By Cynthia Guo

Thanks, Sorry, I Have To Go

It is 2 a.m. in Cannes and I am alone on a dark boardwalk. Well—not alone.
By Laura E. Hatt

I am sitting outside a skate park at the east end of Lyon, watching a boy on a bike try the same trick for the fourth time. He pedals up the side of a halfpipe and soars into the air, jerking his body around in an attempt at a 180. Like the last three times, he overshoots and skids across the platform.

Suddenly there is a body next to mine.

I keep my eyes fixed on the biker. He stands and shakes out his limbs, obviously gearing up for another run.

The body slides a heavy hand across my back. I flinch and rise to my feet. The body rises too. He has weak posture and an ugly smile. “You and me, baby?” I back away. He edges closer.

The biker pushes off and slides down the halfpipe, muscles tensed for a fifth run, but I have already left and I don’t see how it ends.

***

Granted, I saw it begin. My presence in this park—this country, this job—is the product of an extraordinary quantity of luck and privilege. Should I just be grateful?

***

It is 2 a.m. in Cannes and I am alone on a dark boardwalk. Well—not alone. The street, though quiet, is dotted with men. They sit in groups of three and four, on benches and curbs, drinking from small glass bottles. I hear the soft rustle of voices, the clink of glass, the hollow tap-tap of my pink H&M pumps.

The street stretches beautiful and long, two miles of moonlit eyes.

“Lost, baby?” says a figure coiled around one of the city’s iconic blue benches.

“Let me show you something, baby,” says a body hunched against the concrete seawall.

“Why so sad, baby?” says a shadow.

I walk quickly, pink heels a blur to my eyes, arms folded across my chest though it would be easier to swing them at my sides. I am chased only once (a little later in the evening, a little farther down the pier) but I run and he quits and I am fine.

***

I am fine. Nobody hurt me. I’m coming out of this summer (tired, bitter, afraid) completely unscathed. Should I be talking about this at all?

***

The sun in Provence is bright, and at first I don’t see him at all.

Then—a thin voice. “Hey, bay-bee.”

My first instinct is to laugh, a quick hard burst. What? It’s the voice of a child. I break my own rule and turn my head.

He leans against a lamp post, only barely pubescent, bony wrists tucked into the pockets of his wide-leg carpenter jeans. His forehead is spattered with acne. The flesh above his upper lip is smooth and hairless. For a moment, I feel something that verges on compassion.

But he meets my gaze, watery eyes firm, and I realize suddenly that he means it, he’s harassing me. I cede the plaza.

***

What point am I trying to make here, with my fancy European adventure and my lingering anger and my belated unoriginal epiphany that the world is a scary place? “Stop harassing women,” the cis white woman preaches to the world at large. “It’s wrong.” The world nods in bored assent.

***

Summer is over and I’m back in the U.S., in Chicago. Three friends and I are loitering near Navy Pier. Two of my friends are female; one is male. We’re all a little tired.

A man walks down the street toward us. “Beautiful,” he says, distinctly.

“Thanks,” one of my female friends mumbles, looking away.

The man stops. A beat passes. “Just one?” he says. The silence stretches on, and he steps closer. “Didn’t anybody ever teach you any fucking manners?”

Too shocked to react, I stay quiet. The others do, too. Finally, the man swears and stalks off, leaving us in heavy silence.

I win, I guess.

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