I shall always remember Lili.
Some people dream of stairways to paradise. Lili wanted an escalator. Some people live their lives under darkened skies, brows knit, arms akimbo. Lili raced through sunlit streets, laughing, singing, knocking down old ladies. Such joie de vivre. Such plume de ma tante.
Lili wasn’t her real name, of course. She just liked the sound of it. Some days she preferred Gigi, or Pipi, or even Fifi. Usually it was Lili. None of these names was her real name. Her real name was Herschel.
Sometimes at night I still cry out, “Lili!” It makes the cat nervous. I can’t help it. You don’t forget a woman like that.
How could I forget her? I can still smell her perfume, can still hear her laugh. How like a bird’s song it was! Which bird was it? The pelican, I think, but I’m not sure. It’s been a long while since I’ve been to the beach, what with one thing and another.
Besides, how can I think to look at the beach without Lili, sweet Lili? I remember that June day on the Riviera when she whispered in my ear, “I just adore spinach.” Then she ground my face into the sand, threw a small child into the water, and ran off with the lifeguard. How we laughed about that later!
Yes, life without Lili is life without Life. How can I look at another? Lili was my reason for breathing, for eating, for drinking! Certainly for drinking. She was the reason I got up in the morning, the reason I went to bed at night. She was the reason I flossed regularly and saw my dentist twice a year. She was the reason I slammed my head against the side of the Arc de Triomphe, on more than one occasion. She was my everything. She was my anything. She was this thing, you see. But not just one of those things. No, not Lili!
One day, and I shall remember it if I live to see my hundredth year, she…no, that was someone else. Ah, yes. I will always remember the day I was fired from my job at the abattoir, was waylaid, beaten, and robbed by a pack of wild Huguenots, and lost my favorite poodle in a game of chance. Straight to the arms of Lili I fled! She cradled my head in her delicate hands, gazing at me with kindly, bloodshot eyes, murmuring sweet words. “Mon cheri,” she whispered angelically, “did the Huguenots take all of your money?”
“Yes, my darling, every last centime.”
“Well, au revoir,“ she said, pushing me in front of a passing streetcar. That Lili! She could change my life with but a gesture.
Yes, I think there are few pure, true, real loves in this mortal, maniacal realm in which we dwell, and I believe that my love for Lili was one of them. Every little thing she did lives with me still. How she would assault the projectionist with a cinder block if she didn’t like the movie we were watching. Or the way she would guzzle blanc de blanc straight out of the bottle in the sidewalk cafés and spit it up on the maitre d’s shirtfront if she found it wanting. The way she would run through my credit cards until the numbers wore flat; that haunts me yet on at least a monthly basis. She always dressed so well.
Oh, Lili! Can you recall the good times, my love? The afternoons in Marseilles? The champagne dusk in Ballet-Bouton? The bowling alley in the Rue de Keggling that they still have not rebuilt? The memories!
Lili, Lili. If only you could hear me now. But I know you are far away. Some wonder how I know. I just smile knowingly. That really gets on their nerves.
I shall never forget the last time I saw you. You broke my heart when you went with Jacques. I had just told you of my good fortune in inheriting that small Renoir from grandmere, and how, in my love for you, you were to be my sole beneficiary. After our celebratory luncheon atop the Tower Eiffel, you and our old ami Jacques rushed at me, no doubt to congratulate me. Why, had I not bent over to pick up that flower you’d dropped, surely you would have knocked me over the side in your enthusiasm. Instead, poor Lili, over the side you and Jacques both went. Even as you plummeted to earth, you still clutched your glass of Beaujolais, living life to the fullest to the last!
Ah, Lili, ma cheri! I shall remember you always!