have this old friend, Marc, and I thought that our spending the weekend with
the two of you would be good for him."
It sounded reasonable. Jean-Bernard and I were two good souls.
"Hes being released this Friday," Anne revealed.
"Hes been serving a little prison time."
Perhaps this was too much revelation.
"For robbery. And you guys are so caring, so nurturing, I thought "
This was true. We were a loving couple. Jean-Bernard had brought me a brand new life and love. Before him, I was merely a cute little sixteen-year-old in the provinces of France -- stuck there with only my romantic obsessive fantasies. My favorite one was about a mean despot of a sheik (an Omar Sharif look-alike) who would kidnap me to be the favorite in his harem. Then, after a while, my love would turn him into a good sheik. And on the day he set all the citizens free, I would be standing next to him, both of us with tears in our eyes.
" Its exactly what Marc needs right now," she kept nudging.
Duty was again calling out to me and my sheik to help one more soul.
In truth, my sheik was a traveling salesman. A rep for Goody Hair Products. He didnt ride a stallion. Better. A BMW. And he was twenty-two.
"So, what do you two think? I know its a big favor."
It was all flattering for me to hear, and helped fan my altruistic ego. There wasnt much for a Good Samaritan -- or for anyone if you ask me -- to do in my small, dismal town of Cholet. (Yes, there are ugly towns in France.) Growing up gay in Cholet was a struggle, I was branded "sissy" at school, and there were threats, too. Yet, despite all those labels, those obstacles, I never stop searching for love.
God knows I tried. Whenever I could find a willing boy my age -- a needle in haystack -- he proved himself to be a bumpkin, never a knight. I lived in despair, just waiting, waiting for romance to happen.
And finally, it did. Even my parents were relieved. Despite my age, they let me spend my weekends with Jean-Bernard. They knew the alternative for someone as determined as I could mean the danger of public restrooms or violence in city parks. So, although my mother would have preferred an architect or a doctor to a traveling salesman, she decided to cut her losses. It was not only for my emotional well-being, but my physical safety, too.
It was in this state of bliss, safe in Jean-Bernards ground floor studio in Cholets neighboring town of Quimper, on yet another rainy day in Brittany, that we got his old friends call. She was thankful and delighted when we did say "yes," then added, "Oh, and, guys, one last thing. Before he did his two years for armed robbery "
"Did you say armed robbery?"
"Yeah. Before that, Marc was a bit of a fag-basher sometimes. So just be a little discreet, O.K.? Well see you two Friday "
Discreet? Me, who had been ridiculed in school from the earliest grades? Me, who knew puberty was over when people stopped calling me "Mademoiselle" when I picked up the phone and switched to "Madame"? Me, who had already been threatened in local bars? One woman, two fags and one fag-basher in a one-room apartment for three days. Why had we said yes? This was my safe haven my blue heaven out of harms way - that Jean-Bernard and I had created for ourselves. From my first visit to the romantic little studio just across from the cathedral, I was ready to play house. To make it the perfect love-nest. When I found out there was no stove, we went right out and got one. Three-burners and an oven. From then on, it was paradise.
I was cooking lunch on that new stove when our two guests arrived on Friday. It was another stormy afternoon. Sure enough, Fag-basher Marc looked the part. He was tall with broad shoulders. He had steely eyes, a dour grimace and a crew cut. His leather jacket, white tee shirt, jeans and boots were typical "loubard" -- blue-collar motorcycle gang.
Jean-Bernard and I covered our discomfort with our natural frenetic pace, perhaps more so. Jean-Bernard was doing his fast-talking salesman bit, praising the wonderful Goody Hair Products. But what could I add and still remain safely "discreet"? How I loved going on the road with Jean-Bernard? What a great team we were at supermarkets, where I would put the shelves in order -- brushes with brushes, combs back with combs? How good I had become at identifying all the different styles of barrettes and fluffy elastic tie-ups? Or perhaps I could tell them how once in a while we would abruptly turn on a dirt road, stop the car, have fast, passionate sex, then just as quickly drive on to the next customer, to more brushes, more bows.
