We arrived in the evening, parked on the street and exited the car.
Calais, seemed to be made up of two-lane roads, with the exception of an area next to the mall and the hôtel-de-ville. A mile or so down the road from where we’d parked was a large mall, some more, iced-over roads, and a bunch of shops. For a port town, Calais seemed really nice—especially when one compares it with Dover.
In the waning light, snow was briefly illuminated by the streetlights spaced out every few yards, and people walked around with take away boxes and shopping bags. The sound of jazz, coming from speakers mounted on shopfronts, floated through the air. That’s all information that registered after I got out of the car. What I primarily thought of was a series of horrible invectives directed at the gust of wind that blew straight into my face.
The Student stepped out of his side of the car, slipped on a patch of black ice, and steadied himself with an impressive chain of body contortions that brought laughter and applause from our French friends. When he regained composure by clinging to the side of the car for dear life, The Student gave a little bow and shuffled his way to the sidewalk, which was alternately salted and covered in snow.
“So,” Pascale said, turning to Andy, “ou sont allons?”
“Oui,” said Andy’s friend, Albert, “Andy?”
I tilted my head to the side.
The Student, who had by now shuffled up to my right, whispered, “They’re asking where we’re going.”
“I know, thanks.”
Andy put on a disconcerted face. “What? Why are you asking me?”
“You wanted to go here,” said Albert. “What do we do?”
“I just suggested,” said Andy, shrugging up his shoulders.
“Pfft,” said Pascale.
“C’mon, man,” said The Student. “You drag us out here, we have to sit in friggen traffic for two hours to come to Calais, what are we going to do? Huh?”
Andy looked at us in shock, as if we were pinning war crimes on him or something. He gestured in the air, hands twirling in indecisive circles, like a compass trying to right itself with a magnetic force, and eventually, he pointed down the road. “That way. We’ll go to the beach.”
“There,” I said. “Was that so hard?”
“Now you?” he asked.
We laughed and walked down the street, every once in a while shouting obscenities while one of us lost footing on the ice, with the others laughing, masking their fear of the knowledge that it would probably be them who would fall next.
We made it about a mile or so before the sun started setting. We had passed the mall and were now on what would be a busy district, if it weren’t for the ice covering everything. The roofs’ overhangs were sprinkled with icicles, shops’ windows were frosted over, and in the dusk, the neon lights of the few open kebab, frites, and bakeries glowed like beacons. We’d spent the past fifteen minutes—or, in spatial terms, since nearly being run down in a roundabout and pausing in the plaza near the huge quasi-Gothic hôtel-de-ville to allow The Student to take roughly twenty pictures of its spires and clocks—discussing what to do for food.
Ultimately, as we walked along the street and stumbled upon the only large boulangerie that also did not seem as if it was a drug front, we decided to just get some rolls and such until returning from the beach, when we’d get something a little more filling. We went in, ordered some food, and continued down the street.
Pascale, Andy, and Albert took up the front of our promenade—which made sense since I had never been to France, even, and The Student hadn’t been to the country in a year and a half. They talked in that rapid-fire way that made it clear they were gossiping, and The Student and I followed behind, noshing on our baguettes.
“So, how’re you liking France?” he asked.
“Pretty, pretty good,” I said. “Lille’s my kind of town. The coffee flows like wine, and the wine flows like water.”
The Student nodded. “I like that. You should use that in your blog.”
“How is that going, by the way? I’ve missed the last few entries.”
“Going well. Just got to where The Drunkard smote The Stalker and banished him unto the dark depths of the Underworld, wherein the latter was forced to undergo a purging of all that was dark in his soul in order to rejoin our group.”
“Allegory for when The Drunkard’s flatmates tossed The Stalker into Madame Guillotine.”
“What goes on in your head?”
“Twisted things that seem as though they were ripped from a Tim Burton movie, why?”
“That’s what I thought.”
A few minutes later, we’d taken a detour into a war memorial park because hey, why not? We walked past a few people, past a fountain that had frozen over and then, near a barren playground that, too, was frosted over, we saw a giant world map, the sort of thing that reminded me of when I was in elementary school and my friends and I pretended to be Godzilla and crush Ohio. It was big enough to show Cookeville, Tennessee—a true shitsplat of a town.
So, my instincts kicking in, I started pretending to crush the U.S. beneath my giant Godzilla feet while The Student showed the three French where we came from in the U.S.. Soon, we moved on.
We were now obviously close to the docks. I say obviously close, because everything was just a bit more run down than the rest of the city, and the human to seagull ratio was rapidly resembling the worldwide human to insect ratio. Off in the distance, I could see the dull glow of light pollution from the high-powered lights on various docks. The sounds of giant ferry horns wafted through the air, like the songs of horribly ill songbirds.
“Out of curiosity,” I said, “how much further to the beach?”
“Oh,” said Albert, “not that much further. Kilometer, kilometer and a half.”“Oh,” I said. “Good.”