Mercy, Merci
by Melanie Villines

It’s election day 1996 and I’m in Paris—covering an ulcer conference as a medical writer. Everywhere I go, people ask about “Beel Cleentone.” They love him here—the American hipster in shades with a saxophone. But the conference is over and I’m free to spend a week on my own. I change hotels and check in to a place on the Ile St. Louis recommended as Parisian perfection by a famous psychic who used to live here. That must have been a long time ago, because this place is worse than a dump—it’s scary, with thick peeling coats of wallpaper that seem to move. My room is close to the street with windows anyone could jump through. I manage to call a spot where I’d stayed before and book a room. I run outside, rush down to the main street and hail a cab. I duck my head inside. “Do you speak English?” He shakes his head. I open the door and sit in the taxi. I try to explain my problem in the simplest way I can. “Mon hotel est mal,” I say and point, then point in another direction to show that I want to go somewhere else. He gets the message, zooming down narrow streets to the hotel, waiting while I get my bags and check out, zooming across town, pulling up at the new spot, helping me inside with my bags. I give him a 200-franc tip. Later, I sit at a café, ready to read with my prescription sunglasses—but they are gone, lost in the shuffle to change hotels. When I return to the hotel, the concierge hands my sunglasses to me. The cab driver came back with them. Was it my trying to speak French? The big tip? Or was it Beel Cleentone?

PHOTO: Bill Clinton plays “God Bless the Child” on the saxophone (Arsenio Hall Show, June 1992).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melanie Villines is a writer who lives in Los Angeles. Her latest novel is Windy City Sinners (Sugar Skull Press, 2015).