by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents|
Book I: Windmills Everywhere
Chapter 4: Channel Tunnel Vision
part 1 of 2
Wonderful night’s sleep! Best I’ve had for a long time. Absolutely starving now!
Did I just think “absolutely”? Shame on you, Donna!
Right, bacon and eggs it is! Hope they’re still edible.
Nice breakfast. Fingers crossed.
Sun’s shining. Birds are singing. Mrs Y’s not vacuuming — yet. Nowhere special to go. Nothing special to do.
But dammit, there is, isn’t there?
But this is absurd. I can’t just waltz across to France to try and catch these people single-handed.
But they have to be stopped. I saw the Madeleine with my own eyes. So did Shaun. And he does seem to have such a good feel for what’s going on and what’s going to happen next.
But if he really cared, he’d be calling me to tell me ... to talk about Paris.
But he can’t afford to go. So he can’t call and suggest it, can he? That would be as good as asking me to pay for everything again. And I think I’d begin to suspect his motives.
But I still don’t think I can invite him myself. That would put him under so much pressure. Poor boy. Such an uncertain way of life! Must be really hard for him. And he probably doesn’t even have a passport.
No, if I’m going to Paris, I must go alone — to start with, at least. The Embassy can help me if I get into trouble. And Shaun can hold the fort back here ...
* * *
‘Hi Shaunie! So glad you answered first time!’
‘Always do my best ...’
‘Of course! Well, I’ve decided what to do.’
‘Paris, you idiot!’
‘Ah, right. OK, I’m listening.’
What’s the matter with the man?
‘I think I need to get over there as fast as possible and try to track them down. It won’t be as easy as the last two days, ’cos the city’s so big, but I’m going to buy a good pair of walking shoes and just get on with it. Nobody else cares ...’
‘I think that’s a noble decision, Donna. A far, far better thing than anyone ...’
‘Very funny. So, that’s it.’
‘Nothing. I was just wondering ... if you have any extra advice for me.’
‘Don’t think so, really. Oh, yes: always look left when you cross the street over there. And don’t drop your passport down the loo. And take a spare pair of knickers this time.’
‘How did you know ...?’
‘I didn’t, Donna. It was just an inspired guess. A little joke, right?’
So smart! So nice! And a little bit cheeky too!
‘Oh! Sorry. Well, I’ll follow all that sound counsel. Anything more weighty?’
‘Nah. Got too much on my own mind today.’
‘Right ... job-hunting again?’
‘Good luck, then! And perhaps I’ll call you later when I’ve fixed things up.’
‘OK. Well ... bye, then.’
Whatever happened to chivalry and romance?
Actually, he’s done a lot of that stuff for me, ever since I met him. Don’t be so ungrateful, Donna!
* * *
‘It’s me again!’
‘Right, I’ve booked a one-way ticket on the nine o’clock Eurostar tomorrow morning, and a week in a cheap room up near the Gare du Nord. No idea how long we’re ... I’m going to need to be there.’
‘OK. But are you sure about that room? I’ve heard it’s a bit rough around that area ...’
Aha! He does care, after all!
‘Well ... I didn’t think I’d need much luxury. Expecting to be busy most days and evenings. Just need a place to crash, you know ...’
‘I reckon you deserve a much better situation, and a bigger room in a smarter hotel. You’ll really appreciate it after a hard day’s knight work.’
Ha-ha-ha! And now he’s giving me some good advice at last!
‘Hmmm ... You know, I think you may be right. I really don’t have to scrimp, with all Mother’s money sitting there. And it is a very good cause, isn’t it?’
‘There, you see! You knew what you needed to do all along.’
‘Yes, I did, didn’t I? OK, I’ll take your advice and go for something nicer ... perhaps down near the Opéra.’
‘That sounds good. Safe journey, then.’
‘Right. Thanks, Shaun. Speak to you soon ...’
Damn, that’s made me think of Mother again! How had I managed to forget about her and what she did? Or didn’t do? Or ...
* * *
OK, that’s the new hotel sorted. What a treat! Much more suitable! And you never know ... Ah, someone’s left me a voice message ...
‘Donna, it’s Liz. Look, it’s over a week since we spoke. Well, I spoke and told you how concerned I was. And you just said I should let you be. That hurt, you know. But I’m still very worried about you, girl. Do give me a quick call, eh?’
And I’m worried about much bigger things, girl! All you ever do is ply me with soppy advice and guidance!
Right, I need to think about packing. And some music to help me with it. Something very suitable ...
Yes, Leonard, of course!
Ah, that’s just perfect. Take me down, sisters. Merci.
So, what am I going to need? Jeans, tops, jacket — simple stuff for touring. And spare ... everything. Hah! So, here we go .......
OK, that part was easy. But I’ll need something special too, now I’m staying in that hotel! Hmmm ... nothing very smart or flattering here! Or very ... inviting. Can’t possibly wear that! Or that! Or THAT! Dull, dull, dull! God, it’s a long time since I even thought about new fashions, let alone bought anything. I may just have to go shopping this afternoon.
Or should I travel light, as well as blind, Lennie?
