When I got to Paris, back for the first time in a while,
it was early in the morning on a Saturday. I had forgotten
to write down the door code for the building where I was staying,
so I thought I would sit down on the canal
and be tired there for a while and think about what to do
and watch the crows and the joggers.
So I sat there on the pavement, right by the water, with my suitcase.
It’s an ugly suitcase, light blue fabric, stained and marked.
Atlantic: emblazoned with a sea horse. I don’t really like it,
but it was big enough to hold the things I thought I needed.
When I left a week later, the suitcase was too heavy, as I knew it would be.
I had bought a lot of books, trying to read in French, to get back
the language. There at check-in at Charles de Gaulle,
I unzipped the suitcase and surveyed its contents.
I took out a few things. I could tell that the woman
behind the counter was annoyed with me.
“You have to take out something heavy,” she said in English.
“Right,” I said. “But there isn’t anything heavy. It’s just
a lot of small things. I’ll take stuff out. I’m taking stuff out.”
I stacked all the books in a tote bag that I had bought at Franprix
(cream and red with an apple on it – or a peach?) because
I thought it would make me feel like I lived in Paris.
A man in line was wearing a backpack with
side pockets filled with indelible markers.
At least twenty, in all colors. What could he want
with all those markers. Then he was gone.
In French, to check in is enregistrer, which sounds
quite official and complicated. But it’s just that: checking
in and checking your bag. As I zipped up my ugly suitcase again, I could see
a woman to my left with her own smaller shrink-wrapped suitcase,
from the Safe Bag station, I guess, all glossy and red and
reflecting the fluorescent lights, like a piece of candy in a wrapper.
Susan Harlan's writing has appeared in venues including The Guardian US, The Paris Review Daily, The Toast, Roads & Kingdoms, The Common, The Morning News, Curbed, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Avidly, The Hairpin, Public Books, and The Awl. She teaches English literature at Wake Forest University, and her book Luggage is out with the Bloomsbury series Object Lessons today.