K.S. ANTHONY

19 June 2021

Paris L'hiver. Part 3: Sophia

When I awoke, she was draped across my body, one leg over mine, bathed by a single blade of sunlight that cut through the crack in the drapes that I remember her drawing before we fell into the pillowed folds of the bedding.

She was awake, watching me with sleep-soft eyes, her fingers tracing slow figure-eights on my chest. I remember how she had let down her hair the night before as she undressed; how the click of the door of closing behind us suddenly transformed her crystalline remoteness into something vulnerable, desirous, and hungering for closeness: all the things that had I had come to Paris to escape and still found on every boulevard and behind every brasserie window. 

"You're thinking again," she said, drawing me closer with her leg. "Stop thinking."

She had said the same thing a few hours earlier. 

Stop thinking. Just be mine. 

She had come to my small table the night before and stopped, waiting for me to stand. I had seen her double-kiss the woman with whom she had entered and who then left, and when she stood up with her glass, I assumed she was leaving. I had already started thinking about what I would write about her when she appeared, offering me her gloved hand. 

Although I recognized the gesture, I suddenly felt like an American Eugene Rastignac: provincial and stupid, sorely underdressed, and likely to make a fool of himself. 

Somehow I didn't. I stood up, gently took her hand, and leaning forward in a slight bow, kissed the top of her fingers. She smiled. 

"Mademoiselle. S'il vous plait.I gestured to the chair in front of me. She sat down, placing her drink on the table. A waiter, who had been watching her the whole time, slid in, refilled her glass, and then evaporated at her nod.  

"It's stupid, I know," she said. "but appearances and everything." 

"No, it's... fine." 

The bouquet of her perfume – violets, ambergris, sandalwood, vanilla – lingered over us as I tried to sort out who, exactly, she thought I was... or who she was. 

She registered my hesitation and looked amused. "Do you know who I am?"

I had absolutely no idea. 

"No, I'm sorry, I don't."

She smiled that perfect smile again, lips like garnets or the bruised flesh of a peach. 

"Good." 

At least Rastignac would've had someone – a Madame de Beauséant, a Vautrin – to point her out and whisper her name and station when she walked in. 

"I'm K.S. Anthony. Enchanté." 

"Hello, K.S. Anthony. I'm Sophia."

Her name was not Sophia, but at some point between that moment and when she left two days later for Monaco, I promised that I would never name her, that no one would ever believe me, and that I would probably never be able to write about her anyway. 

We talked. We drank. We talked. Somewhere in the pauses that were filled with my staring at her, she said "I want you to stay with me tonight." 

Now here I was. 

"Stop thinking." She kissed me, her mouth as wet as mine was dry, and I could taste her lipstick and the toast and lemon of the night's champagne, an open bottle of which was still sitting in an ice bucket on the desk near the bed. "Just enjoy this."

We spent the morning in bed, making love and drinking. Her phone never once beeped or rang and I remember being amazed at her total lack of interest in it, at how wealth and power can afford one the greatest luxury of all: time. It was completely foreign to me. 

"You don't have to be anywhere?" I asked. 

"Only here. With you. With my writer." 

"I like that."

"Me too. I wish we could stay here, together, in this room." As soon as those words left her mouth, something changed. She suddenly began to recrystallize as the impossibility of that descended on us. 

"Why can't we?" I sat up, pulling her closer, trying to chip away at the forming ice.

Her station came with its own set of rules, obligations, and expectations – burdens, all – that followed social lines that had been in place long before either of us were born. Even if I were to suddenly become  wealthy, I would have little access: new money does not grant one anything but new privilege. While capital can buy many things, including the appearance - and some forms – of social capital, it doesn't buy a new birthright. Unlike Rastignac, Jay Gatsby's greatest sin wasn't the obviousness of his ambition: it was the fact that he never realized that he was little more than a novelty for Daisy Buchanan. Rastignac succeeded with contempt and the aid of a criminal, not flattery. Those social lines conceal a part of wealth and power that most people never fully see: a different kind of desperate striving that aims to eliminate despair and a lack of real agency and self-determination. In trying to escape, the rich self-destruct just as stupidly as the poor: they just do it with better drugs, including marriage. 

"You know why," she said, softening against me, her breathing matching mine. "This is all we're allowed." 

Late that evening, we walked along the Seine. She traded her gown for jeans and a coat, her hair concealed under a cashmere knit cap, and still held my hand despite people occasionally seeming to recognize her in the night. At one point we stopped to stare at the Eiffel Tower and the lights on the water.

