the short story project


Alex Cohen

Darjeeling DJ

I remember being immediately attracted to him. He seemed interesting and weird, and I liked his dark, impressively groomed beard. He was kind of tall and definitely skinny. Even under his poncho/jacket thing I could tell. He was a hipster, for sure—ironically political tie-dye t-shirt, baggy skinny jeans (baggy because he was that skinny), Vans. I probably weighed more than him. But as soon as I saw him, I kind of knew. I don’t know what I knew, but I knew something. And it seemed like he did, too. We shook hands, and introduced ourselves. Then, we—him, his friend, my friend, my friend’s friend, and I—decided to leave the overcrowded bookstore and go somewhere else for drinks.

My friend and I wanted hot wine but we didn’t remember which place we’d had it at the week before, so he suggested going to a bar he knew in the Latin Quarter.
The five of us walked down (or up? It was uphill…) the winding cobblestone streets, talking in pairs. Or not talking, and walking solo, as was the case for my friend’s friend, who was younger and more introverted than the rest of us. My friend talked to his friend, who was kind of cute, in a retro, poor-man’s-Ryan-Gosling kind of way. He was nice. I walked with him, feeling that eagerness you feel when you like someone in middle school and don’t want your best friend or nemesis to claim him first. Because back then people could be claimed. I didn’t need to worry, though. It seemed like the feeling was mutual. I told him about myself, and he told me about himself, and the shared information was well received on both ends. He was as interesting and weird as he’d initially seemed, and I really did like his beard. 
When we finally arrived at the bar he guided us to and went inside we discovered that they didn’t have hot wine. I think that’s when the inside joke started— that he was really good at disappointment.
The two other girls and I ordered gin and tonics instead and the guys got beers. We sat at a small table downstairs; me next to his friend and him next to my friend. My friend’s friend sat in the corner.
After the first round of drinks he and his friend went outside for a smoke. The two girls and I stayed inside and got another round. When the guys came back, they switched seats, and I could tell it was intentional. He and I started talking, and he apologized again for letting me down with the lack of hot wine. 
“Maybe you should do your Masters in disappointment,” I joked. 
He went along with it, expounding his aptitude for disappointing people throughout the rest of the night.
I proved to be disappointing in my own right when we went upstairs to play pool. It was slightly embarrassing (I literally dropped the ball) but he didn’t care—and even tried giving me pointers in that cliché way guys do in movies. I continued to fuck up and my friend intermittently tried to interject on our inside joke but failed at getting his attention. She was great at pool, actually. And pretty. And wore sexily androgynous loafers and trousers. I would have been impressed if I were him. But I don’t think he was.
We stayed like that at the bar for a while: drinking and playing pool well (all of them) and badly (me) until the two other girls got sleepy. They lived near me and it was late, so I decided it was a good idea for us to walk home together. 
“It was nice to meet you,” I hugged him goodbye. 
“What’s your last name?” he asked. I told him. 
“What’s yours?” I asked, and he told me. 
“Are you going to remember?” 
“Yeah, I will!” 
“No, you’re not.” 
“I will!” I indelicately pulled out my phone and typed his name in my iPhone notes. “See?” 
He took a look before taking it from me and typing his number. 
As I walked home with my friend and her friend, she asked me what I thought of him. I shrugged. She said she thought he was weirdly hot. I agreed but didn’t say so.
It took a month of hint-dropping messages before he and I finally made plans to see each other again. 
One winter night, he met me outside my apartment wearing a dark green bowler hat. His brown corduroy blazer matched his brown eyes, hair, and beard, but not the weather. It was too cold to just be wearing a V-neck t-shirt underneath the blazer. We kissed each other on both cheeks and I led the way to the bar with the hot wine I’d wanted before and still wanted now. When I couldn’t find the place, we ended up at a little bistro with outdoor heating and a red awning. They had hot wine. 
He’d never had it before and didn’t seem much of a fan after his first sip. I could tell he was disappointed but I could also tell he was making the best of it by adding both of the extra sugar packets the waiter had brought, and squeezing the orange sliver into the warm burgundy glass.
