Never Say No

I was crying near Le Drugstore in Paris and on my way back to my hotel when a man ambled toward me and asked if I knew the results of the Karpov-Kasparov chess match. It was just after midnight; my thirtieth birthday was minutes old. I’d come to Paris in an attempt to stop thinking about my ex-fiancé back in Philadelphia, who’d recently dumped me for my downstairs neighbor, a woman whose bedroom was directly below mine. A trip alone to France, I convinced myself, would be the perfect antidote: I’d have a birthday fling with a stranger and come home feeling flouncy and redeemed. But in four days of wandering the arrondissements, no eligible man had come near me, let alone flirted with me. Aside from this disheveled guy asking about a chess match, I’d barely talked to anyone, unless one counted the lingerie clerk in the shop where I’d bought a black underwire birthday bra, which was not magnifique, as the clerk had exclaimed, but was instead carving its way into my rib cage.

“Karpov who? What chess match?” I said.

Wafts of Chanel and Obsession mingled in the mild autumn air above my wrists—I’d spent the day wandering through patisseries, museums, and perfumeries on the Left Bank, where the café tables buzzed with tourists, none of them hating Paris as much as I did. I could have been wrong in this, of course. The world, I knew, was filled with outwardly happy people whose interiors were as botulistic as mine, their synapses similarly overflowing with thoughts of former lovers in the arms of chesty, slim-kneed women named Hope or Faith or, in my case, Joy.

“Who’s Karpov?” I repeated, and tried to wipe my eyes without him noticing.

“Karpov, the Russian chess master; Kasparov, the challenging brat; the game that will show us whether determination or genius controls the destiny of man,” the stranger said. “You’re an American, I’m an American; this is perfect. You’re from New York, I know all about you. You buy me Le Monde, we’ll find out who won, then I’ll buy you wine and tell you about yourself.”

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