The trip had been postponed for seventeen years. That was how Laurie always thought of it—as merely a postponement, never a cancellation. Matters of life kept springing up like nasty carnival moles demanding to be whacked: there were protracted deaths, seasonal colds, trips to the veterinarian for the Russian Blues.
The trip to Paris was meant as an eighth-grade graduation gift for her niece, Paulette, who at the time had been a slight girl in braces with feathered hair and high-waist jeans. Now Paulette was thirty, although she lived at home and had never traveled, so the trip would still be an orientation of sorts. Laurie had imagined it differently with a young girl, of course: she would dress her, selecting scarves and showing her how to tie them in European styles. She would teach her basic French, and introduce her to her first tastes of Burgundy.
The thirty-year-old Paulette was scheduled to arrive at Laurie's apartment in San Francisco within the hour and Laurie had not quite put things in order. There had been other priorities preparing for the trip. This was Paris, after all. She had needed at least two new silk blouses and had decided to invest in a fresh pair of black pants, as she'd suddenly noticed her favorite pair were threadbare in the rear. Normally, Laurie preferred polyester blouses to silk for the ease of maintenance, but this occasion called for something finer. Silk proved to be considerably more expensive than she recalled, but she managed to find a couple suitable options at the resale shop down the street. They were not exactly the Kenzo prints she had envisioned, but they would do.
Her niece was spending only one night in the apartment before they departed the next morning for Paris. Laurie had never been much of a cleaning lady—mistresses didn't generally need to be— but she had managed to straighten up. Now, she was rushing through the apartment, from bathroom to kitchen to living room, wiping every surface she could find with a rag that had been [End Page 32] soaked in Pine Sol and water. If nothing else, the place would smell clean.
She had recovered her large suitcase from the back of the closet the night before, and had found it smoke stained, the lining brittle and ripped. She had spritzed the interior with Shalimar before putting her clothes inside. The carry-on was in decent shape, but the cats—Lola and Neko—were nesting nose-to-tail inside. They had come running when they heard the enticing sound of a zipper. If only she could pack them and bring them aboard. If only they were the kind of cats who would tolerate a leash. Of course, she probably wouldn't have liked them very much if they were that sort, but it would have been charming to walk through the streets of the 18th arrondissement flanked on each side by a royal silver-blue feline. That would make a fetching book cover for her autobiography, she thought. She would be wearing a polka-dot blouse and white slacks, and perhaps a little hat with just an inch of hair peeking out under the brim. She had not yet titled the autobiography. The final name would reveal itself to her, she thought, when she had finally written it. Most recently she had been considering The Paris of the Perfect Feeling, a line from the aids memoir Borrowed Time. The author had been a Francophile, like Laurie, and had nursed a dying lover. Of course, with aids it had been considerably more dreadful than what she'd had to endure. Yet she'd always believed she would have made an excellent gay man. She was envious of her brother in that way. They'd been mixed up at birth. Oh she, she would have had fun: the parties, the men, the forbidden loves. She was the one who had settled in San Francisco, after all, the most European of American cities. Her brother, on the other hand, was meant to be the cat lady.
She didn't know Paulette well...