ma non troppo This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

October 31, 2009
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She had come to Paris to write because she wanted to be a writer.

That was five months ago. Now it was December and the snow was falling gently around the Seine and the bistros were full of happy warm French people with money in their pockets and someone to come home to.

She hated all of them. She lived in a cramped and dirty flat in one of those old Parisian apartment buildings. Everyone talks about how gorgeous they are and takes a million pictures in front of them when they visit the city but no one ever tells you about how the plumbing never works and the heater never works and the electricity only works when it feels like it.

Every day she rose at six and left her tiny apartment, but not before pouring a saucer of milk for her cat. That wretched cat didn’t even show up half the time. Then she would throw on her coat and shove her hands in her pockets as she shuffled down the street to pick up some baguettes from the nearest boulangerie. The baker there never said anything, just handed her the bread with a half-smile on his face because he was too busy being in love with the pretty French girl who worked across the street. She hated that baker. She hated his French girl, too. How dare they fall in love.

She wanted to be a writer but all she could write was misery and woe. She wanted to write about Beauty and Truth and Love and everything else she had read about in other books but every time she tried she ended up feeling sorry for herself.

This time, she told herself on a chilly December morning, I will make it happen.

She shuffled down the street and headed towards the nearest Métro station with her eyes on the ground. She walked a few blocks down and past a young boy collapsed on the ground. A few steps later, she doubled back to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. He was limp on the sidewalk, his head lolling to one side. A street urchin, she told herself with a disdainful sniff, but then she noticed a spot of red staining his chest. She quickly knelt by his side, taking care not to get blood on her coat.

He awoke and gave a small smile while she reached for a handkerchief, trying to control the trembling in her voice as she asked if he was all right. His breathing was ragged and rough, and it sent shivers down her spine as she listened to him speak.

“Don’t you remember me?”

“Sorry,” she said, trying to maintain her composure. She had never seen this boy before in her life. He was striking, she’d give him that, although a bit rough around the edges. She hated children. She certainly would have remembered him if they had met before, which they hadn’t.

He said nothing in reply, but closed his eyes and began to hum softly. After a few moments he opened his eyes again and gazed off into the distance. “I love the city in the winter,” he murmured.

She leaned in closer as she gently dabbed some water on his wound. “The trees are bare,” she said. “The streets are frozen and love is dead. Only fools love Paris in the winter.”

He stirred, causing her to draw back a bit. He said nothing, but stared straight at her with his piercing eyes. She listened to his hoarse breathing and watched his torn chest rise and fall, slowly but surely. It reminded her of waves on the beach. Finally she looked back into his gaze and realized how much she already cared for him. She wanted to draw him close and hold him tight and never let anything hurt him again, this beat up boy from the streets with his pure and simple love. She saw him grow up in her eyes and fill the hole in her heart, and she looked at him again and she remembered.

A faint hint of a smile swept across his face. Then he gave one last sigh and slowly dropped his head, and he was gone.

Now, every day she rises at six and leaves her tiny apartment, but not before pouring a saucer of milk for the cat that sleeps under her covers during the day. Then she slips on her coat and strolls down the street with a spring in her step as she heads to the nearest boulangerie to pick up some baguettes. The baker there never says anything, just hands her the bread with a half-smile on his face because he’s too busy being in love with the pretty French girl who works across the street. She doesn’t mind.

Now, she loves the city in the winter. She writes about Beauty and Truth and Love and everything else she's read about in all those other books. And she knows she’ll see him again someday.





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