Yes! I can treat myself to some lovely new clothes as soon as I arrive. Gotta buy those walking shoes, anyway.
Which reminds me. Still a fair bit of slack on my credit card, but I’m going to need plenty of cash in hand, and lots more available in my current account, in case ... well, in reserve. OK, I’ll call the bank later and pull across everything I’ve got in the online saver account.
Hmmm ... that still won’t leave me enough for a proper stay in Paris, including some nice new clothes, will it? Especially if ...
Right, where’s the phone number for my easy-access savings?
‘No, I’m afraid that’s not fast enough — I’ll need it transferred overnight, please. I have to be able to use my bank debit card for cash and a lot of purchases, here and in France, from tomorrow morning.’ ... ‘What? That’s extortionate! Just to let me have my own money now, rather than next week?’ ... ‘OK, OK, it’s an industry-standard fee. I give in. I’m so happy. Just do it for me, please, straight away.’ ... ‘Done? Thank you very much.’
OK, dearest Leonard, you’ve had your sweet and sombre say. Never go away. But I need peace and quiet again now. And I am feeling rather tired after all this activity. Maybe I’ll just have a little ...
No, can’t waste the day sleeping. Got to make Parisian plans! But perhaps a little something to put me in the mood first? I know, I’ll read L’Enfer again! Have to get through it quite fast, though. Time for one of Donna’s little helpers, I think. Here, little piggy-piggy, snort, snort, snort ...
Halfway through already. Such wonderful writing, but it’s hitting me too hard right now. Oh Mother, why didn’t you tell me?
Gonna need another little sniffle to get this finished .......
Aahhhh, that’s better! Back to the wall!
God, I’m feeling so low again. And I’d forgotten about this — and on the last bloody page, of course:
There is neither vulture nor gods ... There is no hell, no inferno except the frenzy of living. There is no mysterious fire. I have stolen the truth.
Well, thank you very much, Monsieur Barbusse. Just what I needed right now.
I know, I know — that wasn’t fair. Not your fault at all, sir. It was that other man’s.
Oh, it’s three o’clock already! I need some lunch.
* * *
Stale bread and fromage mousetrap. Lovely.
Oh, you really should have told me, Mother! Not stolen my truth and left me burning in a mysterious fire. You really should have TOLD ME!
Dammit, how can I do anything in this foul mood? I need to come up again fast. Once more into the rocks ...
Aahhhh, that’s better again! Got my life back for a while! Nothing’s impossible now! Where’s the Magical Mystery Tour? ... Got it! Off we go then, Johnnie ...
Yes! Roll up, roll up! And screw the planning — I wanna read some more! Steppenwolf, here I come again!
That was fun until it stopped. Feeling really bad again now. But Hermine’s just told poor Harry he’s going to have to kill her. Can’t leave him in limbo there. He’s still got to try and make it with her! So, one more giant snort for mankind, Donna ...
I’m crying, John. I’m crying. Why did he have to do that to you? He loved you, yeah, yeah, yeah. And why did Harry have to do that too? Why do we always hurt the ones we love?
I know, that was stupid of me — again. Of course we have to. Hole-in-the-walrus man understood that. Lovers are enemies rather than friends.
Pizza, Donna! Heat up and eat up. Then get to bed. You don’t have a novel (or even a song) to write, but you do have a train to catch. And don’t switch on the frigging TV. You know it makes sense ...
* * *
Thurs eve, about ten ...
Not fair, Mother. Just not fair.
Ennui, Anouilh, on we go, Shaunie.
Hah, small chance! Still, there’s a first time for everything. Everything.
Was going to plan my first day in Paris ... never quite got round to it ... too busy ... too bad! ... just take it gently tomorrow ... travel and shopping and check out the Madelaine ... is that the right spelling? ... doesn’t look quite right ...
Oh, I’m so tired ...
* * *
St Pancras next stop. Collect ticket, find cash machine, check the money’s come through, withdraw daily limit in euros .......
OK, all there, all done. Well managed, Donna. No flies on you. Time for a quick coffee, then all aboard.
* * *
Lovely smooth ride! So, do I stare out at the countryside, or do something useful? Well, there’s no point in bringing Le Misanthrope along to read again, and then not bothering. Should be able to get through it before we arrive. But I never ever rush this one!
Why are we stuck outside Lille station? Wait, the driver’s making an announcement .......
Hah! — if zat was meant to be English, mon ami, zen I’m Darwin’s aunt. But I sink you said zeir’s a technical problem wiz ze platform, hein? Pah!
Well, that was an entertaining hour’s delay on a two-hours-plus high-speed journey. Thoroughly modern. Still, it does mean I’ll definitely finish the play before we reach Paris! And I’m still so proud of you, Alceste!
* * *
Here we are at last. And this is the longest platform I’ve ever walked! Very glad I only brought a small case.
Getting hungry now. Shall I look for somewhere to eat round here? No, let’s get checked-in first. Can’t be bothered to negotiate the Métro — and I somehow feel arriving in a taxi would be far more appropriate .......
‘Grand Hôtel, s’il vous plaît.’
