Solange bade to Allen with a flick of her wrist, beckoning him from the abysmal plains of his own melancholic making.
Since the death of his wife and daughter, he yearned to end the cycle of his self-perpetuated, suffocating solitude; however, despite his devouring desire to see the sparks of passion and feel the warmth of life in his wife’s embrace, Allen’s stubborn solipsism situated a despair he could never drink enough to quench and an abrasive, callous exterior destined to freeze in the frigid vacuum of loneliness.
Chattering among themselves, Solange took the paying American to her quarters. Her firm, athletic body felt smooth in Allen’s large, rough hands.
Lavender, chocolate and wine flooded Allen’s nostrils.
Solange closed the door behind her. “C’est mon salle. My room, Monsieur Alain,” she said, winking. Allen stared at the beauty mark below her left dimple. Her slender face and rosy cheeks sparkled in the hazy candlelight.
Allen followed suit, dropped his clothes and crawled under the covers. She giggled and stroked his hair. “So, even after all z’is time, you ‘ave not said why are here. Here in Paris,” Solange said, nonchalantly.
“Long story,” he replied. In the nude, they both stared at one another as they shared silent, relaxing breaths and faded into the moment. Solange’s hand traced Allen’s forearm, then elbow and finally shoulder. Allen blushed and grinned. Despite his eagerness, his eyes watered and his presence radiated a sadness Solange couldn’t find herself capable of comprehending. “If it’s all the same to you, madame muah zelle, I’d like to lay here and not do anything. I’ll pay for the entire next week.”
Solange squirmed and felt uneasy. Sure she was a sex worker, but she didn’t consider herself a thief. “Tu sais… You know, Je suis capable de sympathie… er, capable of le sympathie, Monsieur,” she whispered, fingering the keloids and hypertrophic scars on his hairy chest and defined ribs. Her glance darted away from his eyes. “Malade… sick?” she asked, tracing a series of raised ridges on his sternum.
“No, no. Nothing like that,” Allen replied, scratching his beard. “It’s, eh, well, I, uh – er – I mean… It’s nothing. Just some bruises that left behind their mark, you see. Nothin’ serious or to be concerned about, moine cherry. I am an archeologist and sometimes dig sites fall,” he said, aware of Solange’s confusion. “Like, poof and boom, and then ahhh,” he clarified, making an explosion gesture with his hands and raising his pitch.
“Oui oui. Je comprends. Mon père, my father, was also le miner. It’s not ze same, mais I understand,” Solange whispered, leaning in to kiss the interesting stranger. Allen pulled away. She caressed his face, confused, but patient and even more intrigued. “Ce que l’on ne dit pas, dit tout. Parfois… The things one does not say, says all. Sometimes; ‘owever, if you feel ze desire to tell, je t’entendrai.” The clock struck midnight and the candles flickered. “When I was a little girl, my mo’zer was une private femme de la nuit, or lady of the night, as you say. Many may not z’ink so, but I think la prostitution is more about ze thérapie than les ébats sexuels.”
“Interesting, darlin’,” Allen replied, placing his hand on Solange’s thigh. He hadn’t felt a woman in years, despite the overwhelming desire to do so. He wasn’t even sure if his arrow could still fire, let alone stand firm. At least, not until Solange gripped him with her delicate hand. He laid still as she stroked his manhood and kissed him as only a French woman could.
Overwhelmed, he tensed, exhaled and finished in her palm.
After cleaning him up, Solange pressed her naked body against his and wrapped Allen’s arm over her exposed waist. A tear rolled down Solange’s face for Allen’s sake. Allen could feel her silent sobs in the darkness. “My wife,” he said, then paused. “My wife and daughter died a few years ago. In ’87. We were on the train to go visit family and there was an accident.”
Solange stayed quiet. Her citrus-scented, smooth back pressed into Allen’s torso. He inhaled the sensual aroma of her silky hair, still feeling Solange’s silent, erratic breaths. There was a long pause. She could feel Allen thinking and weeping with tearless sorrow.
