“I Almost Saw This Girl Get Killed” Summary
Sedaris and Hugh attend the Festival of Saint Anne, a fair held in a village near their house in Normandy. The main attraction is the “vachette program”: a traditional event in which young men play soccer and other games while being charged by angry, young, long-horned cows called vachettes. The woman selling tickets tries to convince Sedaris and Hugh to volunteer, but as it will only save them four dollars and potentially cost them grievous injury, they decline.
Hugh and Sedaris take their seats in the bleachers by a plywood arena, surrounded by their neighbors. Although some people might feel stifled by life in a small European town, Sedaris finds it charming. As in a fairy tale, all of his neighbors are “known by their occupations,” while Sedaris and Hugh are known as “the Americans.”
Sedaris and the other spectators watch as a group of young men play soccer in the arena. Suddenly, a vachette is released into the arena and charges the players, who take cover behind barricades and only occasionally dart back out to kick the ball. Things continue in a similarly puzzling vein for the rest of the afternoon. Unlike in a bullfight, the cows appear to be in no real danger, while an ambulance stands at the ready for the volunteers.
Despite the danger they’re in, Sedaris finds it hard to sympathize with young men who have “knowingly agreed to torment a dangerous animal.” He begins to imagine how he would feel if one of the volunteers were to be hurt—or how he would feel if no one was hurt. The possibility of seeing someone injured, he reasons, is the point of watching the vachette program. His struggle with his vicious “inner vachette” leads Sedaris to recall a fair he and Hugh attended in Paris a month before, the events of which have been weighing on his conscience ever since.
Sedaris and Hugh were walking through the fair when they noticed that one of the rides had stopped, with passengers dangling precariously from their seats in midair. At first, Sedaris assumed this was simply part of the ride, as most carnival rides seemed designed to be as nauseating and uncomfortable as possible. But it soon became clear that the ride had broken down, and a crowd gathered to stare up at the motionless passengers.
The passenger who seemed “the most likely candidate for tragedy” was a young blonde woman hanging upside down fifty feet in the air, prevented from falling only by her harness. Assuming the other onlookers were imagining the same thing, Sedaris began to fantasize about the shocking story he would tell at dinner parties in the near future: “I once saw a girl fall to her death from one of those rides.” When he shared this thought with his partner, Hugh was unsympathetic and walked away. Sedaris, however, pressed closer to the ride. One of the woman’s shoes fell off, and he imagined telling his awed dinner party audience, “And then one of her shoes came off.” Feeling a pang of guilt, he tried to convince himself that his presence was a necessary demonstration of support.
Eventually, the police arrived and dispersed the crowd, shouting—to Sedaris’s indignation—that the broken ride was not “a show.” Sedaris was soon disappointed to find his view obstructed by emergency vehicles, which he considered deeply unfair. As he and Hugh made their way home, Sedaris tried out the phrase “I almost saw this girl get killed” but found that it didn’t make for a good story. He wondered how he...
(The entire section is 920 words.)