Camille – Chapter Three
She thinks that the mysterious man must be pulling a prank on them and that he was most likely one of those guides that dress up like a famous person from history for tourists. Surely he couldn’t be the “real” Claude Monet, one of the most famous French Impressionist artists, because that would be preposterous!
“That had to be it.” She realizes, and feels a bit silly for even considering it in the moment and also unease at the fact that he had been following them this whole time. The man gestures to her dress and says with a small smile,
He snaps his fingers with a flourish and she feels a rush of warm air swirl around her body. Something tickles at her lower legs and she watches with astonishment as her dress begins to elongate until it flows gracefully past her ankles. Feeling a bit faint, she glances wide-eyed at her husband to find him staring back at her with the exact same incredulous expression on his face.
Her dress had now begun to billow out and gain more volume as it continued its metamorphosis: the waist tightened up like a corset, the silk fabric of the skirt layers arranged themselves into intricate folds across her hips and made tiny rows of pleats near the bottom. She gasped as the gown began to extend even further down cascading behind her and as she caught her reflection in a nearby shop window, she saw that an old-fashioned bustle had appeared underneath as well, creating fullness in the back. A series of feminine velvet bows and delicate ruffles began to to embellish the gown’s trailing skirts.
The neckline squares itself off, and long sleeves start to take shape around her forearms, ending with taffeta bows and ribbon accents.
She breaks into a wide smile as she spins around, admiring the beautiful workmanship of this enchanted garment, and her husband bursts out in stunned laughter as they witness this puzzling transformation together.
“I feel like I’ve stepped straight out of an 1870’s Tissot painting!” She exclaims, citing another of her favorite artists of the time who had so masterfully captured the fashions of the late 19th century. Long hair now elegantly coiled and pinned into an updo, her fingertips feel the softness of carefully arranged flowers and ribbons adorning a headpiece as she touches her head.
They had become so engrossed in this spellbinding spectacle, that neither of them had paid any attention to the print on the gown itself and what was happening to it. Monsieur Monet had stood back during the process, observing the couple with an amiable smile as they took all of this in.
The floral print that had indeed started to make a deeper impression at the restaurant had now completely come alive. It was at this moment that it all came together for her. The colors became more saturated and she could now clearly see that it was a MOVING rendering of delicate water lilies on a pond. The vibrant blue and green hues danced amongst the deep pinks and purples that swirled about in this painting come-to-life, the canvas of which was her wonderful new gown. The water gently undulated, seemingly from an intangible breeze, and she felt that if she gazed too long at it, she would somehow “fall into” this work of art.
Snapping out of its hypnotic spell, she exclaims, I see it now! in her head and then again out loud to both her husband and Claude Monet as she starts to comprehend why this was all feeling so familiar.
She has a Master of Fine Arts degree so she is kicking herself and feeling embarrassment for not noticing the connection earlier, but how could anyone foresee something like this happening? It’s ludicrous! she thinks, but oh-so extraordinary.
Monet tilts his hat at her in an almost imperceptible nod, and then lets out a hearty chuckle, remarking, “It is quite alright, my dear.”
“Maybe I AM still in a dream,” she muses. “There can’t be any other explanation because things like this don’t jus- ”
Her train of thought that had been flitting all over the place through her head quickly derails as she realizes that her husband is now also experiencing his own metamorphosis. Gone is his casual, dark suit and in its place is a very dapper, impeccably tailored black tailcoat and matching double-breasted waistcoat. Black trousers, a starched white shirt and bow tie, and a gold watch and chain completed his “new” look.
“Ah, but not quite…” Monsieur Monet notes, and as he flutters his fingers, a glorious top hat materializes out of thin air to settle snugly on her handsome partner’s head. The couple gleefully embrace like children in their excitement and delight at the turn of events the evening has taken.
Amused, Monet calmly waits until they have settled down a bit from the shock.
When she has determined that this is indeed all really happening, and not some bizarre, lucid dream, she asks, “Why me? Why us?”
