Psyche & I
by Sydney Heintz (Switzerland)
Audio: "Psyche & I," read by Sydney Heintz
I’ve always had a certain inclination to inquire about the particulars of things, to take that extra step most would dismiss as an unnecessary strain. It was this tendency of mine that led me to a degree in music history, sleepless nights, and, ultimately, to Paris.
In the fall of ’96, I was going through a rather transitional stage in my life. I had broken off an engagement just a few months prior and was dedicating my days to researching a very particular time of Debussy’s life—1913, the year he wrote “Syrinx,” which tells the typically short and bitter story of the god Pan in his pursuit of a river nymph (it ends with her turning into a bundle of reeds, which, if you’re familiar with Greek myths, shouldn’t be too surprising). Now, although my share of musical talent is uncommonly small, a pointed interest in obscure literature brought me to excavating the play by Mourey that inspired it: Psyche, or Psyché, in less vulgar French.
It was the first and only time at university that the librarian couldn’t find what I’d asked for.
“Your book’s just not on the market, Michael,” had said Mrs. Aldwin, a stout, pragmatic lady who stunk of outdated milk. I’ve heard she’s retired since. “Four copies in the entire world, two in French national libraries and one at Congress.”
“And the fourth?”
“Some shady shop in Paris. Probably a fake.”
I confess I had my doubts the entire time up until I saw it, and the shop and the man in it, as to whether the book was authentic or not. But it was a risk I had been willing to take, and within a week, I found myself on a plane to France’s capital, two-thousand miles away from my American haven.
In truth, I thought I would relate to the French way of life, but there was something strikingly different about Paris, some heightened levity that separated it from the rest of the country like it was its own private little island, and where the imprint of past greatness made young minds aspire to a similar romance. This first struck me when emerging from the metro station as I was plunged into a kind of fast-flowing stream: laughter, dresses, cafés and restaurants all clung to sides of buildings in a desperate attempt at keeping off the roads, where floor long coats and bikes would make their way in cool strides to unbeknownst places. There always seemed to be something ever so slightly sensuous about it too, something that whispered “I know you” as the veil of red wine and smoke turned gracefully in the evening breeze.
I must have felt overwhelmed at once, because after that I barely looked around until reaching the hotel and settling in for my first night. Now either I was too exhausted or it was indeed so, but the walls seemed to prevent all noise from seeping through, and the roaring nightlife I had previously been exposed to vanished like a disappearing dream.
The morning brought diffused light and a bustle that filled the streets with engines and hurried kisses. I had slept poorly and awoken in time to see the red sunrise, though with the daytime none of the flattering mystery had gone—instead it took shape in the form of foreign words and miniature breakfasts (I looked around to see if that was all, or something), and most of all, a great, impenetrable fog. A cloud had settled on the entire city overnight, and as I watched the shadowy figures appear and vanish in its layers without ever colliding, I felt as if the whole city was part of the same secret society, and that I, Michael D. Travis, had been deemed unworthy to join.
At eleven o’clock sharp I was due at the shop owned by a certain Stephan Lejeune. The address he had given me looked normal enough, though as I followed the directions it dawned on me that the noise of passers-by was getting further and further away. It also came to my attention that—because of the eerie mist and everything—Monsieur Lejeune might as well be luring young naïve Americans to mug them without anyone ever knowing. Scenarios like these were being weighed in my mind when suddenly I realized I had arrived: not a soul was in sight.
I hesitated, took a few more steps, and decided to go to the end of the street. It was both relieving and terrifying when I saw a human silhouette take shape in the fog: a man leaning on a broken fire hydrant; his head turned the other direction as if watching something I could not see. I approached with uncertainty.
“Monsieur Travis?” asked someone in a Gallic manner. It was him—he had turned and was shaking my hand vigorously. “I am Stephan Lejeune.”
Sydney Heintz, 16, is a junior in high school. Although she was born in New York, she has been living in the Geneva region of Switzerland her whole life and is trilingual with English, French and German. This piece was inspired by a true story on a trip to Paris.
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5/17/22, 4:27 PM
5/16/22, 11:40 AM
I am waiting with anxiety what does she doesto fight back these things which are very complicate to handle for a teenager...... I am Very anxious because I am in the same situation..... So I want to know what will she do.....
5/15/22, 3:16 PM
This is such a wonderful piece. I love it so much!
Rain Wind Thunderstorm
5/13/22, 10:46 AM
You are really good at writing. And at such a young age! If you don't mind me saying so, your writing style is warm and cozy. And also at the same time, very deep, meaningful and relatable. I especially loved the "The Reflection" part.
5/13/22, 9:28 AM
I really wanna know what does she does to fight back these things which are hard to handle for a teenager.
5/11/22, 2:37 PM
I loved every word of this. Maybe because I am relating too hard. I hardly possess any of the love or filial piety I am expected to have towards my family. I am dubious of anything my grandmother says to me and have long learned to just swallow it all with a smile though I question how much I know. And. Just. Knowing. That you will be forgotten by your extended family for the rest of the year but still held up to their expectations. Thank you for writing this! I'll always remember a beautiful #ownvoices story :).
5/10/22, 6:57 AM
I really am curious about how she is gonna fight this situation and will she be able to fulfill her dreams which she once had
5/6/22, 2:03 PM
Ooh I really love this! What a great ending too. Fellow students, we've got this!
5/6/22, 1:53 PM
I love this piece so much. Novels and writing rarely makes me cry, but this was just too relatable.
5/6/22, 1:51 PM
This was so beautiful, and created such a detailed image in my mind!
5/6/22, 11:35 AM
I thought that was a truly insightful piece. As a teen writer myself, your words were a refreshing reminder of the meaning behind adolescence. Thank you for bringing your writing into the world, and hope to see more of it soon.