(Recently I spent 18 days in Europe in first, London, then Paris, and last of all, Madrid. I was quite bedazzled by Paris. On my first night there, after a long day of sightseeing, I sat down and wrote this.)
MY EVENING IN PARIS with the MYSTERIOUS VERONICA
I'm sitting alone at my writer's table a story above the Paris streets listening and watching, sniffing the air a mile and a half from the Eiffel Tower.
A hubbub of autos, the scent of diesel smoke, flickering lights from across the way paint the scene as my story begins...
"BRASSERIE" the sign reads.
It is a large sign of white lettering on bright red paint. It means “informal restaurant” with a large selection of drinks.
It is just below me on the avenue directly opposite my window.
Somehow this is both TV, Cinema, and real life on a much larger Hi-Definition screen: my eyeballs.
The tiny tables of clustered couples whispering with love, politics, and other misunderstandings fascinate me.
Something is happening every moment in Paris.
It is alive and it lives in a way I'd never have understood before today.
Slim well-attired men and women hustle by with purpose on their visage; swift and alert to life's secret possibilities.
Young men are laughing now. I can't help but peek. Of course, the men are smoking and the curling white trail of smoke follows the animation of their expressive hands.
Elsewhere, two couples sit ruminatively. They are very ancient. Just what are they doing? What is the story of each of these subjects?
A writer might well wonder.
And I do.
You may as well know...
I have chosen the woman in the tight white dress. For what? (Smile) My attention, of course.
Inspection--close inspection is required. (Pardon me one moment--I am working).
She has incredible red lips, this one!
What is her probable age? Who cares?
She is old enough to be able to laugh if I say clever things to her. She will apprehend and think me a wicked wit.
I'll flash what's left of a practiced smile at her and her half-smile may pause at the corners and subsequently widen.
Maybe. Maybe not. But perhaps.
Now I have unsheathed my discrete set of binoculars. (a Creepy guy on the terrace: call the Gendarmes?)
No. No. It's not like that.
I'm weighing chances based on simple observation.
She's alone. That is important, is it not?
On purpose? Don't know yet.
She's not unhappy, nervous, or bored.
There is no ever-present cell phone. Her eyes remain level.
The crowd is not for glancing. Her contemplations are personal--but--perhaps not too personal.
Ah, that's worth knowing.
I'm here in Paris with nobody in my world to love..." that" way.
No no no. The other "that" way. Romantically.
I've never been in this Parisian world before in my life. Nothing really has prepared me; only unreal suggestions in books and cinema have hinted at some kind of otherworldly experience.
So--where is mine--my experience?
The equation is simple: nothing ventured; nothing gained.
It may even prove to be fun to put on my sports coat and climb down all those stairs.
I'd emerge and head straight for her.
(Look at him! Who is he? What does want?)
"Hello" I would say with a natural tone.
I'd continue right away.
"I am a writer here in Paris for the first time trying oh so hard to end my novel. I saw you from up there..."
I would point to my window. (Reverse angle the cinematographer might say.)
She is now intrigued. She would look upward and nod.
"I need an ending to my story and I do not know if it is to be a happy one or otherwise."
I would stop and become a detective of her expressions.
"Something inside of me--the "Muse" if you will believe--is missing. I think I have found her...that is...if you are agreeable to a small conversation, not intrusive at all...can you help. What I mean is, will you...help?"
I'd say my name at that point and ask her name as well.
How would it go?
Badly for sure! But you must understand: THIS IS FOR ADVENTURE alone--not for acquisition.
The interest comes with the suspense...not knowing.
How she goes about murdering my flirtation will tell me so much I need to know--I can end my book with a very special sort of ending.
Having heard this--you might want to know how it would go simply out of curiosity and diversion.
Let us begin...
"I'm sitting alone at my writer's table a story above the Paris streets listening and watching, sniffing the air.
A hubbub of autos, the scent of diesel smoke, flickering lights from across the way paint the scene as my writer's heart quickens and the story begins..."
Remember when I wrote that--way at the top of the page?
My story has, by now, finished.
I did go downstairs.
I did walk over and speak to the lady in the tight white dress with the amazing red lips.
Something ventured, something gained.
Her name is Veronica and she says it: VEER O Neek a.
Veronica is 55 and it is her first day in Paris as well!
Coincidence? I think not. (Smile)
Her mother died recently after a long illness and Veronica is determined to shake off the shadow of all that death by giving herself a few days in the City of Lights.
She invites me to join her. (The adventure begins…)
Burgundy appears with a tired waiter attached. He chats in French with my companion. She shrugs. (I think he asked if I am a prospect.)
I elect to sit quietly for a moment to allow the evening its chance.
The chance to become a "Bella Notte" (beautiful night. No--wait--that’s Italian.)
Veronica had the bill paid before I could say anything.
Glasses are poured adroitly and eyebrows raise slightly.
I spoke spontaneously:
"To the chapters that end so the next ones can begin."
Veronica asks me to repeat this slowly and explain. Her English is pretty damn good.
