Here is the first part of a short tale for the holidays. The Paradise Stones. My daughter helped me work out the story line (thank you darling) and I’m trying to weave the text. I’ll be posting part two in a couple of days time, I hope you like it!
Elsa was sitting in a low armchair in the corner of a charming living room, the view from the window was over grey Parisian rooftops, and in the distance the spike of the Eiffel Tower lit up in the early evening light.
She was chatting on the phone: “Yes that’s right, I was standing there in the airport for what seemed like hours, and everyone’s suitcase came out but mine! “ ….. I know, can you believe it?! For the first time in my life I get to Paris, and my luggage gets lost! “
“But anyway, I just decided to make the best it, I went shopping, bought myself some really cute pyjamas, a pair of cashmere socks, and the airline tells me that I’ll have my bag later this evening”
“Oh come on Jane, yes cashmere! you know how I need my creature comforts …. What? …. Yes that’s right, I’m staying in a really cute little apartment Rue du Paradis. I met up with the girl from the agency at the end of the afternoon, and she let me in and gave me the keys …. She didn’t stay long because she had to rush off to let some other clients into a different apartment, but she was nice enough …. Yeah, I’ll send you pictures tomorrow, it’s just divine, everything you’d want for a weekend in Paris, … I wish you were here with me sis,… Mum would have loved that we made this journey together” …. She laughed … “yeah right, I’ll just find some handsome french guy and have a romantic weekend instead …..”
The door bell rang. “Hold on Jane, there’s someone at the door, I hope its my suitcase, I have to hang up, I’ll call you again tomorrow, love you”
Elsa, turned off her phone that was plugged in to recharge after the long day out and about in paris, she grabbed the keys to the apartment, and rushed down the two flights of stairs, then flung open the huge heavy door that led out onto the street.
“Bonsoir Madame”, the delivery man was standing there with her suitcase and with a clipboard. On his chest she noticed an ‘Air France’ logo, He was holding a page with a dotted line “‘votre signature ici, s’il vous plait, sign here please”
He passed her the clipboard and to hold it properly she let go of the door, which closed with a quiet click behind her. She signed the form and gratefully grabbed her bag “Merci”, he turned tail, jumped into his truck that was double parked and sped away. Elsa turned around and pushed hard against the door, “oh no, it’s shut”, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the key ring, “now which one is it”, the street was dimly lit and she fumbled for a while to find the right key. “This must be it”, the key went in easily enough but refused to turn, “hmm”, she tried the other key on the ring, same thing, “Oh come on, what is this?”
She tried both keys again, several times, a sinking feeling in her stomach. Here she was in Paris, where she knew nobody, standing in the street in her pyjamas and socks, and holding a suitcase that she couldn’t open because it was locked and the key was upstairs in her apartment … along with her phone.
“I don’t believe this is happening!” She looked around, desperate for a solution, in the building on the other side of the narrow street, she saw a curtain move on a dimly lit window. “Oh my goodness this is so embarrassing”. A woman walked by “excusez moi Madame, do you speak english?” the woman crossed to the far side of the street and hurried past.
“What am I going to do?”, desperately she tried the keys again, it was mid December and she was beginning to feel very cold.
Behind her she heard a door open, she turned around. It was the big entrance beneath the window where she had seen the curtain twitch. At first she had trouble seeing who was there, but as she peered across the width of the street, the silhouette of an elderly lady, quite small and wrapped in a generous shawl.
The woman made a sign, beckoning to Elsa, “Venez, venez ici” At that moment it started to rain , “ Elsa didn’t stop to think but trotted across the street, pulling her noisy suitcase behind her.
“Merci madame, excusez moi, my key isn’t working, oh dear, this is very awkward.”
The lady didn’t answer but simply led Elsa slowly through a courtyard and up a steep flight of stairs. Now and again she paused and turned around to make sure that Elsa was following, at the top of the stairs, she lifted a key to a tall wooden door, and turned the lock.
