To a child who is afraid of the dark, a familiar place can be filled with hidden terrors when night falls and the lights are turned off. The child tosses and turns and hides under the covers. When the lights are turned back on, reality seems a gaudy imitation of itself and the child has a hard time keeping his eyes open.
Augustin’s waking moments felt more asleep than awake. He went through the motions of being alive; he ate, drank, smoked, went for walks with Hélène, and played cards with Faucherie. The hazy fog of boredom only lifted when he was asleep. To keep the demons at bay, he tried to think about pleasant things, like the night he and Marianne were together.
He had carried her over to the bed and held her in his arms then asked her if she was afraid. She shook her head no.
“You can put your hands on me Augustin,” she said.
They kissed and he began to unfasten her clothing; she shivered with pleasure at his touch. He had been so nervous, which could have given her the impression that it had been his first time as well as hers.
“Why you’re trembling, Monsieur Lerou,” she said as they finished up.
“I think I’ll be alright,” he answered, putting his head on her chest.
With her hair loose, and that smile, he could not imagine any girl being more beautiful.
Other times the demons that pursued him lurked in the shadows like childhood bogeymen. Sometimes it was the gaunt, skeleton’s smile of Camille Dupont or the hollow soullessness of his dead body’s eyes. Another time it might be the pale ashen face of the boy he had seen guillotined for murder; his pallor and his look of hopelessness had been what frightened Augustin the most about the experience. The slicing off of the boy’s head and the stump of neck spewing blood seemed anticlimactic.
Augustin figured that if he had stayed in that prison he would have been beaten down until he could not fight anymore or he could have become a sort of Camille Dupont himself. He could not tell if it was worse to have his will to fight and survive knocked out of him or to survive by feeding on other people.
One morning when he woke up, he found Hélène coming out of the bathroom in her peignoir. There was a sickly, greenish pallor on her face.
“Are you feeling alright?” he asked her.
“I think it was that bourride we had last night,” she answered, “I think it tasted a bit funny, what did you think?”
“I think it tasted fine, are you sure you’re not sick?”
“I’ll be alright in a few hours.”
Faucherie was seated in a comfortable looking armchair reading a newspaper.
“Remember the wife who poisoned her husband and his mistress?” He asked, with an amused smile, “Well, she’s claiming that she’s pregnant and that the kid isn’t her husband’s.”
“Well, I wouldn’t blame her if she had given that bastard she was married to a taste of his own medicine ,” Hélène responded, “Please don’t bother me anymore with this story. What do I care if an adulterer and a husband stealer got what was coming to them? If anything, I think that the women of France should give her a metal.”
“Maybe you’ll be in a better mood in a few hours, my love.”
“Lovely weather we’re having today, isn’t it Madame Coupeau?” Maude asked a neighbor lady she ran into in front of a baker’s shop, “You can feel spring approaching.”
“Yes, lovely,” Madame Coupeau responded curtly, “good day, Madame Duprès.”
Madame Coupeau walked off as if she wanted to get far away from Maude as fast as possible. This was phenomenon which Maude had been experiencing a lot of late. People she had known for years turned and went the other way whenever they saw her, or they glared at her with judgmental eyes.
A group of young boys ran by her on their way to school, laughing and shouting, their hands and faces were dirty and their noses and knees raw and red. Boys like them ran wild in the streets in packs like wolf cubs and it did not seem like it had been that long ago that Augustin and Léon had been among them. When they cleared off, Maude saw a man dressed in a dark suit with a hat pulled slightly over his face. He looked up at her and she saw sparkling green eyes underneath the brim of his hat.
Maude felt as though she had been punched in the stomach and all of the breath had been knocked out of her lungs.
“Augustin,” she whispered, she walked over to him and took his face into her hands, “My love, my love.” She then slapped him across the cheek.
“I guess I deserved that,” he said.
“Breaking out of prison, were you insane?”
“Maude, have you ever known me to have been sane a day in my life.”
“How are you? Where have you been?”
He put his hand on her shoulder and brought her over to an alley which was a few steps away. Then he looked around to see if anyone was watching.
“I’ve been hiding out in Montmartre. The reason I’ve stayed away is because I knew you and Léon would be the first to be questioned but when things cooled down, I decided to come see you. I knew you’d be worried about me.”
“So what are you going to do next?”
