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Once Well By Roger Knoebber

Sun 12/29/19


once-well.jpg

This is a short story written by my grandfather. I am digitizing it for the first time.


Copyright©Roger Knoebber 1994 Paris, France

My frogs hurt.

We hooved beings have, at the base of the hoof, roughly corresponding to your heel, a plangent pod of tender flesh called a 'frog'. On cloven hooves, like mine, the frog is recessed in the cleft.

My frogs were pinched and sore because my hooves were unnaturally encased in tight, binding shoes which didn't yield the clefts their natural spread. A parallel agony for you might be the simultaneous bunions and blisters.

I stoically accepted the discomfort as I looked up at the sky. It was patchy gray cement, overcast; the small rain spit intermittently that day I approached the museum seeking some casual distractions from the earthly experience. Being from down below and just recently up from the underground, I was naturally discomforted by the fresh cool climate and sought succor in a dry warm place. Nothing on earth, though, not even the tropics can compare with Hell for climate if you ask me. There are some charming environments on earth, to be sure: Benares, India, Bayonne, New Jersey, Olanga Po, in the Philippines, Mexico City, to name a few hellish places, but nothing like Hell itself. Admittedly, I speak with the prejudice of a native; nevertheless, Hell is one hell of a place. I'm a devil. You probably gathered that. Not The Devil, mind you, just a devil trying to do what needs to be done to guarantee a medium of discordance and insecurity for you souls on earth - you who are caught between Heaven and Hell.

There are quite a few of us devils and we do most of Satan's detail work. Just about all of it these days, in fact. Oh, He will surface now and then to oversee an ax murder, a terrorist poisoning, something like that; but such manifestations are essentially a matter of form so that he may demonstrate technique. We small case devils are rather petty minions in the hierarchy of Hell; yet, Who would argue that the world would be as it is without us? I mean there is almost too for Him to do already, what with dividing his administrative expertise between war, famine, pestilence, and death. Such things take considerable coordination, not to mention all your basic holocausts, genocides, things like that. Then there is the whole field of natural disasters - typhoons, earthquakes, floods and fires - well, you read the papers - the Boss is a busy fellow. Me, I'm just a minion. I do try to bring a certain quality of style and dignity, elan, if you will, to my work. Just for the hell of it, you could say. As I noted above, the sky was nice and gloomy, but its pleasing aspect didn't dispel the discomfort of the unaccustomed chill. My horn tips were feeling a touch brittle (they are very sensitive) and my tail was glad to be inside my trousers. My poor cloven hooves argued unceasingly with their unaccustomed shoes.

I had no use of the toilet, of course, but I thought to look in since it is so near the entrance of the museum. Perhaps a commode needed plugging or I could scatter some towels, at least create some tasteless graffiti. The devil's work is never done and such trivial chores keep things complicated in your increasingly prosaic world. Such moods come over me spontaneously and I truly believe we devils need a general return to compulsive chaos as standard. The other devils, especially the new ones seem so ambitious these days! Seems like everyone wants his own Jim Jones, Jack the Ripper, or Rasputin or Idi Amin to play Pygmalion with. I'm not knocking such achievements, mind you, but let's not lose sight of the little guy - after all, he's what it's all about, isn't he? The small things, dogshit, broken zippers, lost wallets, flat tires - those are the things that truly undermine the illusions of security and contentment. Give the people a tidal wave or a surprise eruption from a volcano thought to be dormant and they will likely as not call it an 'act of god'. Talk about cheapshots and appropriating credit! Disgusting. I do concede that some of the contemporary fields of devilish enterprise are provocative and stimulating. Namely, acid rain, forced defoliation with its attendant food chain snafus, and it goes without saying, the entire field of nuclear application. Ah! Sweet science! I'm more of a hands-on maintenance man myself, but I have great respect for our technocrat devils. Still, they shouldn't forget their roots. A day never passes that I don't find a working payphone to break or jam at least. It's no trouble to carry a pocket knife and a tube of epoxy for such little chores. I can't believe be everywhere at once, can I? Well, this is turning into a polemic and I want to tell what happened at the Ponpidou Museum in Paris on that gray, gray day. Such mischief! Such confusion! Such a devilish piece of work!

