One did not have to be a fortune teller to be able to tell Marianne how her day would go, but the young man’s prediction echoed in her ears. Whether or not he had just been guessing, he had described her life with an accuracy bordering on the occult.
One also did not need to read the chalkboard in front of the café to know the breakfast special for it was always the same: tartines, croissants, and pain au chocolat, served with a generous helping of misery as well as black and bitter coffee mixed with tales of woe.
“Marianne, would you take care of table five?” a soft voice asked her “I have my hands full with two and six”
The soft voice belonged to another waitress named Manon. Manon was about Marianne’s age and had straight, dark hair which framed her serene, madonna-like face like a nun’s veil. She often smiled, but hardly ever spoke, which made her come off as a bit simple minded, but Marianne had always got the impression that she had seen some rather unpleasant things in her time.
“No problem” Marianne answered.
Out in front, the usual breakfast crowd was assembled. A young man with short dark hair and a somewhat grim expression sat at table five and was looking around the room.
“Good morning, Jean,” she said to him, “coffee?”
The young man turned and looked up at her.
“Yes,” he answered in voice like he had been let down.
Marianne filled up his cup. She knew that he was disappointed that she was his waitress. Jean came there because he was sweet on Anna, the other girl Marianne worked with, and everyone knew about it except Anna herself. Anna and Marianne were often mistaken for each other when seen from behind because they were both petite blondes.
As she went to bring Jean’s breakfast order to the kitchen, Marianne’s mind went, as it often did, to Edmond Danton.
The Dantons, Étienne and Carole, were friends of her Tante Catharine’s and Étienne advised her on her finances. Étienne was a repulsive, pig- like man with only his money to recommend him which smacked of something illegal. Someone must have been swindled or killed when he made his money. Though the stock market had been struggling, the Danton stocks and those of his clients were yielding profit as usual.
The two youngest Danton children, Virginie and Nicholas, took after him. The next two oldest, Solange and David, took after Carole, his aging vamp of wife. But Edmond, the eldest, took after neither of them.
Marianne had met Edmond Danton at one of Tante Catharine’s dinner parties. He was rich, handsome, and exciting; the type of man a girl cannot help but fall for a little bit, and she and her cousins Mathilde, whom no one would ever have suspected of having a heart, and Agnès certainly had. Poor Agnès had not stood much of a chance, Mathilde stole her thunder like she usually did. Edmond had been the only person to ever get the better of Mathilde; while he had been courting her, he had cast glances in Marianne’s direction and had come to the café and ordered the leek and potato soup, Marianne’s favorite dish, enough times to make Manon and Anna giggle to themselves and say she was very lucky. But in the end, Mathilde was his choice. They were now married and spending their honeymoon wherever there were glittering parties and people gambling away large sums of money, and Marianne’s heart was bruised but not broken.
The front door of the café opened and a policeman stepped in.
“Excuse me, Mademoiselle,” he said to Anna, who was waiting the tables closest to the door. “I’m looking for someone, a young man who stole a wallet around Dujardin’s produce stand, and I believe he might have come this way.”
The policeman began to describe the Algerian boy who had hid in the kitchen. Marianne almost dropped her coffee pot and she hoped that the Algerian boy had gotten far away.
“Sorry, I haven’t seen anyone like that,” Anna answered.
“Thank you for your help,” the policeman said. “Have a nice day.”
He tipped his hat and stepped out. Marianne breathed a sigh of relief.
As predicted, Marianne’s day passed as it usually did except that she stayed late because it was her turn to close up. Evenings were hard because sad people would come and cry into their wine and occasionally some drunk might try to grab her and demand a kiss.
When she was finally able to leave, the sky was dark over head and orbs of light from the streetlamps lit the way to the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Marianne came to one of the lawns and sat down in the grass. The night was balmy and summerlike. Her feet were sore from standing all day, and slipping off her shoes, she could see in the dim light the bloody scabs from where their backs had scraped against her heels. Tonight she would have to soak her feet and mend the holes in her stockings and she definitely due for a new pair of shoes.
