The Vagabond Can Receive No Love Letters

They never tell you the true consequence of not having an address. That it, in some ways, both limits and unburdens from the potential of ever knowing if you have a true love. The kind that would spend hours and bleed not just their ink but their heart out onto the page so that you might genuinely apprehend the extent of that love. The vagabond realizes this perhaps too late in life, when he or she (but, in this case, she) has been on the move for so long that it’s hard to even remember when love–not food–was on the brain.

Françoise fantasized often of the beef bourguignon or coq au vin her mother would make when she was a teenager. Right around the time she decided to flee from Beauce, a place known for nothing other than being the setting of the Émile Zola novel, La Terre. A place known for nothing, in short. She had no friends. No one to identify with, least of all her parents or older brother, each content in accepting their fate as country bumpkins. But Françoise wanted more, and was determined to get it. However she could. In the end, she decided, that meant leaving without a word to her family. She knew they would only try to stop her. Hinder her from getting where she needed to go: somewhere that was actually a giant dot on the map. So, of course, that meant Paris, which she would thumb a ride to in between walking some of the distance.

As expected, those who picked her up were usually men, usually responding to her strategically displayed hemline. Even if Beauce was a sexless place, she still had the innate knowledge of what exciting male carnal desire could procure her–in this instance, passage to Paris. And if it came at the risk of a bit of sexual assault, so be it. It was nothing Virginie Despentes didn’t have to endure, so why shouldn’t she? That was just one of the many heroines she wanted to model herself after, so she might as well start with this. Plus, in all likelihood, once she arrived in Paris it would be even more harrowing. She ought to just get used to it on the way.

For the first few weeks, as it turned out, she was wrong. For she met someone practically on the first day (though it was more like the second as it happened in the middle of the night). She was sitting alone near the carousel in front of the Sacré-Cœur. The tourists and the crowds had long since faded away, back into their apartments and hotel rooms. She decided to stay, that this was the best perch for half-sleep she’d seen so far. Yet, just as she was about to nod off, a boy approached her and asked, “What are you doing here at this hour?”

She glared at him in annoyance. “What the fuck does it look like? Trying to sleep.” She waited expectantly for him to leave after saying that, but he remained with his feet firmly planted in front of her.

“How old are you?”

She sneered. “Ten thousand. You?”

“Seventeen. I imagine not much older than you.”

Françoise was humbled by his candid answer, unsure of what to say next until Paul, as she found out his name was, offered, “I know you must be wary of strangers like me, but I have a place you can stay. It’s not much, but no one will bother you.”

“You mean no one except for you?”

He smiled. “Even I will stay out of your way. You just have to keep a low profile. It’s an attic in my parents’ apartment.”

She laughed. “Well, Anne Frank is just another heroine I was waiting to emulate.”

Paul didn’t understand what she was talking about, assuming she was somehow delirious from sleep deprivation. So he went along with it instead of probing further, insisting, “Why don’t you come with me? You shouldn’t be out here like this.”

“And what are you doing out here ‘like this’ might I ask?

This was a question that took Paul aback. For he hadn’t expected to need to confide in anyone that he had just been to a prostitute. He couldn’t stand the shame of being a virgin any longer and had finally decided to use some of the funds he had saved from working the past three summers at FNAC to change his status. Embarrassed to tell her as much, he lied, “I was trying to kill myself.”

For once, Françoise was the one to be stunned into silence until countering, “Oh. And what changed your mind?”

“You, I guess.”

That would be the first lie to establish their fraught romance.

***

It took about three and a half weeks for Françoise to comprehend that she would need to find alternate lodging soon. She felt like a prisoner in that setting, forced to only emerge at highly specific times when there was no risk of running into either of Paul’s parents, who rose at five and came home around five-thirty or six every evening. There were a number of times when Françoise couldn’t make it back to Montmartre from her explorations by then, having to use Paul as her guide to lead her back in undetected, often around ten p.m., when they had finally finished dinner and retired. It was little better than being homeless, but at least the attic had some vintage clothing to pilfer. Though she had to admit she was starting to fall in love with Paul, as is so often the case when boys play the part of savior in a girl’s life, she also had to acknowledge that attachments were imprudent during this crucial phase. And so, just as she had done to her family, she abandoned Paul without so much as a warning. She did, however, feel inclined to leave him a handwritten note declaring her feelings for him and that if destiny willed it, their paths would one day cross again.

Perhaps her sentimentality and faith in fate felt both bold and pragmatic at the time, but what she would fail to intuit about herself is that she would never be still long enough for the hands of “Fortuna” to intervene again in bringing them together. Though this didn’t stop Paul from trying for the rest of his years to find her. Even after he decided to get married eight years later at the age of twenty-five and, oddly enough, to the now former prostitute who had devirginized him. She was in her early thirties by this point and needed to admit that whoring wasn’t a long-term career. Paul, on the other hand, needed to channel his own sentimentality into someone who wasn’t Françoise so why not let it be the woman who had made him a man? Both of them knew they weren’t in love, and that their marriage was a product of each of them having their own “practical” reasons for doing it. And so, still, Paul tried everything in his power to find Françoise, even hiring a private detective who assured him that if she was indeed in Paris, he would find her. Of course, he never did, taking Paul’s money regardless.

And it was true, for a while, Françoise’s path sent her everywhere from Bucharest to Kotor to Sanremo, even, at one point, making it as far as Australia before finally turning back to Europe. She would go wherever an odd job would take her, and that was a difficult thing for a woman to find when she didn’t want to use her body sexually in exchange for money. But Françoise managed. It was her duty to herself to carry out the adventures she had yearned for while still trapped in Beauce all those years ago. She had to travel as far and as often as her shell would take her to make up for all the people who wouldn’t. Who were too afraid to. Too worried about how such a life could “work,” about all their damned human connections, the ones that would ultimately be their downfall in living to their utmost potential.

But sure, every now and again, she would think of Paul. Feel him like some phantasmal presence hovering above her. Typically, when this happened, he was writing her a love letter, yet another one he would never be able to send without an address to track her down at. By the time he reached the end of his life, an astonishing collection had been amassed, drawing the attention of a local website that specialized in “odd or unusual” stories. At first, Paul was enraged by their seeming desire to wield him as some kind of “novelty” or “curiosity” for the sake of their readers. Then, he decided, maybe this would be the way in which Françoise at last discovered just how much he had been yearning for her return all these decades.

The article, ultimately entitled, “The Vagabond Can Receive No Love Letters,” was published to much fanfare. Françoise was discussed as a rare breed of woman, one with no paper trail, no email address and no internet presence whatsoever. In short, the manic pixie dream girl on steroids. She did not unearth the article during this period. However, when the story was adapted into an award-winning French film, she eventually heard about it, up there in Cork, a place she knew the French would never come to look for her as it was far too Irish. Yet by the time she mustered the emotional strength to attempt communicating with him by sending him a letter to the address mentioned in the original article, she was gripped with an apoplexy that made her keel over in her chair, pen still in hand, and only one word written: Paul.

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