The End of Tribute
Sundays, he’d been told, is like the day before you die. He remembered so many Sundays, wrestling through the inactivity and boredom, the endless cups of coffee and doughnuts, the smudgy Sunday paper with the ink of the funny pages leaving an unwholesome, grimy touch to the fingertips. Sunday was a day in limbo, of rest ending in restlessness, spent in anticipation—the day before you die.
Walter had felt this about Sunday for quite some time, long before he’d ever heard that particularly apt simile to define it. He had lived it for years in the house of his childhood, then in other places as he moved for study and work. How funny, Walter thought now, to be in Paris and find Sunday as morose and dreadful as ever. It was a muggy, grey day, and he was on the way to Père-Lachaise cemetery, ostensibly to see graves of the great, but intuitively to surround himself with deaths past as if to weaken Sunday’s premonition with something real, achieved, and entombed already.
He could feel it in the métro, where the normal profusion of passengers had been considerably diminished by the Parisians’ August exodus from the city. In the barely populated subway, air moved through the tunnels as if through a skull, raspily whispering, “Paris est à vous!” For you alone, Walter thought, this empty labyrinth, with all the other passengers just as easily ghosts as they were strangers; with the names of stops and transfers coming together like some rapid transit official’s trance: Nation, Auteuil, Quai d’Orléans, Père-Lachaise. And the subway cars rattled like a skeleton, or they whispered the skull’s legend, “Paris est à vous!” in a whir through the tunnels. The cars stopped, their doors opening and shutting with a hesitance which unreliable but necessary machines often seem to display to their subjects. Leaving a car to make a transfer, Walter couldn’t help but look back in distrust as it clicked it doors shut menacingly before speeding off to another stop down another cold, black stretch of tunnel.
Passing in transfer at Nation Walter found a flower vendor who seemed as indifferent to the stillness of the métro station as to his merchandise, three or four pails of pale, pink roses. Walter bought four roses in a muted exchange with the vendor and stuck them in his bag to avoid the clumsiness he felt when walking with a handful of flowers. Walter filed past movie posters and lice repellent advertisements to reach the next train, all the while hoping that his umbrella wouldn’t squash the roses….
—Paris, September 1979