The wet night air bounced against the electric streetlamps, giving off tiny sparks, like flint. Almost tripping again, Eby Pim laughed and looped her arm through George's. The uneven sidewalk was buckled by old roots of lime trees, long since gone. George's large flat feet made him sure of his step, but she was in heels and her gait was unsteady, the tick-tick-pause-and-sway making her feel quite drunk, or like she was dancing to music that was out of tune.
George leaned in and whispered that he loved her, that she looked beautiful tonight. Eby smiled and buried her face in his shoulder. They had such an easy sense of themselves here. And the longer they spent away, the longer they wanted to stay away. They wrote short notes on postcards to their families, and George regularly sent home crates of extravagant furniture and antiques, but to each other they never spoke of going back.
Paris was the perfect place to disappear, with its dark, sinewy streets. The first week of their honeymoon, they got lost here in the fog for hours, ending up in strange intersections and alleyways, tripping over feral city cats, who would sometimes lead them to warm cafes and restaurants if the cats were feeling generous and full of tasty sewer rats. More often than not, George and Eby wouldn't get back to their hotel until daylight, then they would sleep in each other's arms until the afternoon. George paid the owner's young son to always bring coffee and pastries made with cheese and spinach to their room at dusk. They would enjoy the food in bed, curled in wrinkled sheets, watching the sun set and discussing what direction to head in when darkness fell and made everything a game of hide-and-seek again.
Tonight they walked aimlessly, trying to get lost. But they failed. For four months now they had been traversing these streets. Even in the dark, they were beginning to recognize some neighborhoods by a vague scent of char from the war. And there were various points along the river they knew just by the tone of the water. Over dinner, a meal that had consisted wholly of mushrooms simply because they felt like it, they still couldn't bring themselves to talk of home yet. Instead, George brought up the young couple they'd met the other day, the ones from Amsterdam.
"Amsterdam sounds nice, doesn't it?" he asked Eby.
She smiled, knowing where this was going. "Yes, very nice."
"Maybe we should visit."
"We might get lost," Eby said.
"That's the idea," George said, reaching across the table and taking her hand and kissing it.
And so Eby's family would have to wait a while longer, even though letters from home were becoming increasingly more forceful and concerned. It's not seemly, her mother wrote, to stay on a honeymoon this long. You were only supposed to be gone two weeks! Your sister and I are getting tired of making excuses for you. Come home to Atlanta. Take your place.
On their way back to the hotel, they approached a restaurant they recognized by the scent of fried sausage thick in the air. The bell over the restaurant door rang and yellow light from inside melted into the fog like butter. They stopped when they heard voices. A man and a woman walked out of the restaurant, laughing, whispering. Their voices faded into the seductive night, where couples often pressed themselves into dark doorways, unseen. They could be so silent you didn't even know you were walking by two people making love until you passed though the red-lit steam of their desire. There had been times when Eby and George had been overcome. Their first night in Paris, Eby had felt reluctant when George had taken her by the hand and led her under a footbridge, pressing her against the damp stones, kissing her while lifting fists full of her skirt. But then she'd realized how free she was here, and she'd begun to think, This is me. This is the real me. C'est moi, she'd whispered, over and over.
And this truly was her. This was her decision, her happiness. Marrying George wasn't something she did to help her family. Money flowed through her family's fingers like spring water. They couldn't seem to keep hold of it. And generations of Morris women had sincerely tried to fall in love with rich men. Eby's sister Marilee had been their one true hope. Rich men liked beautiful wives, and Merilee was sure to snatch one with her blond hair that shone like rabbit fire, and her fierce green eyes. But the moment Marilee set eyes on the boy who filled their family's car tank with gas, she was gone. To everyone's surprise, it had been Eby, tall and strange with crooked features, whose one true accomplishment was that she was the first child to read every single book in the school library, who ended up marrying rich. Morris relatives in five surrounding states had attended the wedding, their hands out for money, like this was their triumph. What they didn't seem to understand was that Eby didn't do it for them. She'd been in love with George since they were children. But not a single soul believed her.
