The Man from Paris – Denis J Underwood

The man from Paris stood at the cliff’s edge, shielding his eyes. Bone white ships dotted the gleaming Mediterranean. His brother had brought him here to look down at the sea before the hunters guided their horses inland.

The man from Paris knew little about Algeria. He did not read books to prepare for his trip. What he did know, his younger brother had written in letters, and his brother had only written twice: once in 1932 after settling in Algeria and a year ago inviting him to visit. So, in August of 1954, the man from Paris boarded a boat in Marseille and his brother picked him up in Algiers. There he saw the crowded market, the Mauresque women with their heads covered. Aren’t they hot? he wondered. A rough road along the coast brought them to the town of Novi where their first stop was the viticulture coop.

This, the man from Paris thought was an opportunity for his brother to brag about his vineyards, his lands, his success. They drank local red wine which the man from Paris thought satisfactory, but mostly bland, and his brother introduced him to men of the village, the Pieds-noir.

After three days of enjoying the comfort of his brother’s home, the man from Paris prepared for the hunt. He lifted his rifle, submitting it to his brother for inspection.

“Will this do?” He wanted his brother to acknowledge the quality; this was a fine, expensive rifle. He had borrowed it from a friend.

“Did you clean it?”

“Yes, in Paris.”

“Clean it again.”

The man from Paris shrugged, wrapped the rifle in a cloth and then placed it in his pack.

“You ready to face a boar?” his brother asked.

“Of course.”

“Ever killed one?”

“In Provence.”

“Little, right?”

“No, big.”

His brother’s face alighted with a knowing smirk, the one he’d always flashed after detecting one of his lies.

“Babies compared to these,” his brother said.

“They all die the same.”

“Not always.”

*      *      *

The riders crossed hills covered with dried grasses and scrub brush. Ahead of the horses, dogs darted in and out of shadows. After a lunch of sliced sausage, crusty bread, dried figs, and Medjool dates, the hunters pulled rifles from their packs and trudged off, following the dogs and the Arab men with their long sticks.

The man from Paris started next to his brother, the two slowly drifting apart. The other hunters fanned out. Soon, he was on his own, advancing toward the ridge where he would wait for boar chased toward his station. At the crest, he stopped and surveyed the land, his canvas hunting jacket wet with sweat. Soon he heard barking coming from the valley below.

The barking steadily became louder and then a boar shot out of the tall grass beneath some trees.

Could something so big really move so fast?

The boar rushed up the slope toward him, its snout plunging through the thick underbrush.

The baying dogs were not far behind.

The man from Paris shouldered his rifle, leaned forward and aimed. He sighted the boar slightly above the head. The rifle barrel jerked up and down with each of his breaths.
He fired and the shot went high. The boar was almost to him. He pulled the trigger again and the rifle jammed.

He had once been a wonderful hunter of birds. But birds were very different than this. More of a sweeping motion with the weapon and if you missed, it really didn’t matter.

That had been long ago, before he’d moved to Paris. He braced himself holding the hot rifle barrel with both hands. He tried to time it right, swinging the butt down. He missed, and the boar slammed into him, its massive head and neck lifting him off his feet.

When he came to, he felt as if he were submerged in warm water. Two men were with him. He could hear his brother shouting. One man tore off the man from Paris’ blood soaked pants. The other man pressed his hands into the crease between his leg and groin. Blood spurted in long strings from between the man’s fingers. There were other wounds but those were nothing compared to the mess between his legs.

The men continued to press the wound. One told him not to worry, “Ça va, c’est rien!”

Then he overheard them whispering about how a tourniquet wouldn’t work.

“We’ll make it to the village,” his brother said. The man from Paris knew better. They had ridden over two hours. The tusk hit his artery. He was thinking so clearly now.

“Don’t leave me here,” he said.

“Of course we won’t leave you.”

*      *      *

They hefted him, belly down, onto his horse. The man from Paris’ head bounced off the horse’s side as it went. One man jogged along, propping him up. The horse’s flank, slick with blood, glistened in the sun.

The man from Paris’ whole body felt heavy. He strained to lift his head and look out across the land. He felt the horse’s power and it seemed limitless compared to his own waning strength. His brother came alongside to talk in his ear.

“Take me back to France,” the man from Paris said. “Promise.”

His brother nodded, acknowledging he understood what was expected.

When the man from Paris could no longer lift his head, he watched the trail beneath him. The long, dried grasses flicked back and forth and the dust whorled away from the horse’s hooves. He watched this as long as he could, waiting for the sea.

 

Denis J. Underwood’s stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Identity Theory, Gravel Magazine, The First Line, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Carolina, was published by Wind River Press. Grave Matters, a feature film he co-wrote and co-produced, has been in post-production a few years too many. The project was featured on the Sundance Channel’s 24 Frames News.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 13

 

Image: Denis J Underwood
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