France, Part 5: Une Souris et Un Souris
Just standing there, mid-day, 20e. Parisian bazaar, and I need a mouse. And anywhere else, this would feel like such a simple task, but I need something and what’s standing between me and it is a mushy mouth of language. What if I say it all wrong, I think. And I know once I go in, I can’t go back out. I’m in this. So all the tectonic plates inside me are grinding up against one another in anxious anticipation of how I’ll do, not considering all that grinding is going to lead to some tremendous aftershocks, which will reverberate within me and make cataclysmic impact on how I approach foreign language. But I went in.
It was a bazaar but it was really just more bizarre. Outside on the sidewalk were precariously arranged linen terrycloth towels with assorted unrelated items laying out. A package of diapers. A remote control car. A VHS cassette of Weekend at Bernie’s II. Not I. II. As in, “a 1993 summer necrophiliac blockbuster about a man who has been dead for 4 years now.” And I realized as the thoughts ran through my head how removed I was from every semblance of familiarity with people because everyone here has a really different sense of humor. I was thinking how weird it is that statistically there is at least one person in the world who was mourning someone’s death at the same times that both Weekend at Bernies I and II were released. And imagining the person lamenting to their friends, “It feels like Warner Brothers Motion Pictures is mocking my life!” Maybe it’s a good thing I’m removed from this element of my life.
But I meandered into the store and the woman standing there behind the counter was Asian. French Asian. And it was floor to ceiling packed with all sorts of shit that no one could ever want, a hoarder’s wet dream. And I knew that no matter what, I wasn’t leaving this bazaar with a conventional wireless mouse. No, it’d be like some vajazzled hot pink nonsense or like an oversized novelty mouse with a built-in calculator. And I sighed and I stammered out so fast, “Je voudrais un sourire…”
Pregnant pause. “Un… sourire….” I say again, but she just laughs this time and says, “Tu voudrais un sourire.” And I felt relief. The sounds from my mouth were recognized as words and not just marble-in-the-mouth madness . “Oui.” She said again, “un sourire.” A shakier “oui” from my mouth. “Un sourire.” “Ou…i?”
Her finger goes to the corner of her mouth, taps her lips, wide open, teeth showing. I was so lost. But I didn’t want to revert to English. I couldn’t put that safety net up. I had to work my way through it. “Un sourire…” “Regarde ma bouche… un sourire.” The words kept getting repeated, with new words occasionally introduced into the mix. Her mouth. A mouse. Look. A mouse. Her mouth. Her lips. I couldn’t understand. Does she have a mouse in her mouth or something? She frowned. Then she smiled. She frowned. Then she smiled. And just when I thought nothing could have been more confusing, she reached her hand out to my face and pushed the skin by my lips up into a forced smile and it suddenly clicked. I wasn’t saying “a mouse.” I was saying, “a smile.” She was giving me exactly what I had asked for. I was saying, “I would like a smile.”
And so I started feeling the pressure of time buckling under me, trying to recall the right word. It was something similar, it had to be. Une sourire maybe? Is that a thing? No, that’s crazy talk. But she knew. She was just giving me a hard time. She walked away to the back of the store and came back with a box. A really awful wired USB mouse that looked like it should have gone with an IBM Thinkpad from the 90s or something for users of frustrated clit-mice. She smiled again, pointed, said, “un sourire,” pushed her finger to the box and said again, “une souris.”