The soft-spoken French Impressionist master, who is inexplicably existing in modern-day Paris, states, “Because you, my dear girl, are the spitting image of my beloved and dearly departed wife, Camille. The resemblance is remarkable! She was a very accomplished seamstress, and the dress you saw in the window was made by her out of her most-loved fabric. It have been waiting for the right person to fall in love with that dress, and when I saw you, I knew you were that special one.” He says with a wistful look in his eyes. “The bond the two of you have is very much like what I had with my Camille, and I want to help in any way I can to make your time in this city as magnificent as it can possibly be. I do miss her so.”
And with that, an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage arrives, clacking on the cobblestones as it pulls up beside the bewildered couple. Monsieur Monet gestures to it, nodding for them to get in as the door swings open on its own.
Looking each other up and down and admiring themselves in their newly acquired finery, the pair climb into their new means of transport for the evening. Claude executes a spry little jump as he ascends onto his seated place as he will be their coachman for the night.
Notre-Dame, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower, they experience it all and draw no attention from the rest of the city dwellers and tourists. With the exception of a select few who alongside Claude, attend very graciously to them, it’s as if they are in their own bubble. Their own magical Paris in an idealistic state.
At first, she is feeling a bit apprehensive about going about town in the elaborate “period” clothing that they are both in, but she quickly realizes that no one even notices. She had expected sharp looks from passersby, or perhaps arrogant withering glances from waitstaff assuming they were tourists playing in costumes, but all of those with whom they came into contact with couldn’t have been more genuine. The world was still there of course, the big city bustling and buzzing around them without a care—locals on their mobile phones oblivious to others, gentlemen smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and chatting outside tiny cafes, young people greeting each other with kisses as they meet up for a night on the town, tourists snapping selfies in front of everything they can manage. All of it still ticking and running like a well-wound clock. Except they are in their own sense of time and reality tonight and it is glorious.
After attending a performance of the Paris Opera Ballet at the extravagant Palais Garnier, there is one more place that their new friend Claude would like to take them to. He halts their carriage along the river Seine, and as the horses shuffle and snort, he alights from his seat above and guides them down to the water. There awaits a small rowboat that he helps the young couple get into, as it is very dark at the edge of the water. Ever their guide, Claude effortlessly rows the trio out into the center of the storied river. The water was oddly still and glass-like.
Paris at night viewed from the water is simply dazzling. The dramatic architecture, the gilded sculptures of Pont Alexandre III, the Eiffel Tower in all its luminous glory! The manner in which the lights illuminate the water with their reflections creates some of the world’s most exquisite scenery to behold.
As they float along, not feeling even the slightest hint of wind or chill, she hadn’t noticed that the tail end of her gown had shifted slightly and was now trailing behind them in the water off the edge of the tiny boat. Feeling a slight tug on the garment, she turns around.
“Oh! My dress is getting wet!” She shouts in dismay.
They are no longer the only ones to witness this magnificent scene. They watch as crowds of people start frantically gathering along the bridges and on the river’s banks, all vying for a better look. A collective gasp is heard from the mass of spectators and phones and cameras appear by the hundreds, and later by the thousands, as photos and videos are taken of this strange anomaly occurring on the river Seine.
Chatter and shouts from the crowds, traffic chaos and horns bleating as local news vans arrive, not even the sound of a helicopter in the distance flying closer disturbs the three souls in the tiny rowboat on this captivating evening.
“This is so incredibly wonderful, Monsieur Monet! Thank you so very much. We will never forget this, and your kindness and generosity toward us, two complete strangers.” She says warmly and he nods earnestly in agreement with his wife.
The couple also feel their own tears stinging their eyes as they agree that yes, indeed, Camille must have been someone extraordinarily special.
“I must take my leave now. You have filled my heart, and know with all certainty that my dear wife would have loved to have met the both of you as well. Until we meet again.” He smiles broadly, and in an instant Claude Monet vanishes leaving the newlyweds together on their boat on the river, blinking in wonder. They share a kiss, nestling into each other’s arms, and as they slowly drift past the commotion on the streets above, she glances up and is almost sure that she spots a quick flash of the enigmatic Claude Monet in the crowd — the REAL, Claude Monet she thinks and smiles — as he tips his bowler hat in their direction and swiftly disappears into the mass of people.
– Valerie Torres
~ Fin ~