The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 18, No. 3

Pilgrim’s Progress

by Kathryn Harrison

The twelve of us are to gather between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the big red cow on the lower level of terminal 2D of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport. We’ve been assured that the big red cow is so monumental and so red that it is impossible to miss, placed as it is in the center of l’espace boutiquaire. It’s barely dawn; the line at border control moves with the near-inertia of the morbidly sleep-deprived. After what I mistake as an amiable welcome from the officer who stamps my passport, I ask if the terminals are connected by un chemin de fer—a railroad—and summon the extravagantly pained wince reserved for Americans’ syntactical missteps.
     “Il n’y a pas un train,” he says through his nose. Slit-eyed, he slides my passport back under the bulletproof window. I know the word train, but I expect the French to complicate matters, and my reflexive response to an identical cognate is to reject it as too easy. When I ask how to get to terminal 2D, the officer says nothing. Instead, he shakes his head, closes his eyes, and exhales loudly, audibly forcing air from his nostrils. Dismissed, my own head hanging too low for me to note the multilingual instructions festooned with exclamation points for leaving the heavily policed area, I unintentionally drift from my prescribed exit lane and call down yet more French opprobrium on my chastened self.
     Baggage pickup, toilets, ground transportation, first aid, lost and found: I see signs pointing the ways to everything but terminal 2D—pointing to every terminal but 2D. The woman at the information desk under the outsized blue i has a genial expression. Still, as if I’ve arrived in first grade rather than Paris, I take the precaution of singing the French alphabet silently to myself, just to be sure: in French d is pronounced day.
     “Où est le terminal 2D?”
     “Oui,” she says, and shifts to English. “This is terminal 2D.” She throws open her arms and smiles with something that looks like pride, as though introducing me to a vista of unsurpassed beauty. “You are standing in it.”
     “But . . .” I close my mouth. I was sure my flight terminated in 4B, but there’s little to be gained by telling her how I came by this misinformation—on Air France’s website—so I nod, I thank her, I step away from the counter that separates us.

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