BY SUZETTE BLOM
Copyright is held by the author.
AFTER A particularly nasty day dealing with two of my most overbearing clients at the bank, I was waiting for Denis at Le Carillon. Despite myself I was enjoying the noise of the crowd and the warm weather. The place was packed and the simple joy of the crowd enjoying a warm fall evening spilled over and infected me. I bolstered the effect along by chugging a little too often on a very big glass of Sauvignon Blanc and was starting to feel the tension in my neck relax.
We had quarrelled over the stupidest shit, like always. Was it me, was it him? Who knows. Our relationship was an eternal dilemma that occupied way too much space in my brain. I had had to settle for a table at the back and was now fretting that Denis wouldn’t see me and he would just leave, and I would miss the chance to get rid of this lack of resolution. We have to think this through I kept thinking or it is just not worth the trouble.
One of the waiters, his crisp white apron smudged with a grease stain, came to my table to see if I wanted to order any food. I realized I had not eaten all day but I didn’t want food, just more wine. The band was coming back from their break when I spotted Denis. He smiled as he saw me and I knew why this was always so complicated. He pushed his way through the crowd and sat down across from me pulling off his leather jacket. “It’s so warm outside,” Denis shouted. I nodded my head.
He motioned to the waiter and ordered a glass of red wine. The anxiety stuck in my throat. My desire to tear at him was dissipating under the influence of the buzz of life and joy around us.
“The metro was really busy tonight. There is a big concert and a game. Everybody in Paris is out.” He was prattling on like last night did not happen.
“Denis,” I said. He leaned over and took my hand, stretched across the table and kissed me.
“I’m sorry, Cherie. Let’s just work this out.”
That was all I wanted I just didn’t know how. I didn’t want to exert all the energy for the break up process; the unstoppable anger, the “I can’t talk about it “ to my well-meaning friends, the waking up at night and realizing I am alone, worse, the going to a restaurant and sitting at a table while the waiter takes away the place setting across from you.
So, I swallowed the lump in my throat, took a sip of wine and said as calmly as I could, “ You have to stop it. You have to stop making decisions without asking me. We are supposed to be a couple, not a dictatorship.”
“I’ll try. I will.”
“Which one? You will? or you’ll try?”
He looked down at his wine glass.
“Denis, you spend our money like I don’t contribute. Then you treat me like I’m too stupid to have any input into how you spend it. I mean I thought we were equal partners, a couple. But maybe not. I mean do you think I’m stupid? That is how it seems to me.”
Denis laughed, which only added fuel to the fire.
“All I did was buy a big screen TV. It’s not like I emptied the bank account or embezzled your pension. I got a great deal and I told you about it.”
“It’s not about the big screen TV , it’s about the fact that you did not talk to me about it before you just went and did it. You never do. It’s just the same as the guitar and that stupid painting you wanted for the den.” Once I started the litany it was hard to stop.
“You mean the painting Pierre did?”
“Yea, that painting. Which I hate every time I look at it.”
“Well don’t look,” Denis retorted, his voice going up a decibel.
“It’s too hard,” I muttered.
“No, it isn’t. This is what being together means. Just ask your parents. We make each other happy. We hurt each other. We forgive each other. We carry on. Nothing is perfect.”
“This is how you convince me?” I retorted, incredulous.
But he knew as well as I did that his very presence was melting me. I did not turn away when he bent over the table to kiss me.
Just then I heard a pop and thought it was firecrackers outside the restaurant, although I couldn’t understand why there would be firecrackers tonight. Maybe a bottle of champagne? There were several more pops in staccato. Suddenly people were cowering under the tables. “This is ridiculous,” I thought, “What the fuck?”
“Get down, get down!” The owner of the restaurant was shouting with frenetic urgency.
Only then did it sink in. Someone was shooting into the restaurant.
Time seemed to slow like a bad movie. I felt Denis grab my arm and shove me to the ground. I collapsed hard on to my side. I knew there was pain but it could not penetrate the fog in my head. I was watching myself as if I were outside of my body.
