Her name was Sandrine and she lived in the fifth arrondissement three floors up from the butcher at the Rue Monge 76. They had picked up the #7 Metro South from Gare d’est and followed it around its circuitous route eventually arriving at the small asphalt covered park by her apartment. The décor resplendent within her residence was stunningly enough reminiscent of a bygone Seljuk seraglio salvaged in so many apparent ways by virtue of the fineness of materials from the crassness of a Turkish bordello. Soft silken cushions and an intricately carved mother of pearl inlay were represented throughout the several varieties of intricate Teakwood screens and Ottoman’s tossed about the small rooms. She caught his reaction as he entered into a small foyer replying that the collection, or what remained of it as a legacy of their grandfather who had worked in the diplomatic corps in a counselor capacity in Ankara. Had the gravity of their meeting led to a lighter occasion, he might have let slip his own internal quip of an internally verbalized impression of a Charles Boyer intonated, “Bienvenue à la Casbah !” She let her coat slip in a rumple upon a small couch by the window then averted her gaze undecidedly obliging to a small passage back to a kitchenette. “Coffee, or perhaps chocolat chaud?”, she hesitantly chimed. He swiveled back from his gaze of her surroundings still somewhat overcome with a polite nod.
She had stood there so diminutive before him in the restaurant by the counter after their unanticipated embrace more clearly to his eye after the passing quaver of mutual emotions. An offbeat collection of the attractive and the awkward somewhat jumbled ‘ensemble’ in collectively very feminine visual features. The effect of her presence sweeping away the heavy feeling of angst that had weighed his thoughts down. Not quite a feeling of unassuming potential for romance as the possibility of some small measure of safe harbor for the tangle of unresolved emotions that lay darkly within. He sat down politely unattended within the lounge as she rustled about in the back of the flat. His eyes took mental inventory over the collection of accessories many of which stood starkly in contrast to the room’s dominant theme. The three small shelves of discreetly paper bound iconoclastic volumes from the Sorbonne weighed heavily on the planks. A small section below reserved for larger more ornate gold leaf leather bound volumes. Odd little follies taking up their innocuous residence here and there, within and above these outward displays of apparent intellect. A small collection of popular soccer ‘Star’ dolls escorting a mélange of Joker and a Bonsny Grils necklace. The crowning jewel of her collection of ‘poupees’ being an accurately modeled plastic WW1 ‘Poilu’ replica of French film icon, Jean Reno, leaning at attention on the floor by the front window.
“That was Jacque’s!”, she said almost dispassionately as she entered the room with a small silver tray laden with tiny porcelain cups and a kettle. Harry took the gravity of her tone to infer she meant her late brother. She was now wearing a dark Tortoise shell eyeglass frames that along with an accompanying comb having gathered up her chestnut locks upon her head. Her more serious appearance and tone suggesting the reveal of a true nature of the type of solitude expected of an only child. “It was one of our little jests together.”, she said, “He was our ‘famille’s petit legionnaire’, always running far afield at a moment’s notice and becoming unexpectedly engaged in trouble.” Harry looked down respectfully at the tiny cup and saucer as she handed it to him. She sat down beside him on the small divan at a deferential distance with her own face buried momentarily within he own respectively tiny cup. The somber ‘ennui’ of French gray quietly penetrated the room from without. “I suppose it sounds . . . ridiculous . . . that I asked you here but . . . I wanted to know about Jacques’ last minutes.”, she intoned to her cup. “No, hardly so”, Harry replied. “I don’t know what if much I can tell you.”, he continued, “I’m struggling with it myself!” The silence wore on for another few unspoken sentences. “Did you speak to him?”, she suddenly looked up, her face unbridled from its pain. “No, but I recall him in the midst of a having a good time with someone sitting on the other side of him out of sight.”, Harry methodically relating to her then continuing, “I can’t recall what was being said in French very well but it might have been an amusing story of some sort.” The present moment then pouring back to deflate his reflection, “I’m sorry, I really wasn’t paying that much attention to them.” “Do you have some place to stay?” she unexpectedly countered. He looked up at her again nonplussed. The resultant expression suddenly clouding his visage suggesting an internal conflict both in both nervousness and a sense of embarrassing indecisiveness. “Stay the night here at least!”, her head leaned towards him imploringly, “We can talk more of this tomorrow.”
The two of them spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in relative silence of two companions waylaid somewhere by a storm. Her occasional conversation bubbling up at odd junctures spontaneously relating small details of the events of her life up to that fatal moment inevitably returning to the fact of her being so late to arrive at the appointed time of their rendezvous. The other woman was a mutual friend it seemed. An Algerian descendant whose family had migrated to Paris just after 1958 when fellow rebels had threaten to invade mainland France if their demands in North Africa were not met. The Fourth Republic’s transition into the Fifth having been occasioned by a withdrawal in the wake of the trend of previous colonial disasters initiated by the collapse of the French military at Dien Bien Phu years earlier in Indochina. Sandrine’s own clan had been impacted by this shift in power. Too many close ties discovered with an FLN locked within their principles of Islam attaching the family name as apologist’s to the government of Pierre Pfimlin leading ultimately to dismissal from the ranks of the government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs when de Gaulle had assumed power. Harry watched these outbursts arise from a sporadic sense of silence wondering how he should attempt to sort his role as sounding board and unheralded confident? A deeper sense of implicit but undefined sexuality passing unavoidably back and forth in barely veiled glances between them. He began to wonder who between them would risk the affront of rejection in a hand leading to the ‘aesculapian’ solace of the bedroom? The operose descent of night brought a cloak upon their conversation. And they soon descended into the less than secretly expected mutuality of their shared expectations.