Thursday, 30 July 2009

A Story

The smoke curled elegantly from her cigarette, expanding and filling the small booth we shared together. It crossed the table, first caressing me gently, then pulling at my whole person like an old women stroking a cat. I watched her silently take another drag from the cigarette, before she returned to look at me.
"Jacques, I dreamt of Paris last night."
I watched. Her pale face gave away no sign of lying. I don't know why she thought I was called Jacques, but the way she said it made it sound... Right.
"No wonder. This place..."
And no wonder it was too. The bar screamed Paris like my soul screamed for freedom. Around us, waiters bustled, bringing wine and baguettes to the nearby tables. They smiled, sure, but their eyes were as cold and grey as dead fish, their actions as programmed as a watch. They moved with unwavering purpose, but it didn't come from the soul.
"I dreamt that Paris burned. That the streets ran with blood. I wish to see Paris once more Jacques, once more before I die."
I nodded. There was little point in disagreeing. Words would move her only so much.
As I watched, she took another drag, coughing violently.
"We should have stayed. We should have stayed and fought. We could have died doing something Jacques. But instead, we wait to die here, like rats."
"It could not be done. For us, the war is over. And nothing we do can change that."
Outside, the crowds cheered and counted down towards zero. Inside, there was no counting. This was not a place of celebration, but a place of old men sharing a drink with death. A place to wait, and regret.
She looked at me, and sighed. When she spoke, it was nothing more than a whisper.
"I know you don't believe that Jacques. You say these things to reassure me. It is kind of you, but I know it pains you. I know you left your humanity behind, in a time before we left Paris."
"You may be right. But it doesn't matter my dear - whatever we feel, the war is behind us now. We can do nothing."
Outside, the crowd reached zero, and the bells chimed. It was 1994, and I felt no different.
I finished my drink and left her sitting there, with only the stub of a cigarette for company. She was right, of course. Her eyes penetrated me like a worm through soil. We should have stayed in Paris, and we should have fought the occupation. But she was wrong to combine these thoughts into one. We had left Paris to travel. As for the war, we had both been born in 1967. We could not have intervened in it as easily as we imagined, regardless of our regrets.
I haven't spoken to her since. Too many bad memories. Sometimes I drop into the bar, but only when I can't avoid it, or the nostalgia overcomes me. She's still sitting there, like Buddha dressed in black with crimson lipstick, but she pretends not to notice me.
For my part, I do the same. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if we'd stayed together and fought in Paris. But it didn't happen, and there's no point dwelling in the images of an imagined past I sometimes dream of.
Its cold out. I think I'll have another for the road.

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