Babette was a beautiful woman with a beautiful, old-fashioned name. Her mother, who never traveled beyond the county line for most of her life, loved the idea of France and words that ended in ette like laundrette, serviette, toilette, and marionette. For most of her life, Babette listened to her mother’s stories about a place she had never seen. She determined, like most daughters are wont to do, that she would never be like her mother. She would go to France, she would leave their small rural town where no one could properly pronounce or spell her name, where they only knew her as the head majorette whose mother worked at the luncheonette on Main Street. The first time she visited Paris, Babette spent four days in a small hotel room with only a sink, a narrow bed and an antique bureau. She met a man, Fréderic, at the airport as they waited for their baggage. He offered to escort her to her hotel while they shared a cigarette at the taxi stand. She knew what he was after. She didn’t mind. Fréderic not only escorted Babette to her hotel, he accompanied her to her room and then he accompanied her to a mediocre orgasm but Babette was in Paris so she was feeling generous and she didn’t mind that either.
They spent the entirety of her trip in her narrow bed which she feared, more than once, would collapse beneath the weight of their exertions which made up for the mediocrity with the intensity of enthusiasm. Fréderic assumed she didn’t speak French and each time he fucked her he whispered putain hotly into her ear over and over again and she pressed her thighs against him more firmly, welcomed him more deeply into her, reveled in what she knew that he did not know she knew. When he fell asleep, Babette stood at the small sink and splashed water between her thighs, beneath her arms. She smiled at her reflection, did a tiny pirouette, got back into bed next to Fréderic and waited for him to wake up. They drank a lot of wine, cheap and too sweet, ate McDonald’s hamburgers and smoked Gitanes even though the unfiltered cigarettes made her eyes burn. When he took her back to the airport, Fréderic held Babette too tightly. He sank his teeth into her long neck and she sank into him for a moment. He told her she was a seductive nymphette. She told him she spoke French fluently. He chuckled, smacked her on her ass, sent her on her way.
The next time she came to Paris, Fréderic was engaged to be married to a young conceptual artist. He invited Babette to the flat he shared with the artist, a pale blonde woman named Masha, and then the couple invited Babette into their bed. She was unclear on the etiquette for declining the invitation so she lay between them on their futon, ignoring the sour smell of the sheets and the heavy cloud of cigarette smoke. They traced her lithe body with their tongues and whispered small secrets to one another. It was also a mediocre experience. Later, as Babette sat, cross-legged on the end of the futon and pinned her up hair with a bright red barrette, Masha explained the project she was working on, something about voice and projection and bodily fluids. Babette pretended to understand and talked about the novelette she was writing, something about life in small towns and the meaning thereof which Masha too pretended to understand.
The fifth time Babette visited Paris she spent most of her time wandering aimlessly around the 16th Arrondissement. When her clothes felt soiled, she would find a laverie, which she preferred to call a laundrette. She would remove her clothes and sit in front of the laundrette window in only her bra and panties, her legs crossed, elbow perched on her knee until it left a red mark, waiting patiently for her clothes to wash and dry. No one paid her much attention. She was American. When Babette grew tired from her aimless wandering, she sat on stone steps, pretending she was locked away in a lonely oubliette. Other days, she passed the time at a café where she sat in a banquette and drank espresso in tiny cups, marveling at the size of her hand holding that tiny cup which compelled her to take tiny sips while she sucked on cubes of sugar. Later, for dinner, she ate a fresh salad with vinaigrette and a salmon croquette and wiped her lips with a linen serviette. She decided everything felt smaller in Paris except the world.
Babette met Thierry, a man with a well-kept beard and long, shaggy hair. He wore dirty jeans, a t-shirt, and a military jacket with gold epaulettes. Because she was lost and could not remember the name of her hotel and had decided she would simply wander the streets until it was time to catch her flight home but was longing to feel a man’s skin against hers, she let Thierry take her from behind in a brightly lit alley just off a busy street. It was late morning, and when she looked up, she could see an older couple sitting on their terrace enjoying a late breakfast of baguettes and cheese, fruit and coffee. The moment felt like a postcard, something picturesque but that picture was somewhat ruined each time she felt Thierry’s sweat fall against her bare shoulder or his meaty grunts. Her body moved against his like a marionette, limbs loose and awkward but still under her control. Babette once read that her name meant a stranger or traveler from a foreign land.