As I stepped into the toilet, my attention was drawn immediately to a young main in his late teens or early twenties. He was gripping his left wrist with his right hand as he stood over a wash basin. With him in this most sexually segregated of places was a young lady of approximately the same age.

the basic elements for an amusing guile of deviltry were instantly registered; I had only to digest the scenario in order to choose the most efficacious course of action. when the basic order of things is slightly akilter, it's a green light and full speed ahead for us devils.

The girl was weeping rather theatrical (I thought) crocodile tears. The young man presented a hang dog anguished sort of aspect as he contemplated his left wrist. Said wrist yielded a faint trickle of blood. Obviously a half-hearted attempt at self-destruction.

The young man had a swastika earring. He sported a safety pin in his right nostril. A tattoo cartoon on the base of his neck depicted an asp entwined about a rose. He was clad in a potpourri of denim, leather and cotton, all suitably torn and dirty in just the right places. He wore great jackboots polished to a mirror finish. In short, the young gentlemen was demonstrating his attitude, pose and costume that he was totally alienated from society and therefore, a worthy candidate for sympathy.

The girl showed similar sartorial inclinations. Her essence was, however, more style than substance.

I digress here to not that suicide interests me professionally. Because it is the quickest, most expeditious route to Hell. It tends to eliminate all the lingering moral and casuistical concerns which precipitate the endless humanistic waffling that characterizes surface life for you denizens of the planet. As a matter of fact, Satan himself things so highly of suicides that they come under immediate consideration for transmogrification into devils. The overwhelming majority of us were suicides, something in the order of seventy two percent, though I don't have access to the precise statistics. I stuck my head in the oven, myself. If I had it to do over, I would choose self-immolation, knowing what I know now. Blame it on the propinquity of my youth. I must tell you about the day I took the gas! Again I drift - verbosity has continually bedeviled my writing as garrulity as made lumpy my conversational efforts. My communications seem to labor with density and incoherent meandering. Actually, that's why I took the gas so long ago … Oh! There I go again!

You can now easily understand why the evidence of the young man's pathetic attempt keened interest. His cut was feeble, just barely breaking the skin, yet he was making the most of his present histrionic opportunities over the wash basin.

The girl, so out of place there in our male sanctuary of urinals, pleaded with the young man through her theatrical veil of tears.

'Why? Why did you do this?'

It was apparent that the two were barely casual and probably chance acquaintances, perhaps drawn together by their similar attire with its tacit assumption of kindred spirits.

I imagined the young man, the spoiled suicide, the alienated one, whining and muttering each morning as he psyched up yet another debauched version of himself: 'Oh, the unbearable weight of it all, thrust into a world I never wanted and shall never understand', and on and on. You know how they are, these post-adolescent deadbeats, perennial as dandelions in the springtime and they go to seed just as predictably.

The young man responded to the girls inquiry.

'I want to die because my girlfriend doesn't love me anymore.'

This pithy interrogation and its reply would have ordinarily rendered me apoplectic with uncontrollable laughter, yet restraint in time of crisis is one of my virtues. They are different than your ideas of virtues, no doubt, but the whine suits the vessel.

Since I was a perforce a performer in this psychodrama of the latrine, I took my cue without aid of a prompter. I entered the at stage right, interpolated my presence and insinuated myself into the scenario. Our little theater of tiles, porcelain and faulty plumbing made for an intimate proscenium, which was unnecessary by architectural definition, for the public had ready access, like an Elizabethan theater in the round.

Sadly, neither of my co-players thought to announce my arrival with a hearty, 'Hark! Who cometh new?', so I was forced to ad-lib my entry, very unShakespearen.

'What's going on here?'

No response to my ridiculous banality, so I continued.

'Tried suicide, eh? Well, you will never get the job done that way! What did you use? A piece of glass? A bottle cap perhaps? That will never do! You have just barely scratched the surface!'

