AK ’23 | Last Legs Pt 1

On our final day together, Annie and I spent the afternoon in a relaxed fashion: we found a cafe near Leah’s place and sat down to write and eat cake. It was a trendy, young place, Scandi-chic, far less intimidating than the bistros of central Paris with their chalkboard menus covered in dense, illegible scrawl. On one of the cafe’s exterior walls, facing a sidestreet, somebody had spray painted a vaguely left-wing proclamation in French, translating roughly as ‘down with fascism!’. A little further down the street, someone else had written ‘hipsters fuck off’.

Annie was concentrating on assembling her DJ set for that evening, so I left her to it and drank a massive coffee and tried to focus on reading my book, Another Country by James Baldwin. It was a gift from my friend Liv for my 30th birthday; she told me that reading it made her think of me, because it’s about a writer, or at least, someone who dreams of becoming one. I took this as a compliment, naturally. Then I read the thing.

It’s a very well-written and important and interesting novel, yes – and it’s also immensely, searingly bleak. The characters are cracked, one and all. They drink in the morning, they fight and hiss, they lie and cheat and knob each other’s partners at the drop of a hat, they rage, they fail, they hate everything and die. In the cafe in Paris, sitting opposite Annie, I’d just reached a passage that seemed almost brutally germane. I can’t remember it word for word, but the gist of it was this:

‘And he went back to his bedroom alone and he tried to be a writer but he secretly knew he was bang-average and shite and he suspected that everyone else knew too because he was a deluded piece of mildew, and then he got steaming for no reason by himself and flopped around like a grub, and then he was tired because he wasn’t young anymore, and he was alone all the time, and also every woman he met thought he was a fuckin bell piece who should just get in the sea and float away.’

As I say, not verbatim: do not quote this passage and tell people you read James Baldwin. But close enough. Reading it felt like being prodded repeatedly between the shoulder blades with a sharp stick.

“Hmm,” I said, putting the book down gently.

“What?” said Annie, looking up from her laptop.

“I might not read this book anymore right now.”

“Why? Is it boring?”

“It’s not boring. It’s just a bit… real.”

I showed Annie the passage in question and watched her brow furrow increasingly as she read to the end.

“Yikes,” said Annie. “Maybe give that one a miss for now, boys.”

I’d been hoping for less of an instantaneous agreement and more of a kindly, if banal, counterpoint, but fine.


I went for a walk to buy cigarettes. Walking in cities where I can’t speak the language always makes me feel a little bit scared – not because I’m worried anything bad will happen to me, like being mugged or whatever, but because one of the biggest fears I harbour in life is to be even mildly embarrassed in public: I spend my life labouring under a horrid, throbbing anxiety that I should ever be misconstrued, misunderstood. Even at home in my mother tongue, even among loved ones I feel this way, so of course the fear is magnified one thousand times when my powers of speech are reduced to those of a six-year-old. 

I suppose that’s why I like writing: I have the time to edit, to tinker, to make sure the words you’re reading right now are precisely what I want to say (or at least… pretty close). If I had Bernard’s watch and could pause time for 3 minutes in between every other line of conversation with people at parties, I’d be the most confident guy ever. Reality moves so fast. Conversation is too quick; I can only ever manage a rough approximation of what I want to say. It’s almost totally left to chance whether or not I’ll hit the mark – and so often I don’t: I balls it up and say something freakish and people say ‘hmm’ when I want them to laugh, or – even worse – they go quiet for several long seconds and then say ‘are you… okay?’ or – the worst – they simply open up a new topic of conversation, totally unrelated to whatever point I just attempted, clumsily, to make. I need to hang out with more stoners and old people. They get it.

I didn’t know where the cigarette shop was so I asked a small man standing outside a butcher’s. I asked him in French: he didn’t speak French. He went inside for a moment, and when he came back out he brought with him a medium-sized man who did speak French. I couldn’t understand this man, because he spoke with a strange accent, so he disappeared into the shop and emerged five seconds later with a tall, gangly man, who asked me in English what I needed.

Determined not to give up, I resisted the temptation to switch to English and told him in French that I wanted to buy some smokes. This is not hard to do in French: they have lots of vocabulary around smoking. The word for ‘cig’ in French is ‘clope’, although the ‘e’ is redundant because you pronounce it to rhyme with ‘hop’. The three men of various altitudes conversed, firstly with each other, then with me. They were smiling and kind. The medium-sized man led me away across the road and pointed me down the street, and I said thank you and bonne journee. He said the same, and once again I was flooded with satisfaction at a successful interaction. I walked into the tobacconist feeling as accomplished as a Renaissance polymath.

