She told him she wanted to get drunk but even as she said it, somehow she knew that now was not the time. He was fat, the man, and gave off an air of old sadness as if he knew whatever he tried, someone would always get there first.
She was in a Paris cafe, they were. A Citroen puttered slowly up the road. Somewhere nearby doors opened with pinging bells, and she could smell good coffee and baking croissants.
She had been born in Brighton, and so far her life had been pretty much shit. But now, two weeks into a new life, no longer listening, no longer thinking, just doing, she had ended up in Montmarte. Spring was late.
She had woken that morning at seven forty-five. She was alone - so far she hadn't even thought about a man (or a woman.) She was, even if it was a cliche, finding herself.
Sitting there, she thought, somehow, that Paris was resting, taking a breather. It wasn't actually cold, but it wasn't really weather for sitting outside a brasserie, either. Yes, she thought, a breather, waiting for spring to break, the lovers to come.
"You talk of too much drinking? It is not eleven o'clock!"
"I'm breaking my rules."
"I think, perhaps, another cafe, a baguette, and wait until twelve."
"OK," she said.
He was Belgian, a little bit lost, and he still had this irredeemable air of failure about him. Without asking she knew he sold prosthetic limbs or dental supplies and was the second-worst salesman the company had ever had.
"Does your heart ache?" she said softly, but he did not answer as he was calling to the waiter, "Garcon!" and trying to be masculine.
"S'il-vous-plait?" he said.
"Nothing," she said
And they sat at a table, in a square, in a district, in a city, but where they were mattered not a jot, as this was not about place, but about being, and changing.
And she ate a little bread like the good girl she was, and she drank another coffee like the obedient person she had always been, and she waited, waited, waited; waited for something different to happen to her, something that might make this fucking life mean something.
She was aware she could fuck her fat Belgian. It would be a sympathy fuck, but it would be nice, for once to give. Maybe she would feel better about herself, or better about the world. At one o'clock they ordered a bottle of Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape.
"Why is it that you will get drunk?" asked her Belgian around two.
"I'm not sure," she said honestly. "Maybe 'cos I'm sad."
"But this is bad," he said, "and for a woman even dangerous."
"Maybe," she said.
"L'addition!" he shouted to a skinny waiter, and then to her he said, "We should walk. We should wander round the squares and talk to the squatter-artists and look at their work. Then we should climb to Sacre Couer. The Basilica is beautiful."
And they left their table, in a square, in a district, in a city, and talked to squatters and shivered a little until she saw a painting she had to have, a swirled brown pig on blue, and he only wanted twenty Euros.
"Big!" the fat man said.
"Pig!" she said.
She let him carry it, and eventually they were on the Metro, and then they were on the river looking at Notre Dame, both of them a little awkward because they knew whatever this was it was not romance.
The painting had writing on the bottom, a scribble of pencil. She could make out Cet animal and then degoutant , something else and then la nuit tombee
Her man laughed, "This animal is so disgusting he can only go out at night."
"Oh," she said.
At some moment, she couldn't remember when, maybe four o'clock or so, she slipped her arm into his and pretended to shiver so they huddled into each other against the afternoon. She still had no idea where this would go, but she wasn't unhappy. Then it was evening and he said, "There is a restaurant in Tour Montparnasse and from there you can see the Eiffel when it is lit up."
"Yes. I will buy dinner if you like."
So they left the cold street and went stops on the Metro, and left, and found a big tower, and went up in an elevator and got out on a floor, and walked through dull corridors and came to a restaurant.
They stood behind an arguing couple who stopped but only after final remarks. She understood, "Merde!" Then madame turned and left, monsieur following. It was now her man introduced himself and told her his name was Hercule. She thought he was teasing but when he said he wasn't she told him her name was Jane but she couldn't possibly say her surname now because it would be too much.
And yes, it was a pleasant evening, and the nuit fell, and they turned off the lights in the restaurant so the diners could see the Tour Eiffel, and then the manager turned the lights up a little and people sighed. Jane and Hercule sighed too and somehow both of them knew that something had just ended.
He had suggested the Sole, always perfectly done. She had gone for what turned out to be Beef Wellington. They drank more wine, a very good one, then a cognac or two, and then very late he took her by taxi and dropped her like a gentleman, and walked her into the lobby of the hotel, and then he said, "Tomorrow, at ten. I will have breakfast where we met. I will have fresh orange juice, coffee and eggs Benedict."
They both knew, wherever she would be, it wouldn't be there.