George was talking of Amsterdam again as they approached what the Parisians called the Bridge of the Untrue, rumored that young lovers weren't able to cross if their love wasn't real. It was the last bridge they crossed before their hotel came into view. Eby almost pulled back as they drew near. She didn't want to return to their hotel so soon. But that made her smile to herself. When did after midnight become soon? What she was really avoiding was the post that would inevitably be waiting for them, more concerned letters from her mother, more requests for loans from relatives, more invitations from her new peers to join clubs and parties when they returned, more snarly notes from her sister Marilee, for whom all of this was supposed to happen, and because it hadn't, she seethed like water the second before it rolls to a boil. There might even be a phone message, which the owner of the hotel thought was rude. Eby's mother didn't understand. She was a typical southern American woman whose social lifeline was the telephone wire, to be used as often as possible.
It would take time in Amsterdam for their old lives to catch up to them again. They would have a few weeks to themselves there, at least. That was good.
Eby and George stepped onto the bridge. Ancient lemon-ball lamps appeared one at a time in the fog, growing gradually brighter as they approached, then dimming out as they passed, as if invisible hands were flicking them on and off.
It was in the darkness between the lights, at the center of the bridge where it arched like a cat's back, that the fog seemed to shift and take form. A pale arm came into view, then a gray nightgown, the hem of which was flapping in the breeze from the churning water below. They were only feet away when Eby realized it was not a ghost but a young woman, a teenager, standing on the bridge railing, her bare toes curled around the cold narrow stone like claws.
Eby froze, pulling George to a stop.
"What's wrong?" George asked, then he followed Eby's gaze up. "My God."
For several moments they didn't move for fear any disturbance in the air would push the swaying girl over the edge.
Eby had heard rumors of the brokenhearted committing suicide on the Bridge of the Untrue, but, like all rumors, they were myth until proven. Her heart suddenly felt heavy. There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.
The girl was beautiful, her skin like fresh cream and her long hair so dark it seemed to suck the color out of everything that surrounded it. She was small. French women all seemed to be small-boned bird-creatures, delicate in a way Eby could never be.
The girl didn't turn. Eby wondered if she even knew they were there. Eby slowly reached out a trembling hand. At her farthest stretch, she was still inches from the girl. Wasn't happiness like electricity? Weren't we all just conduits? If Eby could just touch her, maybe the girl could feel it.
"S'il vous plait," Eby said softly, wishing she knew something else to say. She'd studied French in finishing school in Atlanta with her sister, Marilee. Her mother had mortgaged the house in order for Marilee to attend Goddell's School for Fine Young Women, hoping it would later put her in the path of rich men. Eby was sent on the small chance one of the male teachers would take a liking to her and her studious ways, and at least she'd marry a man who wore a tie. Madam Goddell would have been horrified by how little French Eby remembered, though it was more than Marilee. Eby at least knew how to ask for the time and a glass of wine. Marilee had filched Madam's dictionary one day, and learned all she wanted to learn when she figured out how to say, "Kiss me, you fool."
"S'il vous plait," Eby said again. "Please."
The girl slowly turned her head, her eyes falling on Eby. They were dark eyes, like her hair, beautiful and soulful, and tears dripped from them, staining the front of her nightgown. She had to be freezing on this autumn night, with the scent of wood smoke settling low in the air. The girl's mouth moved, forming words, but no sound came out. She impatiently waved at Eby and George to move on.
"S'il vous plait," Eby said.
"Joie de vivre!" George suddenly said loudly, the only French he knew, which he'd learned in a bar their first night here. It was just like him to say that, at a time like this. He was a hearty, gregarious man. He was rich, but newly rich, and so very sincere about it. He lacked the natural languidity that came with old money, the kind that made others feel as if they were only walking through the dreams of the wealthy, barely there at all. People couldn't help but like George. His laugh was like a barrel of whiskey. His cheeks were almost as red as his hair. Just looking at him, you could see that his capacity to love was as wide as the world. He wasn't going to stand a chance against Eby's family when they returned.
The girl's eyes flicked to George, nimbly assessing him, and she smiled, just slightly. Her eyes then went to Eby's outstretched hand, to the wedding ring there.
She nodded at them, an unspoken acknowledgment, and Eby felt a rush of relief.
But then the girl calmly turned back to the water.