It takes a special memoir to warrant my praise. Fatigued by the down-and-out nature of most memoirs, I can’t convey how much I admired Gregoire Bouillier’s The Mystery Guest. It is a quiet, endearing story of man who gets invited to a party by the love of his life that had left him years earlier without a word. She left him unannounced and suddenly, on lazy Sunday afternoon, she awakes him and asks him to be her “mystery guest” at a birthday party for her friend. There is nothing subterranean in her words, but he still plunges deep into anxious speculation:
But she hadn’t called to talk about the past. She didn’t even refer to the past, much less clear things up the way I’d hoped, and my heart leapt with anticipation, crowded with joy, rose high over my head only to plummet back into the shadows, burrowing down in shame before the dawning truth that she was calling simply to invite me to a party–and will it never end, this continual pinching of the flesh in disbelief?–a “big party,” to be precise. She was counting on me to come. It was important. She was asking as a favor, and she laughed faintly on her end while silently I kept telling myself that she had, in fact, called after all these years just to ask me to a party. As if nothing had happened and time had laid waste to everything and Michael Leiris were still alive.
Haven’t we all been there? The “one that got away” calls and all hope is rekindled. They have come to their senses. They realize how wonderful we are and that they were much too judgmental, too oblivious to our superior qualities. Of course, they want us back. We’re great and WE knew it all along. Is it so bad for to revel in that delusion for awhile? Come on, now I beg you, can you blame Mr. Bouillier? I can’t. I won’t. This is our romantic Everyman. And who can blame him when he decides to forgo any possibility of humiliation and attend the party as the “mystery guest”? We would do it. Yes, we would. After all, this is love we’re talking about. Love. Goddamned Parisian Love.
Once he decides to attend this party, the hunt is on for the gift of a lifetime. The gift that will drop jaws and make her realize what a complete fool she was. How ashamed she must feel for leaving such a classy and debonair man, the man any woman would want considering how well he has chosen this gift. What is this gift? Well, it’s the Frenchiest gift you can give–a bottle of Bordeaux. How French? A ’64 Margaux. Mon Dieu. Tellement francais.
And in a wine store near Saint-Lazare I found a 1964 Margaux. I remember it perfectly. It was the best bottle in the store, and it was way beyond my means, and I exulted, I actually pranced with delight in front of the clerk, who peered at me suspiciously and even looked a little bit nervous. But that was just it. I wanted to sacrifice everything, I wanted to shame them as I climbed up on the pyre. We’d see how haughty they looked then. We;d see whether they had brought anything beyond their means–in a word, I challenged them to a potlatch and for once I put all social chicanery aside, and they would know who’d really give all for love, and the bottle cost more than my rent, a lot more, and that didn’t matter. On the contrary, I’d crossed the Rubicon, as they say.
And we want this to happen for our hero. Because he’s no hero at all. He’s clueless, and forlorn, and tender, and lovable, and flawed. This is a man she should have loved. We are convinced. And when he arrives at the party we are filled with as much apprehension as he is. But true to her nature, she doesn’t see him the way we do. In fact, she doesn’t even notice him till he is ready to leave, coat in hand and standing at the door right in front of a bouquet of roses.
And during those freighted seconds everything grew more and more beautiful and harmonious and red and white and orange between us, and I wanted to believe in it, and I thought of us looking in the same direction at that moment, for what I knew would be the last time, and to end on that note, as they say, seemed fair enough as memories go. So with my coat in my arms I stood and looked at her, wanting to burn one last image of her onto my heart, and here eyes were fixed on the bouquet, and without looking up, hardly moving her lips, she murmured that roses were the only flowers she could stand to see cut, and immediately I felt all the misapprehension that, to that moment, had characterized my presence at the party drop away.
Damn it, gotta love this guy. I just want to buy him a cheap glass of Bordeaux and say, “Ya done good, kid”. I cannot give away the end. But it typifies life and what we think are the huge moments of despair are only a precursor to better things to come. Mr. Bouillier gives us a view under the microscope of the pain of lost loves and what a beautiful view it is.
The Mystery Guest
By Gregoire Bouillier
Translated By Lorin Stein