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Spreading Love MAG
It is night in March, and the sun has set. February would probably be more appropriate for this, but when you get ideas on February twenty-fifth and they require as much effort to implement as this one does, well then, February isn’t really an option.
Pierre was drunk when he came up with the idea. He admits it proudly. No shame whatsoever – what’s there to be ashamed of? He’s legal; it’s well known that one is most innovative when inebriated, and it’s not like he had to drive. It’s Paris, and students in Paris don’t drive. “Driving,” Pierre says, “is for the overweight denizens of suburban America, with their gas-guzzling, Kyoto Protocol-violating SUVs.” Paris is the city of love, the greatest city in the world – obviously it must have decent public transportation. Jean-Luc is less loud about the idea, like he is about most things, but he admits that Pierre does come up with decent ideas once in a while.
So now, at 5:30 on a chilly March night, they are setting up on the sidewalk. To their left is a brightly lit family restaurant. It isn’t entertaining many patrons, this being a Thursday night. To their right is a boutique that’s already shut for the night and isn’t entertaining any patrons at all. Before them is the street; behind them is an alley. It’s as good a place to start as any.
Jean-Luc fiddles with the computer, watching it trace curves and figure eights while he straps a kitchen sponge on his right knee to match the one on his left. He reexamines the sponges on his elbows, flicks his helmet for luck, and plops down onto the sidewalk. They have already hosed it down and dumped soap on it, so instead of simply falling to the ground and wincing at the impact, he slides along the concrete.
Pierre does the same. They are slipping and rolling and dancing in the street – it’s like breakdancing, but any fun flippy moves are out of the question due to all the soap on the ground and Jean-Luc’s hand-eye coordination, or lack thereof. Instead he is reduced to a – not in any way comical! – scrambling motion, like he’s trying to stand up but not quite succeeding.
And it is then, exactly then, that the foreign students arrive. They are accompanied by three middle-aged women, probably their teachers. There are, Jean-Luc guesses, maybe 20 of them. All seem to be female. He imagines they are staring. He knows they’re giggling and chattering in English about the crazy French guys rolling around on the ground.
Any audience, however, is better than none.
He finishes with a squatting pivot around his left foot that makes odd scraping noises, and stands up. He glances at the ground where he’d been shuffling a moment before. Their bodies have pushed and prodded the clusters of soap bubbles, crushed and streaked them across the sidewalk in arcing vectors, looping around, seemingly purposeless, but all interconnected. They look beautiful, at least.
Pierre is holding his hands up, looking for all the world like an alien. We come in peace. There are actually a few boys among the mass of schoolgirls, Jean-Luc notes.
“Do you have a moment?” Pierre asks the group. Some frown without understanding, some stare blankly, some stand on tiptoe because they can’t hear. One of the older women says yes. This is Jean-Luc’s cue.
He picks up a clean sponge, exactly like the ones strapped to his joints. Slowly, carefully, he walks toward the students. There is one girl standing near the front, almost sideways. He starts rubbing the sponge on her back. She stands still for a moment, and Jean-Luc thinks, Yes, this might work! A second passes, two, three … and then she shifts, inching to the right. Jean-Luc can see he’s not wanted. It’s a failure.
He tries again.
This time it is a shorter girl, who only comes up to the first girl’s shoulder. Jean-Luc reaches out, and the easiest target is her face. He rubs the sponge against her face, but not like how he’d scrub a dirty counter. Instead he rubs it gently, like –
“No!” one of the women yells in French. “Not her face!” Whereas there had been an almost reverent silence, now a murmur begins snaking through the mass of students, showing in gossip and whispers.
“But can’t you see what we’re doing?” Pierre pleads. “We’re using sponges to pass love through the city! It is a grand project! We will all be connected by sponges!” Jean-Luc demonstrates, rubbing his arm mercilessly with the sponge, forging intangible bonds of love. He can see them, connecting him, connecting the two girls who received his treatment.
“No.” The woman stands her ground. “Not her face. She has an infection.”
“We are spreading love! Love cares naught for infections!” Jean-Luc demonstrates, stuffing the sponge into his mouth hungrily. He is willing to make contact with infections – only quarantine is harmful. It creates fear, separates people. He sees the students cringe away.
“Don’t touch the children.”
“Well then, obviously it’s not working! We should love each other, don’t you see?”
“Don’t touch the children.”
Pierre throws his hands into the air. “Come on, Jean-Luc,” he says. “We’re leaving.”
Jean-Luc eyes the woman. This looks like it will be harder than they thought. He packs up the sponges, piling them on the cart with his laptop. As he and Pierre walk away, the laptop plays “Tristan und Isolde.” Pierre is a fan.
And they are off now, spreading love with sponges.