Love in the Time of American Airlines
by Lauren Oyler
It was, in fact, just like a movie. Thirty-six hours after having what he believed to be a life-affirming epiphany, Manny had purchased an appropriately expensive last-minute flight to Charles de Gaulle; dug his passport out from under a pile of Taco Bell wrappers in the floor of his car; and packed a duffel bag with two identical pairs of black jeans, four pairs of underwear, and a rain coat. Even when he received what less idealistic individuals would consider an ominous seating assignment between a mouth breather and a mother traveling alone with her teething baby, he didn’t have any reservations about what he’d decided to do. He’d spent six years with Adela. He wasn’t about to let them go to waste.
Throughout the journey, the mouth breather wheezed a rhythmic soundtrack to Manny’s fantasies, which he superimposed onto the soundless romantic comedy playing on the screen in front of him. He had teased Adela’s Parisian address out of one of their friends, and he kept reaching into the pocket of his jeans to make sure the receipt he’d written it on was still there. He imagined himself walking purposefully out of the Métro station, not stopping to admire the iconic Art Nouveau signage or think the phrase “Gay Paree!” He would somehow know exactly which direction Adela’s apartment—flat—was in, and he would traverse the distance quickly. He would reach her doorstep breathless and excited. He would press the buzzer. It would buzz. There would be a short pause.
Her confused voice would come over the intercom; she would not be expecting anyone. “Bonjour?” she might say—Manny didn’t know what the French said to guests waiting on the stoops of their apartment buildings, but whatever it was would carry the soft-spoken sweetness of her dainty voice confused. Nervous yet confident, this being, after all, his destiny, he would reply: “It’s me,” and almost immediately the lock would click to signal his welcome. He would reach the elevator and jab the UP button so hard that it would hurt his overeager index finger, but he would barely notice. The elevator, old, would begin its feeble descent to reach him, but after an excruciating several seconds the impatient Manny would give up waiting and run to the staircase, steps creaking with decades of European romance as he took them two at a time.
When he reached Adela’s floor, he would be out of breath and slightly sweating, but he would make a joke out of it. She would smile, remembering his self-deprecating sense of humor fondly, and her presence would be striking: standing in the doorway looking classically grief-stricken in a pair of gray sweatpants, a trail of mascara running down her cheek as if she had been crying for him ever since she made the mistake of leaving. In that instant, he would remember—did he ever really forget?—that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. After a brief, meaningful pause, they would rush toward one another and share a passionate embrace. He would breathe a sigh of relief into her hair, pull away slightly, and look at her. Unable to stop the flow of tears, Adela would look down at her feet and ask him— quietly—to forgive her. A short beat would pass. Then, laughing, he would reply: “Forgive you for what?” Picking up where they left off, they would go inside together, their future a haze of wine-soaked dinner parties and baguette sword fights thickening the air before them.
Manny began his real tour de France red-eyed and jetlagged and by hitting a small child in the face with his duffel bag upon entering the RER; she cried. Blinded by guilt for having potentially contributed to a young girl’s lifelong fear of public transportation and what that would imply for her carbon footprint, he got off at the wrong stop to make his transfer. It took him an extra hour to reach Montmartre, and when he finally walked out of Barbès-Rochechouart, it was straight into a scrum of shouting, pleading drug dealers and a torrential downpour. Despite this being the only weather condition for which he was actually prepared, Manny and all of his belongings were soaked within seconds. When he finally found Adela’s obscure building—in an alleyway off an alleyway off a side street—he received no answer when he buzzed apartment—flat—42b. Undeterred but nevertheless weary, he waited in the thunderstorm until an elderly man hobbled out of the front door and let him in, offering some indecipherable words of French wisdom as he passed. Manny pushed the UP button on the elevator, calmly, carefully, and, since Adela was clearly not home, decided to wait for it. Five minutes later, he decided it was probably broken.
As he took the stairs his shoes squelched with minutes of European rain as he trudged up five flights, the logic of such foreign apartment numbering opaque and mysterious to him. His heart was pounding when he finally approached the door marked 42b, but it was just as much related to his recent abandonment of exercise as to his anticipation of reunion with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. After catching his breath, he wiped the sweat off his upper lip and knocked, just in case she was home after all. She wasn’t. Manny sat down on the grimy tile floor to wait.
Forty-five minutes later, he heard a pair of female voices echoing up from the entryway. Even in the unfamiliar language, he recognized one as Adela’s. Zee elevator eez broken! they were probably saying. Their clicking heels began to measure their progress up the stairs. Holding his breath, Manny wiped his palms on his jeans; for some reason he felt like he should be quiet. Halfway between the third and fourth floors, he panicked that his plans for a tender moment of reunion and reconciliation would be more difficult to realize with some French girl present. Still, he was at least glad she had already managed to make friends. He exhaled.
The clicking came to a stop on the floor below him; their friend must have gotten the apartment number wrong. He could still see the pair through the wrought-iron railing, exceedingly Parisian, that encircled the landing. He watched them simultaneously dig through their purses for their keys, simultaneously find them, and simultaneously reach for the door. They simultaneously retracted, simultaneously laughed, and simultaneously leaned in for a two-second kiss on the lips that culminated in eyes-locked, noses-touching smiles, also simultaneous. Adela—now, he noticed, with slightly darker hair—shoved her key into the lock and went inside. The other girl followed and shut the door behind them.
Lauren Oyler is a writer and editor based in Berlin. She runs the Bookslut blog and covers books for Dazed Digital.