Something to Desireby Tasha Cotter
My French was better than Malina's, but not Rada's (no one in that class was better than Rada) so when the Châtelet-Les Halles metro intercom announced that there'd been a suicide on the tracks I, at least, had the brains to realize they were making a mistake. Rada knew, too. She'd seen the whole thing from the metro platform. As we turned to leave the station I imagined Malina's pale shoulders lifting, then disappearing under the impact of the train.
Afterwards, we said nothing, we just tried to blend in. Back then we didn't know the extent of Malina's obsession. All we knew was that her dad had died in the bombing and people assumed she couldn't go on without him, which was not true (you'd have to know Malina). See, the three of us had been together for about three months taking classes at the Sorbonne. Rada had become like a sister to me, and no one liked Malina, but she clung onto us. I remember she had shabby looking roses painted on her feet; she never spoke French like the rector had encouraged us to do. Still, no one wanted her dead, either.
Malina was from London, supposedly taking a year off from school (she'd just graduated) to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. The three of us had been placed in an Upper Intermediate Translation class on the Raspail campus of the Sorbonne. It was rumored to be the same campus de Beauvoir had attended when she was our age. We were only a month into classes when the London bombings happened. The three of us were sitting in a row, near the front of our class (like usual) when several cell phones went off at once. First one, then two classmates left, then a couple more. Some classmates ran out of the classroom in tears. Malina was one of those in tears, hurrying away. Exasperated by the disruptions, Madame Chauvet decided to end class ten minutes early. Rada and I went into the ancient courtyard and there was Malina, dabbing the corners of her eyes, collapsed in a little knot and crying about her father being in the tube when the bomb went off.
"You should go to London," Rada said.
"How? The train? A plane?!"
"Malina, Rada's only trying to help."
"Fuck. I know" Malina said, looking off in the direction of the stairwell that led underground where the bathrooms were. "Is that even safe? Now?"
"Who the hell cares if it's safe or not. Your dad's in the ICU. You should go."
"Rada we'll still go to Normandy. As soon as I get back," she said.
"Well, yeah. I mean, take your time, Malina. Be with your family."
"Yeah, Malina. Do what you got to do," I said.
It was then that I realized the clear obsession had taken a turn for the bizarre. Why was she thinking about a weekend jaunt to Normandy with Rada when her dad was laid up in some London ICU? Her home country was being assaulted by terrorists and she's thinking about getting Rada all to herself in Normandy. Here's more evidence as to how fucked up Malina was: she was gone for forty-eight hours, then (crazily) came back to class and continued to blow huge sums of money at Printemps, always arriving late to class, shopping bag in hand as Madame Chauvet raised her voice, barreling into that week's merciless translation of some Maupassant short story.
It was mid-July when Malina got the tickets to Normandy. I remember going to the crêperie down the street with them after class for lunch (place was more like an aisle with five-euro mid-day specials). Malina went outside to smoke a cigarette (she said it helped her figure). Rada and I got settled into our regular booth.
"You're not wearing your blue contacts today."
"Nah, went with the regular ones today," she said without looking up. "The other day I saw a picture someone posted of me and it looked so weird, the blue color, I mean." She cracked open the sticky laminated menu. "Just funny, with my skin tone, I think."
"I love them on you."
"I know you do," she said.
I thought about this for a moment. "Was it the picture Malina posted? The outdoor concert?"
She looked toward the door then back at the menu. "Yeah, that one she posted while she was in London."
I reached for a menu. "So, when do you both leave?"
"Friday, after class." Rada closed her menu then unfolded her napkin and ordered it on her lap. "You could get a ticket, too."
Her words were exactly what I wanted to hear, but the thought of being in such close proximity to Malina sickened me. I couldn't stomach the idea. I did try to tolerate her as best as I could, for Rada's sake, but sometimes I truly wanted her gone. I wanted to destroy her. It was a desire that arose once in a while. It came up and it was my job to fight it off. "I would love to go, but I've missed too much already. Back when I first got here-"
"I remember, the acclimation-"
"I'm only now feeling like I can be here and experience the place. The time change and my medicine-"
"I wish I could Rada, you know I'd do anything."
