L’Esprit D’Escalier: Part Twenty-Nine. The Dinner

by | Jan 5, 2024 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

He retrieved the five perfect tarts from the oven

Lucien woke bright and early. He closed the front door with an audible click and danced down the stairs. Entering the warm yeasty atmosphere of the bakery, he ordered his baguette, and made boulanger Pierre eat his Fascist words.

From the bemused baker, he headed for the local deli. There he purchased ingredients for the starter and accompaniments for his breakfast baton. His first meal back would consist of Comté cheese, fresh tomatoes and Jambon de Paris, cooked on the premises with the traditional French charcuterie recipe.

For the evening’s entrée, Lucien had chosen chicken and corn tartlets, baked blind, so that he could assemble and cook them at Marielle’s. Pascal would help him with the preparation; there was nothing the old man didn’t know about food.

He selected two fat, corn fed, organic chicken breasts knowing that they had been butchered that morning. With them, he purchased half a dozen large free range eggs from Normandy. Each egg had been carefully wrapped in a sheet of newspaper of the date it was laid. Finally he picked two large firm ears of corn, sourced from the Loire Valley.

Returning to the apartment block, he skipped up the stairs with his precious cargo. Two weeks in Brittany and a healthy diet had rolled back the years. At precisely ten, Pascal arrived. The Old flunky was equally transformed. A fortnight away from Marielle had rejuvenated him. His stoop had gone and his intelligent eyes were shining, a vivid blue, the first time the doctor had noticed their colour.

“Good morning Dr Lucien, you look so well. The country air certainly agrees with you,” he exclaimed, kissing the doctor three times.

“Come in Pascal. I must say, something equivalent is blessing you,” Lucien replied, his heart racing in anticipation of their morning together, “how’s hospitality in the third?”

“I adore it. The clients are so generous, both with their attention and their tips. If only I lived closer. It would be perfect.” His expression melted from that of enthusiasm to a far away stare.

“Let’s get to work, we can chat while cooking.” Lucien explained the recipe and the old man rubbed his hands together, the keenness returning.

“I’m looking forward to it, and your story. You do have a story, don’t you doctor Lucien?” A mischievous look descended over the man’s features and he awaited the doctor’s response.

“I think you’ll find what I have to say most interesting.” Lucien washed his hands and assembled the ingredients, “pastry or filling?”

“Pastry, every time. I have cold hands,” Pascal replied, copying Lucien’s ablutions and donning the apron handed to him.

The kitchen was a hive of activity, as one man attended to the flour, water and butter, producing five perfect lined tart tins. The other fried onions and garlic, mixing them with chopped chicken and corn, freshly stripped from the cobs. The mixture was placed in the fridge to cool whilst the bases were filled with dried beans and baked to perfection The whole time, a conversation took place that would see the old butler dance a jig down the hallway.

“Tell me Pascal, what do you think of the flat?” Lucien had already noticed the gleam in Pascal’s eyes at the sight of his unique abode.

“Lucien, it’s magnificent!” For the first time, the old man dropped the formality of Lucien’s title.

“How would you like to live here?” The request had the opposite effect to the one he’d anticipated.

“Doctor. I thought we were friends. This is the sort of joke Marielle thrived on.” The expression on Pascal’s face was that of devastation.

“No, listen. I’m serious. I’m moving to Brittany and I want someone I can trust to look after my apartment. I won’t be returning but I don’t want to sell because it’ll mean the end for the whole block. So, you see? You’d be doing me, and my neighbours, a favour.”

Pascal stared at Lucien, seemingly struck dumb by what he’d just heard. Eventually, he made the effort to speak.

“I don’t know what to say.” The words were deliberate and literal. The man was lost for words. Lucien continued.

“If it’s about the rent, pay me what you pay in Saint Denis.” These last words were the crack in the dam, as Pascal finally realised the implications of the doctor’s offer. He wrapped his arms around Lucien, covering him in flour.

“Oh, Lucien! You are truly an angel from heaven. Yes, of course I’ll accept your offer.” The tears rolled down the old man’s cheeks and onto Lucien’s shoulder.

“Good. That’s settled then. I’ll go to the notary tomorrow and have the papers drawn up. Let’s say a month from now.” Both men shook on it, in a cloud of white.

The rest of the morning was spent clearing up in near silence. Pascal seemed to drink in the atmosphere of his new home. Seeing the happy old man out, Lucien prepared himself for the last Parisian chapter.

***

He packed the deconstructed starters into two containers and placed them, along with the eggs, into a shopping bag. Lucien dressed in the smart outfit he’d bought on a day trip to Nantes with Patrice. A sky blue cotton shirt, navy silk tie, underneath contrasting beige Levi chinos and a navy wool blazer. His boots were dark tan Dunes, zipped up the side. He afforded a brief glimpse in the mirror. The metamorphosis was stunning, even in his own modest eyes. With the confidence of the sight of his own reflection, he exited the flat and descended the stairs. Abdulaye was waiting for him in the lobby and Lucien returned his huge smile.

“Doctor! I heard you were back. How was your journey?” The big man boomed, thrusting out a shovel-like hand. Lucien placed his own hand into its grip and allowed himself to be shaken like a child’s toy.

“Very well, thanks, Abs. How are you both? Did you sort out your little problem?” He recalled the result of the big African’s roving eye, and other appendage.

“Yes, thank you. It was a false alarm and, may I say, a wake up call. The new doctor is helping with therapy for Mrs Haidara. Abdulaye will wander no more.” He tapped the side of his nose with a giant finger and grinned mischievously.

“I see. Say no more, big man,” Lucien replied, retrieving his crushed hand. He’d get the feeling back by the time he got to Marielle’s.

