Paris Nights is a collection of short stories united by the theme of “fireplace stories” told in the cozy living room of a hostel. It’s where at night, people who come from all over the world to Paris, and are imbued with the romance and sensuality of this city, begin to share the most unusual or ordinary love stories and experiences.
We are not just storytellers. We are listeners, partners in some way, discussing, prompted by, and sharing our experience if there is something in the story that’s consonant with our past.
That is why this book is valuable. Everyone will find here one or more stories that would remind him of his own experience and, perhaps, prompt a brilliant solution for the situation.
This book brings hope to all those people who have lost faith in love and its magic, who stopped believing in their own strengths and good luck.
In each line, I convey the unforgettable atmosphere of these nights in the hostel’s living room so that you, sitting in a comfortable armchair with a book in your hand, immediately move there, inhaling the aroma of good coffee and listening to the leisurely speech of the next narrator.
Jean belonged to that category of people who managed to become adults and escaped the youthful age with its passions, delights, heart dramas and other fascinations, which he considered obviously doubtful. In spite of the fact that he was born and had grown up in one of the most beautiful towns in Paris, the suburb of Bougival, where even Turgenev was inspired to write his new masterpieces, Jean was skeptical about everything that, according to him, “didn’t exist”.
At what moment of his life he suddenly decided that “love” is a myth, undeserving of his precious attention, was a mystery. But the fact remained the fact. Love was an abstract thing for Jean; it was from the field of a fiction, a parallel reality. Certainly, he belonged to those who outlived similar feelings, slightly scornfully, with a sneer.
And of course, Jean considered himself the Parisian. It’s such a light snobbery that made him feel better and create an ideal image.
Jean was always planning. He planned all his life; and if he knew precisely how many years were destined to him, he would schedule every day down to the second, pedantically following the plan. However, Destiny adores laughing at such pedants.
That morning, Jean was hurrying to Paris for an important meeting. As usual, he dropped by his favorite caf? in Myurzhe Street for a cup of tasty coffee and to look through the morning papers.
But he was unpleasantly surprised. His “booked” table was occupied by a young woman who was excitedly eating croissants, and apparently wasn’t in a hurry. She enjoyed her breakfast; the cozy atmosphere; the aromas of coffee; and the sun, which was lazily stroking her left cheek and a lock of nut-brown hair, creating a “nimbus” effect.
Being a sensible person by nature, Jean nevertheless wasn’t deprived of some scrap of superstition.
Of course, being a purposeful person with common sense, Jean was not someone who gave in to difficulties. If the Universe “gave the sign” not to hurry to the meeting, he was sure that any sign can be changed.
Jean called up the waiter who knew him well enough as a regular customer, and ordered a meringue for the stranger. It was his form of an apology and request for her to move to another table, “if it doesn’t bother a mademoiselle.”
He kept an eye on the woman, who looked at the cake with a slight amazement, then shifted her gaze to him.
As soon as their eyes met, Jean’s reality ceased to exist. Work, career, life experience, his attitude toward love and feelings – everything became illusive and unreal, not deserving even a 100-h of his attention. Everything that was important in his life was at “HIS” table. And though reason desperately tried to reach it, feverishly unveiling weighty arguments against “love at first sight” and giving proofs that it doesn’t exist, Jean didn’t hear or see anything but those milk chocolate-brown eyes.
It took ages – an entire moment stretched into millions of time intervals in parallel Universes. For some time, Jean went through such a stream of emotions that he had never experienced in his life.
Being in a daze, he observed her friendly smiling and nodding at him, simply paying her bill and heading for an exit. Even her pace was absolutely unearthly: Jean wasn’t sure if she walked or floated.
The delicate aroma of unfamiliar perfume wrapped him in its captivating veil. The stranger left the caf?, having taken with her not only the cake, but also Jean’s heart.
On unbending legs, Jean passed the table and, having ordered a coffee, he thoughtlessly stared at the newspapers. Lines strangely jumped up, the letters all confused; and in his head, something unimaginable was happening. His brain tried to master shock and put in thought order; but his heart was ready to sing serenades, exult in love and sob with despair as the subject of his inspiration disappeared into an unknown direction. Frankly speaking, even if SHE stayed in the caf?, Jean would never know what to do next.
