The street was desolate. Or at least devoid of age-appropriate people to Sandoval’s twenty-six years. He hadn’t realized that so much of Paris would be filled with olds and families. That is, when he managed to catch a glimpse of anyone at all while still in half-lockdown mode. Perhaps that’s why he felt both desperate and emboldened enough to approach her. The only girl for kilometers who might be able to get a damp vagina without lube. And she was brandishing herself like a red flag to a bull in that pink neon dress and neon green cropped jacket, complete with sequined white cowboy boots. How could he not try his luck with her? After all, he had just managed to move to town from Barcelona thanks to the sanction of a work permit from BNP Paribas. Granted, he didn’t exactly look very employed. All scruff and stench from slapdash travel and interim lodging arrangements, topped by a surgical mask that appeared decidedly government-issued. She, on the other hand, wasn’t wearing one at all. He had to admit that’s what, in part, attracted him to her. That she wasn’t one of these “fanaticists” determined to stamp out all sense of humanity with personal protective equipment–then again, she could also be a “superspreader.” The new equivalent of a modern succubus. He decided he would take his chance on illness if it also meant taking one on love. Because, in the end, he still believed that’s what really mattered, and what had latently spurred him to take the job in Paris in the first place despite the uncertainty of a location change in this economic climate.
He called out to her. Several times. It took him a few seconds to realize that she wasn’t ignoring him (at least not deliberately), but was wearing headphones. What was she listening to? Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You”? The answer, in truth, was “Tracy Jacks” by Blur. Knowing he was going to take it to a new level of harassment by actually interrupting her listening experience–actually making her stop in her tracks–Sandoval proceeded regardless. Secure in his precognition that she would be offput by his bold advance in a pandemic atmosphere. Even bold by pre-pandemic standards, come to think of it. The type of “goddamn mami” behavior associated with East Harlem. Or lecherous, leering Southern Italy. Even so, he waved his hands at her, jumping within her peripheral vision as a means to get her attention (he figured touching her would be a scarier method to finagle her notice). She was clearly jarred–and annoyed–nonetheless. His attempt at so-called delicacy being useless from the start.
“Bonjour,” he began. In her eyes, he could sense her recognition of the language, as she seemed to be turning over in her mind whether or not she wanted to reciprocate his greeting in French or feign having no idea what he was saying. He continued, “J’aime beaucoup votre style.” It was a flaccid offering as a means to get a conversation going, but he also knew that all women were inherently vain, and that appealing to their looks was the best way to get a dialogue going. It didn’t matter, however, for it seemed she was opting to pretend not to understand French. He ruined her plans by then speaking in English, which no one in Paris could ever seem to deny having a grasp on. “I am sorry to bother you, I just wanted to say that I like your style, what you’re wearing… very much.”
She nodded slowly, cautiously returning, “Thanks.”
“Are you living in Paris?”
She bristled, as though immediately regretting that she gave him an inch when already knowing full well he would take a mile. Weighing her response, she decided on: “It’s complicated.”
“Oh. I see.” This was failing spectacularly, yet Sandoval could not stop himself from persisting. It was like watching a car fire (after it crashed, of course) ascend higher and higher into the sky–and apparently he wanted to see how extensively the crash and burn could go before blowing up entirely. “Well, I’m new in town. Maybe you’d like to meet up sometime.”
She continued to stand there stoically, as though frozen. He grappled for something to keep the one-sided conversation going, to keep her there in front of him, in all of her neon glory. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he had not stopped her merely because she was the only “age-appropriate” option as far as the eye could see. No, there was something more luminous about her than just the neon. An aura that shone even brighter than what she was wearing. Not thinking clearly, he held out his “meat hook” (which somehow, in this unrequited context, resembled an impotent penis) and introduced himself. “I’m Sandoval.”
She looked at his hand as though it was disintegrating before her very eyes. She mumbled incredulously, “Le corona.” She was genuinely horrified by his gall in trying to bring back a custom that had, overnight, become completely anachronistic. He instantly regretted the reflexive gesture that he couldn’t seem to shake after years and years of networking and schmoozing. Of kissing corporate ass at every turn. A custom that transcended all cultures and codes as the corporation became more powerful than any government institution. As she recoiled, so did he. This naive foray into classic flirtation had been more ill-advised than he could have possibly envisioned, even with already knowing beforehand that she would be scandalized by the outdated social courtesy.
“Anyway, as I said, I just arrived here and it would be nice to get a drink with you or something.” The car kept crashing.
“Um, listen, I really can’t. And nothing’s open even if I could.”
“But it will be,” he offered.
She glossed over that to shrug, “Thanks for the compliment, but I’ve gotta go.” With that, she practically levitated away. He had never seen someone flee so quickly without actually breaking into a run. It was as though she were floating on air, her neon pink dress billowing in the wind as one last taunting to his desire.
Maybe he had been a fool to move to a new town. He was never going to meet a girl who wasn’t absolutely paranoid. They’d sooner take on a stranger with an STD than with any signs of COVID-19, which he seemed to exhibit to her in some arcane way. More than ever, they had decided: trust no outsider, least of all a male one.