Hello all! Welcome to the August WEP/IWSG challenge, RED WHEELBARROW. For this challenge, I'm submitting a scene from my Paris novel. The protagonist, Saskia Bell has been fired from her fashion designer position in a New York fashion house and has come to Paris, where her mother was born to forge an independent life for herself away from her controlling father.
As stated in the blurb for this challenge: The RED WHEELBARROW can be purely a prop.
I clamber up from the bowels of the earth that is the Place des Abbesses’s metro station, studying the stunning murals climbing the walls—the oranges, the blues, the purples—imagining what stunning fabric designs I’ll create using this art as inspiration. I snap pictures on my cell phone, so I don’t forget those perfectly orange and red poppies, the outline of the city meandering up the stairs, the white winged Pegasi flying on the blue background. I hate closing my eyes for a second in Paris. It’s a never-ending feast for the eyes.
When I finally exit into the glaring daylight of a brilliant blue sky, I check my watch, then hurry along the narrow cobblestones to the Place du Tertre at the top of Montmartre hill. It’s alive with activity – bearded artists in smocks and berets touting, hopeful tourists posing on rickety wooden stools while artists frown and flourish brushes, trying to capture their image. Since my last visit, restaurants have set up in the center of the Place and already tourists are queuing for early lunch. I check my watch. Désolé.
‘Désolé,’ I say to the artists in berets who hover along the street, clutching their clipboards with blank art paper at the ready, begging to paint my picture. Soulful cries of “Pretty lady” don’t break me. Until I find a job, if I can’t eat or drink it, I’m not interested.
Sacre Coeur is directly ahead past the cafés. I slip into the dim interior and light a candle for Mom in what was her favorite church. I cross myself, whispering, ‘Please forgive me, Mom’. My eyes fill with tears. Will I ever stop feeling angry with myself for the part I played in her death? There’s no answer in the flickering candles. Checking my watch again, I see it’s time.
‘Et vous, Madame Lavelle?’ I ask the tall African woman standing at the top of the street beside a red wheelbarrow overflowing with red and yellow blooms. She’s more colorful than any potted plant in her flowery green maxi dress, matching turban, and gold earrings that brush her stately long neck.
‘Oui, Mademoiselle.’ Her beautiful smile is enhanced by a slash of shiny orange lipstick. I trot out my best French. ‘Je m’appelle Saskia Bell. I’m here for the apartment.’
She leans forward and air kisses me, bisou, bisou, bisou, smelling faintly of garlic and citrus. ‘Speak English with me, Mademoiselle. I’m from Burkina Faso. I need to practise.’ She smiles to take the sting out of her words. Obviously, my American-accented French hurts her ears. ‘Welcome to rue des Martyrs, the best street in Paris.’ She speaks with a sing-song French lilt. Adjusting her huge shoulder bag, she gestures with wide-open arms down the street. ‘Whatever you need, you will find here. Bookstores, baguettes, and bistrots that sell creamy Mont d’Or cheese you eat with a spoon.’
Immediately I taste that runny cheese melting on my tongue, washed down with a glass of bubbly. I study the narrow, cobbled street weaving down the hill. It’s so exotic, so cute, so medieval. What a contrast to Fifth Avenue with its clamor, its stylish buildings and wall-to-wall yellow cabs. No wonder Mom missed Paris so much. Here, people sit crushed elbow to elbow drinking wine or espressos while enjoying a cigarette sitting outside cafés under red awnings with gold fringes. I spy quaint antique shops I can’t wait to explore. I breathe it in. ‘It’s perfect.’
We’ve only walked a short way down the street when Madame Lavelle holds up her hand. ‘Arretêz,’ she says. I stop. ‘Here is the apartment.’ She points to a creamy art deco building the regulation Haussmann five stories high with black lacework balconies rising, slightly crooked, sitting above a fancy pâtisserie.
I’m in love, imagining the aroma of coffee and cake on my doorstep each morning. I wonder if they’ll make me an almond cappuccino like Dom’s in New York?
Looking up, I see a woman on the second floor with long blonde hair, her elbows on the balcony rails, blowing smoke from a cigarette holder like she’s Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I wave back when she raises a palm in my direction. ‘It’s beautiful.’ I swallow the lump in my throat.
I feel it in my bones.
‘Come.’ Madame Lavelle keys in the door code. ‘I think you will like the apartment very much.’
We clamber up flights of rickety stairs, the stairwell dark except for sensor lights added sometime in the dim past. I stifle a giggle. How fit will I become running up and down these stairs every day. It’ll fit in well with my training for the Paris Marathon next April.
As we climb towards the top, Madame’s wheezing grows louder. I take her elbow. We pass the fifth floor, then the building narrows and the stairs are so tiny I walk sideways to fit my shoes to the treads. Where’s she taking me? The roof?
Madame Lavelle is wheezing and gasping for breath when she stops in front of an old arched door studded with huge copper nails. ‘We’re here,’ she says through ragged breaths. ‘The attic.’
I study the ancient timber door and shiver. My knees are weak. I clutch the door frame. Even before I walk inside, I know. This is my Paris home. My Parisian adventure is about to begin.
I step inside.
The attic smells of time, of layers of life, of people who’ve lived here before. My eyes prick with tears at the simplicity of the light-filled space, loving its original scuffed parquet floors, shabby rose-tinted walls and distressed cream trims. I’ve grown up in luxurious homes decorated with bespoke furniture, antiques and gold-leaf trim, but they never excited me like this little attic with its sloping roof and two cute boxy windows either side of one full length grilled door. But what reminds me of my Hamptons’ beach house is the skylight which bathes the room in sunshine. Perhaps it was originally an artist’s garret.
I walk over to the floor-to-ceiling window. There it is. The red wheelbarrow. Every day I'll see it and offer up a prayer of thanks for my arrival in Paris.
WORD COUNT: 1044
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