L’ Esprit D’ Esacalier: Part Fourteen.

by | Dec 13, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Previously…

“I’m sorry, I seem to be locked out,” Lucien said to his fellow passenger, whom he immediately recognised…

“Come on, I’m in a hurry,” the young woman said without looking up from her phone. It was the daughter of his neighbour, Anna De Marisy. Emily had been the subject of Anna’s rant that morning in the surgery.

“I’m sorry Emily, there seems to be something wrong with my card,” he said to the girl. As she looked up from the screen, her face was the antithesis of the one he’d observed several weeks earlier. On that occasion the child cowering, head bowed, hands between her knees, was the image of innocence. 

“Just shift you old fool,” she snarled, pushing past him, followed by her three friends. He made for the ticket machine and bought a carnet of five tickets. He would sort the card out another day. At that moment, he was more concerned with being on time. 

Following a thoroughly miserable journey, he alighted the train at Alma-Marceau station, and crossed onto the Avenue Marceau, passing the unofficial memorial to the late Princess Diana. He always stopped for a few moments to remember her and Dodi al Fayed who’d perished in the Alma tunnel below.

Lucien had lost count of the times he’d had to correct tourists who thought it was built for the unfortunate Princess. It is, in fact, a full size replica of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty, and as such, is called the Flame of Liberty.

He walked a few steps to the apartment block and entered the gated garden. Lucien looked at the column of buttons that represented the fourteen apartments. Each one was made from ivory over one hundred years ago, surrounded by highly polished brass, and accompanied by a tiny window bearing the resident’s name. Wiping his index finger on the lapel of his worn overcoat, he pressed the button corresponding to apartment 13 – Deschamps, M. It was Marielle’s turn to host and he was dreading it. 

There was a click, followed by a buzzing sound, then silence. Lucien stood and waited for something to happen. Suddenly, he jumped at the loud voice that punctured the hush.

“You are late, doctor. Come up, we’ve been waiting.”

He checked his watch, two minutes past six, the two minutes he’d shared with Diana. “Six for seven;” she’d said. Therefore he was fifty-eight minutes early, depending on which way you looked at it. The door emitted a further sound, this time a deeper drone and he pushed its heavy, mahogany mass to enter the foyer. His self-consciousness enveloped him at the familiar, opulent sight of the hallway, putting his tatty landing to shame. They knew how to build houses in the eighth, he pondered, scarcely believing that this whole property had once been a family home.

As usual, he was met with the same dilemma; stairs or lift. The former, all eight flights, would play havoc with his old knees. He would arrive, out of breath and trembling for, what was already, a daunting occasion. The latter was a mechanical coffin, intent on burying him alive. Somehow, it seemed to be aware of his presence, unlike his hostess and the two other dinner guests, who had no problem with the temperamental elevator. 

“How you ever passed your medical exams when you can’t operate a simple lift is beyond me,” one would say, to the mirth of the others.

Add to that the fact that he was already apparently late, and he became dismayed at the thought of another evening in Hell. Choosing the first option, he began to contemplate his attendance at these monthly soirees. Each step on the black marble staircase, flecked with veins of white, became a thought. A question to be answered.

Why do I insist on coming here?

Because you want to. You love it, really.

Why am I dreading it now then?

Memories, places, things.

But I don’t feel like this before I get here.

They’re all you’ve got, Lucien.

Why do they hate me so much?

They love you really.

One huge, quivering breath, and he reached the top floor, quatrième étage; indicated by a black-and-white marble plaque, resembling a negative of the stairs. The lettering was carved into the stone and highlighted in gold leaf, indicating that you had arrived, in more ways than one.

He stood for a moment, conscious of the sheer size of the door to her apartment. In the absence of bell or knocker, he tapped on the shiny black surface with an arthritic knuckle.

***

The door opened and there stood his life. Forty years had not touched her perfect features, she was immortal.

“Come in, Lucie. I see you took the stairs, you really must get some exercise. What are we going to do with you?” Her voice had only improved with time, like a carefully cellared merlot.

“Good evening Marielle,” Lucien gasped, her presence, and his exertion voiding his mind of anything but formalities. It was going to be a long night. He edged past the woman into the apartment hall with its collection of art, each of which was worth more than his simple home. He was prevented from entering the lounge by her dulcet tones.

“Now-now, Doctor. It is your turn to be my sous this evening,” his hostess commanded. “Did you bring the pastry?”

“Yes, Mimi, it’s here and the temperature should be perfect,” Lucien replied, turning on his heels to face the object of his desire.

“How many times? Do not call me that.” Marielle’s voice transformed to that of an aged dragon as did her features.

“I’m sorry,” Lucien said, clutching the shopping bag to his chest in an act of subservience.

“Yes. You are, in every respect. A sorry sight indeed. Now, wash your hands, and let’s get started. God only knows what you’ve handled on the way from the nineteenth. Why do you insist on living in that sink, Lucien?” Came the woman’s barbed reply, one in a firing squad of shots he knew he’d have to fend off tonight.

“It’s the eighteenth, you bitch!” Someone said.

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