Paris that Sleeps
by Michael Stewart
O— takes me to a silent film, Paris that Sleeps. 80Kr. I have to join the film club to buy a ticket. I drift in and out of sleep because I am so exhausted. The titles are in Swedish so the movie is a disconnected dream:
A man who lives in the Eiffel Tower goes down to Paris to realize time has stopped for everyone else. (Still shots of busy Paris and almost empty streets, pamphlets scattered on wet roads.) He is waiting/wanting something. Another group of adventures—a pilot (rakish), a detective, a crook, a woman (socialite,) and a successful older man, who has nothing to do with the woman—are introduced exiting a flimsy looking plane. Why they are not frozen in time is a mystery. They meet up with our hero, go to dinner, and steal. They steal: various cars, stacks of money, a pearl necklace, a dress. They play poker with fortunes. The older man finds his mistress frozen in a compromising position with another man. They play on the Eiffel Tower like a jungle gym, seemingly indifferent to gravity. The woman dangles her legs off the side, the two men climb on the grating, one of the them hangs upside down to light his cigarette. Nothing is made of the height. The novelty wears thin, the money discarded. They are alerted—I am unsure how—to the existence another living person. (Digression: the other people of Paris, and we assume the world, are not dead but frozen so it is perhaps wrong to use the phrase another living person, but can something in total stasis really be considered living? Is there a better definition of death than to be without time?) They search for her. They find a house with a white handkerchief in the window. They break in (work the window). A lovely woman (the other half for our hero) and her diabolic or merely shortsighted mad-genius father/uncle/captor. The machine is in a cupboard with a large lever. The lever is levied and radio waves scatter. Time is unfrozen. People wake to find their possessions disturbed, her dress misplaced, a policeman catches his man, a suicide catches himself mid-leap, a laborer satisfies his task. When time begins to move there is nothing to hold our adventures together and they drift into pairs—the hero and his lady, the cop and his catch. The hero and lady discover life would have been easier had they kept the money. Small fortunes are found by random people in random, amusing situations. The hero and lady sneak back into the lab and freeze time again. Just as they start to unburden a man of his wealth time is turned back on. The group of adventures is regathered in the police station, each for their own little crime. Resolutions are made without much difficulty. We close on the hero and the lady on the Eiffel Tower, a kiss, the screen shrinks to black. The phrase, The End, in Swedish is written as, Slut.
Michael Stewart received the 2010 Rhode Island Council for the Arts Fellowships in both fiction and poetry. His work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies including Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, and American Letters & Commentary. He is the author of Almost Perfect Forms (Ugly Duckling), Sebastian, an illustrated book for adults (Hello Martha Press), and The Hieroglyphics (Mud Luscious Press). He lectures at Brown University, and he wrote A Brief Encyclopedia of Modern Magic for Cupboard Pamphlet. You can find more at strangesympathies.com.