"I don't think it's good for you to be alone."
"I won't be. I'll go to Chartres."
She frowned. "You'll hate it there."
"I hate everything!"
"I can't believe she just bought the tickets like that." She glanced toward the front door. "I want to go, I just—"
I heard the punchy platforms. I didn't need to look up. I knew her speed. I knew her sounds, inconspicuous as they were to everyone else, to me it was like a battle cry, a magnet, and a dare all in one.
"Chase! Hand me the carafe d'eau, s'il vous plait!"
"Hey, she made an effort!" Rada clapped a silent clap and turned to me. She continued,"talking like the locals for once! Madame Chauvet needs to be hearing
Pleased with herself, Malina threw her weight into the seat beside me and I handed her the pitcher, shooting Rada a look that told her we'd talk later. It was always like that with Malina, she tended to dominate conversations, events, nights out. It was in her voice and size. She was taller than Rada, more muscular. But Rada was like a bird: angular, capable, assured. Malina played lacrosse and intimidated people. I knew that something was wrong about the way she was with Rada, but it's like I said, if you'd have asked me if I wanted her dead, I might have taken a long sip of lemonade, considered things, and (surely) responded, No.
While they were gone I went to the Luxembourg gardens, got fatter, raided the library at the American house and went with the others to Chartres (for the cathedral). There was nothing else for me to do. I tried to figure out my homework, but I only ever got about 50 percent of it right, ever. It didn't matter how long I spent studying the Bescherelle or copying the conjugations. One night Mom called and she was testing my French on the phone and telling me I'm a dummy because I should know more than I do. I hung up on her and waited for Rada to call (I thought she would call) but she never did, so I read this Roth book I'd found called Letting Go, but it made me feel listless, like I should be doing more since I was in Paris.
Then early Tuesday morning I got a text message from Rada asking me to meet her at the Gare Saint Lazare. Class didn't start for another two hours. I grabbed a couple chocolate biscuits from an opened wrapper I'd tossed on my desk the night before and an americano from the vending machine downstairs and headed past the guards, toward the Cité Universitaire metro station, wondering what that bitch Malina had done now. There was something in Rada's tone...something was wrong.
When I got there Rada was waiting outside. There was no sign of Malina, thank god.
"Don't you have any luggage?"
"No, I'd just packed this backpack."
"How the hell was Normandy. You didn't call or anything. I was worried."
"You shouldn't have worried. There was no cell reception. Did you do anything?"
"I went to Chartres. It was pretty. A nice cathedral."
"You went in a cathedral!"
I got my map out and tried to figure how to get to Raspail from where we were. "I saw it, Rada. I didn't say I went in."
She leaned in, placing an index finger on the station we were at. "Oh, I know how to get back to Raspail from where we are. We're early. We can go by that café we always pass on the way."
I folded the map. "You always know how to get around everywhere."
"Ah, I'm from Chicago. I'm a little more used to mass transit than you."
She took the lead and I followed.
"So, where is she?" I said, dodging a girl on a bike. Or a scooter. Whatever those things are called. I was trying to go as fast as Rada was going. "Is she meeting us somewhere?" I was hurrying to keep up.
"No, she isn't here. Let's just say we'll be spending some time apart and Normandy is not something I want to talk about right now."
It was the best thing I'd heard her say all summer.
Of course, I tried to learn as much as I could about my new friend, Rada. She was so different and the summer just encouraged our new bond. She was like a new species. Utterly foreign. I'd never met anyone who wore flowers in their hair. And not just any flowers. She owned a collection of clips in tropical blooms that looked both real and not real. I spent a lot of time trying to decipher what they were made of. She wore a clip each day.
