The living-room curtains brighten gradually from behind. He parts them. The sun is not visible, nor clouds-only buildings. At least Eileen doesn't realize his money situation. If she found out, she'd try to help. And then what would he have left? He opens the window, breathes in, presses his knees into the guardrail. The grandeur of Paris-its tallness and broadness and hardness and softness, its perfect symmetry, human will imposed on stone, on razored lawns, on the disobedient rosebushes-that Paris resides elsewhere. His own is smaller, containing himself, this window, the floorboards that creak across the hall.
By 9 a.m., he is trooping north through the Luxembourg Gardens. By the Palais de Justice, he rests. Flagging already? Lazy bastard. He forces himself onward, over the Seine, up Rue Montorgueil, past the Grands Boulevards.
Charlotte's shop is on Rue Rochechouart-not too high up the hill, thankfully. The store isn't open yet, so he wanders toward a café, then changes his mind at the door-no money to waste on luxuries. He gazes in the window of his daughter's shop, which is full of handmade hats, designed by Charlotte and produced by a team of young women in high-waisted linen aprons and mobcaps, like eighteenth-century maids. She arrives later than the posted opening time. "Oui?" she says upon seeing her father-she only talks to him in French.
"I was admiring your window," he says. "It's beautifully arranged."
She unlocks the shop and enters. "Why are you wearing a tie? Do you have somewhere to go?"
"Here-I was coming here to see you." He hands her the box of candies. "Some calissons."
"I don't eat those."
"I thought you loved them."
"Not me. Brigitte does." This is her mother, the second of Lloyd's ex-wives.
"Could you give them to her?"
"She won't want anything from you."
"You're so angry with me, Charlie."
She marches to the other side of the shop, tidying as if it were combat. A customer enters and Charlotte puts on a smile. Lloyd removes himself to a corner. The customer leaves and Charlotte resumes her pugilistic dusting. "Did I do something wrong?" he asks.
"My God-you are so egocentric."
He peers into the back of the shop.
"They're not here yet," she snaps.
"Your workers? Why are you telling me that?"
"You got here too early. Bad timing." Charlotte claims that Lloyd has pursued every woman she ever introduced him to, starting with her best friend at lycée, Nathalie, who came along for a vacation to Antibes once and lost her bikini top in the waves. Charlotte caught Lloyd watching. Thankfully, she never learned that matters eventually went much further between her father and Nathalie.
But all that is over. Finished, finally. So senseless in retrospect-such effort wasted. Libido: it has been the tyrant of his times, hurling him from comfortable America all those years ago to sinful Europe for adventure and conquest, marrying him four times, tripping him up a hundred more, distracting and degrading and nearly ruining him. Yet now it is mercifully done with, desire having dwindled these past years, as mysterious in departure as it was on arrival. For the first time since age twelve, Lloyd witnesses the world without motive. And he is quite lost.
"You really don't like the candies?" he says.
"I didn't ask for them."
"No, you didn't." He smiles sadly. "Is there something I could do for you, though?"
"I don't want your help."
Excerpted from The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman Copyright © 2010 by Tom Rachman. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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