“As soon as I can, I’m going to flee abroad to the colonies. They say a man can strike it rich there as easy as anything and no one asks any questions. In a few years when I’m a wealthy man, I’ll bribe whoever I need to and get a pardon. Someday soon, I’ll be as respectable as can be.”
Maude could see that behind his cockiness, he was afraid. He always acted overconfident when he was scared.
“Be careful,” she put her hand on his shoulder, he put his hand on top of her’s.
“I’ll be alright, don’t you worry.”
They went to lunch at cafe which was a favorite of Maude’s and then she went to a shop to buy some black thread to patch up a pair of Léon’s pants with.
“There are two big holes on the seat,” Maude told Augustin, “You should have seen how he blushed when he noticed them. And they were his good pants too.”
After they said goodbye, Augustin went into a shop which sold men’s clothing. He found a beautifully tailored pair of black pants and had them wrapped up a pristine white box tied with an ivory silk cord.
“Send it to this address,” he told the clerk, “Léon Duprès, 250 Rue St. Denis, flat number three.”
“Right away, Monsieur,” the clerk responded.
Augustin smiled at how differently things had gone the last time he had tried to buy clothes from a shop.
The day after Marianne had learned the truth about her family, her Aunt Mimi came to visit her at La Première Étoile.
“Catharine was very worried about you,” she began, “Her maid Annette told me that she had one of her nose bleeds and she slept in until nearly noon .”
Catharine had inherited her mother’s habit of getting nose bleeds, or at least claiming to, after a shock or under stress and sleeping the morning away when she was usually awake at the crack of dawn.
Marianne politely “hmm-hmm”-ed in response while she was polishing some coffee pots. She gave a little sarcastic smile when she thought of how her aunt was something like the boy who swaggers and struts about like he’s the toughest thing on the block and pushes around whatever little guy happened to be close at hand so that no one will mess with him. But such an image was not easy to keep up.
In a perverse way, Catharine was the one she felt sorry for the most in the tale she had been told. Her mother was dead and never had to know the truth and her father had ran away and could, physically at least, escape the truth. But Catharine had to stay and live with the truth.
“If you ask me,” she told her aunt, “Both she and my father are equally to blame. She deceived everyone but he was duped by her and never came back or made any effort to keep in touch.”
“My advice is to forgive them, if not for their sake, then for your own. You cannot change what’s happened, you can only come to terms with it and make peace with it.”
“I think they’ve brought enough upon themselves.”
Marianne figured out that Gabriel went to the places she frequented in an attempt to see more of her. He and his father went to the afternoon mass at St. Sulpice, so that they could run into her and Mimi. Gabriel also hung around Place St. Sulpice in the morning and late afternoon so he could catch her on her way to or from work. She did not mind this that much because she liked Gabriel; he was pleasant, easy to talk to, and she enjoyed his company. The problems occurred when she realized that Gabriel was trying to court her.
One sunday when Marianne and Mimi encountered Gabriel and Monsieur Renault at mass, Mimi suggested that they get together for dinner some night before they returned to Contaille because her sister, Madame Mathieu, was anxious to see them.
“We would like that very much,” Gabriel responded.
On their way out, Gabriel asked Marianne, “May I walk you home from work tomorrow?”
“Alright,” she responded.
“What time do you get out?”
“See you then.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“I think Gabriel Renault is quite taken with you,” Mimi whispered to Marianne as they were leaving the church.
“He could just as easily be taken with you,” Marianne answered.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Why not. You’re still young and as lovely as ever.”
In dealing with Gabriel, Marianne tried to be warm enough to him to let him know that she liked him but not warm enough to make him think that she liked him as more than a friend. But he seemed to see her reserve as simply shyness and modesty which encourages some men more than it discourages them.
Gabriel showed up at La Première Étoile a few minutes before eight. Marianne grabbed her coat when Madame Océane said she could go home.
“Good night,” Marianne called to Manon, who was still on the job, “Don’t have too much fun without me.”
Manon turned and saw Gabriel waiting outside of the cafe.
“Going to dally with your new boyfriend?” Manon teased.
“Go to hell!”
Manon laughed and the two friends said goodnight to each other. Marianne had playfully shrugged off her friend’s teasing as was necessary in the situation, but something troubled her. Manon seemed to think that Gabriel was her boyfriend and possibly Gabriel thought the same thing. The problem was that she liked Gabriel and enjoyed his company and did not want to push him away.