“You ever read Mary Shelly?” Allen asked.
“Oui. Ze Frankenstein. C’est tres popular in France,”
Allen tried to speak, but words didn’t escape his lips. The chasm of his pain cracked open with a torrent of tragic trepidation.
“My daughter. My little girl. She-she-she… there was nothing I could do. Then-then, I found my wife under the rubble, and–and–“
Solange turned to Allen and cried with him. They embraced through the downpour of their weeping.
“I couldn’t do anything for either one of them. Then, my colleague… my best friend… our entire team… They…” Allen mutter, shivering against the dirty mattress in the dingy hotel room.
“C’est bon, mon amour. C’est d’accord!” Solange exclaimed, clinging to Allen. “I am your médaillon. Tell me every’z’ing and I will, keep it tight in my heart for you.”
“All I had left was my work and my team, then Soren Petrie, my friend, heard about what should have been groundbreaking discovery. We–we were warned, but didn’t listen… The excavation. It went south…” Allen responded, sighing.
“Comment? How?” Solange asked, trying her best to understand Allen between his drunken rambling and sobbing.
“A cave in,” he clarified, regaining his composure. “I was pinned under a cave in for two weeks with no food and no water. Everyone else died. I watched it happen. I see their faces when I close my eyes,” Allen revealed, wiping his face. Solange sensed Allen’s reluctance to say more and waited. “What brings me to France, specifically Paris, is my colleague’s remaining family member — his uncle and renowned archeologist, Flinders Petrie… I have written him almost twice per month for the past few years with no response. I’ve detailed where we were and everything that happened. I thought that if I went to London in person, I’d find him, but all I got was word that he was here, in Paris, between digs. I have not yet mustered the courage to see him at the University of Paris,” Allen admitted.
“Pourquoi?” Solange asked, like a professional counselor. The couple sat up in bed. Solange rested her head on Allen’s chest.
Allen stared at himself in the large mirror on a long dresser. “I don’t know why.”
“Z’en, you must face yourself as quick as possible. Le longer you ‘esitate z’en zee more dificil it will be. You must see le Monsieur Petrie. I z’ink you should go to see him très vite. Tomorrow, even.” Solange reached for a clandestine Pinot Noir in side table. The two continued talking and drinking into the early hours until, excited by his newfound sense of strength, Allen finally made a move. He had passionate sex for the first time in years.
The year is 1894.
Awakening from another night of heavy drinking and celebration at Le Galerie des machines (officially Palais des machines), Allen stumbles to his feet.
He looks around disoriented and nauseous, until his vision stops blurring.
Accompanied by a cacophony of birds and chattering, the late morning sun welcomes him to the infamous Hôtel de Matignon’s lavish back courtyard. “At least I made it back to the Faubourg,” he declares to himself in a low, slightly inebriated whisper with no recollection of how or when he returned. “Monseiur,” a maid says, bowing as he crosses a wall of vibrant bushes. She looks at Allen’s stained, silk robe and giggles. A lip imprint on his neck draws her eyes and she giggles a little harder. “You are très libre d’esprit, non?” she asks, winking and trying to go on about her duties without being awkward. Étrangers and les nobles never cease to fascinate in their debauchery.
“Uh, um, er, I mean, wee, wee, my dam. Bone sure. Mercy boogie and all that. Uh, bo seins, mon cherry. Joe may’apple Allen. Too merci bo,” Allen says, whiskey wafting from his crusty, dehydrated lips. He grins, struggling to keep the sun out of his eyes.
“Oui, monseiur Gwinneford, I know ‘zis. You tell me much times. Why, in fact, even a few hours ago when you arrive here and sleep on ‘ze – how you say – le pavement, monsieur,” the maid declares, blushing. Allen and the maid force smiles and gawk at each other in silence.
After a few seconds, she genuflects and scrambles away while Allen takes in the site of her hips swaying.