At my words, the protagonists regarded me with loathing looks as if I was interrupting some unspeakably intimate nuance of melancholic mood which culminated in a sublime sacrificial rite at the alter of Hippiedom. They glowered at me as one, suggesting my departure. No such luck, for the spirit of the scene was upon me. I continued,

'Also, you have cut too close to the hand itself. You want to operate up here …'

I demonstrated.

'…about halfway between the heel of the hand and the elbow! And for God's sake get the proper tool! There is a pharmacy just across the way. Get yourself a razor blade! Are you broke? I have some change.'

'Say you …'

The girl tried to interrupt me.

'…whad do you …'

Naturally, I didn't care to concede the momentum of my remarks at this critical juncture, so I continued, oblivious to her clumsy sputtering.

'If you are going to do it, then do it properly. "Done once well is done forever", I always say! Are you right handed?'

The candidate nodded assent.

'Well, then! Get a razor. Cut the right forearm with the left hand where I showed you. Cut deep! Don't fool around! Quickly transfer the razor to the right hand and server the left forearm likewise. It will be all over in for or five minutes. I'll stand by in case some feckless would-be samaritan with emergency medical training tries to intrude with a tourniquet or some such nonsense.'

'But, …uh, I…'

I never let him get started, for the loquacity of previously mentioned was upon me; certainly I didn't want the thrust of my remarks to lapse.

'Actually, for slashed wrists, no has improved on the ancient Romans, at least to my knowledge. What they did, and what many thoughtful people continue to do to this day was immerse themselves in a hot tub of water and then slash the femoral or pulmonary artery. The water temperature, you see, approximates body temperature and you can't event feel the vital fluids draining. Said to be absolutely painless. Nobody ever decreed that suicide should hurt! Also, I add, such a technique is very tidy! Whoever discovers your old used shell simply pulls the plug and the liquid mess gravity feeds into the sewer. Tidiness, though, I perceive is not one of your principal concerns, judging by your attire and general presentation! I'm sure you appreciate my notice of that!'

'Look, mister, whoever you are …'

That would-be suicide fruitlessly attempted to attenuate my flow of remarks. Not a change. I strode on in my unabashed and pedantic fashion.

'But the Roman bath, of course, is out of the question. We must meet the mood of moment, mustn't we? You can, however, consider some other techniques. I wish someone had been on hand to advise me at my time! I took the gas. Perhaps I'll tell you about it sometime! Self-immolation, for example, never occurred to me. A liter of gasoline and a match and it's all over. The best thing, though, is that you don't burn to death at all! You asphyxiate! You attempt respiration for the final time and - surprise! - the intense head has consumed all the available oxygen!'

I paused here to punctuate my rhetoric with silence. Grace notes. The harsh hygienic light reflected on the tiles and stainless steel of the men's room. Water mysteriously hissed and gurgled in the various apparatus. An endless towel on a circular roll hung limp and soiled from its container.

'Look here, mister, whoever you are, this is none of your business at all!'

The girl suddenly recovered here voice if no her animation.

'On the contrary, it's exactly my business! Why, the young fellow might even be a candidate, one of us!'

'Who are you?'

'That's not important right now. What is important is that he effect this movement with dispatch and hopefully in a efficacious fashion! New, as I was saying, the slashing is time tested and a reliable old standby! But, think; is it really what you want? Oh, you will get sympathy and attention, all right, but precious little. I mean, the pure logistical limitations of the toilet here preclude the number of witnesses during and after the act. The pool of blood will be start; it will stand out in pleasing relief against the floor tiles - rather appropriate for a museum, I should think! I guarantee your show will outshine some of the modernist painters hung upstairs! But again, I ask - is it really what you want? It's a one-shot deal, you know! Done once well is done forever, I always say!'

The young man furrowed his brow. He cocked his head in an insolent, sluggish fashion. Perhaps he was a little drunk or drugged, maybe both. His pupils were dilated and the sweat had started on his forehead. His scrutiny of me indicated undivided attention. I recognized the silent signal immediately.

