Because of her, Sévérine, our foreign exchange student, everybody’s in French retro music mood that summer, and as soon as we hear the first beats of “Voyage, Voyage,” we all run out on the roof. It’s as if this song needed the open air, the night sky above, and wind, a lot of wind.
I watch her and I hate her. Not because she can dance and I can’t, not because she’s slender with long blond hair and I’m a stocky redhead, not even because all the boys, including my so-called boyfriend, make asses out of themselves, trying to dance as close to her as possible, pushing and shoving each other, tripping. I hate her because she’s got nothing but smiles for them and, rarely, a playfully languorous look from her startling black-blue eyes those rare times when she bothers removing her sunglasses. She’s not interested, she says. Back home, she’s got a guy we’d all be swooning over. So hot, so sexy. “Un vrai canon.” He does things to her we’ve probably never even heard of. When we press her for details, she just laughs. “Je n’en dis pas plus.”
We often hear her on the phone, her smoky voice, brash and loud, in Parisian French that not even the best students understand.
I’m dancing on my own, or rather shuffling in slow-motion, and watch the others drinking beer and passing cigarettes. When the song is over, Sévérine runs back inside where she’s got her retro turntable and stash of vinyl records and plays it again.
Every time the refrain comes, she sings at the top of her lungs in her husky voice that sounds like birds taking flight.
After the third or fourth time, the evening turns into a frenzy. Everyone knows most of the lyrics by now and joins in with her, singing and screaming along. They are so entranced, they don’t even fight for her anymore. That’s why nobody sees her climbing on the wall at the end of the roof. “Voyage, voyage,” she sings and stretches out her arms, flapping them like wings. She dances like she’s in a trance, perilously close to the edge. I watch and imagine her slip. Imagine how her singing turns into a scream and everybody watches her rush towards the ground, forty-five stories below.
Desireless stops singing, and someone goes back inside, plays it another time. I’m closer to her now, just a few feet away and watch her holding her arms up again, like a priestess conjuring up a storm. “Voyage, voyage.” That’s when my so-called boyfriend, Bobby, the idiot, sees her and catcalls. The other boys catcall too, hoot and whistle, and she does that thing with her outstretched arms again.
I’m dancing very close to her. Everybody knows how clumsy I am. Everybody would believe that my elbow touched her accidentally. I’m so close.
“Voyage, voyage,” she sings, then trips and screams. I don’t know how I manage it but I grab her ankles leaning dangerously wide over the parapet. The others come running, hold me by my waist. Together we get hold of her, get her back up on the roof. She shakes violently, but doesn’t cry.
“Thank God Hannah was standing so close to you,” Bobby says.
“You?” she says to me. I nod. She’s lost her sunglasses in the near-fall and looks me in the eye. “I always thought you could kill me.”
“You wish,” I say.