Scene in Europe,
Paris, L’ombre dans l’Eau / Voyages Extraodinaires
The Arts et Metiers metro station in Paris was deserted and glowed like the inside of Jules Verne’s Nautilus with its mock porthole windows, copper clad walls and giant cogs peering down from the roof. Winter winds rushed through the tunnels before dissipating in the open space of the platform as if Captain Nemo’s ghost had finally given up his search for the unexplored. The underworld voyage of Professor Pierre Aronnax had been Jack’s favourite childhood story, even if he’d felt himself to be 20,000 leagues away from an adventurous life at the time but now, how things had changed. Not only had he left home, but he’d left behind him the only continent he’d ever known and was busy blazing his own path through a whole new one, leaving a trail of tried and tasted fruits in his wake.
Today, he’d just witnessed 19th century cars with wings, flying machines resembling giant bats and a whole world that would have been an inspiration to Verne, all housed in the Musee des Arts et Metiers which now resided just meters above him. His childhood dreams had practically turned into reality under the stained glass windows of the museum’s 13th Priory Saint Martin des Champs stocked with early aeroplanes and avionic automobiles while a giant Foucault Pendulum swung from the domed ceiling, demonstrating the rotation of the earth. Perhaps ghosts did exist, he had been thinking. Perhaps time travel was possible, he told himself as he set down his already well worn back pack and remembered those joyous nights from his youth, spent dreaming about underwater adventures and around the world travels. And now here he was, travelling the world himself and experiencing all it had to offer. And it was already offering a lot more than a boy of 6 had even dared to imagine.
Very slowly, the unmistakable sound of high heels made their way towards him from one of the connecting corridors. Closer and closer the footsteps came, at first from above, then apparently down a staircase until finally the sound terminated behind him. He turned around from the copper wall he’d been resting against to find a woman in a red dress currently bent over, with one foot perched upon a shiny metallic seat, while she seductively adjusted the central black line of her stockings. A reminder of the wet weather outside dripped from her auburn hair and made dark seeping trails along the back of her fitted dress. She was perhaps 40, a curvaceous size 10 and surprisingly smelt of the one perfume that had haunted his adolescence. It was the one his mother’s acupuncturist wore when she came to provide his mother with a temporary relief from the stress of her life, and by stress he meant how to decide on which glass was best to use for an early morning fix of vodka. The acupuncturist, coincidentally French, had ignited many imagined scenarios in Jack’s juvenile mind, all centred around her particular scent, which he later discovered was called l’Ombre dans l’Eau; the shadow in the water, and it was that very same aroma that now caressed his nostrils, all these years later. He stood, almost paralysed, watching this mysterious woman run her fingers delicately over the back of her lower calfs. It was one of the most erotic moments he had ever experienced, a moment when long ago adolescent wet dreams met a moist Parisian reality.
“Avez-vous une cigarette, Monsieur?” she asked without looking at him, suddenly breaking the silence, acknowledging him and his stare and all it longed for, without dismissing any of it.
“I’m sorry, I… I don’t speak french,” he replied, surprised that his vision was actually audible.
“I ask if you have a cigarette?” she repeated in english with a deliciously daring French accent that did nothing to diminish Jack’s day dream.
“No, sorry but, well… I don’t think you can smoke here,” he told her in a slightly flustered american drawl, even though since being in Europe the only thing that had flustered him was figuring out how to leave a bedroom politely when morning broke and language barriers shut down, far from late night bars and beers that had previously loosened inhibitions.
“Dommage, je besoin d’un petit quelque chose. You know? I just need a little something,” she said, teasingly, turning to him with a pout on her jungle red lips which told him inexplicably that a little something was the very least of what she was after. He might only be starting out on gaining his worldly experience, but the little he had so far experienced thought him enough to understand the substance of subtlety. He rubbed the stubbled cheeks of his face, like a lion preening himself before his prey while he toyed with ideas of what to say next, wondering how to prolong the pleasure he was feeling in this woman’s company. Stay in the moment, he told himself. Don’t let this slip away.
“Maybe I’ve some in my backpack,” he said, turning back to where his bag was stashed, already knowing there were no cigarettes inside but not knowing what else to say or do.
Suddenly, there was a clash of metal rubbing against metal and a train swept into the station, taking Jack unawares and he turned around quickly to watch it. It stopped for only a second before an electronic whistle blew and it was off again, without the doors even opening, but he could have sworn this very same woman was staring at him from inside one of the carriages, hair still wet, damp red dress clinging to her luminous body and a cigarette between her fingers on the way to her Jungle Red lips. And then the train was gone.
Slowly, Jack turned back to where the woman had been standing to discover all that remained was a small pool of water. She was gone, vanished, departed. Perhaps it was the light or the wind, which had now returned, but he was sure a shadow moved, for a moment, in the water.
All Words and Photos by Damien B. Donnelly