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Waiting for Julie

Jacqueline Saphra

Julie said she’d follow soon. Sixteen years old,

we wanted Paris the way you’d want a lover.

You read the map and took the lead, I followed.

We paced the August streets looking for the myth,

tiptoed round the Jeu de Paumes, kicked our heels

in the Marais, hung out with backpackers and bad

portrait artists. Most nights, we went to visit Eddie, drank

absinthe out of eggcups, tried to live la vie bohème.

I played guitar and sang. Tone deaf, you refused to listen.


Mornings, we’d linger at the Gare du Nord

waiting for the train from Waterloo. But Julie didn’t come.


I began to tire of grubby hostels; groping, foreign

boys with beards, their travellers cheques stuffed

under crumpled shirts; to hate, but quietly,

your flirt-face and your certainties, your lack of hurts

and hungers, my cowardice and human appetites,

our differences. I tried to say this wasn’t Paris after all,

but you would never listen. The river sagged and reeked

of bad history, there were junkies, pimps and pigeons.

No joie de vivre, no revolution, no chic.


We’d linger, longing, at the Gare du Nord

waiting for the train from Waterloo. But Julie didn’t come.


Without her, we were flint; rainless days with no relief

had made us dangerous. That last morning,

remember how we stopped for Julie’s croissant;

heat, like hope, oozing through the cracks,

a certain, brief resurgence of esprit de corps?

Remember, when the train had come

and gone, how you watched me, tight lipped, as I ate

the squashed remains of Julie’s breakfast?

You told me I was fat and that my songs were boring.


I’m pretty sure that was the last straw at the Gare du Nord:

someone spat. I think I hit you. Julie didn’t come.


Next thing I know, you’re on the corner, thumb out,

mignonne in flimsy skirt and vest, then climbing up

into that dirty truck. You, and your idiot courage,

me and my trusty fears. A rush of dusty heat stops

my mouth, you blur small and pink in a haze of sun,

exhaust or tears. I wipe my eyes, look up. You’re gone.


I sat all day, lost on a bench in the Gare du Nord, waitin

for you to rescue me. Julie came in on the evening train

with her reassuring British smile, a jar of Marmite and the scent of rain.


From The French Literary Review No. 9 (April 2008)