As they were walking home together, Marianne looked Gabriel over and appraised him. He was muscular and broad with large, capable hands. His face was grave and intelligent. She thought he was very handsome and imagined that he was quite a catch in Contaille. Père Renault often teased him about how all the village girls from thirteen to thirty were in love with him. Gabriel’s voice was deep and soothing and it was calming and pleasant to listen to him talk about his family, their farm, and life in Contaille. He had a deep connection with this area and its people, as if he were a part of it and it was a part of him. Yet he was not provincial. His father often bragged about how he had attended university.
“He wanted all of us, my brother and sister and I, to have what he couldn’t have,” Gabriel explained, “This included his oldest son going to university. I studied agriculture and estate management to learn the latest ways of farming and managing land and I’ve been trying them out on our farm. Father doesn’t always trust these new ways and only lets me try them out with a lot of hesitation. You can’t blame him though. It’s difficult to change when you’ve been doing something one way for most of your life.”
“But sometimes things have to change in order to survive,” Marianne responded.
“I agree with you. I love Contaille, it’s people, and our way of life with all its cherished traditions, and I want them to survive. That’s why we have to keep up with the twentieth century.”
“You have the mind of a pragmatist and the heart of a romantic.”
“No one’s ever called me a romantic before.”
Gabriel looked her over just as she had done to him earlier. He noticed that her dress had been mended in places and her stockings were patched up. The soles of her shoes were worn down and made a metallic clack like the tap shoes of a dancer in a movie. His illusions about what the Chevalier d’Aubrey’s granddaughter was like, that she was some sophisticated and glamorous debutante, had been shattered when he learned that she earned a living by weighting tables at a cafe. That she wore patched up clothing and had to work for her bread only made her seem more down to earth and accessible, and therefore more desirable.
“I know this sounds forward,” he said when they got close to Marianne’s building, “But I was hoping I could kiss you.”
Marianne took a few steps away from him.
“And if I told you a secret,” she asked, “Would you keep it?”
“The thing is Gabriel, I’m already in love with someone else. I believe I could love you, if I’d met you a year ago, but he showed up first. If I’ve led you on, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s alright, I just saw something that wasn’t there.”
He was obviously disappointed. Working up the courage to make advances to her, only to be rejected must have been a let down. His pride must have taken a blow as well. But he did not seem angry which was a relief to Marianne.
If she were still the simple, uncomplicated girl she had been a year ago, and had never met Augustin, Gabriel could have made her happy. She hoped that when he returned to Contaille, he would forget all about her and marry some farmer’s pretty daughter and that he would be perfectly happy. As they parted that evening, Marianne had to do perhaps the cruelest thing a woman could do to a man, shake his hand and say “I hope we can be friends.”
On an afternoon towards the end of March, Augustin and Faucherie were feeling a bit stir-crazy and decided to get out of the house. They walked down to the nearest cafe for coffee. The weather was warm, heavy, and damp; an early spring rainy spell was approaching. Inside the cafe, the air felt a bit warm and stuffy, so the doors were left open. Faucherie chose a table by the door and under the awning. A spring wind would keep them cool and the awning would protect them from a possible rainfall.
Over coffee, Augustin told Faucherie about Gui Berger, the young tramp from Burgundy he had met the month before.
“I’m a Bourgogne myself,” Faucherie responded, “My family’s from near Dijon; my old man grows mustard plants. He’s a good old sort, never so much as spat on the sidewalk his entire life. Goes to mass every Sunday and hasn’t so much as looked at a woman since my mother died, unlike his wayward son. God knows I’ve more than just looked at women and I’ve even spat on the sidewalk from time to time. One way that we’re alike is we’re both very religious men, the difference is that I know I’m going straight to hell and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it. My mother died soon after my sister Adrienne was born; Adrienne is sixteen now, and as pretty as a rosebud. My old man sent her to school at a convent but she won’t take the veil if I have anything to say about it. You know the saying that a beautiful nun is a tragic waste. I think the reason my old man sent her there is to keep her far away from me, which is fair enough.”
A waiter brought over the two glasses of cognac they had just ordered.
“To the fair Adrienne,” Augustin said, raising his glass. Faucherie raised his glass in response and they both took a sip.
“Have you ever noticed how this time of year, people get restless and irritable. They get tired of being cooped up all winter and once it gets warm they want to get out. Hélène’s been in a bitch’s humor all month. She couldn’t have been on the rag the entire time.”
