He had gotten himself from Paris to Biloxi. The last leg would be a cinch.
Benoit sat on the director’s chair as I called for the bus schedule to Tuscaloosa. From my bedroom, I could see him flipping through the stack of newspapers in the corner of the living room, where they had begun to pile up. There was no place to buy The New York Times anywhere near the Edgewater Gulf Apartments on Edgewater Gulf Drive, so my dad bought me a subscription as a going-away gift. The papers came two days late, and they came in groups of three, sometimes. By my eighth day in Mississippi, I had amassed six issues. It was hard to stay on top of them, arriving as they did, rapid-fire, and it soon became challenging to store them. I read the papers incessantly, and everywhere, though by month’s end, the entire corner of the room was a drift of newsprint.
“You can leave tonight at eight-thirty,” I said to Benoit. “Huit heures et demi.”
“You are a week behind,” he answered, a newspaper opened on his lap.
“In your reading, a week behind,” he said, holding the paper in the air. “Une semaine.”
“They come so fast.”
“Like a machine.”
“Yes, like a tennis ball machine, or a conveyer belt gone mad.”
“We should have dinner.”
Dad didn’t tell me I’d be arranging travel itinerary for the stranger who sat in my car for two days, let alone dining with him. He did present a trustworthy impression, though. And I was sure there were penalties in place if he dented a fender or veered off the route into oblivion. I wondered if those consequences extended to dinner.
“Um, what do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s dinner time, and we should have dinner.”
“That’s nice of you, but you’ll miss your bus.”
“Let’s phone up again and get the morning bus.”
“The morning bus.”
Benoit waited while I changed my clothes. Of course, I had no idea why agreed to go. It was not like me to agree, but I guess I was feeling intrepid, being in Biloxi, being a TV reporter for the first time. Being anything for the first time. I didn’t know where to go for dinner in Biloxi, I realized. On the night that I arrived, my camerawoman and two other reporters invited me out. I put on a skirt and heels, as I would have done in New York. It is hard to get situated at a picnic bench in a pencil skirt and heels. My new colleagues taught me how to eat “mudbugs” off of lunchroom trays. I put on a skirt and heels and, from my closet, heard Benoit on the kitchen phone.
“There’s a bus at nine a.m.,” he said when I was ready. “Lovely, you look lovely.”
“Thanks. Hey,” I said, “we’ll need to arrange for a hotel for you, then. I stayed at a little place down the street the first night I was here. The Edgewater Gulf Motel. Surprising name, right?”
We decided to stop by on the way to the restaurant to reserve Benoit’s room. He held open my apartment door and we made our way to the car.