L’ Esprit D’ Escalier: Two.

by | Nov 23, 2023 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

A print of the second of five canvases commissioned by the Emperor; it depicted Napoleon crossing the Alps at the St Bernard Pass.

Lucien laid the bread on the cutting board and filled the kettle. He rubbed his hands together vigorously to create some temporary heat. More permanently, he padded into the lounge to light the small gas fire which nestled in the enormous mahogany fireplace. The open fire and surround had been consigned to history during the last renovation. Fuel was heavy and expensive now for the elderly medic, so he couldn’t complain much.

The room was a temple to the First Emperor and the furniture reflected it. Every item had been carefully collected from chiffoniers and sales throughout the years and around the provinces of France. 

Pride of place went to the  Empire mahogany bookcase, with four half-glass doors. Each shelf was lovingly stacked with leather bound volumes displaying their content and creator by means of gold and silver leaf. The names of Voltaire and Rousseau rubbed shoulders with Camus and Sartre.

Some days, Lucien wished he could just stay in his apartment and digest his literary collection while gazing at the enormous painting of Bonaparte astride Marengo, the small grey Arab he’d brought from Egypt. A print of the second of five canvases commissioned by the Emperor; it depicted Napoleon crossing the Alps at the St Bernard Pass. The doctor shook himself out of the daydream and returned to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.


Lucien’s problems started when the phone rang. Six-fifteen a.m. could mean only one thing; Marrielle.

“Lucie! You’re awake. Do you ever sleep?” The pet name, the statement of the obvious and the judgemental question, confirmed his worst fears.

“Marielle. Good morning. I hope you are well.” Lucien refused to acknowledge her attempt to goad him into anything other than a formal response.

“Is it? Well, I’m glad you think so. No, I am not well.” The woman paused, waiting for a response. None was forthcoming. He had a long day ahead at the surgery before having the pleasure of meeting her face to face in twelve hours time. “Are you there Lucie?” Her tone had changed from light mockery to mild annoyance.

“Yes Marielle.” Lucien closed his eyes and waited for her irritation to ramp up a notch.

“Well. Say something, man!” As predicted, it did.

“With respect, you called me. What can I do for you?” The next level would be fireworks, he thought. He’d pay for that later.

“Oh, yes. Right. Do you have everything for this evening? I’m sending Pascal out to the delicatessen. In case you can’t find the ingredients in that sink of a neighbourhood of yours.” Marielle’s voice had risen an octave and he could sense the spite in her tone.

“It’s all in hand. The shops here stock everything I need.” He was determined not to let her win. She would have that opportunity later with the help of her two allies.

“Fair enough. See you later, prompt, six for seven. Try and take a taxi if you can. I can’t stand the stench of the Metro on you.” Touche. She’d come up with a late winner in injury time, before he could respond. “Goodbye Lucie.”

Lucien gripped the receiver until his knuckles were white. Then, slowly, he counted to ten and replaced it in the cradle, like an errant child he’d decided not to slap. His heart raced and his palms were damp with sweat. The love of his life had succeeded, for the umpteenth time, in raining on his parade.

He questioned the reason for his unrequited devotion to this witch of a woman. However, he only had to close his eyes and put a face to the voice, and his query was resolved.

Lucien had worshipped Marielle, from the day he’d first laid eyes on her, forty five years earlier. They had enrolled at the Sorbonne in the autumn of nineteen seventy-nine, along with the two other members of their monthly soiree. Subsequently, while Lucien was tending to the sick and infirm of the eighteenth, the others had forged successful creative careers, bestowing upon them great fame and wealth.

He contemplated the evening ahead, and his friends’ achievements. Marielle Deschamps was a celebrated painter. Gaston Grolet, the baby of the group by two years, plied his trade in clay and stone, to great acclaim. Finally, Valery Doumer had written and sold millions of novels, in many languages.

Lucien’s appetite had suddenly evaporated. He lit the solitary gas ring on his tiny stove, and placed the kettle on it. He then took down the small single-person cafetiere from the shelf. Two material statements of his reclusive existence. He would survive the morning on caffeine.

He gazed at the golden baguette on the breadboard and considered the waste; like looking at his own life. In less than two hours, it would be inedible, useless; other than for pigeon food.

Lucien wondered how long he had left.


  1. Kenneth Childs

    Magically Descriptive.

    • Gavin Atkinson

      Brilliant but i was hoping that Lucien was living in the Napoleonic era, the gas fire brought me back to the 20th century. Loved the description of Lucien and Marielle jousting with each other reminded of conversations with my ex wife lol


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