MÈRE BIMBO: Étienne in Paris

When Étienne was sixteen, there were half-naked pictures of his mother all over Paris. Lubricious and delectable, always on display, her image seemed to shine from every poster and magazine and lunch box in every shop window in the city. He couldn’t go around a corner without meeting her amber haunches and voluptuary’s stare. Mara decked in tulle, Mara in black leather hot pants, Mara in a gingham bikini and straw hat, Mara at the bus station, in the motel bed, on the rocky beach wetly tanning the perfectly implausible spheres of her breasts. Mostly, though, it was Mara in her famous and only role, smartly outfitted in a hip holster, a décolleté silver catsuit and spike heels, posed before a porthole or captured in earnest debate with handsome, repressed Captain Zachariah (“Sir, as your weapons adviser I advise you to listen to my advice”; “Lieutenant, I advise you to back off”): Lieutenant Rachella P. Dar of the spaceship Wingspan. The show was “Operation Wingspan,” which had run on American TV when Étienne was a little boy and now, ten years later, had made Mara immortal in France.

In face and build, and especially in an involuntary sweetness of expression that located itself around his eyes and nose and made him resemble a prepubescent Lillian Gish, Étienne looked about two years younger than he actually was. The illusion was disrupted by his mouth, which gave an impression of acute curiosity and an almost unstoppable natural impulse towards pleasure. On mornings like this, stretching his hard-used limbs in Yann’s four-poster, running his tongue over sticky teeth, he was already wishing for more—more kisses, more cigarettes, more of the wares of the estimable Claude-le-Pez. The walls of the little flat were the color of honeydew melon in the morning light.

Étienne went into the bathroom and pissed in front of the poster of Lt. Dar that hung over the toilet. Then he went to the front window and was gratified to see his friend on the street below, smoking outside the bakery. Étienne thrust his head and skinny chest out the window. “Watson, come here, I need you,” he called down.

“Again?” Yann called back.

“I’m on fire.”

“Attention, j’ai des voisins, moi!” said Yann, and he put out his cigarette and stepped into the bakery.

Already the day was nickel-bright and smelled of hot chocolate and almond paste. The sun, still low in a radiant sky, had dusted everything with gold. The old narrow street looked beatified, as if the shafts of light falling down on it had sprung into being to commemorate a batch of miracles. Étienne thought of how many things he might do today, and from now on until the infinitely distant day that he died. Every atom of possibility seemed to make itself known all at once, rushing at him in a brilliant cloud that must have resembled the one Moses followed into the desert. Spring’s bitter breezes crowned his head, and he was tempted to throw himself out of the window to see if he flew.

On his way home Étienne walked along the Seine. It was a warm day, scented and gleaming, and the river shone as it moved sludgily below. He stopped at a newsstand to flip through the latest issue of Régardez! and found a two-page spread:

MARA TROTMAN: Vive-t-elle une nouvelle histoire d’amour?
Sujet la jolie blonde pulpeuse de la série “Opération Vol,” ses voyages d’aujourd’hui ne sont plus dans les étoiles mais sur les chemins de l’amour. Bref, un homme mysterieux semble lui avoir volé son coeur. Lt. Dar, qui s’est établie en France il y a presque dix ans, à cause de l’amour qu’elle porte pour notre pays, s’affiche ces jours-ci avec un “oilman” des Etats-Unis, dont le nom est inconnu. Il paraît que l’amant de Mara lui propose de le ramener, tout avec son jeune fils Étienne, en California pour une noce super-luxieuse. ET va-t-il permettre un tel bouleversement de sa vie? Ses amis savent bien que le petit fils de la sirène aime fortement son “night-life” à Paris.

Étienne didn’t think it likely that his mother was gallivanting about with any Californians, much less thinking of marrying one. Mara didn’t have much sense but he presumed she was smarter than that. The article was accompanied by an old promotional photo from “Operation Wingspan,” with Dar in her skintight sapphire uniform and Stanley Smart got up as Captain Zachariah in purple jodhpurs and a quilted jacket. There was also a candid photo, what the French called a cliché, of Mara clad in ill-judged yellow capri pants, pushing a shopping cart. Why would she go shopping, he wondered, when she had Honey and Jean-Louis to do it for her? But there she was, looking blurred and anxious, poorly colored, a little stunned. It was as if by snapping her covertly and from afar the photographer had released an uneasiness which floated towards her like a gas in the afternoon air. Her body was so much a part of her public image that it was something of a surprise, even for ET, to see her wearing it in off-hours. There they were, her attributes—her tanned calves, her enormous chest, her big lobular lips. She was monumental.

He was walking off with the magazine in his pocket when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and saw a young woman, tall and extremely thin, in long braids and short shorts and purple leather boots. “Tu deviens voleur, ET?” she said.

“Mais non, mademoiselle,” he said. “Le propriétaire du newsstand me fait le grand honneur de m’offrir tous les journaux gratuitement.” Which was a crude lie, but not one, he could tell, she was going to mind.