Sidewalk Cafe


“We’ll always have Lyon” she said. I laughed and so did she, but I don’t think she got it. Such a ridiculous trite cliché, just like her. Always? There is no “always”. There is “now”. Maybe there’s “not-now.” Couldn’t prove that one by me, though. Now, that’s all I know.

It wasn’t a long affair in the first place. A week, snatched from the tedium I forgot as soon as I boarded the plane. There’s just “now”, remember?

Why Lyon, and not Paris? Paris is so romantic, so urbane, so continental, so …. Yeah. Exactly. Nobody goes to Lyon.

Except her.

She was at the rental car place at the airport in Geneva — I’d gotten a cut-rate flight to Geneva, had a car reserved for the drive through the mountains to Lyon. She was trying to use a phrasebook to explain to the clerk that she had to have a car, even though they’d lost her reservation. She was totally ignoring the fact that the clerk spoke excellent, though heavily accented English — doesn’t everyone these days? — and kept up the ‘oh dear’ and ‘wait, I’ll find it’ noises. American. Obviously.

People behind me were beginning to get restless, making those little huffing sounds people do just before they begin to complain loudly to the air, hoping someone else will agree, so they can storm the Bastille in tandem. Or the rental car counter anyway. I’d had enough.

“Pardon me, but perhaps I could help?” I offered, leaning just slightly in her direction.

“Oh! Oh, would you? Do you speak … oh dear, I don’t know if it’s French or German here!”

I heard the snorts of at least two people in the queue behind us.

“Yes, I can speak with the clerk for you. Now, what’s the problem?”

“Lyon. Oh, I don’t mean Lyon itself is the problem. But I’ve got to get there this afternoon, and somehow this … this person has lost the reservation for my car. The meeting was moved to Lyon, you see, after I was already in flight to Geneva and — ”

“Yes, yes, well, I’m going to Lyon, and would be happy to give you a lift, and I’m certain you can find a rental there.” I looked a question at the clerk.

Ah, oui, M’sieur, there are autos to be had in Lyon, assuredly.”

“Oh! He understood you!” She looked daggers at the clerk, who rolled his eyes in return. “He didn’t tell me he understood English!”

Neither of us bothered to point to the sign assuring travelers that the clerks spoke French, German, Swiss, and English.

“Be that as it may, if you’ll accept a lift from me …?” I turned back to the clerk and gave him my last name, hoping my reservation was in the system.

Certainement, M’sieur. Votre auto — your car, it is ready.”

Merci, Robert.

Before he could push the paperwork across the counter for my signature, she piped up, “You know him? Well, no wonder he can understand you then.”

God was she really that clueless? The man was wearing a name tag. I began to regret my offer. It could be a very long drive with a redhead who should have been a blonde. As I signed, she chewed her lip, then finally shrugged. “Thank you. Yes, I’ll accept your offer, but you must let me pay you.”

“Nonsense. I’m going there anyway.”

“But you’ve been so kind.”

“Not at all. Just moving things along,” I countered, and grinned as the people behind us broke into applause as I touched her elbow and steered her away from the counter.

She glared at them, and I thought for a moment she was going to make a scene. “Is all of this your luggage?” I asked quickly, pointing to a distressingly large grouping. Silently I titled the faux still life. American Two-Day Business Trip.

The luggage was hers, of course. I managed, despite her ‘help’, to get most of it stowed in the boot, my own case in the back seat, tangled with her overnight bag, a carry-on, a leather full length coat, a sweater, and a messenger bag.

As we pulled away from the parking space, I said, “I’m Peter,” leaving it up to her if she told me her name.

“Oh! I”m sorry. I should have introduced myself. I’m Beth. Well, actually, I’m Sarabeth Eloise Duncan Brown.” She laughed.

I smiled. Instead of exasperating me, she was beginning to amuse me. “Well, Sarabeth Eloise Duncan Brown, I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Me, too, Peter. Where are you from?”

