Sabbatical by Sean Dolan

When she told her boss she was quitting, he didn’t seem surprised, or even worried. Only confused and proud, pretending he knew much more about the situation than she did.

“You know your job won’t be available when you get back right?”

He asked as if she really didn’t know the answer, his tone somewhere in between condescension and snobbery.

“Yes, I know.”

He expected her to say more, letting an awkward silence fill the large office.

“Does that not bother you?,” he asked.

“No, not really.”

She hadn’t talked to him since, or anyone else from the office for that matter. They were nothing to her, both now and when she still called herself employed. Paris was an escape, a way for her to validate leaving her job and her home, both now just dead space where sad people walked to their static jobs, always busier tomorrow than yesterday.

***

During her first week, she walked the streets for as long as her legs allowed her, consuming the atmosphere as if it were a different universe. She visited small shops, where old men spoke softly in whatever English they knew, welcoming her to their country, their home. She read books in one sitting, drank copious cups of coffee and assimilated as best as she could, avoiding looking like a tourist.

During her second week, she met another American traveler, and he bought her dinner and a glass of wine and three more glasses of wine. They talked about their parents and their jobs and America. They laughed because neither of them knew why there were there, and they both agreed that was okay. She loved the way he looked at her, genuine and vulnerable, his eyes two moons surrounded by a sea of pure white. She smiled and bit her lip, looking down at her glass, a colosseum of fruit and blood, and agreed to go back to his hotel.

They made love under crisp and perfect sheets smelling of lilac, a river of sex and skin flowing from north to south. Afterwards, they held each other, both naked and energized and soft, looking at each other like no one else existed. He cupped his hands around the small of her back, and they fell asleep with no plans for the following day.

When she woke, the bed was empty, the opposite side warm with the fossils of her lover’s body. She glanced over to the balcony where the door was cracked open, a light breeze rustling the shades. She walked outside and found him sitting, legs crossed, an unlit cigarette hanging from the mouth she kissed hours ago, so soft and smooth and holy.

“Come back to bed,” she urged.

He didn’t respond.

“I miss you.”

Again, no verbal response, but he looked back at her and produced a small smile. She joined him by taking a seat on the congruent chair, letting the cold morning air seep through her robe, hitting her skin. Eventually, he spoke.

“Why are we here?”

“What do you mean?

“I don’t know what I’m doing in Paris.”

“I don’t either, I just sort of came.”

She wanted to tell him how much she enjoyed last night, how his skin on her skin left her feeling whole, how it was all that mattered. But she remained silent. She lit a cigarette and waited for him to say something else.

“Do you ever look at someone and understand them?”

“Like people watch?”

“Yeah, but more like people watching with a purpose. Like looking at someone and just seeing right through them.”

She knew exactly what he described but couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Just forget I even said anything,” he said.

“No, please, I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

“Really?

“Yeah really. It’s like we know we’re all in this together, and we pretend we don’t know it but we really do.”

She liked the way he nodded his head and smiled, as if she had just endorsed his most precious and secret belief.

“You realize that everyone else is just as confused as you, and the rest is all bullshit.” 

“Yeah, that’s it. It’s all bullshit.”

“Life is strange isn’t it?”

“Yeah it is. It really is,” she agreed.

And they laughed because life is everything and then it’s nothing at all.

That night they made love again, their rivers turning into oceans, two bodies under the sensual spell of sex. She let him hold her close, leaving a small space between them. When she woke the next morning, he was gone, his masculine smell stained onto sheets damp from providing shelter. He left a note on the bedside dresser.

Everything is so short, and we are nothing but dust. Thanks for a lovely two days. – Jack

The ephemeral buzz of Paris vanished. It didn’t fade or slowly disappear, it didn’t dissipate into oblivion. It rather left in a flash, a hot blue flame now just thin smoke rising to an unnamed place. It just was, and she didn’t question or bother to care why he had left or why she no longer looked at the city the way she used to. He was gone, and she was alone again. She absorbed the quiet stillness of the empty room and went back to bed, salty teardrops hitting sheets she made love in hours ago.

***

Paris was different now. Yesterday, she dreamed in color, violet verbs and honeysuckle fields filling the time between awake and asleep. Yesterday, the Champs-Elysees an aisle of inspiration, where strangers and cars and the bustling of the city told her anything was possible. Yesterday, she smoked cigarettes with a new lover, kissed his soft back when he fell asleep, a museum of body parts, a mosaic of skin. But today was different. Paris was just the same as home, vacant bodies running from one corner of the city to the next.

She left the hotel with the intention to see as much of the city as she could before the desire to sleep dissolved into her tired body. First came the Louvre, where strangers focused on paintings she didn’t understand, either too abstract or not abstract enough. She dreamed of coming here since childhood, but it was only just a museum, no special glow surrounding its confusing art. It was only a place where people came and went, remembering it for weeks until one day it became a morsel in the vast realm of everything in their crowded minds.

She ended her day at a café in the heart of the city, where hungry people ate scones and drank strong coffee and talked about how great the weather was this summer. No one seemed happy and no one seemed sad. They just were, existing in a moment, not knowing what a moment was, only able to think to the past and to the future.

She sat there, alive and still, absorbing the people and the city as she had for weeks. She thought about what Jack had said, so abrupt and quick and everything. She whispered it to herself.

“Everything is so short and we are nothing but dust.”

No one heard her, the words floating around empty space. But she hoped they might reach someone the way they reached her, creating a strange void in her stomach, the words swimming around and knocking down the walls of her chest.

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