Just another Paris lunchtime

The silence is heavy, dusty, the stillness of a room neither intended for nor accustomed to being empty, silent. She is waiting for noon, waiting for the bang of the door and the cheery voice that will call out a greeting. As punctual as the church clock back in her hometown, he has become part of the rhythm of her day, and she looks forward to seeing him, even if she couldn’t exactly explain why.

From where she is stood, behind the old-fashioned bar with its rows of spirits ranged neatly on their shelves, surrounded by the glasses that she has been polishing whilst waiting for him to arrive, she has a perfect view of the restaurant floor: the booths tucked away to one side, their dusty red leather faded and a little the worse for wear now, and the tiny round tables in the window, with the rows of chairs side by side, ready for the tourists who want to ‘watch the world go by’ as they eat their reheated onion soup and packet-mix-gravy boeuf bourguignon.

And there, at the door, he will be stood, hesitantly, as always: he takes the same table every day, but always waits to be shown to it, waits for her to pull out the chair and offer to take his coat (even in summer he wears a floor-length anorak, whilst now, as winter draws on, he will be wrapped up in a thick grey greatcoat, buttoned up to the neck, with a bright blue scarf just peeking out above). He will smile, the well-worn creases at the corners of his eyes pleating themselves into dozens of tiny folds, and take off his battered old flat hat, placing it almost affectionately on the table and revealing a mass of unruly white hair.

Putting down the glass and her cloth, she goes to head out from the bar area, finishing her preparations, getting ready for his arrival. She will glance up, smile and ask how he is today,  perhaps remark on how cold the weather has suddenly become, or how many tourists there still are around town, even in November. And then she stops, as the murmur of passing traffic is broken by a screech of brakes and a sickening thud. Frozen, staring out of the window, it takes her a moment to realise that the piercing scream is coming from her own mouth.

I was driving, you know, just normally. I wasn’t, I wasn’t speeding or anything. I mean, I was in a rush, of course, and there was Pierre, the boy, he’d forgotten his sports kit so we’d already had to turn back once, and we were late, as ever, and the girls had started squabbling about something and nothing (and they never sit still, you know, and I tell them, I try, but they don’t listen, they’re always fidgeting with something or their heads are bobbing around and I can’t concentrate on what they’re saying, but if I just ignore them then they start pestering “Maria, Maria, why aren’t you listening?”). But I’m a careful driver, honestly. And the school bus would wait for them, so even if their headmistress sent another letter home about their appalling record of punctuality, and their mother threatened to fire me and find a replacement, well, she’d struggle, with the stingy wages that she offers. I only took the job in the first place because I was desperate. 

He came out of nowhere. All huddled up in a big coat, with his hat pulled right down over his eyes. It was like he didn’t even look before he stepped into the road, or maybe he couldn’t see, I don’t know. But I just took my eyes off the road for one second, and then, and then…

It has been a long time since I have written any fiction, but here we go. In response to the Weekly Writing Challenge. 

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