Since another year is quickly approaching an end, I wanted to thank all the readers who are along for the ride in my quest to find literary and visual inspiration from life. This blog has encouraged me to grow creatively, but it has also been an invitation to inspire you, the reader, to look at your own world and see what is around you and how you can grasp it and capture it in a different, creative light.
I mentioned in my “STORIES” category that I have a few writing projects in the works – one of which is a group of Short Stories. My entry today is an updated short story and if it sounds a little familiar, I have re-invented the characters of Henri and Hughette from a previous story.
The inspiration for this short story, Paris in Black and White, came from the following picture that I stumbled upon on the internet. The story was written and presented at Brian Henry’s Intensive Creative Writing Courses last Fall.
I hope you enjoy it. (AIM)
Paris in Black and White
Written by Ann Ivy Male
Photograph © 2012 Ann Ivy Male
Iris gazed out the window of the plane and lost herself in the clouds. She loved to fly, but this particular flight left her with an apprehensive feeling. As the plane began its descent, she scrutinized the maze of winding roads and tiny roof tops of a city that stole her heart years ago. Feeling a familiar tingling of jitters – Iris looked up at the plane’s flashing seat-belt light. The captain announced, in an English accent, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Paris – it’s slightly overcast with light snow and a chilly minus 5 degrees, but, you are after all, in the city of lights and love, so enjoy your stay and thank you for flying with British Airways.” Iris had the song, I’ll be Home for Christmas, stuck in her head, and as she gathered her things, she wondered if Sébastien would be at the airport to surprise her. She knew his hectic schedule wouldn’t allow for that, especially since he would be in town only for a few days – nevertheless, she still hoped that he’d be at the arrival gate.
She waited at the baggage carousel for her suitcase and every now and then, stretched to catch a glimpse of the faces waiting on the other side of the glass doors. Iris was looking for that familiar, playful smile. She fussed with her hair and put on her black coat. She then walked through the exit doors, looked around, but soon understood that she’d have to make her own way into Paris.
An hour later when her train arrived at Gare de Nord, an overwhelming feeling of presence had hit Iris. The whimsical city enveloped every part of her in one big brush stroke. After she gathered her luggage, she hailed a taxi – “La Belle Juliette,” she instructed the driver. The taxi maneuvered through the busy, narrow streets of Paris. She arrived at the hotel just before noon, leaving her time to: unpack her things, have a rest and perhaps even buy a few Christmas presents at Les Halles.
Iris put her belongings into an ornate French armoire which sat in the corner of the hotel room. She placed her camera on the desk and rested her portfolio beside it. Moments later, the phone rang, “Bonjour, ma belle Iris, ça vas?” It was so good to hear his voice again, she thought. They spoke for a while and decided to meet later at the jazz club. After getting dressed, Iris took a good look in the mirror; she wore a navy, crushed silk suit, cinched at the waist with a silver-buckle belt. The skirt fell just below her knee. Her auburn hair was pinned at each side with a jewelled bobby pin that complemented her hazel eyes perfectly. She then grabbed her coat and clutch and made her way to Cafè de Jazz.
Arriving at the bistro, she quickly noticed a reserved sign set at their table along with a single white orchid and a red box. She smiled. As she settled into her seat, the waiter stopped by the table, tray in hand with a glass of Kir.
“Merci, Martin – will you be playing tonight?”
“Ah, oui , oui, une nouvelle chanson, juste pour vous!”
A moment later, her gaze wandered towards the swinging door and their eyes met.
Her heart skipped a beat.
Sébastien stood in the doorway of the bistro with Luc by his side.
“They look so handsome.” She thought.
Sébastien wore a dark turtleneck and blazer, slim trousers and of course his usual beret, tilted off to the side of his head. Luc, his younger brother, was dressed in a casual shirt and vest, and similar grey trousers. He immediately caught her eye and nudged Sébastien with his elbow; both men jostled towards the table.
“Bonsoir, ma belle Iris, I see you got my little present.” Sébastien winked as he admired the black pearl broach that was pinned to her suit lapel. He bent down to kiss her lips.
