Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum’s short story, “Revision,” appears in the Summer 2019 Issue of MQR.
The rest of Paris is still asleep when they leave the hotel. Outside, Ilse loops a scarf around her neck against the cold and upturns the collar of her coat. It is January, the day before her sixty-fourth birthday, and the air is damp and chill and still liquid blue with night. No one’s lights are on in the apartments lining the street, the faded shutters all closed behind the iron grilles of the upper floor balconies, and the curtains drawn across the windows of the lower floors. Ilse hurries to tug on the hat she’d stuffed into her bag, to tuck the fringe of the scarf into the flaps of her coat, careful to watch her footing on the cobblestones and to sidestep the French refuse—wet receipt paper and cigarette butts wind-washed in clusters toward the gutters, the occasional pile of frozen dog shit. “Hold on,” she says to the man she’s traveling with—Joel—who is a few paces ahead.“You’re walking so fast. We won’t miss it. God knows, everybody sane is still in bed.” He turns, and a look she hasn’t seen on a man since the last years of her marriage crosses his face. I’m weary, she remembers her ex-husband saying when she questioned this expression in the months before their divorce. I’m just weary. But of course that was always a lie. Fatigue, she’s come to understand, is not the same as regret.
They pass another block of apartments, a row of darkened shops— Fermé the signs all say. The streets are empty of everything but a parked motor scooter here or there, leaning at the usual petulant angle toward the sidewalk; a knotted plastic sack of someone’s dinner trash; an orange cat cupped into the stone elbow of a bookstore’s vestibule, fur puffed against the weather. Thirty years ago, when she was first here with her husband and two young children, they’d come in the summer—June—so that Otto could teach a study abroad course, and the city then was a lush racket of color. The pale blue and pink and gold ornamental bric-a-brac of Belle Époque architecture. Stoops cluttered with terra cotta pots spilling herbs. Window box gardens bursting geraniums the startling florescent red of she-didn’t-know- what. It was all exactly as she’d envisioned Paris since she’d first wanted to go as a sixteen-year-old sitting in a high school French class.
This trip, however, has been a series of disillusionments. How she’d never imagined that winter must come here, too—that Paris must go naked and gray in January, just like home—she has no idea, but there it is. The chill and the ice-edged fog and this low, smoke-blue sky of near-dawn are shocks, shadows, when she arrived expecting light (and, god, doesn’t she always?)…
Purchase MQR 58:3 or consider a one-year subscription to read more. Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum’s short story, “Revision,” appears in the Summer 2019 Issue of MQR.