Jun 26, 2017

"It's immoral"

Our new short story is out, IT'S IMMORAL---relating a ride from our home near Cannes to Nice airport---in issue 16 of the British lit magazine Bunbury.

It's a bit complicated to get hold of the issue (here's the link:) Bunbury XVI 

For your convenience, we have the story here. It's not so long. Save for the penultimate paragraph, it's true-true, the story, so don't miss the penultimate paragraph. 

Let me put this upfront: the main exit of motorway A8 into Nice has been under construction for quite a while. Anybody living on the Cote d’Azur must have wondered why a ramp pointing in the direction of the downtown voie rapide, obviously meant to relieve the overworked Promenade des Anglais along the beach, had been left for decades to peter out as a useless heap of sand. Two years ago, finally, a swarm of yellow caterpillars appeared and replaced the sand with an overpass of French proportions, meandering high into the sky as if the gloire of the nation depended on it. I had followed the activity with some interest and last time I checked, on Wednesday (returning home from an exhausting interview with Inspecteur Dugeny of the criminal branch of French customs about Jyske, my wayward bank), the work was still unfinished.

Nice airport

I’m writing this while waiting for the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. I’m sitting on a two-person leather couch opposite Chang, who sits on another, identical couch. The couch table separating us holds a glass of orange juice (Chang), and three glasses of Bloody Mary (Michael) (empty). On closer inspection, the couch table consists of two plastic stools of not quite matching colors. The entire room, a small VIP lounge off the boarding area of Terminal One is stuffed with like furniture and overhung by a low, impending ceiling. The room is busy with passengers, various flights are delayed; people behave, nerves radiate. A TV screen on the wall shows a feature about Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux, a once-presidential-hopeful who refuses to go away despite the time he spent in prison for the embezzlement of public funds. I’m the only one watching, everybody else plays with his i-thing.


I’m not sure Chang is aware of what has happened because he is all business.

I’m not sure Chang is aware of what has happened because he is all business i.e., very critical of the booze. I can still feel my heartbeat.

We’re on our way to San Francisco. Jack brought us to the airport in our aging SUV, then took the vehicle back to keep it on his driveway for the next two months. Jack lives nearby. He is married and has a young daughter even though he’s only ten years younger than I am. He’s certainly a better child than I am, he plays computer games like Grand Theft Auto IV where you have to drive passionately and turn your conveyance on a dime. He even taught me how to do it, simultaneously breaking, accelerating, and jerking the wheel. I got it right the first time (but only the first time).

Earlier this afternoon we descended passionately from the Esterel hills where Jack lives, the flowers on the makeshift memorial down the road had been refreshed, four kids hit a tree during a joy-ride in their parents’ car ten years ago, somebody’s replacing the flowers every week. Hard to believe this sinuous road was once the turnpike of the entire Cote d’Azur, Jack and the SUV lean into the turns. Cannes, below, in the afternoon haze, clings to the shore of the Mediterranean.

The aging SUV

Jack is a bit of a home boy. I tell him that it’s a good thing to get away once in a while. “Your sorrows cling to your walls like overwrought wallpaper,” (really, I did say it (I swear)). Jack asks me to repeat that but I say it doesn’t matter.
“You always find something new to get upset about, even on vacation,” he says. “I’ve been happy, really happy twice, in my life, twice, for five minutes.” I can believe that, I say.


“I’ve been happy, really happy twice, in my life, twice, for five minutes,” he says.

“I’m not talking about sex.”
“People have tried for quite some time to be happy,” I say.
“They sure have.”
“The ancient Romans,” I say, “they tried, that was before the discussion took a religious turn and everything was drowned in sin, think of the Stoics.”
“They had slaves, the Stoics, they just sat around being stoic, you have to do something, only way. I’m writing music again, you know, wrote a nice saxophone solo this morning, it makes my day. Or you, with your gay porn dreck. You write a nice chapter, it makes your day.” My chapters are short, I say.
“That’s better,” he says, “nobody reads you anyhow.”

We pass the gate of Pauline and Serge’s community, my partners in the fight against the wayward bank. I mention the interview with Inspector Dugeny last Wednesday.
“What’s in a name,” Jack says.
“It’s not spelled that way,” I say.
“Obviously,” he says.
“Dugeny hates contradictions, he’s a good inspector.”
“Watch out,” he says, “or you’ll lose your case.”
He hits the brakes, some idiot in front doesn’t dare to burn the yellow light.

