It was mid-summer in Dubrovnik.  Giselle and I sat on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the Adriatic.  The early full moon was disappearing behind a cloud like—well, all the good similes have been taken, so I’ll say “like a coin being dropped into a slot.”  The problem with similes is that they’re always like something else.

Giselle and I had met in the underground.  She was playing the ukulele—I don’t know where she’d even gotten it.  I had enough money to get through the spring and summer—I had an embarrassingly small trust fund, the portion leftover to the family member who refuses to fight it out with the rest.  I invited her along.  Mostly we made love and ate, cooking for each other the two or three dishes each of us knew, approximating the ingredients with whatever we could rustle from the couple of food shops in the walled city.

I was writing the manuscript Suivre, which was promptly acquired, received four glowing reviews, got translated into sixteen languages, and was read poorly in all of them, after which it went out of print in French in less than two years. In other words, success.  The truth is, Giselle wrote a substantial portion of Suivre without ever reading a word of it.  She would half-lie on the bed, languidly alert (if that’s possible), a copy of a Mina Loy book downturned on her lap, and periodically call out bursts of words, which I would incorporate into the text.  When the manuscript was complete, I insisted that she and I would be co-authors.  She trenchantly refused.  “That would make me a surrealist or a Dadaist, and I can’t stand either.  I would have pushed Duchamp’s head into his urinal if I’d ever got the chance.”

I didn’t contradict her.  But secretly, I resolved to remove all traces of her words, otherwise be counted a plagiarist.  I printed out the entire text and began crossing out words with a pen.  I soon realized I didn’t remember which words were hers and which mine.  It was possible I was erasing myself entirely from the manuscript, leaving only her presence.  Was it possible that we had begun to think alike, to speak alike?  Was our romantic connection turning us into a single individual, erasing all separation, the goal of the Romantics?

“Stop stressing,” she said, sitting up.  She had guessed my secret.  “You’re not a plagiarist.  I don’t want the book to be mine.  I’d much rather serve as your muse.  Isn’t that why you brought me?”  It was.  I had never thought of it consciously, but I nodded my head dumbly.  “So we’re both getting what we need.”

I kept writing through the next two months, our routines unaltered.  Giselle never spoke of the future or of any obligations.  She seemed unhurried, as if this were the only reality.  Then the manuscript was done—really done.  I knew it and she felt it from my body language and the way I picked at my nails.

“Let’s have one more trip to our favorite overlook.”

We went to the terrace and watched the moon drop behind a cloud; the wind picked up and I offered her my jacket.  She smiled and let me drape it over her.  “You look exactly like Dora Maar.”

Giselle seemed pleased.  “Do I?”  She had dressed up for the evening, in a slinky black dress I didn’t know she owned, one entirely too skimpy for the weather.  She shivered deliciously and pulled my coat closer around her after rolling back the sleeves to uncover her hands.  Before lighting her Gauloise, she took out a gold cigarette holder, a slender tube several inches long like a tiny trumpet, with a black Bakelite mouthpiece and a flaring bell, into which she studiedly inserted the end of her cigarette. She’d said she’d gotten it from a pawn shop and claimed it had once belonged to Picasso’s tortured muse.  She had remarkably beautiful hands, the fingers exceptionally slender and graceful.

“You would have fitted perfectly into café society in her time.”

Giselle blew a contemptuous smoke ring.  “Café society is kindergarten for artists.  And surrealism is art therapy.”  Then, staring out at the blue-black twilight, the sailboats in the harbor disappearing from our sight, she began to recite.

Today it’s another landscape in this
Sunday at the end
of the month of March 1942 in Paris
the silence is
so great that the songs of the tame
birds are like little
flames you can see. I am desperate
But let it be.

“Are you desperate, untamed little bird?”

“No.  But Dora was.”

“I’ll keep working on the book.  I can add more poems.  And I still have some money left.”

“As you wish.  You know this is only going to last until we go back to Paris.  I will have served my purpose.”

“But I love you.”

“Don’t cheapen our interlude with that sentimental cliché.  I left my boyfriend to come with you.  Though he’s probably onto someone else by now.”

I wanted to come up with a sharp retort.  But in what remained of the light, I could see an incurable sadness in her eyes, one I hadn’t put there, nor could I take it away.  Instead, I answered with the words of Joyce Mansour.

Happy are the solitary ones
Those who sow the sky in the avid sand
Those who seek the living under the skirts of the wind
Those who run panting after an evaporated dream
For they are the salt of the earth
Happy are the lookouts over the ocean of the desert
Those who pursue the fennec beyond the mirage
The winged sun loses its feathers on the horizon
The eternal summer laughs at the wet grave
And if a loud cry resounds in the bedridden rocks
No one hears it no one.

“You said it best, Étienne.  I’m going to assume that’s one of the poems you wrote about me.”

I didn’t contradict her.  “Would you like to read the manuscript?  You might have suggestions.”

Her face was now in shadow, only her feet still touching a ray of light.  “I don’t have to read it.  I am it.”