Image by: Mario GIambattista (cc by 2.0)
Remember Me, Francois
It was not long before the war and I had only been married to Margaret a few months when we arrived in Paris. Margaret set up house for us in a working class flat and made it presentable enough for us to entertain friends once or twice a week. I spent my days writing and sending dispatches back to New York and Kansas City. My practice was to go to the café around ten in the morning and have a late breakfast of coffee and a croissant. I would write until two. Then I would take a walk to a subscription library where I would see what there was on offer to read.
The library’s fees were really more than I could afford. But the owner, a woman in her early forties, had read some of my work and let me put the fees on the cuff. On this particular day I hadn’t found what I was looking for, a book published a few months earlier in New York, so I went home early. Normally I would have returned to the café, read for an hour and then written for as long as it would come to me or until 6. I always tried to leave something in the well for the next day. Which is why I chose 6.
There is something about schedules that when you break them things don’t go well. Margaret and I had a fight that day. The fight was about money. I was earning, we had what we needed. But she wanted to go the wine merchant and buy wine we couldn’t afford. “
It’s for Benjamin and his wife. I can’t serve them the table red,” Margaret said.
“Then let Benjamin bring his own damn bottle. The table red is a good honest wine. It’s the wine that I drink. It’s the wine that working people drink,” I answered.
“But Benjamin isn’t a working person.”
“That’s true enough. He’s never worked for a damn thing in his entire life.”
I knew what I was saying. Perhaps I was being mean with money. Maybe it was just that I didn’t like Benjamin. He’d known Margaret before she and I had met. Whatever the reason the fight got worse. It really was the first fight of our marriage.
I left the flat to cool off. Mr. Harris, a black tom that prowled around the alley near our flat, rubbed up against my leg. “What do you want, you little beggar?”
He purred and I stooped to pet him. It was then that I saw a tattered flyer pasted on the far wall of the alley. It was an advertisement for a supper club. It was still early, we’d only fought a little over an hour, but it said they were open at that time.
The dinner club was ten blocks from our flat in the merchant district. It had opened up it what once had been a printer’s shop. There were lead slugs and letters in trays from a Ludlow Typograph. The walls were plastered with proof pages that had been hung, glued and forgotten. Where the presses had been were tables with metal chairs that were set for diner.
“Mr. Lynn,” a man said.
I looked over to see the waiter approaching me. “Francois, what are you doing here?”
“I work here in the evenings,” he said.
Francois was one for the first friends I made when I came to Paris with Margaret. He was a waiter at the café where I wrote. “I didn’t know that,” I said.
“I don’t mention it at the café. It is my brother-in-law’s,” he said.
I didn’t know if he meant the café or the restaurant and I never found out.
“Can I bring you some wine?”
“Pas encore,” I said. “The house red.”
“While it is very good. Perhaps I could suggest our-“
“Francois, you are the best. You know this. But tonight I’ve had a fight with Margaret about red wine. I need to drink a good table red.”
“Of course, Mr. Lynn,” he said and was gone.
Later that evening, after I finished eating, the place was nearly empty. Besides myself there was a couple who had come in for dessert and a coffee. There was an older man, British, former military, who had the fish and kept sending Francois back to the kitchen. I drank wine and waited. The fight with Margaret wasn’t good and I didn’t want to go back to the flat yet.
“Mr. Lynn,” Francois said, “is there anything else I can get for you?”
“Francois, you will remember me, won’t you?”
“Mr. Lynn,” he asked.
“Cusper,” I insisted. “Francois, there is something that preys upon the mind in our moments alone. When I’m not on job.”
“When you’re not writing,” he said, understanding me better than anyone else had in years.
“Exactly, when I’m not writing. I sometimes wonder when the time comes will people who’ve known me, remember me.”
“I’m certain they will,” he said, and began to wipe down my table.
“But will you? When they come and say, ‘Did you know Cusper Lynn?’ will you remember tonight or the café? Will you remember the stories we shared about your father and why you chose not to be a doctor?” I asked, pouring myself another glass of the red table wine.