With her shoes off, Marianne got up and ran around in the grass. The bristly grass scraped against her her sore heals and stung. When she ran out of breath, she put her shoes back on and continued her walk home.
She walked down a cobblestone street lined with buildings covered in old posters, windows and shutters. At the end of an alley plastered with posters, Marianne came to a large building with a facade of shutters with the word “hotel” painted in blue on it. A large round tower was attached to the building near the roof. The building was overgrown with flowering climbing plants which crisscrossed the walls and were woven among the shutters.
The lobby of the building was damp-smelling and had art nouveau wallpaper, woodwork, and stained glass windows from about twenty or thirty years prior, which looked like they had seen better days. The woodwork had become yellowed with mold, the windows were grimy and cracked in places, and the wallpaper was falling off in sheets, exposing the plaster drywall underneath. The building had been built to house visitors to the 1900 World’s Fair, with all of the then latest amenities such as electricity and running water. But the World’s Fair came and went, business dried up, and the place fell into disrepair.
Marianne went and knocked on a set of moldy French doors.
“Who is it?” A man’s voice asked.
“It’s me, Papa Verte,” she answered.
“Then come in, Mon Enfant.”
Behind the French doors was the tiny front room of a ground floor apartment which had only enough room for an old rocking chair, a large wireless, an orchid plant, and another set of French doors which led out into the courtyard.
A silver haired gentleman wearing a paisley shirt sat in the rocking chair smoking a pipe. The black French bulldog with a white belly, chin, and paws who had been sitting at the silver haired gentleman’s feet got up and went over to Marianne, who bent down to scratch the animal behind the ears.
“Were you a good boy for Papa Verte, Johnny?” She said to the dog.
Papa Verte owned the building and almost never left it except to deliver the rent money to the bank. He spent his days rocking in his chair, smoking his pipe, listening to the wireless, tending his orchid plant, and watching and greeting the people who passed by. He had been kind, almost fatherly towards her ever since she had moved in and looked after Johnny while Marianne was working.
“Who’s the smartest doggy in the world?” Marianne reached into the pocket of her apron and took out a beef bone, which she had wrapped up in a napkin. She unwrapped it and dangled it in front of Johnny who barked hysterically.
“I thought you’d forgotten about him,” Papa Verte said, “don’t they keep you late enough at that café?”
“It was my turn to close up,” she explained, “thanks for watching Johnny for me.”
“By the way, you should send that shirt up to me to mend. The breast pocket is torn”
Papa Verte put his hand in his pocket and it went right through.
“What is it?”
“I’ve lost my wallet. Oh well, some poor soul could use the money more than me.”
“Anyway, send that shirt up when you get a chance and I’ll fix that pocket.”
“Goodnight Papa Verte.”
Johnny followed Marianne out of the room, but was so engaged in his new bone that he walked into the wall. They walked back out in the lobby and and began to go up the stairs.
A women in a dressing gown stepped out of the porter’s lodge followed by a large, sooty grey cat. Marianne picked up a growling Johnny to stop him from lunging at it.
“Leave Alumette alone,” she whispered to the dog before she turned to say “good evening, Madame Poisson” to the woman.
“Mademoiselle d’Aubrey, someone just telephoned for you,” Madame Poisson said. “a Monsieur Danton.”
Her breath stank of whiskey.
Marianne went back down the stairs and stepped into the porter’s lodge to pick up the telephone.
“Edmond?” she said into the mouth piece.
“How’s Cinderella tonight?” Edmond’s gravelly tenor whispered into Marianne’s ear.
“Listen. I’ll be coming back to Paris next weekend for business before we head on to Monte Carlo. A friend of mine is having a party next Friday night. How would you like to go?”
“With you and Mathilde?”
