Leslie Lisbona | nonfiction | Panisse


I couldn’t stop looking at my watch. I was in class that morning at Dauphine University in Paris.  My mother was on her way from New York to visit me. I hadn’t seen her in four months. I was distracted. I kept thinking: She must have landed at Charles de Gaulle; she must be in a taxi; she must be at her cousin Liliane’s apartment in Asnieres.

When class was over, I found myself running to the bus. I was overcome by my need to see her. It was incomprehensible that we were in the same city, in the same time zone, and she was not with me.

The bus took me to the train station. I bit a nail, hopping from one foot to the other on the platform, waiting. Once on the train, in my seat, I couldn’t read my book. I looked at my watch again. I bit another nail.

Finally I was in Asnieres. I ran to Liliane’s apartment building and climbed the spiral stairs, bypassing the tiny, caged elevator. As Liliane opened the door, I kissed her quickly on both cheeks and looked around for my mother. She said my mom was sleeping. I opened the door to the bedroom and recognized her form under the covers. I kneeled on the floor, my face inches from hers. “Mom,” I whispered. She opened her eyes and took me in. “Lellybelle,” she said and put her arms around me. I inhaled her scent, my cheek buried in her neck.  

I took her to Al Daar, my favorite Lebanese restaurant. She ordered shawarmas in Arabic from the takeout window. She picked up the communal water jug and poured the water in an arc into her mouth. I had seen men do this but did not know my mother could. She was an expert. She didn’t spill a drop as I stared at her in amazement.  

She took me to l’Opera to see a show. It was cold inside, and she draped her fur coat across my lap.  The man next to me smelled like body odor. I leaned close to her, and she gave me a small bottle of perfume to smell. Then she dabbed some on her upper lip. She dabbed, and I laughed. I don’t remember what we saw on the stage.

One day my mom said, “Oof, Paris is too cold.” I agreed. I was shivering. In the middle of the street, she opened my coat to find there was no lining. Right there, we traded coats. Then she slipped off her boots and made me kick over my ballet flats. Placing my feet into her boots felt like sliding into a warm bath. “We need to get you a better coat,” she said.

My mother’s brother was in Nice, on vacation from his Ocean Avenue apartment in Brooklyn. My mom wanted to go to see him, and I didn’t mind missing school. “Yella,” she said. “Let’s go.”

We got on a plane to Nice with three books, a trilogy swiped from Liliane’s bookshelf. I read the first one, and my mom read the last. We rented a car and joined her brother and his wife and his wife’s two sisters at their hotel. My mom drove all of us up and down the coast every day, taking in the villages along the way. We ate bouillabaisse and fresh Chantilly. 

I knew which jacket I wanted: an orange-colored shearling that all the girls in Paris wore. I wanted it so badly. I told my mom. I promised that it was the warmest jacket around. My aunt said she’d seen one in Italy, so we drove into San Remo and found it. She bought it for me, and my uncle took our picture.

At night, in the hotel, we read our books and shared a warm baguette. My mother was now reading the second book and asked me if Panisse had died yet. “Oh, Mom! Panisse dies?” I reminded her that I was on the first book. “I’m just kidding,” she said, but I knew she was lying.  

We went to Grasse to see how they made perfume, and to the Chagall museum where my aunt told me the biblical story of each stained glass window. We walked from window to window, her arm snugly around my waist, her head coming up to my shoulder. The light bathed us in indigo and red, and I laughed in her embrace.  

We went to Monte Carlo and walked around the botanical garden. We went to Cannes, and my mom and I sneaked off together, away from my uncle and aunt and her sisters, to La Croissette to get a bite to eat. She said, “Just the two of us, okay?” and I was so happy. We sat by the sea, in the sun, and the sky was bluer than the bluest painting.

After ten days of missing class, we flew back to Paris. We each finished all three books. Panisse did die. We had one last shawarma at Al Daar, and I watched her take a glorious swig of water.  She didn’t let me bring her to the airport.  

Back in my class, I looked at my watch: She must be in the air. I looked again: She must have landed at JFK; she must be in a taxi; she must be near 68th Drive.  When I knew she’d gotten home, I called her from a phone booth near my apartment, just to hear her voice. She answered and said “Lellybelle!”, her voice cracking.

“Ma, don’t cry,” I said as I snuggled inside my coveted jacket, bracing myself from the cold.
“One second,” she said and gave the phone to my father.

Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram

Leslie Lisbona (she/her) recently had four pieces published in Synchronized Chaos, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, The Bluebird Word, and The Jewish Literary Journal. Another personal essay will be published in the September issue of the Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine.  She is the child of immigrants from Beirut, Lebanon, and grew up in Queens, NY. Most of her writing has to do with her upbringing.