Bedtime Stories
Charles Carrall

I am quite sure that the elevator in our building is going to break. It’s been making the most dreadful sound over the last few days, shrieking. This afternoon the landlord is visiting the apartment, surveying the table we tore off the wall. N doesn’t yet want to tell his landlord about my arrival, so as we scrubbed the space of my occupancy and I scurried out, I felt a little like an interloper. Now, I’m in the elevator, 7, 6, 5, it’s still making that sound, 4, 3, 2, it’s bound to malfunction, Murphy’s Law, “Rez-de-chaussée”.

This tectonic traversal, packing my neon pink suitcase, “f this I’m going to Paris”. Phone, keys, wallet, became visa, exemption, one-way ticket. A series of elaborate fabrications and bureaucratic forgeries. In order to exit Australia I formed an extensive dossier, pleading with the Department of Home Affairs that I was re-locating indefinitely, and yet when applying to Centrelink for Youth Allowance1 I declared that I was still an Australian resident, temporarily visiting France.

Constantly split in half between hemispheres, on paper, a back and forth conveyance. Regularly withholding, and pretending, selective bargaining. My billing and shipping addresses, total strangers. Finishing my degree in Sydney twice weekly from Paris. AEDT blurring CET, the letters of a gibberish language. The landlord makes his house call and I must evacuate. A new lease on life, my tenancy undocumented. Squatting in the apartment, an imposter in France, in some sort of carefully orchestrated accident I am here.

Unmistakably, Paris is like it has never been before, without its infamous rotation of tourists. Emily was repatriated, no longer in Paris, she deactivated her account. It’s all foreign, even for the locals.

Naturally, my Youth Allowance claim has since been denied.

Having arrived well after the two month lockdown in the city, I have been imagining the former stillness of this place. Traipsing the collection of museums, I am confronted by the preceding loneliness of these not-so-long-ago empty rooms. Hoards of spectacular art hanging idly, to be enjoyed by nobody. Paris waiting for its next distant rush hour.

This pressurised captivity discharged over the summer months, alarming excessive European travel ushered in, everybody from far and wide on the Cote d’Azur, coughing. By September, Paris had conveniently forgotten the decade that was the first half of 2020, everybody partying like its 1999. This predictable pathetic fallacy, the gloom of seasonal change seeming to signal a second-wave of seclusion.

Paris has been given a 9pm curfew and with it, my cruel intermission, wandering freedom and international access, revoked. Strolling throughout the city, has become a kind of scurrying, to enjoy the afforded outdoor hours. The birds around me are cooing, except they are dirty sodden pigeons, soaked by the rain. Having enrolled in my final term of a never-ending degree, I have been watching closely the passing and approaching rites of passage.

The assembly line within the adult-making mechanism came to a shuddering stand still in March. Watchful paternalism, technical difficulties, repackaged cultures of guilt and compliance. Staying at home, in my childhood bedroom, I felt like a petulant teenager then more than ever.

The fait accompli of moving to France in the pandemic, that I must reluctantly concede to the punitive state-mandated bedtime. Arrested French development. Having finally moved out, fleeing the travel-ban in an impressive stunt, I am once again put in my place.

My drafted adulthood, waiting impatiently for my Bachelor’s graduation ceremony in my inbox. And, then what? Remote living room cubicles and hollow wellness policy evangelism. Some kind of fucked up concoction of business and pleasure. If I were French I would take to the streets, protest it all. Throw a tantrum, stage a demonstration against growing up, or not being allowed to.

Like a timid child hiding behind their parents’ leg, I let N speak for me, so as not to reveal myself as an anglophone fraud. Deafening french-language mutiny, rendered mute, I smile and nod, behind an ever-present mask.

My tenuous visa status offers no respite. As I begin to day-dream of labour, I am confronted with my glorified visitation rights and met with ceaseless red-tape. The catch: to change visas, and become a working resident I must attend an appointment at the French Consulate in Sydney . My own cleverness, having bargained my way here, the very reason I am prohibited from staying. Begging on my hands and knees, I plead for under-the-table work that is unpaid. In forced-optimism, I repeat a list of healthy justifications in my head.

My love-induced foolishness, having moved here for N, I deflate. A relationship doomed to remain in an uncertain bordered space , any time together, borrowed. A silly tragic homo love story with a sad airport ending.

Frozen in fear by the threatening approach of some kind of abstract graduation. I risk never having been here at all, accomplishing nothing, but the fact that I passed through, briefly, only if for an exaggerated moment. My impersonation of somebody that lived in Paris, retreating home, my tail between my legs, vanquished. Left with nothing but a refracted spectacular view, through our window, on my phone.

1 The more things change the more they stay the same.

2 Since writing this, we have entered a second lockdown, sequestered together for six weeks in our apartment in the 17th arrondissement. 

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