Café Mozart

July 5, 2008
By Catherine Lazerwitz, Washington, DC

Off the crowded, buzzing main streets of Paris, the noise of the city dulls and all you can hear is the familiar sounds of a friendly neighborhood. The side streets with the small bistros, flower boxes, and worn down sidewalks provide relief from the quaking energy of all the large avenues they trail away from, and you can find the quiet necessary to survive in the city. My favorite one of these havens is Avenue Mozart. The old style bricks and classic Parisian architecture are both expected and refreshing, but there is more to the avenue than the pretty buildings. I know the faces I pass on the street, the leaves from the trees that spiral to the ground, and most importantly, I know the café on the corner. Its bright red awning shelters the patio with the iron cast chairs whose backs swirl intricately until they from a place to sit, and through a welcoming blue door is the rest of the café. The wild flowers that peek out from under the window sill are in full bloom, and they wink at me as I take my usual spot in the sunshine. The waiter comes over, Pierre, and he warmly greets me while jokingly handing me the menu. We both know that I do not need it.

“Bonjour, Mademoiselle. The usual?” Pierre grins, attempting an overused American phrase. His attentive brown eyes twinkle in his youthful face as his dark hair blows about, a pleasing mess in the breeze.

“But of course!” I respond in a ludicrous, stereotypical French accent. Pierre, being one of the most good humored men I have met, laughs whole heartedly and goes off to bring over a glass of water. Still smiling, I look across the terrace to see if there is anyone I know having lunch. I spot my kind, but strict landlady, Madame Chagrin, sitting with her daughter, but they are thoroughly engrossed in what looks like a heated argument, so I resolve to say hello later. As Pierre sets down my drink in front of me, I see a person I recognize walk up to the café. The sun glints off the man’s shaved head as he walks stiffly through the gate and sits down at a table close to mine, alone for the moment. Looking at his face, scrunched with worry which makes his already carved features more lined, I assume he must be waiting for her. This is the same man I see about once a week. He always sits at the same table with the same agonized expression and, after many minutes of misery, she arrives. Her business suit marches up to the patio and her pumps clack harshly against the bricks. Her face is not pretty, but it has a sharp, delicate look to it as if it was made of glass. Her dark eyes flit about unnecessarily because she knows exactly where he is. Immediately, he sees her and perks up, his gloomy expression clearing. He desperately tries to appear casual as she pulls up a chair, but fails miserably. She smiles mirthlessly at him, which is strange because normally she mirrors his poorly suppressed excitement, but not today. Pierre starts to walk over to their table to serve them, but the man waves him away. She looks questioningly at him as he leans closer to tell her something. Suspicious, she inches backwards, but he looks so pitiful that she relents. Pierre, since he is not serving the couple, brings over my salad. He nods in their direction and sighs,

“Ah yes, Monsieur Baskov and Madame Dupont. They’re here nearly as often as you are. They always arrive separately and leave separately.” He hesitates a moment as if he has more to say, but he appears to think better of it and does not elaborate. Instead, he wishes me bon appetit and hurries back inside. I am more curious than ever, but all I can do is watch the tableaux unfold before me.

“Jacqueline, why do you look like that?” I demand in a whisper because I noticed the stares we are drawing from the other patrons.

“Please, Serge, don’t call me that.” She snaps, “Its Madame Dupont.” Her eyes are cold, like the rest of her, but they are not normally. Normally, they are the one source of softness and warmth in her hard and biting face. I have a feeling of what is coming next; of what she would say if I asked her what is going on, but I cannot bring myself to do that. Instead, I counter,

“Then call me Monsieur Baskvov.” She is not amused, but is determined to continue, and with a harsh sigh, she speaks,

“Monsieur Baskov,” she adds deliberately, “We cannot do this anymore. We can no longer meet.” I think about saying something to disagree, but the look on her face as she glares at me, as if I am a complete stranger, silences any protests I have.

“I have obligations that can no longer be sacrificed by this affair. These meetings and outings are finished.” Her address is emotionless and distant, like it is a business transaction for one of her clients. I can do nothing but nod. Nowhere in her speech allows for an argument. She is brilliant that way. I gaze at her, begging her to change, but her stubbornness conquers my pleas. With the awful sound of iron chairs scraping the ground, she strides off the patio and is gone. I am left in her wake, left to motion listlessly to the waiter for a drink.

I watched as Madame Dupont stormed away from the café and as Monsieur Baskov waved Pierre over. I had heard their fervent, angry whispers. How she had said something at length, her face void of emotion, and how he had simply nodded, powerless to argue whatever she was declaring. He looked, unlike her, stricken, brimming with feelings and words left unsaid, but he had not said anything at all. Now, sipping what looked to be an aperitif of some sort, he appears somber and broken. I have an idea of what must have been the relationship between them, that it was a secret affair, but it is so cliché that it seems demeaning to jump to that conclusion. I looked to Pierre, to ask him what he knew, but he had disappeared inside once again, so all I had was my own opinion of the two. All I could do was stare at the wreckage left by a woman who had just broken this man’s heart. Eventually, I finished my lunch and got up to leave. Easily an hour had passed since she had left, but he was still sitting there with his drink, staring off into nothing anyone but him could see, trying to figure out how to heal.

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