Why is she looking at me like that?
‘So, here is your room key, mademoiselle. The porter will take your ... bag. And there are some fine maisons de couture in the Place Vendôme. It is only a five-minute walk ...’
‘Yes, I was planning to go shopping straight after lunch.’
‘May I perhaps suggest the pavement café tables today, mademoiselle?’
Now this is getting ...
‘Yes, that’s a very good idea. Merci beaucoup.’
‘À votre service. Bonne journée, mademoiselle.’
Right, just a Perrier to drink, and lunch is on its way. What a place to be eating it! Brilliant view of the Opéra ... and it’s looking just as it should. That’s a promising start!
Very nice café receptionist. Gave me this neat little typed history of the Grand Hôtel and the Café de la Paix.
Wow, what a building project! All done in less than fifteen months, working day and night! And so many great writers met and worked here over the decades, of course. And poor Nana died in Room 401 — yes, I’d forgotten!
And here’s the Christmas dinner menu at the height of the siege in 1870 ... hey, this’ll test my culinary French! Oh my god! Seed and horse soup, followed by dog’s liver, sliced cat, mushroom and cat stew, ragout of rat, or leg of dog with little rats, all served with begonias ... and then plum pudding in a horse marrow sauce! Wow! But still plenty of wine flowing. Small mercies.
Ah, here’s my lovely snack. Bon appétit, Donna!
* * *
Well, I knew the clothes in Place Vendôme would cost a fortune, but not ten fortunes. Very nice, dear, but I think I need to foray into rather less exclusive territory .......
OK, these prices look a bit more feasible. Still really expensive, though. But you only live once, Donna. If that’s your real name, of course ...
Damn! Oh, Mother, why?
Right, that does it. I deserve something special, for a change. And it just has to be that dress!
Wow! They were all so beautiful. I know I shouldn’t have bought them both, and two pairs of shoes, but what the heck? Now, I’d better find something a little less formal, too. And the walking shoes, of course — don’t forget your mission, Donna.
* * *
My god, it’s nearly six already! At least I’ve bought everything I need now. But I don’t think I’ve got the energy to check out the Madeleine this evening. Not sure I really want to, either. But it has to be done, of course. First thing in the morning, eh, Donna? Sold.
Right, straight back to the hotel and get changed into something that will please everybody. I’ll need to find a cab, though, with all these bags to carry. And do I want to really dress up and dine in style in the Grand tonight? No, I’ll wait for ... I think I’ll wear the “cheapest” new frock and go down to the Left Bank and catch a slightly cheaper atmosphere ...
* * *
Now, taxi or Métro? I’m very hungry again, after all that retail therapy. A taxi it is! Especially with that cute Doorman waiting to escort me again ...
* * *
Oh, I adore the side streets off Boul Mich’. So many lovely restaurants, and such good value! I could go for one of the fifteen-euro tourist menus, but that feels a bit extravagant. Let’s see if I can be a bit smarter than the rest .......
Aha, Rue de la Harpe! I remember it well. Nothing much has changed. And it always did have the best-value little places. Let’s see ...
Oh! The House of the Singing Mule. That wasn’t here last time. A 3-course meal for ten euros, and not a cat or a rat or a dog anywhere on the menu! Here we go!
‘I think I’ll have the shrimp and squid bernaise, then the chicken escalope with mushroom sauce, and the crême brulée.’
‘And hold your horses.’
‘I’m sorry, just my silly little joke. And a small carafe of red wine, please. Merci bien.’
There. Just perfect. Look after the pennies, Donna, and the pounds will spend themselves.
No, that’s not quite right, is it?
Very nice dinner so far. Forgot the wine would be extra, but it’s very good value too. So let’s make the most of it!
‘Encore une petite carafe, s’il vous plaît.’
Pity there’s no-one to talk to. Just the very ambiguous waiter. Or waitress. Very pleasant, very respectful, but I really wouldn’t know how to refer to him ... her ... if I needed to. Still, that would be my problem, not ... theirs. Worlds beyond, Donna ...
Nearly finished that carafe. Probably best to just have one single glass for the road ...
‘Encore une petite carafe, s’il vous plaît.’
No hurry really. Got all night. Ah, I know what I need to do ...
Vendredi le 8 mai, soir, rue de la Harpe, Paris (I think that’s right!)
Uninteresting day, actually. Expensive day. Not sure I’ve been too sensible. Never mind.
Might have been nice to talk to somebody here tonight. Suppose I could have tried chatting with the guy at the next table — he did have a very nice smile — or that young American couple who sat down there after he’d left. They’re still here, actually — and they’ve smiled politely several times too ...
Nah, no-one would be interested. And every word hurts too much. Shaun’s the only one who cares. But I have to try and do the job without him tomorrow. Not looking forward to that one bit.
Hey, I felt like Material Girl this afternoon! And tomorrow night I’m gonna look like a Vogue cover. Donna loves Lady Madonna!
Georgie, Paulie, Ringo and John, kiss the girls and see how they run ...
Gotta run. Don’t know what time the trains stop.
Wait, don’t forget to pay, silly girl!
Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd