3. her ghost (77)
In the still red light of the makeshift workshop, his eyes lit up for just a moment and and he spoke to me. The words that came from his mouth harkened back years through my memory; the same words Didi once said to me. She said them the day after we’d met in a seedy, crowded club in the midst of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, back when there still was a Mardi Gras.
I’ll never forget when she showed up at my hotel room.
Her eyes unblinking as the door opened. “Passerez-vous le jour avec moi?”
Most of the time I didn’t understand a word she was saying. It was funny to watch her converse with Sabrina, in French, as though they had their own special bond that daddy couldn’t touch. But she and I had a bond that went beyond our daughter.
“Je m’appelle Didiane.”
I wasn’t dressed and probably still reeked of beer and tequila. She had come to the door of my hotel room, and I couldn’t imagine why. She had a certain subdued beauty; a round face complimented by piercing green eyes and short black hair. She was trying to downplay her looks and appear less than feminine, which was a troubling sign I should’ve recognized. She wore a black hoodie that was zipped up to her chest, a black t-shirt beneath, and Army green capris. Her hands were in her pockets. All this and she was still stunning.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” in a thick French accent, “Forgive me, I forget where I am.”
I was wearing a robe. It must’ve been around 9 in the morning, and I’d gotten maybe 5 to 6 hours of sleep. Romances often start in hotel rooms at night, but not like this. Technically, it did begin the night before, with both of us intoxicated in the middle of a strange city. All I did was help her to her room when her friends didn’t want to go back with her.
“My name is Didiane Day. You, um, you helped me when I was in a very bad way last night. I wanted to thank you. I want you to come with me.”
This was the way the greatest day of my life began. Not even the birth of Sabrina touched the warmth and purity of this day. I’m still wondering if Didiane is somehow why I’m here. If she is, it’s all worth it.
“Don’t just stand there. Are you going to come with me or not?”
I think the only thing I could respond with, the only thing I could choke out of my throat was, “I need to get cleaned up.” I didn’t understand how she could be so alive and awake and sober; when I last saw her she had three or four beaded necklaces hanging down her chest and could barely stand up. She whispered in my ear the night before, “All these men, all these people just want to see my tits,” only in that incredibly sexy French accent. “I’m tired of showing them off. I’m going to tape them down. Hide them as best I can. The women out there, in this city, they’re just giving it all away. My friends, they just want to erase their own memories. I want to go back to my room. I want to go to sleep. Fuck them. Fuck them all.” I had no idea what she was going on about, but I was the one gentleman in the midst of this modern Sodom.
But then she’s at my door in the morning, telling me, “Come to my room. Get cleaned up there.” Her hands in her sweatshirt pockets, her smile infectious, her skin lily white.
“Do you mind if I grab some clothes real quick?”
“I do mind, yes. But you may. But only if you’re real quick, mon ami.”
I didn’t remember much about the night before, like why it was me that was helping her up to her room. Why her friends let me escort her, or even if her friends noticed me at all. I could’ve been a rapist or a psycho killer. I did mumble my room number at some point, and she said “No, no, no, my room. Ma chambre.” She trailed off into a lot of French that I didn’t understand, but mostly she used me to help keep her upright on the way to the room. She invited me in, but all I did was help her into her bed; took her shoes off for her, pulled her blanket up over her shoulders as she wrapped her arms around a pillow. It was all very chaste – not even a kiss.
As she stood in that doorway the next morning with that impertinent look on her face, I grabbed a pair of blue jeans and a grey t-shirt with a white lightning bolt down the chest. I didn’t put them on, I just grabbed them and brought them with me.
We made our way down the hallway, me clutching my clothes to my chest, my hair amess, and still wearing a robe. Unshaven, but that was no big deal. “So, um, what are we doing?”
“We’re spending the day together,” she said, cheerfully.
“But Didiane,” I started.
“You can call me Didi,” she interrupted.
“You don’t even know my name.”
“What’s to know? You were good to me, you brought me upstairs, took care of me. Left and went to sleep in your own room.”
Did she mean to put herself in a dangerous situation? Was this all a test? Did she feel that if I was a dangerous person she could’ve handled whatever was thrown her way? These questions started to dawn on me as we were riding the elevator up from my floor. And where were her friends?
Yet in that elevator, all was right. She was my soulmate. There was no other word to describe it. I don’t think I wanted to know the answers to such questions. I don’t know if she sensed it, even that night before — why I was chosen. Why it was me that escorted her. Coincidence, fate, free will.
When we arrived at her door, she turned to me and said, “Perhaps you are only my shadow. And the shadow cannot be conquered. And a wise man once said that one can only love that which cannot be conquered.”
And that’s the first thing he said to me, too.
After seven or so hours of disconnecting and rewiring, after using the small portable computer left behind there for reviewing the macros that would recreate his memory, if that’s what was required – after looking at a few thousand lines of code that I did not understand – his lips twitched. His eyes flickered, wearily. Faintly. I knew the look on his face; that all-too-human simulation of misunderstanding, of “why?”
His head turned ever so slightly. He didn’t even notice the arm halfway across the room, still strung to his shoulder by wires and cables. Apprehensively, he almost gurgled, “Are you my shadow? Perhaps you are only my shadow.”
It was only for a moment, and then a spark flickered somewhere, and he was an it again, not a he. It had lost the characteristics of a he.
After that brief flicker, all I could do was sit and stew. I wanted to grab him by both sides of his awkward inhuman head and shake, screaming, “What did you say? Why would you say that? Of all the things you could possibly say, why would it be that?”
