I wanted to draw, not write—does any kid seriously want to write?—but that was impossible: my trees were shapeless blobs, my insects were necklaces with too many beads, my oceans, triangles impaling clouds that dripped snow or rain. I had no hand, or eye, or talent, and what’s more, the subjects didn’t help me out. The animals, plants, people: none of them dropped out of my pencil, however hard I willed them to. That’s how it was. I was incompetent and lazy, they knew it, and they spurned me accordingly.
Only one subject ever appeared—one figure I was able to coax, perhaps out of natural sympathy, or because he was easy to do. Either way, every time, the Frenchman was there. The first pencil stroke always summoned his beret, then his dark glasses swirled into being.
A spherical head, a black beret, a pair of sunglasses on a pointed nose, a sharp mustache, a goatee, a scrawny neck, a striped shirt: that’s him. Sometimes, in a last disambiguating flourish, I’d slide a baguette under his arm.
I drew the Frenchman everywhere, all the time: I cackled as I did so. I could draw him now. He’ll appear—from where, I’m not sure.
No Frenchman I’ve met matches his description. I’d never met any at all when I first drew him. Frenchmen trickled along later, one by one, innocuously and inadequately. His arrival had been so natural, so unforced, and there are so few Frenchmen like him in the phenomenal world, that I’ve come to the following conclusion. They are incorrect, and he is precise. He is the Ideal they all fail to represent. I will never entirely approve of the Frenchmen I meet, because they will never be the true Frenchman I apprehended in childhood. (A store Santa is never a true Santa; I will probably never meet him either.) I can’t express my disappointment with the first real Frenchman I met, a short, balding man with sad eyes. He was so deflatingly like anyone—any inhabitant of his strip of Europe. A little smaller than most Americans, a little more careful with his appearance, a little quieter, without bread under his arm.
If I did meet my Frenchman, what would I say? I’d recognize him immediately, but he couldn’t be expected to know me. My hopes would be painfully obvious from my demeanor—my stumbling words and frantic glances. I’d only make him nervous. I’d embarrass myself. And I’d feel that embarrassment whenever I thought of him, and certainly if I drew him.
I wouldn’t talk, no—just admire from a distance, satisfied I’d done one thing correctly.
ADDISON ZELLER’s fiction appears in 3:AM, minor literature[s], Ligeia, ergot., trampset, Cincinnati Review, hex, unstamatic, Epiphany, and elsewhere. He lives in Wooster, Ohio.