“I’m not sure that I will share that story, but yes, I will remember you and tell some of the stories,” he smiled and pushed the bill across the table to me.
“Oh, yes, of course,” I got out my money and paid.
I’d always tipped Francois more than I should and I realized in that moment why. It was because I wanted to be remembered by one of the first friends I had in Paris. But what sort of friend do you pay? What type of man do you call “friend” while giving him money to listen to you when you’re drunk or melancholy? I tipped him more than I should have, more than Benjamin’s damn wine would have cost.
As I was leaving, Francois said, “I will remember you, Cusper. I will tell the story about why I didn’t become a doctor and how I studied to be a painter.”
“Thank you Francois, thank you for remembering me,” I said and went home to the flat.
I slept on the landing that night and in the morning Margaret and I patched it up. She was good that way. She didn’t hold a grudge. We spent the day together. A friend with a car took us out of the city to the races. Margaret liked the horses. Her family had a farm in Kentucky where she leaned to ride. They raised Arabian race horses and Margaret knew her horses. We won that day and we bought the wine that Benjamin liked. Then I went back to work the following day.
When I went to the café Francois wasn’t there. I wrote until 2 and went along to the library. The book I wanted to read had finally come in. I went back to the café and read for an hour. Then I wrote until six.
When I arrived home Margaret told me that Benjamin and his wife were coming over for dinner. I kissed her and changed. Benjamin and his wife never came. We ate dinner in silence and I drank the wine. It was good, but not that much better than the red table wine that we normally drank.
The next morning a message arrived. Benjamin and his wife had sailed to England that night. The bank he worked for was recalling their officers to London. There was another message later that morning. Our landlord brought it to me, it had arrived by cable from New York. I was to return to the United States.
We packed what few belongings we had. I took the book back to the library and we sailed the following day for England. Margaret made it back to New York, I didn’t. I knew by then that it was going to be war. It was then that I knew things were done with me and Margaret.
I said I would send for her and she said she would wait for me. But we both knew we were lying.
We had divorced at the end of the first year of the war, long before America got involved. I drove an ambulance and later, when America joined the war, wrote for a newspaper in New York. It wasn’t until after the war that I went back to visit the café and the flat. The flat was still there, it was being rented by a young couple with a baby. It was a boy. The wine merchant still had his shop and I went there to get some red wine. He didn’t remember me. But he did remember Margaret. He asked after her. I told him that we’d divorced and she remarried.
“That is sad,” he said. “She used to visit the shop and tell my wife how happy she was and how she was looking forward to starting a family.”
I smiled. Margaret was good that way.
“Is your wife here?” I asked, wanting to learn more about what Margaret had said when she would visit.
He shook his head, “Dead. Just a few weeks after the war started.”
He shrugged. I bought another bottle of wine and went down to the café. The café was gone. It was now a boulangerie. I asked after the owner of the café but they could only tell me that he’d left and no one knew where to. I asked after Francois, but they’d no idea who he was. I went to look for the restaurant and found it was still there. It had changed ownership during the war. The new owner Jean Lefort knew Francois. He told me that he’d enlisted as a medic. He had been with the Fifth Army and was killed at Guise during the counter attack.
I took my wine and went down to the seine. I’d been drinking for an hour when a police officer came along. “Good evening,” he said.
“It is evening,” I agreed.
“Perhaps you should be going on home,” he suggested.
I pointed out across the seine to the Cathedral de Notre Dame. “A friend of mine sketched that when he was a young man. It was why he decided not to be a doctor. He said, if the human soul could create such a thing then he would commit himself to nothing less than creation on this scale.”
“Your friend was French.”
“And you are, American.”
“Very much so.”
The officer thought about this for a few moments. “You are here to remember him I suppose?”
“He died at Guise. Or so I’ve been informed.”
“That is sad.”
“Want to hear something sadder? I used to tip him lavishly hoping that he would remember me. That one person in this city might know I was here. That my first friend might.”
“That is very sad.”
“Yes, well I can promise you that I sure as hell will never tip like that again.”
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