After a bit, she says to me, "Aux chapitres qui se terminent les suivants peuvent commencer."
I ask her to write it down and she does.
I looked it up a while ago. She simply repeated what I said.
But--let's face it--French sounds nicer.
"What sort of book it is you are writing?"
"The kind where you make each tiny part a puzzle to be solved and let the readers guess where it ends."
"Then, a Mystery?"
"No. An Autobiography."
Veronica of the luscious lips and tight white dress crosses her left leg over her right one and tilts her head.
"It is your story...obviously. What else you have written?"
I go into it briefly and she makes me show her the books on Amazon.
Obviously, there is the sense that I am an old "bool-shitter". She says as much until satisfied there is a real me.
"These books...tell me. Why you have written them?"
I explain. She listens. Nods.
The air contains no chill. Amber lights on that amazing tower appear to wink. A bicycle rattles by with a loose front fender. I glance at Veronica’s thoughtful expression and a little tingle begins making its way up my leg.
"Very well. I will be your Muse. I've nothing better to do--but you must make for me the promise..."
"What is it I'm promising?"
"I want to read my name in a book one day. I want to be a character. Can you do that? Will you promise--if I properly Muse for you?"
"This promise I am willing to make--if you Muse for me."
And with that--the evening got off to a very promising beginning.
Her voice can only be described as a soft purr. A lioness.
I listened like a three years child and what I hear prickles the little hairs on my neck.
Veronica believes in ghosts. In fact, she has one. In her house!
Veronica believes in Fate. It is ALL planned. We cannot escape.
Her Grandmother was a Calvinist. Oh yes. Predestination and all that rubbish.
I made a skeptical pout with my lips.
I told her that she must be the ghost because ghosts are already at the end of their story and it cannot be changed.
That won me a laugh. Is it funny? If so--I don't see it.
"What are the duties of the Muse?"
Veronica asked with a particularly wicked insinuation I couldn't grasp. Not directly. I intuited. I think--maybe not.
"A Muse is a very real thing," I explained.
She giggled, "But ghosts aren't real things and you called me one."
I knew this game. She is going to show I can be tied in knots. It is a triumph to do so. For her. Not so for me.
"Missing the point." I chided and followed up with, "It is not the Muse herself--ghost or no ghost--but the importance of the Muse directly to the writer that counts. For a writer, the Muse creates the desire itself for the writer to begin, continue, and complete the story which must be told.”
"My Mother's ghost followed me here."
It is at this point--Terry is having doubts about somebody's sanity.
Is this pursuit dangerous to her or to me? On the other hand, it will make a dandy story to share; more than an anecdote...maybe. Perhaps much more than a story.
What happens next was not planned, of that I'm sure.
I don't believe in Fate.
I believe in reasons.
Veronica reached for her handbag on the cement next to her chair. Her cell phone. Pictures--photos. She indicates I am to begin looking at them.
I scroll across funeral arrangements, strangers dressed in suits, a foreign car with a flat tire and some unknown fat man sweating as he changes his tire. Finally, I find the photos Veronica wants me to see.
Yes. It really does look to be a convincing series of three photos taken in surrounding darkness. Her bedroom. A weird, smoky light, a kind of person or lady or--I dunno.
“Yes. This could really be a real ghost.”
It feels silly to say that.
I said it. She stared at me searching for something. Sincerity?
A sense of humor? Malice?
Then, she really got to me when what she did next happened. I was startled. I mean...for real.
She reached down into her blouse from the top and tugged on a fine gold chain, retrieving a locket.
Into my hands the startlingly warm object she placed. I sat dumbly gawking down at it.
“You do know how to open un médaillon, no?”
I nodded ape-like. Then, I pried it open and sat staring down at what at first appeared to be a photo of my own mother!
Was I shocked? Oh my. Of course, it couldn’t be MY mother but I was rattled--I’ll say I was.
“How do you see it?”
Veronica asked in a way that unhinged me just a little. No, that’s understating my feeling. I sensed she actually knew what I was thinking: the dead woman’s photo had a deep personal connection for me.
“The resemblance is--” I couldn’t find my words. My mouth just worked like a goldfish for a few seconds.
Veronica laughed a little.
“You see?” Life is not so simple as we think. No?”
Of all the crazy people and things I’ve encountered in my lifetime...this was shaping up to being top of my list.
“I felt you’d understand.” Enigmatically spoken, of course. Veronica waved the waiter over as I plodded through my befuddlement. Two more drinks, ordered and paid.
“I don’t know what you mean, but I was momentarily startled at the resemblance between your mother and my own mother.”
The waiter was offering me an odd look. Veronica sipped her drink slowly, watching my every expression not unlike a therapist.
“Your mother was French, no?” Her eyes widened curiously.
I involuntarily made some kind of stupid snort--not so much a laugh.
“Yes. Well, half French and half German.”
“My mother too.”
I gulped an ungentlemanly amount of red wine and made an exasperated face.
“Just to be specific, my mother’s name was Lillian. Your mother’s name--please tell me, was NOT.”
