Sunday on the Rue de Foin
After two years of sipping mineral water, Martin is desperate for a drink as he pulls on his pants, a t-shirt, and slips into his overcoat. He wears shoes without socks and takes the spiral staircase down four floors, pushes open the heavy street door and walks to the Tapas Bar on the corner. It is a typical overpriced Paris bar, but when he awoke from his nap he imagined the dark wood inside. He has passed by every night, looking guiltily through the front window, on his way home. He is standing at the bar, trying to find out how much the drinks cost, asking the questions in a language of gibberish and confusion. He has forgotten so much. What's the word for “red”? Red, rouge, rose, russ, ruff, rust. Damn. He is sure that “rojo” is the right word in Spanish, but this was Paris. He asks for red.
“Red what?” The barman answers in English.
Wine. Red wine.
Martin hopes that it isn't more than four euros a glass. Even cheap wine has become expensive. He worries that it will cost too much.
Now there is a tall, full glass of wine on the bar in front of Martin. The bartender takes one of the bills that Martin has dropped on the bar and walks away.
It is as he imagined. The first mouthful is bitter. It settles on his tongue and he considers spitting it out but it slips down and he feels the soft burn on his palate, the descent and arrival in his stomach; he closes his eyes and becomes aware of swallowing and taste.
The next is sweeter, welcomed and when the glass is empty he summons the young man.
Yes, two glasses, side by side, with no questions.
It is 11:30. He is finished.
Steadying himself, he enters the wet, empty street. The man who had been watching through the cafe's window is walking a block ahead. Martin sees him as the man disappears in the darkness between the streetlights, becomes visible, fades.
Now Martin is alone and there is a soft mist that quiets the street. He is relaxed, enjoying the wine, the flush of early intoxication. When he passes his building he does not press the numbers of the digicode, does not go home. He walks and, after some time, he is near the The Cafe de les Musees on Rue de Foin. The restaurant is shut tight, as is the Absinthe shop next door. The metal rolling doors are lowered and locked. The post card kiosk is also dark.
He thinks, I will walk for a while but stay in my quartier. It's been a long time since I've had the warmth of wine, and I want to be near my apartment in the event that old thoughts begin to bloom. I should avoid wandering into alleys and becoming lost.
He's not alone anymore. There are footsteps. Not the hard wooden heels of the men and women who are the aggressive, committed travelers, who take up too much space on the sidewalk and expect others to move aside. A softer tread follows Martin, who concludes by the sound that the walker is twenty feet behind. It is a guess, but he is confident that he has assessed the distance accurately. He doesn't want to turn around; that would be a sign of weakness and may neutralize the effects of the wine.
It is a man.
The footsteps speed up. Martin is grabbed from behind and can't turn. The attacker is strong, heavy and round, and determined to take him to the ground. A large wrist encircles Martin's neck and the a hand is groping in the pocket of his overcoat, searching.
A cheap, simple thief, but one who is desperate enough to attack. Martin bends his knees, instinctively, but also weak; he collapses and falls to the ground and the other man follows along, his broad arm still across Martin's throat, squeezing.
“Is he tying to kill me?”
This thought and the answer, “Yes”, take an instant and, falling, Martin turns to look, to see what is happening, to learn how he is going to die and who is going to kill him and the round man, now beneath Martin, slams onto the cobblestones and there is a dreadful, vegetable sound; the head. The arm spasms, jerks against Martin's neck, hard, and Martin wonders if he will now die of choking. The grip loosens and falls away. Silence.
Breathless, Martin rolls to his left, climbs to his knees and stands, leaning on the wall of a clothing store. A sale on shirts on the Rue de Foin.
The eyes are open, but there is a wide pool of blood seeping around the man's head. Martin turns away, fast, and retraces his steps, follows the empty street for many blocks, keeping to the shadows. He is relieved, exhausted and elated.
Again he slips by his front door and continues on to the rue Saint Antoine. Here there are people. L'Arsenal is open and a few stragglers gather there, finishing a final glass of beer, a coffee, a conversation. In the distance the pale green column of the Bastille points to the sky like a decomposing finger. Clouds are low and fast moving. More rain soon.
The two-tone notes of an emergency vehicle echo. Martin follows the sound and after a while he is back on Rue Turenne, near Rue de Foin. He should turn around, go home, lock up his door and sit quietly, forget what has happened, but he wants to see.
The thief lies on the sidewalk. The purple blood spreads out around the shaved white head. Yes, the sapeurs-pompiers, the firemen, have arrived and they are hard at work. A small crowd has gathered from their apartments, from the shadows, and are watching as the young handsome men pound on Martin's attacker. They have exposed the flabby chest, pulled up a yellow and brown polo shirt, and torn off his jacket, a parka; black and shiny, it lies discarded in the street like the shell of a enormous beetle. They pound on the body and with each blow folds of fat wobble up and down the pale torso like waves in a bowl of thick cream. So white; too white. He is both shorter and fatter than Martin thought, when the man was choking him and searching through his pockets. Martin is still drunk and ashamed. He knows that they are too late, the young men, the strong men. Their square van is parked at an angle in the street, its lights flashing amber.
They will not save him. Martin recalls the gunshot noise of the man's head when the body hit the sidewalk. But it is the glowing blackred halo of blood that surrounds the big, shaved skull that convinces Martin. The man is surely, completely dead. The head is whiter than the fat abdomen, but maybe that's because it is in contrast with the blood and the wet street.
Martin imagines that he is the dead man. He is humiliated by his own dying, by the care they are giving to his corpse, and by the crowd who watch his body, critically.
“He dresses badly.”
“He's bleeding. His skin is so white.”
“Let him lie.”
“Let him die.”
“Pick him up.”
“Roll him over. Cover him.”
“Is today Sunday?”
Martin wants to come back when they are gone, come back to the spot before the rain washes away the blood. He would touch the toe of his shoe to it. Perhaps dip his finger in and feel it turn sticky as it dries.
He licks his thumb, to feel the wet; the wine was three euros a glass.