He chuckles to himself and licks his lips. “Mercy boogie, take my wee wee, hoo hoo,” he mutters to himself, shielding his nudity from passersby as he walks into the royal hotel.
Crossing the grandiose main hall, bowing clumsily at the staff, Allen makes his way to his room.
Sunlight through the Matignon’s large, ornate windows illuminates his otherwise tidy space.
He checks his pocket watch and shrugs. Allen hops into the bath and does some much needed grooming, then departs for L’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres.
Allen walks through the immaculate stone and marble Parisian building, inquiring where he can find a man named Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Feeling bad at his broken French and clear hangover, a professor walks him outside of an office with several words Allen doesn’t understand. He takes a deep breath and stares at the figures moving beyond the wooden door’s stained-glass window. He reaches for the doorknob, then hesitates until finally pausing. His knees quiver and he swallows hard, then sighs. Allen fights himself to open the door. It opens from the other side before he can do anything. A man smiles and shoves past Allen, bowing as he balances a sack filled with books. “Mr. Petri,” Allen says, nervous.
“Manners will you, it’s Sir William, dear boy. We mustn’t forget we are in a place of knowledge. Titles precede our names and secede our legacies,” Sir William announces with his back turned. He leans against a section of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf surrounding his office and replaces books without looking at Allen. “I am a rather busy man and I leave for Jerusalem tomorrow. Please state your business,” he says, refusing to turn around.
“I’ve written you for months, sir,” Allen reveals, his hands bending and twisting a sturdy journal. “If this is a bad time…” Allen says, losing his nerve, his voice trailing into the chasm of his doubts and fears. He has a sudden flashback of monstrous face and takes another deep breath. He blinks and stands tall. “In Jerusalem, I-I was the only survivor. My friend and colleague, Mr–“
Sir William clears his throat. He turns around and eyes the brooding yankee before him. “American,” he mutters, unapologetic and spiteful.
A moment of tense silence creeps into the room, seeping in from every gap in the door, suffocating the two men.
Sir William cuts the tension with a furrow-browed scowl.
He scoffs at Allen.
“Mr. Gwinneford, I presume,” he says, eyes slanted and mouth curled downward. His dense gray and black beard emphasizes his disdain. “One letter a month. One blasted letter each and every single month since my most ambitious mentee met his end, if I recall. While I appreciate that you came all this way, I must admit that you did so of your own volition and I owe you nothing. Neither the air escaping my aging lungs nor the time of day. Now, please go, before I lose my temper. Mark me, I will ruin your reputation, Mr. Gwinneford. Tarnish it! Ruin it! Tarry it through the mud! I will! I will… I will…,” Sir William hunches over his desk and wipes his face.
He clears his throat, sniffling as he keeps the tears from breaching his eyelids and becoming noticeable. He shakes his head and sighs again. “Leave, now,” he says, low and angry.
“Mister, I mean, Sir… I just wan-“
“Now! Leave, now!” Sir William shouts, interrupting Allen. His pale face turns red and swells. Veins bulge over his forehead. He slams his fist on his desk, then points at the door.
Allen frowns. Crestfallen and defeated, he shuffles out of the room and shuts the door behind him in limp, lifeless motion.
He meanders through Paris, clutching the final memento of his friends and life as an explorer. Eventually, Allen enters a bar. After a few drinks, a familiar man approaches him. “Hey, hey, it’s you,” Allen shouts, lighting up a cigarette. “What now?” he asks, wobbling side to side from his inebriation.
“Holy shit. Still here, Aldguin? Thought you’d be settin’ sail, ya damn yank! What’s going on?” a short, pale man asks, scratching his large bulbous nose. He pats his bald spot. “Ferry crosses the Channel tomorrow, pal. You know that right?”
Allen mutters. After a blurry night filled with debauchery, women laughing and things that are best left to the imagination, Allen once again awakens on the back lawn of the Hôtel de Matignon. Up before the sunrise, he scrambles to his room, grabs his things and hops the vessel crossing the English Channel. From London, he boards a boat back to Boston, returning to the sad, lonely life awaiting him since the Forest Hills disaster.
