For the past two weeks I’ve posted a “Friday Fodder.” I’m switching it up a bit this week and calling it “Fiction Friday” where I’m sharing one of the short fiction pieces I’ve written. I picked this exercise (from one of my former classes) because I loved the challenge. It asked us to use smell to trigger a memory for one of our characters, while the other character remains largely unaffected. I picked this one for two reasons. The first is because smells are fabulous; they evoke so much emotion, both the good and the bad. And second, because a piece like this relies on description, and writers can always use practice showing rather than telling.
I didn’t go overboard with the smells; I just tried to incorporate them to prompt the protagonist to action. My professor for the class, Cheryl Klein, my mentor and friend, loved this one, so I dedicate it to her. (And subsequently, parts of this piece made their way into my final novel, for which she was a tremendous influence and editor; it’s the novel I plan to soon self-publish).
Revulsion and An Ex-Love
I was trying to get out of Une Petite Tasse Café as quickly as I could without him seeing me. My cup of coffee was burning my hand. I made the mistake of stopping to put a cardboard sleeve on it. He grabbed my shoulder, nearly spilling the coffee all over my coat.
“Oh my God? Is it you? It’s been so long…”
“Are you visiting?” his accent was still thick.
“Yes. I’m in town sorting some things out. My father…”
“Come sit with me! I just ordered something. Can you sit? Do you have time?”
I didn’t want to sit, not with him, but I found myself placing my coat on the back of the chair and easing into it. There was French music playing in the background, and the black décor with dark grey accents felt modern French, even though it was nestled in historic Ellicott City.
Edmond talked about his life, his work, how busy he was, and that he’d moved into a brownstone on Main Street. He was renting the downstairs to a tenant who sold handcrafted home goods and wares. Edmond lived upstairs. On and on he went, as I sipped my Hazelnut coffee, letting the aromas fill my nostrils. His hair was still on the long side, his dark eyes upon me. His mouth was moving at an uncomfortable pace, filled with words that propagated self-importance and indulgence.
The girl behind the counter wore a little French apron with the words “voulez-vous un morceau??” on it. She brought him a piping hot croissant with butter and strawberry jam—just the way he always liked it. The smell of the baked croissant— the mixture of the butter and the cream and dough—grabbed hold. My mouth began to water.
“Would you like some?”
“No, thanks,” I lied. “I just ate.”
My mother used to own this place; it was hers. Back then it was called “Emiline’s.” I spent hours in her cafe, helping behind the counter after school, working on the weekends to give my mother a break, and then later, as an adult, when cancer consumed her, I practically lived there. It looked different then. My mother’s taste was feminine French, with pastel blues and pinks and lots of white accents. I have some of her cupboards in my home now. They are beautiful and they remind me of her.
“Voulez-vous un morceau??” then brought Edmond a profiterole with chocolate and ginger crème—the very same kind I would make with my mother. The scent of hot ginger oozed from the puff pastry. When she could no longer work, I’d make them with Edmond. We made love on the floor in the back behind the counter by candlelight one night after closing on an old wool blanket, our bodies covered in flour and chocolate and ginger. I cried about my mother. He told me he loved me, that he would never leave, that he’d never go anywhere. I found out about Caroline the following week. A month later, my mother was dead.
“How long will you be in town?”
“I am only here for the day. My father passed away, and I am settling the estate with our lawyer.” I looked at my watch, smelled the ginger. “In fact, I have to go.”
He was never sorry. For any of it. He still owed me money from the sale of our condominium, among other things.
“It was good to see you, Chéri. Chin up!”
Condescending, selfish bastard. A sense of revulsion pulsed through me. He never called me by my name. Time marched on, but Edmond didn’t change.
I stood to face him; I found the words I’d imagined uttering for years. “You, Edmond, are a selfish ass, and you always will be.”
Customers stared. I snatched my coat from the chair, nearly knocking it over, and walked out, making sure to keep my head high. The moment lasted all of about ten seconds, but he actually looked stunned when I said it.
Une Petite Tasse Cafe: One Small Cup Cafe
“Voulez-vous un morceau??” – Would you like a bite?