PARIS DOWNER

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
In Paris, a woman spots an old friend turned enemy and loses track of her in the wind driven rain of a cold Sunday.
A chance maneuver to protect herself from the elements saves her life.

Submitted: July 12, 2016

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Submitted: July 12, 2016

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 PARIS DOWNER

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

 

Gillian had not seen Brenda for—what . . ? twenty; maybe thirty years—in Montreal.

Yet, here she was coming down the Boulevard St.-Germain on a rainy Sunday afternoon in December.

Gillian had noticed Brenda’s yellow scarf; a soft yellow; so Canadian, thought Gillian from almost three blocks away. Funny,  huhnh? I wonder . . .

Gillian had time to think about whether she had really recognized Brenda’s scarf; or seen Brenda; or was there just some vaque premonition that it would be Brenda.

A sudden squall, drifted a sheet of cold light rain in front of Gillian and she realized that she was bending over to peer at the approach of her former friend.

well, I guess she’s still my friend.

They had worked together as waitresses at Bigwin Inn in Muskoka through a couple of summers, while they were in college at U of T.

They had also been sororiity sisters a well as teammates on the Canadian National championship soccer team.

Gillian had returned to California after college and had graduated first at law school, before opening a private practice with two other women, specializing in Domestic Relations Law and Criminal Defense.

Gillian had heard that Brenda had suffered a complete nervous breakdown followed by a rare type of amnesia.

All of this was apparently brought on by a triple witching combination 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.

Other news about Brenda, had been provided to Gillian by 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 had been silent for a few years; Jackie had last reported that Brenda had appeared to vanish.

There had been rumors that she had fallen in with a strange cell of anarchists who believed that the first order of business was to kill all the lawyers.

Gillian just had to call Jackie back and ask her to confirm this one-off mantra and ask if this was just rumor or had Brenda been caught with suspicious literature—or a copy of Shakespeare; and when was she expected to be released  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.

Even now, when the yellow scarf was only two blocks away, Gillian discovered that any positive ID of Brenda was still 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 and she ducked while she also leaned left and avoided any ikky contact.

When she refocused on the Boulevard, the yellow scarf had disappeared.

Gillian felt both curious and relieved.

After university and Gillian’s return to Santa Barbara, the two former waitress friends had emailed a lot at first; Gillian called a few times; Brenda called only once, and that conversation had become strained when Brenda made a thinly veiled accusation that Gillian had stolen Brenda’s true love, a tall guy with black hair, named John.

At the time, Gillian had laughed the laugh of innocence but before the conversation ended, Gillian realized that there was some seriousness in Brenda’s bogus claim.

Gillian had gone dancing two times with John at a couple of the jazz clubs; had never even kissed him, and ended up marrying one of John’s best friends and moving back to the Coast, as the happiest of married couples in the state.

John had never really left Brenda, and after Gillian moved back west, John once again took up with Brenda and they even issued marriage bands.

But John had found a dearer companion; philosophy; and he switched from a career as an aeronautical engineer and hit the University of Virginia for a double degree in Philosophy and Economics; a combo that landed him a superb teaching position at Yale.

Gillian was suddenly aware that she had stopped walking while all these memories and misadventures flooded her inward-looking eyes.

She looked up and expected to see the yellow scarf reappear, but there were no bight colors in view and no other solid color but black. 

Gillian continued to walk after adjusting her umbrella to better deflect the wind and she pulled her trench coat belt even tighter.

She had another five blocks or so to walk before she met her husband, Jack, at La Coupole; or a less touristy version

He had told her that he would start walking and they would probably meet half way; which was in about four more blocks.

Gillian’s thoughts flitted from her meeting with her architect husband back to her recent news from Jackie about Brenda, although there seemed to be no point to following the Brenda thread, but Gillian felt a slight compulsion to return to the subject of her unfortunate friend.

Gillian realized that she still thought of Brenda as a friend although Gillian was sure that it was a case of a successful lawyer very happily married to a brilliant architect that allowed her to deign to consider the tawdry times of her Canadian tragedy.

She shook off the thought almost immediately and reprimanded herself for such conceited considerations.

 

By now the rain had begun to fall straight down; a hard rain, packing depression and failure for those who were susceptible.

Then she saw Jack, and waved.

He had been looking for her and recognized her pink umbrella.

He waved with the vigor of a semaphore seaman. Then he started to run toward her and she to him.

They hugged vigorously and kissed, just as though they were on their second date. She was warm and smelled wonderful; he was so warm and smelled of brandy and a hint of espresso.

They crossed the Boulevard and began to walk along the sidewalk in search of a brasserie for a rainy Sunday while they chattered  and pinched each other.

They had been married thirty years and still treated each other as though they had not yet had a second date and were keenly conscious of anything and everything that might be in the balance to determine the possibility of that second date.

Gillian was lighting up his grey day with her warm smile; Jack was stroking her shoulder and telling her how glamorous she was.

And she was.

Parisians don’t often envy attractive couples, but this afternoon they were; and they commented to their companions about the glow of happiness surrounding the American couple.

Gillian order Pernod and Jack, a whiskey.

They took some time to order their lunch and its preparation took more time; time that was filled with Gillian relating all her thoughts about Brenda and believing that she had seen Brenda about twenty minutes ago along the Boulevard.

Jack listened intently, as he always did; he found Gillian talking as attractive as Gillian silent, and absorbed all the unsaid comments and allusions as Gillian talked about her friend.

When their lunch and a second round arrived, they were still parsing the thoughts and facts surrounding the strange case of Brenda Bairn.

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

After some hours of love making, Gillian volunteered for the next kitchen foray to secure more food and drink to be enjoyed in bed while watching TV.

Their French was very good because of Canadian French classes beginning in grade school and continuing through university. The years had deposited some rust upon the conjugation of some of the verbs and their accents were not good.

However, they needed no knowledge of French or any other language to understand the horror they were viewing on the screen.

Blood and bodies were lying along a street and sprawled in front of a brasserie.

Both Gillian and Jack whispered ‘ISIS’ at the same moment; and were about to state yet 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.

Then next shot confirmed her horror; Brenda’s face was recognizable and her yellow scarf signed her name.

The commentators then described the shootings and subsequent massacre, as being the plot of a deranged Canadian woman and her two accomplices who were members of 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 had a special target name was to attend.

Before she expired, the leader had said she had seen her target three blocks away from her and that despite the elements and the dusky light of a late rainy afternoon in December blurring her vision, she had been positive that the former friend of hers had entered the Brasserie Saint Sebastian to join other lawyer scum.

The former friend, who had become a very successful and prominent lawyer in California, had entered the Brasserie with another former friend, one John Copperthwaite, a professor at Yale and Bairn’s former lover who had been stolen from her by that whore Gillian Steel.

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 when she had bent over against the elements while she shielded herself and leaned sideways into the wind; a maneuver that had saved her life.

Gillian was inconsolable for days.

She fell into long deep silences while she thought about both the simplicity and the finality of death, and the strange minor details that form the invisible line between the quick and the dead.

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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