His wife and daughter both died on Monday, March 14, 1887. Though it wasn’t Allen’s first, or last, brush with death, it was his most memorable. He was the only uninjured survivor and swore a creature pulled him out of the rubble. Since then, he’s suspected something in him changed, at least until one of the hairless creatures in the recesses of the Knavilian pyramid treated him as a cat would human. In his fear, Allen was caught in a cave in and discovered he was immortal.
The wind blew, shaking the trees and rustling the branches. The shutters on Allen’s windows tapped against his brick home. The grief he avoided always seemed to slither into the room during these moments. Allen paced around his large, empty house, chugging his whiskey and strumming his old-fashioned guitar. When he got too drunk, he played billiards with himself, except tonight. This somber, spooky evening, Allen made his way to a local tavern.
“Ay, Mr. Explorer Man, welcome back,” Ernie says from behind the bar. “Saved your spot.”
“Thanks, Ernie,” he says, leaning on the counter and staring at the pattern of the wood. “Usual.”
Ernie looks at his bar hand and shakes his head. “Water,” he mouths, inaudible to Allen. His bar hand nods and fills a glass with ice water. Ernie walks around the bar and sits next to Allen. He pats Allen’s back. “Look, kid, if you need someone to talk to, that’s one thing. This stuff you got going on, I don’t know what it is. I’m still not sure why you left for London a few months ago, or why you’re back so soon. I’m not sure I want to know. I can’t imagine losing your wife and daughter, then getting stuck in Arabia somewhere. You’s can’t continue like this, capeesh,” he says, tossing his bar towel over his shoulder. Ernie rolls his unfurling sleeve back up. “It’s been almost 8 years, Al. A lot of girls want a crack at the brave adventurer from Boston. You gotta get back out there.”
Allen mutters incoherently and sips his water. “I know, Pal, I know,” Ernie says in response to Allen’s choppy, drunken gibberish. “Wanna tell me about it?” Ernie asks, certain he won’t understand anyway. “…The journal… didn’t take it. Sir William didn’t,” Allen struggles to spit out. He adjusts himself as the room spins.
Unbeknownst to Allen, he didn’t have to give Sir William the journal. From Allen’s notes, the famous archeologist extrapolated the location and layout of the Knavilian pyramid. Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie‘s (or Flinders Petrie as he was known) lack of response the preceding years were due to the Tel-el-Amarna excavation. He had no way of receiving his letters until arriving in Britain.
By the time Sir William finally read all of Allen’s letters he was on his way to Paris. Sir William was drafting a lengthy response to Allen without ever expecting to see him in person. The book he was searching for contained the letter he never sent to Allen, expressing his deepest sympathies and a long-winded message about how proud his mentee, and nephew, had made him. Upon seeing Allen however he was overwhelmed with emotion for his deceased nephew and the ordeal Allen experienced. Instead of handing Allen the letter and explaining how he had planned to settle in Jerusalem after his final dig in order to find his nephew’s body, Sir William thought it best to send Allen away with the remaining journal. No memento can replace his nephew or compensate for his corpse rotting in a forgotten catacomb. Unfortunately, Sir William never found his nephew. He died July 28, 1942, while on the other side of the world in Lower East Manhattan, Aldguin was riding his motorcycle by the Hudson humming Autumn in New York. His guitar was strung on his back as the breeze parted his hair.
Late Summer in 1985, Aldguin watches “Cheers” reruns in his socks while sipping a smoky Jameson on the rocks. He stares at his best friend’s tattered journal and sighs to himself. “I’ll be setting sail for the stars soon, old friend. Another excavation into god knows where. But, that’s why this happened, right?” he mutters aloud, rubbing a pair of small, soft feet.
“What’s that, Al?” a slender redhead woman asks, tugging the blanket.
“Nothing, Kathy,” Aldguin says, patting her leg. “Just talking to myself.”