Denis had turned the round table on its side and pushed me behind it. I folded my knees to my chest and pulled my arms around my head. I was trying to make myself as small as possible , to evaporate from this place.
The staccato pops of the shooter had stopped. An unusual odour made me choke. I looked to my left at a young man who, only moments ago had been laughing at his own joke a little too loudly. He lay on his side; his grey T-shirt was covered in blood. A pair of horn rimmed eyeglasses lay beside him. I wanted to give him his glasses. His eyes were open but the stillness of his body told me he was dead.
I heard foot steps crunch on broken glass and found myself looking at a pair of black Nikes. He was above me a Kalashnikov in his hand. Denis had tried to cover me with his body. Where was he? Why couldn’t I feel his protective warmth? I closed my eyes. I felt the shooter pause. Was it over? In the eerie silence, I realized the shooter was reloading. The staccato popping resumed as he fired into the bodies around me. He was meticulous. He didn’t want to miss anyone who might be hiding or pretending to be dead.
My thoughts became a strange wheel. Denis, I love you, that was what I wanted to tell you. Nothing else. I will tell you as soon as this monster leaves. And we will go back to everything being normal. Tomorrow we will have coffee in the morning and read the paper together. We need to get out of here so we can plan a holiday in Provence, or maybe Spain. Yes, Spain.
Then I thought: Should I try to stand? I should try to run. What if no one comes to help? Maybe he has already killed all the policemen. If I don’t get out of here who will do my job tomorrow? How will I go to work like this? I’m a mess. Where is my phone? I want to call my sister. I want to say goodbye and tell her not to worry.
Suddenly, I felt searing fire in my left shoulder. For some reason, the pain focused me. Fear had left me. If I die it’s OK. I just want this to be over. I just want the pain to stop. I opened my eyes and looked up. The shooter was across the room busy with his work of dealing death. His face was calm, almost impassive but his eyes were full of something I had never seen before, unrelenting hatred. There could be no mercy, not from him.
He delicately laid down his Kalshnikov like it was a baby and stood still in the middle of the room. He fumbled under his bulky vest, bunching his fist repeatedly. And I knew. We will die if we don’t move now.
I forced my way through the pain to get to my knees. Denis was behind, his face ashen but he was still breathing. I looked down his body and saw where a bullet had penetrated his favourite blue sweater. His hair and face were covered in sweat . “Denis, Move, we must move. That man is going to blow himself up.” We had entered a crack in time like figures in a Renaissance painting witnessing Christ’s crucifixion. Denis’s face was blank.
“Denis, Denis, now is not the time to be stubborn, please move.”
Denis raised his hand and pulled my head to his mouth. “We need to go,” he whispered.
Only then did I realize the words I thought I had spoken were tightly locked into my head. The door seemed so far away and who knew what else was on the street. Yet I just wanted to be away from this place.
I forced myself to my knees, pulled two of the tables in front of us.
A terrible force caused me to fall on my face. For a moment, there was nothing and then the acrid smell of a mixture of smoke, explosive, gunpowder and blood hit me like a wall. I could not breath and I could not think.
I felt a hand on my back. Denis’ breath was hot in my ear.
Denis’s grime covered face was hardly recognizable to me. To my left was an oddly disconnected leg. The foot was still covered in a half burned running shoe.
I turned toward Denis suddenly overjoyed to see that both his legs and feet were still attached to his body.
Then it occurred to me that I could not feel anything. I looked down at my own legs. My body was covered with blood but intact. I realized no parts were missing. I was overcome with joy when I realized that the disembodied running shoe was not mine or Denis’s.
Denis was smiling at me in weird way.
“He blew himself up,” he said calmly to my unasked question.
He was lifting me up and carrying me outside. I took a deep breath of the warm night air. For some reason, breathing was hard. It felt like my lungs were on fire.
“It was all stupid shit. I don’t care about the TV,” I reassured him.
Denis set me down with my back against the front wall of the cafe. It seemed to me the street was crowded with a thousand policeman. I was annoyed. Where were they when that idiot was shooting at us?
Denis brushed the hair out of my eyes and dried my cheeks with the back of his palm. He kissed me and told me not to talk.