“Don’t be hard on her. I think she hasn’t been feeling well and people are in a bad mood when they don’t feel well.”
“She’s never in a bad mood when she’s around you. She likes you.”
“She teases me like a stupid boy.”
Augustin had noticed that Hélène had a nasty-teasing sense of humor which he often found himself the butt of. This involved speaking to people as if she had little respect for them and reacting to what they said and did with an affectionate, patronizing contempt. It was hard to tell if the contempt was genuine or was simply meant in jest, which is what gives sarcasm its sting.
Hélène had a way of repeating things you told her, such as “I went for a walk and got coffee” with an ironic bite to her voice which made it sound like the most ridiculous thing imaginable and another way of being cruelly light hearted about things which were troubling you. A favorite joke of hers was to ask him if he had seen his old friend Officer Desmarais whenever she saw him come through the door of the building.
He believed that Hélène liked him; people with her sense of humor usually teased people they liked in an often deceptively cutting way, while they treated those they disliked with scornful indifference. The fact that one could not always tell what she was thinking or feeling, along with her beauty, was part of what made so fascinating. The contrast with Marianne, with her downplayed, self effacing, often self deprecating, way of making a joke, little naive comments which always made Augustin laugh, and total inability to keep her thoughts and emotions to herself, could not have been greater, though Marianne’s vulnerable, naive, guileless, self effacing, and self deprecating nature had its own endearing charm.
Augustin had quickly realised that the people of the neighbor knew that Bruno Faucherie was in their midst but either out of fear or admiration, they did not say anything. Whenever Faucherie passed someone, they tipped their cap or bobbed a slight curtsey and murmured “good morning-afternoon-evening, Monsieur Faucherie.” Others crossed themselves as if he were the devil.
As they were leaving the cafe, its owner, a frail looking old man with a drooping grey and white streaked mustache, bid good afternoon to Augustin and Faucherie. Faucherie returned the greeting and winked at the man’s pretty, teenaged daughter. The girl stared at him flirtatiously while her father crossed himself, then ushered her back inside.
When they returned to the house, they ran into Hélène who was dressed to go out in her customary black and a hat with a veil.
“I’ll be back in a little bit,” she told Faucherie, “But I’ve decided to go with you to La Maharani.”
Faucherie and Augustin were going to a boxing match at La Maharani that evening.
“I thought you didn’t like the fights,” Faucherie answered.
“Well I’m rather bored and anything that will get me out of the house, will do.”
She snorted with contempt. Faucherie rolled his eyes.
Hélène had followed a philosophy all of her life and it had served her well. She believed that God gave each person certain gifts, whether they be looks, brains, charm, or talent, and to not use those gifts to one’s own benefit was a grave sin. With only a little bit of arrogance, she could say that God had blessed her with all four of those gifts and so, it was her duty to succeed in life.
She had been born in a small village in Gascony; her parents were members of a band of traveling gypsies from Andalusia. Her father Zacariás strummed an an Andalusian guitar while her mother, Léa, danced a flamenco. She had been five or six when her father started making her earn her keep by singing along with his guitar, scarcely twelve when she started getting stares and whistles from men as she passed, and fifteen when she left her family to go to Paris to seek the fortune she was destined for.
The errand she had set out upon was to cross over to the Left Bank and make her way to La Première Étoile. She crept into the alley in back of the cafe and knocked on the kitchen door. A tall, pale girl with her straight dark hair pulled back under a waitress’s cap and arranged in a chignon.
“Can I speak to Marianne d’Aubrey?” Hélène asked.
“Depends on who’s asking,” the girl answered, somewhat annoyed.
“Manon, who are you talking to?” another voice joined in.
Marianne’s voice was lower and huskier than one might expect from someone so petite and sweet-faced. If one were to have heard her speak and then saw her appear in the doorway into the kitchen, they might not connect the voice to the body.
The friend, the girl called Manon, went back inside when Marianne told her that she would take care of this.
It had been the romantic in Hélène which had sent her on this errand to arrange for Marianne to meet with Augustin that evening; it was like bringing Romeo to the balcony of Juliet. Underneath the Pont Neuf would have due for Juliet’s balcony.
“He and Faucherie are going to watch the fights at La Maharani,” she told Marianne, “I’ll have him meet you under the Pont Neuf around half past ten tonight.” She added her sweetest smile because Marianne was looking at her with distrust, having no interest in getting involved with her. But the prospect of seeing her lover eventually won her over; Hélène understood this all too well, how a man could make a woman long for his touch and crave his kiss and give herself to him body and soul, despite her better judgement. This was the flaw in her philosophy, the heart often acted in ways which the mind knew was foolish.
Augustin went out just as it was getting dark, around six or seven at night. A taxi was called to bring them to their destination, which seemed like an unbelievable extravagance to Augustin, especially since it was going to take them across the river.
The fight ring at La Maharani was in a basement of the main building which one entered from a staircase going from street level. Two heavy doors and a little man with a ledger asking you to place your bets greeted you at the foot of these stairs.
“Le Turc or Bijou?” the little man asked Augustin.
Le Turc and Bijou were the two fighters competing that night.
“Say Bijou,” Faucherie whispered to him.
“But Le Turc is the best fighter in Paris.”
“Trust me, say Bijou.”
The little man put down Augustin’s bet for five francs on Bijou.
“Augustin, ” a voice called from the crowd.
He turned around to see Léon standing behind him. His skinny, sweet faced cousin in his Sunday best, including, Augustin was glad to note, the new pants he had sent him, looked as out of place as possible in this crowd of grim faced, bloodthirsty men.
“Look,” Augustin said to Faucherie and Hélène, “It’s little Léon. Isn’t it past his bedtime? Does his maman know he’s here?”
“She sent me here to keep an eye on you,” Léon answered, playfully brushing off their his teasing with a carefully chosen comeback, as was tactful.
“Faucherie, Hélène, this is my cousin, Léon Duprès. Léon, this is Monsieur Bruno Faucherie and Mademoiselle Hélène.”
Faucherie shook Léon’s hand and clapped him on the back. Hélène kissed his cheeks which made them turn bright pink.
“Hey, you’re holding up the line!” someone in the crowd shouted to which Hélène answered, “Fuck off.”
The entrance to the fight ring was flanked by potted palms. The concrete floor was was spread with sand. Turkish rugs and large cushion were put out on the floor for spectators to sit on, forming a circle in the center of the room for the fighting. The whole room had the feel of a desert cave.
A boy played love songs on the guitar in the corner as people were coming in. The air quickly filled up with their tobacco smoke.
“Remember this song?” Augustin asked Léon, referring to the tune the guitar boy was playing.
Léon began to sing along in his sweet, tuneful, singing voice.
“You know, you’re pretty good, kid,” Hélène responded.
His already flushed pink cheeks turned boiled lobster red.
The crowd gathered around the center ring. Le Turc, a husky man with a thick beard entered the ring from one side of the room. Bijou, a massive negro entered from the other side. Both took their places on either side of a line drawn in the side while the crowd cheered and booed. Le Turc and Bijou began punching each other; Le Turc had the upper hand, he pulled Bijou into his corner and bloodied his mouth. The referee called for both of them to go to their corners; The blood was wiped off of Bijou’s face while Le Turc chugged from a bottle of whiskey.
“Barbaric, isn’t it,” Hélène said with a mixture of amusement and disgust.
The fighting and punching began for another round with Le Turc still having the upper hand. He knocked Bijou to the floor, Bijou began to get up but he knocked him down again. Another timeout was called and the routine of panting and sweating and wiping and chugging began again.
“I still don’t see why you made me waste money betting on Bijou,” Augustin said to Faucherie.
“You will,” Faucherie responded.
Bijou came upon Le Turc at the beginning of the third round, as if by surprise, and began pummeling him. Despite one hell of a battle, Le Turc was beaten to the ground and left there bleeding a defeated. Bijou was carried off in triumph, swigging from a bottle.
Augustin laughed, mostly because he knew that he just won a fair amount of money.
“And you’ll claim an even great prize later tonight,” Hélène told him.
“Ten thirty, under the Pont Neuf,” she whispered.
Augustin wondered what prize was waiting for him under the Pont Neuf until he found himself underneath the ancient bridge. To his disappointment, all he found was a tramp sleeping in the shadows wrapped up in newspapers. Then the clacking of shoe heels was heard on the steps coming down from the street. The chiffon of a skirt and the tails of a coat came floating, birdlike, down to him. The dear, sweet, charmingly drowsy voice gushed out its greetings.
Augustin took her into his arms and kissed her.
“What are you doing here, chérie?” he asked.
“Hélène told me to come,” Marianne answered, “She said that you and Monsieur Faucherie were going to watch a fight tonight and would be on this side of the river.”
