Tuesday Evening at the Rue de Fleurus
By Carol Roh Spaulding
Evening drops into the courtyard like a black cat lowering its back. A muted clink of dinner spoons spills from open windows into the courtyard, where the concierge’s dog yips en francais at a pair of American tourists who have found their way to 27 rue de Fleurus. I sit and smoke a cigarette between the flung-open shutters of my room. Below me, a courtyard blooms, fragrant with magnolia trees and wildflower grasses. At the end of the little footpath edging the garden, the sun shines boldly and briefly at straight-up noon on the atelier that still houses a small greenhouse.
There, Alice B. Toklas once stepped among her growing things, tilting the delicate spout of her watering can to her petunias, her basil and thyme. Inside, Gertrude was busy making their “there” there.
The words of the American tourists clonk inside my head: “This is where she lived with Alice and with her brother, Leo,” says one. “This is where she hung the Picassos from floor to ceiling,” says the other. “The Picassos that weren’t worth anything yet.” The words belong to my people. The clonking belongs to my people. It has been days since I have heard American English spoken, so that now I feel as though it has come round to claim me, pointing its finger at me like an embarrassing relation and announcing, “Don’t let her fool you! She’s one of us.”
A spring drizzle has freshened the air now pink with twilight. Children clatter in from school. The Portuguese maid hurries out to catch the Metro and then the train to Montgeron, a netted bag of leeks and onions swinging from her arm. French sentences alight from televisions and open windows into the courtyard. Somewhere in the Latin Quarter a siren wails; very near, someone small scolds her Maman, “Mais porquoi pas porquoi pas porquoi pas?”
Gertrude must have looked up from her work now and then, from the cocoon of French dailiness Alice so carefully spun around them, to whoever once lived in the room where I now sit leaning against the crusted windowsill. I am breathing in the scent of the pavement after the rain. “She did not have anything to do and so she had time to think about each day as it came,” wrote Gertrude. And following that sentence, her brow furrowed in concentration, the tiny Buddha’s smile at her lips. “She was very careful about Tuesday.”
Gertrude considered a name for this character who would always have to have a careful Tuesday—Ada, or, no, perhaps Ida. Ida, a name the writer could toy with, lifting it up to finger the edge of its consonant and setting it back gently on its vowel side. Her cup of Lapsang Souchong had cooled beside her on the tabletop. Alice clucked at the limp slice of lemon left on the tea saucer, but her dear Gertrude wrote right through the clink of glasses and the clank of spoons and the yipping of dogs that echoed in the courtyard. Gertrude was a genius, a giant of American literature. She probably never just sat and smoked a cigarette, blank, wistful, gazing from her open shutters, thinking, It’s raining again. I’m no writer.
Carol Roh Spaulding was the recipient of a Pushcart Prize for Fiction in 1994 and a nominee in 2009. Her fiction has won the A.E. Coppard Prize for Long Fiction for her chapbook, Brides of Valencia, Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open, the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction, The Ledge fiction competition, and most recently the David Nathan Meyerson Prize from the Southwest Review. She is the author of a novel of linked stories, Navelencia. Her new novel is 27 rue de Fleurus.
Photo by Pamela Z. Daum