Myra Seles


Myra Seles is an emerging writer from New Jersey. Her fiction has appeared in Please See Me magazine and has won the Edna Herzberg Prize in fiction. A graduate of Rutgers University, she holds a BA in psychology and creative writing. Now at Columbia University, she is pursuing a masters in mental health counseling. When not at school, she is working on her first novel, which explores the consequences of devotion.



by: Myra Seles

It was her fingernail. Amélie’s. Amélie with her fiery red hair, her sticky lavender scent. Amélie who dressed in colors I hadn’t known existed, colors she listed with such fervor and delight over brunch in Paris: celadon, mountbatten pink, viridian. Amélie’s hair that I can now describe as vermillion. Amélie with her handcrafted, sown dresses, floral and floral and floral. For how confident she was, she was a nail-biter and a leg shaker, someone who would giggle and cover her yellowing teeth behind her veiny hands. I didn’t mind that she was fond of cigarettes and would blow the smoke into my face as I bit into my flaky croissant. I didn’t mind the dull conversations about the differences between silk and satin. It was the nail-biting that did it for me. Nail-biting that took place in between puffs, nail-biting she did so aggressively I could hear her sucking up her pooled saliva.

It’s her fingernail, the one I’m looking at now in my right palm, the one under the silver table in the interrogation room, from the last time I saw her. Jagged, a neon yellow strip ripped from the thumb of her right hand. It scratches me as I roll it up my arm, raising goosebumps. It’s one centimeter thick and smells like her Gauloises.

The detective sitting on the other side of the table sneezes. I know the phrase: “à tes souhaits.” Bless you.

He looks at me like I’m crazy. He stinks of leathery Drakkar Noir; a pencil mustache, crooked nose, and sable, unwavering eyes are his features. He isn’t afraid to blink though, and in a way, those are his sentences—blink: ‘take your time,’ blink: ‘I can do this all day,’ blink: ‘you are guilty,’—but he hasn’t actually spoken, not this one at least. I see myself reflected as he leans forward, in his dark orbs and the mirror situated behind him.

The metal handcuff pierces my skin, and it’s cold. It doesn’t jingle and jangle like the many bangles Amélie would wear to cocktail parties she was celebrated at. Her bracelets would hit her champagne glass; and partygoers, though they spent the night eyeing her, were now expectant of a speech. I would warn her of just how much of a tease she was being, but she would brush everyone away, flashing her ringed fingers in a gesture I knew to mean pardon.

They would turn; one eye on her, perpetually.

I wish I had never met her, the dawn of my trip, but she insisted. Bumping into me at Shakespeare and Company and spilling coffee on my not-yet-purchased novel—“you are old to be reading On the Road, no?”—she said she’d make it up to me. “Please,” she would yearn, following me out the door, grabbing onto my hand, raising it up, “please go out to lunch with me.” What kind of woman would beg? Hopefully one that would in bed.

She offered to house me, a fold-out couch bigger than the apartment itself in Paris’s 19th arrondissement. There her masochistic moaning habits did become clear to me. The way she convulsed like a body-choked, the way she wanted to be dominated, signature maman et fils—my fingermarks hidden in her wrinkly, thin neck. I hated the way she moaned my name with inflection and confusion; yet she picked out the whips, I the Viagra. In the sad, amorous nature of darkness, she would pant about destiny, nobility. She talked most, afterward, nostalgia brought on by ingrown dust: “ESMOD—ah, non, pas Paris, Lyon.” She viewed me as whole, but I was—and am—a miniscule plague, a Medico Della Peste Mask; didn’t she know the backsides were void?

On 22nd Rue we met, Café Méricourt. It was her choice; she was paying, so I obeyed. The celadon colored theme inspired her, she said. We must go there today, she texted, not anywhere else. “Eleven AM—Sharp,” an hour she insisted was the ideal time to watch the reflection of the sun on the café, the changing of the colors. Pictures of which she took to prove, capsules that have thus been deleted from my phone and tossed into the Seine. She was delusional; about the colors and me.

This quickly became a habit.

At Café Méricourt she would talk lyrically, chattering along like a wound-up music box. Sometimes I felt as though her melody was coming from a far-off room—that I was in a far-off room and she was where she needed to be. No matter how far I would go, I could hear her voice. I can hear her voice now. The rises and falls of throaty octaves. She would talk so much about the most peculiar, rare topics—“my grand-mère met Gabrielle Bonheur—Chanel, as you know her,” and “oh? My favorite is Colette, Le Pur et L’impur—magnifque”—that they would gather dust in my mind. And with so much enigma, she talked, I never understood what she meant. The first brunch we had, when we parted she said: “Good luck, do you know what I mean?” I had not. The colors must have gone to her head, her nails got to mine.

