Excerpt from “The Woman in the Fifth”

That was the year my life fell apart, and that was the year I moved to Paris.I arrived in the city a few days after Christmas. It was a wet, gray morning—the sky the color of dirty chalk; the rain a pervasive mist. My flight landed just after sunrise. I hadn’t slept during all those hours above the Atlantic—another insomniac jag to add to all the other broken nights I’d been suffering recently. As I left the plane, my equilibrium went sideways—a moment of complete manic disorientation—and I stumbled badly when the cop in the passport booth asked me how long I’d be staying in France.

“Not sure exactly,” I said, my mouth reacting before my brain.

This made him look at me with care—as I had also spoken in French.

“Not sure?” he asked.

“Two weeks,” I said quickly.

“You have a ticket back to America?”

I nodded.

“Show it to me, please,” he said.

I handed over the ticket. He studied it, noting the return date was January 10.

“How can you be ‘not sure,’ ” he asked, “when you have proof?”

“I wasn’t thinking,” I said, sounding sheepish.

“Évidemment,” he said. His stamp landed on my passport. He pushed my documents back to me, saying nothing. Then he nodded for the next passenger in line to step forward. He was done with me.

I headed off to baggage claim, cursing myself for raising official questions
about my intentions in France. But I had been telling the truth.

I didn’t know how long I’d be staying here. And the airplane ticket—a
last-minute buy on an Internet travel site, which offered cheap fares if
you purchased a two-week round-trip deal—would be thrown out as
soon as January 10 had passed me by. I wasn’t planning to head back to
the States for a very long time.

How can you be “not sure” when you have proof?
Since when does proof ever provide certainty?