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Another Basket of Croissants
Andrew Stancek

The street artist is unlocking his wooden cabinet filled with paintings of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Seine. He props his art against the embankment; he whistles. The sun is shining, tourists thick enough to elbow each other; he can already smell today’s profit.

 

Marcelle said, turning out the lights last night, that I am fat in addition to thoughtless and impossible, and I pretended not to hear. The air hangs heavy with the yawning need for apology. The suspense is who will decide enough is enough.

 

The outdoor café is less than half full; I sit alone, watching the pecking of the pigeons and the sellers, sipping my second thimble-sized café serré. I stir in three spoonfuls of cane sugar. I am fifty pounds overweight at least. For months I had recurring nightmares of the morgue, David opening his eyes, glaring, saying, “I’m alive, Dad,” and no one but me hearing him. When I woke, I inhaled formaldehyde.

 

I claimed then that my eating was grief eating. Later, when the shrink said the stress was killing me, I did not want to take up nicotine or pot, so I ate. Now I don’t justify; I just eat.

I put a dollop of butter on my croissant, order another basket. Two doors down a cheese shop -- I think I’ll pop in, buy a wedge of Roquefort. I am in no hurry to join Marcelle in our hotel room; she is in no hurry to come down. Our room is on the eleventh floor and even there, I hear the cooing of pigeons. When we look out our window, we face the gargoyle on the municipal offices across the street, laughing at us.

 

The chitter of the passers-by is musical. Parisian women dress for a sway along the runway. Every few seconds I fall in love. I imagine what will happen to that redhead, that brunette, once they turn the corner. Marcelle said we needed a change, away from sleet, slush, gloom. I didn’t list the changes we’d gone through in the last year, nothing but change.

 

Paris was her idea; I proposed Barcelona or Prague. She won. Or I gave in. The place does not matter much. My French is passable but you don’t need it in the stores -- the Parisians hate us whether we try in French or not. Marcelle does not try. She has the sales girls take down purses from high shelves, hasn’t bought one yet but today she might buy three. The beggar in front of Église Saint Lucien is missing most of his leg, grins when we throw a ten euro note into his hat. His dog growls.

 

The afternoon at the Picasso Museum was hope; we breathed in clashing colors, geometric shapes and we made jokes. Our fight at dinner began with a dropped fork, moved to not paying attention, ever, to cosmic not caring. Back home I would have walked out, but in Paris I ordered another bottle instead. It’s easier to fight if nobody in the city knows you and you don’t give a damn who hears you, how loud or obnoxious you get.

If one of us had a lover, we could fight about that but neither of us does. We spar about the daughter, desultorily, and never mention David.

 

After my morning feast I’ll stroll to the station, buy a ticket on the next train travelling far, Siberia maybe, or Marrakesh. I won’t tell her. She won’t worry, I’m sure. I know I am impossible, she told me that already. And fat.

Andrew Stancek describes his vocation as dreaming – clutching onto hope, even in turbulent times. He has been published widely, in SmokeLong Quarterly, FRIGG, Hobart, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review and Peacock Journal, among others. He has won the Reflex Fiction contest, the New Rivers Press American Fiction contest and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.