We ordered water last week, Eau de Montagne. It tasted heavily of sulfur and chlorine, she laughed about it. Proclaiming cigarettes went better with wine anyways and ordered a Cotes de Gascogne—cheap, low alcohol content perfect for eleven in the morning. She asked me how I was, what I was doing, and would pay attention to the way I picked up my fork and commented on it: “I hold it with the pressure on my middle finger, you hold it backward, like a pencil.”

She would never make me smile and I never found her amusing. That’s the only thing I wish I could ask her now—was it worth it? I, young and strong. Was it worth risking your life? She must have gauged my past. A past so easily understandable, a past as easy as reading literature, you only had to glance at my face. She giggled when I said: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” she didn’t understand me. She was on a threshold and didn’t realize just how close to the edge she stood, only I did.

I feel dreadful and look monstrous. The bags under my eyes—now accentuated by the buzzing fluorescent lights—gave me character, she said, the scruff dragging from my chin to my neck, looked to be deliberate, she said. But it was always an accident: waking up too late, losing my razors, not being able to afford better ones. There’s a big indentation on my left cheek, one I can’t see reflected in the mirror, blocked by the broad man’s shoulder; a scar many women ask about but never find attractive. They blush at the story of its birth, giggle, and escape me. I can hear her voice now, Amélie’s, in the square, isolated room. The timbre with which she would utter my name, in my left ear, her lip on my lobe. I know what she would say, I’ve been studying her, nothing slipped her notice. She’s whispering in my ear right now: “look in the left corner of the ceiling, behind him, there’s a camera,”—now she’s commenting on the rhythm of the throbbing red light. The man sitting in front of me, arms folded, has a tattoo on his neck, something I can’t decipher but she would have been able to.

“Admet le,” he says. His first words. He looks older and experienced, like a dog-eared book. Someone who might be well-off and drive a Jaguar, but his voice is immature and wavers.

He doesn’t trust himself and looks as if, next second, he will cry. Maybe he should be the one to ‘admit it.’

I feel the left side of my face twitch slightly, twice. “English, s’il te plaît.”

He rolls his eyes and scratches the back of his hairy hand, adjusts his cuff, clears his throat.

“Admit it,” he says. His accent is heavy. “Amélie Blanchet is missing. How are you related to her? How do you know her?”

Twitch, twitch. “Google says she’s one of the most coveted fashion designers in Paris. Born March 17, 1959, in Annecy, France.”

He draws closer to me on the table, “Where is she?”

I stare at his balled-up fists, which are ready to pound the metal table, I can hear what that will sound like, how my eardrums will vibrate and quiver.

Twitch, twitch. “Can I have a cigarette please?” That disarms him, his hooded eyes open to their fullest extent and he sits back, as though I hit him, as though I confess, “Gauloises, please.”

He doesn’t get up and leave, but I wish he did. I want to further play with the jagged fingernail out in the open, place it onto my own dirty thumb, and imagine the fusion of our two souls. Lay it down on the table and lick it into my mouth, in between my molars and under my tongue. There is a tiny crack 6.5 mm into the nail from how much I fondled it.

He places a single cigarette in my mouth. I feel the flame on my nose and hear the hissing of the gas. I’m afraid I will cough the cigarette out, drop it onto the table and he will know I am a fraud.

He strokes the winged-helmet packaging now in his hands and gazes at it fondly, like a father looking at a photograph of his daughter. He doesn’t deserve to join me in my triumph, and so when he puts the box back in his front pocket, without grabbing one for himself, I grin around the cigarette. I see Amélie smoking in front of me, her laid-back posture on the chairs of Café Méricourt. The foot attached to her long dangly legs as she swings one over the other, shaking her clogs like a baby’s rattle.

The Gauloises is dreadful and strains my lungs. But it’s buzzing, the ash elongating, just like Amélie’s Gauloises. I’m doing it properly. Would she be proud of me?

I have not touched the cigarette with my own hand yet; one is chained and the other conceals Amélie’s hiding spot. I pinch the nail in between my pinky and ring finger and pluck the cigarette from my lips, the way Amélie did. I am trembling. Is it the nicotine? How fast does it travel? Is it a connection between Amélie and me?

“How did you meet her? What was the relationship between Amélie and you?” he asks me.

Twitch, twitch. “Je ne comprends pas. Whatever do you mean? I’ve never met Amélie before.”