It’s a funny thing – an interesting and successful man, practically a Parisian, who could fascinate any pretty lady by his manners and talk, now couldn’t even imagine what he could do if the stranger who was at his table stayed there. And now, as she vanished among the people in the autumn morning, there were no any hope for future with her.
Jean was hooked on this thought, but returned to reality with difficulty and more essential prospects – for example, the forthcoming meeting, for which he was awfully late. It is not so far from Bougival to Paris, but this makes the route difficult as many of the residents of this town consider themselves the capital inhabitants and prefer to work in Paris, and to wind down – uptown. But, being an absolutely unromantic and undreaming person, Jean didn’t hope to come in time. And very often, hope can work wonders, especially if it works in consent with a head and a heart. But it wasn’t in Jean’s case.
He was late for a quarter of an hour. But when speaking about the project, he lacked focus and was absent-minded, and his thoughts constantly returned to that moment when the stranger looked at him. Deo gratias, Jean had enough ingenuity to refer to indisposition when he noticed that the meeting is becoming a failure. Nobody doubted that he had caught a virus.
One shouldn’t think that in the world of business, all people are sticks and stones, especially if there’s potential profit. That’s why Jean was given time for recovery and a second chance.
The week after, Jean wandered like a ghost down Myurzhe street, hoping to come across the stranger. But he was in vain. He literally saw the features of that young lady in every woman, those chestnut ringlets causing in him a sensation of real happiness, hope and fear.
For the first time, he didn’t think over what he would do if he met her again. The only thing he knew was that it was necessary to meet her again.
It didn’t look like him. It differed a lot from his way of life, his thoughts, his essence of being, so much that these changes were noticed by all the people around him. However, Jean continued his fake excuse of weakness, which more or less worked also in Bougival, among his friends and family.
After a week of fruitless searching, Jean grew thin, lost weight, and even looked slightly older. However, his emotions and feelings became more faded against the background of another project meeting. When he crossed the threshold of the office, it was evident that he was sick – he looked like that. But that didn’t prevent him from delivering a brilliant speech, and he received the long-awaited carte blanche on the project’s realization.
We were sitting by the fireplace and looking at the person who had never believed in love and, of course, love at first sight.
He experienced the strongest blow of his life. And now, he says, smiling sadly: “I am not sure anymore that it was love. Some delusion. And, probably, it has passed. If it were love, Destiny would have surely presented me with – us – a second chance. But now – I don’t even know her name.”
He entered our hostel by chance, just for tonight, because his car broke down. The mechanic promised to repair everything in the morning. Jean, obeying some internal feeling, chose our hostel, giving it a preference among many similar ones, to say nothing of luxurious Parisian hotels. Here, when we were sharing our stories, the old Jean’s wound opened; and he understood how it was important for him to tell someone his story, to share his emotions, right up to the moment when even his nearest and dearest didn’t know what was the problem with him and what he was recovering from. Telling the story now, he re-experienced all his feelings, emotions and shock from his own irrational behavior, so unusual for his nature.
The listeners’ reactions weren’t the same, but all agreed that it was one of the saddest love stories in the world. It’s a love story that died without having even managed to begin.
We were sitting with Jean and thinking over the possible variants of his behavior. What would everyone else do in his place? And it is possible to do anything, and it is worth doing now when it has already been more than half a year?
The only thing Jean was sure of was that it was silly to deny love, and particularly to explain it with chemistry and physics. But he couldn’t take it for granted, either. He had received a lesson, and perhaps this lesson wouldn’t have been so cruel if Jean was ready for sentiment. Relationships were always a simple game for him, and he had never thought until this situation that he could hurt somebody’s feelings. Now, he was undergoing a phase of loneliness; and still subconsciously tried to discover in his girlfriends’ features that only ONE who went away in the autumn morning. The women felt it; and slowly, the circle of his girlfriends melted…
At about 2 a.m., Jean smiled guiltily. He noticed with surprise that he was holding not a cup of coffee, but a glass of wine. Referring to the fact that he has an important meeting with a great number of questions in the morning, he asked for permission “to take a leave”. Our friendly company wished him sweet dreams, having prepared (to tell the truth) to “pick him to pieces” with doubled enthusiasm as soon as he left the living room.
