Misery at the Grand Palais
A man sits on the third step of the Grand Palais, in his hands a tattered copy of Brontë’s Villette, having found himself in a position that he has always wanted to never be in. He sits in waiting, in part for a dear friend’s suggested arrival and in part for a former lover to return and reconcile a kindled bond so ferociously torn. The man sets down his text so as to ponder over the scrambling Paris crowd on the Avenue du Général Eisenhower. He eyes with intent to find something, someone, that he will never again lay eyes upon save is incessant, tormentful dreams. Instead, he sees the eyes of a woman in approach, who for a moment he mistakes for another woman altogether.
“Oscar,” says the woman in haste, the handle of her purse bobbing with the motion of her arm and the dimples on her lovely cheeks accented by the drape of her delightful sepia curtain of hair that falls to chin-length, all details that the man inadvertently fails to notice in his elsewhere engrossed thought.
“Lorielle, Madame,” the man listlessly replies, “a pleasure.”
“And the same to you, Monsieur, though I must say you do look a bit worn if I am quite honest.”
The man enjoys a moment of brief hysteria during which he imagines each passerby to be of personal villainy and satisfies that fatigue is a result of an ill man, and not the other way round.
“Do I? Well, it certainly has been a most unwavering week, and to that, we will ascribe the likes of my less than marvelous appearance!”
The man half-bows and smiles distantly. The smile of a man who made plans to carry his mind elsewhere but is hardly able to be present during such arrangements. They enter past the stone pillars into the broad, gaping doors of the Palais, unsure of each other.
“And how the wind simply carries the piece away!”
“Oh, Lorielle, what a shame it continues to be.”
The two remain in front of a setting of an austere country cottage, torn. A piece just past the vestibule.
“Is everything well, Oscar?”
The man hunches over a viewer’s bench not two feet from the floor and removes his auburn cloche.
“Mighty fine. Perfect. It is merely thought is all. The devil!”
“Concerning what?” says Lorielle, placing a hand on the man’s back that she would choose never to remove if he were ever to notice.
“Nothing is concerning! It is just that she who I once loved is an artist. An artist of this sort. Oh, how it pains me to say it.”
A small crowd begins to gather by the bench at the sight of a crippled man, but the pain is far from physical.
“But it is no concern at all. Shall we proceed?”
The man leaves Lorielle in all of her uncertainty behind as though the question was intended for another woman altogether until she carries along to be present if the man is to feel ill once more, which she suspects may occur, and which she does not wish will not occur so that a hand of hers can be lent both in the physical and as a plentifully warm gesture.
“And this, Oscar! A wondrous winter scene.” Lorielle takes in a pallet of soft whites and blues at an exhibit towards the rear of the Palais, unaccompanied. “Oscar?”
“Yes, I am here. A wondrous scene, indeed.”
The man sits on the third step of the rightward stairs that border the exhibit, having shed his juniper coat and placed his cloche on the floor in front of him. Both palms give shelter to the man’s young, wrinkled forehead, creases brought on by the relentless power just within.
“It appears we ought to discuss the matter.”
“Nothing’s the matter! I am just troubled of focus at the moment. And worse, I have asked you here only to join in my discord.”
“Not to concern one bit, Oscar.”
“But nothing is the matter. I have had plenty of time to rue the hurt of a broken bond and promise not to continue at this time. To tell the truth, she paid me little attention. She loved me not, I tell you. And for that, it is only logical for our bond to have been terminated.”
The man gathers himself. He stands and replaces both articles before a passerby approaches him and the beautiful Lorielle, who no man would forget to assist to her feet, but who escapes the man’s mind entirely.
“Perdón, Monsieur.” He tips his cap, looking at Lorielle and back towards the man with envy. “Madame.”
“What is it?” begs the man.
“Monsieur, are you an artist?”
Lorielle offers a magical chuckle from the second stair. “Why, of course he is an artist. An artist in many a light.” She is assisted to her feet by the inquisitive person and perches up against the broad shoulders of her own.
“Dismiss her,” the man says with no ill-intent. “I am no artist, nor do I belong in such an establishment.”
“Do give yourself some credit, Oscar. What has become of you?”
“Here, Lorielle, the two of us stand, in a hall of enlightening art, and I am surely in one of the darker places a man can dwell. A matter that I have brought upon myself but cannot seem to shed. It is a torturous cycle, that I bring myself back to this harrowed hall only to brew in the same atmosphere as I once shared love in. But she cannot see me, nor hear me, Lorielle, no matter how oft I appear in this very hall and no matter how many thoughts reside in my mind of her, they remain just that, mere thoughts, and she does not appear likewise to meet her, which is a ludicrous expectation altogether but one that I cannot let go of.”
A bead of sweat journeys from the man’s creased forehead down his tense jaw and onto the surface of the hall.
“It is not so much my concern how the love was lost, but that I have lost love and it is not to return. She hates me, Lorielle. It won’t matter why. There may be very little reason. She hates me.”
From the adjoining hall appears another passerby, a woman, who too gives Lorielle a keen eye and who stops before the crippled man in momentary disbelief. She brushes away a long strand of amber hair and fixes her posture as one would in the presence of a man of the arts.
“Monsieur, excusez moi, you are an artist, are you not?
Lorielle takes measures to excuse the woman without a word.
“But why must everyone assume me an artist?”
“Give it no thought, Oscar. I believe we ought to make our exit.”
“Certainly not, Lorielle. Certainly not. I do not mean to cause a scene. Allow me to move on. It is long overdue.”
And if Lorielle could just enter the mind of that man for a moment, she would on one hand sort some direction into the crowded complex and on the other bathe in the somehow enticing, fauvist assemblage that is a troubled man’s mind, split between the hate he still loves and the love he unconsciously hates.
“A mirror is what you need, Oscar.”
“Hardly the case. Have a little patience.”
“I’ve had, must you be aware, my share of patience. But patience is incapable in the presence of the blind.”
“What must you mean, dear Lorielle?”
“There is only one notion that I could possibly mean.”
A figure in a dark coat approaches. He does not stop to inquire but ponders the portrait on the wall behind the two. He passes.
“Love me instead, Oscar.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you love me. And an ill man could never consciously choose such a path.”
The man in dark attire reappears form the opposite end of the hall. He brushes the man on the shoulder and nods.
“Pas un artiste, merci,” the man replies with a frown and gestures the stranger off.
Instead, the dark-clothed man points in the direction of the wall immediately behind the two and makes his exit. On it, a portrait of a man in a dreary state resides. He dons familiar attire, but even more so familiar, the creases of a temple shattered by thought and memory. Memory turned rotten. Hair too young to gray, shoulders too young to ache but vividly marked on the portrait. An auburn cloche, a juniper coat, a bothered conscience; the only difference to the eye happening to be just that. They are nonexistent. Not painted. Blind.
Lorielle turns to profess her love, but the man turns to depart and to dwell in a place that no man should have to dwell: away from the one he is loved by, towards the one he will always love with no reciprocity. And before he makes way down the hall, out of the broad, gaping doors of the Palais, past the third step of the frontmost staircase, and into the scrambling Paris crowd on the Avenue du Général Eisenhower, “a mirror, indeed,” he whispers.