I skirted the crowds in the forecourt of Notre Dame. Even in December, even after dark, even when it is as cold as a bitch the crowds still gather in the front of that magnificent structure.
I heard the great cathedral clock’s musical foreplay ahead of the chiming of the hour as I passed the outer periphery of the forecourt. I avoided a direct cross court transit of Place du Parvis Notre Dame by going down its peripheral street to the quai. Then I walked the quai to Pont Saint-Michel. During that transit, the chiming of the hour commenced. I made the mental note that it was five o’clock and already dark.
God I had been with that journal for a long time.
Crossing Pont Saint-Michel the sky was set aglow with a garish green by a microphone blaring tour boat on its way back down river to mooring and yet another cargo of tourists.
It being nearly Christmas there was already a vast hoard of tourists. I heard the twang of American English, the musical flow of Spanish and Italian and the staccato abruptness of British English. I heard others that I had no idea as to their origin. Along with the lights of the City of Lights ought to be noted the vast mélange of sounds of the place.
By the time I entered the square and looked at Le Départ on my left, I felt as if I had come back out of a rabbit hole that I had been tumbling down and from which I had nearly not departed. I had a distant feeling of having had that feeling before. In any event, I felt ready to begin to divest myself of all the things that I had written in my account of what I have been doing in Paris and to abruptly divest myself of any further reading of the journal.
I felt as if I had escaped from something deeply sinister. I was glad to be regaining perspective. Every step closer to Le Départ seemed to heighten that feeling of perspective gain.
I took a table in the inside. The inside of restaurants has recently become a non smoking place. So that is where I – who have previously always preferred the covered front sidewalk areas of cafes – now seat myself. Those covered outside places have become places where the salmon ought to be placed to produce Saumon Fumé.
I was ravenous.
I ordered boeuf tartare sans oeuf. The first time I summoned the courage to order this delicacy I had either forgotten, or just didn’t know – I always argued with myself as to which had been the case – that in a deep depression in the center of the wonderful mound of raw chopped beef was a raw egg.
That egg had not been easy to get out of there without breaking the yoke. It took some surgical scooping to alleviate that problem.
So I ordered sans oeuf.
The boeuf comes with a large complement of pommes frites. With the addition of fifty centiliters de côte du Rhone (I was not interested in screwing around with fifty’s baby brother le quart) delivered substantially in advance of my boeuf and frites, and substantially consumed with alacrity, I felt myself to be almost fully back to a life that had begun to slip away into some sort of dark and macabre dimension.
I must, I began to tell myself, as I got deeper into the wine, have imagined all that had happened since the dream of Montsouris. Hell, since the Seine had started taking control of me.
The côte de Rhone went down way too easy.
My full glass was all that was left by the time the food arrived. And the food had arrived quite quickly.
My waiter asked me if I would like another wine. “Absolutement! Un autre” almost passed my lips. But I wanted to act responsibly. After what I deemed to be an appropriate pause – as if in deep consideration of what I wanted - and in a tone that I hoped was not of too great an enthusiasm, I said “Oui, mais un quart cette temps.” “Bien sur Monsieur” was said with an ironic little shrug.
I can’t describe the manner in which I began to consume the meat and frites. I was so hungry, and now so well on my way to being somewhat drunk that I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm for real food after what had been days without.
I t was out of the corner of my eye that I saw it.
It was a bird, not a mouse. Small birds, mostly English sparrows like to get inside the restaurants and live a fat life off the crumbs and seeds that abound on the floors between sweepings.
So I wasn’t too surprised that a rather prosperous looking English sparrow had taken a perch on the back of the chair across from me. I had seen many of them at Le Départ before. Perhaps this one, I thought, might even be one that has sat looking at me before.
He looked at me.
I looked at him.
I knew he was a he because English sparrows have fairly distinct gender color differences.
He hopped down from his perch to my table and took a look at the red mound and the frites. He hopped a bit closer, cocked his head and said “you need to eat more green vegetables.”
Talking mice notwithstanding, a talking bird was one more apparition than I was willing to take seriously.
I took a massive scoop of boeuf, and dredged it through the minced onion and shoved it in my mouth with what I hoped was vast abandon.
I stared at him.
He stared at me.
“So you almost starved yourself?”
I couldn’t believe that I had been drawn in again to talking to something not human. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was the rational thing to do.
“Now that you are on the trail of where you need to be – now that you have started reading what has been written; now that you are reading the journal – you have verged on madness. And on that verge, you have lost perspective and balance and even lost your deeply imbued hedonistic need for food and drink.”
He stopped and looked at me for a measured moment and then continued.
“That is not good.”
I had to say something.
