotel de Belfort. Part 2.

The next time I would see Mimi was the morning after I got locked in at Pére Lachaise cemetery. I entered just minutes before the guards made their rounds, locking thick chains through the wrought iron gates. I scurried around the cemetery, running up the middle past the tombstones, purposely trying to get lost. I wanted to scare myself. I stepped inside a small Mausoleum and stood in the dark corner with my back to the iron door. I fingered the carved angel etched into the granite and said out loud, “the door will shut…the door will shut…the door will shut,” before dashing out, feeling my heart in my throat. The sky was turning dark grey, so I followed the cemetery’s wall in search of the entrance and my exit. An hour later, I stood before the locked gate and felt real fear–the kind that makes your hands tremble–set in. I looked over the stone barrier that stood forty feet above the street searching for help. I saw an old woman walking below and screamed, “SORTIE SI’L VOUS PLAIT! SORTIE????” She looked up at me without expression and crossed the street.

I remember I had braided my hair into two long braids. I shivered in my cotton dress as I found a road with an arrow that pointed to the crematorium. There was no way I was going to sleep on top of someone’s grave even if that person was Oscar Wilde or some other notable dead person. As I began to mount the small hill, I saw three dogs at its peak coming faster into focus as they ran straight for me barking in a language that needs no translation. Behind the dogs, to my relief, two guards approached and held me captive in the office, questioning me about my reason for being in the cemetery. I gave a false name and was sent on my way.

When I saw Mimi, I was retelling this night to the man who owned the café across from the hotel as I comfortably sipped my espresso. I found him handsome and was thrilled to have a reason to speak with him about anything other than how many tourists I had pulled into the Hotel de Belfort. His laughter came to a halt as he spied Mimi entering his sweet little restaurant. He yelled aggressively. She quickly stepped back out of his establishment and paced outside, looking angry and shamed. She stared at me through the café’s window. She look disappointed, nearly disgusted with me. I waved at her to wait and threw my francs on the table and left without saying goodbye to the man who at that moment became ugly to me.

I bought Mimi a slice of pain de gene from the local bakery. As we walked back to the hotel, she told me that she was not allowed in any of the local cafés because she was sick. She was from Bosnia, and her family was sent to a concentration camp and as far as she knew dead. She escaped the Serbs and was sent to a refuge camp where she met a boy. They fell in love. He turned out to be a heroin addict infecting her with HIV before leaving her for another girl.

She paused at the hotel’s entrance, looking uncomfortable. I asked her if she would let me buy her coffee from the machine so we could eat our cake together in the lobby. She agreed and we did just that, quietly. I did not tell her about my own heartache or my father’s death. I did not tell her about my sister’s fresh diagnosis of schizophrenia or my recent onset of panic attacks. We just ate cake together while Mohammed glared at me until the phone would ring, “Bonjour Hotel de Belfort.”

The next day I worked the front desk so Mohammed could leave to buy his kosher salami at a market in Bastille. An older man entered the hotel dressed in a sharp white suit, shiny white leather shoes and a white felt hat donning an off-white feather. He asked for Mimi. His voice was deep and powerful. I found myself sitting more upright and enunciating any word that fell out of my mouth. I called up to Mimi’s room where she answered rather quickly. I told her there was a man here to see her. She asked me to escort him up to her door. I looked at him approvingly, “Right this way…” I came out from behind the desk wearing white shorts and sandals. He smirked and asked me if I was from California. Surprised, I told him I was impressed that he figured me out so quickly. He said as he followed me up the narrow stairs that he knew from the minute he saw my legs. I blushed and quickly ascended the four flights of stairs. I stopped at room 414, giving it a small knock. Mimi answered the door in a simple dress, freshly showered with only the smallest hint of mascara and lip salve. It was then that I realized that she was barely twenty years old. I would never see her look that pretty again. Mimi hugged me like an old friend. She turned and introduced me to her uncle. He took my left hand and commented on my lack of a wedding ring before he kissed the back of my palm. I was cordial but left quickly, making an excuse about the phones.

Later that afternoon on my return from Gare Du Nord, I found Mimi sitting on a folding chair outside my backhouse. She had her armor of makeup, leather and fishnets to ward off the world. She seemed anxious. Her skinny legs crossed, her foot twitched. She had a beer and a pack of Lucky Strikes for me. I told her I was a little tired and maybe we could hang out another time. But she was insistent and wanted to talk about her uncle. He lived on a yacht docked on the Seine. He was in the Bosnian mafia and wanted to invite me to his yacht for dinner. I laughed and told her I wasn’t going to dinner with her mafia uncle. She argued that it was perfectly innocent and that it would be a gourmet meal. This conversation lasted for a good thirty minutes before Mimi conceded. She said she would give me half of the money he was willing to pay her for my company. I looked at her straight and quipped, ” Do you really think I am that stupid?” Mimi looked weak. She held her arm as if it were in a sling. She told me how she feared disappointing him and that she had promised him she would get me there for dinner. She held out her hand that gripped a wad of francs and tried to force it on me. “He wants you to buy a dress!” I stood up abruptly and let the francs fall to the concrete. I didn’t look back to see Mimi hunched over collecting the money, the beer and the cigarettes as I shut my backdoor and wished for a lock.

12 responses to “1994. Paris. 11th Arrondissement. Hotel de Belfort. Part 2.”

  1. trixie says:

    julie, this story is so interesting!
    really enjoyed part two.
    fascinating. more please.

  2. What trixie said.

    Was the way you felt scared in the cemetery different from the way you felt scared when you had panic attacks?

  3. julie says:

    modesto kid…your question really made me think …you know they were similar except the panic attacks were scarier because i wasn’t in control.

  4. Jane says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with the above comments. I was absolutely riveted while reading this, and I can’t wait to hear what else you’ve got to say.

  5. LP says:

    This is fantastic. Please keep ’em coming.

    I love the image of the old woman simply walking by as you scream in terror from the locked graveyard. Wow!

  6. Jeremy says:

    There was no way I was going to sleep on top of someone’s grave even if that person was Oscar Wilde or some other notable dead person.

    Wow, why not? You could’ve been all, at least I can blog about it…

  7. Kate the Great says:

    Whew. Chilling.

  8. julie says:

    in those days a blog was a noise you made while puking.

  9. Marleyfan says:

    Thanks for sharing. What a captivating story. For a moment, I did think it was her uncle (shows how naive I can be).
    If it’s not too personal, I’d love to hear about your sister. I work regularly with mental illness,and understand how difficult it can be on the family…

  10. blair says:

    Hi Julie…loved getting a glimpse of your Paris life. You made the deadline! Keep ’em coming. great read.

  11. Missy says:

    Plus, Oscar Wilde’s grave is REALLY tall. It would be hard to sleep on top of it. But safe from the guard dogs . . .

    Seriously, though, this is completely engrossing. Looking forward to the next installment.

  12. Cheryl says:

    You’re very good at describing people and places. Please oh please don’t make us wait a long time for part 3!