Claude – Chapter Two
She awakes the next morning with the remnants of fragmented dreams still floating around in her head. Dreams of standing on a small, arched bridge overlooking a beautiful lily pond in the countryside somewhere. For a moment she wishes she could linger a bit longer with these memories, but she wants them to get an early start on exploring the other side of the Seine today.
After a breakfast of fresh, buttery croissants, chausson au pommes, and some very strong coffee, they set out together to see the sights of Paris’ Right Bank. The Musée du Louvre, Montmartre, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and Le Marais district are just a handful of the wonderful places to visit here and they cannot wait to get acquainted with this part of the city. They cross over the river via the Pont Royal and stroll along in the Jardin des Tuileries, reveling in what is shaping up to be a gorgeous day weather-wise.
They pass by the Louvre, remarking on how they really want to try and squeeze in a visit there as well during their stay, but the focus right now is finding the nearest Metro station so they can get to the Montmartre neighborhood and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. They hop on the line 12 Metro that will take them there, and settle into the well-worn seats while they observe many the passengers coming and going, heading to their daily destinations.
Her eye happens upon a man who seems to be watching the two of them intently from the far end of the crowded Metro car. She quickly shifts her gaze so as not to lock eyes with him, as she doesn’t want to draw any more attention to herself.
In her experience, strange men inspecting her in public places is usually something that instinctively raises a red flag or two, and she does feel a brief moment of unease, but it is quickly dispelled as she has a curious notion that this man is somehow familiar to her.
She turns to her husband, trying to act inconspicuously as she mumbles, “That man over there. Do you see him? He’s been staring at us for a while. He’s not some old work colleague of yours, is he?”
“Where? What man?” he says.
“The one down at the end of the train car there. With the bowler hat,” she says.
How can that be? she thinks. The Metro hasn’t even stopped to let anyone on or off since she noticed him. She looks again to the far end of the car and is surprised to learn that he is right, the portly bearded man she had seen was no longer there. He must have gone through to the connecting car via the sliding door when she was not looking, she figures. Arriving at their stop, they make their way back up above-ground to discover the storied Montmartre area and she thinks nothing more of the mysterious man on the subway.
Montmartre is just as picturesque as they had imagined, and the newlyweds have a wonderful time wandering the narrow cobblestone lanes together, eating lunch in a quintessentially Parisian café, and climbing the nearly 300 steps up to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. And what a magnificent view it is! The whole of Paris sprawled out below them, she excitedly points out the Eiffel Tower jutting out above the tiny rooftops in the distance.
“Of course. We won’t stay long, I promise!” he reassures her.
They head to the Metro station and she thinks about how truthfully, she really just wants to get back to the hotel to try on her new dress again. She is really looking forward to wearing it out that evening—and a long soak in the luxurious claw foot bathtub couldn’t hurt either, she thinks.
Place des Vosges is just lovely, and they stroll through hand-in-hand admiring the surrounding buildings and trees in the square. They find an empty bench to rest on, feeling enormous relief to be sitting for a while after a long day of walking and climbing hills and stairs. Just as she begins to relax a bit more, she catches a glimpse of a man over by one of the square’s stone fountains across the way. The same bearded man from the Metro earlier in the day.
“Look, there he is again!” she exclaims, pointing and not even bothering to hide her surprise.
“Who?” he asks, gazing in the direction she is gesturing to.
“The man from the train! The one who was watching us today!” she says.
The man smiles at the two of them from behind the fountain and gives a short little wave. They wave back, with awkward and unsure smiles on their faces, and then turn to each other to giggle a bit at the strange situation. Has he been following us? she thinks. She yet again has an inkling that she somehow knows this person and does not at all feel intimidated or scared by the idea of it, but has no idea who the man might be. The older man has kind eyes and a gentle demeanor that feels comforting to her. As they look back, he is once again nowhere to be seen. If they see him again, she vows to herself that she will approach him and find out who he is.
Back in their suite after a wonderful bubble bath, she has finished doing her hair and makeup and stands in front of the closet in the plush hotel robe and slippers. Pulling the doors open, she sees her dress hanging there just as she had left it and grabs the hanger off the rail, ready to put it on. As she lays it on the bed, she notices a slight difference in the color of the fabric. Or thinks she does anyway. She was sure that the silk was a pale, neutral rose, but now it looks to have a lavender tint to it. She picks it up again, guessing it must just be the lighting, and now the dress appears to have a periwinkle blue hue to it. And now a deeper pink in some places. How had she not noticed this before? She points it out to him and he remarks, “Hey, you’re right! I didn’t notice that either yesterday. It must be a trick of the light on the fabric. It’s really pretty this way too though. Do you still like it like this?”
She puts on the dress and he zips her into it as she puts on her favorite necklace and earrings. She adds gold heels and a bead embellished clutch bag to complete the ensemble and they are ready to go. Their taxi waits outside to take them to Le Train Bleu, the iconic Belle Époque era restaurant housed in the Gare de Lyon railway station, and the ride there allows them the chance to marvel at the just how enchanted the city looks when illuminated at night.
As they step inside the renowned Le Train Bleu, she is taken aback by the opulence and grandeur. Gilded chandeliers and ornamental decor, exquisitely painted ceilings, wood paneling, and its signature blue seating leave them both in awe. They are seated at one of the establishment’s best tables and delight for the next few hours in the excellent extended meal in this wondrous setting.
Not being able to finish another bite and feeling both full and satisfied, they are keen to get back to their hotel to relax and turn in early after this long, eventful day. As they are saying their goodbyes to the staff on the way out, the maître d’ remarks on how beautiful the colors and pattern of her dress compliment the decor of the restaurant. She gives him a quizzical look, not quite sure what his meaning is, but her husband points out in honest surprise, “He’s right! What a funny coincidence,” furrowing his brow a bit, “I certainly don’t recall the colors being this vivid when we left the hotel.”
She glances down at the skirt of her dress and gasps as she notices the faint lavender, periwinkle, and pinkish tones from earlier in the evening are absolutely “singing” in contrast with each other and now there are green hues added as well. She can also see a slight pattern or print showing through to the upper layer of silk from the underskirt. It appears to be a botanical print. Soft, rounded shapes giving the impression of delicate flowers that float in and out of focus as she moves. Her mind instantly recalls her dream from the night before of standing on that small, rounded bridge overlooking a pond of serene water lilies.
She feels her face flush, and they make a quick exit from Le Train Bleu, both of them completely bewildered at yet another change in her new dress from the delightful little boutique yesterday. As they step outside to hail a taxi, she notices the same man from twice earlier today, standing beside one of the lamp posts that line the street. She feels a rush of confidence overcome her and before her love can react, she breaks free from his his hand that had been intertwined with hers and walks quickly over to the grizzled older man.
“Ah, yes. Yes, I have indeed taken an interest in you, I hope you don’t mind me saying,” the man tells her in English with a thick French accent.
“Who are you? Or rather, what is your name…Monsieur…?” she asks.
“My name is Oscar. But I am more well known around here as Claude. Claude Monet. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Madame,” and he gives his bowler hat a little tip towards her and smiles.
– Valerie Torres
End of Chapter Two