“You seen a fat mouse around here?”
“He is at your feet.”
I felt as if all that had been lifted from me since I had crossed the forecourt what must by then to have been an hour before had been returned with some sort of metaphysical interest tacked on. Is there a bank of the metaphysical? And can it tack on interest fees to the intrusions of its minions into the lives of people who are only trying to “just get through it”?
I looked down and there was Gus. I guess his real name is Jacques, or Moustache, or something. He was in the small space that allowed transit between the tightly spaced tables. He was there, looking dapper as usual.
He looked up at me. I looked over to the next table to see if the three young women who were chirping happily to one another were aware of a mouse in their presence.
They were not.
He deigned to look more closely at me and spoke.
“There is little time. You need to rescue her – right now” he said.
That was exactly what he had said at Deux Magots before disappearing. Why hadn’t he stayed at Deux Magots to talk it out with me then?
I could see that I had already been re-launched on the slippery slope.
As I was going through all of that thinking the mouse looked at me and moved from directly in front of me to the flange of the pedestal that was the base for the single vertical member of the table. That put him in where my feet were resting on that flange on the ground and underneath the table. It also put him more out of the general line of sight. Someone would have to be looking for him to see him.
“Is that better?” I heard in my head.
“Oh great! Now he is using telepathy” I thought to myself.
Apparently I hadn’t thought it only to myself because I immediately heard, again in my head, “weren’t you getting all nervous and jerky about having to talk to a mouse? Come on, give me a break. We need to talk, and need to talk right now. In fact we have needed to talk for a very long right now”.
“You can hear me?” I caught myself, in spite of myself, thinking.
“Absolutely. I use this way all the time when my clients don’t want to be seen, even by themselves, talking to a mouse.”
“Later on that. And only if you need to know. Right now we need to talk about Adrianna. I thought I made that clear last time.”
“Just so. You really don’t remember me do you?”
The circle had been completed.
“Two answers: yes and no. Why should I?”
“Because we have been through all of this before.”
“Before? When before? And where before?”
“You are obviously agitated. Would you prefer that I come back at another time? I must tell you, though, that there isn’t much – time.”
“Agitated? Hysterical I would say. I have dreams of women on islands and they engulf me briefly in ecstatically intense amorous activity and then tell me I must take flint and then they disappear because – as I said – they are only dreams.
Agitated? I have a journal that has stories that I don’t remember writing about men sleeping under ancient oaks and being banished and going down night blackened rivers and seeing visions in cliffs of flint.
Agitated? I feel as if, and I know I am talking to a mouse, that I have lost the whole thread of whatever it was that I had thought to be a life – my life – about two or three months ago.
Suicidal might be a better description.”
Somewhere in the midst of all of those words I had apparently started talking rather than telepathing what I was saying. And I had inadvertently risen to the spirit of the occasion with the level of my voice. The three young women who had not had the need to be concerned about a mouse at their feet definitely were beginning to wonder if they might have the need to be concerned about a madman at the table next to them.
I smiled at them.
They smiled back.
I lowered my voice.
It felt better talking rather than thinking.
“Jacques, please help me. What is this all about? What is it that I am supposed to do.?”
“You need to save her. You have missed twice now. Try to get it right this time”
And then he was gone.
I was getting pretty tired of his dramatic exits.
I sat there and poured the second of the two glasses that a quart yields – I fill them pretty full - took a sip and tried to think what was next.
The whole exchange had taken such a brief amount of time that I still had a comforting amount of food to eat. And I still had a deep ravenous well of hunger to apply such wonderful food to. So I ate some frites and had another onion coated scoop of boeuf and tried to think about something other than the dreams, the journal, the mouse, the English sparrow and the other weird events that have been populating my life for the last couple months.
The food was great. I ate it all. Then I ordered a crepe flambé and another glass of wine. That decision was driven by two factors: I was still monstrously hungry; I wasn’t ready to go back to the apartment.
If I were being totally honest with myself there was really a third factor. And that factor, if I were ever able to get it clearly into the light of my conscious scrutiny, I distinctly felt, would outweigh either or both of the other two. If only I could get it out of the shadowy limbo that it seemed to inhabit. If only I could get it to be more than an irritating feeling of something almost seen, or almost felt. If only I could get it into a clearly focused set of pictures or set of words, or even set of clear feelings. If only - I kept feeling it ever more clearly - if only I could, it would; would what; show the way?
“You are on the right track.” I heard the mouse in my head.
I stared across the room in the general direction of Notre Dame and watched as my server poured the heated calvados on the crepe and lit it. Blue flames jumped above the crepe’s surface and the sugar began to melt to caramel.