“Salut. Est-ce que je peux avoir un paquet de clopes, s’il vous plait? Lucky Strike?”

“Hein? Quoi?”


The two men crammed behind the counter in the tiny little shop stared at me with confusion and weary disdain. That’s the worst bit of it all: the brow furrow. Trying your best to speak, and seeing people frown at you as though you’re a moron. God, it burns me up. I tried again, my voice rising a few notches in pitch while dropping several in volume, confidence immediately sapped. With a lack of enthusiasm that seemed almost meticulous, one of them handed me a box and rang up the till.

“Merci,” I croaked, when my card beeped against the machine. “Bonne journee.”

“Au revoir,” murmured a surly voice behind me as I hurried out of the shop, hating Paris and everyone in it.


In the early afternoon we went back to Leah’s place to rest up for a little while; it was due to be a long night. We spent a couple of hours sprawled out, and Annie showed me Sims 4 on her laptop: she’s added a mod to the game so all her Sims are employed as DJs and pornstars and smack dealers, and they live in a throbbing BDSM dungeon and spend all their time lubing up and hoovering lines off the chopping board. The mod also removes the pixelation of nudity, so when they bang, they bang.

“This is the most you thing I’ve ever seen,” I said, eyes wide.

Annie also really likes cute animals with sad eyes. The venn diagram of women who like to wear chokers and women who cry over photos of kittens is a circle.


We went to a bar for late afternoon pints; a little rocky-indie looking place around the corner from where we were staying. The interior was dusty and barely open – chairs stacked on tables and cardboard boxes everywhere – but the beer was cheap and the barman, though gruff, was friendly. We sat outside and talked about everything in the world, as we always do. We goofed and laughed about shitting and farting, and we spoke about absent friends and became emotional and hugged to numb the sting of it as we raised toasts. Our glasses drained and charged with ease; the conversation was so rich that I didn’t even notice I was drinking, didn’t think about it at all – which is the best kind of drinking that exists.

After several hours it grew dark and our cheeks ached from laughing, and we went back to the apartment to get ready for the party that night, which was taking place at a club called, amusingly enough, ‘Le Club’. I always get nervous ahead of Annie’s shows – worried whether she’ll have a good time, whether it’ll go smoothly, whether the crowd will be good, whether she’ll be happy with her performance, whether anybody will laugh at my dancing. I asked Annie if she felt nervous too.

“Not really, y’know? I’ve been doing this long enough now, I’m pretty used to it.”

I was surprised by this answer; it was very different to the jittery, manic girl I’d known in Berlin – the one who’d sliced her thumb chopping broccoli in her apartment two hours before the show and had to dash around trying to find a plaster.

We took the Metro to the gig and the promoter met us outside the club and gave us a tour. It was an underground place, vaulted stone archways and dozens of miniature staircases, claustrophobic and palpably ancient; it probably spent centuries serving as a wine cellar. We were shown into the green room, which was a stone chamber with an iron door and no windows and a fridge full of beer and champagne sitting in the corner behind several sofas and piles of coats and DJ rucksacks.

It was the usual routine, the standard blur: faces, faces, handshakes, glass clinks and clatter and “Oh really?” and “No way!”, and a lot of “Oui je parle francais, mais juste comme un petit garçon!” – cue canned laughter – and ashtray taps and lighters going missing, bottle caps dinging off the floor, and my hair getting scragged out of shape by Annie’s knuckles. There was a guy from Argentina, a girl from Russia, and the ritual passing around of a dinner plate acquired from god knows where, and, inevitably, the club bore witness to my dad dancing – my confused grandad dancing – my wedding uncle dancing – trying to keep time with the 5000 bpm fisticuffs transpiring on stage courtesy of my old pal.

We tumbled out of the club around 5am, because Annie had an 11am flight back to California (I know, I know). We jangled across the city on the Metro, got lost a couple of times, tumbled into Leah’s place, woke her up accidentally and received a not-unreasonable bollocking, set alarms, passed out, and dreamt of nothing.


When I emerged, an indeterminate amount of time later, from oblivion, only one thing was immediately apparent: Annie was gone.

It took a moment for me to realise where I was. I checked the time: 10am. I’d had three hours’ sleep. Blinking, I sat up and looked for any trace of Annie. Her luggage was gone; only mine remained.

“…Fuck?” I wheezed aloud.

Then my eyes landed on a note on the bedside table:

I tried to wake you dude, but you were dead to the world. I had to leave for my flight. Much love. Annie.

Oh fuck.

Oh fuck?!

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