Short Story Excerpt

Copyright © 2019 by Dominée LePen

Still undecided if I’d attend on the morning of the funeral, I selected the spring coat from my wardrobe. With that, I postponed any decision until noon. The coat had so far been my only purchase to add to the clothes I’d brought with me to France. It was dark blue and I could pass it off as black. Already the day looked as if it was going to be much too warm for it, but I didn’t want to spend my entire day in a black dress. Wearing a summer dress to the cemetery—in case I decided to go—seemed inappropriate. The dark coat was a compromise, but most of all, it allowed me to push the funeral out of my mind for another few hours. I folded it and placed it over my arm as I pulled my apartment door shut.

The day’s classes were canceled on occasion of the funeral, but the library was open. Yet little compelled me to go there as I had all the books I needed, in fact too many of them. My unwritten thesis was all that stood between myself and graduation. My research had extended far too long, what I needed to do was write.

I deemed one of the riverside cafes much more conducive to that. All the outside tables were already occupied by leisurely flâneurs who’d stopped for a bite or an extended breakfast. Yet inside, I found a corner window table that had a cozy spot of sunlight and afforded relative privacy. I indulged in café au lait and a croissant with apricot jam, then I took out my pen and notebook. I was reluctant to heap my research notes onto the table as well. The notebook’s white and empty pages were beckoning me. I wanted to write with abandon, but not about literary theory. I could not bring myself to pick up my pen while the collected humanistic hermeneutics of American literary critics were burning guiltily in my bag.

Once more, I was undecided. Was I procrastinating composing my thesis, or was I postponing writing, my true calling? I would be free to jot down whatever my imagination dictated, I told myself—after graduation. I could picture myself: jobless, poor, but free.

I sighed, more heartfelt and loudly than I had intended, and finally took out my notes. A shadow fell on my notebook, and I looked up. The starving artist impersonated stood before my table. Tall, with sunken shoulders and a Tweed cap with fishbone pattern screwed onto his head, he loomed above me, blocking my sun. A few strands of black hair stuck out from underneath his cap and fell onto his forehead. His face was lean and pallid. A day’s beard of black stubble covered his cheeks. He wore a beige linen shirt, the sleeves of which he’d folded up to the elbows. Indigo pants and, as I made out under the table, loosely tied canvas shoes completed his outfit.

My eyes drifted to a jacket which he’d folded over his right arm. It was dark and flowing, almost a coat. Only the sunlight streaming in through the window revealed its true color, a blue playing at black, like my own coat.

“Excuse me,” he asked with a hoarse and scratchy voice, “do you mind if I…?”

He indicated the second seat at my table and did a side shuffle to allow me to see that the room had filled up.

“How do you know I speak English?” I asked him back.

He folded his jacket over the back of the chair with care, took off his cap and stowed it in one of the pockets of his jacket. Without waiting for an answer to his first question, he sat down. With his right index finger, he tapped on top of my English research notes.

“Of course,” I said, more in answer to his previous request about the seat, and quickly gathered up the stack of papers.

So much for writing, I thought.

“Jason,” he said, “I’m Jason Fernando.”

This is an excerpt from my short story Souvenir Tendre.

Copyright © 2019 by Dominée LePen

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this story or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

This story is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is coincidental and not intended. Where references to historical events, real people, or real places occur, they are used fictitiously.