I found this wonderful image on DeviantArt and just had to write it. Beware – it’s a 7-8 minute read.
Stepping onto the narrow sidewalk, Midge took a deep breath. This was it! She had planned this trip for the last six months, since shortly after the proceedings began.
What better way to square the circle? To return to the exact spot that Gav had proposed, all those years before, and, finally, to exorcise the demons.
The divorce had come through a month ago, and it had taken that long for Midge to perfect her meticulous plan to return. Her home from home, she had first known Paris when she had come here to study for a year. This time around, she had even managed to find a low-budget hotel just a stone’s throw from her old digs, near the Place d’Italie. Nostalgic, indeed, and palatial in comparison.
She had infected Gav with her enthusiasm. In the early years, it had become their getaway. The place they could come, and just blend into the background.
As Midge began to walk, though, this crisp March morning, an air of melancholy set in. On the corner, the old boulangerie, Monsieur La Fosse. She smiled, recalling how she would buy still-warm baguettes as she returned home from nights out. But although still a boulangerie, La Fosse had gone, and the premises were barely recognizable.
But it was more than twenty years.
They had still visited the city, but as Gav’s career had moved upmarket, so too had his tastes. The last time they visited, five years ago, he wanted to stay in the classy Georges V. Midge had acquiesced. Midge had always acquiesced.
Reaching the Place itself, Midge contemplated the Métro. It’s painstaking Art Deco logo announced that it, at least, was unchanged. But at the start of a perfect spring day, it would be warm later, and she thought twice. Recalling those days, years ago, when, having no money she had been forced to traipse miles across the sprawling city, she passed, opting instead to stroll along the swanky Gobelins, still relatively quiet despite the time.
The traffic was building, however, and by the time Midge reached the fountain, feeling energetic and wanting tranquility, she detoured through the street market. The vendors were already setting up, no doubt anticipating a busy Saturday ahead. Midge knew all these haunts. The small, arty cinema, the bar where she had met her first French boyfriend, the jazz club where they hung out…
Yes, she smiled. She had later brought Gav to all these places, but he had never loved them, not the same way.
She started up the incline. People tended to think of Paris as flat and, compared to the many cities they had visited, it was, but her shortness of breath reminded her that she was climbing the cobbled street.
As it opened out into the Place Contrescarpe, she remembered Mikey, as a toddler, chasing the pigeons there. Smart pigeons, she twinkled, he never caught any. But Mikey, now, was grown. A wife, a life of his own… Soon, he’d be a father himself, and could build these same memories with his own child… But, no, being a Grandma made Midge feel decrepit.
“How about something really old? Real history?” she pondered, as she passed the patriarchal church, unchanged after all these years. As the street opened out again, Midge took in the imposing Panthéon. She had always found this a strange building. Enormous, revered, just to keep it closed up all the time. Napoléon’s tomb. Indeed, she never really appreciated Napoléon, not until she lived here, and saw how much of France had its roots in that era.
She had to do it.
Another detour, this time past her old faculty building. With its still-pristine lime stonework, it might itself have been a museum. Past Luxembourg, and onto the busy Boulevard Saint Michel. A timely arrival, as Midge reached the ancient park just as she was starting to tire. Noting that she was no longer as fit as she once was, the walk had taken its toll. Surrounded by a city which was gradually waking, Midge was happy to sit for five minutes, reminiscing the lunches she had often taken here. But though the space was established, it had new furniture and not ten metres away, a man was helping his own small boy navigate a tiny slide. Midge allowed herself to dream of what might be.
Rested, Midge was comforted in the knowledge that there was not much further to go. That intersection with Saint Germain was still a killer, she observed, before strolling steadily downhill towards the river.
“Could do with a clean”, she thought, as she finally reached the impressive Place Saint Michel, and inspected its imposing fountain. A real landmark, she supposed that the grime was a part of its charm. But ugh… no, thank you, she judged as she made straight for the quai. La Seine looked resplendent in this early morning light, the sun making its ripples glisten with excitement. There, she breathed its air deeply, before crossing the famous Pont Saint Michel bridge, onto the Ile de la Cité.
“Incroiable”, she gasped, as she passed the fragrant Marché des Fleurs, “exactly as I remember”, as it registered that that not only were most of the stalls set, but that a few fellow early birds were starting to mingle. Curving back around, Midge encountered Paris’s most beautiful monument. The unmistakable cathédrale, Notre Dame. Famed the world over, Midge had wept watching its shell burn, just a few short years earlier, but the grand old lady had survived. The very heart of the city, for hundreds of years the serene cathedral provided an oasis for those seeking a momentary refuge.
On smaller streets now, Midge passed around the side of the still-closed cathedral. Admiring the stained glass, it was not so busy, and she meandered to the other island, the exclusive Saint Louis. This tiny area was a million miles from the Paris that she loved, yet she had walked it in half an hour. Feeling oddly out of place among such affluence, though, Midge kept moving. Fortunately, it was small, and in no time at all, Midge was ready to re-cross the river.
On the bridge, she paused halfway. Here we go! Her goal! All those years ago, in a moment of madness, Gav had gone down on one knee and proposed, right on this spot. And, caught in the giddiness, Midge had accepted. It seemed fitting, she thought, as she reached inside her jeans. Carefully removing the handkerchief, she stifled a sob as she examined its contents. Two months wages, it had cost him, back in the day. Then, using the hankie to wipe her eyes, Midge regarded the object, glanced at her panorama one last time, as if to make sure that nobody was watching, before resolutely tossing her wedding ring into the murk of the river.
As Midge continued now onto the left bank, she wore a rueful smile. There must be somewhere round here I can get breakfast.