In the opening scene of “Paris 1991,” Rebecca and her husband, Tom, fly into Paris at night where they hope to conceive a baby. They take a taxi to their room, which is so small that by stretching out his arms Tom can touch the walls on both sides of the bed. Rebecca leans out the window and listens to the street sounds. They walk in the rain because “there is nothing else to do,” talking little as they wait for Rebecca’s temperature to rise, indicating that she is fertile. After wandering through the galleries in the Bibliotèque Nationale looking at manuscripts, they go into a café that looks romantic. Rebecca wonders if children can choose their parents. Her mother, Marion, died of cancer months ago, and Rebecca has this weird feeling of seeing her in the street or in doorways. As they sit in the back of a café and eat, “they have nothing to say” to each other. After her mother died, Rebecca determined “to live in the moment. No regrets, no sorrow. Only the next day and the next.” She decided to get pregnant, so she cut up her diaphragm. Tom wanted to talk about the decision to have children, but Rebecca insisted that they already had, and “anyway, there’s no good time, really.”
When Tom asked if she was sure, she remained silent. Back in the café, Rebecca shows Tom a postcard of devils that she has bought in the gift shop, concluding, “Marion would have loved this.” She “would have thought it very cosmopolitan.” As the day fades, Rebecca is overcome with melancholy, thinking of Marion. That night Rebecca observes a woman lighting candles in a room across the street from the hotel. She tells Tom that she wants to go out, but he thinks it is too late. She chides him, noting that Parisians are having dinner and that they should adopt their customs while there. As she looks at the woman across the way, she imagines romantic details in the other woman’s room. Again, she suggests to Tom how nice it would be to go out for a drink and some fruit and cheese, and he acquiesces.
In the morning, as they wait for a church to open, Rebecca asks Tom what they should name the baby. At first, he says that he does not know and that it is bad luck to choose names before becoming pregnant. Tom notes that it could take a year or perhaps never. When he will not talk to her about it anymore, she feels “rebuked.” She also “feels dowdy, old,” compared to stylish Parisian women. In response, she imagines herself making colorful new curtains for their apartment and thinks about how handsome Tom is. When he asks if she likes the name Sophie, she admits that she never would have thought of that name.
After they enter the church and gaze at a famous portrait of the Virgin and Child, Rebecca notes that the face of the Virgin looks like a child while the Child looks like an old man. She lights a candle in front of an altar and declares, “Poor Marion . . . Poor Sophie.” Time shifts back to the period when Rebecca and Tom first started dating. They often spent time playing an imagining game, thinking about “all the other lives they could have led,” a game she learned from her mother. She imagined living in Florence or in Rajasthan or in Greece. Tom thought he could have been a passenger on a train across Canada had he not learned the route was disconnected.
Rebecca admitted that she fell in love with his name first because she liked the way it sounds and noted that people liked Tom. After remembering the hikes they went on when she visited his home in California, she thinks that they felt adventurous then, but now they feel awkward and self-conscious in Paris.
At dinner, Tom eats oysters, hoping they will make him sexually more potent. It seems as if arguments are erupting at all of the tables in the dark restaurant. Yet the wine makes Tom happy. Rebecca thinks of how her mother always wanted to go to Paris and tries to imagine her there, but Tom insists that she would have hated the food.
Back in the hotel, as they have sex, Rebecca does not look at his face. Recalling an earlier mentioned idea that the unborn choose their parents, she imagines someone watching, “a soul hovering, debating whether to come back into this world.” She then imagines a carriage that contains a woman, “a mother, a daughter, a goddess” and babies and devils, “hovering . . . waiting for their chance to be born.” In this lyrical ending, Rebecca’s thoughts of a child mix with thoughts of herself and her mother.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Kate Walbert, Published by Gale Group, 2006