issue 28: January - February 2002 

  | author bio

Sunset Over Brittany 
Marshall Moore
 Sandrine threw me out this morning. She has done it before. Today I have on jeans and an old sweatshirt because I had to dress while Sandrine stood in the doorway screaming at me in a mixture of French, Breton, and English, and throwing things. When she threw cutlery, a knife struck the floor beside my foot. She left a constellation of bruises on me. Periodically, I mash my thumb into them to make the colors deepen.
      I am determined to push all negativity and unpleasantness out of my mind. Sandrine will calm down soon enough, and when she does, she’ll call me on my mobile, sobbing, near panic. She’ll beg me to come home. She’ll say she’s terrified she has lost me forever. Maybe she has. I can’t predict the future. Perhaps I’ll set myself on fire and webcast my death over the Internet. Maybe I’ll go to a supermarket and buy all the fruit from the produce section, return home, and pelt her into a coma with pears and apricots and tangerines. Or I may go to a gay bar and pick up a man, and run away with him. Sandrine has accused me of having that tendency often enough. Maybe she’s right. Maybe she has lost me forever. Who can say? I drink cup after cup of black coffee, evil black lava from a place on Telegraph Avenue. With all this energy I have to do something creative.
      I’m in Berkeley. The weather is warm and clear. And I have my camera.
      Here in the East Bay, an updated version of the old streetcar network, the Key System, is to be resurrected. As part of the PR campaign, I’m photographing crowded streets, bored people slumped at bus stops, backed-up entrance and exit ramps to the freeways that crisscross the region. I also snap pictures of people in parks, at sidewalk cafés – urban scenes of the sort one sees in European cities. The message: we can keep things as they are (images of traffic-related misery), or we can run trams down busy corridors and make life better for all. Not subtle, but then neither is the Bay Bridge at rush hour.
      Children play in the park down the street from me. Sandrine wants children, but she can’t have them until she finishes her Ph.D. Too busy. I don’t want kids, myself, but I think they’re excellent subjects to photograph. Sandrine would always cry when I showed her the pictures I had taken, so I stopped. I do my job. When the trams come, we will have more parks. The air will smell better. Children won’t be run over by cars as often. That ought to make her happy, but somehow it doesn’t.
      “Patrick, I cannot look at you today. Get out of here!” she spat, out of nowhere, twin pigtails bobbing up and down.
      I sipped coffee and maintained my mildest expression.
      “What’s the problem, dear?”
      She threw her half-empty cup of orange juice at me. The cup missed my head by an inch but drenched my shirt. Citric acid stung my right eye. I radiated
peace and gentleness at her. I visualized doves.
      “You are a terrible person! You are full of petty cruelties! I cannot stand you for another moment!”
      “How am I cruel? Why am I terrible? I don’t understand at all, Sandrine.”
      “I don’t even want to talk about it! I am too upset! I want you to get out of this house now, or…” Sandrine’s nostrils flared. I pictured a thoroughbred fresh off the track. A bright spot of pain began to glow behind my left eye, an infernal nuclear red. The side of my head throbbed. It still hurts. And my shirt smelled like Florida.
      Nothing makes Sandrine happy. So I had to leave. Again.
      I have taken a seat on a bench with a good view. This will be a good park for my photo essay: one of the tramlines will pass within three blocks. More people will come. The park will gain more picnic tables, more playground equipment, more flowers. It is my task to show all interested parties what this place could become.
      To my right, an Asian family: Mom, I guess, with three kids, a girl and two boys. They have monopolized the swing set. I wonder whether the children have English names. Local folks, or visiting? The girl’s legs are too short to reach the ground. Her little dress flies up when she swings. Her older brother, the middle child if height is any indicator, is showing off. See how high I can go. The oldest, also a boy, seems bored, but his mother has that Have fun or I’ll punish you dragon-lady look about her. Very fierce.
      Off to my left, sitting on the next park bench, one of those Berkeley women who dress in clothes her neighbors donated to Goodwill when Grandma died ten years ago and they finally had to get rid of her gunny-sack housedresses. I steal glances. She has ribbons tied in her hair and political buttons on her faded, no-color vest – circles of red, white, and blue. She’s talking to the pigeons warbling at her feet.
      Over here, a group of kids, the standard Berkeley assortment: all shapes and sizes, all colors, several languages audible in their babble. I pick out individual children to follow with my lens.
      That sounds a bit depraved, I know.
      I’m just taking pictures.
      Sandrine hovers near, accusing. She’s invisible, and at this particular moment I know she is at home gluing shards of china together, but I can sense her presence. She thinks I have illicit intentions. She hisses foul names, polyglot. If you don’t get out of this house within ten minutes I will break everything. Every object you own, I will smash it. If you are still here when I finish, I will then smash you. Understand? Maybe I run against the grain, but I’m involved in a public works project, for God's sake. I am a public servant, not a pervert. Mostly.
