Elisabeth Lloyd Burkhalter

We said goodbye near Gare du Nord. Hijab kabba sari. She felt at home in this commotion. She promised to mail a copy of Les Evolués. It was no coincidence: her protagonist came from the country I was headed to, where she had—long ago—lived. I'd write when I received it. We agreed, a letter is the least invasive form of communication.

Worrying her ring, she dissected the film's title. Is irony unavoidable or insolent in this story of reckoning she's told, by now, how many times? She was deeply sincere but needed distance. She was late to meet her post-production team. I finished the rest of her beer and left Paris.


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My mother liked to pair things. She announced two dangers. Avoid the initiated rites, witchcraft. Those are their customs, they are not meant for outsiders.

Remember: you will always be an outsider.

The waiter arrived with our drinks. Might they have a nibble for us? Yes, olives, perfect.

—And the other thing? I asked.
She sighed, she squinted at the chickens rotating on the spit across the street as if imploring them to say it for her. They couldn't, they were headless.

She was late for a meeting. She left her beer unfinished. I boarded the RER train to the airport. Goodbye, Paris.


Two beers perspire near Gare du Nord. Black olives arrive at the table. Once all but two are consumed, their little bowl holds a pair of eyes. The eyes watch the woman leave. They watch the young man watch the woman leave. The man leaves. The sun bores down upon the bowl, and the olives weep.


But letters are also the most intimate way to speak.

As she saw me off, Alice joked: RER stands for ruée en retard. Rush, running late. It doesn't quite translate. Soon you'll be on the African clock, she said. If you're on time, you're early.

—What else?

—What else what?

—To expect, I guess. Something less obvious. Hadn't she spent her whole girlhood on the continent?

She paused. I could not understand her silence then.

—If you are lucky, she finally said, you might find other mothers.

She saw the world in double, the film strip and its negative. No adoption without abandon. Our porous bodies, sieve of memory. So much time has passed. Now I know her silence was not silence, it was the hush of someone listening. There are places that seep through the veins, that murmur and hum and warble through the blood's coursing. Down by the river, for instance, where the women do their washing, a boy whittles birch trunk after birch trunk into his mother's likeness. The trees give a dark gum to the boy's whistling. His song is tuneless. It is sweet. Sometimes, he carves her wings.




Indebted to Jane Alison for her book on narrative design and patterning, Meander, Spiral, Explode.