"You know," she said, not looking at me, "if I were anyone else, I would fall in love with you. Like all the women you write about. And then I would just be one more of them."

"That assumes a point of view that we don't have. There's just too much there, too many possibilities. Maybe we would have never met. Maybe you would have hated me. Besides, you've known me for a day: what makes you think you would fall in love with me?"

"What makes you think I'm not already?" 

"Because I'm a novelty. I'm a crush, at best. You've already said this is all we're allowed. It's easy to say that you're in love when you know it's impossible. Maybe that's when it's easiest, because there's nothing really at risk."

"You're wrong. I will always love you. You make me want to risk everything."

I didn't know what to do with any of that, but I especially didn't know what to do with the second sentence, which left me unguarded and threatened by the specter of loving her back and suffering for it more than I knew that I would. I opted for a half-assed attempt at reason: ironic, given my usual disdain for reason in the face of passion. 

"I don't think you'd be very happy with me."

"What do you know about what I would be happy with?" There was anger there - frustration - but I couldn't tell if she was angry at me or the world. 

"I don't. That's just it." 

"I hate that someone else will eventually have you, that you'll forget me, or that I'll just be some other girl in your fucking writing. You don't want me to love you. You want to be loved by strangers." 

Experience has taught me that it is pointless to try to argue that point in Paris, New York, London, or anywhere else on the planet once anyone has read anything I've written. The evidence doesn't do me any favors, though I maintain that everything is far more complicated than what can be captured in a few hundred words. 

It's senseless to read anyone's writing and conflate it with intimacy; with knowing the writer, and yet perhaps that's what she was getting at: the thesis that I use my writing as a wall to separate myself from the absolute terror of being vulnerable enough to be known. 

Maybe that analysis worked for her. 

Still, she was wrong. I wanted her to love me. I just knew that even if she could and even if she did, a dearth of affection wasn't the problem that separated us. Unlike every other woman in my life, the obstacles were not primarily psychological or temporal: they were social monoliths that neither of us were positioned to surmount. If she had lived on the other side of Central Park, we might have had a chance, but hers was a world so far removed from American conventions of wealth and class that it didn't even sneer at the Upper East Side: it just didn't think about it at all. There was no invitation past that night that she could extend that would not have to be rescinded. 

"I hate that eventually I'm going to see your marriage as a trending topic on fucking Twitter one of these days. At least I'll be out of sight, out of mind for you."

"More like my divorce," she laughed. 

"That too." 

"Maybe that will be what you write about me: 'Divorced.'"

"'Disengaged' would be a better title."

"I'm not engaged."

No, not yet, I thought. 

"I know," I said. "I'm glad." 

"You'll never be out of mind for me. Even when you belong to someone else." It was the kind of thing someone would say to a writer if they wanted them to write it down later. Of course, I did.

She kissed me and we began the walk back to Place Vendôme in silence.

"Stay again tonight," she said when we got to her suite. "I want to fall asleep with you inside me."

I don't think that staying was a mistake or that I regret it, but I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't have been better if I had just left her outside the Ritz that night, if that by trying to capture what we both knew would have to be released, we may have set in motion some patterns that would echo for both of us. 

I started writing about her shortly after I got back to America, then stopped, afraid to continue, afraid to write her back into my reality, afraid that writing about her might put an end to our story, even though I never heard from her again. I never told anyone about Sophia and I never intended to. 

I have realized that – and if you are reading this, J, I hope you'll understand – what has echoed and continues to echo in the years since I met her is that throughout my life I've released too many chances at love and at being loved back into the wild, opting instead to be loved by strangers, cutting myself off from the world with seas of gin and walls of words, carefully arranged to give those who leave the illusion that they are the ones who are leaving. 

That analysis works for me, at least for now. 

As she rested on me that night, I could feel my heart start to race, panicked by the realization that she'd be leaving the next day and that I would never see her again, never touch her again, never hear her voice again. She shifted to kiss me again, dulling my thoughts and walling our tangled bodies off from the world that lay just outside in the sodium glow of the square with a single phrase that has haunted me in every place it has echoed ever since.

I will always love you. 

When I awoke, she was draped across my body, one leg over mine, bathed by a single blade of sunlight that cut through my life and has never faded. 

And that was all we were allowed. 


Part 1

Part 2