      Something from the hail of objects she sent my way this morning grazed my side. Perfect timing: my shirt was off, and she broke the skin. The wound stings. I touch it with a fingertip and feel shooting stars, comets, supernovas. A personal sunset just below my nipple. Why didn’t I steal a packet of salt from the café? I’d have something other than soil to rub into the wound.
      Here is a little girl who catches my eye. She looks like a younger version of Sandrine, to tell the truth. Her kindergartner’s voice will have an accent when she speaks English. I’ll call her Brittany, after Sandrine.
      I abandon my bench seat to get closer.
      Brittany wears a ruffled white sundress. She has a yellow ribbon in her perfect golden hair, and I’m reminded of a shampoo commercial. All the moment needs is gauzy soundtrack music instead of car horns and distant traffic. Brittany is talking intently to two other children, a black boy in corduroy pants and a T-shirt, and a tan girl in matching yellow shorts and T-shirt. They’re pointing at something on the ground. A bug? Brittany stomps on it and claps her hands together in glee.
      The little boy moves to a sandbox and joins an effort to build a sandcastle.
      The girl in yellow begins picking flowers out of a wooden planter: petunias, jasmine, some pink things I don’t know the name of.
      Brittany climbs up the monkey bars.
      One thing I love about Berkeley is the unexpected vistas. If you look west from certain places here, toward the Pacific down some of the latitudinal streets, you can see across the bay to the hills of Marin County. The Golden Gate Bridge can be seen if there’s no fog. Today, as usual at this time of year, it is still possible to see the bridge. As the sun sets, the sky and clouds turn dramatic shades of pink and salmon. I'm surprised when I realize how late in the day it is.
      At university in Rennes, Sandrine from a small town on the Breton coast, me studying abroad for a year. Marriage had seemed like a good idea: romantic, reckless, vaguely doomed. Now? Regrets.
      Sandrine leapt up from her chair, seized her china plate where vegetarian sausages and perfect yellow circles of polenta cooled, and tossed it all at me. I fell sideways out of my chair and lay helpless. The floor tiles left their checkerboard pattern on my cheek.
      “The vein at your temple looks like a pipe on the Pompidou Center,” I told her. “It’s very beautiful.”
      “You are cold inside and I hate you! There is something badly wrong with you! When you fuck me it feels like I am being stabbed by an icicle!”
      Brittany thinks she is a gymnast and is trying to walk across the monkey bars, hands out at right angles, head held high. A perfect photo.
      Someone screams: a woman, rushing through the cluster of children, a stricken look on her face. Also perfect.
      You should do something, you miserable bastard! Sandrine is near. She is my conscience when I normally just have a camera. She smells like violets. Where would I be without her?
      The woman screams for Brittany to come down, and when she turns to see what the commotion is about, she loses her balance. She wobbles back and forth on the monkey bars.
      Why didn’t you stop her, you useless prick? Why didn’t you make her come down? Sandrine hovers like a wasp, following me everywhere, ever the critic. You should have flown through the air to stop her!
      The wound in my side sings a glorious chorus of pain, no finger-jab needed. I hold my breath as the sweat cools my brow. Brittany is airborne. I take pictures.
      Brittany’s sundress rises like an angel’s robe, revealing perfect white panties underneath, no socks, white sandals. The yellow ribbon comes undone and floats, weightless.
      Screams shatter the air all around us: kids, adults, Brittany herself. Her mouth opens, a capital O ringed with pretty white teeth. In the distance, a car alarm joins the din. I hear a siren, but I doubt it’s approaching.
      Brittany falls, legs creating a 45-degree angle, toes pointed like a ballerina’s. The sun is a brilliant red-orange ball between her left heel and the metal edge of the monkey bars. I steal this last shot and pray it turns out: sun, girl, playground equipment, all aligned just so, a combination unlikely to be seen again. I won’t include this one in the photo essay. Brittany lands on her head with a loud THUNK, and the screaming intensifies.
      It’s over, Sandrine. It’s really over.
      I turn and leave.

© 2002 Marshall Moore

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author bio    Marshall Moore

Marshall Moore is a North Carolina native now living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He buys too many books, and collects ink in the form of tattoos and passport stamps. His short fiction has appeared most recently in the webzine Velvet Mafia (www.velvetmafia.com) and the anthology Of the Flesh: Dangerous New Fiction, and his first novel, The Concrete Sky, will be published in fall 2002 by Southern Tier Editions.

E-mail: marshallmoore@aol.com

Website: www.marshallmoore.net


tbr 28              january - february  2002


Steven Rinehart - Burning Luv
Lawrence Schimel - Water Taxi
Brian McCabe - Relief
Marshall Moore - Sunset Over Brittany

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