I’m sitting out on the terrace of the cafe and there she is again. I don’t recognize her, per se, but it’s what she’s wearing. I’d seen her walking along the Rue de la Paix the day before, wearing the exact same thing: an oversized dark brown fur coat, a stylish hat with two tall feathers pointed to the sky, and most mysterious of all, the lacy veil that covers the lower half of her face. It was her style that had my attention first. It caught my photographer’s attention too and he snapped a photo of her on the spot. But now, sitting just two tables down from her in the evening light, it is her eyes that I cannot look away from. They carry in them what seems a mischievous smile and it’s like they already know what I’m thinking.
I take another sip of my drink. Again, I glance over at her. She catches me and I turn my head quickly back toward the street. It’s dark except for the electric lights glowing softly. The road is wet and shiny from the rain that went by not an hour ago. The traffic rolls lazily by. There are a few people walking alone on the sidewalk. I’m conflicted but I cannot help myself. I look over again. Our eyes meet. It’s the third time and I carry it as a principal that if two people look at each other more than twice they should be obligated to speak. So I finish my drink and walk over to her table. The cafe is quiet and we’re alone on the terrace.
“Bonsoir,” I say.
“Bonsoir,” she replies in her soft voice.
“Vous parlez Anglais?”
“Oui, you are American, no?” she asks.
“Yes. May I sit with you?”
She nods kindly and I sit down. She is still wearing her veil but as I now sit across from her I can see the corners of her eyes crinkle and I know that she’s smiling. I smile too as the waiter comes over to our table. He has a thick grey mustache and walks with a slight limp.
“Will you drink?”
“Un verre de Vermouth,” she says. I ask for a Seltzer.
“Do you not drink l’alcohol?” she asks me.
“Sometimes, but not right now.”
“And you are visiting France? So many Americans like to visit Paris these days.”
“Working. I’m a journalist. I’m covering the war.”
“This dirty war.”
“Yes. Maybe another 1870, they say. ”
The waiter sets the drinks down onto the marble table top. I watch her as she takes the veil from her face and lays it down on the table, picking up her drink. She’s looking at me. Her face is very pale and the skin is tight over high cheekbones and she has a beautiful smile with her thin lips. But closer now, in her eyes, I can see that it has never been easy for her.
“And what about you?” I say, “do you live in Paris?”
“Yes,” but she says no more.
“And what do you do here?”
“Ehh, how do you say in American, ‘This and little of that.’”
She has a lovely voice and I like to hear her speak.
“You look very chic. I like your get-up as we say in American”
“Your outfit, I like your outfit. I think it’s swell.”
“Merci. Ma mère était couturière.”
“Desolé. My mother made dresses. She was always very en vogue.”
“What does she do now?”
She doesn’t say anything and stares straight ahead. I’m looking at her but she will not look at me.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“I don’t like to speak about my mother.”
We sit in a silence that seems to say a thousand words.
She turns to me and says in English, “Would you like to walk with me?”
“Yes,” I say and I leave the money for the drinks on the table.
It’s starting to rain again.