The prospect was ready to close on. In my temporal existence, I had been a salesman. Sold everything: tangibles, intangibles, direct, indirect, outside, inside; books, automobiles; insurance, fuller brushes, clothing, you name it and a I probably peddled it or something very similar to it. I was successful because I was what is known in the trade as a 'good closer'. I had an intuitive sense, almost a divination of the precise amount to mount my final assault on the prospective customer's desire, or frequently, greed. Time correctly, this final assault would generate whatever selfish motivation was necessary to exchange my product for the client's money. One strikes while the iron is hot.

Now that the young fellow was paying close attention to my remarks, I really hit my stride.

'Let's give this job the real care and consideration it deserves. It is evident that your half-hearted slashing attempt is a lackluster failure. The Roman bath is out too, because it involves some premeditation which I think is inconsistent with your personality. The same goes for immolation. I can see that fire doesn't interest you right now - it will later, mark my works! Further, immolation involves getting a container of gasoline, selecting a new site, all sorts of tedious details. What you want it spontaneity! I mean right now! "Do it to it!", as Gary Gilmore said.'

My 'customer', the candidate was on full alert now. Time to close the sale! I decided to confuse his obviously minimal intellectual sensibilities with yet another tempting alternative and then 'suggest' the technique I thought was most appropriate; the old bait and switch routine. Take a bow, L. Ron Hubbard, wherever you are!

A man entered, paying us no attention owing to the urgency of his mission. Addressing the urinal, he undid his trousers and baptized the bowl with a drop of spit simultaneously. He pissed, perceptively sighed with relief and re-buttoned his trousers. He paused as if to bathe his hands, then registered our little scenario at the was basin and decided to forget his hands this time. He left.

While the idea of Gary Gilmore was still reverberating in the prospects consciousness, predictably slow to arrive, I continued the thrust of my remarks.

'Now, my friend, I remind you that the river Seine is just a short walk away. The banks have been built up in such a way as to guarantee a swift undertow; the current is most powerful. There are numerous bridges suitable for the final leap. However …

(Here I grinned for dramatic effect.)

'… this drowning business is usually a nocturnal procedure with few witnesses. You simply disrobe, perhaps leave a note and dive into the eternal watery abyss. A very solitary procedure and frankly, I don't think it is really you.'

'Well, uh, what is me?'

Hearing this, I was aglow with confidence. It seemed I had a sale! All that remained was to put the pen in his hand indicate that dotted line, figuratively speaking, of course. All that Faustian 'contract with Devil' stuff went out in the sixteenth century. Besides, oral contracts are binding in my line of work, particularly so when backed with a down payment, or earnest money' as I prefer to call it; admittedly another figure of speech, but, after all, adroit use of language is the lubricant that keeps the business machine running smoothly. The right word here and there relieves friction on the bearings, keeps things in good operating order.

I paused to let the dynamics of his last question, 'What is me?' sink in. The girl looked at him with no small amount of incredulity. She seemed to have been struck dumb; perhaps a characteristic of the species in time of crisis.

'I'm so glad you asked! I'm happier still to have a couple of viable alternatives to suggest! I'm sure, with due consideration that we can make a uh, final selection which will please you as well as your public. Hopefully, we can baffle your survivors too! That's quite important. You want to leave a lot of loose ends, you see. It will galvanize the guilt so that it lingers among your 'loved ones', especially your ex-girlfriend! A good self termination should provide speculative fodder for the next three generations at least.'

The candidate nodded as if hypnotized. He seemed to be perceiving himself in a hitherto unknown dimension. It was the moment to offer the bait.

