Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Fiction by Mark Fitzpatrick
I sat there shivering on the stone bench until the rain started. Notre Dame’s spires were veiled by the faint, half-hearted drizzle, and the trees rustled and dripped above. There was no one but me on the Quai de Montebello, alone in the dim, chilly morning. I stood as the cobblestones spattered and darkened with wet, pulling my jacket tight around me. The thick envelope was safely tucked into the inside pocket. The Seine was dark and heavy, swept with rain, rocking and slapping against the stone quaysides. Sporadic roars of traffic on the street above became unbroken, and a spry old jogger in blue Lycra huffed past, towing a scampering dog. Thick drops trickled out of my hair and down my face. With a last look around, as if I might have forgotten something, I set off down the quai. Under bridges, past the tied-up barges with the hatches battened down, up a stone stairway and across the river. Down the sidestreets, past the department stores, head down, striding faster through the streaming rain, past stirring cafés and still-shuttered shops, I ducked around corners, waited and looked back down the street to make sure there were no footsteps dogging mine. At the narrow entrance of the Hôtel Nord-Ouest, I keyed the code on the grimy panel, and slipped in, shutting out the waking city behind me.
In the late afternoon, when the wintry sun is glaring in the western sky, I walk around. Sometimes down through the Tuileries gardens, around the twinkling fountains in their wide round pools, across the Place de la Concorde, further down the river, where things are wide apart and few people are walking under the bare trees, past the gilt and marble of the Invalides and Pont Alexandre III, to the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower. I never go near the tower, but I like to round corners and see it looming, massive, in the middle distance, warping the scale of everything around it. Or else I walk along towards the Hôtel de Ville, and criss-cross the Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint Louis, to the Latin Quarter, back and forth along the bridges and the quais, up and down the stone steps, in and out of the narrow alleyways. There are a thousand permutations of the ways one could make this circuit, crossing every bridge, but never the same one twice. Notre Dame sits brooding in the middle. Scaffolding has gone up along one side. On the Quai de Montebello, where I sometimes linger for a while, there are no more artists anymore. The Russians have left for the winter, back to St Petersburg to work on their serious paintings, with the money made from the flattering portraits done for tourists during the summer. The others have gone elsewhere. The police moved them on too often from there, and now there are restaurant boats moored at the quai, and joggers in the daytime, young tourists with wine and guitars at night. Soon they will be gone too, as the weather gets colder.
I stop at the booksellers’ stalls, flicking through plastic-wrapped, plain-covered books. Occasionally, I ask if they have anything by Martin Caulder. They rarely do, but every so often, one of them has an old copy of a French translation of one of his novels. I buy them, and bring them home. Other books too, which I read into the night. I tell myself that if my French gets better, I will finally try to read his books.
Mark Fitzpatrick is an Irish novelist living and working in Paris, France.
For more of Very Few to Love, or just to send your regards, you can connect with Mark directly at: https://plus.google.com/106989872665923693086#106989872665923693086/posts
You can also follow his new fantasy adventure novel as it unfolds on his blog at: http://hollowbehindthehearthstone.blogspot.fr/2012/09/i-hollow-behind-hearthstone.html
Photos by Leslie McAllister: