Les Amants Condamnés

The couples that naively flocked to Paris to celebrate themselves had no idea that, in so doing, they were sealing the fate of their demise. Most especially if they were of the variety aiming to achieve all the cliches: a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower, a river cruise on the Seine and, most bombastically of all, attaching a lock with their initials to one of the many bridges along the river, most commonly Pont des Arts and Pont Neuf (an act that has summarily been banned in the last few years but still requires the occasional patrolling of a “janitor” with an angle grinder).

With this very banal (yet intended as grand) gesture, the couples in question were, in effect, sealing the curse doomed to fall upon them. One that had its roots in the twentieth century, when the lock tradition as means to express undying devotion became such a renowned practice.

It was during the 1980s that a little known tragedy set in motion what would become the annual mass breakup of any couple that had visited Paris the year before and performed the maudlin ritual. It didn’t matter whether they had been freshly engaged, freshly married or had freshly fucked. Whenever the over glorified janitor came along with his angle grinder to saw the locks off of every bridge, it was goodbye love and hello darkness my old friend. The couple would simply be overcome with a rage and contempt for one another so insurmountable that they had to break up in that split second, no matter where they were or what they were doing. It just happened to be the magic of the hex that not only made the dissolution stick, but also conspire for the locks to be cut at a moment when both members of the couple were in the same place.

It was most unfortunate for the ones who were in a deep sleep spooning one another with amorousness radiating from their very loins. For, in a flash, they would bolt upright at the same time, stare at one another in shock and realize that the love between them had vanished. Sometimes, they would do their best to fumble for a reason why, knowing full well there wasn’t a logical one. Like one person saying the other was being selfish or inattentive when the former tried to tell him or her of a horrible nightmare that had caused the abrupt awakening. But it was no nightmare. It was all too real. The end of the relationship that neither one believed couldn’t go on lasting forever. Thanks to none other than Claudia Serrure, a then 23-year-old, for all intents and purposes, tourist who had journeyed to Paris from the depths of Sicily in September of ’86 for an exchange program via her university.

An endlessly jealous and obsessive person (as most Sicilians are wont to be), it was her undoing when she met Jean-Luc. They encountered each other one day after Claudia finished her afternoon French literature class. She meandered into a nearby tabac to avoid returning to her lonely hovel prematurely. She preferred to kill time in between courses at the library or the tabac, and today, she was in a decidedly more vice-ridden mood. She needed her cigarettes and she needed her drink. Something to take her mind off the fact that her Sicilian accent was already turning French. How could she go home now without being deemed a traditore? Dwelling on her family and friends’ reaction to this, Jean-Luc interrupted her thoughts by plopping down next to her near the table she had taken up residence at and asking, “As-tu du feu?” It was a question that felt laden with a double entendre, literally translating to, “Do you have any fire?” She did. And she instantly offered it to him, bending to his dashing good looks that combined James Dean with Alain Delon.

She could tell he was something of a street urchin, yet still managed to cultivate a dapper style. A dilapidated dandy, that’s what he was. They didn’t have any of those on the island. Just men with delusions of being mafiosi. As Jean-Luc took a drag from his newly lit cigarette, he side-eyed Claudia and demanded, “Ton nom?” She told him it was Anne-Sophie, getting a unique pleasure when being able to “pass” for French as they were always so quick to dismiss foreigners as anything but. He went along with her ruse, knowing full well it was a lie but biding his time before he would decide to extract the truth from her. Instead he asked, “C’est ta première fois à Paris?”

“Oui,” she admitted, feeling herself melt ever-farther into his dark depths. She could already sense that she was going to throw all her responsibilities to the wind for the sake of spending any and all extra time with him. And extra time Jean-Luc had in spades, though he seemed more than unusually preoccupied with the assassination of Georges Besse, the now former CEO at Renault. The polarizing business mogul had recently laid off a large number of workers at the company, making him a target of anarchist (i.e. leftist) organization Action Directe. Or so they took credit for just a week ago, three months after he was gunned down in plain sight of his own daughter, who was looking out the window in anticipation of his usual 8:30 p.m. return to their eighteenth century villa at 16 Boulevard Edgar Quinet. Murder in Montparnasse. A title Agatha Christie could probably get on board with.

And as the news reports fired off accusation after accusation about the left extremists getting out of control, Claudia dove with abandon into a whirlwind romance with Jean-Luc. Only she didn’t view it as something that was whirlwind but a relationship that would last forever. Call it the detriment of being a passionate woman originating from the boot country. She even took to skipping most of her classes, despite knowing it would cost her in the long-term. But she could only think in the short right now. Jean-Luc on top of her, Jean-Luc next to her, Jean-Luc underneath her. These were the only impressions she could retain. Not whatever they were trying to teach her in school as of late. And, speaking of late, that’s precisely what she was. By three weeks. Yet something inside of her (apart from the fetus) told her to keep the information under wraps lest she make Jean-Luc skittish. The last thing she wanted was to scare him away. In her heart, though, she knew that if he really was in love with her as she was with him, nothing would send him flying.

She supposed she didn’t want to find out for sure just yet, preferring instead to revel in what seemed like their never-ending honeymoon period. She even dragged him to Pont de l’Archevêché so that they could ascend to get a view of Notre-Dame, where a plethora of locks burdened the bridge’s already constantly burgeoning load. She, too, bore a lock in hand that she had taken the time to write their initials on in permanent marker. Foolishly believing that anything could be permanent. Jean-Luc had already expressed a resistance to going anywhere near what he called the “Disneyland version” of Paris, but Claudia promised she would stock her giant tote bag with enough wine to drink by the river after she carried out her mission. He acquiesced, never being one to turn down “free” anything.

So there they were, standing on the bridge as she wistfully affixed “their” lock to it and he gazed out blankly into the distance, where he could make out the top of the Grand Palais–as though deliberately choosing to ignore the view right in front of him. He all at once felt a wave of paranoia come over him, noticing the police starting to encircle them. He could have killed Claudia for talking him into this insipid idea as a means to commemorate their “love,” and told her as much as he was arrested for playing a part in the assassination of Besse, that fallen beacon of capitalism who would only be replaced by some other corporate phoenix inevitably bound to rise from the ashes.

She couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t fathom that her Jean-Luc could be so cruel, so insensitive. In short, a criminal mastermind. He didn’t love her, but was merely looking for a distraction while he waited out the police. Played a trick of hiding in plain sight while others in his fold were apprehended. But his time was up now, and with it, his dalliance. She watched him being pulled away from her, taking the key for the lock out of her purse again (she had already botched the tradition by not throwing it into the water as a symbol) and removing it from the railing. Crying out in agony, she tossed both lock and key into the water. It felt insufficient, was not mitigating enough for the pain of her revelation and loss. She wanted more, so as to feel less. So she looked once more at Jean-Luc, presently being shoved into the back of the police car and surrounded by curious civilian onlookers. She sneered at him and shouted, “I’m pregnant!” before jumping into the water.

Though they say she couldn’t have drowned, her body was never recovered, and it was on that day the curse was begat, with those who still remembered the story of Claudia insisting she haunted those bridges seeking out her own justice for the hurt Jean-Luc caused her by inflicting hurt upon others.

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