That’s when I trip over a piece of driftwood. Or something. It’s long and narrow and half buried. I stumble in the sand and hit my head on it. It gives a little, but it does hurt.
I put my hand to my forehead, shake my head, open my eyes. And there I am lying on the steps of the Jardin des Plantes in the bright Sunday afternoon. Joseph is leaning over me. “Are you ok?” he says. He helps me up. I manage to stand, but I feel pretty wobbly. This yanking back and forth between time makes me feel sort of airsick. Which when you think about it, is pretty logical.
“I need to sit down,” I say. “I’m—“
“Thirsty, he finishes, holding on to my arm as I sway. “The heat.”
I’ll say this much for Joseph – all that Peace Corps work he has done has taught him how to “Deal “with a Situation.” He propels me efficiently out of the Jardin and towards the nearest café, where — as luck would have it — a table under an umbrella has just become free. I collapse gratefully into a chair.
“Du Thé?” asks the waiter. He must have heard us speaking English and concludes that it is teatime – which it would be. If we were Brits.
“God no,” I say. Both Joseph and the waiter look at me quizzically.
“Un Orangina, s’il vous plait,” I try to amend things, but adding “Il fait si chaud!” The waiter nods but is clearly unimpressed by my American exclamation. The trademark bottle comes and I pour some into the glass and put the bottle to my forehead. I start to close my eyes but then I open them. Wide. I am a little afraid that if I shut them, I’ll end up back at the beach. Something hurts. I look down. The bishop outfit is gone thank goodness, and I have my shorts back on. But I have skinned my knee, and the skin is all crinkled up around the angry pink flesh. I must have done that when I fell. The skin inside inside my knees where the side of the kneecap meets the thigh — red and chafed.
So, this is real?
“You need a Band-Aid or something,” Joseph says. We sit. I drink. What just happened? I wonder. I am beginning to think it was some weird overheated fantasy – although it sure was vivid.
“You know, it’s weird,” he says. I’m not sure. I’m just tired. I take a swig of the Orangina.
“What’s weird, Joseph?” I say. He’s really kind of an irritating person.
“For a minute in the Jardin,” he pauses. “I didn’t see you any more. I thought you’d like gone to a different part of the garden. And then suddenly –“ He waves his hands like a magician doing a magic trick. “Abracadabra –there you were on the ground right in front of me.”
“You know, Joseph,” I say taking another drink. “I think I’d just like to forget about this afternoon.”
We are quiet for a while. Joseph orders an espresso, and drinks it.
“Say” says Joseph. “Were you wearing that fancy ring this morning?” I look at my hand. The bishop’s ring is still on my finger. Crap. So, I think, is this like Lord of the Rings ring thing where the ring has magic powers and does stuff and makes me travel the realities? I look at it more closely. It’s old. No stone. With a weird face carved on it.
Joseph bends over the table, squinting. “Can I see it?” I wonder if I’ll fall through yet another rabbit time warp hole, so I take another swig of Orangina before removing the damned thing. I take it off. Nothing happens.
“Here,” I say. “Maybe –don’t put it on, though.”
Joseph holds it in his palm. “Huh,” he says. “Weird.” With the Orangina, I’m beginning to feel better, a bit more like myself. I want to go back to my place in the historic part of town and climb the 4 flights of stairs to my little garret apartment, put on a band-aid and lie down and read a book.
“What’s weird?” I say, after I signal to the waiter for the bill.
“It doesn’t even have a coat of arms on it – you know for like a signature or a seal.”
“Oh,” I say. Honestly, this guy.
“Where’d you get it?” Joseph persists.
“I found it,” I tell him. Which is sort of true. Then I say goodbye and get on the bus back downtown.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” he says. I shrug and the bus doors close. Joseph turns and starts heading towards the university dorms up the hill.
Good to get away from him and the Jardin des Plantes.
The bus is mobbed with families all dressed up in their Sunday best. We pass Catholic Church after church on the bus. More families get on. I try to move out of the way of a woman.
“Excusez-moi,” I say. She squeezes past me and starts talking about foreigners and how they are ruining the city.
Not again with this.
“Madame, “ I interrupt, “I understand every word that you are saying.”
“Tiens,” she says looking up at me. “Chantalle Marie, look at how this big foreign thing speaks French.”
Once again, no one laughs. The passengers just sort of glare at me. Someone in the back mutters something that sounds rude. Another voice says “or maybe she’s something worse.” Although it’s still hot and my knee hurts, I get off the bus 4 stops early because I just don’t like the energy that was coming off of those people.
I walk home. Go up the stairs. It’s cool in the garret. These old stone buildings are great that way. I press myself into my tiny bathroom. I wedge open the medicine cabinet and take out the Band-Aids. I put one on my knee. I walk out into the kitchen and start heating up some water. I take out my tea bags. Not chamomile thank God. I look at the tea box. Thé des Lavages – the tea of cleansings. Well it sure tastes good. Cheap. The kettle boils. I pour water over the teabag in its cup and I sit. I realize I don’t know much about the history of Montpellier. I have class tomorrow at the university. I’ll ask someone there.
As I sip a quote from something comes to me: Whoever doesn’t remember is forced to repeat. Was it Freud who said that?
I think about the pissed off bishop in my time travel hallucination which apparently was real. Catholics were really mad already in 17th Century Montpellier. Can a whole city not remember something and be forced to repeat it? What is there — what was there — to be so mad about? I lie down on my single bed in my little bedroom. I fall asleep.
In my dream, Christine is there in her ninja outfit. “There are many wars,” she says. “Many sides to this struggle.” The face on my bishop’s ring begins to move, like the face is trying to break out of the gold.
“Rabbi” says Christine. “How can we help you break free?”
to be continued