'Have you thought of the Metro? There is a subway station just one minute's walk from here and it is probably crowded at this hour. A captive audience, don't you see? Nothing to it all as far as technique goes! It's the method of choice in Moscow! Ideally, you wait in the center of the platform where the first class cars stop. When the trains come, you simply hurl yourself in front of it and the impact will do the job instantly. Of course, you want to try to align your body and time your leap so that the train wheels will pass over your used carcass after the act. That guarantees that the vital organs will be obliterated, thereby permitting the subsequent hemorrhage to free flow. Figure on five to size liters of blood. It'll be all over the place! Service will be shutdown immediately on that line, causing great consternation and inconvenience to the hundreds, no thousands of commuters before and after your station! No trains for forty minutes or so, at least!. Marvelous! The prospective riders keep pouring into the stations up and down the line - a mind boggling bottleneck! Everybody will be frustrated, angry and confused at once! There will be lots of inadvertent umbrella jabbing - there's a light rainfall, you see? You have everything going for you, my man! The pickpockets will have a field day! I myself will be down there helping out where I can! But the best part is yet t o come. Your body is still under the train, you see! The curious mob is rubbernecking to beat the band! Rumors fly! Was he pushed? Did he jump off or did he fall? Talk about attention! Man, you are it! The cops are milling around seeking witnesses, trying to maintain order. The train engineer stands, ashen faced, morose; he was your unwilling accomplice. He will be able to drink for a week on the story! Now comes the big moment - I call it the Unveiling! They must move the train, of course, to get at your corpse. Naturally the authorities deem it as wise and prudent thing to disembark all the passengers before this Unveiling. Don't forget that this is Paris - with the Parisians, form is everything! No one wants to be on that rain as it rolls to and fro over your old used you again! The evacuated subway train slowly passes over the inert, lifeless you like a drum roll! there is silence by the mass mutual consent until your body is revealed in all its useless glory. Now the chatter really starts; it is punctuated by intermittent screams. The crowds get dangerously close to the edge of the platform, eager for a peek! They must be quick voyeurs, for the cops are almost immediately on your unrecyclable container with a piece of plastic vinyl cloth. The paramedic might try his stethoscope on you. An empty gesture, but a crowd pleaser and I like it! As I say, the French are great students of form! Along these lines, May I congratulate you, young man, or your choice of venue? I don't know or even care where you are from, but you had the good sense to come to Paris for your uh, denoument! A practical and tasteful selection! Well done!'

I paused to smile at him with admiration. He stuttered out the most amazing thing

'Why, why thank you, sir.'

'Sir', he called me. My faint praise really seemed to warm him. A little attention and sympathy seems to go a long way toward manipulating these punks. I demurred his gratitude.

'Oh, it's nothing!'

His eager expression said he was hungry for more talk of himself in my projected scenario, so I decided right then are there to serve up the last of the bait with a great, thick, gravied dollop of attention potential. Garnish the bait and then apply the old switcharoo. He didn't know it yet, but he was headed for a career, albeit brief, in aviation.

'Now, I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that thousands and thousands of people will be aware of your subway suicide. Even on a big news day, such an action of yours will be on the front page of every daily in the city. But that is nothing compared to word-of-mouth! Money can't buy you that sort of sympathy and attention! I remind you that in addition to the thousand or so people in your station, there will be thousands more up and down the line affected directly by your initiative! Each one of these persons will report the day's extraordinary happening to at least one friend or acquaintance. The number of people aware of your action will thus increase exponentially as in a geometric progression! Really, sort of a communications miracle!

Predictably, the boy and girl found their voices again.

'Hey! Wait a minute. I don't think…'

'Really, if you …'

They simultaneously sputtered and spouted. Thinks couldn't have gone better if I had put the words in their mouths myself. They refused the bait to take the hook! They naively thought that with their feeble utterances that they were asserting themselves; that misconception means that they would seize almost any alternative. Now that's salemanship! In my days as a clothing salesman, I don't know how many men I shied away from respectable wool business suits in favor of a really obnoxious shadow plaids and seedy tweeds with similar techniques. My boss was always amazed at my ability to move aged merchandise, and he awarded me bonuses accordingly. 'How did you sell that dreck? It's been on the rack for five years!', he would say. The same general approach worked with the aviator-to-be. I'm on hellion of a closer! Finish the job! Tie the knots! Done once well is done forever, I always say!