There is only a cigarette’s length between us when he draws in again,

“Eye-witnesses place you with Amélie at L’Arc, et Silencio, et Le Piaf.”

I withdraw. Twitch, twitch, twitch. “At a crowded nightclub open to the public?”

“Pff,” he scoffs and leans back himself, “Silencio is members-only. I know you were Amélie’s guest. More than once.”

Twitch, twitch. Correct. Twitch. I was Amélie’s guest; L’Arc, Le Piaf, other clubs, all paid by Amélie.

He picks up a manila folder from beneath his chair, something I didn’t notice but Amélie would have. He opens it up to two sheets. One he slides towards me and the other he keeps for himself.

The paper he gives me is a photograph, a moment captured in time, preserved. Of us. For us. My face towards the CCTV camera, Amélie’s towards me. Taken outside Café Mericourt. It’s grainy, low quality, but explicitly me: hunched shoulders, bristled hair, scar. We had finished our food by then, evidenced by the newspaper on our tiny, circular table: L’Opinion—the camera couldn’t pick it up, but I did. She was teaching meto read.

“Born in Buffalo, New York. You have… thirty-seven years.” He is reading my criminal record. “Tell me. You got your scar before or after prison? Before or after you got out on good behavior. Second-degree murder.”

Twitch. Twitch. Twitch; split down the middle, left forehead to left shoulder. Another fact. I frown.

“In,” I answer. He doesn’t listen. “I deserved it—stole someone’s Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

He puts my record back in the folder and pushes it aside, the table is long. He pulls back the photograph, dead center, and stabs Amélie in the back of the head, with his thick forefinger.

“You know where she is,” he says, stabbing her in sync with the little red light.

Twitch, twitch. “How would I know where she is?” I ask.

“You went to little lunch with her every day.”

Twitch, twitch, twitch. “Alors?” It doesn’t prove anything. “It was not weird when she did not show up this morning?” Twitch, twitch. “No.”

“Pourquoi?” he asks, leaning forward again.

Twitch, twitch. “Why what?”

“Why was it not weird?” He swings forward, like a pendulum that doesn’t swing back.

So close I count the lines fanning out of his eyes and cutting his forehead: six, six, six.

Twitch, twitch. “She demanded a private relationship from me.”

“You were lovers?” And his tone is comedic, mocking, a jeer, a joke with the boys. He is holding back a smile, but readjusts his face, “You were the last person to see her alive.”

Twitch. Twitch. Twitch. Twitch.

“Once a killer, always a killer.” And he winks. “Where are you keeping her, or did you kill her already? Which one?”

He is insinuating scenarios, thinking me a dullard, deriding me. I want to spit on his face.

Twitch, twitch.

He slams the table, finally, no longer comfortable or cheerful. “Where is Amélie?!” he yells, getting to his feet, his metal chair clatters to the ground, “What did you do to her?! I know it was you!”

I want to get up, join him, but I am chained. Twitch, twitch, twitch,

“She’s just missing. Busy—busy probably!”

“Where is she?!” he says, palms on the table, supporting his whole bodyweight.

Twitch, twitch. “D’accord, oui,—okay okay calm down!—I knew her, we—we went to lunch, uh—brunch. I just saw her last week though! That’—that’s. She’s independent! I don’t know where she is. I’m, I’m sure she’ll meet me tomorrow morning, Café Méricourt.”

“People are worried. La Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode knows something happened to her. Amélie is one of the haute couture designers. She called before going to the show and never showed up. Her colleagues and friends know she would never do that.” He walks to my side, my chained side, and draws into my face, “You know what they told me? Her friends? Look into him.” The stubbiness of his finger hits my chest, my heart.

Twitch. Twitch. Twitch. Twitch. For every twitch my left eye closes completely.

I fiddle with the jagged nail in my closed right fist, feeling its light touch for the final time.

“Je ne sais pas. Je suis désolé! I’ll see her—she’ll probably—she will show up tomorrow morning for lunch, uh—brunch—” his finger digs deeper into my chest; my twitching suddenly grows more violent; I shake the nail rapidly, pressure mounts in the backs of my eyes, “Fine! I ki—”

Just then the door bangs open and someone walks into the room, the officer who interviewed me beforehand, who told me to call him

Bonvillain. Bonvillain’s chin is jutting out and the vein in his forehead is throbbing in time with the little red light. The other officer’s finger departs my chest and they unite in the corner. The officer’s mouth falls open, like a little nutcracker, in response to Bonvillain’s whispering.

“Merde! Pourquoi?” He throws his hands in the air and starts pacing, “Ça doit être une er—” but Bonvillain raises his palm in means of a halt. A peaceful gesture that doesn’t harmonize with the storm of his face. Bonvillain nods and walks out, leaving the other cop steaming and the door open.

