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, 8 My brother was taller than I was. AndhespokemuchbetterFrench. I noticed both these things once I was on the boat and settled between two buxomgrandmothers.Otherwisetheresemblancewasunmistakable.Thatwas why the whole line of Poles had been staring at me on the quay. Now I heard the grandmothers whispering, heard siostra, which I took for the Polish word for sister, maybe modified by the Polish word for twin. La Sirène had a crew of two. The captain, an older Frenchman, started the engine.Mybrotherunloopedtheheavylinesfromthequayandtossedthemon board before jumping on himself. He was taller than I was by a good six inches. Close to five eleven, I guessed. He looked tall and thin in worn blue jeans and a long blue sweater the color of his eyes and mine. I also noticed he, unlike me, moved like Mosjoukine. Spontaneous—jumping up and over the bow without seeming to notice he was moving—and effortlessly graceful. His boat shoes made white blurs as they arched through the air. Then he switched on the microphone and started the tour. “Hello, good morning, my lovely fellow sailors,” he began in French. Then he paused and said his greetings again in Polish, or maybe it was Russian mixed with a little Polish, smiling at the grandmothers so warmly I could see them all around me preen a little, blush, coo. “I am your guide for this trip through time and across Paris, up the historic Canal St-Martin. My name is Ilya Desnos and . . .” Ilya. Ilya and Vera. “We will be together three hours this morning, making our way the length of the canal, through all thirteen locks, until we reach the basin at La Villette, 69 where you will have time to stroll and visit the gardens at the Parc de la Villette , then all of you—well, nearly all,” he glanced at me as he added this, “have ticketsfortheCitédesSciencesetdel’Industriethisafternoon,andyourtripto the museum will be followed by a performance at the Cité de la Musique.” Ilya waved a hand toward the bow as the captain maneuvered La Sirène through the narrowopeningofthecanal.“Nowwestepbackintime.Weareabargemaking our way from the Seine to La Villette when it was the busiest port in France and the slaughterhouse for all of Paris.” Again, he repeated himself in what seemed to be a working melange of Slavic languages, to judge by the whispered questionsthatwentthroughthegrandmotherswhenhefinishedwithhistranslation and the delayed laughs his jokes often got. They hung on every word. Ilya’s mouth had the tight corners I noticed around my mouth in the picture taken at my naturalization, although his, through years of French, had firmed into thin, deep lines that set off his frequent smiles for the grandmothers like parentheses. We moved toward the iron mouth of the canal, that meeting of nature—the Seine—andartifice—the canal’s first lock. TheCanalSt-Martinwasreadyforus, opening even for such a slight cargo as one mixed-up American, two Frenchmen , and twenty Poles. We entered the first lock and sat at the bottom of what seemed like an empty concrete swimming pool as the metal gates swung shut behind us. The water began to rise, taking us with it. We inched very slowly up the concrete walls. When we reached the top, another man jumped in the boat, a young African with a shaved head and large gold earrings. “My regrets,” he said to Ilya, apologizing for being late. “I was helping my cousin.” Whenthelockwasfull,thegatesaheadopened.TheAfricanhelpedIlyauntie the lines that had held the boat steady, kept it from bouncing against the sides of the lock. The wind at our back off the river suddenly felt chill. It had taken a good fifteen minutes to rise from one level of the canal to the next. Thirteen locks, my brother had said. It was so odd watching him, half like looking at myself, half like staring at a totalstranger.Someofthegesturesweresofamiliar.There, hestoodlisteningto a question with one hand open as if to catch a ball, as if to let the words gather in his palm like rain from heaven. My daughter had teased me about that one. “Crazy Momma,” she said to me, “you think you can hear with your hand.” 70 Others reminded me painfully more of her. The way my brother tilted his head first to one side, then to the other, if one of the grandmothers asked a question he didn’t quite understand. The puzzled dog look, my husband had called that one, when our daughter listened to our instructions—clean your room...


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