There in the Countryside Many Miles Away
by a contributor
When I found the postcard from Remy beneath my bed I immediately wrote him at the return address. Mama immediately questioned my judgment.
“He doesn’t live in Paris,” she said as she reached for her coffee from behind her morning read. “He might still be out on the ranch, there in the hills.”
“Yes, near Bordeaux,” I replied. “That’s where he wrote the postcards from.” My mother lowered her book to the table and looked me in the eye.
“That was nearly ten years ago, Andre. Since before your father passed. He won’t recognize you even if you do manage to track him down.”
“Papa loved him,” I reasoned. “So do you, ma. Remy is blood.” But she wasn’t looking at me anymore. Her gaze was elsewhere, unfocused and lost outside the kitchen window. We were quiet for a while after that.
I left for France the next day.
I tried to picture my uncle as the airplane lurched into Charles de Gaulle. Remy. I was still too young to make sense of everything when we last visited him, back when Papa was still youthful and Mama could still smile. She says he was my father’s rock after the war, the one he talked about most after coming back stateside. Remy the brother, Remy the sly lady-killer and Remy the antihero were all characters in so many of the stories I was told as a young one, stories Mama will still romanticize today after a bottle or two of Italian table wine. “Out bullshit any bullshitter,” she’ll say. “Sweet talk high-society out of its drawers.”
I hitched from the airport to Gare du Nord and made it with a few hours to kill before the train to Bordeaux. From the shadows of a little commuter café I could see out into the station where the neat rows of tracks stretched out toward daylight, each occupied by an idle train waiting to wind out of Paris and off into Europe: Amsterdam via Brussels; Vienna via Munich; Londonpigeons came and went more frequently than the trains, descending from the rafters to flap their clumsy wings and skirmish over the scraps that the day’s many travelers had left behind on the concrete platforms. I nearly stepped on a few when I finally boarded for Bordeaux.
Daylight was waning by the time my train reached the origin of Remy’s correspondence and the destination of my own. It was one of those listless places with a long name that starts in the back of the throat and ends beautifully; a place where you always seem to arrive late in the move from afternoon to evening, the streetlamps flickering on and the thunderstorm creeping in.
They’re funny those moments when your mother’s wisdom comes full circle and slaps you upside the head but you’re too far away to let her know—those moments when you’re standing at a nondescript train station in a place where everybody knows everybody but you and the few francs in your pocket have you reflecting on whatever the hell you were thinking when you chose to hop a plane and a train and venture to this corner of the world. I would have liked to tell Mama right then that she was right, that I was dreaming when I got the idea to reconnect what was left of our stateside kindred with what was left of Remy and his after all those years that had passed since the writing I found under my bed was postmarked.
I shouldered my bag and walked into the station hoping to find a bus into town or a word about lodging. I made it as far as the café there, its tables empty save for a lone man sitting at the window in front of a bottle of beer, tilting his paper toward the window for light to read by. When I took a seat not far away the man put down his paper and looked at me cockeyed. “Avez-vous écrit cette lettre, mon ami?” I didn’t follow. I looked for a waiter. I wanted a drink. The man stood up and walked to my table. “Andre?” he said with a gesture toward the paper in his hand. I looked at my handwriting there in his hand, then back to him. “Come,” he said. “You look just like your mother.”
Anthony Martin (@pen_tight) studies professional writing at San Diego State University, writes computer mumbo jumbo for the layman, and remains a hopeless, mixed-breed Slavophile.