L’ Esprit D’Escalier: (The Original Beginning+).

by | Dec 7, 2023 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

He compared it to a dead bird he’d found under a hedge as a boy.

The fine strands suspending Lucien’s rationality were stretched to breaking point by the remaining four patients. Their conditions ranged from Multiple Sclerosis to Vascular Dementia; all leaving him feeling helpless against the onslaught of twenty-first century illness.

He trudged wearily up the stairs to the asylum of his apartment and some meagre sustenance. Staring down at the four-hour old  baguette, he gave it a poke with his finger. It was either that or a trip next door for a fresh one. That would come with a Marine Le Pen manifesto – no thanks. He compared it to a dead bird he’d found under a hedge as a boy. I was probably as appetising too, he contemplated.  Nevertheless, he took a block of President Emmental, a pat of butter from the same origin and a length of salami from his fridge. Like the surgeon he’d strived to be as a young trainee, Lucien attempted to breathe life into the corpse that would be his sandwich.

Following his far from palatable lunch, washed down with Earl Grey tea, Lucien faced the second round of his bout with the ailments of the eighteenth. As usual, there appeared a lottery of random disorders from the former colonies. He metamorphosed from General Practitioner, to tropical disease specialist, mixed with a sprinkle of dermatology, and all things gynaecological. The number of pregnant women outnumbered the fingers on one hand. The latter were accompanied by the usual sceptical chaperones; a cross between maiden aunts the heads of a local coven.

The day’s battle over, Lucien left work behind to address his equally challenging social life. He showered, dressed and did the best he could with what God had given him, knowing full well it would never be enough for Marielle. There was even the hint of a fragrance about the old man, as he made for the door.

He looked dapper in a mauve crushed velvet jacket that had been fashionable at least three times since he’d bought it. He remembered paying for it in Francs. Beneath that was a white ruffle necked shirt, black satin bow tie and red cummerbund wrapped around the top of his formal black trousers. He looked out of place in any aspect of Parisian society, but either didn’t care or was blissfully unaware. Patent leather brogues made up the ensemble, as he opened the door, once more, on reality.

He pulled out the small bag of provisions from the fridge, which constituted his contribution to the evening ahead. His hand hovered over the wine rack considering a liquid supplement to his offering. He quickly dismissed the notion, predicting comments about vinegar and cheap plonk from his vicious but wealthy fellow diners.

Lucien took one last look at his apartment and the unique possessions contained therein, before pulling the door closed. He inserted the key and turned it to avoid making a noise in the process, not wanting to disturb his neighbours. Or was it the other way around? The doctor descended the stairs, glancing at every door, each containing stories of which Lucien was intimately aware. Stories that held him there, like the sticky threads of a spider’s web. They called it the empathy trap, a dark and dangerous place for a man of his profession. He reached the front door, puffing out a sigh of relief at his grateful solitude, only to suck it back in at the mention of his name.

“Ah, Doctor Lucien. Just the person. May I have a word, please? It won’t take a moment,” The voice was deep and booming, enhanced by the confinement of its source in a closet under the stairs. The origin was the bulky figure of Abs, the final obstacle to Lucien’s exit attempt. Like a South African coal miner In a narrow seam, he was squashed into the cupboard. “I’ll be with you in a second doctor, just let me grab this mop,” he groaned, trying to force his muscular arm into the depths of the relatively tiny space. Lucien thought about feigning ignorance to the man’s request, but the taut silk dragged him back before he could cross the threshold.

“What seems to be the problem, Abs? Can I help you there?” The doctor had not only given in to his arachnid prison but was now offering physical help to the big man. At this point, the roles were reversed and Lucien found himself waiting on his attention.

“Patience doctor, I’ll be with you in a second – I just – have – to – stretch – another – few – centimetres. Got it!” Abs exclaimed with a tortured gasp. “It’s about my friend. She rang me in a state this afternoon.” He squeezed out of the closet blinking at the dim light of the hallway.

“I’m sorry Abdulaye, I’ve said all I can on the subject. I’ll be on my way. Speak soon my friend and take care,” Lucien replied, slamming the door behind him. It took all of his willpower to leave his neighbour, knowing that the errant broom wasn’t going to be the topic of their potential marathon conversation. This was almost crushed by the deep holler that emanated from the disappearing apartment block.

“No, wait, please doctor. it’s important,” his neighbour shouted. “It’s about this morning, my friend.”

As the pleading tones of Abs turned into angry growls, Lucien reached the steps to Chateau Rouge Metro, a few metres from his apartment. The echo of the staircase and the distant roar of the trains drowned out his neighbour and his guilt. The evening hadn’t started well and there were hours left of it, he contemplated. He fumbled in his pocket for the small rectangle that was his resident’s pass and presented it to the scanner. The gate refused to open and a fellow passenger, who was searching for her mobile payment app, walked into the back of the doctor.

“I’m sorry, I seem to be locked out,” Lucien said to the young woman, whom he immediately recognised as Anna’s daughter, Emily de Marisy.

1 Comment

  1. Kenneth Childs



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