Outside the rain had slowed to reluctant drizzle; blue sky blossomed where the wind erased the clouds. Freshly washed, the museum's hypermodern style of architecture re-asserted itself in the cityscape. Some people refer to the Center Pompidou as the 'the inside-out' building since many of the structural elements and most of the necessary utility pipes, ducts and vents are exposed on the exterior, etched against venerable old Paris in bright, arresting primary colors. The buildings of steel, glass and aluminum with its skeleton painted red, yellow, blue and white, counterpoints the timeless store and slate durability of the surrounding edifices in a fey, lighthearted fashion.

In the large open space adjoining the museum there were the usual dozens of performers and artists. The performers are of many callings from a multitude of nations. Here are Nigerian dancers, Italians mimes, Moroccan acrobats, American jugglers, Gypsy fire-eaters, Swiss bell ringers, Peruvians flutists, French Tarot readers, Japanese silhouette cutters, various purveyors of jewelry and leather goods, plus sketchers and caricaturists from five continents. There artists and performers with their skills of varying quality entertain hundreds and hundreds of visitors ot the Center Pompidou each day. The large space welcomes at all daylight hours and well in the evening vast crowds of tourists, onlookers and loiterers. The area surrounding the museum is one of the most popular places in Paris to while away free time. There is an air of orderly anarchy about the place. In addition to the variety of music, one constantly hears the joyous bubble of laughter and the thankful sound of heartfelt applause. The variety of nationalities, languages and native costumes; the square swarms with humanity.

The experience is an assault on the senses. In such surroundings, for example, I, in my bright orange trousers, pagoda red blazer and cerise shirt attracted no particular attention whatsoever. The wretched shoes tortured my poor aching hooves and caused me to walk like a chicken, yet even my stilted movements in my fire-like costume didn't seem to distract from the robust social turmoil that prevailed in and around the museum. The scene simply swallows one. It's a bit like a masquerade party so well contrived that the guests naturally assume their costumed identity. The mask is the man. With the context of social unity knit by the particular environment of the center of Pompidou, the verbal exchange between me, the suicidal young man and the girl in the men's toilet seemed entirely congruous.

It is gratuitous to refer to our triadic confrontation in the latrine as a 'verbal exchange' or 'conversation' since I was doing ninety nine percent of the talking and they were reduced to mere expostulations such as the preceding false starts. Indeed, the simultaneous rush of expletives to the respective mouths of the girl and the young man, the candidate, had the effect of tying their tongues. Try as they might, they were momentarily inarticulate and neither one could utter a recognizable sentence. It was as if a spell has been cast on them, a mute enchantment. Perhaps there were somewhat mesmerized my by detailed scenario of a subway suicide.

I proffered the hook as a naked challenge.

'No guts, eh?'

No response.

'You are afraid of life and afraid to change it. Very sad.

You are afraid, aren't you?'

He muttered; his eyes were downcast.

'I'm not afraid … it's just that …' 'It's just that_ I painted the picture a little too clearly for you, isn't it "just like that"?'

I spat out the foregoing in cold mockery.

His eyes opened wide. The pupils centered in manic symmetry. Incandescence flickered in the irises like halogen in a vacuum glass erb.

He was silent, acquiescent. I took his elbow firmly in my hand and guided him the twenty steps or so to the glass doors of the museum where we could see the frenzied animation on the plaza. The girl followed, silent as a shadow. We paused. I regarded his keystone, the pineal gland right between the eyes with my most devilishly intense gaze. He was suitably transfixed.

Enunciating with dedicated precious and clarity, I pronounced, rather, personified the hook.,

'Your girl friend doesn't love you any more. She is probably out there with someone else this very moment. You didn't like life much. You can't do anything right. You can't slash your wrists and you jump in front of a train. What in Hell do you want?'

The last simple sentence so galvanized my challenge, the hook, that the candidate's eyes opened even wider; their pregnant convexity was starting.

'What-in-Hell-do-you-want_?'

Repetition is an invaluable aid in such circumstances; I enunciated the above again with more intense volume, on the bring of a shot.

'I want to die. I want out of this, this…'

Again, words failed him.

I imposed my face just centimeters from his. I knew he could feel the heat of my breath. I like to think that he could smell the brimstone. In a passionate stage whisper I hissed with dedicated clarity.

'Take the elevator up to the top floor of this building and jump of the balcony. I dare you.'

He spoke slowly, evenly.

'I'll do it.'

Then with positive conviction, he repeated his resolve in a shot to the world.

'I'LL DO IT!'

The girl, no quite alarmed, uttered her concerned protest with an unnatural stretch of the simplest negative.

'NOOOoooooo'

The young man's eyes' bubbled outward in their manic intensity, like eggwhites in a hot skillet. He pushed the girl away with a heave bettered by adrenaline; she stumbled three meters before falling.

'I'LL DOOooo IT!'

The candidate was off with a bound toward an elevator just disgorging the last of its descending passengers; his final declaration seemed to linger.

The girl keened gain as she regained her feet.

'NoooO! NOOOoooooo!'

She gaped at me with an open mouth; her despising glance spoke volumes of disgust and loathing. She continued her ineffectual bleat as she pursued the young man to the elevator which he had already entered.

'NOOOOO! NOOOOOO! NOOOOOoooooo!'

The elevator quickly filled and the accordion doors closed just as the girl was a few steps away.

'Nooo! No! No!'

She pleaded her negative plea as she beat her fists against the elevator door in a futile tattoo of frustration. An attendant spoke some words to here. She turned impulsively and ran outside, still screaming.

'NOOOooo! POLICE! POLICE!'

Outside, the rain had stopped completely. The clouds evaporated, were washed and blotted away by the mild spring wind. The sun appeared, a fickle tease, full of warm bright promise.

The creaming girl hardly raised an eyebrow in the maelstrom of humanity surging around the jugglers, singers, drummers and dancers in the plaza. A young woman berserk or hysterical was not particular remarkable or even surprising in that hoi-polloi.

I ambled outside as well, with as much grace of motion as my shoes would permit. I went all the way across the courtyard to a freshly warmed place where the recently damp stone wall gave off subtle wreath of fog from the contact of the sunshine. The vapors were mildly reminiscent of exhaust smoke from the fires down below; I was homesick and sentimental for a moment. My horn tips, carefully concealed under my orange hair, thankfully gave up their brittleness to the sun's welcome warm rays. There I stood and registered the scene before me. The general revelry was intensified with the reappearance of the sun; people squinted and made smiling faces as the involuntarily acknowledged the solar warmth.

I raised my gaze to the summit of the museum. As I peripherally gathered the surrounding rooftops, I perceived over and behind the museum, the beckoning, shimmering mirage of an elegant multi-hued rainbow. It seemed to embrace all Paris in its glorious arc. Those of us who were looking up at the rainbow appreciating its fragile beauty infected others with our simple delight; quickly, by her instinct, practically every head in the plaza was upturned, sharing the sublime splendor of the moment. Even most of the performers ceased their efforts momentary upstaged by the challenging competition of a spectacular rainbow.

As we collectively appreciated the rainbow, my visual attention strayed to the fifth floor balcony where I recognized a familiar figure. It was my candidate!

He had emerged to the outside balcony. His hands gripped the waist high rail and he was looking down. All he could perceive, no doubt, was a sea of faces looking up. He was, of course, unable to see the rainbow and assumed, apparently, that he was the object of crowds rapt attention. He straightened somewhat and assumed an almost military posture. Manic hysteria evidently confused his understanding; even now, he was being upstaged by a mere rainbow, as were performers five levels below. He surveyed the scene like a field marshal at a troop review. He acknowledged the ocean of uplifted faces. Then, he spotted me, in my flame-colored costume. He have me a halting, then enthusiastic wave once he was sure we had achieved mutual recognition. I waved back, integrating the familiar body language with the most encouraging motions I could muster at the moment. Even at that distance, I could sense the fullness of the event for him; the hundred of people looking up ostensibly at him with undivided attention; his satisfaction at intending to meet my personal challenge. Our empathy was extraordinary.

Suddenly, with feline grace that surprised me for its alacrity, he vaulted the iron rail and came to rest on an extruded steel girder. He paused there momentarily, just long enough to flex legs and position his wight for the following motion which he executed like a gymnast. Just as suddenly, he was on a ledge - it couldn't have been more that twenty centimeters wide - his hands seized a duct pipe and he pasted himself to the building, his back to the square, five floors above ground.

