She knocked three times with one of those brass handles you only see on ancient doors in obscure European towns. Bee touched the deep ridges on the worn wooden door. They were like wrinkles formed by a lifetime of highs and lows.
When Anthony Bourdain opened the heavy door, barefoot and dressed in a long Kaftan, Bee knew she was dreaming. The smell of stale cigarettes and booze overpowered the scents of baked goods already permeating the air.
In real life, Tony hung himself in a town in France—much like this one in her subconscious mind. Yet there he was, hungover in his nighty.
Bourdain never asked Bee who she was or why she stood on his doorstep like some groupie. He stared back, an inquisitive brow raised high above his brown eyes.
“I’m a writer.” Before Bee could backpedal and reveal her name, like people do in normal introductions, Bourdain cleared his throat and crossed his arms.
“All kinds, I guess.” She tapped the toe of her ankle boot on the welcome mat. “But, I’d rather be writing fiction.”
Bourdain snorted, then waved her inside. “Good. I need to talk to you.”
“Me?” She looked back down the steep cobblestone hill she had climbed. People seized the sunny afternoon. Scrawny teenagers cruised by on bright bicycles. A chic woman sauntered across the intersection with a matching dog. An older man with a grey beret whistled as he investigated the bustling streets, the crown of a baguette peeking out from his tote bag.
Bee devoured a final breath of fresh air before plunging into the dark, stuffy apartment. She tiptoed around the mess of papers—some balled up, some flattened by shoeprints, while the remaining papers rustled in the winds of her long summer dress.
She met Bourdain at the coffee table. He was already halfway through his cigarette.
“What are you working on, Tony?” She swallowed. “Do I call you Tony or Anthony or Mr. Bourdain? I seriously have no idea.”
“My friends call me Tony.”
Bee bit her lower lip.
“I’ll assume you’re not one of my enemies. Tony’s fine.” He tapped the ash off his cigarette into an empty red wine bottle. “To answer your question, I’m working on my memoirs. Believe it or not.”
“I believe it,” Bee said, leaning forward with both hands perched on her knees. “You’ve led an incredible life. Seen things most of us never will. And, you’re a gifted storyteller.”
“Look around. It’s not going well.”
“I brought something that I think will help you.” Bee set her canvas backpack down between two empty wine bottles and an overflowing ashtray. She piled up the freezer bags on the table. They were filled with photos of Bourdain on his travels.
“Plastic bags masquerading as photo albums, eh?”
“Shitty chic. Thought you would like that, versus some paisley printed albums.”
“I do like shitty chic.” He plucked one of the photos out of the top plastic bag. “You know, it’s been about a hundred years since I’ve held a real photo in my hands. We live in a strange, digital world, don’t we?”
“I wanted you to see your life this way, so you would remember how much you did for us.”
“Who’s us exactly?” Bourdain asked, lifting his chin.
“People like me, I guess. You helped me get off my ass to see the world. You helped me become a better ‘take no prisoners’ kind of writer.”
“The thing is…every time I landed in a new place, I was scared.”
Bee tilted her head to the side. “About not knowing your way?”
“About being alone. I would stand a few feet away from my hotel or apartment, and that thought would paralyze me. Even if I was hungry, on my way to get food, I would go back inside and sit in complete darkness until I was ready to try the outside world again.”
A tear streamed down Bee’s cheek and she wiped it away with the sleeve of her denim jacket.
“Christ. Not sure why I’m saying any of this to you.” Bourdain stood up and ran his hands through his white hair so it stood up in every direction. He doused his cigarette in a glass of old dark booze.
Bee rose slowly and hooked her backpack over one shoulder.
“Hey. Thanks for the photos.” He slid on his slippers and hurried out the front door.
Bee walked after him, fighting off the stinging tears that accompanied the one memory she could never shake away. Her first boyfriend—her first kiss—shot and killed himself when she was fourteen. It was all so surreal, abrupt, and unfair. That feeling never went away, nearly 25 years later.
Bourdain paused at the top of the hill, his striped Kaftan flowing in the breeze. His hands clenched into fists, then released in a familiar syncopated rhythm.
Bee timed it just so and grabbed his hand when it was open again. “You want to get the hell out of here and get some breakfast?”
“In this?” He gestured at his unthinkable public ensemble. “You’ll be sitting at a cafe with Scrooge himself. All I’m missing is that goddamn sleeping cap.”
Bourdain tried to release her hand, but she gripped it tighter. “Who gives a shit?”
“Especially when I’m hungry.”
“You sound like me now…”
“My name’s Bee.”
“Well, Bee. I know a place around the corner. Best omelets in the world.”
“I trust your food judgment, Tony. Lead the way.”
Though this was a dream I had recently, it felt incredibly real and special. I had to share it with you all as part of my Real Life Fiction blog, a random place where I tell life stories through a fiction lens. If you missed the three-part foreign adventure series, you can catch them here: Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3.