“How did the trial go?” Abs asked, his bulk blocking the doctor’s exit.

“Trial? Oh, yes the fungus? Very well. I’ll make sure you get a mention in the paper. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dash.” Abs’ smile, if possible, widened at the news and he conceded to Lucien.

“Thank you doctor, love to your friends,” he called after the escaping medic. Lucien smiled to himself, love indeed, big fella, he mused, entering the Metro station.

He arrived at Marielle’s apartment block and pressed the bell. He was fifteen minutes early.

“Gaston? Is that you?” Marielle’s voice sounded, along with that of the unlocking door. Lucien ignored it and made for the lift. He didn’t hesitate to enter his mechanical adversary.

“Now then you piece of Napoleonic scrap metal, get me to the third floor,” he muttered confidently. The elevator obeyed without so much as a squeak. He arrived outside Marielle’s as fresh as a newly picked rose. He rapped on the door confidently and waited.

“Oh it’s you. I thought… Why didn’t you answer?” A flustered Marielle stood at the door. If Lucien was revitalised since their last encounter, his nemesis had aged.

Gone was the confident, demure object of decades. Replaced by a harassed, wrinkled woman showing her age. Pascal had done half of Lucien’s job by leaving her.

“Gaston? You addressed that pansy you’ve had the hots for, not me.  That’s why I didn’t respond. Isn’t it time you stopped harassing him? He despises it, you know.” Lucien went straight for the throat.

Without being asked, he removed his jacket and washed his hands at the sink.

“Before you ask, I stood up all the way here. These are new threads. I don’t want them sullied by the great unwashed.” He stole the words from her mouth, leaving her doubly stunned. “Speaking of pansies, is Gaston’s lapdog here? I think I’ll say hello before he gets too high.” Marielle was frozen in shock at the doctor’s onslaught.

Lucien dried his hands on the teatowel while Marielle did a good impression of catching flies. He retreated to the lounge, three-nil up.

“Ah, you’re here, and still sober too. What’s happened? Your dealer put you on stop again?” Valery was stunned by Lucien’s opening volley. His state of sobriety didn’t help.

“Shut up Lucien,” Valéry responded, looking down at the folded napkin.

“Nice one Valéry, I’ll make a note of that one, my gay little wordsmith.” Lucien tore into the novelist while he was down recalling the many times the boot was on the other foot. “Never mind, lover boy will be here soon.”

Valéry placed his head in his hands. Without external stimulation, and the support of the others, he was nothing. “ I must go, kitchen duties call.” The doctor withdrew from the battlefield intact. Just then, the bell sounded. “I’ll get it,” he called, and pressed the intercom. Lucien impersonated the writer to a tee.

“Gaston, I’m so glad you’re here my love. Lucien’s being a beast.” He smiled inwardly.

“How many times don’t call me that! Leave him to me I’ll deal with it” the crackling voice of the sculptor filled the hallway.

“Is that Valéry? Will you let him in?” Marielle called from the kitchen.

“Done,” Lucien whispered in her ear. She almost dropped the tray she was carrying. He took a bowl from the cupboard and cracked five eggs into it, before adding the chicken mix. As he was beating the filling, Valéry thumped on the door. Lucien opened the door and was pushed aside by the young sculptor.

“Where is he? Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage? What did you say to him? What’s wrong with that fucking lift?” Valéry was breathless and incandescent with rage. Lucien shrugged and returned to the kitchen.

“What’s happening Lucie? Valery sounds angry,” Marielle said as he joined her.

“You never know with those two lovebirds. Perhaps it’s a lovers tiff.” Lucien poured petrol in the smouldering embers.

“Lovers? What can you possibly mean?” She put down the tray and tried to listen to proceedings in the lounge.

“Ah, you are blind to the signs. Well, they say that about love,” He responded, placing the five tarts in the oven. Marielle tore off the apron and matched into the saloon. Meanwhile, Valéry was comforting Gaston, who, although confused, wasn’t complaining. The two men were hugging and the writer misunderstood the signs. He made to kiss the young sculptor, as Marielle entered.

“You bastards! How long has this been going on!” The atmosphere was like a forest fire with embers of misunderstanding flying everywhere.

Setting the timer, Lucien prepared for the final blow. He followed Marielle at a safe distance and feigned shock at his young admirer.

“Valery! What is the meaning of this? I thought you only had eyes for me!” He sat in an armchair and buried his head in his hands. The commotion was a joy to behold but he couldn’t look. He absorbed the poison being dished out by the other three, there was no need got mushrooms.

Several minutes of accusation and counter accusation followed. Then the timer sounded on his phone. He retrieved the five perfect tarts from the oven, noting that the roast, which was presumably the main course, was turning black. He carefully closed the oven on the impending cremation.

Lucien placed three tarts on the serving tray and the other two on the cooling rack. One each for himself and Pascal. While the impromptu court was in session, he delivered the three starters, unnoticed, and returned to the kitchen. The fight wasn’t going to end soon. With Lucien curing himself free from the group, the other three turned on each other like a suicidal wolf. Decades of deception and chicanery were released.

Lucien packed the cooling tarts and let himself out without a goodbye.  He would soon start his new life in the country while his former friends destroyed one another.  As he travelled home on the Metro, his phone rang. The name on the screen was Christine’s. He tapped the answer symbol and held his breath.

“Good evening Lucien. I thought you’d like to know, Boubou has arrived. Three and a half kilos of perfection. Patrice is well.” The efforts of the day and the love he had for his new family, caused his emotions to spill over, as the car pulled into Stalingrad station. 

“Tell her I’ll be there soon, with my question.” He hung up and made no attempt to hide the tears of joy. Why should he?

1 Comment

  1. Kenneth Childs

    New Flat and a happy ending.

    Reply

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