Staring into its large empty eyes, the veneer of humanity, I remember every word she spoke to me that day. That hotel room. Her scent – a mixture of jasmine and strawberries.
She was born in Grenoble, France. She grew up on the banks of the Drac, near where it ran into the Isere river; in the shadow of the French Alps. Her father’s career took them from this beautiful euphoric childhood paradise to the Americas, to a city nearly as breathtaking – a place where a French-born girl could at least be accepted – Montreal. She was twelve when they moved and had learned three languages by then – French, English, and German.
I finally convinced her to let me take a shower somewhere around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We eventually did go out to eat together, away from the Quarter, around 6. By 9, we were making love.
I remember. I’ll never stop remembering.
I often wonder if he and the other things like him see the world in the design patterns imprinted into his digital soul? If he sees low coupling/high cohesion in the people around him. If he experiences life and thought through programming languages. If I get the chance, I’ll have to ask him – though he will probably not be able to rationalize my questions. Perhaps he thinks I experience reality in the same way.
Orderly came for me around 6 PM and escorted me from the work station to the mess hall. The mess is near my “dorm” – there are certainly some interesting people around this place. There’s a man here who claims to be fluent in five languages – an older man who wears these odd aviator glasses and a tattered neckerchief with his gray uniform. Number 42. He claims that he was once a reporter until a freak incident involving what he refers to as “the superman”
I actually made a noise when I heard him talking about it; a hearty “harrumph” from somewhere in my loins that forced its way out of my clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry?” he said in his gruff baritone. You could almost see his blazing eyes beneath the aviator glasses. Nobody really paid much attention to me – they shied away from the new people. Paranoia; a new person could be a spy, or perhaps not even human.
I made another grunt.
“Do you have something to say there, friend?” only, all of his words run together, lightning quick.
I bared my teeth to him to show that I couldn’t talk if I wanted to.
“Ah, did quite a number on you then, huh? Bloody fascists. Welcome to the sixth reich, my friend. There’s no getting away from them,” he says, lightning fast again. “Where was I? Oh yes, the superman. That’s right. Der Ubermensch. Fascinating man, really. He was indestructible. Came to me for help. Well, things were never quite the same after that.”
All I could think of was that blazing emblem that the word symbolized. That comic book sense of truth and justice, hidden under a journalist’s suit and cheap eyeglasses. Didi used to love Superman.
This number 42 was speaking to number 34, a gruff man who reminded me of an old comedian. 34 claimed to somehow be part of the Dead Hand incident some years ago. The Dead Hand was this news story about a man who hacked into media outlets, broadcasting a video of himself where he threatened to destroy the world. The guy in the video, if I remember it right, claimed to have this box that could trigger these nuclear weapons somewhere or other. Eventually he was caught and executed. Anyway, this number 34 claimed intimate knowledge of the whole thing.
“I remember that,” 42 exclaimed. “Whole damn thing was crazy. Wrote a few articles about the goings-on of that week. People were going berserk in the streets. Almost a total breakdown of mores and social norms. Orgies, riots. I remember reading about a guy that the cops dragged in for fucking a picnic table. Fantastic times. I was in Southern California then. But hell, you couldn’t get through to those people. They were fucking in the streets all the time anyway. No shame.” Every word came right on top of the last. You couldn’t even see him assembling the words as he spoke them, they just flowed right out of his mouth. Crazy, manic poetry.
I was served more of that gruel that was supposed to be fed to me through a straw. Again, I found myself wondering if there were depressants or something hidden in it. It was bland. Tasteless.
Didi stayed in my mind. I couldn’t exorcise her if I wanted to. She and Sabrina are all I have left to hang on to. That hope – someday I’ll find them again.
I was able to convince her to move to the States with me. New Orleans was a beautiful moment in time for the two of us, and trying to go back to a normal life after that was impossible. I tried not to call her; she went back to Montreal after Mardi Gras. We spent just two days together. We cried when we had to leave each other, that’s how perfect it was. I wasn’t supposed to feel that way about anyone. I was just a kid, first year out of college, enjoying myself with a few friends in the debauchery capital of my native country. Somehow, love found me. Such serendipity – if I hadn’t been there at that exact moment, I’d have missed it. Sabrina would’ve never existed.
I remember her clamping down on my hand as hard as she could, screaming French obscenities during her contractions. Sabrina ended up being a C-section, she was backwards in the womb and forceps didn’t work to turn her around. She and I made a deal about how we’d decide to name our child. If it were a boy, I’d have the opportunity to name him, but Didi was to approve whatever name I came up with. For a girl, I was to approve her choice. She picked a name from an old Hepburn movie and decided she liked it so much because it sounded French but wasn’t.
I was so happy that both mother and baby were alright. I spent most of two days worrying, the previous nine months worrying, and the next five years worrying. I worried from the day I found out Didi was pregnant to the day my door was broken down and those bastards with rifles tackled me and dragged my wife away by her wrists.
Of course the first thing I thought was that they took me and broke me down because I married a foreign national. Institutionalized prejudice. Walls built up on borders. An absolutely ridiculous notion from a country built on nothing but the backs of immigrants. This country is supposed to belong to anyone, because it’s no one’s homeland. Because our forefathers were kicked out of every other good country on the face of this planet. And yes, there’s a certain sentiment toward the French, and I should know; I’ve found myself in meaningless fights defending a woman who was being called a “frog whore” to her face. But then, there are certain connotations to any kind of foreigner these days.
Tags: Didi, Sabrina, work