The white umbrella
She looks up from her Vogue magazine onto the street below. People are dashing in and out of shops with black umbrellas. No sign of a white one.
She sighs, lights a cigarette and repositions herself to face the door. Her black pleated miniskirt shifts and falls between her thighs. She straightens it out and crosses her long legs.
She takes a puff and then notices the tall, dark man at the entrance, shaking a white umbrella. His translucent blue eyes scan the room. He looks at her shoes and smiles, walks up to her with an easy confidence.
“Hi,” he says with a strong American accent. “You must be Frank. Good thing you mentioned the red boots.”
She laughs and stretches out her slender arm to shake his hand. “Well, it’s about bloody time,” she says. “Sorry, but I hate to be kept waiting. How do you do?”
He sits down. “Enjoying Paris so far?” he asks as he takes off his denim jacket.
“Well, it would help if I could speak the language. It’s only been 4 months. How long have you been here?”
“Six years, on and off.”
She gives him a long, silent look. “Doing what?”
“Well, you know, creative director kinda stuff.”
“I’m asking what accounts, what awards. Look, if you want to work for me, you must know that I like to get straight to the point.”
“Okay, put it this way, I’ve worked for all the top ad agencies except yours. And that’s brand new. Here, take a look at my cv.”
She flicks through it, puts out her cigarette and says, “You’re hired.”
“Well, that’s the fastest interview I’ve ever had.”
“It was a done deal the day I called you. You speak English!” she says with a smile. “Coffee?”
“Come on” she says, getting up from the wrought iron chair. “We can do coffee at the agency. I’ll brief you there.”
He opens up his umbrella as they step out into the soft grey rain. The smell of fresh chocolate crepes fills the air. “So how much of Paris have you seen so far?” he asks, pulling her in under the umbrella.
“Not much. Time, you know!”
“And if you had the time?”
“What a question!” she says, letting out a laugh.
“Well, I’ll take you on a tour along the back streets of Paris. We’ll get to the agency quicker than taking the Metro anyway,” he says as he guides her into a cobbled street.
A short stocky man holds open the brass door to the bakery on the corner. “That’s where I get my croissants,” he says and then he points across the road to the candy striped pillars. “And that’s my barber over there.”
“So, you live here,” she says as she looks around at the row of colourful shops on each side of the lane.
She suddenly stops. “Will you show me where you live?”
“What, now?” He looks taken aback.
“I’d like to see what the apartments are like around here.”
“What about the agency?” He looks taken aback again.
“I’ll brief you at your place.”
He looks up at the sky that has taken a lunch break and laughs.
Pigeons scatter around them as they walk across the square. The cathedral bells are ringing. “When it feels like they’re right inside your head, then you’ll know you’re at my spot!” he says rolling his eyes.
Her face softens as she looks up at the man carrying the white umbrella.
“Lets run for it,” he shouts. “The heavens are at it again. Head straight for that green door, okay?”
She doesn’t answer. She’s already dashing across the square. She screams as he comes up behind her and she bangs her hand on the wooden door. “Beat you!” she calls out, six years old again.
He grins at her. “We’ll see about that!” and he opens the door and runs up the stairs leaving her two steps behind him, breathless. She keels over and laughs as she reaches the top of the stairs.
He rips off his jacket and then gestures her into the large room with its vaulted ceiling and huge sash windows.
“It’s lovely,” she says, straightening the black silk scarf around her neck, still getting her breath back. “The quality of light is quite superb.”
”What more does one need, huh?” he says, reaching for the coffee pot.
She stands in the centre of the room quietly, taking in the bookshelf, the fireplace, the bronze sculpture in the corner, the magazines piled up high on his desk, paintbrushes, an easel, his laptop on the coffee table.
She sits down in an antique rocker in front of the window and looks across at the small oil painting on the wall next to the fireplace. It’s a girl in a white dress, surrounded by a green field.
“Is that a Matisse?” Her voice is low.
“I wish I could say yes, it’s a copy actually. It’s what I do for a hobby.”
“What, copy the masters? I would have hoped you were into originals.” Her eyes blank over.
She looks at him from afar, her mascara smudged. “Well, I’m sorry,” she says, “I simply have to go now.”
He’s about to place the coffee pot onto the stove. He stops mid-air, not sure which way to go. Put the coffee down or respond to her? He puts the coffee down, turns off the gas and walks over to the hat stand at the top of the stairs.
He looks down at her red boots, patent leather, still glistening from the rain.
And then he hands her his white umbrella.