As the door opened, Elsa could smell a faint and somehow familiar perfume. The lady walked through the door and disappeared, Elsa hardly dared follow. “Venez, venez ici”, the lady called “well, I think that means come in,” Elsa said to herself. She walked into the high ceilinged hallway and parked her suitcase beside the door. Before walking timidly further into the apartment
A beautiful wooden floorway led her through another door and into the only room with lights on “asseyez vous”, said the lady “I think that means sit down” Elsa muttered to herself. She perched on a small chair and looked up, and gasped. She was seated in the most beautiful room, full of paintings, comfy deep armchairs, lamps on small side tables… The lady had disappeared and Elsa had plenty of time to take in the details of the room without daring to move from her chair.
The paintings on the wall were a mix of portraits, landscapes and what looked like sketches from a fashion show. She was about to stand up and take a closer look but the lady appeared before her carrying a large cup and saucer “du thé chaud, ça vous fera du bien” she smiled. Elsa took the cup and the perfume of a highly scented tea drifted up to her face, eagerly she held the cup in two hands, “Just what I needed, boy it was cold out there”, She smiled at the lady ‘Il est tres froide” thinking to herself, I hope that means it’s cold outside.
The lady was still standing in front of her. She was not very tall, and it was difficult to give her an age, but certainly older than 70. Her white hair was drawn up to a chignon behind her head, and now that she had removed her shawl, Elsa saw that she was wearing wide black pants that fell in impeccable lines and a polo necked soft grey sweater with a bold gold brooch on the neckline. She walked slowly and carefully, and Elsa had the impression that she was watching a delicate porcelain bird, rather than a woman.
The lady was talking in French and never in her life had Elsa regretted so much not paying attention to french lessons at school. She kept repeating “desolée, so sorry I don’t speak french”, the lady smiled, nodded and walked away.
Just as Elsa was wondering if that was her cue to leave, there was a noise in the hallway and a young man walked in and greeted the lady with a warm kiss on each cheek, before even noticing that Elsa was present. He looked at the lady “ c’est qui ca? Ne me dis pas que c’est encore une touriste qui n’a pas les bons clèfs pour l’appart en face?!” His unintelligible question was met with a slight nod of the head and a knowing smile. He sighed and turned to Elsa.
“Bonjour Madame, can I ‘elp you?” “Oh you speak English, thank you!” replied Elsa, relieved to find she could be understood. “Please explain to this very kind lady that I found myself locked out of the apartment, and please thank her for letting me shelter from the rain in her beautiful home”
The young man smiled, “yes of course. I am sorry to say zees is not ze first time. It is ze girl who arranges ze flat opposite, so often she gives ze wrong keys. But you are saved because we ‘ave a spare key ‘ere for you.“
He opened a drawer on a small desk and pulled out a set of keys “voila, madame, with zese keys you can get into your ‘ouse.’”
With that, he motioned to Elsa towards the door, and smiled. She understood that it was time for leave; and turned to say thank you. “Merci Madame, merci beaucoup”, but the lady had turned her back and was walking slowly towards a far door.
The young man accompanied Elsa across the street, luckily the rain had been very short lived and as she tiptoed across the narrow street she hardly even got her socks wet. He carried her suitcase for her “so you are ‘ere on a ‘holiday?”, he asked politely “Well yes, no actually, I am researching a piece of jewelry that will be included in a big show in New York, and I will be here for a few days while I try to unravel the story.”
He looked at her, surprised “Really, and what kind of bijoux is it?” “Well it’s a little complicated to explain, but I am part of the team curating an exhibition about the exceptional jewels that were lost during the war. And there is one piece that I find particularly intriguing because, well…. for many reasons.” She glanced at him, he was watching her carefully, listening to her every word.
He nodded, encouraging her to continue, “I won’t bore you with the details, but I am most interested in a necklace that I believe was dismantled at the start of the war, and I hope to find the pieces and that the story will be the main exhibit in the show.”
“Dismantled?” the boy was looking quite serious now, but just as she was about to say more the rain started again, much harder. He pulled his collar up around his neck. “Your story is interesting, maybe when we next meet you will tell me ‘ow it is going? Bonsoir Madame”
And there he was gone. Elsa stood for a moment, and watched him disappear back into the dark hallway of the building opposite, before turning around and hurrying back into the warm of her own little apartment, to reflect upon her day and get some rest. Tomorrow would be a big day.
Thank you for reading this first part of my story, I hope you enjoyed it. As ever I have no pretence about my fiction, it’s not great literature, just a little tale, with love from me to you!
Part Two is to be found here
and part Three is here.