John has been staring at the Eiffel Tower for over six hours. He watches it through a haze of irredecant dust. When he drops his focus it could be mistaken for snow in Paris. It is not a stretch for John's imagination to see the Eiffel Tower, his studio apartment is wall papered in the image from every vantage point and in every state of decay yellowing and curling in the thick Texas sun. John's day nurse has been instructed to speak only in French, which she does with amazing enthusiasm and little skill. His only entertainment is watching the course hairs of her upper lip vibrate as her voice reaches vibrant falsetto.
John has been staring out the window covering his son put up three years ago, a vinyl see through print put up over the cracking glass to shade his eyes from the pissing vagrants and exposed brick walls. The vinyl had peeled, the entire right corner of the tower had been lost in the curl. The Parisian decorating theme was a sick joke of his son's. Which one has been lost to the side of memory or apathy.
John is eighty five. He has four children who look the way he remembers looking when he first thought he was old. They visit him in shifts, his two daughters, his two sons. They always dress nicely for their visits. He wishes they wouldn't. They remind him of how they looked at his Juiliette's funeral.
John's children speak over him in somber hushed tones. He does not often listen. He usually watches the Eiffel Tower, He tries to tune back in when he hears his name or words like group care or long term solution. He tries to pay attention when they speak about him.
To be fair to his serious, somber, sensible children no one is truly certain when John is listening. He will go days without averting his gaze. He has not spoken aloud for longer then his brood has dared to admit. John has tubes that feed him, pisses for him, and a day nurse who mispronounces French. His doctor thinks it could be dementia or depression. At John's age is is either to hard to tell or not worth the effort. Dementia or depression, John does not correct them.
His children are storytellers and liars. They mix up the story, their story, always hitting the wrong notes of history. By the time he formulates the truth it is too late. When his mind has connected to his jaw and lips have broken through dried spittle he finds himself alone. Only the hulking nurse would be sitting in the corner watching one of those soap operas, her upper lip hairs grazing the television screen.
John's daughter has come again. The youngest, the forty five year old baby. The sentimental one. The one who crawled relentlessly into his lap, the one who got knocked up at sixteen and insisted on a white wedding five years later. She was the one who would tell him his story, their story, Juliette and his story every time she came. She never got it right. He met Juliette at the banks of the Seine nothing so common as the Eiffel Tower. When John still spoke he told his son the story. Told his son that he should know they all should know and get it right. After all it was the story that was the start of them all. His son laughed. The next day the first posters of the Eiffel Tower appeared. John wasn't sure he understood the joke but he did appreciate the effort.
At least one of his children still thought of him as a person, with their mouse steps and gray whispers. John wonders if the know they are old.
The youngest still rushes to his side and grabs his hand. "remember when you first saw her. When you saw mama by the tower. The Eiffel Tower? Remember she wore a green skirt. Same green as her eyes. You said you knew. You just knew." Her voice fills with two divorces and a lifetime of waiting for a moment.
He had known shit in those days. The only thing he had known were things you do not tell daughters, not even when they are in their forties. He did not know that day by the Seine. The day he had been reading a book and the girl with the fly away red skirt and dangerous eyes passed him, grabbing his book. The spoke in broken pantomimed English and French. They married. They had four children. He knew non of this when he first saw her. He had no idea that fifty three years later he would be lying on a bed with a tube up his dick that she would have been gone for over fifteen years and that he would be alone listening to his daughter's inability to get some simple facts right. "She was beautiful. She was beautiful and you just knew." Her eyes were misting, John knew this without looking. She leaned and kisses his forehead, let go of his hand, and was gone. John misses her touch when she is gone.
His youngest fell into the mythologies of the family. His older daughter does not speak much when she comes. She was alway tall, lean, and slow in her movements. She would wander through the room reaching, fluffing, and sorting all in slow purposeful time. She would only speak when she did when she brought her son. The one with eyes sharp and dull all at once, the one deep in the middle of apathetic adolescents. The boy would sit in the far corner of the room sizing him up. No doubt thinking through all the eventualities of his life that would keep him from ever letting go of being young. Mapping his life so he never ended up in a bed listening to the hopeless drivel of well meaning relatives. John would laugh but is would sound to much like a cough. His oldest never mentions Paris. She would shake her head at the peeling window covering. She would sigh but never remove it. He knew her visits would be pronounced with her long fingers trailing over his forehead.
John's sons were of a different sort and difficult for him to distinguish. They did not touch, him each other, the walls. They would often come together standing shoulder to shoulder, two sides of himself. One of them had started the Eiffel Tower joke but John could never remember which. John thinks it's the one who hired the faux french maid though he doesn't know which one is responsible for that.
The younger one is in finance. Big sums of money named things that had only seemed like theory to John changed hands under his son's watch. He had no idea what the other did. The conversation the brother's share axis around stocks and grumbles about child support. The two of them loved a good joke. When they were young they would switch their mother's English tapes for Hendricks or the Doors. He could still her Juliette swearing in french on their driveway.
His children were storytellers and tricksters. His boys would come in one broad shoulder with an inch of space between them and ask how Paris was today. They would bring him croissants in oily crinkled bags. This was before the tubes. Before spit sealed his lips.
The last time the four of them gathered with soft voices the youngest said in her slight drawl "I bet he thinks he's in Paris." Her eyes must be bright darting from sibling to sibling "It's good. He's where he met mama. Where he was the happiest." John smiled. He felt no need to correct them.
Story and photo By Monica Michelle