Paul Hunter and Brian MacDonald

Brian MacDonald.

Inspiration Piece.

 Paul Hunter.

Response Piece.

When Carinne left her hotel that first day in Paris, she pulled her black coat tight around her shoulders, although it was not cold. From her pocket She pulled the map that she had brought from home, taken from Eric. She would be lost in Paris without Eric’s map, which even still she did not completely grasp. She could not make out his complex legend of lines, colors and markings that showed exactly where and when he had planned that their shared footsteps should be placed. She knew that the red line would take to the Louvre, where she most needed to go, because that was where Eric had most wanted to go.

The red path took her over the Pont des Arts bridge. The bridge was a city itself, full of color and sound. There was the smell of the river, the sound of a guitarist and a saxophonist playing Jazz. Further along, a man played sad tunes on an accordion, in defiance of the sunny weather. Conversations went on loud, incoherent, and quick. There were artists sketching and painting, men drawing with chalk on the cobblestones.

It was the padlocks that most caught Carinne’s eye, though. They covered the chain link fence that guarded the edge of the bridge; All shapes and sizes mixed in with rags and debris, looking like dead leaves on an Autumn tree. Some engraved with names in big, ugly magic marker lines.

“Are you American?” someone asked her. She turned. It was a chubby little man, seated on a stool in front of an easel, in a silly red beret. “Is it that obvious?” She asked.

“As this nose on my face” He pointed at his large nose.

“So am I.” He continued. “I like running into other ex-pats. You like the love locks?”

“What are they?” Carinne asked.

“Ah! Couples, they write their names on the padlocks, to lock up their love. Like carving names on a tree. Every now and then, the city talks about taking them down. Thinks they’re an eyesore. But I like them. You have a sweetheart with you?”

“Not with me, no.”

“Well, maybe you’ll bring him next time you’re in Paris! Sit down, and I’ll sketch you. I’ll do it for free, because it’s a sunny day, and you’re an American, alone in Paris.”

She sat obediently. The painter never said his name or asked for hers, but told her his life. He told how he had come to Paris five – no seven! Yes, it was already seven years ago. He had wanted nothing more all his life than to come to Paris, and paint. “I came here after retiring.” he said “But I feel like life didn’t begin till I came to Paris. Now, when I go back to America, I feel French, but when I’m here, I’m American. I’m strange wherever I go. I rather like that.”

“You’re Catholic?” he asked, noticing the crucifix around her neck. Carinne nodded. “So am I” he said brightly. “Most days, I don’t believe a word of it. But Catholic is the only religion for an artist, if you ask me. It’s beautiful. Some days I sit before the Sacrament for hours, wondering if Christ is really peeking at me from behind that little stale bread, till my mind drifts to something I want to paint, and I thank God for sending me inspiration, just in case he’s listening. And I love going to confession!” he declared. “I have so many sins to confess, but the priest always smiles when he sees me coming, because he knows I’ll be confessing the sames sins as last time. I keep sinning, and I keep confessing.” This whole conversation made Carinne uncomfortable, but she smiled, politely. He finished her portrait. It was a simple sketch, but captured her and her shy smile. She looked, she thought, like such a good Catholic girl.

“You should visit my little Church.” The artist said. “It’s not far from here; they have the Sacrament exposed all the time. Plus, Father Jean speaks good English.” He gave her enthusiastic directions, and showed her how to go on her marked-up map. It meant going back, not continuing on to the Louvre, and it was the first time she had wandered from the lines Eric had drawn on the map. She felt a sense of apprehension, as if Paris might swallow her up if she once strayed from the path.

She found the little church without much trouble, though. A plain building that smelled of old incense. It was empty, except for an old woman in a veil praying in front of the Sacrament, in a side chapel. At the main altar, also, a stooped old priest was preparing for the next mass.

He noticed Carinne and greeted her in French, but recognized the look of incomprehension. “You are American?” He asked. “Yes Father. I don’t speak French. I’m sorry.”

“I am Father Jean. You are here for Mass? It is in just a few minutes”

“Actually… I was hoping you would hear my confession.” The Priest looked at his wristwatch. “Well, no one except Marie comes to Mass at this time, anyway” He indicated the lady in the side chapel “We may start a little late.”

There was no confessional, they just sat in the back pew of the church. Carinne paused when it came time to confess specific sins. “Father, I don’t know what to call this sin.” she said at last “I need to confess that I came to Paris.”

The priest raised an eyebrow. “That is not actually a sin.”

“Father, I came for spite. I came without my husband – Eric. We had been planning this trip for three years. He wanted to come to Paris, because his great grandfather was from here. He had it all planned out. I didn’t care. I just wanted to go because he wanted to. See he even had this map, with everything marked that he wanted to see.” She showed him the worn out map with its lines running like arteries and veins.

“But then he told me about his affair” Carinne was starting to cry “He had been cheating on me for a whole year, Father. With some woman from our church.” She gulped air and tears. “He said he was sorry. He cried. He asked forgiveness. But I can’t forgive him. So I decided to go to Paris alone. I didn’t care about Paris at all, but I knew it would hurt him – to go without him – so I took it from him. And now I feel ashamed, and I miss him, and I can’t forgive him. I wish I could divorce him, Father. I really wish it. I almost hope he divorces me. He might you know, Father.”

Father Jean was quiet a moment. “Well,” he said. “I wont give you permission to divorce, but you know that. You do not have to see him again if you do not want. You came here to hurt him, and I am sure that it worked… do you want to forgive him?”

“…I don’t think so.”

“Alright. Well, I think it does not much good to tell people to forgive when they do not want to. How long since you received Communion? You receive often?”

“I used to. It’s been six months though.”

“Are there any other sins you want to confess?”

She confessed a few things that seemed small to her.

“For your penance, go pray for half an hour before the blessed Sacrament. Then make sure you receive again soon. You should speak to your priest at home. I can not tell you how to solve this problem.” Father Jean said. He pronounced the absolution in French, making the sign of the cross.

She got up and made her way to the side chapel, which was empty now. She stayed far longer than she meant to, all the way through the mass, sitting in front of the sacrament in its tarnished, but still gaudy monstrance. She prayed, but felt nothing.

When she made her way back to the hotel, it was without looking at the map. She had decided not to go to the Louvre, and just stayed in her room a while. Eventually, though, she went walking. In a small shop, she bought a marker and two plain padlocks, and walked back again to the Pont des Arts.

Even at night the bridge was full of lights and people still. On the other end, she could see the illumined shape of the the Louvre. Carinne wrote Eric’s name above her own on one of the two padlocks with the black marker, and found an empty space on the fence. She fixed the locks there, linked together. Afterward, she said a little prayer and pushed the keys through the holes in the fence, letting them drop into the Seine. She took a picture, to send to Eric.

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