Rada's room told me very little. It was a plain little dormitory in the Cité Universitaire's American house. A lot like my room, really. The floor was white tile. There was a balcony, a sink, a desk and chair and a modest sized closet. The whole place came to no more than 300 square foot, I would say. No posters, and only a few books. Nabokov, Akhmatova, Trakl. We worked on homework there sometimes. Other times we went to the study that was adjacent to the main lobby downstairs. It was there that Rada told me about her plan.
"I'm going to Montmartre today after class," she said, closing her heavily annotated red Bescherelle.
"That sounds good to me. I've been wanting to see Pigale, anyway."
"I'm going there to get a piercing, Chase. You have the world's most delicate constitution, so you may want to hang back."
I blinked. "You want to get a piercing? Really?" I glanced up at her. She looked like she was a fairy, just landed on a peony in dewy spring.
"I do. I've never gotten so much as my ears pierced and I found this place—" she was opening up this notepad, flipping pages. "Malina was telling me about—"
"Rada, I doubt it's even sanitary. I mean, why do you need a piercing." I tossed my books into my leather bag. "This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. It'll take an hour to get there and once you do the place will probably be closed. You want some guy named Slobodan—"
"You don't have to go."
"I do have to go."
"I shouldn't have told you. I debated."
"I shouldn't have let you go to Normandy!"
And when I looked up, she had left.
Class was torture, like always. Only this time Malina's yellow highlighter broke and she got this neon ooze all over her hands and part of the desk and floor (it was probably the same floor de Beauvoir's boots touched), Madame Chauvet had seen the incident, I was sure. I was desperately trying to do everything in my power not to fail so I pretended like nothing had happened, though I wanted to stuff the broken highlighter down Malina's damn throat. Eventually she left to wash everything and for once I had some peace of mind, but that was temporary because as soon as class ended and Rada and I were talking in the courtyard about fall classes when Malina rushed up, reminding Rada that today was Montmartre day.
"I know, I know," Rada said, walking toward the iron gates.
"Did I miss much?"
"You missed half an hour, Malina. I'm betting she'll fail you. Dead dad or not, you can say goodbye to passing now." The three of us turned onto the boulevard.
"Chase," Rada whispered.
When we got to the Raspail train station I got my creased little map out of my pocket and adjusted my glasses to analyze the route we would take, keeping an eye on Rada in front of me, who seemed to awkwardly be trying not to step on Malina because Malina had a way of being all around you at once, like Easy, the damn cat of my step-father's. We reached the turnstile and I slid my ticket in, following the two of them down a steep flight of stairs.
"Okay, so we need to go to Châtelet-Les Halles and then get on the line to Montmartre."
"Anyone hungry? I could go for a crêpes." Malina was running an anti-bacterial towelette over her arm.
I could tell Rada didn't want to make a stop.
"How about we get something in Montmartre? I think this tattoo place closes at two."
"I know I'm not hungry. I can wait."
"Chase you're never hungry. Which is why you're so skinny. I need to go on a diet. It would help me with my Parisian chic-ness. Don't you think, Rada?"
"Malina, you don't need to lose weight. I've told you—"
"Well, if I could just switch bodies with Chase. He's built like a—"
"Why don't you fuck off, Malina. Go break some more highlighters and think about de-railed trains."
"No, I'm serious—"
I saw Malina reach for Rada through the crowd. The platform was swarming with people. There was some foreign women's soccer team shoving us now. I maneuvered my way closer to Rada (people were coming between us) then Malina said (yelled) something I couldn't make out because the train was approaching and she slapped me, sending me backwards into a concrete column. I went for her, but Rada snagged me, stopping the punch, and when I turned I saw Malina fall backwards onto the tracks, completely losing her footing because of her damn stilettos she insisted on wearing everywhere. I thought I heard her voice behind me, but it only lasted a moment. I touched my cheek and felt the skin still stinging from her palm. No one said anything and Rada and I left the station. That day, we left everything.