After he had let go of her, he leaned against the wall.
“Well, the rest of the night is ours, Princess Marianne, and what does the Princess feel like doing? Are you hungry?”
“Are you in the mood for a movie?”
“Then give me a kiss, Princess Marianne, and we’ll get going.”
She stood on the tips of her toes to kiss him.
“It’s about ten thirty. The cinemas usually have their final showing at midnight, so we have an hour and a half to get dinner.”
They went to a cafe across the street and sat outside in the courtyard which was sheltered by walls of brick and wrought iron latticework. Their table was enclosed in a gazebo. To get there, they had passed glass cases containing oversized and delicious looking desserts which you feel like you gained a pound or two just looking at them and a walked through a brick and concrete corridor.
Marianne looked at film magazine called Cinémamonde and was reading about a film version of Les Miserables starring the singer and actress Florelle, which she decided was the film she wanted to see.
Entire blocks of the streets they passed through on their way to the cinema were cluttered with the furniture and belongings of families who were evicted from their homes, such as bed frames, chairs, lamps, heaps of clothes, stacks of books, and piles of pots and pans.
“I wonder what happened to the people those belonged to?” Marianne asked.
“If they were lucky, friends or relatives took them in ” Augustin supposed, “If not, then they might have fled to some shanty town on the edge of Paris and are living in a ramshackle hovel made of old junk, or are sleeping on park benches or under bridges.”
Augustin recalled the tramp who had been snoring under the Pont Neuf.
At the end of their journey through the land of abandoned household goods, they came to a tall, straight, flat building of grayish brick. Outside, a brightly lit up marquee announced that night’s features presentations. The gaudy lights of the marquee gave the only sign of the magic inside this dull, gloomy, and ordinary building.
The lobby of the cinema was cavernous and dimly lit with a faded Belle Époque glory. Giant posters and stand ups in the lobby which announce the titles of the movies being played. A grand staircase lead up to the mezzanine level of the cinema. Everything smelt of popcorn and the very air felt buttery.
A labyrinth of dark hallways lead to the auditoriums which were as large and beautifully decorated as those at a live theater with lots of velvety drapes and gilding and curtains which open and close over the screen. They had arrived right as the newsreel was beginning. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the American president, was visiting coal miners in West Virginia. Marianne admired Madame Roosevelt and what she and her husband were doing to help the unemployed and needy of their country and watched intently, dreaming of doing brave and selfless things and being loved and admired for it.
Florelle starred in Les Miserables as Fantine, the tragic and selfless mother who quite literally works herself to death to provide for her child, but dies peacefully knowing that her daughter Cosette will be adopted by the kindly Jean Valjean and grow up in comfort. The soft spoken Fantine with her blond curls, kind eyes, lovely smile, and quiet strength and dignity reminded Marianne of her mother, who had even died of the same disease as Fantine: tuberculosis. The association she formed between Fantine and her mother made the death scene difficult to watch.
Grande Mère d’Aubrey had told her something when her mother had died, that her grief would never leave her but would simply become more bearable. Sometimes it would seem heavier but she would have to bare it as best she could.
Augustin thought about the people whose things had been thrown out onto the street after they had lost their homes and if they had any children, and what would happen to those children. Would a Jean Valjean come to rescue them from poverty and corruption?
There is something magical about night time in Paris, something languid and romantic which weaves its spell on people. It wove its spell on Augustin and Marianne as metro as it shook and rattled its way underneath the streets, the lights inside it seemed brighter in contrast to the darkness outside. A street musician returning home played soothing jazz music on the saxophone which made everyone feel drowsy and peaceful. Marianne rested her head on Augustin’s shoulder.
The logical conclusion of a magical Parisian evening would be in the arms of one’s lover. Knowing that they would have to meet in secret if they were continue to see each other, Augustin and Marianne decided that going back to her flat would be too great a risk. The Left Bank had a labyrinth of dark and narrow, winding streets and alleys which thieves and guilty lovers could disappear into. Their refugee was found on a little backstreet off of St. Michel. The building was a small laundry with rooms above to rent. It’s main room was a large, indoor courtyard with tubs for washing; during the day, it was staffed by young girls of about thirteen or fourteen from Indochina. The laundry was dark but one could see light coming from the upper floor, through opened shutters. When they climbed up to the upper floor, they noticed that it was lit by paper lanterns which shone and revealed walls painted red or bright green and round chinese doors with black lacquered wood.
Upstairs was the room which they had rented; it was small and taken up mostly by the bed, a bed like a large, elaborately decorated box with latticed walls and brightly colored silk curtains. Through the circular entrance, the box was lined with brocade cushions. Behind the bed was a window with shutters which were opened to give a view of the courtyard. Lit paper lanterns were placed on the nightstand, dressing table, and the windowsill.
Augustin and Marianne hung up their coats and hats as the came in. Marianne sat down on the bed and undid the ankle straps on her shoes and took them off, wiggling her now free feet. Augustin sat down beside her, his hand crept close to her hand and his fingers intertwined with hers. She abruptly stood up.
“You know,” she said, “I said that I was having dinner at my aunt’s house and would be staying the night there. I keep thinking that someone, somehow will figure out where I really am.”
He stood up and walked towards her.
“Are you that terrible a liar?” he asked, somewhat amused.
His arms encircled her waist.
“Well I’m glad that my little bird could fly the cage tonight.”
“I could say the same thing about you; I’m not the one who was trapped.”
Laughing, he took her into his arms and pulled her close; her head rested on his shoulder. They sat down on the bed, each of them putting a hand on the other’s shoulder and a hand on the other’s cheek.
“I’ll put out the lights and close the shutters,” he said, after kissing her.
The pale, greyish light of early morning slid through the cracks in the shutters. Marianne sat up in bed, her head nearly touching the top of the box. She reached over to grab her slip from the pile of clothes at the foot of the bed; it went on like an apron and tied in the back.
By her side, Augustin was sleeping contentedly with a look of smug satisfaction on his face which made Marianne smile. She thought, “how beautiful he looks.” His torso reminded her of piece of an Ancient Greek statue she had seen when they went to the Louvre: the shoulders were broad, the arms were lean and muscular, the chest and stomach were flat and hard, and the waist was narrowed and tapered. His chest was covered in tufts of feathery dark hair; this layer of hair narrowed into a line which went through his navel and disappeared under the blanket which covered him from the waist down. Beginning to awake, he stretched his arms and made a sound which was somewhere between a yawn and a grunt.
It was about five or six in the morning and the darkness of the night was fading. Under this dark cover, the place where they had spent the night seemed mysterious and magical but in the light of day, it looked ordinary, if a little bit tawdry. If her aunts and father knew where she was, who she was with, and what she had been doing, Marianne believed that it would kill them. She hated the fact the pleasing one person she loved would hurt the others.
In the bed next to her, Augustin stirred. He shifted so that his head was resting in her lap, yawned, and then his eyes flickered open.
“Good morning,” he said, with a smile.
She stroked his curls away from his forehead.
“I have something to tell you,” she told him.
“I ran into my father months ago.”
“I thought that he died during the war.”
“That’s what I was always told…it’s a long story.”
“Let’s hear it.”
She ran her fingers through his hair and explained her complicated family history as best she could. There was a hint of sarcasm in her voice, as if she were describing the absurdly melodramatic plot of a movie, which made it hard at points for Augustin to believe her. He sat up, in order to kiss her forehead.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her.
“Starving,” she responded.
He slid on his shorts from under the blanket and then climbed out of the box bed. A bag of potato chips and two bottles of coke were brought over from the windowsill.
“These aren’t cold,” he told her when he handed her a bottle.
“It’s alright, coke tastes better room temperature.”
After the question of breakfast was solved, they returned to their original conversation.
“I know the right thing would be to forgive them,” Marianne began, “But I just can’t. I can’t tell if it’s loyalty to my mother’s memory or simply pride and stubbornness.”
“No one ever said that doing the right thing was easy,” Augustin answered, “If it were, everyone would be an angel.”
Perhaps for the first time, he understood that she had demons of her own, and maybe, like him, hoped that if she ran fast enough and far enough away, these demons would disappear.
“The thing is, my father remarried. His new wife is my age if she’s a day. And who knows how many other Circes and Calypsos wily Odysseus ran into along the way.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“Not familiar with Homer, are you, my love?”
She bended down in order to kiss his cheek. But it was another mouth that hovered near him, thin lipped and grim with sharp, white teeth, to whisper obscene things into his ears. He flinched a bit.
“Nothing, chérie,” They would out run their demons and build a life somewhere these demons could not find them, “It’s just that I hope you’re pregnant, that way we’ll have to get married.”