Veronica found this more funny than not. Her head slowly pivoted side to side.
“No-o-o. Her name is--was, Noelle. Your mother is no longer living. She died when?”
“Say, are you a famous clairvoyant or Gypsy spiritualist...or something?”
Veronica raised one eyebrow.
“We don’t say such things anymore. I am a ‘Sensitif’ and that is nothing particular about to worry.”
I handed her the locket or medallion and sought a change of subject.
“I’m sorry for your loss. My Mom died almost thirty years ago. This is much too beautiful a night to speak of death--don’t you agree? Better to speak of happy things. What will you do tomorrow--any plans?”
“I plan not to plan. One step follows the other. I did hear an old song today and it made me very happy, would you like to hear?”
I expected iTunes. Instead, Veronica leaned forward and placed her hand upon my knee and began tunefully singing in a low, sweet voice.
“Il faut savoir (You must know how to leave the table
When love is served
Without clinging to the pitiful air
But leaving without making a sound
You have to know how to hide your pain
Under the mask every day in life” )
It sounded happy--the way she sang it. I looked up the lyric later and--not so much.
Only once before did I experience a beautiful girl singing directly to me alone but she was too young and I was too dull to do anything but squirm. Tonight was different. This was a full-blooded woman and not too young. I was not at all dull but I certainly did squirm.
Veronica sensed my puzzlement.
“I am musing well, no?”
That got an easy laugh from me. Of course. Of course. She was only doing her job--playing her role.
“You’d make a fine actress. You missed your calling.”
(Frown) “This you cannot know. I am the actress. I have been--how do you say? Celebrated. Yes. I have been photographed, painted, courted, and pursued in my life. What have I not been? I have not been written. This would please me much. I do my muse and you do your écrit du coeur with my name and this is our bargain!”
All of this was spoken with a robust--almost passionate intensity.
I stopped thinking and took an inventory.
First, I was incredibly naive about women. I am a man who knows so little about women I tend to marry them as a lepidopterist swings his net. I study them as an alien life form because I can’t comprehend how or why they do anything.
Secondly, Veronica is grieving. She is trying to escape from that grief. This makes her open to almost anything distracting. Of course, her dialogue is crazy--what would I expect?
What is this thing happening in Paris on this particular night? Distraction--only that. Veronica is trying hard and I must either do my part or break off all pretense.
“You are a wonderful Muse, Veer-oh-neek! I’m now glowing with your electricity--brightly--a feverish writer eager to inscribe your name in a story all its own--unique and eternal.”
Slowly and with a studied expression on her lovely face, Veronica nodded and lifted a different smile, hoisted proudly like a national flag to be saluted. We sipped our Burgundy in silence.
“What is tomorrow for you--what plans?” She asked sincerely.
I explained places and times. She nodded.
Silence. Sipping. The street sounds would rise and fall and couples nearby continued laughing or arguing and the air moved only a little around our ankles, feeling like an affectionate kitten amusing itself.
“If I were a younger man with world enough and time…” I began, watching her eyes brighten a little, “I’d probably write for you a poem or a song to impress you with my talent and tickle your interest.”
“But?” She cocked her head knowingly.
“But--I’m not a young man and have little time and realize all too well you’ve already read those poems, listened to such songs and tomorrow for you is another day. So, here is what I propose...”
“You now proposition for me?”
“Not THAT sort--I propose-- I allow you to remain a mysteriously beautiful woman on a perfect September night in this magical City of Lights for the purpose of igniting an explosion of imagination for my storytelling adventure in which you’ll become an unforgettable character. Would that please you?”
Veronica started to speak and stopped herself. Those red lips were moving but the message was interior--for herself alone. She sipped the last of the Burgundy and dabbed the corners of her lips with the red linen cloth nearby.
“Agreed! But how will I read this--this immortality of mine. I mean--memorial...no--how do you say it?”
“You mean, how will you get a copy of my story about you. Yes, well--give me a way to contact you and i’ll---”
“No. Give me a way to reach you. After a passing of time, I’ll contact you and you’ll send it. No?”
I did exactly as she suggested.
I rose from the table and spoke a few silly things and she laughed. I was trying to decide if I should try to embrace her when she suddenly grabbed both my shoulders with her strong hands and stood on tiptoe. She bestowed three kisses like Charles De Gaulle pinning medals on a hero.
Right cheek, left cheek, right cheek.
This struck me not silly at all. In fact, I could feel a warm rush suffuse every part of me with--with what? I can’t pin it down. No--I do know--I was proud of myself for handling this…’situation’ exactly right.
And so was she.
Veronica and I looked into each others’ face one last time and laughed. I turned without saying adieu and made my way across the street back into the interior of my building and slept like a man at peace.
It has been about a month. Only now, this Sunday morning, have I finished my little story.
If you’re out there someplace, Veronica (and I know you are) here its.
Mon histoire de Veronica est comme un médaillon avec la photo de votre mère. Quelque chose de bien triste.