He rubs his eyes and tugs on his balding hair, still pacing the length of the room, until he reaches my left wrist. The cuff digs further into my skin as he twists to get it removed. I stand up and transfer the cigarette from right to left hand and pocket Amélie’s jagged fingernail in my jeans. My left wrist is marked red and numb. I take a drag, the first time since he offered me the cigarette.

He puts a hand on my shoulder and hauls me close, “I know it was you,” then steps back just as quickly, “voici ma carte, call me if you know anything,” and he passes me his business card.

“Bonne soirée,” I say. He turns and looks back at me over his shoulder, disoriented, lost in thought, already reaching for a cigarette. From this angle, onion-smelling liquid gleams on his upper lip and he licks it off. “I know I will see Amélie tomorrow,” I am by the door now, two security guards have come to collect me, “but if not… Je t’appellerai,” and I flash his business card. “Attendre!” he says, and we stop on the threshold, “Monsieur... enjoy Paris,” and he winks again.

The security guards lead me out of the station into the balmy July night. It had been raining earlier and still smelt like it. The streetlights are aflame, a titian hue. I scurry to the furthest lamp from the police station and pull out Amélie’s fingernail.

I bring it to my right nostril; still Gauloises. I tremble in pleasure.

But that was too close. The police have no evidence yet, but Amélie’s coworkers and friends will sell me out. It is balmy, it is July, but it is only a curtain for this sudden melancholy. I should enjoy Paris, like he said, but where? L’Arc, Silencio, Le Piaf; I can’t anymore.

I continue my way through wanderers on the street, cutting through couples and friends, but the only thing I see is Amélie biting her nails—biting her nails during sex. I stop near a trashcan and inhale the cigarette dry, till my lungs are torrid and only the cork-colored filter remains. Still burning, I put the cigarette out on my red, numb wrist (pain I wish I felt), then rub the ash on Amélie’s fingernail. The business card is the only thing I toss out.

I must have swallowed a blowfly in my fast-paced gait; my insides are jittery, my stomach acid vibrating. Suddenly, I look over my shoulder... to no faces I recognize. But the bugs are laying eggs—I have forgotten something.

The metro I get on is air-conditioned and buzzing, reminding me of New York City. It’s fast-paced and fairly crowded, usual 9 p.m. traffic. Maybe it’s time to go back, hop on a RER B and go to the airport—what’s left in Paris?

I sit across the exit, and every time the train stops, my face blooms with the humidity of the underground, concrete night. The stench of cigarettes coats my fingers. I pull out the nail and brush lint off the yellow coat. Laying on my lifeline it brings solace, comfort—uneasiness. The haste with which I shove the nail into my jean pocket is a shame. I must be photographed with the nail—preserve it forever—before it’s too late.

Amélie would have been sitting on my right, on this train, on any train, her incessant hair always in my mouth. I should have cut some off.

No one sits near me.

Talks are now quiet and mellow, a conversational tone you employ among the company of a child, a child whose future depends on the conversation but they’re not mature enough to be talked to, so they’re talked about, a child in custody. A child who looks like me. The loudest noise in the metro is the metro itself. It clatters and clangs along until it screeches at my stop and I get off.

I slow on my way to my apartment—Amélie’s—apartment. It would be the perfect place for the police to waiting, watching. Hunting. Would it be Bonvillain staked outside? Or a Jaguar?

Before I can see the crooked building, I make a U-turn. Better get out of Paris. I have nothing of worth at my apartment, no evidence, no need to stop there and linger. Except the blowfly in my stomach doesn’t feel the same, stomach acid crawling up my throat. I make my way through the thinning subway once again, locating a train on its way to Charles de Gaulle.

The melancholy of the July night remains, but now smells like Amélie’s old cunt. It’s an awkward hour—too late to be going home, too early to be going out—only the stragglers remain. The ones with knots in their hair, the ones who won’t be remembered, the one who weren’t invited—the victims.

Standing with the door shutting me in, looking at them, I realize I’m a different type of straggler, and it imprints a remoteness of self, a compressing loneliness, because in that moment, that only lasts two seconds, I realize I’ll never be like them. But it’s only two seconds, and I regain.

I sit next to a girl from which a heavy-set man just got out. My jeaned leg touches her sheer legging—over a double infinity tattoo—and she smiles at me. A smile without the show of teeth, but enough the straight line of her lip curves. Her nails are baby blue. I nod at her and tip my hat. She goes back to reading her book, Gone Girl.


bridge 2024