My father arranged for a man wanting to go to Mississippi to get there by way of my silver Cutlass Supreme. He was to arrive that evening at six o’clock. I, on the other hand, had gotten there in a conventional sort of way. My friend Stuart helped me close my suitcase and the next morning, Mom drove me to the airport. She sent me off with a mayonnaise jar filled with apple juice and lots of waving in the gate. The jar made a shrilly scraping sound when I unscrewed the cap, and while my fellow passengers were unnerved by the noise, I considered myself pretty lucky. Mom had been known, before the authorities checked so carefully, to disguise whole turkeys in beach towels and stash them in my carry-on bag.
“No, I don’t smell onions coming from under the seat,” I’d have to say. “That’s ridiculous. Who would put onions in a piece of luggage.”
I had been in Biloxi for about eight days. The initial fascination was over, and I had just begun to realize that it was not the kind of place I’d want to be for very long. For fun, in Biloxi, people roast entire cows on rotating spits. It was Saturday and it was raining the kind of rain that drags down everything with it. Having failed to find suitable home furnishings, I decided to order a couch and table from New York. They hadn’t arrived and my back hurt from leaning against the wall. I bought a television set from Sears and perched it on a couple of slabs of wood that the guy at the hardware store cut especially for me, the new reporter from up North. I covered the wood with fabric. That morning, a baby alligator crawled out of a sewer onto the Interstate and the competition was doing a live shot from the scene.
The door knocked. “I have your director’s chairs,” said a skinny French man standing on my doormat. He was, indeed, holding my chairs, one under each arm, a third dangling from his wrist. “The fourth is in the car,” he continued, tilting his crew cut toward the parking lot. The “Navy Cut,” he later told me, was what Parisians thought was all the rage in the States. So upon arriving, in an attempt at American chic, he was scalped by some barber in Queens.
“May I come in?” asked Benoit, introducing himself.
“Yes, of course, I’ve been waiting for you.”
I took a chair off of his arm, stretched it open and asked him to sit down in my otherwise empty living room. It was 98 degrees that day. The rain shot the humidity up to 100 percent. Benoit was wearing trousers, a long sleeved Oxford cloth shirt, navy wool cardigan, wool sport jacket and an ascot. A paisley ascot. I couldn’t decide if he dressed so completely because he was too thin or too French.
“You’ve got quite an auto, there,” he told me. “I just don’t know why your father would pay money to have it sent.”
“Well, I’m going to be here for a while,” I explained.
“He’s quite lovely your dad, and your mother, too. He gave me these funny maps, look,” he said, taking them from his inside jacket pocket.
“The triptiks, of course.”
“Yes, that’s it. Triptiks. You keep turning the pages and when the book is finished, you are there. Voila.”
“And I am here.”
“Yes. Would you like some club soda?”
Benoit’s father was a professor in Tuscaloosa, for the year, and Benoit had come to visit for several months. He signed up with a service that matches drivers who need to go places with vehicles that are going there. He and my silver car, with the velour seats and enormous trunk, were the perfect pair. The Cutlass took him from New York to Mississippi and I, I soon found out, would take him to the bus station in the morning.
The morning. Le matin.