Still, our lunch for four in the tiny studio was convivial. Everybody loved my steamed mussels, and we drank a good deal of wine. The conversation, hesitant at first, was now flowing. We ventured into politics and surprised ourselves how like-minded we were about the need for radical change.
By dessert, Jean-Bernard was on to telling some of his sales rep jokes. They were the same dumb ones I had heard him use on his customers before, but thats when I saw the first a crack in the granite of Marks face -- a smile that transformed it into a normal face. An almost friendly face.
After lunch we decided to take a drive in the rain. A storm that had been barreling across the Atlantic was now here, and, depending on ones point of view, we were heading to the best -- or worst -- place to see it. La Pointe du Raz or "Lands End" is the most western bit of France; a rocky peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic with sheer cliffs that drop a hundred feet.
Bystanders told us that we were crazy as we started out on the tiny hiking trail with no handrail along the edge of the cliffs. Even under normal conditions, it is no piece of cake. We had to do it.
The four of us kept our hands clasped together -- the ever-optimistic Jean-Bernard and I leading the way. As we kept slipping and sliding, we would lift each other up. And when our startled eyes would meet, we might glimpse fear there, but it would be instantly covered with laughter. As we were daring the wind and defying gravity, our hands, in a chained grip, became a lifeline. This obstinate little crew made it all the way to the end. There at the tip of Europe we became actors in an epic Wagnerian opera, with gigantic waves crashing on three sides, rolling clouds speeding above our heads, and the air full of flying foam.
Drenched, disheveled, shivering and exhilarated, we got back and went straight to the nearest café. As we were warming up with shots of Calvados, a couple of crusty old fishermen began spilling out tales of past apocalyptic hurricanes, making sure we knew this one was just a piss in the bucket.
Later that night, after dinner, we spread mattresses on the floor and dimmed the lights. Then, we heroic four lay there giggling like kids at a sleepover. Thats when I saw the startled look on Marcs face. And then that flash of fear I had seen on the cliffs. It came back for me, too. We both realized that Jean-Bernard had begun holding my hand. Anne and Jean-Bernard were still having great fun, but Marc and I had stopped. The cat was out of the bag. And we were both waiting to see where it would jump. Well, it seemed that the cat wasnt scaring him anymore. Instead, he gave it that big disarming smile, then joined in the laughter again.
Our afternoons trial by fire had made us buddies. And it turned out that Anne wasnt so crazy, after all, because by Sunday, with more of my home-cooking and more dare-deviling in the storm, the guy was indeed under our caring spell.
As we were lingering over our last lunch together, Marc sheepishly admitted he was confused. This was the cue to me and Jean-Bernard to spread the gay gospel. We were on. We went from Alexander the Great to Oscar Wilde, from Nature to Nurture.
In the evening, we were all driving Marc back to the big city of Nantes. We had to drop him off at a biker bar to meet a buddy of his, another big, taut guy. He insisted that we all have a farewell toast.
We settled at the bar, and, after a bit, Marc, Anne and his friend went off to play pinball. Jean-Bernard and I kept chattering on about the many strange and wonderful phenomena of the weekend. Until we both began to feel a painfully familiar chill.
In the mirror we saw them. Two drunken, burly guys. There they were, with their faked limp wrists and their lisping, high-pitched voices. Every mocking word out of their mouths felt like a knife in our stomachs. They raised the ante. They got louder. They asked us "faggots" if we could fight like "real" men, as everybody now stared at us, naked and weak.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO MY BUDDIES!"
Marc the Ex-fag-basher to the rescue. He and his buddy grabbed the two guys, pulled them out to the parking lot, and beat the shit out of them. Then they walked in and climbed back on their stools, next to us.
"I shouldnt have left you. That shouldnt have happened. I am so sorry." And then he ordered us another round.
With that last drink, we parted company. We swore we would stay in touch. We never saw him again.
FLORENT MORELLET is co-chair of Save the Gansevoort Market and president of Compassion in Dying NY. He is a mapmaker, drag queen, and the unofficial mayor of the Meat Market. The restaurant that bears his name has been a New York institution for eighteen years.