Tuesday, 12 April 2011

An Englishman In Paris

This month's assignment was to write precisely 500 words based on the following photograph:

An Englishman In Paris

Smythe paced.
She was late, but he had always believed that to be a woman's prerogative. "Fashionably late" she would call it when eventually she arrived, high heels awkward on the ubiquitous kitty-litter with which all Parisian parks are inexplicably paved, a breathless kiss rouging his cheek.

"Meet me in the Tuileries, by Rodin's ROFL" she had whispered.
His expression of helpless bafflement was sufficiently eloquent for her to add, "Look at the statues and figure it out for yourself, silly. God, you are so square it's adorable."
And then she was gone.

Smythe paused in his pacing, glancing down at his shoes. Immaculate only minutes before, the shiny black leather was now sueded grey with dust. The godawful muck might well be kinder to horse's hooves than cobbles or asphalt but this was twenty-bloody-eleven and he shuddered to think what chaos might ensue were he to ride a horse to the Tuileries through Parisian lunchtime traffic. It must be a conspiracy by Paris cobblers and boot-polish manufacturers. He was grateful the stuff was dry; on rainy days he had to chisel his shoes clean.
For a moment he considered standing on the grass but this was not allowed by park ordnances and Smythe would never dream of transgressing such authority. The grass was for the statues to roll about on; mere humans were forced to trail through the cat-litter.

An Englishman in Paris, he mused, was always a fish out of water. He had lived here for most of his life but would never be Parisian. It was much the same for the English in America. There were Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, even a few Native-Americans, but never – ever – English-Americans. He would always be “an Englishman in America” just as he was “an Englishman in Paris:” a small and misunderstood island of quiet desperation with a slight air of Dickensian fustiness, a constant twenty years behind his immediate surroundings.

He checked his watch: almost half an hour late. That was well within the bounds of prerogative and he was happy to wait. Scattered throughout the park, casual groups of empty green chairs held mysterious conclave but he was loath to sit in one. Some part of him knew that it would be inelegant to be caught seated when she arrived. It must appear as if he had just got here himself. The Englishman again. A Parisian would have been sprawled in a chair for ages by now; indeed would probably have charmed a passing girl and disappeared, reeking of Gauloises and stale coffee.

He waited, feigning nonchalance as he scanned the paths for her, determined not to wave like a gauche American but to pretend he had not seen her until she startled him with her presence.

The statue caught his eye. What had she called it? “Rodin’s ROFL.” The phrase drifted through his mind and he tried to picture what kind of person might really talk like that …

She arrived, fashionably late, but Smythe had fled.