We enter Mandelieu and will reach the motorway soon. I’m bracing myself for the vibration in the steering at cruising altitude, Jack will notice and complain. We loop along the ramp of Exit 40 and accelerate on the feeder lane. What the fuck, Jack says. He takes his hands off the wheel. The wheel vibrates as expected, stutters almost. You didn’t have this before, he says, his eyes resting on my profile. Chang, on the back seat, lifts his gaze from his Twitter account, he hates unattended wheels. The vibration is particularly bad at 110 km, I say (that’s the speed limit here). Jack accelerates. What did you do? I got new tires, I say, but the day before, I hit the curb with a front wheel. I went back to the shop twice. They rebalanced everything, it doesn’t help, must be in the rim, they say. I hit the curb too, Jack says, with my Mercedes. We’re both unhappy now, but Jack’s hands are back on the wheel. Chang resumes tweeting (he has 1,200 followers in Korea, some people steal his tweets and pass them off as their own).

We’re past Antibes already, past the tollgate, and descend from the heights of Vaugrenier into the plain of Cagnes sur Mer, you can see the airport already. Beyond the airport, Nice and the Alps, still snowy at the top.


Jack has dropped any pretense about speed limits.

Jack has dropped any pretense about speed limits, the vibration feels a lot better (less). I told you the story, he says, right, when we were caught at 160 kilometers in the ninety kilometer turn above Cannes. Seventy kilometers écart, its serious. We made up a story. Jo (Jack’s wife) was driving, but she had picked up a hitchhiker, and the hitchhiker was driving. She had asked the hitchhiker to take over. Because she was tired. The hitchhiker broke the speed limit, the bastard. He’s still hitchhiking, unfortunately, no idea where he is. The case went to court. There were six judges. Six. They didn’t believe our story. You sent her to court with this story? Yes. And she went? Yes. She must have been in love with you. “We didn’t know there were six judges,” he replies.

Coming up, I say, the airport. We’re between Cagnes and St. Laurent du Var, a stretch of three kilometers. It feels like a funnel, the road, cutting through the buildup, embankments on either side, two white bridges overhead secured with wire mesh curbed inwards at the top. I point at the bridges. Why? Keeps people from jumping or throwing stones, Jack says. Why only here? Dunno, he says, must be the neighborhood. You know the shortest way? Yes, he does. Don’t follow the signs. Yes, he knows (of course he does). Here, I say, here, this lane. We’re crossing the bridge over the Var, the river, once the border with Italy. It’s always annoying, incoming traffic from St. Laurent mixing with outgoing traffic for Nice and Monaco, traffic is always jammed. Jack hesitates for a sec, then exits the slow lane, speeds past the file of patient afternoon vehicles, and breaks vividly back into the file at the end of the bridge where the lane turns to the right. Squeak.

“It’s immoral what you do, everybody is patiently waiting,” I say.

Then I repeat, impressed with myself: “It’s immoral.”
“I’m a bitch behind the wheel,” he says, “I can’t help it.”

The trick is, you don’t follow directions but stick to the rightmost lane until you reach the connection to the voie rapide where you turn right again. Five turns. It’s a well-kept secret that wouldn’t work if people knew. It doesn’t work today, too many people know already, the entire loop is jammed. Jack has dropped all pretense and squeezes us past the good file, turns right, squeezing more, turning right, squeezing. Another turn. And another one.

And, before we know it, we’re on the new overpass that meanders high into the sky. The overpass that must have opened since Wednesday. In our direction at least, there’s no traffic on the other side, the oncoming lane isn’t even secured, a few red-plastic buffers separate it from the néant underneath.


"Don't do it again," I say. We stare at each other.

“Don’t do it again,” I say. We stare at each other.
“I’ll do it again,” he says and swerves onto the virgin lane and towards an oncoming car nobody saw. I grab onto wheel, the SUV jerks, the oncoming car jerks in reply, hits a red-plastic buffer and drops off the overpass into the néant underneath. There’s no time to think. Jack speeds along, turns, we’re off the overpass already. We negotiate a busy traffic circle and arrive on the kiss-and-fly of Terminal One. Jack stops the engine.
“Anybody see this?” I ask.
“Don’t think so,” he replies.
“How many people?”
“It was immoral,” I say.
“Fuck," he says, "it was.”

You have five free minutes on the kiss-and-fly, every extra minute costs a fortune. We embrace. Jack, who’s a homophobe, always makes a point of kissing my cheek.

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