His staccato exercise could not escape the attention of the rainbow gazers below. As the face of the event dawned on them, they began to speak, to point to draw one anothers attention. there was a flush of general communication and instantly every head in the vicinity of the Center Pompidou was coked upward contemplating the candidate clinging to the museum in the arc of the rainbow.

Slowly, the candidate turned, half-rotated on the girder in his inaccessible aperture. As he moved, the crowd noises became muffled, then hushed completely. Having made his turn, the candidate then had his back to the wall. His hands gripped the fragile duct pipe now behind him. His shoes protruded slightly over the minimal ledge on which his precarious balance depended.

Above and behind him, oblivious to his vision, the girl reappeared with two gendarmes who immediately cleared the balcony area of spectators. The three commend speaking, shouting and waving to the candidate who was impervious to their entreaties as he was logistically inaccessible to their rescue. Several more gendarmes appeared as well as a pair of official looking men in business suits and a man in dark attire whose white collar identified him as a cleric.

'Scene stealers from central casting', I though, 'have they no shame?'

Save an occasional horn sounding or an automobile accelerating in an adjacent neighborhood, one didn't head a sound even remotely attributable to a human. It was as if the immediate area had fallen under an enchantment of silence. Business ceased in the cafes as the waiters and their customers looked up, up. Forgotten was strolling, promenading, even lazy loitering as the hundred of people in the plaza and on abutting streets looked up, up. Shopkeepers blocked their own entryways; they stood in the portals, looking up, up, at the man on the wall.

Frozen and immobile in his minimal frame, the candidate looked down, down. He freed his left hand and made a slight, barely perceptible wave in my direction. I waggled my finders back up at him. Almost as a response, he then released his right hand grip on the duct pipe behind him and leaned ever so slightly outward.

Above him and to his right, I saw a gendarme fixing a rope to the balcony rail. The cleric shouted to the young man; his obviously ineffectual words were lost to us in the plaza below, five stories beneath. I'm sure the candidate was involuntarily deaf to such entreaties by that time anyway.

Then he leaned just a fraction more outward. As it became apparent to his rapt audience that he had willfully imbalanced himself, there exhaled from the plaza a great mass gasp, like silence italicized.

In an immeasurable instant, he lofted himself free of the ledge. In that instant, he became a starlike object, a quasar suspend on an Einsteinian edge between space and time. He froze in the crowd's collective perception sure as a snapshot.

The then the law of gravity reaffirmed itself. He plummeted prone, head first. His arms and legs were spread out wide and his body seemed to turn slightly like a reluctant pinwheel on a torpid summer day. As his decent accelerated, the crowd below sent up a great tremulous involuntary ululation. There was scattered screaming. There were oaths. Parents hid their children's face.s Some people looked away.

He collided against the paving stones with a thud that was unique and indescribable.

Done forever.

the morbidly curious rushed to the point of impact. A tremendous confusion of verbiage relieved the tense anticipatory silence of the previous moment. The outpouring of spontaneous reaction and comment was punctuated by the abrasive urgency of a police van's klaxon. The van, its brilliant blue strobe flashing in the sunshine, barged through the crowd toward the inert bundle of flesh, leather, denim and cotton on the gray granite paving stones.

As you might well imagine, I was rather excited. Indeed, it would be the most false of modesties for me not to acknowledge here that I was quite full of myself. Call it hubris. Pride is, after all, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. There is, just a stone's toss from the Centor Pompidou, on the rue Saint-Martin, a church name L'eglise Saint-Merri. This church is unique, at least to my knowledge, in that it is evidently dedicated to the Devil. When you are in Paris, go there and look for the peak of the arch above the main entryway. You will see a stone carving of Old Nick himself. L'eglise Saint-Merri seemed just the place to contemplate my pride and perhaps take the nagging shoes off to relieve the pinching on my frogs.


Roger Knoebber, Paris, 1994

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