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the blue and white UN banner stood lifeless and untenanted. I walked on. The farther I got from the blaze of La


Grand-Place, with everyone behind walls by then and the cars all parked, the quieter the streets. A ratty dog vanished quickly into an alleyway when it saw me. I liked being in those back streets late at night, but that night I felt lost; not lost as would mean not knowing where I was—I knew where—but in that no one else knew. I’d walked off my alcohol bien des fois before along Rue de la Paille. The trouble was, at that point, the closer I got to Madame Bouet’s building, the more lost I became. I climbed the stairs. On entering the


dark, stuffy apartment, I immediately regained my bearings. I switched on the ceiling light, its fan blades unturning, and for the first time since


“Then the voice was urging me to hold my violin up ‘nice and tall’ . . .”


living there, I picked up the receiver, thinking I’d splurge on a call to Kyle Gethin, a close friend Stateside. Astrid had mentioned nothing about phone bills. . . . No wonder: the line was dead. No wonder no one ever called there. At once I recognized the obvious: Astrid herself had only recently moved in. I lived in a place people abandoned before they were ever really there. I switched the light back off when I heard


my next-door neighbor’s—Madame Bouet’s— door opening. Her broken ears couldn’t have


33


detected my homecoming, but she knew I was there. She knew I was by the intuition God gives the elderly. I never escaped her knowing. At the bank of windows at the end of the


room, I quietly opened one and looked out at the streetlamps and treetops and down at the ghostly pathways that sidewalks become at night, the cool air on my face. Bathed in a dimly greenish glow, I lit a Gaulois Bleu. The whiskey, the night, and the novelty of the French cigarettes made for an unworldly effect. When my landlady’s hinges whined again,


I tapped off the Bleu ash and kept my gaze out the window, but I was listening. With the lid of her coffin closed for the night, her fleshless fingers worked the locks—first the bolt, then the chain. My dread of solitude came back on me; for what is another’s loneliness but our own in disguise? Then something else clicked, a hushed pop as happens in rooms, a door-frame or joist settling. I resisted turning around to look for the woman not there, but I snapped the glowing ember into the night and turned anyway. The felt presence hovered in the room, a thing less than breathing, a spirit both haunting and haunted by me. While the frequency on which the lady


spoke, that of a faraway station, came in clearer at that hour, most people would have heard nothing. I too had trouble lifting her phrases free of the night’s white noise, especially with the open window. But the question, “Why don’t you listen to yourself when you play?” arose, plus something about my sounding like “a man down a well” when I got lazy. Then the voice was urging me to hold my violin up “nice and


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