Chills crept down her spine as their lips touched. Iris stood up and embraced Sébastien. She inhaled his familiar scent and closed her eyes; she fit into his arms like a worn leather glove. Luc broke up the pair and quickly stole a kiss on both sides of her flushed cheeks. “ Une bouteille de Veuve?” He announced and then dashed towards the bar.
Sébastien sat down beside Iris and put his arm around her slender shoulders.
“I love it! Merci.” She said as she glanced down at the broach.
“How much time do we have together this trip?”
“Well, I will be here at least until Christmas Eve, and then I fly back to the Laos. They want me to cover another story there. But never mind that, tomorrow I must visit Grand-Père Henri. I have the best gift for him. Will you accompany me?”
“Avec plaisir,” she said while studying every detail of his face – his brown eyes looked tired and his hair was slightly longer than normal with strands of grey peeking through his beret.
“Ah, it’s nice to see that you are improving on your French, Iris.” Luc commented as he yanked the beret off Sébastien’s head and placed it on Iris’. He then sat down between the couple and pounded the bottle of champagne on the table. The cork popped , bubbly sprayed like fireworks into the air and soon the bistro got quite loud with chatter, singing, laughter and music from the band on stage.
“Allons-y, let’s dance!” Sébastien took Iris’ hand and gently pulled her out of her chair.
The dance floor was jam-packed, but they found a spot off to the side. They twirled around as the band played on; song after song, their feet jumped to the vibrant beat like marionettes being choreographed on a stage.
“You’re crazy Sébastien; I cannot keep up with you in these heels.” She yelled out.
“O.K., let’s slow it down then,” Sébastien winked to Martin and the band eased into a slow version of Nuit Blanche.
Sébastien pulled Iris closer to him and she melted into his arms. She pressed her head against his heart.
After a few more songs they returned to the table and Luc was already onto his second glass of champagne.
“Eh, Luc, do you know this new music that Martin’s band is playing?” Sébastien asked.
“C’est fantastic, non?”
“Fantastic, yes, but next time I will wear flatter shoes so I can keep up with you, Sébastien.” Iris giggled.
“It’s called Rock and Roll and I love it!”
The three toast out loud – “To Rock and Roll!”
It was 2 a.m. when the vibe of the café started to wane. Sébastien brought Iris her coat and the pair left the bistro arm in arm. Luc stayed behind and chatted with a couple of young female travelers from America.
There was a cold breeze in the air and light snow fell onto the hair and shoulders of the couple. It instantly created a white snow-globe around them as they walked past the street lights on Rue de L’Ancienne Comèdie.
“Taxi ? Or perhaps a chilly walk along the Seine?” Sébastien asked.
“You know the answer, Sébastien.” She smiled.
They turned the corner and started walking towards the bridge. The streets of Paris were still buzzing in spite of the snow. Young couples huddled in doorways of restaurants and bars, puffing on shared Gitanes and stealing the odd kiss. Cars drove past the couple, gently splashing Iris’ high-heeled feet and she held onto Sébastien’s arm while trying to maneuver the cobble-stone walkways of the old city.
“I think this is my favorite way to walk through Paris.” She remarked.
“Sure if you like feeling like a cold, wet water rat.” Sébastien replied.
“Yes, but this city is alive, in a surreal sort of way; it’s like an old black and white movie unfolding with each step we take.”
“Iris, I love you and I love your colourful imagination but black and white movies are now surely a thing of the past, yet only you can find charm in even the most dismal conditions.”
Sébastien flipped up his coat collar and lowered his head to avoid the flakes of white hitting his tired eyes.
“Well, I suppose the only good thing about Laos right now is the hot weather,” he sighed.
His hand motioned towards a passing taxi.
“We can walk the Seine, tomorrow morning, O.K.? But first, I have another surprise for you.”
Sébastien opened the taxi door and they stepped into the warm car. He then instructed the cab driver to drive to Pont des Arts. When they arrived at the bridge, Sébastien took Iris’ hand and they walked over to a spot under a lamppost. Sébastien reached into his pocket and took out a red padlock with the initials I.C. and S.D. etched onto the metal.
“You remembered!” Iris remarked excitedly.
