"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" she remarked casually. I looked at her for a second, not sure if the syllables she'd just muttered were in fact words. They sounded instead like some sort of animal sounds, never breaking from one another, simply a variation and mutation of the previous utterance. I tried to gauge if she expected a response, and her constant eye contact and quivering lower lip (not sad or anything, simply expectant) suggested that she did. She stumbled a bit as the train banked against a curve, her jacket brushing against mine, causing me to cringe from the sound. (gortex against gortex sound like chalk being rubbed against a chalk board) I gritted my teeth and looked out the window, nothing but tunnel, then back at her.
"Excuse me?" I said, feeling it to be the only appropriate response.
"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" she said again. I shrugged my shoulders, giving a sheepish smile, sorry that I couldn't understand or really comprehend what she was trying to say to me. "I thought you knew French?" I shook my head. "What other language do you know?" I readjusted my grip on the pole, trying to reposition my feet, but the car was too crowded.
"Languages, really: Spanish, Italian, Latin, but technically it's dead, and Japanese." She looked at me, bewildered, blinking her eyes.
"You learned all of those languages but not French?"
"Yep." The train lurched forward.
"Haven't you been to France like three or four times?"
"Six," I replied, holding up my left hand and thumb as a visual representation.
"And you never thought to learn the language?" Her eyes were wide now, mouth agape a bit.
"It looked hard what with all the accent marks and apostrophes. My dad knows it, my sister knows it, I just never saw the need."
"What if you were in the country by yourself?" I shrugged my shoulders again.
"C'est la vie." She stared at me in disgust. "It means 'such is life.'"
"I know what it fucking means," she said, hitting my arm, "it's French."
"Yes, what did you think it was?" She was yelling now. A couple of ladies down near us began to take interest.
"I just thought it was a saying, I didn't really think about the origin." She rolled her eyes.
"And if you thought French was so hard, why did you learn Japanese? Wasn't that hard?"
"It was tough, but it took me out of the alphabet that I'm used to, so it wasn't like I was grasping for meaning in words, like I used to do in Spanish or Italian. Especially Italian. It's surprisingly liberating to work in a foreign alphabet." She hit me in the arm again.
"That hurts, you know."
"Yes, that's why I did it."
"That's childish of you," I said, shaking my head and looking over her at the crowds of people who were exiting the train at the stop. "Where are we going again, Leicester Square?"
"It's LEST-a Square, not Lye-Chester Square. Jesus, with all your traveling and lingual knowledge you'd think you would be able to pronounce things correctly."
"You'd think, wouldn't you?" She rolled her eyes again. "What are we doing there exactly?"
"I don't know. It's got a lot of theater we can check out, the Virgin Megastore, a bunch of street performers, I don't know."
"It also has a movie theater," one of the women that had begun watching us offered. She was older, carrying a cloth grocery bag with a baguette sticking out of it, a bonnet protecting her snow-white hair from the rain that was probably falling above ground.
"Thank you, anything good playing?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know. I never get out to the movies any more. I just don't know who all these new actors are, the plots are just too confusing, you know?"
"She certainly does,"" I pointed to Amy who shot me a look of disgust.
"What? You always ask me what the characters are doing and shit, where they are? The plots are just too complicated for you, Aimes." She cocked her arm back to hit me again, but the old lady interjected.
"I couldn't help but pick up your accents. American?"
"Yep," I answered.
"Oh, what part?"
"Chicago, smack in the middle of the country."
"How nice. I've only been to New York myself to see my son, Allen, graduate from university."
"Oh, where did he graduate?" Amy asked, her interest peaked.
"Columbia. He and his sister insisted on going to the states to university. They went to look at Oxford and Cambridge and just wouldn't have any of it."
"Really?" Amy said enthusiastically. "I graduated from Columbia. Wait," she said shaking her finger at the old woman, "Your son wasn't Allen Gaines, was he?"
"Why yes! Might he have known you, what's your name?"
"Amy Miller. He should remember me, we went on out on a couple," she hesitated for a moment, not sure how to tell the old woman, "social outings," she said nervously.
"You mean dates, dear?" the woman asked.
"Yes," Amy replied looking at the ground. I tried to suppress my laughter.
"Oh, how nice," the old woman said, a tinge of sadness entering her tone.
"Be sure to tell him I said hello."
"Oh, If I could dear..." she said, trailing off. Amy looked concerned looking up to me, seeming to ask whawt she should do next. I shrugged my shoulders again.
"Did something happen?" she asked after a moment of silence.
"Oh, well, I'm not sure if I should be talking about this," she said, her tone now entirely enveloped by melancholy, "especially on a train of all places." Amy could only stare at her, not sure what to do next. I looked up at the marquee and Leicester Square was the next stop.
"Well, he," she stopped, her eyes beginning to water. "He killed himself last year." Amy's face went completely white, the tan she had gotten in Greece seeming to disappear instantaneously.
"Hung himself, dear." Amy moved toward the woman and put her hand on her shoulder, moving in to hug the old woman before the train lurched to a halt, flinging Amy forward. I bent down and helped her up. She stood up on her toes, trying to crane her head over the crowd of people, looking for the old woman, but couldn't find her in the crowd.
"Did you see where she went?"
"No, I'm sorry. I was helping you up, she must have just gotten off, which is what we need to do. This is our stop." She stared at me for a minute, her face blank. "Remember, Leicester Square," I said, making sure to pronounce it correctly. "Street performers."
"Yeah," she said absently, walking toward the train door.
We had reached the surface before she brought it up again, looking out at the mass of people convulsing and moving about the square: "Why would she tell me that, that someone killed themselves?"
"I mean, you asked what had happened."
"Yeah, but you don't say something like that, especially on a train." I stared out into the square, trying to make sense of where and what everything was. "You don't think she thought I had something to do with it, do you?"
"Probably," I said, not really hearing what she had just asked, still staring out into the crowd of people, trying to decide what to do next.
"Probably!" she yelled at me. "What do you mean probably?"
"I mean, I don't know, maybe he did, maybe he didn't. You never know with these things, what people get set off by. Was it serious, you and Allen?"
"Not really. It was only like a couple of dates at the beginning of our last year."
"See, it was probably nothing."
"So you're saying that I couldn't have had an effect on him, that I was unimportant." I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "You're getting me a separate room tonight, by the way."
"I'm not sleeping with someone who thinks I'm inconsequential."
"Amy, if you get another room I'll kill myself," I said, smiling at her. All of the grief drained from her face and was replaced by rage. She hit my arm again, then pushed me as hard as she could. I stumbled back, hitting someone, still unable to find my balance. I reached out for a lamp pole, but it was still slick from the morning rain, droplets of precipitations still fresh on the green metal, refusing to let my hand grasp it and stabilize my body. I saw Amy fade away as I fell down the Underground stairs, and the last thing that went through my head before it hit the edge of that step and everything went blank, when people began to gasp and scream at the sight of blood gushing from the back of my skull was what the fuck Qu'est-ce que c'est actually meant.
There you go, Lena. Happy? I can live with it.
"Both the author of these Notes and the Notes themselves are, of course, fictional. Nevertheless, such persons as the composer of these Notes not only exist in our society, but indeed must exist, considering the circumstances under which our society has generally been formed."
- Fyodor Dostoevsky