Great. Small talk, ice-breaking. My favorite thing. Sarcasm doesn’t suit me, my mother always said. I disagree.

We passed the trip doing the getting-to-know-you thing. And least I did. I don’t know that she learned much about me, since she chattered almost constantly. It wasn’t long before I knew that “her people” lived in “the Delta”, wherever that is — Americans assume that everyone knows their world — that she was married, had two dogs and no children, was thrilled to be in Europe at last, and couldn’t wait to see “old stuff, you know, a couple of hundred years old, just imagine.”

I refrained from pointing out that to Europeans, a couple of hundred years was yesterday. During one of the rare lulls in her stream of “everything about me”, I glanced at her and realized she was actually attractive when she wasn’t jabbering. A redhead with pale clear skin, large blue eyes, though I suspected those were contacts, a full mouth devoid of lipstick but glossed to a fine shine. Her hair was loose around her face, her neck long and graceful, her breasts — or her bra, since I’d had no opportunity to verify what I could see — round, high, not overly large. A bit of a tum, but I’m not obsessed with skin-and-bones, so that worked well also. Legs not too long — she wasn’t particularly tall, or short either, just average height — and again, a bit more to them than we’re told we should like. Just right for me.

My interest was becoming obvious as we neared Lyon, though I hoped not overly so. “Where can I take you, Beth? You should be able to arrange for a car from your hotel.”

She named it, and I smiled. “Very interesting. That’s where I’m staying, too.” It wasn’t, of course, but she’d no need to know I was changing plans to be able to try my luck with verifying the reality of those breasts. Besides, I knew the place, had stayed there before. Nice enough without being outrageously expensive, and there was a cafe around the corner I particularly appreciated for the coffee and pastries.

“Oh, that’s wonderful, Peter! I’m glad you’re not having to go out of your way for me.” She hesitated. “And … I hope you don’t think I’m being forward or anything, but I’d like to repay your kindness in some way. Could I take you to dinner this evening, after my meeting?”

I looked directly at her for a moment, then turned back to the traffic. “I’d like that. Yes, and I like women who aren’t afraid to ask a man out.”

“Oh, I’m not asking you out! I’m married, after all.” She laughed again. “Well, I suppose I am asking you out, but … you’re such a gentleman. I’m sure you won’t take advantage of me.”

Take advantage of her? Did people really still think that way? I supposed maybe in whatever place ‘the Delta’ was, they did. I shot her another glance and saw a hint of something there in her eyes, something that hardened me a bit. “Don’t be too sure, Beth,” I smiled. “A beautiful woman like you? What man wouldn’t want dinner at the same table, perhaps several glasses of wine and some hope?”

She laughed, and it happened, that moment when a woman believes she’s beautiful and even the least attractive become something special under that power. “Beautiful?”

“Oh, yes, beautiful.” It wasn’t a lie, though maybe another man wouldn’t see what I saw.

We spent a week together. She made up some excuse for the boss and the husband back in “the Delta” — I still don’t know where that is — and we spent the days exploring Lyon and the environs, and the nights exploring each other.

Beth insisted we not exchange contact information, since she was certain her husband would discover our affair and “try to get custody of the dogs”. She fretted a bit over leaving, worrying that I’d be distressed at her return to her life in that Delta. I could have assured her nothing was further from the truth. A week was wonderful, but longer than that, and I’d be deep in my cups before noon. I took her back to Geneva — she never did get a rental of her own — and suffered through the unneeded attempts to cheer me up, the trite “always” statement, and smiled with relief as she finally boarded that plane.

I returned the car, walked out to the parking lot and when I was certain no one could see me, spread my wings and transported home. I stretched, feeling like myself again at last.

“Hey, Peter, glad you’re back. Your gig sucks, so don’t be asking me to relieve you again any time soon.”

“Yeah, well yours isn’t exactly shits and giggles either. Maybe in another couple millennia we’ll do this … what did you call it, “time-share” … thing again. Give me the keys and go home, Lucifer.”


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