We talked about living in and traveling to different countries. Some people in the grade above me in high school were friends of his in college. It was a strange coincidence but not one I wanted to dwell on since I didn’t particularly like any of them. I was more interested in knowing about his years living in India, which prompted a discussion about The Darjeeling Limited, one of my (and his) favorite movies. After a couple of mediocre glasses of hot wine, we decided to try our luck somewhere else. 
We walked down a deserted Harry Potter-like domed passageway and made our way to a cobblestone courtyard encircled in more promising bars. We sat in a red booth in one of them and ordered hot wine again. I asked about his friend I’d met the first time I met him, and learned that he was a poet. He’s also a writer—a freelance writer. A short story of his was published in a Scottish magazine that I later Googled. I was wary but pleasantly surprised. I told him about my own writing but felt so pretentious that I quickly shifted the focus back onto him and his music. I don’t like talking about myself.
We sampled vin chaud of varying degrees of palatability at four or five more places before walking back. I wasn’t sure where exactly he thought we were going, but we ended up at my apartment door. 
“Do you want to come up?” I asked. 
“Do you want me to?” 
“Yeah, come up…for a while.” 
“Word. OK, yeah, cool.” 
I punched in the door code and he followed me inside. Then I scanned the key to the second set of doors, which led into the courtyard. I had had enough wine not to feel self-conscious about the pompousness of where I lived. Saint-Sulpice, the sixième.
We climbed the one flight of stairs to my apartment door; I opened it, and we went inside to find my Single White Female roommate sitting on the couch. I’m convinced she’d been looking out of her window (which faced the courtyard), watching us come in. We barely got through the door before she started berating us with her afternoon tragedy: she’d passed out on the bus ride home. We hadn’t spoken in at least a week, so her sudden talkativeness was no coincidence. She wanted to find out who the guy I brought home was. And gave me no choice but to tell her.
I remember liking how I felt standing next to him in the living room of my apartment, feeling like he was kind of mine, at least for the time being. I liked his hat, still liked his beard, and was endeared by his corduroy blazer that clearly hadn’t been warm enough for our hot wine trek around wintery Paris. I also admired his equanimity while listening to my roommate’s endless saga that didn’t concern either of us. I shifted my weight from one boot to the other to pass the time. 
After forty minutes of listening to her fable—no exaggeration—I edged the two of us to my room at the end of the corridor. I turned on the one lamp I had in there, which mood-lit the room to a dark honey hue. The uneven wood floors creaked as we walked in and sat on the edge of my bed, which were really two beds I’d pushed together and covered in a water lily printed blanket that reminded me of Giverny. I took off my tattered ankle boots to stand on the bed and turn on the paper mâché fairy lights that hung above my massive dresser. He pulled out his flask, took a swig, and passed it to me. It was strong. 
“Sorry about my roommate. I warned you: she’s crazy,” I whispered (in case Crazy could hear…she’s an eavesdropper). 
“You say ‘word’ a lot.” I said. 
“Do I?” 
“Now you’re going to make me self-conscious.” 
“No, no I didn’t mean to!” 
“Word.” We laughed. 
I don’t remember what we were talking about right before knowing it was going to happen. I remember my head falling back on my purple pillow and being surprised that he felt heavy on top of me. It wasn’t bad. But maybe I didn’t like his beard that much, after all.
He took another swig from his flask when we were done, and I took a sip of water from a glass I left on my table before I met him for the evening. He played a song for me on his phone, but I don’t remember what it was. Something by David Bowie, I think. RIP. We talked for a while before he said he should probably head out. I pulled up my tights, put on my cocoon coat and we quietly exited my apartment. 
We kissed on my doorstep before he left. I’d told him earlier that I might be able to get him some weed from my friend, which I reiterated after the doorstep kiss. But I knew I wouldn’t get him the weed. And I knew I wouldn’t see him again, either.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *