PARIS DOWNER

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

LOVE, HATE, FRIENDS, ENEMIES, CHARACTER AS FATE

On a cold Sunday in Paris, Gillian Steel thinks she spies an old friend turned enemy through drifting sheets of rain. A chance maneuver to protect herself from the elements saves her life.

PARIS DOWNER

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

Gillian last saw Brenda—what . . . twenty, maybe thirty years ago—in Montreal. Yet, here she was walking down the Boulevard Saint Germain on a rainy Sunday afternoon in December. Gillian noticed Brenda’s yellow scarf, a soft yellow. ‘So Canadian,’ thought Gillian from almost three blocks away, ‘funny, hunh? I wonder . . .’ Gillian thought about whether she recognized Brenda’s scarf, saw Brenda, or was there only some vague premonition it would be Brenda. A squall drifted a sheet of rain in front of Gillian. She was bending over to peer at the approach of her former friend. ‘Well, I guess she’s still my friend.’

They worked together as waitresses at Bigwin Inn in Muskoka through a couple of summers while attending U of T. They were also sorority sisters, as well as teammates on the Canadian National Championship soccer team. Gillian returned to California after college, where she graduated first in her law school class. She passed the Bar Exam the first time and opened a private practice with two other women, specializing in Domestic Relations Law and Criminal Defense.

Gillian heard Brenda suffered a complete nervous breakdown followed by a rare type of amnesia. Her doctors said Brenda’s nervous breakdown was the result of a lingering bitter divorce action, the stillbirth of her first child, and the collapse of her real estate practice when the Great Recession hit.

Gillian’s source of other Brenda news comes from her best Canadian friend, Jackie Jay, an anthropologist of some note and the Director of the Department of Anthropology at U. of T. The Jackie tom tom concerning Brenda remained silent for years. The last JJ report said Brenda vanished.

Rumors were she fell in with a strange cell of anarchists who believed the first order of business was to kill all the lawyers. Gillian immediately called JJ and asked her to confirm this rumor; or did the authorities catch Brenda with suspicious literature—or a copy of Shakespeare’s plays, and when were they going to release her from Canada’s Bellevue?

Gillian found the yellow scarf again, slipping between huddled figures battling the elements and the drooping awning of the Napoleon Café. Although the yellow scarf was only two blocks away, Gillian found any positive ID of Brenda impossible: ‘too damned many drops of too much water.’

The wind suddenly picked up debris from a waste container and whipped it into an urban dust devil. Bits flew toward Gillian. She ducked while she leaned left, avoiding contact with anything ikky. When she refocused on the Boulevard, the yellow scarf was gone. Gillian was curious---and relieved.

Following Gillian’s return to Santa Barbara, the sorority sisters emailed regularly. Gillian called a few times; Brenda called once. Brenda made a thinly veiled accusation. She said Gillian stole Brenda’s true love; a tall guy with black hair, named John. At the time, Gillian laughed the laugh of innocence. Before the end of their conversation, Gillian sensed some seriousness in Brenda’s bogus claim. Gillian went dancing two times with John at a couple of the jazz clubs. Gillian never kissed him. In fact, Gillian married one of John’s best friends and moved to the Coast as the happiest of married couples in the state. John never left Brenda.

When Gillian moved west, John took up with Brenda again. They issued marriage bands. Unfortunately, John found a dearer companion: philosophy. He switched from a career as an aeronautical engineer to hit the University of Virginia for a double degree in Philosophy and Economics; a combo that landed him a superb teaching position at Yale. 

While all these memories and misadventures scrolled across her inner eye, Gillian gradually noticed she stopped walking. She looked up, fully expecting to see the yellow scarf. No bright colors were in view; the only solid color was black. 

Gillian adjusted her umbrella to better deflect the wind and continued to walk. She pulled her trench coat belt tighter. There were five more blocks before meeting her husband, Max, at La Coupole; or a less touristy version. He called and said he would start walking and should probably meet her half way, another four blocks.

Gillian’s thoughts flitted from her meeting with her architect husband back to her recent JJ news about Brenda. Although Gillian saw no point in following the Brenda thread, she could not resist the compulsion to return to the subject of her unfortunate friend. Gillian was surprised she still thought of Brenda as a friend. Gillian saw it as a case of a successful lawyer, happily married to a brilliant architect that allowed her to consider the tawdry times of her Canadian tragedy. She immediately shook off the thought, reprimanding herself for such conceited considerations.

The rain began to fall straight down; a hard rain, packing depression and failure for those who were susceptible. She saw Max, and waved. He recognized her pink umbrella. He waved with the vigor of a semaphore seaman. He started to run toward her and she to him. They hugged vigorously and kissed, as though they were on their second date. She was warm and smelled wonderful; he too was warm and smelled of brandy, with a hint of espresso.

They crossed the Boulevard and walked in search of a brasserie for a rainy Sunday while they chattered and pinched each other. Although they were  married for thirty years, they continued to treat each other as though there was no second date. They were keenly conscious of anything and everything that might be in the balance for the possibility of that second date. Gillian was lighting up his grey day with her warm smile; Max was stroking her shoulder and telling her how glamorous she was. She was. Parisians rarely envy attractive couples, yet this afternoon they were commenting to their companions about the glow of happiness surrounding the American couple.

The loving twosome quickly found a jolly brasserie where Gillian ordered Pernod and Max, a whiskey. They took some time before ordering their lunch. Its preparation took more time. After telling Max about seeing Brenda about twenty minutes ago along the Boulevard, Gillian told her husband her thoughts about Brenda. Max listened intently, as he always did. He found Gillian talking as attractive as Gillian silent. He absorbed all the unsaid comments and allusions as Gillian talked about her friend. When their lunch arrived, along with a second round of drinks, they were still parsing the thoughts and facts surrounding the strange case of Brenda Bairn.

When they finally unglued themselves from the extraordinarily cozy confines of the Deux Cheveaux, they linked arms and leaned on one another until they reached their Airbnb flat and fell into bed.

After some hours of lovemaking, Gillian volunteered for the next kitchen foray to secure more food and drink to enjoy in bed while watching TV. Their French was very good because of Canadian French classes beginning in grade school and continuing through university. Despite this solid foundation, the years deposited rust on the conjugation of some verbs; and their accents were not good. Nevertheless, they needed no knowledge of French—or any other language—to understand the horror they were viewing on the screen. Bloody bodies were lying along a street; some sprawled in front of a brasserie. Gillian and Jack whispered ‘ISIS’ at the same moment. They were about to state another condemnation of that group and their sick ideology, when a camera caught the faint color of yellow far in the back of the shot. Gillian froze. The next shot confirmed her horror; Brenda’s face was recognizable; her yellow scarf signed her name.

The commentators described the shootings and subsequent massacre as the plot of a deranged Canadian woman and her two accomplices. The three were members of a secret cell, dedicated to killing all lawyers—of all things. The leader—the woman in the yellow scarf—had papers that spoke of an informal meeting of members of the French Bar Association being held Sunday afternoon at the Brasserie Saint Sebastian, and that a special target name was to attend.

Before she died, the leader said she saw her special target three blocks away from her. Despite the elements and the dusky light of a late rainy afternoon in December blurring her vision, she was positive that the former friend of hers entered the Brasserie Saint Sebastian to join other lawyer scum. The former friend, who was a prominent successful lawyer in California, entered the Brasserie with another former friend, one John Copperthwaite, a former professor at Yale and Bairn’s former lover. She claimed the whore, Gillian Steel, stole Copperthwaite from her. She expired with a questioning look on her face.

The brasserie was one block off the Boulevard Saint Germain; one block away from Gillian Steel at the time she bent over against the elements while shielding herself and leaned sideways into the wind; a maneuver that saved her life. 

Gillian was inconsolable for days. She fell into long deep silences while thinking about the simplicity and finality of death, and the strange minor details that form the invisible line between the quick and the dead.

THE END


Submitted: July 12, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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