He laughed and said she was amusing.
“I can drop by and pick you up around eight next Friday. There’ll be a band and dancing, it’ll be fun. What do you say?”
A part of her desperately wanted to say yes though she knew he could not be trusted. She had always known that he had never been serious about her and was only looking to have his fun with her and then go back to Mathilde. Marianne knew better than to risk her reputation by going out alone with a married man, but she found it hard to say no to Edmond.
“I’ll have to think about it.” she answered.
He gave another amused laugh and seemed to think she was just trying to tease him.
“Get back to me on it. Goodnight Cinderella.”
Marianne hung up the telephone and said goodnight to Madame Poisson, who was hiding behind the slightly open door which lead from the porter’s lodge to her own apartment, and went upstairs with Johnny in tow. She lived on the first floor of the building, at the end of a hall of yellowish doors with blackened knobs and numbers painted on them. Her room was under the slanted roof of the round tower. It was small and cosy and after a long day it looked as good as a suite at the Ritz.
It was nice to have a have a quiet little place of one’s own to return to at the end of the day, especially after years of sharing a dormitory with with ten or so other girls that could be busy and noisy until late into the night despite an early wake up time, specifically when the girls grew older and began to chafe against the restrictions of the convent.
Usually it was the worst behaved girls acted like perfect little angels when the sisters were around. The sisters were either oblivious to their behavior or turned a blind eye to it. Most of those girls came from wealthy families and their parents payed high tuitions.
Marianne went over and lit the burners on the stove to heat up a pot of soup and a kettle of water to soak her feet with. While waiting for the water to boil, Marianne filled two bowls, one with water from the sink, the other with dog food, and set them on the floor for Johnny.
In the most secluded part of the room was a changing screen with a nightdress hanging over it and a small dressing table littered with ribbons, pins, combs, and cosmetics jars. While Marianne got ready for bed, Johnny curled up in a furry black ball on the old rug by the tiled hearth.
After she had eaten her supper, Marianne strained her eyes in the dim light from the old lamp her Tante Mimi had given her and the small fire in the hearth to see the needle she was threading to mend her stockings with.
This was Marianne’s favorite time of day. She could now be alone with her thoughts and dreams. While mending her stockings, her mind concocted exciting and romantic scenarios in which she was the heroine.
Five months Marianne had been in Paris and she had not yet touched excitement, and if a girl cannot find excitement in Paris, where else could it be found? She had expected more to happen when she had decided to leave the convent and come here; more than waiting tables all day and staying home all night. Her life was not very exciting, but she knew plenty of people who had led worse lives than she had. Anna had run away from her hateful father who had tried to marry her off for profit and the neighborhood gossip was that Manon’s older brother Camille had started the fire which had killed the rest of their family. Camille was doing time in La Santé for armed robbery and Manon did not like to talk about him. “Just be glad you don’t know him,” she would say when asked about Camille.
Most importantly, she was free. Free from feeling like a burden to anyone. Her independence was the most important thing to Marianne; she had wanted it the way most girls her age wanted a lover. She took comfort in her daydreams and strength from the fact that she was now free.
No one, not even Edmond Danton, could make her feel helpless as long as she held on to them.
After mending her stockings, Marianne turned off the lamp and put out the fire. She had only needed the fire for light because electricity was expensive and the rent was so high that she needed to save money where she could.
Yawning, she dried off her feet and went over to the old metal framed bed and ducked down under the the low, slanting ceiling. Above her was a sky window which opened out onto the roof. Before getting into bed, she pushed back the lace curtains and opened up the shutters to let some cool air in.
She lounged voluptuously on her side against the pillow and then fell on her back with one arm cradling her head, the other resting on her side.
Looking at her hand, Marianne noticed that her ring was missing. The Algerian boy must have taken it when he had been reading her palm. She had been such a fool to trust him.
“Damn him” she muttered under her breath as she turned over and buried her face in the pillow.