“But of course, Cherie.” Sébastien replied as he attached the lock onto the bridge and tossed the key into the river.
“There – now it is official, you are locked in my heart forever!”
The snow turned to rain and continued through the night. A chilling breeze blew through an open window of the tiny bedroom . Iris slept soundly and stirred occasionally, pulling the heavy wool blanket over her shoulders. She lay on her side, knees bent in a fetal position and was startled when she heard a knock at the door.
“Iris, are you awake?” Luc asked. He walked into the room with a tray of hot tea and a couple of pain aux chocolats. She sat up on the bed, hair tousled and her eyes were still red and puffed from crying the night before.
“Luc, I had a dream about him again last night. It was so incredibly real that I could feel him lying beside me. It was Christmas-time and we were all at Lucien’s bar. We even danced to Martin’s jazz band.”
“I know how much you miss him, Iris, me, I’m still waiting for him to walk through that door and crack some stupide joke.” Luc commented in his broken English.
“Are you hungry? I went to your favorite patisserie across the street.”
“You are so good to me. Merci, but maybe later.”
“D’accord., come downstairs when you are ready. Perhaps we can walk to Les Jardins de Luxembourg? It stopped raining.”
“Alright, let me get ready.” Iris answered in a frail voice.
Luc left the room. Iris slipped out of Sébastien’s pajama shirt and stepped into the tub. She lay back, closed her eyes and tried to re-live every moment of her dream. Her warm tears blended into the tepid water of the bath. After her bath, she moved a chair over to the window and started to read the letter that was tucked under a pile of newspaper articles.
May 7th, 1956
Ma Belle Iris,
It’s been so long since my return to Vietnam; the days are endless and I am tired of it all. Looks like it’s getting worse on the front lines so the deadlines that I am working with, leave me with very little time to write to you. Just know that I think of you every day, especially that snowy night on the bridge. I hope you are well and that your work keeps you occupied. The magazine is lucky to have such a great photographer. How I miss our time together in Paris. Do you remember when we went to visit Grand-père in Vimy? He was so happy to see us and the stories he told were incredible. I only hope this situation will find its way to an end soon. But, I must go now, give Luc my best and tell him not to kiss too many pretty, young girls while I am away.
Luc waited for Iris to come downstairs and when she did, he motioned for her to sit at the table while he prepared some soup. Iris sat down expressionless as she fixated on Luc stirring the soup; almost hypnotized by the motion of the wooden spoon circling the pot. Luc placed a steaming bowl of broth in front of her and as she lifted the spoon to her lips, she coughed slightly and tears rolled down her face once again.
“Luc, I have to leave Paris, it’s too painful for me to be here. Every street corner, every bridge, every café reminds me of him. I walk around in a fog with a ghost beside me; I just can’t be here anymore.”
Luc understood her thought process and he agreed – nothing was going to bring back his brother, it was hopeless after all this time passed. They both needed to move forward with their lives.
The next day, a taxi arrived at the apartment and Luc helped carry Iris’ bags out to the car.
“Shall I come with you to the station?” he asked.
“No, I will be fine, please don’t worry. I will write to you in a few days.”
“I’ll be waiting patiently by the poste!” Luc winked and scooped her into his arms with a warm embrace.
“Au revoir,” he said as he kissed her on the forehead before she got into the taxi.
The car drove away and she turned to give him a final wave but he had already stepped back inside the building.
“Monsieur, can you drive by Le Pont des Arts.”
“ Ah, oui, Mademoiselle, pas de problème!” the driver replied.
He stopped the taxi before the bridge and Iris stepped out.
“Please wait here a moment.”
Iris walked onto the bridge, stopped at the center just under the lamppost and reached into her pocket. She pulled out Sébastien’s letter and took out the faded white orchid which was tucked into the folds of the letter. She lifted the orchid to her red, lipstick-stained lips and kissed it. She then tossed the red stained flower into the Seine as she wiped away a tear. A gentle spring breeze blew off the river as she looked down at the red padlock and remembered that magical night at the café.
Iris headed back towards the taxi.
“Gare de Nord, s’il vous plait, Monsieur.”
© 2012 Ann Ivy Male