Cities Are Like Women (Can’t You Find a Home in Her?)

by Charlotte E. Wilde

Barefoot in the kitch[en]

She was beautiful in the way only an American promise land can be, with a rigid alabaster facade and best-kept-secrets abound. Blessed with perfect comic timing her laugh was always right on cue, but she takes her confidences as seriously as she takes herself so don’t look too closely— a row of grinning pearly whites reveal nicotine like zebra stripes and a layer of rouge on cheeks thick enough to stain. Too much pavement not enough soul, too much honkey-tonk not enough drear and whisper; sure, she’ll suck your breath away, but you’ll find she’s stratified her affection.  And while it’s impossible not to appreciate the skyline in her smile, when I reach to touch the kitsch of her Broadway lips my mind never failed to tug me away.

In an instant memory turns to the shape shifting streets of another, how they wavered from ethereally whimsical to breathtaking violence in the span of an afternoon’s walk or a busker-filled metro ride. How an open handed invitation called lovers and strangers alike to climb right down into the marrow of her bones and pop back up again with the rest of the rat-eyed-dreamers, or lose oneself in cobblestone streets, cafés, and monuments’ cliche strung rooftops. That was Paris for you, all mystery and manners with a seething soft underbelly of sin. Whereas N* here, she’s your typical southern belle: pomp and circumstance and a neon lit smile hiding anything that might be considered immediately authentic.

Still, no matter how harsh the misery we choose, it is somehow more palatable than the misery imposed upon us— a common theme amongst those who make a foreign city home or the rootless of any sort.  It’s the thrill of finding isolation in the throng of a city not our own, the pulsing surge of a crowd or ebb and flow of river that resists the shade of what we’ve known. It’s the synesthesia of streets and colors that become maps and tastes when we close our eyes, a modern mess of graffiti memories that people our solitude as we embrace the role of Baudelairian flâneur, buoy-less, a mind tethered only to the unknown.

So I walk her streets, memorize her curves and little sighs that indicate a path right or wrong and yeah, she’s beautiful, but presentation’s never been a ruse intended to reveal childhoods spent chasing fireflies barefoot in the grass. No, N doesn’t take kindly to strangers— she’s all “bless your heart,” but inside I know she’s gnashing her teeth as she kneads her biscuits. Her paste jewels and gritty glamour offer no harbor in a storm. But blonde tresses curling just-so call to fingers, and promises of morning-after intimacy keep flickering hope alive… so here I remain, touching her but thinking of you.

I certainly can’t judge anyone’s manner of attempted intimacy or accrued affection, but you know what they say: behind every beautiful face is someone who’s sick of putting up with their shit. This sort of self-fulfilling prophecy has always been my downfall; cities are like women and, as for me me, well, I’ll always have Paris.

It’s only ever been you.

*Name changed to protect the guilty.