But suddenly, the doorbell tinkled soundly; and the next visitor of our hostel turned up. Thin and a bit clumsy like a teenager, she was wearing a yellow chiffon dress, a knitted striped jacket with a knitted striped hat, and caramel-colored flats. She had big eyes in a milk-chocolate shade.
Doing up her chestnut ringlets, which flipped out from the heading, she charmingly smiled and said: “Hello, I am Marie. Is there a place for me by the fireplace? I’m awfully frozen!”
The ring of the broken glass that dropped out of Jean’s hands seemed like a prothalamion. And when the eyes of these two met again, I swear that in the whole drawing room, we could hear only the beating of hearts; and we literally could see how Marie’s and Jean’s eyes met somewhere in the middle, giving a rise to the biggest electric wave that flew up and burst into multicolored fireworks.
This love story can have a magnificent continuation, and let it never come to an end!
We really enjoyed Luke’s company. He was an elderly Frenchman living in the hostel for the third day. And if he was at his best every evening, brimming with various stories from his life, today he was simply irresistible. It is probably because today, his company was shared by a young blonde girl: slender, pretty, giggly and, contrary to popular opinion, definitely sensible.
Luke was about sixty years old and homely: average height, with some excess pounds and some gray hair on head and hands. But his eyes and his charm could captivate any woman. He had an exquisite sense of humor, tremendous talent for mimicry, and a constantly positive temper. That all made him the pet of society and one of the favorites of our “sit-round the fireplace” routine. It seemed that the atmosphere became warmer and nicer with him around. At once, we wished to share our thoughts, feelings and experiences.
That’s why nobody was surprised when we saw a young nymph-like lady in his company, about 25 years old with a model’s appearance, and who seemed to be absolutely fascinated by the elderly gentleman. They looked so perfect together that nobody felt jealousy or scorn, or desired to give Luke a lecture about good morals or anything regarding his family hearth, which he had mentioned several times before.
Hey, yeah. Luke was married. Unlike many others, he had a lucky marriage, as he told us himself. He loved his wife, with whom he had lived about thirty years already and who (again, according to him) was a real godsend and perfection. And here, against the background of those telling their stories, we watched Luke, who slightly embraced his young companion at the waist, and made an absolutely crazy tea mixture from a set of herbs. He listened to our talk, occasionally inserting a remark or laughing with his slightly hard baritone.
It was strange, but it had never come to our minds to suspect him of infidelity – he was so sincere in describing his wife and his feelings. None of us could even think of reproaching him about obvious adultery. It was evident that he wouldn’t put the beauty in a taxi after all, being limited only by talks at the fireplace.
At that time, we were discussing the story of Yen and Olga (the Russian girl) when the door of the hostel suddenly opened, and a Fury appeared on the threshold. No, not literally, of course. It was a beautiful woman; but at the peak of rage, she was unearthly! My French is not bad; I can talk without barriers. But the tirade of this madam was so calorific and fast with a truly Italian temperament that even I, with my knowledge, could understand only the essence of it and imagine the possible aftereffects: a visitation of God and other measures of punishment which will be applied to her husband immediately.
I swear, I couldn’t even catch sight of her air inhalation to utter everything that she had in her heart. At the same time, she had a sonorous voice, a voce piena that wasn’t grating on our ears, but enjoyable. We derived a pleasure in studying Luke: he looked scared, confused, and was carefully hiding his young girlfriend behind him, who was frightened and out of her wits, and timidly cooing something in her gentle voice. Meanwhile, the look of a Fury obviously deserved more attention. She was elderly, but a very beautiful woman with a shock of blonde hair and clear brown eyes, sending bright lightings, and with quite a sporty figure.
Compared to her, Luke looked like a bear cub. But nobody had any doubts that they were a single whole. It is astonishing that people who’ve lived together for more than thirty years, in spite of their different features, have a certain similarity that is so obvious that you can guess at once that they are a couple, a real family.
Meanwhile, Luke’s spouse went on the offensive. Luke said a few words to Ellen in his mellow baritone (Ellen was the girl’s name; surprisingly, nobody even thought of asking for her name). The girl quickly ran away and jumped into the first taxi that appeared. Having put some money in her hands, he murmured “Merci,” quickly kissed her cheek (in front of his furious wife!) and, closing her by his back, let her go.
