Entretien en français ici.
Here’s some of my writing. A poem published in our magazine and the start of a short story published in the anthology I edited with Megan Fernandes, Strangers in Paris (Tightrope Books, 2011). You can also listen to some of my poetry on myspace.
Biography: David Barnes co-edited the anthology Strangers in Paris: New Writing Inspired by the City of Light (Tightrope Books, 2011) and self-publishes The Bastille Lit Magazine. He won Shakespeare & Company’s Travel In Words short story competition in 2006. His poems have been published in Spot Lit Magazine, 34th Parallel, Upstairs At Duroc, Retort Magazine and elsewhere.
she was the closest
she left a high-tide mark in the bath;
her cracked-up laugh
closed chapter, she.
life unfolds its concertina weeks into decades and
it’s not her
but this useless-unused stuff
that calls out something from sleepless sleep
life unfolds what I had;
as rainwater soaks
through a flimsythin box;
She always reads the last line first
In the November morning, Notre Dame looks as if it has been cast from metal, not cut from pale stone. The slanting daylight picks out every detail, each carved saint and gargoyle. The taxi sprays rain from the asphalt covering the cobbles on the quai de Tournelle. It’s early. The Paris streets are empty. The white walls of the boulevards are wintry calm.
A girl in a red coat with black hair is standing waiting to cross the road. For a second I think it’s Anna.
We draw level.
Something in me is always looking for her. For two years there’s been a constant awareness of separation at the back of my mind. Of how close or how distant she is from me. It has a physicality that is so familiar that I can describe it precisely. It’s like the tug of a thread fixed inside the back of my skull. Or, sometimes, like a sideways gravity pulling at my stomach, trying to haul me back into place, back to where I should be, to wherever she is.
Its effect is that whatever I’m doing, I’m distracted. Split between the here-and-now and the tension in my body created by her absence.
* * *
When I first stepped off the train in the lofty hall of the Gare du Nord, I thought I’d soon get itchy feet. But I got a job teaching English in a two room school and I stayed. I was 32. I taught English all year and on the last day of her course Anna suggested we all went for a drink.
The Lighthouse Café, Les Phares, sprawls outwards from under the iron-barred fortress of the Banque de France, on the site where the old Bastille stood – before the crowd demolished it so thoroughly that not a stone was left in place.
The tables are the tiny round ones all Parisian cafés have, just big enough for two people. Paris is a city geared to the I-you relationship, to assignations between two people, whether your encounter is with your friend, your father or your lover. It lends itself to the revealing of confidences and to intimate storytelling.
Anna was then 27. She had a darting, bright energy overlaying sadness, as though she was temporarily escaping something. When she leant forward to make a comment, or raised her wine glass to her lips, she moved with casual poise.
Her hair, straightened and dyed jet black, was twisted behind her head at the back and pinned with a Japanese hairstick. Her fringe fell across the sides of her pale face to the level of the mouth. Her teeth thrust forward slightly, parting her lips a little, as though she was about to taste or bite or kiss.
Her eyes were slightly large for her thin face. She was too thin. Like my best friend when I was a boy, who was so thin that he turned blue in winter. The bone structure of her face and hands was visible in the same way his had been.
There were times I felt like her face was a mask. When she did something ordinary, making some small gesture or comment in the clichéd language of everyday speech, it came as a relief.
The other students left one by one. She stayed, as I hoped she would. She didn’t sip her wine in a restrained way, was not careful to prevent it touching her lips. So it stained the corners of her mouth, her teeth. She spoke English, only switching to French when she couldn’t find the words. Her Italian accent was so soft the waiter thought she was French.
It was just us.
We talked about books that had set us on fire. She was reluctant to leave, to go back to her flat, to the boyfriend she still lived with.
‘Je suis lourde,’ she sighed. I am heavy. Her sadness was like a tangible weight. I knew she was not someone I should get involved with.
‘Do you think being in love can ever last?’ she asked.
‘I think it always burns out.’
‘But it’s our fault,’ she said earnestly. ‘When you first meet someone you really see them. But then you decide you know who they are and you stop looking. You stop seeing them any more.’ She held her empty glass in a casual, offhand way. ‘If only you could see them with the same interest you had at the start, maybe it could last…’
The late evening traffic turned round the Column of the Place de la Bastille. The Column was the spoke of a wheel, the cars rumbled over the cobbles, a wheel turning in a staggered series of stop-starts.
‘I don’t want to go home yet,’ Anna said. ‘Let’s go for a walk.’
We wandered along the Boulevard Henri IV, crossed the bridge to the Isle St Louis. There were lights on the far side of the river. A series of amphitheatres have been cut out of the quai and in the summer musicians come there to play and people dance tango in the night air. As we crossed to the left bank, snatches of music came across the Seine and I saw the crowd whirling around on the edge of the black water.
Reaching the quai, Anna sat down on a grassy slope and looked out across the river. Her eyes shone.
‘You can feel its breath,’ she said.
People were chatting on the stone steps of the amphitheatres or dancing. It was easy to talk, watching the black river flow. A fire juggler was practising in the dark. The grass felt rough under my hand.
We lay back on the grass in the cool July evening. I propped myself on one elbow, turned towards her. So close. I needed nothing more than to just let things unfold and flow. I didn’t want this to end in just a kiss.
To read the rest, get a copy of Strangers in Paris (Tightrope Books, 2011)