I sat at a table at Café Les Enfants Perdus in the 10th along the Rue des Récollets. Fonseca, the proprietor, with whom I was well acquainted, approached the table. He carried two glasses of Kir au Vin Blanc. He set one in front of me.
“May I sit,” he asked. I nodded.
He took the chair opposite me so that he retained a view of the kitchen. This allowed me an unhindered view of the window onto the street. He raised his glass. I did too.
There was a chill in the air. The Paris spring was slow in coming.
“Mr. Marchand”, he said. His voice was hoarse. Perhaps he had been at the races that afternoon but I had not seen him there. “Please forgive this intrusion. I have seen to it that your soup and fresh bread will be out in a moment.”
“Thank you,” I said. Fonseca was not an overly gregarious man.
“Are you comfortable? I can put up the heat if you wish.” I told him no. There was no need.
“Very well,” he said. “And your wife. She is well?
“Yes,” I said.
“She is a lovely woman. A woman of great taste and beauty. Will she be joining you this evening?”
“No. It is Wednesday. We have our meals apart on Wednesdays. She works late and then sees some friends of hers from the States. I have to get to work myself.
I write in the evenings. The room on the Rue de Seine is most quiet in the evening. I have found that I work best after an early supper. I work until I think I have reached a point where I understand what the story is about and I leave it to settle a bit in my thoughts before returning to it the next evening. It works well for me. I can hear the river and I will walk along it on my way to our apartment. Perhaps I will bring home a bottle of Sancerre. There is a shop near the Bataclan that stocks the finest wines in the city
“Can I bring you another Kir?”
“Yes. Have you the escarole this evening?”
“I am sorry. It did not look good to Franco. He purchased several bunches of Swiss chard instead. I hope it will be to your liking.”
Fonseca inherited the café from his brother Bernard, the oldest of the three. Bernard suffered a mortal wound in a skirmish in the Dardanelles. He told the young nurse who had cared for him that he wanted to leave all of his possessions to the younger Fonseca. Bernard carried the license to the café and the deed to the family home in a leather pouch under his tunic. He gave the pouch to the nurse and asked her to deliver it to his brother. She did this.
Being a beautiful woman, disgusted with the war, she found the younger Fonseca to be a man of integrity and some mirth. To his pleasure, she had learned to cook at her mother’s side and soon she became indispensable to Fonseca who had little facility in the kitchen. After a while they married, though the marriage did not last long.
The aperitif was working and I found myself growing hungry.
Fonseca got up from his seat. He had some difficulty. He complained of an arthritic hip. “Your hip,” I said.
“It is bothersome. I am old for this work.”
He returned from the kitchen with the soup and a piece of bread. “Bon Appetit,” he said.
I told him thank you and he returned to the kitchen.
The breeze off the river had picked up. It came in through the open windows facing the street. I thought I might go fishing in the morning.