As soon as Luke didn’t have to keep his wife at outstretched arms’ distance anymore, he obediently threw them down. A hail of reproaches, shouts, slaps in the face and so on fell upon him with a double rage. We felt ill at ease, being at the epicenter of events but not being able to do anything.
We could only watch as Luke, our cheerful, good-natured and surprisingly softhearted person, grew darker by the second. He then said in a quiet and harsh voice that he didn’t wish to see his wife anymore. He took his coat, which was hanging on a back of the armchair next to the exit, and went forth into the night.
The doorbell softly tinkled. Against it, the bang of a door sounded like a shot into the heart of a family, which was breaking up in front of our eyes.
For a few seconds, there was a stark silence in the hall by the fireplace. Then “a spiteful Fury” fell into the nearest chair. Her shoulders drooped, and an aggressive break of eyebrows absolutely got another outline. Here before us was a simple woman: beautiful with a very exquisite appearance. She was sitting and hid her face in her palms. It appeared that she didn’t care about the others who became witnesses to this scene, her emotional state and the rest.
She did not even cry. She was just wearily hiding from it all. Such a childish eccentricity when a kid closes his eyes with his palms, and he is sure that nobody will see him. I, and all who were nearby, had a desire to console and help her somehow, taking into account that we had been discussing only love stories for the last few days. Couldn’t we find a solution to this problem together?
The bar glass slightly tinkled. I turned and saw Annette, a red-haired bar girl who had a day off today. As a bartender, she knew what was important for such moments; she filled one-third of a glass with Scotch whisky and gave it to Luke’s wife.
The latter didn’t realize at first that the bar girl came up to her. She stared at the glass with surprise, carefully took a sip, and suddenly had a coughing fit… Yes, of course, all of us understood that those tears were only because of that burning drink.
We knew that today would be an evening of a remarkable love story and treachery. And despite quite a late hour, nobody was hurrying to their rooms. Everyone was looking forward to her story.
It was a very terrific story, indeed. The story of their whole life, filled with very touching and invaluable moments, began from their very first meeting up to the firstborn’s birth, and then the second son’s. Their common plans, objectives, which they achieved, attention and keenness day by day. Millions of small stories acted as mosaic pieces on which was built a perfect picture of life. But there was a slight problem. Luke’s wife, Katharine, was hopelessly jealous. Her precious husband was not a saint at all. And if he was having an affair, she began to feel it by instinct.
“You must love him very much,” said Annette, imperceptibly refilling Katherine’s glass again, “if you forgive him for a minute’s weakness.”
Katharine slightly shrugged her shoulders. “He is my life,” she said. “I can’t even imagine my life without him.” Her voice trembled, and she brushed away the next teardrop with a slight movement of her hand. And right there was a new flash of indignation, which changed her so much she went on. “But it is unbearable! All his unfaithfulness! Did you see this girl?! She is twice younger than he is, the same age as his granddaughter! Why does he carry on like that with me? We had lived together all our lives; we have common happiness and grief; and he can give a lark to catch a kite, a minute’s weakness!”
She exhaled; looked around for the first time; and saw our hall with a fireplace, saw all of us. There was a slight bewilderment on her face that formed a very nice wrinkle in the middle of a very aristocratic forehead.
“Hostel?” she asked. “How surprising! I’ve lived with Luke for many years, but I would never think that he could stay here. Sometimes, it seems to me that I do not know him at all.”
We sat up until four o’clock in the morning and were about to go to bed when the doorbell tinkled, and there was a guest. It was Luke, our Luke who came in with a huge bouquet of freesias – Katherine’s favorite flowers. We expected anything: the next scene or scandal; Luke falling on his knees, without paying any attention to us, and pleading with his incomparable half for forgiveness.
But everything turned out much quicker and more unpredictable. Coming to his wife with a vigorous, elastic step, Luke handed her the bouquet, strongly kissed her and, picking her up by the waist, left the hostel with her. However, Katharine was too tired to resist because of fatigue, the Scotch whisky, and her nervous breakdown.
It goes without saying that our dream vanished as if by magic. We began to discuss what would happen next: whether they would make up or not, whether Katharine would be able to forgive Luke, what sweet people they were and how perfectly they were matched.